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