with Professor Nori Muster
The original Virtual University class took place in 1998, with approximately a hundred students. This is a page of excerpts from the class discussion boards.
Irma: For me, dreams are messages spoken in a foreign language which I am learning now. This foreign language is a symbolic language, expressed in pictures and events that tell me about myself, my world, and development. To reach the full humanity, I want to learn this language, because the conscious part of the world is only half of it—the richness of life demands the subconsciousness to be included too. Because the task to process my messy life is often demanding, my subconsciousness protects me against the reality by using symbolic language, which opens its meanings only after I am willing to process my messiness and confusions.
June: I looked up a common symbol for one of my dreams as suggested on homework for week two. After doing so, I am convinced the symbols are related to what is going on in my life at the time. I have a question, you know when the alarm goes off and you had been dreaming. Say that there was a fire and a fire engine goes past with the siren on, you hear the siren and then realize that its the alarm clock. But the dream seems to have been going on for a while that it couldn't have been made right when the alarm clock went off, it came before that or did it? Are dreams so fast?
Nori: Our subconscious minds are infinitely talented screen writers. It is amazing to see them work. The subconscious snatches a sound from here, a memory from there, and writes a story that seems to take hours, but happens in a split second. The power of the mind leaves us speechless.
June: What about those jolts, when you awaken suddenly? Are they because our astral self has been yanked back into our body and lands with a thump? Some cultures don't permit that kind of sudden wake up believing that it harmful to the persons astral body that it may cause some kind of misalignment.
Nori: It is probably true. Some ancient cultures knew more about dreaming than our modern scientists. Scientists will never find evidence of the existence of an astral body because they do not believe in it. However, they have learned a lot about physiology. They say jolts are the feeling of your natural brain chemicals kicking in.
Mary: I now firmly believe that (with the exception of a very few) a dream is god's way of assisting me in dealing with emotions/situations that are occurring in the present. Giving time and thought to my inner self by way of my dreams gives me a remarkable sense of personal prayer. Often I have said that a particular dream did not make sense because it was very disjointed. I wonder now if the portions of it I can recall are explanations of dilemmas or such and that the disconnections involved are necessarily there for self-preservation. Are the symbols cushioned by the seemingly meaningless stuff that weaves in and out of what is actually taking place? Like a concert on the main stage, and all the other stuff that goes on in the building; t-shirt sales, etc. Or, perhaps there is nothing that should be overlooked in symbolism. I feel strongly that a dream is a reflection of one's state of mind, but am wondering just how one can make a meaningful connection to reality, maybe the symbolism is not specific, but going in a direction. If this is the case, then dream symbols may be more on the order of subtle signals/guides.
Nori: Dreams are metaphorical on many levels at the same time. It is for the dreamer to decide what is important.
Sharon: I feel that dreams are the result of the brain trying to solve problems. I think they are also there to warn us of any danger that could be in the future, and of our subconscious relating to the conscious. The symbols in these dreams stand for something in our lives. I have always questioned who or what determined that if you dreamed of a particular item then your dream should be interpreted in a certain way. In the past I felt that dreams should be interpreted at face value even though that could be quite disturbing. Through experience and reading, I now believe that dreams do not necessarily mean what they appear to on the surface. I have always believe that if your dream was bright and sunny that was a good omen. Dark, gloomy, and gray was a bad sign.
Nori: Usually that would be right, but it depends on the individual dreamer's circumstances and the reasons he/she had the dream.
Richard: I feel that dreams are expressions of our subconscious telling us things that can heighten our awareness of ourselves if we take the time to study and think about them. I feel there are universal symbols that can have standard meaning but everyone's own personal history has to come into play, including the timing in their life, as well as their everyday living situation. A dream symbol at one point in one's life can mean something totally different to the same person at a different time in their life. I also believe that some people have a more developed sixth sense and that at times this is revealed to them in their dreams. I feel that is where the predictions of the future type dreams may arise from. Although this type isn't usually recognized until after the actual real life situation may come true.
Jung taught that this language includes archetypal, universal images from the collective subconscious of our species. Our shared experience makes it possible to codify symbols in dictionaries. It is vital to remember, however, that a particular image may have a unique personal meaning to the dreamer, in which case a dictionary definition could prove misleading. Consulting varied sources and keeping a journal for an extended period to trace recurring symbols can help solve the puzzle.
