Awakening the Dreamer
Kevin Todeschi - Copyright © 2018
The earliest dreams I remember are from the age of seven. I still recall two with relative ease even now, decades later. Both dreams had a profound effect upon my waking mind and my thoughts during the course of the many days that followed. One of those dreams was a nightmare, the other was a pleasant adventure. The nightmare caused me a great deal of fear and apprehension. The adventure gave me much joy and an excitement that nearly rivaled a child's anticipation of Christmas morning. The nightmare made me afraid to go to sleep, worried that a similar experience might trouble my dreams. The adventure filled me with anticipation when it was time to go to bed, hoping to pick up the story once more - something I actually managed to do on at least six occasions.
These two dreams have stayed with me through the years. If I could speak to myself as a seven-year-old from my present vantage point, I could provide an explanation that would probably set my mind at ease in one case and totally ruin a childhood fantasy in the other. If I had told my parents about either experience, I know that they would have listened but ultimately reassured me that dreams were "only my imagination." After working with dreams for more than twenty-five years and speaking throughout the United States, as well as in seven other countries, I know that children all over the world have heard this phrase. What is not stated, perhaps because it is not generally accepted or known, is that although dreams are pulled together from within the recesses of the subconscious mind - a place we too easily relegate to "only the imagination" - these imaginative wanderings have meaning. By suggesting that the imagination is unimportant in terms of dreams, we are unfortunately negating a wealth of insight, direction and counsel that is easily accessible to every individual.
Having taught hundreds of individuals dream interpretation and spoken to perhaps a thousand more, I know that a frequently asked question is "Do all dreams really have a meaning?" I have come to believe that the answer is simply, "Yes!" To be sure, sometimes that meaning is not very important but every dream has a meaning nonetheless. For example, let's say that a student stays up late at night watching television, speaking with friends or studying and then has the urge for a midnight snack, devouring a pizza just before bed. After falling asleep that individual dreams about a horrendous war, a military conflict, or the explosion of an atomic bomb. You might think that the dream is a prophetic vision of things to come but it is simply suggesting that the individual's digestion is "at war.”
Another misperception about dreamwork is that it takes an expert to somehow decipher the substance of dreams. The truth of the matter is that each individual is ultimately the best interpreter of his or her own dreams. Why? Because each of us is aware of the events occurring in our lives, as well as the feelings we hold and the personal relationships we are experiencing with other individuals. These things are readily explored in dreams. Although someone who has experience with dream interpretation can often facilitate the discovery of a possible meaning, it is generally up to the dreamer alone to decide what applies and what doesn’t.
In my own life, other than remembering an occasional dream, I really was not actively involved in dreamwork until I became interested in the work of Edgar Cayce (1877-1945). Called the "father of holistic medicine," "the Sleeping Prophet," and "the greatest psychic of the twentieth century," for forty-three years of his adult life, Cayce was able to enter into a self-induced sleep state and provide psychic information, called "readings," to virtually any question imaginable. In addition to subjects such as health, philosophy, spirituality, and psychic ability, much of the Cayce material deals with dreams and dream interpretation. That information first opened up the world of dreams to me and provided a foundation and an understanding that has stood firm for more than twenty-five years.
Edgar Cayce emphasized the importance of working with dreams, stating as early as 1923 that attempting to understand what he called the subconscious, the psychic, and the soul forces of each individual should be "the great study for the human family." The rationale from Cayce's perspective was that through the study of the subconscious and psychic part of ourselves we would come to an understanding of the nature of the soul, our connection to one another and our relationship with the Creator.
Almost nine hundred of the more than 14,000 Cayce readings on file at the Association for Research and Enlightenment in Virginia Beach, Virginia deal with the subject of dreams and dream interpretation. Generally, when Edgar Cayce was asked to discuss the meaning of a dream, his wife would simply hold a copy of the dream in her hand and ask that the dream be interpreted - without the dream itself ever being read! Even more amazing is the fact that on numerous occasions when Cayce was provided with an individual's request for interpretation, he would remind the dreamer of forgotten portions of his or her own dream!
In terms of dream material, one of Cayce's most involved supporters was a wealthy, young Jewish stock broker named Morton Blumenthal who received hundreds of dream interpretation readings for himself as well as for members of his immediate family. Extremely interested in the nature of the soul and each individual's relationship to God, one of Morton's dreams explored this very topic in a humorous vein.
In part, Morton dreamed that he was in his apartment in New York City. Suddenly the doorbell rang and his maid went to answer the door. She announced the presence of a "distinguished visitor" and Morton jumped to his feet in exhilaration with the sudden knowledge that God Himself had come to call. Morton ran up to God and embraced Him with a hug. God's appearance was very business-like. He was clean-shaven and clean-cut, wore an expensive suit and a derby hat. He also seemed strong and intelligent, just the sort of man with whom Morton would like to do business.
