Wonderland of Dreams

While broadcasting in Australia the presenter, a rather ‘old school tie’ man in his fifties, asked me what the point of remembering dreams was. He could personally see no merit in them. His question led me to the realization of two of the great wonders of dreams. The first is that if I lived without ever remembering my dreams I would have a one dimensional life devoid of the possibility of extraordinary riches of experience. Dreaming, daydreaming, imagination and fantasy, so extend your range of experience, that you double or treble your experiential life span. The difference between the dreamer and the non dreamer is more marked if the dreamer takes the trouble to learn something of the country they travel through. A world traveler is hardly any wiser from their journey if they do not think about what they see, learn something from the foreign lands, and see if it can be applied to their life.


An example of this is Albert Einstein’s youthful dream. He said that during adolescence he experienced a dream in which he was riding a sledge. It went faster and faster until it reached the speed of light. When this happened the stars began to change into amazing patterns and colours, dazzling and beautiful. His meditation on that dream throughout the years led to the Theory of Relativity.

The second realisation is that if our distant ancestors had not been able to dream, we would not have had the mental potential to become human. All mammals dream, and I see this ability of their mind to play with experience or information, to rearrange it and try it in different guises and formats, as fundamental to the enlarged creativity and functioning of the human mind.

Of course, these two great principles – the gaining of  experience other than through our senses from the external world; and the ability to play with information and creatively experience it in different formats, or practice new responses to old situations – are not limited rigidly to dreams. Whatever it is that creates dreams however, does appear to be the very fount of our ability to transcend the one dimensional time track of our physical life. Instead of Tuesday following Monday; and Wednesday coming after Tuesday, mechanically on and on, we have the ability on Wednesday of lifting up into the other dimension of mind and looking back at Monday. We may even imagine how we might have lived Monday differently. We can harvest information and glean new experience from it by replaying Monday over and over, if we wish. When Friday comes we are then armed with a wealth of experience, that Monday by itself never gave us, with which to enrich the day.

Entering a dream is similar to opening a book and starting to read. The images and events of the dream are purely the covers of the book. The covers hold within them a mass of information which only unfolds to you if you care to take time with it. Taking time with your dream in this way unveils your own unconscious processes of feeling and thought.

These two points are important to remember because dreams are often presented as being:  1) Meaningless. 2) Symbolising repressed urges. 3) Predictions of the future. 4) Messages from spirits or the unconscious.

Recognising them as being a connecting link with your own creative play of mind, and with the almost unbelievable wealth of information and experience you hold unconsciously, may be a new viewpoint. It is certainly not widely held.


Some years ago I had a dream in which I was in Italy deciding to learn the language and immerse myself in the way of life. My exploration of this dream illustrates how dreams show the processes of ones own mind, and hold immense information. For instance my father, although born in Britain, had two Italian parents. Therefore my immediate association with dreaming about being in Italy, a country I have never visited, was the connection with my father and my Italian forebears. Learning the language and way of life I also associated with becoming conscious of the cultural viewpoints of my ancestors. The personal experience and association of ideas out of which I had created the dream imagery were thereby highlighted, but I had not discovered immense resources of new information. This came when I explored the feelings involved in the dream and in my associations with them.

Exploring in this way was an extraordinary experience. A sensation arose from within of remembering the essence of struggle and passion of my forbears for generations. I felt the essence of their life as farmers who lived within a religious and political climate that was murderous and suppressive. If they did not conform to the demands of state and church, the armed assassins called soldiers or guards would destroy their crops and murder their children. This as a warning to others. To have ones children killed was a worse terror, I felt, than being butchered oneself. To us it felt like our vine of life would be cut off at the root.

The result of this was that as a family we had learnt to ‘keep our head down’, not speak out our thoughts or state our independence. We kept a meek face to others to assure our survival. I remembered a great deal more, drawn as it were from the previously unknown and unthought of history of my family. I am not claiming that one touches an inherited pool of memory in this way. It was clear to me at the time that I had gathered the information through the sort of imprinting many animals experience  from parents. My dream process had put flesh on the bones of the information taking in via the unspoken body signals and behaviour of my father. It is too much to mention here. Suffice it to say I learnt the ‘language’ of Italy. The experience enriched me enormously. I had also transcended the narrow one dimensional track of my life.


There is no great mystery to discovering the wealth of content in your own dreams. There are some things to learn and practice, but rewards come fairly quickly. One of the easiest places to begin is to look at your dream as if it were a story. Write it down without stinting on use of words. Then look at what words you have used to describe it and what its themes are.

