Gaining Insight Into Your Dreams

Below are described simple techniques that make it possible to quickly gain information from your dreams. They have been put as a series of questions.

What is the background to the dream?

The most important aspects of your everyday life may have influenced the dream or feature in it. Briefly consider any aspects of your life that connect with what appears in the dream.

Example: “I have a plane to catch. I get to the plane but the suitcase is never big enough for my clothing which I have left behind. I am always anxious about stuff left behind. I wake still with the feeling of anxiety.” Jane. LBC.

When asked, Jane said plane flights had been a big feature in her life. She had moved home often, travelling to different parts of the world, leaving friends and loved one’s behind. This background therefore suggests Jane still feels anxious about all she has left behind in her moving.

If you find obvious connections such as that in your dream consider what that means in terms of the events and situations shown in your dream. For instance Jane’s dream shows her feeling anxious about what has been left behind. So she needs to acknowledge that and seek ways of understanding why she feels that way, and what is it in her present situation that she still feels has been lost or left. Methods will be given below that will help you do this.

What is the main action in the dream?

There is often an overall activity such as walking, looking, worrying, building something, or trying to escape. Define what the action is and give it a name, such as those listed or something like ‘waiting’ – ‘searching’ – ‘following’.

To understand what your definition means, activities such as walking or building a house represent just what they show – going somewhere and building something new, or repairing something in your life. Walking can simply represent taking a direction in life or going somewhere, and building can be seen as creating something new or developing what already exists in your life. When you have defined the action, look for further information in the entries in the on-site Dream Dictionary, such as swimming, sitting, climbing, or working. Having considered the general meaning of whatever your dream action is, consider if it is expressive of something you are doing in waking life, and what the dream plot and characters comment on this.

A simple example of this is as follows:

Dreamt I was involved in having a prostitute work for me. Terry.

On looking at my dream and wondering why the prostitute was working for me it was obviously to do with love and sex. What it showed me was that I always try to use love and sex for personal gain. It always has to be on my terms instead of loving a person for their own sake.

What is your role in the dream?

Are you a friend, lover, soldier, dictator, watcher or participant in the dream? Consider this in relationship with your everyday life, especially in connection with how the dream presents it.

The different roles you play in your dreams, such as actor, lawyer, soldier or cook, usually represent the different abilities, weaknesses or interests you have. We all have different roles in everyday life. So a woman can be cook, lover, mother, counsellor, businesswoman, accountant, etc. A man can be a worker, father, a gardener, a handyman or builder, a chauffeur, artist, and so on. What is important is to see if you can get at is why the dream is showing you in that role and how it is relevant to your life at the moment. Therefore define what skills the role has, and see what the dream is commenting on them in regard to yourself. Where possible, look for the entry on the role in Dream Dictionary.

Other characters in your dream will also suggest other roles that are worth defining in realtoinship with yourself. Using the approach suggested in Be a different character can help define these roles.

Are you active or passive in the dream?

By passive is meant not taking the leading role, being only an observer, being directed by other people and events. It can also mean you are abused, bullied, or constantly end in unsatisfactory or unfulfilled situations in your dreams.

If you recognise these situations in your dreams consider if you live similar attitudes in your life. In other words are you passively accepting what happens to you and how people relate to you? Do you need to wait for other people to direct or give you motivation?

For the sake of research, a group of young women in a creative writing class was divided into two groups – those who were spontaneously creative in their written work and those who were not. They were then asked to record their dreams over a period of time. The non-creative girls had a large percentage of dreams in which they were sexually passive, accepted secondary roles and felt vulnerable. The creative girls had a high percentage of dreams in which they were actively satisfying themselves, creating non-conventional settings and experiencing open sexual encounters. The results show that habitual attitudes and responses to everyday life are reflected in what we dream.

Enormous change can be made in your life if you recognise an overall tendency in your dreams such as being passive. The change can come about by using the technique described below, of carrying the dream forward – in the section Am I meeting what I fear or dislike in my dream?.

What do you feel in the dream?

Many dreams can be understood simply by what you feel in the dream. If you take the images away from the dream and simply look at what is felt and look for those feelings in your everyday life, you can often arrive at understanding. So define what is felt emotionally and physically.

In the physical sense are you tired, cold, relaxed or hungry? In the emotional sense did you feel sad, angry, lost, tender or frightened anywhere in the dream? This helps clarify what feelings your dream is dealing with. It is important also to define whether the feelings in the dream were satisfyingly expressed or whether held back. If held back they might need fuller expression. See: Emotions and Mood in Dreams. Consider where the feelings of the dream appear in your everyday life, and what comment the dream is making about them.

What is the drama in the dream?

Each dream is a little piece of life drama. Try to define what your dream is saying by looking at it as if it were a scene you had witnessed on television or in a film.