Because God was visiting, Morton decided to give Him a tour around the apartment. Things went well enough until Morton realized they were approaching the living room and that he had mistakenly left his liquor cabinet half-open. Understanding that God probably knew everything, Morton decided to reveal everything rather than trying to hide his liquor supply. He flung the cabinet wide open and pointed out the bottles by stating, "In case of sickness." God's reply was matter of fact: "You are well prepared!”
Later, when asked for an interpretation, Cayce stated that much of Morton's dream indicated that each and every individual can have a personal relationship with the Divine. This interpretation becomes obvious when we consider that God comes to meet us in the form that we might best recognize Him, that He comes not as some supreme deity but as someone we might relate to, and that He is extremely accepting of us in spite of our imperfections.
The Cayce information suggests that dreams essentially analyze, compare and contrast the events, thoughts, and issues of each day. Their relevance has physical, psychological, and even spiritual significance. In addition to understanding the nature of the soul and our relationship with God, the benefits of dream exploration include such practical matters as problem solving, understanding relationship and work issues, prophetic voyages, a deeply personal look into self discovery, and the search for meaning. So the reasons for exploring dreams are numerous.
Conversely, in my work with hundreds of individuals, I have found that people offer four excuses for not explored their own dreams: (1) "Dreams don't mean anything," (2) "I don't dream," (3) "I don't know how to interpret them," and (4) "I don't have time to be bothered."Contrary to the first response, I have personally witnessed countless individuals become puzzled and even amazed by what their dreams revealed about them. Whether it was a personal secret that had not been told to another individual, an issue with which the person had been struggling, or an event that was about to occur, the dreamer was often taken completely by surprise. One of my favorite instances occurred one night during an ElderHostel program where I had been asked to work with a group of conference attendees on the subject of dream interpretation.
Elder Hostel is an organization that provides seniors with a variety of educational programs around the country. During this particular event, I was standing in front of an audience of approximately fifty individuals and had just given some background information on dreams and how they worked. I then asked for volunteers from the audience to share any dreams that they would like to have discussed and analyzed. After a moment's hesitation one gentleman of about sixty-five raised his hand. He began by stating, "I have a dream, but it doesn't mean anything." I simply nodded and asked him to relate his dream to the group. The dream seemed to cause his wife, who was sitting next to him, some measure of embarrassment.
In the dream, he found himself on the second floor of a two-story house. He was in the master bedroom in his pajamas. His wife was lying in the bed completely naked, waiting for him. Before getting into bed with his wife, he related that he had suddenly remembered something, although he couldn't consciously remember what that something had been. As a result, in the dream he left his wife and the bedroom and proceeded downstairs to the first floor. He seemed to "putter around" doing something for awhile before suddenly remembering that his wife was upstairs naked in bed and this was his "chance for romance." That thought caused him to retrace his footsteps, but he was surprised and "very frustrated" to find that the stairway to the second floor had suddenly disappeared. That was the end of the dream.
One of the mistaken assumptions regarding the subject of dream interpretation is that each dream should have only one interpretation. This is wrong for a variety of reasons. One is that two individuals might have a similar dream but the interpretation can be very different. Why? Because each individual may have very different feelings or beliefs about the images or events being portrayed in the dream and each may have completely contrasting experiences occurring in their waking lives at the time of the dream. Another reason is that dreams often have multiple meanings, corresponding to the various aspects of the individual as well as her or his physical, mental and spiritual self. Keeping these factors in mind, I attempted to analyze the man's dream by diplomatically suggesting that sometimes a dream like this might indicate that their was some kind of a sexual issue or problem. Obviously a dream of this nature - a husband not being able to have sex with his wife - could be interpreted in this manner.
After my suggested "possibility," the dreamer emphatically rejected any such idea, insisting, to his wife's red-faced embarrassment, that there had "never been a problem and never would be a problem." When the ElderHostel group had stopped laughing, I then offered a second interpretation: "Do you have the habit of starting projects that you never really follow through on, which is causing a great deal of frustration to members of your household?" The dreamer looked at me in complete confusion, but his wife began nodding her head in total agreement. She then volunteered the fact that "Even now he has the beginnings of a deck out back that he has been working on for six months and still hasn't gotten around to finishing." I thought this interpretation was likely because in this instance the house could represent his "current situation," the wife that he doesn't make love to "something that he doesn't follow through on," and his own emotion of being frustrated "a likely feeling being experienced by someone within his environment.”
The second reason individuals give for not exploring the topic of dream interpretation is, "I don't dream." Scientific studies have proven otherwise. In a 1953 article in the journal Science, Eugene Aserinsky and Nathaniel Kleitman of the University of Chicago, discussed for the first time their findings that REM (rapid eye movement) sleep indicated dream periods. Their discovery led to countless scientific investigations of the same topic. As it turns out, dreams are not necessarily limited to REM sleep but rapid eye movements can be a major determinant in indicating the possibility that a dream is taking place. It is now believed that most individuals dream a number of times each night, for a total of ninety minutes or more on average.
