There is a guiding principle to dream interpretation, and Edgar Cayce said it best when he called for us to interpret the dreamer and not just the dream.
Dreams are a tool, like the proverbial finger pointing to the moon. Don't focus on the finger or you will miss out on all the celestial magic. Dreams are the finger and they are pointing to the dreamer. Interpreting your dreams is an exercise in self-discovery and self-growth. They are almost always referring back to you and every character, image and emotion is usually referring to various parts of your psyche.
The primary purpose of dreams is to attempt to balance the psyche. Keeping this in mind will help you understand the meaning of your dreams and prevent you from getting way off track in your interpretation.
Trying to understand one dream in isolation is like trying to understand a person by spending one day with them. By recording all of your dreams in a dream journal you will, over time, find it easier to understand individual dreams you have in the future.
Dreams are like plays or movies that we create every night, and they have a similar structure. It can be helpful to look for this structure when trying to understand your dreams:
- Location: Where does the dream take place? How do you feel about that place? What emotions arise within you as you think about it? Does it have any relationship with a real place you know?
- Characters: Who are the characters? How are you presented? Who is the antagonist? How do you feel about each of those people (including the presentation of yourself), and how do they relate to parts of your own personality or to people you know?
- Plot: How does the plot unfold? There is usually a beginning (where the story is established and begins to build), a middle (where a crisis peaks), and an end (where the crisis gets resolved though sometimes dreams don't provide the solution and end in the middle of the story because it is up to you to provide the resolution).
Sometimes (rarely) dreams can be very literal and they are easy to understand. There is nothing wrong with asking whether the face value of the dream may have meaning for you.
Most often, however, dreams are shrouded in symbolism that points beyond the literal image. They can be trying to communicate a very specific message that applies to your waking life, they may be merely trying to balance your emotional life or they may just be hinting at some thoughts or emotions in progress without any final resolution yet in mind.
Dreams are often messages from our subconscious mind that are resisted by our conscious mind. For this reason, the subconscious often cloaks the message in symbols so the dream isn't immediately rejected or simply avoided by the conscious mind.
Unraveling these symbols can be very difficult, but also a lot of fun. It's the ultimate mystery and the most elaborate puzzle, but the answer is always within you.
Sometimes the answers are as simple as consulting a dream dictionary for the meaning of common symbols and archetypes. However, each person is different and has their individual dream dictionary. To make things even more interesting, your personal dream dictionary can change over time.
Interpreting your dreams can provide you with a life-long quest that goes way beyond the puzzle solving of the Da Vinci Code, but can also be much more rewarding.