Teresa: The meaning of dream symbols, I feel, is a basis to interpret the dreams we have. I feel they are a guide to our journeys in dreams. If we have questions about the meaning of our dream, they give us a way to turn to understand them. Not that all symbols in dreams mean the same for each person. However the generic meaning of the symbol is a starting point for exploring your own interpretation.
Eileen: Is it possible that we use some universal symbols and then make up our own list of symbols as well? I sometimes feel that dreams are things or stories that we would like to happen and try to make the events happen if only in our dreams, like being with somebody romantically, or being in a different place.
We could say that dreaming is a mysterious phenomenon something like god, or that it has something to do with him even. The world in which we find ourselves while dreaming is distinctly different to that in which we live, in our dream world there is no start or finish. It is a kingdom unto itself, hidden in the most profound reality of this everyday world. Do our souls roam other worlds? Or one fabricated by our everyday doings and beliefs?
Nori: My theory is that sometimes we roam and other times we stay home.
Rochelle: Our soul, no longer limited by the body or earthly attraction, is able to undertake a myriad of activities, some of which we are ashamed of or happy about. The thing is we are able to do things we can't in earthly life—flying, dying, being young again, being physically different, meeting with friends who are miles away, speaking with animals, etc.
Eileen: We try to bring these things with us into our waking lives by making them into symbols that we can understand, and bring the experience to a level we can readily accept because it seems to make sense out of something that didn't before.
Nori: Yes, the symbols help us make sense of our experiences.
Elieen: It is amazing how they do their work. If our dreams are stories that our subconscious is trying to make us understand, then they are somewhat like the parables of the bible, the stories of the Sufi, the lessons of Buddha, etc. They all are stories to teach people how to live right, but those stories have several levels too. Is our subconscious sending us parables to improve our lives? Are we smart enough to understand what it is trying to tell us? Using those universal symbols, and a pinch of salt, I think so. Plus its fun, right?
Nori: Yes, I believe you are right. As to whether we are smart enough to understand, I would say many people are.
Eileen: That collective consciousness that Jung spoke of as if we somehow know a lot more than what we may have experienced in one short lifetime, could just be us connecting with the higher being, god—connecting to the place where we all came from, to a higher knowledge. In our dream state we are stripped of our physical body and our soul is able to connect with and let in information from that higher source. That information can be veiled, that is in a symbol form, or could be direct information of future events or warnings.
Rochelle: I think dreaming is the best gift we have here on earth if we learn to use it to our advantage. I believe its a great tool to better living. The symbol helps us to key in and identify what our subconscious is trying to tell us. When we dream about something over and over again, or when we have a particularly powerful dream or striking image in our dream, we are prompted to look up the meaning of the symbol. This act of trying to define the symbol helps us to further interpret the dream. Often, I will dream steady through the night but most of it seems to be a rehash of my day and not particularly significant.
Nori: They seems normal right now, but read the dreams in a year, or even a few months. The perspective may bring out information you overlooked.
Rochelle: I find sometimes too that some dream dictionaries will have negative connotations to the definitions. Sometimes a definition just goes clunk with me.
Nori: Me too, that's why I have a few around. The definition has to ring or click, but definitely not clunk.
Eveline: I then have to try and examine the symbol from a more personal viewpoint to try and get a definition. This is usually when I will find it helpful to discuss the dream with a close friend. Often their insights are quite valuable too! I believe dream symbols speak to us in metaphors. Interpreting the metaphor gives us clues to what our subconscious is trying to tell us.
Barb: By reading over all the different meanings of each pertinent symbol, a pattern seems to emerge. I'm finding there are levels—for lack of a better word—to be considered, such as mood, color, direction, etc. I may not be doing much actual interpreting as yet, but what I am learning is quite interesting.
I have spent the week reading through my new dictionary of dream symbols. I now understand what is a symbol. Upon first hearing symbols I was thinking of stars, asterisk, and the like, which I have never noticed in my dreams. Now I understand that a symbol is the action of the dream, such as falling, running, etc.
I think the dream symbol is divided into two or more options. One part is in relationship to your external world and the other deals with your inner ego. I used running as the symbol and it sent me to chase and flight. Flight then sent me to flying.
