Flying… Discovering an extra room in your home… Being naked in public… Losing teeth…These are just a few of our most common dreams.
Some we forget while others leave us wondering what our lack of clothes or teeth is all about! Dreams help us process thoughts and feelings, says Jane Anderson, a dream analyst and therapist.
"A dream is a snapshot of how you see life and your place in it on any given night, based on your conscious and unconscious experiences of the last one or two days. Usually it focuses on a question or problem," she says.
We are only aware of 10 to 15 per cent of our thoughts, feelings, memories and beliefs. Lurking below is our unconscious mind and the experiences and feelings we don't want to confront. Dreams bring the unconscious mind to the fore and show us feelings and thoughts holding us back.
Dream therapist Martina Kocian says we may dream more often and more vividly when we're going through transition or a crisis. We also dream more when we're learning something new – dreams help our brain process and cement new information.
Insights and issues to look for in dreams
Each of the five dreams we have in an average night usually revolves around the same question or issue and each dream contains what Jane calls a 'Philosopher's Stone' - a useful insight we may not have realised before.
Recurring dreams are a sign we're not listening to the messages our dreams are trying to tell us.
"All the time we don't get the message and don't act on it, dreams repeat. Something is happening in your life that your dream is trying to make you aware of and the dream will recur until you acknowledge that message and make a change," explains Martina.
"Perhaps your dream relates to you not liking your job. Until you improve your work situation or look for a new job − or at least admit to yourself that you don't like your job, the dream will recur. Once you receive the message you're more open to the solutions that dreams can provide. Your dreams will then evolve and show you ways to make your working life better. Once you acknowledge what your bad dream is telling you, it disappears."
So how do you make sense of your dreams?
Questions to ask about your dreams: how do you feel about the dream?
When you wake up, notice how you feel. Do you feel angry? Upset? Frustrated? Happy? Confident?
"Feelings are an important factor in deciphering a dream. If you wake and your feelings are negative, what is in your life now that is making you angry or frustrated? Or what is going well for you?" suggests Martina.
Keep a journal of your dreams and include your feelings, what happens, who is in your dreams and what symbols appear. For example, the appearance of a baby in dreams doesn't mean you are pregnant! It represents new beginnings like the birth of a new relationship or a new project. Note down any symbols, even though they may not make sense initially.
You can then pick out recurring themes, people or locations that give you an idea of which area of life you may be concerned about, or that you may need to change. Jane uses a process called 'dream alchemy' that includes visualisation, affirmation and dialogue.
If you have a dream that's unsettling or frustrating, close your eyes and reimagine it. See the dream unfold with an ending that has an outcome you are hoping for.
"When you reimagine your dream with a new ending, you communicate with your unconscious mind and reprogram it," says Jane. Reimagine your dream 20 times a day for the first week, 10 times a day for the second week and twice a day for the following month.
"For example, if you keep dreaming that your teeth fall out or crumble when you speak, it indicates you can't speak your mind and you feel you're not being heard," says Jane.
So, imagine your mouth with strong, white teeth and picture yourself saying what you want to say. Think through the past one or two days when you felt unheard and reimagine yourself saying what's on your mind.
Identify the key signs and symbols in your dream. Choose a positive symbol from that dream and focus on it. Then use that symbol to write a positive affirmation.
"Don't use any negative words because your unconscious mind picks up on those," says Jane.
"For example, a common dream is to be flying and to see powerlines in your way. That powerline is a block or obstacle you have faced in the past day or two."
In the past one or two days, where have you doubted your abilities? Who or what is the 'powerline' in your way? Then write a sentence or two that reinforces that you can fly above the powerlines and that they will no longer stand in your way. Jane recommends saying the affirmation out loud 30 times a day during the first week and then in the morning and before you go to bed each night.
"Saying it out loud and with feeling is important because it creates emotion that has a positive impact on the unconscious mind, embedding it as a belief and replacing negative feelings," she says.
This only takes 20 minutes and Jane says the key is not to think too deeply about what you say. Based on your dream, write a question that it raises and then have a 'conversation' with one of the people or symbols in you dream. Write down the conversation and write without stopping.
"By not thinking and by keeping the words flowing, you let your unconscious mind do the work. Your unconscious mind created the dream so knows what it is all about," says Jane.
Begin the conversation by asking the symbol or person why they are in your dream. What is their point? What are they saying? What do they want? Write whatever comes into your mind. Jane says eventually you will uncover the reason why the symbol is part of your dream.
What happens when you have a bad dream…
Bad dreams can come in many guises but a common one is seeing yourself run away from something or someone scary. You are being chased by something or someone you don't want to face. Or you may be running away from something you don't like about yourself or your life or running from guilt. The thing that is chasing you may be a job you loathe, a relationship you no longer want, debts or a deadline.
"See yourself turning to face what is chasing you and turn it from something scary into something beautiful – sunshine or a pile of money perhaps. See the fear that you are now facing as something you can learn from," says Jane.
"Dreams can be a guru," adds Martina.
"We can spend a lot of time reading self-help books, searching for answers and doing personal development courses but dreams are a guide and they are so personal and part of our selves. They are greatly connected with our waking lives and who we are and the positive is that if anything is possible in our dreams, anything is possible in real life, too."