Only In Dreams: Analyzing Your Unconscious Mind

While dreams about floating or flying are common, they can have very different meanings depending on details. For example, a dream in which the subject is floating but can’t control their speed or direction could be negative, whereas an in-control levitation could be positive. SHUTTERSTOCK

What do our dreams mean, and why are we fascinated by them? Newsweek explores the meaning of dreams in a new Special Edition, Spiritual Living, The Secret to Peace and Happiness. This article, by Assistant Editor Alicia Kort, is excerpted from this issue.

For as long as humans have roamed and rested, dreams have been at the forefront of life's mysteries. Once widely regarded as visions or portents of what the future might hold, today, dreams are more commonly considered as a window into the unconscious mind, a theory popularized by Sigmund Freud in the early 1900s. Dreams are incredibly personal, and yet many of us dream about similar things, which has led dream interpreters to develop explanations for the recurring images many of us see while we slumber. While there is still much we do not fully understand about our dreams, some believe unfogging the unconscious might help people better understand their conscious selves as well as reveal emotional conflicts occurring just beneath the surface.

For example, that "weird dream" you had last night about your teeth falling out could be your unconscious telling you to look deeper, as there might be a serious issue you need to work out. "The teeth falling out dream is showing us that we are attempting to tell ourselves lies," says Brad Johnson, also known as the Reality Whisperer, who conducts dream interpretation sessions. "The body is basically crumbling away because we're not able to admit something to ourselves."

Although some people do share recurring dream elements, most of us have unique dreams that apply only to what's been going on in our own lives. People often unconsciously try to parse out relationships with loved ones or those who have died, a process that takes place while they are dreaming. The Christmas ornament your late grandmother gave you might keep popping up in your dreams, but an explanation for why likely won't be in a dream dictionary. You have to find the significance of that imagery on your own.

"It's not about looking into a dream dictionary from A to Z, saying a bird means this and a tree means that," states Johnson. "It's being able to see how everything ties together with everything else through a particular sequence of dreams."

But in order to interpret your dreams you need to remember them, a process that proves difficult for many people. Johnson recommends putting a journal or recording device near your bed to keep detailed notes about your dreams as soon as you wake up. He also recommends waking up more slowly with minimal movements as opposed to jolting out of bed when the alarm sounds. "You have to imagine, in a way, that another person is dreaming this, but you know that other person in that particular way. Your'e stepping outside of yourself and basically attempting to analyze a puzzle," Johnson says.

As you grow more comfortable interpreting your dreams, you might want to move on to lucid dreaming, the act of controlling your dreams while you're in them. According to Johnson, remembering what you've dreamed in great detail is a vital step before attempting lucid dreaming, primarily because if you cannot visualize your dreams, you'll have a difficult time controlling them.

When attempting to inhabit and control your own dreams, you first need to realize you're dreaming. Johnson recommends relying on a trigger to help you recognize when you're asleep. Whether it's a movement or an object you can focus on while meditating (Johnson's trigger is snapping his finger), it's something you should practice while awake so you can, as the saying goes, do it in your sleep. There are also sleep masks on the market that facilitate lucid dreaming through LED light cues and subtle vibration.

Hitting the snooze button and catching a few extra winks might not be best for your punctuality, but it can do wonders for understanding your dreams because a slow wake-up allows more retention than a startling alarm. JULIEN L. BALMER/STOCKSY

"I have had a few lucid dreams," Johnson says. "I've been able to alter the past and different landscapes. I've been able to bring more close friends into my dream as well. I was able to fly. Mainly, what I like to do is follow 'the story' of my dreams, because I personally enjoy what my own subconscious is trying to tell me." Johnson believes anyone can engage in lucid dreaming and recommends the process as a way of further interpreting your own subconscious. "It's a very remarkable experience when you have that conscious creativity to lucid dream and reshape your reality in lots of ways."

Hollywood Dreams: Exploring the subconscious has made ts way to the multiplex in a variety of films.

Inception (2010) A thief (Leonardo DiCaprio) who uses dream-sharing technology to steal secrets must plant an idea in a CEO’s head while he slumbers. The movie features dreams within dreams, as well as controlling, altering and occasionally firing guns at the worlds created by the subconscious. MOVIESTILLSDB
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) When he finds out his ex has had him erased from her mind as part of a new medical procedure, Joel (Jim Carrey) decides to do the same, but he changes his mind at the last moment and starts hiding memories of his ex (Kate Winslet) in his subconscious. MOVIESTILLSDB

This article was excerpted from Newsweek's Special Edition, Spiritual Living, The Secret to Peace and Happiness, by Issue Editor Trevor Courneen. For more about spiritual livng, pick up a copy today.

Spiritual Living

Editor's Picks

Newsweek cover
  • Newsweek magazine delivered to your door
  • Unlimited access to
  • Ad free experience
  • iOS and Android app access
  • All newsletters + podcasts
Newsweek cover
  • Unlimited access to
  • Ad free experience
  • iOS and Android app access
  • All newsletters + podcasts