These symbols work by giving you enough information to match it with something in your life that you can feel you have a solution or a place to start looking for a solution. By keeping a dream journal you can then watch the dream and match it to events and see if a pattern emerges. I feel that defining a dream and finding the meaning of that dream could in some cases take a long time.
I believe that dreams are our subconscious communicating with us; to either assist us to go in the direction we are to travel in this life. It could also be a warning that something is going to happen and it is trying to prepare us for that event. I also believe that maybe it is helping us to deal with unnecessary baggage we carry around. By forcing us to deal with this baggage instead of burying it and allowing it to fester and infect our live.
Nori: Good progress, Barb. Be sure to look up nouns as well as verbs.
Ruth: I believe that dreams are as much an integral part of our lives as are our waking hours. In this altered state of consciousness we allow other parts of our lives and our selves to come forth—often in a different form that is difficult to understand. I don't believe in nightmares. Instead I see these dreams as the unconscious telling us to pay attention—zapping us in an incomprehensible fashion—calling on us to attend to that part of our lives and psyches that are in pain or in conflict. I often work with dreams in the old fashioned Gestalt way, i.e., giving a voice to and acting out the part of each player and element of the dream—and then using the Gestalt empty chair or a topdog/underdog dialogue.
Nori: We will be learning some Gestalt techniques in the next class.
Lisa: In a dream I had since starting this class, I am helping an old friend move his office. There is a young fellow there I do not particularly care for, as I think of him as immature. I am rather mean and nasty to him at one point. Later, I climb a ladder to pick up some things off the top of a tall bookcase. Coming down, I slip and clinging with one hand to the ladder, I scream for my friend, Brian, but he was too far away to help me. As I fell, the young man caught me. He is pleasant in spite of the fact that I did not treat him well earlier. I feel guilty because he is kind and does not bear any ill will towards me. I strongly suspect the young man is my animus. Perhaps this is trying to tell me to trust myself—all forms, sides and angles as there will be times even my best of friends cannot help me!
Nori: Excellent work. He probably is an aspect of your animus. Usually for women, all men in their dreams are aspects of the animus.
Margaret: I believe that symbols in your dream are a way for your subconscious to tell you something that in waking life you either just do not get (like a joke that goes over your head), are denying, or because you are so wrapped up in other things that you don't notice.
It is like your subconscious kicking your leg under the table. But because it is all in symbols it is more like a nudge. It is a way to refocus your attention on something you may have missed. Because in your conscious life you don't see these things outright, you are not going to see them outright, so your sleeping self uses more sublime ways of getting the message across.
I like to believe that dreams are clues to help guide our lives sent from a greater power which are couched in symbols so as to be understandable (hopefully) to one's conscious being.
The most surprising thing to me, and the realization of what these symbols mean to me, is that dreaming of a house or of a car represents myself.
Michelle: Frankly, I rarely use a book of dreams to interpret them. Or rather, I rarely have. when I try to recall a dream, I concentrate on what I felt, or how the events made me feel—oppressed, depressed, happy, peaceful, whatever—and used that as a basis for analysis. Then I would take whatever stuck out most in my mind (no matter if I remembered it because it was unusual or out of context, or simply fascinating for some reason) and I'd analyze how THAT had made me feel. You see, to me, dreams are the only place where a hammer is never "just" a hammer... or a kiss "just" a kiss... :) What is important is the feeling I had from the dream, and what that feeling refers to. For instance, if I was scared (we are assuming this was not a nightmare, but simply a disturbing dream), then I look for some situation or person that frightens me in the waking world, and use my actions in my dream to either come to grips with the situation, or simply realize there's a problem in the first place.
Nori: You are a natural, I encourage you to keep dreaming!
Linda: It is my belief that our dreams can contain portents of the future. In my experience, they have been a recap of previous activities, or a way to express worry I haven't taken the time to address formally. They give the brain an outlet for creativity and fantasy, most particularly, when those needs aren't being met in reality.
Diane: Dream symbols cannot be defined as "this means this, and that means that." Each person is unique, and what a particular object/event symbolizes to one person may symbolize just the opposite to another person. There is no way anyone could publish a precise dream dictionary, because we each see or perceive things differently. Even in one person, the same dream symbol can mean something different in two different dreams.
