Discover Your Dreams
A Beginner's Guide

by Ron Masa, Ph.D. & Debbie Hart

Dear Dreamer,

Now it's time to view the same dream from many points of view. Enjoy.

Lesson 4

Layers of Meaning in Dreams

Ron Masa, Ph.D.

Dreams are like diamonds. From every different point of view, you see a new facet of the light revealing new meaning. Any dream symbol can be viewed from many different angles to reveal a tremendous information density in every image.

To teach advanced students about the many layers in each dream, I used to ask them to interpret a short dream as if all the symbols applied exclusively to the forces inside the dreamer. If someone dreamed of her mother, it refer would refer to a mother "voice" or "mother complex" inside her own head (This introduced students to the Intra-psychic or Personal Layer of dreams).

I would then ask students to reinterpret the same dream as if all the characters referred to the outer life of the dreamer. Now, insights about that same symbol would be applied to the dreamer's relationship with her actual mother (the Interpersonal Layer).

The third time they would be asked to imagine that the dream referred entirely to the body (the Physical Layer), and then on to several additional layers of meaning. Each symbol can be seen from many points of view. Usually a few of them will be most relevant at a given time. Later in life, whole new aspects may reveal themselves as we change our perspective.

Each "layer" in a dream results from a point of view you can employ to explore some of the meanings hidden in your dream. Each layer is revealed as you see one of your life issues from a fresh, inwardly- inspired perspective--one which allows all the pieces of the dream to fit and a new insight or meaning to click!

At first, choose one perspective at a time and explore your dream from that point of view. When you get chills or suddenly feel, "I know just what this means!" that is what I call "felt validity." You can feel it in your body.

Dreams invite us toward health and wholeness. Even negative dream images are pointing to positive potentials in us. There is deep wisdom in every dream, and we have to work to retrieve these treasures. Here are several further points of view we use regularly in our dream groups:

Gestalt Layer: Assume that every person, object and event is a part of you, since you are the source of the dream. Imagine that in a dream, you are 1) walking a path, and 2) you encounter an obstacle and while dealing with that, 3) some opponent starts a struggle with you. Consider and explore the notion that 1) you are the path in the dream (which might suggest that you already know the way within you). And 2) you are the obstacle on that path (there may be beliefs inside
all of us that obstruct us). And 3) you are your own opponent (you might have mixed feelings inside that oppose each other).

Emotional Layer: What is the feeling tone of the dream? What emotions appear, and where do you know these feelings from? A monster or a danger that does not feel scary in the dream suggests something that may not be an actual threat, despite its appearance.

Physical Health Layer: You can often find hints about your physical health and vigor in your dreams. There may be comments on lifestyle, suggestions that would help to prevent long-range problems, and even physiological "diagnoses"--generally they are encoded in symbolic
language. Larry Dossey, M.D. says dreams can be so powerfully predictive of physical maladies that he foresees a day when a physician who ignores a patient's dreams will be open to a malpractice suit.

Compensatory Layer: If I were to say, "My mother has never had a mean thought toward me, what a saint," I might just dream of her that night as a witch. Not that she truly is a witch, but this under-valuing dream image of my mother compensates for my over-estimation of her during the day. Since the truth probably lies somewhere in between these two extremes, this dream rebalances my perspective.

Familial Layer: The habits and ideas we learn in our family of origin continue to help and to hinder us for a lifetime... or until we become aware of what we have taken for granted and choose to change. Often the scenarios in our dreams, when studied closely, expose recurring themes or behavior patterns that originated in childhood.

Cultural Layer: Most dreams include comments or implications about the cultural forces that invisibly influence us. For example, South Americans stand closer when conversing and the French touch more in public than do North Americans, because of cultural norms. Every aspect of life, from gender identity to a person's social value, is shaped by cultural assumptions. Becoming aware of these assumptions through our dreams gives us more choice in our lives.

Archetypal Layer: Jung popularized the notion that certain deep structures in the unconscious create similar dream images in every culture. Sometimes our dreams touch the fundamental energies of the universe. These "templates" are the forms through which life flows, hence, the concept of the "King" or the "Mother" is an archetype before it is a person. Look for fairy-tale motifs and myths in your dreams.

Predictive Layer: Every dream includes hints of events to come and reawakens skills and confidence we will need for these upcoming events. Review your dream journal several months later and look for signs of dream events that have since transpired in waking life.

Prophetic Layer: Some dreams do in fact predict specific events with amazing precision. Their dreamers say there is a special feeling to prophetic dreams. After seeing so many prophetic elements in dreams, I realized that there are references to the future in every dream. Past, present, and future are not separate and sequential where dreams

In most cases, dream symbols should not be taken literally. If we die in a dream, it is rarely prophetic. Most often, death in dreams suggests that some role you have played or some old part of your identity is coming to an end--to be followed by new energy and opportunity. Dreams always come to help, nudging us toward health and wholeness.

Past-Life Layer: For Buddhists, Hindus and all who believe in reincarnation, some of the dream scenarios that we think of as purely imaginary may reflect past-life (or future-life?) episodes and issues that still influence us today.

Mystical Layer: Many mystics and shamanic traditions suggest that dreams are indeed a meeting ground between the worlds, and that deceased family and friends really do return to meet with us. Edgar Cayce felt that in addition to normal dream images of people who had passed, there were also genuine visitations from departed loved ones.
He felt we owed these dreams special attention for the devotion they show on the part of the visitor.

There is good evidence that living dreamers also meet together in dreams. Some dream groups meet primarily in their dreams to heal illness, solve problems and exchange information. Linda Lane Magallon's book, Mutual Dreaming includes many fascinating examples.

When helping another person to explore a dream, it is best to suggest possible dream meanings, but never to impose your own interpretation. As dreamworker Jeremy Taylor says, you can begin with, "If it were my dream," then tell the dreamer what the symbol means to you. Your meaning may or may not apply to the dreamer; she can decide if it resonates for her. And you will have gained an insight about yourself from another person's dream. Similarly, when someone else suggests possible meanings about your dreams, decide for yourself if they resonate as true for you. The dreamer always has the final word on what their own dream means to them.


Apply some of the techniques above to your own dream
symbols. View a whole dream or a single symbol from various points of view. Don't settle for just one layer of insight.

Next Lesson: Group Dreamwork


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Sweet Dreams,

Dr. Ron and Debbie


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