In looking at how you have described the dream remember some basic facts about how you use language. Your largely subliminal understanding of the formatting of words in sentences also influences the structure of your dream. David Rumelhart of the University of California uses the following example to show this mental functioning.

“Mary heard the ice cream van coming down the street. She remembered her birthday money, and ran into the house.”

In those two sentences there is no definite information saying that Mary is a child, or that she is going to buy ice cream with her money. Yet it is almost certain you assumed those things. In fact you probably built up a picture of Mary and her surroundings, giving her skin colour, temperament, street scene and weather, plus a lot more. But see how different it is if a word is changed.

“Mary heard the ice cream van coming down the street. She remembered the gun and ran into the house.”

You see – Mary is now a different age and the whole situation has changed – with just a minor modification. This sort of meaning through context is important in dreams also. Consider the difference between these two sentences for instance.

She inherited a fortune and he married her.

He married her and she inherited a fortune.

Here is a dream recently told to me by a woman, Julie. In looking at it we can put the information about language to work. Julie  is walking alone in a town, maybe London. She is trying to find a place she wants to get to. She keeps missing her way, or discovers the place is not where she thought it was. She begins to feel hopeless and lost and turns back to return to where she came from. The same problem occurs though – she cannot find her way back.

To clarify the dream, try imagining it with different formats. For instance what difference would it make if Julie found the place she was looking for? What would be the change if she were not alone? Why is Julie in a town and not the country? In other words what might she find in a town that might not be in the country? Would it make any difference in what the dream is portraying if she did not feel hopeless, and just kept looking?

Looked at in this way it becomes fairly clear that the dream is a quite particular statement like the sentences quoted above. Making changes portrays quite another situation, and thus clarifies what the dream itself communicates.

Having considered it in this way the next step is to write down what you see in your dream. If I do this with the dream quoted above, it would read as follows.

Julie is looking for something or trying to get somewhere (the highest probabilities are that she is attempting to ‘get somewhere’ she hasn’t been before in a relationship or work). Being by herself suggests she feels unsupported or alone in this. Her presence in the town indicates it is more to do with work than a relationship. Knowing she lives in the country helps me to this conclusion. The feeling of hopelessness she experiences leads me to see her as losing confidence in the new undertaking and wanting to find the security of what she already knows or is used to. That does not work for her though. One can speculate that if it is to do with work, Julie is seeking the change or the new thing because her present work scene isn’t providing what she wants. But having imagined the possibility of her in the town without panicking, I can see she is missing the option of going somewhere other than to her preconceived goal or back to where she started. She could look for somewhere that she was able to find or be satisfied in.

Striking out alone in the dream shows Julie expressing her independent nature. Her emotions of hopelessness, and the fact she does not find satisfaction, lead me to think she has skills or options she is missing. So, not only does looking at the dream in this way clarify the situation it is dramatising, but it also defines alternatives in behavior you might be missing.


If you remember your dreams frequently enough you will have noticed how often recurring themes, or even recurring dreams, occur. It is likely that such dreams recur because in dreaming you spontaneously create an image or drama of your internal state of mind and feelings. Because many of your responses to events and people are habitual – i.e. recurring – then your created image of your internal world also repeats. This is mentioned because it highlights the importance of recognising your possible alternatives. Some habits are supportive, but habits of anxiety, self defeat or entrapment in limited concepts of yourself are best exchanged.

Valerie sent me the following dreams while I was working as dream columnist for The Daily Mail. Valerie says, “I am driving a double decker bus from the top deck. I have difficulty in controlling it and reaching the pedals. In other dreams I have driven down strange country lanes. Or I am terrified because I cannot stop or go around bends.  Another time I was driving a mini bus – again couldn’t reach the pedals – was on racing bike and didn’t know how to stop. In my latest dream driving a mini car – which I own – I couldn’t stop and ran into another car. I carried on down the road, but this time stopped at some traffic lights and got onto a bike and went to a driving school office. I asked them if they could help me with my problem. This last dream was after reading about you in the Daily Mail.”

Valerie’s dreams show her habit of anxiety. Being unable to brake probably illustrates how Valerie relates to her emotions or sexuality. For instance anger, once it gets moving, has an inner momentum of its own, much like a car. Emotions or drives we find hard to stop can get us into difficulty. In her last dream, however, Valerie sees an alternative – she can take driving lessons! If no satisfying alternative arises in your dream however, create one by imagining the options as already described.

Although Valerie’s last dream has humour in it, to be trapped in fears; to live in a mental world in which you are certain of yourself as a failure; even to be stuck in the values of your parents or peers, is no joke. So for Valerie to see she has the possibility of changing her behaviour is a bright vision.

Copyright © 1999-2010 Tony Crisp | All rights reserved