Example: I was in the basement of what seemed like a house I used to live in. I was perhaps washing up or tidying the place. I looked to my right where there was a door leading to old coal cellars. Through it walked the ghost of a cat, shining with a white light. Seeing the cat terrified me. I was so frightened that when someone walked down the stairs to my left, I was sure it was a dark shape coming to do me harm.

In the example it is deep fear that is dramatised. But the setting suggests the dreamer is in a known and easy place – his old home. But being a basement it suggests an area of himself he seldom frequents. It is ‘downstairs’ or in memories usually in the dark. The cat, despite being frightening to the dreamer, doesn’t harm him, and in fact is shining. So what is dramatised is a mixture of fear about something haunting him from his past experiece, and something with possibly beautiful qualities. In other words he is being ‘haunted’ by old feelings in his otherwise well organised everyday life. The dream shows the feelings originating from events experienced in a previous house or period of his life.

When you look at your dream in this way, take the setting first. This is like the backdrop of a theatre or the first scenes in a film. They tell the story of where and in what economic, in what mood or atmosphere, and what period of time the drama takes place. When you define what the drama is suggesting, see if you can link this with feelings or situations you face at the moment. If so what is your dream suggesting about those things?

The following dream illustrates a setting.

Dreamt I was in a large building in a room full of people. I was looking for the way. The building was like my old school and also a hospital. In looking for my way I went into another room. A class was taking place. There was a woman teaching who looked like a nun, but also a sister or matron of the hospital. When I saw her I felt very great respect for her, and saluted her as one might a guru. Somebody, perhaps this woman, gave me directions. It seemed to be a U shaped route- that is, an introverted U.

The first part of the dream is the setting. It is a situation involving the dreamer in contact with many people – thus social relationships. It is also a school and hospital, suggesting learning, or the dreamer’s past experience of school, and healing or sickness. The action of the dream is to do with looking for the ‘way’, his direction in life. Then the drama of the dream takes place. It shows an awareness of personal direction arising out of felt respect.

So the dream shows the person feeling lost, and thus looking for ‘direction’. This also means learning something and moving toward a healing or healthy change.

Is there a ‘because’ factor in the dream?

In many dreams something happens, fails to happen, or appears, because! For instance, trapped in a room you find a door to escape through. All is dark beyond and you do not go through the door ‘because’ you are frightened of the dark. In this case the because factor is fear. If tis were your dream it would suggest you are trapped in an unsatisfying life situation through fear of opportunity or the unknown. Understanding the because factor can help you become aware of what is holding you back, or aiding your progress in waking life.

What is the because factor in your dream?

Looking at the ‘I’

If you have written the dream down, look to see where you have used the word ‘I’. For instance a man dreaming about running toward tunnels said “I had to decide which tunnel to enter.” If this is simplified we can see that the person is saying they were making a decision.

So take note of whatever is said after the word ‘I’ – whether I want; I was willing; I didn’t like; I left it behind, etc. – and consider what connection such things have to everyday life. What decisions in waking life was the man making who dreamt of tunnels for example?

Am I meeting the things I fear or dislike in my dream?

Because a dream is an entirely inward thing, we create it completely out of our own internal feelings, images, creativity, habits and insights. So even the monsters of your dream are a part of yourself. If you run from them it is only aspects of yourself you are avoiding – basically feelings you are unwilling to meet; memories you don’t want to face; talents and potential you deny. But you can never escape yourself, so you might as well find a way of internal ease. Through defining what feelings, events or situations occur in the dream you may be able to clarify what it is you are avoiding.

It is also helpful to replay the dream several times while awake and relaxed, and imagine facing or meeting the things you fear or are running away from. It is of enormous help also to rephrase, or rescript the underlying messages attached to your fears.

For instance you may have had very reasonable fears as a baby/child that your mother would abandon you – perhaps because you went into hospital and felt abandoned. So the original message might have been, “The person I love and utterly depend upon can leave me and I am powerless to make her love me in a way to bind her to me.” The new message might be, “I am not a baby any longer, and can actually survive alone, though I love having a partner to share love with. So I don’t need to feel complete panic when there is any sign of them withdrawing or getting emotionally distant.”

This needs to be done over and over again to develop a new habit of relaxed relationship or response to a life situation. Sometimes it is a shift of attitude you need. The following dream illustrates this.

I ran away from home because I was found out for skipping school. I ended up in a chip shop with some friends. I saw my brothers and a friend out of the window. They told me my older sister had died of a heart attack. Then with my sister’s boyfriend, who told me she was already buried, and only my mum had been at the funeral. Cathy – Teletext

Cathy makes the move of being independent in her dream, but does so to avoid problems rather than face them. Being independent – running away from home – means making your own decisions and being strong enough to live them. If Cathy did leave her family behind like this she would worry if any mishap occurred. It’s a big step to sink or swim by yourself, and let others do the same. So Cathy could try being independent using another attitude than ‘running away’. See: nightmares; carrying the dream forward under peer dream work; spiritual life in dreams .

