Understanding the Dream

dreamimages (5)

‘Lack of conscious understanding does not mean that the dream has no effect at all. Even civilised man can occasionally observe that a dream which he cannot remember can slightly alter his mood for better or worse. Dreams can be ‘understood’ to a certain extent in a subliminal way, and that is mostly how they work‘. * Carl Jung: ref below 

 It is better to be uncertain about what the dream may be seeming to portray. In any event, one ‘understands’ better retrospectively. I often ask myself : can I depend on my own understanding? What other subliminal forces are at work of which I may be unaware?

The urge to have an answer to the meaning of the dream is real. Many of us live our lives to some degree through unconscious expectations and thus are often disappointed at the marriage that went wrong or lack of success at the job, as writer, as friend … fill in the blanks. And want answers. There are many unanswered questions when we note our dream and this is where we usher in the mystery of it. We can unpack it to some extent, like a Poirot on the scent of unclear clues. I’ve painted a few striking dreams – and I’m no artist by any stretch of the imagination. I spent much time resisting, and then fashioning my painting; it was worth the effort, even though it was the last thing I wanted to do. I had to let go of my inhibitions about it not being good, or worthy, or perfect or any good. But the dream was important. And the image lent itself to being painted. Sometimes the hands work out something that the mind cannot to paraphrase Jung.

An unpleasant dream makes us uncomfortable, even subliminally, unless of course we simply discard it as so much rubbish and give it no more heed. We are the authors of our dreams, no one else. They come from down under, the deepest recesses of our being. Most of my dreams are absolutely unexpected and leave me mystified, at least for quite a while, until I ‘work’ on/with them, and allow them to work on me … they’re an unfinished symphony.

* Carl Jung: ‘Approaching the Unconscious’ in Man and His Symbols.

with thanks to google images for the graphic

55 Comments on Understanding the Dream

  1. How my ego loves to take charge and make meaning. As I’ve said in comments before, I try to focus less on meaning in the beginning and focus more on the image and the feeling of the image. I’m a inept painter who tries to capture strong dream images, too. There’s something powerful about honoring the dream content in that way. I give it time and let the unconscious know I’m listening. I agree that any creative expression helps–dancing, singing, making a sand tray.

    I heard the song “Let It Be” sung to me by a dream chorus after my husband’s death. My sons and I sang that song when we buried his ashes.

    • Ha! How well you put that Elaine, our tendency for the ego to ‘take charge and make meaning’. The dream deserves so much more than that – and as you say honouring it by way of giving it time and letting the unconscious know that you’re listening.

      My heart always does a little flip when I hear ‘Let it Be’ as it is again reading your comment thank you Elaine.

    • Thanks Anna, you’re right, anything that is creative and expressive is excellent. The hands often work out what the head cannot. Thank you for coming by ..

  2. whenever I see a death in my dream, I wonder what made me dream that. But I don’t probe more an it scares me to even think about it.
    Wonderful post on dreams and it’s meanings.

    • Thanks for coming by Rajlakshmi … sometimes things or people need to die in the dream to allow something new to be born, consciously, but this is a very simplistic statement of mine. The meanings in the dream if one can grasp them from the image or the dream, allow for a fuller appreciation of life – one’s own – as one appreciates the other aspects of one’s self.

  3. can I depend on my own understanding ? I don’t think so, its not easy to get a ready answer for the dream, as I understand reading your post, we need to wait for the right time….. thanks for making every post of yours unique and interesting.. I am glad to be reading your post, and I look forward for the other letters Susan.. thanks for sharing

    • Thanks Genevive, yes waiting is an essential part of it all. And not necessarily hoping for a definitive answer. Just maybe, that the dream is leading you in a direction for you alone … to know yourself better.

  4. Hi Susan .. Kern’s comment makes so much sense .. and you have some wonderfully ‘aligned’ commenter friends here .. lots to learn from ..

    I need a dream to understand … and then time to let it ripen .. so interesting these posts .. cheers Hilary

    • Thanks Hilary – understanding the dream is not necessarily it’s purpose though – though always nice to get a glimpse of it’s message as it ripens …

  5. “Unfinished symphony” is a beautifully apt way of describing dreams–they may be fascinating and delightful in their unfinished state, but how much richer and more fulfilling if we patiently pluck and strum their deeper, lovelier songs from them.
    If your post had physical form, I would hug it mightily.

    • Thank you Kern – if I could hug your comment in physical form I would hug it right back. Right now as I’m typing I see your one has come up on my computer – am heading over there.

  6. I’m fascinated that you have tried to paint your dreams. I’m not an artist either but it would be interesting (fun even) to see where the sketch ends up. I had an Art 101 instructor once that encouraged digging deep into ourselves as we sketched a nude model. I couldn’t believe what I did with one piece of charcoal. I looked around the class and everyone else had a different interpretation.
    Inventions by Women A-Z

    • Thanks Sharon. Your art instructor had it right! And you too, noticing that everyone had a different interpretation-representation ..

  7. Ooo. I like that “unfinished symphony.” Writing them out will be helpful. I’m not much of a drawer/artist either, but I had an image of a tree woman, once, with hair flowing down like willow branches. I’ve tried to draw it, but it never looks right.

    • Your image is a very powerful one Mary thank you. I’m reminded of a nature goddess. Could you do an abstract painting of her? – and anyway, what does right mean? She could be an unfinished work …

  8. I like the vortex image since so many of our dreams seem to suck us into a different world of unfinished business or places that offer a glimpse to an answer. A lot to think about here, Susan, and so I shall. Have a great weekend.

  9. I love that dreams can be the answer to those annoying questions. It makes sense. Our brains take in so much more than it can process, why not through dreams?

