Discover Your Dreams
A Beginner's Guide

by Ron Masa, Ph.D. & Debbie Hart

Dear Dreamer,

Here are some tools you can use to begin interpreting your dreams. This part can get very exciting. Enjoy.

Lesson 3

Starting to Work on Your Dream

Ron Masa, Ph.D.

Stories store things. Our dream-stories store energy and awareness waiting to enter our consciousness--and they are amazingly complex. Whoever makes us makes our dreams. Dreams contain many profound layers of meaning. Fortunately, you don't have to be a dream expert to benefit; even small glimpses of the truth in our dreams can greatly enrich our lives. Dreams help us correct our course so life can work better.

To respect the profound depth of dreams, work on small chunks of imagery with great patience. Wonder and ponder and persist--keep the image on the back burner of your mind for as long as needed. You can draw or paint or play-act the symbol to explore its qualities. Keep looking for an "Aha" experience: the felt validity of direct knowing that comes from within.

Look in your new (or trusty old) dream journal for a short dream that intrigues you. Ask yourself questions about every aspect of the story structure, beginning, middle, and end. Specify the obvious, the taken- for-granted elements. What happens? Who or what helps? What hinders? What kinds of characters are involved? What is the mood of the dream?
What feelings do you experience?

I like to write or type a dream on the
left side of a sheet of paper
like this, so that when interpreting them,
I can write notes directly opposite each
concept or symbol. Over there: >>>>>
I often circle and number the symbols
in the text on the left, and write down
my associations on the right side.

Next, do some research: Look up key dream symbols in a regular dictionary and see what those definitions trigger in you. You will be surprised how much this helps. There are a few good "dream dictionaries," but even these are best used only to raise questions. If a particular interpretation does not click, it may not be right for you. There are few fixed meanings to any given symbol, so it is best to approach each image individually with an open mind.

Look for both positive and negative meanings in each dream symbol. For example, "a graduation" is an important achievement but it also initiates a time of transition and loss of the familiar. Our TeleDream (telephone dream group) members often "Google" dream symbols during our dream groups. We weave their research discoveries right into the discussion.

Look for classic myth and fairytale themes. They are a "shorthand" for human life patterns, and can reveal an entire life script you may be living out unconsciously. Synchronicity can be the best research tool; notice and study any appearance of your dream themes in waking life. You may be surprised.

Using intuition and reflection, ask questions and listen for insights in order to draw up--from the unconscious--the meanings in your dream. If there is a tyrant in the dream, ask what it feels like to be intimidated by him. Ask: "Where do I know this feeling from in waking life?" Imagine being this tyrant and inquire: Do I ever hear a tyrannical voice in my head that is directed at myself or others?

Look for echoes of each symbol inside and outside yourself. Objects in mirror are closer than they appear; what we confront in the world mirrors the issues going on within us. (More about the layers of meaning in Lesson 4).

Seek an abstract meaning for each symbol; what is its underlying essence? You can imagine explaining things to a person from another planet. What is a "king," for example, to us earth beings? You could start with, "the highest power in his own realm," which, as a dream symbol, might represent the highest authority within the psyche. A"hallway" is partly a transitional, connecting passage; if I find myself in a dream hallway, maybe I am going through a transitional phase in my outer life.

Ask yourself how--perhaps in some indirect way--you might resemble each character in the dream. Though it's my boss in a dream, do I similarly "boss" my self or pet or friends around? If so, what better choices might I make now that I am aware of my "boss-like" or "bossy" traits? If I have disapproved of these same behaviors in the boss, that insight could be very motivating.

Ask where you know the dream's emotions from. Is that mountain climbing terror from last night's dream surprisingly similar to what I feel when I give public lectures? If so, I may want to address that issue.

Ask where you know the dream's situation from. In a dream from my own past, I was parking cars in a gray underground garage. From my current vantage, I see clearly what a barren, intellectual, indoor, emotionally-colorless life I was leading in the doctoral program at Michigan (even the skies were gray).

It can really help to form a dream team with a non-judgmental spouse or friend to share your dreams and discuss possible meanings. This is particularly helpful, since friends and family often see very directly (from outside), some things we may not yet be aware of.

For some, private dreamwork with an expert can be life changing; dream images come from our source, and can transform our experience. Working with dreams is sometimes a part of several forms of psychotherapy. There is also a growing new breed of dreamworkers who are specialists in dreams--without the psychotherapy framework. For some people, dreamwork is a spiritually-oriented alternative to therapy.

As a socially-enriching (and less expensive) choice, one can join a dream group where either amateur or professional leaders guide a group search for dream meaning. It is always harder to understand your own dreams because they come from your unconscious, from your blind spot. Multiple views help us explore the wealth of information in our dreams. Did you know that whenever you work on another person's dream, it also has something to say to you? (More on that in
Lesson 5).

For each major dream symbol, write down your associations. The thoughts, memories and feelings that are "associated" with the symbol will show up when you think, talk or write about the symbol long enough. Start with just one pleasant or neutral symbol from one of your dreams, such as an object, a location, or a role you played that felt good in the dream.

I recall a dream from right after grad school in which I received a parking ticket for $50. I pondered my associations to this symbol for weeks until I remembered the distinctive $50 fine in Michigan for parking in a disabled parking spot, if you were not disabled.

In grad school--also back in Michigan--I had been declared "disabled" due to muscular stress, and I had begun to assume the condition would persist. Once I solved the dream's riddle, I felt greatly encouraged that my "disability" might not need to continue! The dream showed me I was "getting fine-d," that I need not continue to see myself as disabled. Knowing I could get well inspired me to make that dream come true, and it has.

Like a Zen koan, the "$50 fine" dream symbol changed my expectations and beliefs, and in time, my reality. I was rescued once again from optional suffering... by my dreams.

Note: Dreams are powerful! As the International Association for the Study of Dreams (IASD) warns, the "dreamer should be forewarned that unexpected issues or emotions may arise in the course of the dreamwork." If you find dreamwork more unsettling than enriching, discontinue focusing on dreams. You can always return to them at a later time.


Choose one symbol from your dreams. Write it down, and
around it (on radiating spokes, like a daisy), jot down your
associations. What memories, emotions and insights occur to you? Stay with one symbol until you befriend it.

Next Lesson: Layers of Meaning in Dreams


Next Lesson - Previous Lesson - Lesson Index

Sweet Dreams,

Dr. Ron and Debbie


© 2006-2010 University of Yourself
All Rights Reserved