So it is not so much a lack of dreams, as it is individuals not bothering to reflect upon their dreams when awakening, let alone attempting to record them. Because dreams are the substance of the subconscious mind, they are extremely fragile, illusive, and easily dissolved by the intrusion of waking consciousness and the left brain. Often, students have told me how they have awakened from sleep, aware of the presence of a dream but that as soon as they attempted to put all the pieces together and "remember the whole story," the dream disappeared. A better approach is simply to begin writing down whatever is on the verge of consciousness immediately upon awakening. Even if the dreamer only remembers a feeling, a color, or a specific character or place, they should write it down. With this approach, individuals will often find that more pieces fall into place as they are writing and dream recall becomes not so much a goal of remembering but a process of re-experiencing.
The third reason individuals give to explain their hesitation in undertaking an examination of their own dreams is, "I don't know how to interpret them." But I repeatedly tell people that interpretation is not a skill so much as it is a process. It is more important to simply become comfortable with the dream interpretation process. Individuals also need to keep in mind the fact that they already know the possible meaning of many more symbols than they might consciously be aware. However, they need not memorize the meanings of hundreds of symbols. These meanings can be discovered in a variety of ways - by using a good dream dictionary, an unabridged dictionary, one's own logic, or even asking friends to brainstorm possibilities. What is more meaningful is becoming comfortable with the dream interpretation process.
Many dream symbols are actually quite easy to interpret. For example, most people know that bad luck can be symbolized by a black cat, walking under a ladder, or breaking a mirror. Conversely, good luck might be indicated by such things as a rainbow, a four-leaf clover or finding a genie's lamp. Places also lend themselves to interpretative meaning: A library suggests knowledge, a post office suggests communication or a message, and a church suggests spirituality. Most individuals could easily decipher each of these symbols.
In addition to their usual meanings, words have a variety of metaphorical meanings that lend themselves to symbolism. A fish might suggest something's fishy; a book could indicate a regulated process of playing by the book; and, a forest might show that an individual is so caught up in details that she or he can't see the forest for the trees. Metaphors often present themselves in a variety of ways in dreams.
Dream interpretation is something that virtually everyone can accomplish. After working with thousands of dreams, I have come to believe that dreams might be considered "a right-brained process" whereas their interpretation is perhaps best undertaken with logic and "a left-brain approach.”
One dream student who told me that she did not know how to interpret her dreams related the following example: She dreamt that she saw her brother in her backyard. He was standing next to a compost pile with a rake in hand, as though he had been gathering some of the material together. To the dreamer's surprise, a telephone sat on top of the pile of compost. When I asked the dreamer if she was having problems communicating with her brother, she looked at me in compete astonishment and inquired, "How did you know?" I explained to her that one possibility suggested by the imagery was simply that her communication (telephone) with her brother (who appeared in the dream) was rotten (compost pile), and that he had been trying to work (rake) on the situation, whereas she had not. After my explanation the dreamer could clearly see how I had arrived at the interpretation from the images provided in her dream.
A final reason individuals give for not working with their dreams is, "I don't have time." In response to this statement, I often ask people to consider what they might do if they lived with one of the greatest counselors, psychics, or advisors of all time. Wouldn't they want to check in at least occasionally for advice, counsel or personal encouragement? Ignoring the deeper substance of a meaningful dream is like deciding not to open a letter from a trusted and close personal friend.
Why would individuals not want to hear from someone who loves them unconditionally, knows them intimately, and only wants what is best for them? No one knows an individual and his or her life better than that person's subconscious mind. At this level, each and every one of us is much more in touch with ourselves, our surroundings, and our personal lives than we could possibly be aware.
If I could speak to myself as a seven-year-old and explain why I had dreamed that a hideous monster had come to fetch me, I would say that it was simply in response to my having taken something that did not belong to me from a neighborhood child. The guilt had begun to devour me. Even though I was not aware of the dream's meaning, shortly thereafter I returned the rubber-band gun I had taken. My dream of being with a girlfriend that I did not really have (who somehow made my life complete) turned out to be partially prophetic. More than twenty years later I met and married a woman very much like the one portrayed in the dream. The dream was simply a response to my loneliness at the time and my feeling like an outcast with regards to my peers. It was also a subconscious prompting to incorporate the various aspects of my being, and to learn to like myself so that I could truly like and have relationships with others.
Although I have learned a great about dreams from working with other people, perhaps more importantly I have learned a great deal about myself and how to show others how they can do the same. This book is written in the hope that it might make some small contribution to a day somewhere off in the future when each and every individual is encouraged to work with dreams as a normal part of everyday life, and when no child is ever again told that a dream is "only your imagination."