What economic, political, social or sexual situation does the dream show you in?

None of us exist in a vacuum. Like fish immersed in water, we live, sometimes unconsciously, in a social environment; in a paradigm that colours the way we see the world; in an economic situation; in a gender that relates us to other people and opportunities in particular ways; and sometimes within the boundaries set by religious beliefs, family attitudes or personal habits. These factors may not be shouting at you from the foreground, but it can enormously enlarge the information your dream portrays if you can see what background they give to the foreground of the dream.

What does the dream mean?

We alone create the dream while asleep. Therefore, by looking at each symbol or aspect of the dream, we can discover from what feelings, thoughts or experience, what drive or what insight we have created the drama of the dream. In a playful relaxed way, express whatever you think, feel, remember or fantasy when you hold each symbol in mind. Say or write it all, even the seemingly trivial or ‘dangerous’ bits. It helps to act out in imagination the part of each thing if you can. For instance as a house you might describe yourself as “a bit old, but with open doors for family and friends to come in and out. I feel solid and dependable, but I sense there is something hidden in my cellar.”

Such statements often graphically portray you. Consider whatever information you gather as descriptive of your waking life. Try to summarise it, as this will aid the gaining of insight. For further information on how to do this see Step Four in Peer Dreamwork.

When doing this remember that dreams are multidimensional in a certain sense, just like words in a sentence. Morton Hunt, in his book The Universe Within illustrates how words have an unusual dimension. For instance, what do you make of the following sentence? “Mary heard the ice-cream truck coming down the street. She remembered her birthday money and ran into the house.”

You have probably already got an image of Mary, her age, skin colour, an approximation of what she is dressed in, and what she is doing. You believe she is going to buy an ice cream and she is young. But where does it say this in the sentence? And if you change any of the words – say truck for bus or money for gun, an entirely new image of Mary arises.

The factors relating to how we extract meaning out of words and images is crucial when considering our dreams. In our dreams any one factor – such as Mary, alters enormously in its meaning because of its context with the other dream factors, such as objects, people, setting and plot or theme. Get a sense of this overall connection when looking at the various parts of your dream.

Can you amplify the dream?

You will need the help of one or two friends to use this method. The basis is to take the role of each part of the dream, as described above. This may seem strange at first, but persist. Supposing your name is Julia and you dreamt you were carrying an umbrella, but failed to use it even though it was raining, you would talk in the first person present – “I am an umbrella. Julia is carrying me but for some reason doesn’t use me.” Having finished saying what you could about yourself, your friends then ask you questions about yourself as the dream figure or object. These questions need to be simple and directly about the dream symbol. So they could ask – Are you an old umbrella? Does Julia know she is carrying you? What is your function as an umbrella? Are you big enough to shelter Julia and someone else? – and so on.

The aim of the questions is to draw out information about the symbol being explored. If it is a known person or object you are in the role of – your father for instance – the replies to the questions need to be answered from the point of view of what happened in the dream, rather than as in real life. Listen to what you are saying about yourself as the dream symbol, and when your questioners have finished, review your statements to see if you can see how they refer to your life and yourself.

If you are asking the questions, even if you have ideas regarding the dream, do not attempt to interpret. Put your ideas into simple questions the dreamer can respond to. Maintain a sense of curiosity and attempt to understand – to make the dream plain in an everyday language sense. Lead the dreamer toward seeing what the dream means through the questions. When you have exhausted your questions ask the dreamer to summarise what they have gathered from their replies. For more information about this see Step Four in Peer Dreamwork


To summarise effectively gather the essence of what you have said about each symbol and the dream as a whole and express it in everyday language. Imagine you are explaining to someone who knows nothing about yourself or the dream. Bring the dream out of its symbols into everyday comments about yourself.

For instance a man dreamt about a grey, dull office. When he looked at what he said about the office, he realised he was talking about the grey, unimaginative world he grew up in after the second world war, and how it shaped him.

See: Introduction to Dream Watching for full leads to useful features on exploring your dreams.

Carrying the dream forward

Imagine yourself in the dream and continue it as a fantasy or daydream. Alter the dream in any way that satisfies. Experiment with it, play with it, until you find a fuller sense of self expression. It is very important to note whether any anger or hostility is in the dream but not fully expressed. If so, imagine a full expression of the anger or feelings. It may be that as this is practised more anger is openly expressed in subsequent dreams. This is healthy, allowing such feelings to be vented and redirected into satisfying ways. In doing this do not ignore any feelings of resistance, pleasure or anxiety. Satisfaction occurs only as we learn to acknowledge and integrate resistances and anxieties into what we express.