    • Thanks Jacqui – though hopefully I’ve emphasised that the the search for definite answers is not the dreams’ purpose. They can help to re-frame.

  10. Susan, sometimes the images (shapes, like U & V )) are, like dreams, sewn together as a fabric presenting two complementary thoughts, using the top layer. A layer of fabric on the under-side wants to tell a story about something that is soon to come. Soon to come are delicious new ideas.

    • That’s a lovely image Joseph thank you – the weave of the fabric comes to mind, the stitiching and unstitching (when necessary)of it

  11. Sara Snider said it best — it’s not the finished version of the symphony, but the playing of the notes. And, further, the scary part for me IS that I am getting old and that I must prepare for the next life, next journey, as well as for the end of this lifetime — playing the notes all the way.

    It is the feeling, too, that I am left with, often, after I dream I don’t remember.

    Yes, much to think about, Susan. You have given us a wonderful journey through enlightenment in the dream world.

    Thank you.

  12. So I guess telling ourselves, “It’s only a dream,” isn’t particularly effective? Or even true?

    • Thanks J.H. When eg we wake from an uncomfortable dream and say thank heavens it’s not true it was only a dream, we will get momentary respite. It depends on our attitude and if we want to pay attention ..

  13. “U” is shaped almost like a satellite antenna transmitter/receiver, and
    “V” for tomorrow’s blog is shaped like an old-fashioned rabbit-ear antenna on an old-fashioned TV

    I am wondering about telling you and A to Z bloggers about how you are/have/will be communicating these wonderful comments and responses way into cosmic space. Astronaut Edgar Mitchell will also be proud of you!!!

    If my mind allows me to remember this thought by tomorrow, or to look for my notes on “Microsoft Word” on my computer…then – – -?

  14. Suasan – just as I did during last April’s challenge, I am once again reminded how perfect “Garden of Eden” is for the name of your blog. Reading and digesting such a comprehensive daily treatise on our dreams makes me feel as if I am in a primitive state somewhere between the womb and the present. It is magical, even as it strains my consciousness to absorb all that you are sharing. This will be a month of posts I return to repeatedly as dreams fill my early morning hours and I strive to understand what they tell me about my world. Thank you!

    • Sammy D, thank you … I miss you from last year’s challenge. That is so beautifully put: ‘… our dreams makes me feel as if I am in a primitive state somewhere between the womb and the present’. An image of note. Don’t try to understand too much … let it’s affect and effect just be .. and I know you paint and sketch ..

  15. Here’s my “U” word: Unleashed. Susan, you have UNLEASHED a lot of helpful information which has evoked comments showing it resonates with your audience here.

    • Thank you Marian! (Bit of hitting and whacking earlier though ..). Perhaps some will pay attention to their dreams; such a gift to have them as part of one’s self.

  16. I love the idea that dreams are unfinished symphonies. Which, I imagine, extends to our outer selves. We are all works of art, works in progress. It’s not the finished version that’s important, it’s the playing of notes or strokes of the brush. Lovely.

    • That is lovely how you say this, Sara thank you – works of art, works in progress and what you say about the playing of notes and the stroke of the brush. I think that of your tales of creatures in the trees..

  17. Oh man, you hit me square between the eyes with this post. I feel like I have given up on my dreams as I’m afraid to work on them… to chase them. My excuse is that I’m “too old” and I can continue from there. There is much we can do or dream if we allow ourselves to… and with Patricia’s post decide and change.

    Excellent post… learning to become more aware of our dreams and to follow through… to discover.

    • Oh dear Gwynn, all this whacking and hitting .. don’t chase the dream, many times we just have to wait. Discover what has been covered, and uncover ..

      It doesn’t matter what age we are .. you can always be the metaphorical archeologist, digging deeper ..

  18. So true, Susan. Most of my dreams are unfinished symphonies that I am still waiting on. Sometime I believe the scary part is that we fear we may never get an answer, and so we write off dreaming as unimportant. When we do that, we separate ourselves from that deep ocean filled with puzzle pieces about ourselves that dwells within us. It is like separating self from self.


  19. Ah, so my method of modifying unpleasant dreams comes into question again today…but I like happy endings! Do you think if you address issues while awake that your dreams will be more pleasant? That the need to whack you over the head with the message might be eliminated? Just wondering…

    • Thanks for coming by Beth. Addressing issues while awake is always constructive.Dreams that whack you over the head thankfully are never eliminated. They need not all be horrible, some may be affirming and whichever way they raise more questions than ‘answers’. Whichever way the gift of the dream is for you …

  20. So greatly stimulating and UPLIFTING is this series of A to Z,, – – – that, when I awoke at 3:15 A M today, I started thinking, “How do congenitally blind people dream, and how about dreams by really creative people?”

    POP! Hans Christian Anderson POPPED right into my head!!! Was this the influence on me by Susan who recently replied to my comment that even things unexpectedly coming to mind during daytime can be important?

    Hans Christian Anderson is famous for very much, and it seems synchronous to me that the tale told by HCA is titled: THE LAST DREAM OF THE OLD OAK. (1858)


    • Thank you Joseph! Uplifting is a great word and I’m glad/uplifted that you feel this. Good on HCP popping in, it does sound synchronous that it popped in, as things do in ‘ordinary life’. Dream of the Old Oak is surely one to access and read. I will look it out.

  21. susan susan susan you have lifted the bar so high
    each post perfectly complements the one before and the one to follow.
    such grace such depth such brevity .
    I take my hat off to you and the valuable ‘understandings’ you have shared with us all over this month.

    • Sandra thank you, that is so kind. I feel that way about your beautiful posts. I have some catching up to do on them.
      Blessings to you, Susan

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