In order to be able to know what our dreams mean, we must realize that our unconscious is at work in our dreams, either trying to guide us or to correct us in some area in our lives, using symbols because of the complex nature of minds. Symbols usually mean something that our unconscious knows, but that our conscious minds do not want to accept or believe about ourselves. . . . or sometimes about someone close to us . . . but usually about ourselves. Our conscious mind censors out things it doesn't want to face, but our conscious mind wants us to face it, knowing that we need to, to know ourselves better and also to grow into the kind of person our unconscious knows we can be. . . . a better person.
The more we study and try to understand our dreams, the better we will know ourselves, and the better we know ourselves, the better our chances are of improving ourselves.
Diane: My realization of what dream symbols mean are to help you to understand many times, unresolved issues, in your waking life. The power of the subconscious mind, and problems or situations that we tend to block out, might be brought out by the dream symbols. They work, by my understanding, by symbolizing, pieces or fragments, of what you might already know, but need to bring forward. Sometimes what you might have deeply buried in your subconscious. Each symbol may be significant, in different ways, to different people and their dreams.
Sharon: I think dream symbols work to help us assess what is an unresolved issue in our waking life. Whether it is a problem that needs to be solved, an event that is happy in our life, or could possibly be stressful. Whatever our current situations may be have a direct influence on our subconscious. And in just my opinion, sometimes our subconscious mind might show us in a dream something we don't want to think about in our conscious state.
Am I making any sense at all? Or possibly show us a solution to a complex situation that might not be as complex as we make it, in real life.
Nori: Yes, you are making total sense.
Dave: I think symbols work on a variety of levels, by using our own language to try to speak to us (like using common metaphors), by using our personal histories to try to make connections clear to us drawing on personal symbols. For example, I used to keep gerbils as pets, so if I dreamt about someone holding a gerbil, that might be showing me that I see this person as someone I need to take care of. By using common stories (like the connection to Pinnochio in my marionette dream).
I read a little about Gestalt dream therapy, and if I remember correctly, in that theory, every object, action, and relationship in the dream is part of the dreamer. This also makes some sense, because even when we dream about another person, we usually are really dreaming about our relationship to that person, or our feelings for that person. My highest realization of what dream symbols mean is that everything in the dream is me, the producer, writer, actor, and the director. The symbols are inspired by god, to give us guidance and better understanding of our life, our potentials, and our right to choose right from wrong.
After looking through the dream dictionary I bought (by Betty Bethards) I felt that I will need to save for another dream dictionary to flesh out and complement this one. I also felt that it is going to be very hard for me to know where to draw the line between putting my own interpretation on symbols based on who I am, and tweaking the interpretation so that the dream means what I want it to mean.
Nori: It is good to have several dictionaries to use as springboards for your own intuition. Dreams have meanings on many different levels simultaneously. We may only comprehend a portion the meanings of a dream, but that is still helpful. Dreams will continue to patiently tell us their messages, and we will get more out of it as we become more familiar with their ways.
Diane: Looking through my dream dictionary I noticed that the definitions for the symbols are almost synonyms for the actual symbol. I find it a bit strange that the two would be the same, in some cases I could understand the symbol meaning something similar to itself, but not always. Also, I feel that not all of the symbols mean the same thing for everyone; I think that each symbol means something, but you have to adapt it to the dreamer's life to truly understand it. I am beginning to think that these dream dictionaries are a waste of time because I understand my dreams better when I try to see how everything is related to my life.
Nori: If you say the definition is too obvious, then you already have an intuitive understanding of the dream language. Congratulations. Anybody who feels that symbols are crystal clear in their meaning, be grateful that you are a naturally fluent in the symbol language. You may not need a symbol dictionary, but to enhance your skills, you might want to study every symbol dictionary you find. The science is infinite and there are always something new to learn about it.
Diane: I understand that the left hemisphere of our brain provides linear-linguistic functions and is used for most of our day thinking and communication. Our right hemisphere controls associative, visualizing, and creative functions. Both hemispheres can be active when we sleep.
For some reason, we often suppress our innermost feelings when awake, perhaps because they may be socially unacceptable. When we are asleep, we allow these feelings to become free.
Because both hemispheres of the brain can be active when we sleep, these feelings can appear in either of two forms. One may seem more like the world that we are familiar with and the dream scene has a literal meaning. With apologies to Freud, a dream about a kielbasa [sausage] may simply mean that the dreamer is hungry. The other form may be a figurative representation of what is on our mind using objects or actions that do not always seem to make sense.