If there are resistances to changing the dream, these show there is a difference in what you want, and what you feel unconsciously, or what your core self wishes. If you can, relate to any feelings of resistance as if they are sources or voices of realisation and information. Do not push them aside, but let them unfold to see if you can understand where they are arising form and what their message is. Only then can you move on, having cleared a blockage within you.

This is a very important step. It gradually changes those of our habits that trap us in lack of satisfaction, poor creativity or inability to resolve problems.

Example: When my husband died, for quite a few times I had this funny dream. I was walking along a field and saw a lot of sheep guiding me, and I followed them. Suddenly they disappeared into a cave. I went in the cave and a row of mummies were there. One was wearing a medallion on a chain round its neck. The dream recurred quite often. One day Tony came to me and I told him the dream. He asked me to sit in a chair and relax, which I did. Then he said for me to go to the cave, and in my relaxed state I went and walked to the mummy with the medallion. Then he said take off the bandage from the top. As I unwound it the face of my dead husband was uncovered. I screamed and screamed and came out of the relaxation. Tony then said now let him go. I have never had that dream since. Betty E.

Use the body to discover dream power

The brain sends impulses to all the muscles to act on the movements we are making while dreaming, but usually a part of the brain inhibits these movements while we dream. Occasionally however the action of the dream wakes us enough for these impulses to move or cry out to break through the inhibition and we observe ourselves thrashing about in bed, or kicking and shouting.

The important factor is that a dream is more than a set of images and emotions, frequently it is also powerful urges to express physically and emotionally. These are usually movements and emotions we are not allowing ourselves to express while awake, otherwise we would not be dreaming them.

If we explore a dream sitting quietly talking to a friend, even if we allow emotions to surface, we may miss important aspects of our dream process. Through physical movement the dream process releases tensions and deeply buried memories that are stored in our body. These do not release and heal by simply talking about them. Exploring a dream while awake appears to avoid the inhibitory influence and spontaneous impulses to move can express.

It is often enough to realise this aspect of dream exploration is possible for such spontaneous movements to emerge when necessary. By being aware of the body’s need to occasionally be involved in expression of dream content, we may catch the cues and let these develop. Frequently all you need to do is to let the body doodle or fantasise while exploring a dream.

Jung suggested this technique for times when the person was stuck in intellectual speculation. To practice it you can take a dream image and let the hands spontaneously doodle, watching what is gradually mimed or expressed. When you have gained skill doing this, let the whole body take part in it. This can unfold aspects of dreams that the other approaches might no help with. See: Sleep Movements. A fuller description of this process is contained in my books Mind and Movement and Liberating the Body.

Be a different character, or have a dialogue between two characters or objects

Every part of a dream, whether an object, person or animal, is alive with your own intelligence. Each part has been created out of you in some way, and depicts some area of your own total being. You can therefore talk with a dream person, animal or object. Such dialogue is of great importance and very revealing.

To do this, imagine yourself as one of the characters, animals or objects in your dream, as described above. It may help at first to have two chairs – one empty and one you are sitting in. The character or object of your dream is in the empty chair. When you are ready to be that character move from your chair, sit in the empty chair and speak as that character. To answer or question the character from your own identity, move to the original chair and speak from your own character.

Be playful and curious in doing this. Question the character, and when you move to that role, let whatever your feelings are as that character motivate what you say and do. Exploring your dream in this way unfolds a great deal of information that would otherwise remain unconscious. It also enables you to make real changes in unconscious attitudes or habits, as you are literally dialoguing with areas of character patterning or programming, and can change them or learn from them.

People often say ‘But is what I am saying true or relevant?’ They ask this because they are worried that if they let themselves play they will confuse themselves or produce something meaningless. It doesn’t matter if what you say and do is complete fantasy. Everything you produce is like a piece of a jigsaw puzzle. It either has relevance to your life and fits in by explaining something to you, or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t explain anything, or fit into your life, put it to one side.

Example: When I spoke as the new born baby of my dream I really felt as if this was me, newly born. I had a difficult birth and my reaction was that I wanted nothing to do with life. I wanted to stay curled up like an egg, not getting involved in the exterior world.

My adult observing self could see how this baby part of me had led me to be withdrawn from social activity all my life, so I explained this to the baby me, saying – I need you to be ready to meet the world with me. You are a part of me and if you continue to withdraw I lack the enthusiasm to get involved with other people. So I really need you.

Back as the baby I felt totally vulnerable and didn’t want to take any risks, said, “No I don’t want to come out of the egg.”

As the adult again I said – “Look, if you remain curled up this is more of a gamble than actually getting out and taking risks in life. Just lying there anything can get you.”

As the baby this really got to me. I felt a change in me and a readiness to begin the journey of meeting life outside the womb.

This change really made a difference to my everyday activities. A lifelong habit of being introverted gradually dropped away. Trevor P.

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