How to discover a dream’s message.

“What is my dream trying to tell me? How can I discover the message behind my dream?”

I hear these two questions a lot. They’re similar, but subtly different.

The first implies a belief that a dream sets out with a message that it needs you to hear, or that the purpose of a dream is to deliver a message, whether from your inner self or from a spiritual or divine source.

The second implies that every dream contains a message that can be discovered, whether or not the purpose of dreaming is message delivery.

So, do dreams set out with intent to tell you what you need to know, or can you use them to find valuable life-changing insight that you can distil into concise messages?

Let’s take a simple example of a dream where you’re trying to get somewhere but your legs are really heavy, and you can hardly move despite the huge effort you’re putting in trying to lift those legs and drag yourself along.

What message might you take from this dream?

You might think the dream message is to stop trying so hard in some area of your life, to acknowledge that you’re not really making progress despite the huge effort.

Or you might think the dream message is to acknowledge that the huge effort you’ve been putting into something is wearing you out, and that you need to take a rest and re-energise before continuing toward the same goal, lighter and faster for the time out.

Or you might think the dream message is to look for an easier way to get to where you want to be in life or to get a task done.

Or you might go deeper and look at the other elements of your specific unique dream and realise that you have an unconscious belief that success only comes with struggle and hard work. You might decide that the message of your dream is that the reason you’re not making the progress you’d like to make is because you have this unconscious belief in struggle, and that if you transform this belief, you can free yourself to find an easier, lighter way toward the success you envisage.

Or that deeper journey into your dream details might lead you to discover that you have deep, unconscious doubt about the goal you have chosen, or about the steps you are trying to take, and you might see the message of your dream as being to explore the doubt that is holding you back or causing such strong resistance, and choose a more suitable path.

Or you might identify that same deep, unconscious doubt, and take the message of your dream to be that you need more faith, to stop doubting, to let faith give you wings.

Or you might identify that unconscious doubt and decide that the message of your dream is to get to the bottom of that doubt, understand where it is coming from and how it affects your mindset, and do dream alchemy to transform any underlying beliefs that are no longer serving you.

How many other potential messages can you see in this simple example?

Some of these messages are in direct opposition to each other: for example, give up and choose another goal versus have more faith and keep going.

All these potential messages are useful contemplations. If you had such a dream, and you didn’t know much about how to interpret and understand dreams, exploring all these possible messages is a good start, as long as you don’t take any one in particular as gospel. This exercise in listing possible messages helps you to contemplate a range of possibilities, to look in on your life and yourself from a number of possible viewpoints, to see perspectives, problems, and solutions from angles you might not have contemplated if you hadn’t had the dream and spent time exploring it.

From there, you might come to a conclusion – and a decision – that feels right to you.

Now let’s add on from the perspective of understanding more about dreams, where they come from, and how to interpret them.

In dreams, you meet your unconscious mind comprised of your unconscious beliefs, emotions, behaviour patterns, conflicts, and memories. You meet the good stuff and the shadowy dark stuff, as well as your unconscious creative intelligence and intuitive wisdom. Also bundled into your dreams are aspects of your conscious mind such as things you know you worry about, feelings you acknowledge, and problems you want to solve.

When you learn how to interpret and understand your dreams, you discover how to identify these different aspects of yourself and see where they conflict and where they are in accordance. You begin to see that dreams are more like a mirror than a compass. They reflect often unknown aspects of yourself back to you rather than offer guidance on what to do. They reflect your deepest inner workings and open your eyes to the truth and enormity of your mindset and how it influences your experiences and choices in life. The mirror helps you to see everything you need to see to understand your life, and from that point you can find healing, resolve issues, see wonderful creative solutions, and make good decisions.

As mirrors of your deeper self, your dreams don’t set out to give you messages. They simply reflect. When you look into the mirrors with the help of your dream interpretation tools and techniques, you see potentially life-changing, valuable insight into yourself and your life.

The messages to take from your dreams are the ones you deduce from seeing yourself more clearly. It is you who divines the message, receives healing from the process, and decides on actions.

In the early days of working with your dreams, or when you have a complicated dream that is difficult to work with, a trained professional can help you to pick out what you need to know, and spell out the most helpful messages you might wish to take from your dream.

Many people attest to meeting guides, deceased loved ones, spiritual entities, or the divine in their dreams, and to receiving messages and direct guidance from them. In the dream state, we are open to input from wisdom (and non-wisdom) that filters through to us from the collective unconscious, or from other energies and perspectives, but please take care not to take such dreams literally, at least until you’ve done the deeper work first. The characters and entities you meet in your dreams most likely represent aspects of yourself, and the insights and messages you stand to gain from your dreams by treating them as such is invaluable.

Be wary of flicking deeper dream work aside because you feel entranced by a feeling of being visited in your dreams by wise beings. Instead see those wise beings as aspects of your own being, wise or falsely wise. See the dark and scary parts of your dreams as aspects of your fears and self-judgements of your darkness, places to discover, know, and transform. Explore, go deep, and find gold.


Jane Teresa Anderson

Graduating with an Honours degree in Zoology specialising in neurophysiology from the University of Glasgow, dream analyst and dream therapist Jane Teresa Anderson has been researching dreams since 1992, and developing and teaching dream alchemy practices that shift perspective and reprogram unconscious limiting beliefs. Jane Teresa is a multi-published author, and appears frequently in the media on television, radio, and in print. She is also host of the long-running podcast, The Dream Show, and offers her online study and certificate courses through The Dream Academy.


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