A dream about sex (can I say "sex" on the Internet?) could therefore literally indicate a sexual desire, or perhaps it could represent something more figurative, such as a desire to create life. The symbols themselves may well be derived from popular figures of speech. A carrot may symbolize a lure, as in "dangle a carrot." A fox may symbolize cunning and craftiness, as in "sly as a fox," or perhaps the seductive female beauty and charm in "foxy lady." With this in mind, it becomes easier for me to imagine where some of the more bizarre images come from.
It seems important to me to realize that the symbols may well mean different things to different people. Since no two of us are alike in all ways, we will have different associations with the various symbols. It seems reasonable that for a given person, these associations may change with time.
Nori: Thanks for all your good insights. I especially like your explanation of the figures of speech. The primitive parts of the mind you describe seem to like to play with the sounds, as well as the cultural associations, of words.
Jan: The only way I can work with symbols is to free associate. For instance, I once had a dream involving my grandmother's house and my parents' house. There were renters in my parents' house and the free association went like this: renters—to tear— to terrors.
I also believe that only the dreamer knows what the dream means so as we toss around symbols, when we hit upon the right symbol for the dreamer, they will experience that aha reaction.
I began this by talking about free association (or active imagination), but for me, house is a symbol of me, my exterior. Road is my journey, and school is learning. Death is death of a habit or belief.
Roxanna: I believe that the symbols of our dreams have meaning derived from four factors: our culture, experiences, age, and gender. The commonality of symbols comes from conscious and subconscious associations based on these four factors. I think ultimately we are the best interpreters of our dreams, because our conscious mind shares a common schema or personal knowledge of the world with our subconscious.
The use of symbols in dreams can equate to the use of symbols in writing (letters) or speech (spoken words). Our dream symbols are a means of communication between our subconscious and conscious states. Of course I could be totally full of it here!!! But I like the idea of my subconscious mind trying to send messages to me, messages that my conscious mind is either unable or unwilling to pick up on its own. It is like my subconscious is demanding that I deal with issues from my waking world, that my conscious mind doesn't want to deal with. And so it (my subconscious mind) sends these dream symbols, filled with emotional content usually having something to do with what's happening in my life at the moment. Or sometimes dealing with events that occurred in the past, that are unresolved.
Diana: I think that your mind can only store so much information at once. It is like a computer that has a certain amount of memory. It sorts out the important stuff for storage, and throws out the things we don't need.
It is said that the mind is almost constantly active during sleep and that sleep is the body's way of resting, not the mind's. When we enter into REM or dream activity, our subconscious takes over to let our conscious rest. Sometimes, the things that stress us out the most or cause intense feelings are not always digested in the conscious mind, as we are always thinking and doing many things at once when awake. The symbols represent those thoughts and feelings that we have had to deal with all day; monsters out to get us, falling into a pit, soaring above cities and towns and looking at all the things below, etc. This is our mind's way of dealing with everything that is or has bothered, frustrated, or elated us during the day or recent period of time.
I feel that recurring dreams are just the mind's way (in seeing the same symbols over and over) of telling us that something is repressed or something that has bothered us a long time ago is still being felt and mulled over by our subconscious. The mind hasn't figured out whether or not the data is worth keeping and it is stored and replayed until it can decide just what to do with it. Our mind is trying to tell us, through symbols, that something is or has caused intense feelings (whether it be joy, terror, sadness, or a combination), and it has not as yet been able to digest the information.
In our waking state, we remember the symbols of the dreams, but because they ARE symbols and not literally the things we are affected by, it is hard for us to figure out just what the mind is trying to sort out or tell us.
Nori: I like that word digest. It describes how the mind processes a dream. First it is a dream, which may as well be a brick wall. Then your mind breaks it down and converts it into energy.
Sue: I feel that symbolism in dreams, cryptic as it some times is, can be much better than a spoken or written message. The picture carries stronger feelings and sometimes one symbol can have many layers of meaning or meaning in more than one area of a person's life. It is like a mental shorthand. I feel that sometimes the whole dream can symbolize a theme in someone's life. Sometimes the action in a dream can intensify the symbolism.
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