Tests of Analysis

Do You Dream

Tony Crisp

Chapter Nine

From all that has been said, a whole collection of methods present themselves suggesting how we can understand a dream. I suppose one could use all these methods on a single dream, and arrive at a whole spectrum of information. But the question now arises as to whether the interpretation is correct. After all the effort, is it right? It is not just a question of whether the answer satisfies us; it must also enlighten us. It must do even more than that. What we arrive at must fit the events and symbols of the dream, and unveil the characters of our inner life that have clothed themselves in the forms and events of the dream. The interpretation should make sense to other people also, so that if explained, they too can easily see the connection between dream and interpretation. The interpretation should be able to stand the test of time as well.

One of the biggest temptations in analysing our dreams, the thing that most often leads to a false interpretation, is to attempt a purely arbitrary translation of the symbols. By this is meant that because one dreams of a bag, a large key and a snake, one should not therefore immediately denominate these as ‘sexual symbols’. They may be; and we have to keep this possibility in mind. But the dreamer may be a locksmith who is having difficulty opening an important bag. In which case the symbols represent a problem and not sexual intercourse. And he may have a friend who keeps snakes, by one of which he was nearly bitten. So the snake might mean fear of death. This is why one has to be careful to find one’s own associations with the symbols. Only when we cannot find a personal association; or the dream setting does not point to the possible meaning, should we try a general interpretation. Jung has said that if the dreamer finds difficulty in arriving at an association, he would ask him to describe the symbol in his own words, as if Jung knew nothing about it. Therefore, if one dreamt of a table, one would say, ‘It is a thing usually made of wood and having four supports. Upon these a flat surface is fixed, so that one can place objects, food, books, etc., on it at a level nearer one’s hands or mouth.’ Or at least, one would describe it as one saw it.

As for how we can test the interpretation, dissatisfaction is the biggest clue to our inadequate understanding of the dream. If there are factors in the dream which we have not explained, or if the interpretation does not bring to light the inner feelings that shaped the dream, then one will always have a feeling of dissatisfaction. It is as if two parts of a puzzle have not been properly fitted together, or, although the pieces fit, the colours do not quite match. Thus arises the feeling of not having found the right solution.

On the other hand, when the right understanding is arrived at, a very profound thing happens. There is usually a feeling of thrill, a sudden pleasure of exaltation, a feeling of being on the track. This is usually accompanied by a sense of seeing deeply into yourself, sometimes into parts of your being never bared to view before. In all, there is a feeling of pleasure and achievement, of certainty. One is usually somewhat amazed at the wisdom of dreams, despite having felt the same many times before.

Another test of the interpretation’s accuracy, and a guard against arbitrariness, is to see whether it fits everyday experience. A dream nearly always deals with things one has experienced in one way or another. Therefore, if an interpretation does not fit or explain our actual experience, then it should be placed to one side. We must beware of using words we do not understand. For instance, we may read that Jung has said a dark-haired woman can represent a man’s anima, or female nature, while a dominant man in a woman’s dreams represents her animus. Or that Freud suggests that some cutting or scissors dreams might symbolise a fear of castration. But do we really, in our own experience, know what these mean? Can we see them in our own life? It is certainly not sufficient to label our dream symbols this, that or the other. If these ideas are true, then we shall see them in our own experience. We may not give them the same name even; but one that describes them to us! This is not to say that a knowledge of these ideas is not extremely helpful. It may even help us to see these things in our own experience. But we must beware of using such ideas without seeing them in ourselves. Therefore we have to look at ourselves and ask, ‘What part of me does this dream symbol represent? What experience is it dealing with?’ And when the word experience is used this does not simply mean events in the outer world. It means emotions, attitudes, ideas, response to people and events, relationships with others, with self, and with Life.

Sometimes, however, the dream deals with things that have not yet happened, but are about to happen. I am not here dealing with prophetic dreams. When a woman has a tummy ache and says, ‘Ah, my period is beginning’, she is not prophesying. She is speaking from past experience. In a similar way, the dream often sees that things are about to begin that are not outwardly obvious to us. For instance, a man dreamt that a bull broke loose and rushed into a field of cows. Shortly afterwards he was almost carried away by a release of sexual desires he had kept ‘chained up’. His inward feelings had warned of this in the dream. Yet outwardly he could see no sign of it. So with some dreams we have to see if ‘time’ reveals their meaning. Or to put it another way, we may interpret the dream satisfactorily but find no signs of it in our experience. Then it is for time to bring it into the realm of the real.

An example of arbitrary interpretation can be seen in this dream. ‘An unconventional looking postman delivered a registered package. But I didn’t open it.’ This was taken to mean that due to an Unconventional experience, the dreamer had realised something. Something had ‘registered’ on his consciousness, but he had not explored the possibilities of it. Although this seemed to fit the symbols, and no other ideas were forthcoming yet the dreamer could not, despite a lot of searching within, discover an experience of something registering that he had not explored. The registered package is a double symbol, because it also suggests something valuable contained in it. Therefore, despite a seemingly good interpretation, when it came down to testing it, no satisfaction was forthcoming. Which makes us realise that proper interpretation lies not only in reading the symbols, but in seeing the understanding applied to our life.

We can sum up the tests for interpretation then, as: Does it satisfy us? Does it explain us? Does it enlighten us? Can we see it as a part of our experience in the past, present or future? Above all, does it help us carry on with the business of living?

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