The First Rule of Dream Interpretation: Consider the Obvious
First Rule of Dream Interpretation
Isn’t it obvious?
Some dreams are loaded with archetypal imagery and themes that offer a view into the inner world of the dreamer. They are windows to the soul. Analyzing these dreams using techniques such as those offered by depth psychology can lead to astute, sometimes life-changing insights.
However, as the lead moderator at Reddit Dreams, a popular online dreams forum, I have observed that most dreams shared there have more to do with daily life than with life of the soul. They reflect the dreamers’ thoughts, concerns, and feelings and tell stories about recent events in their lives. They can be interpreted with no special training or techniques by applying the first rule dream interpretation:
Consider the obvious meaning!
Examples of obvious meaning in dreams
Read the following examples of dreams and how I interpreted them, with the hope that you will better understand the everyday dreams that make up the bulk of your dream life. For the sake of brevity, I chose dreams with short descriptions and edited them down.
Dream: shut out of bedroom
I’ve been dating this girl for six weeks and things are going great. But last night I dream she’s at my house, in my bedroom, and won’t allow me in. I ask her to let me in, and from the other side of the door she answers, “It’s too risky.”
When I interpret dreams I look for symbolism in the settings. The symbolism often relates to the function a setting has in daily life. A bedroom is for sleeping. It can be a private sanctum and place where you ponder your most personal thoughts. It’s also a setting where people have sex.
The young man who had this dream is ready to have sex with his girlfriend, but she’s putting it off because it’s “too risky.” Combine the idea of ‘too risky” and “shut out” with the function of a bedroom as a place for having sex, and the meaning is obvious. But you also have to consider the dreamer’s circumstance as a young man who is six weeks into a great relationship and he ain’t gettin’ the thing he wants most.
What do most 16-year old boys want from their girlfriends? That’s what makes the meaning of this dream obvious.
Now look at the next dream, also with a bedroom setting. Try to figure out what it relates to before I give you the interpretation. The roommate referred to in the dream is a person the dreamer lives with, not a fictional character invented by the dream.
In my dream a gorilla jumps around my bedroom being violent. I tell my roommate to lock him up. Then the gorilla comes to me and I am sweet with him, but in the back of my mind I’m afraid he could get violent again.
The biggest clue to the meaning of this dream is the connection between the gorilla and the roommate. When the dreamer tells his roommate to lock up the gorilla, he connects the two dream characters. He’s really saying that the gorilla is a projection of the dreamer’s perception of his roommate. The two characters are really one in the same, a clever way of telling the story. Otherwise, why would the dreamer tell his roommate to lock up the gorilla? He’s really saying, “I wish my roommate would restrain his wild behavior.”
The dreamer says his roommate invades his privacy by entering his bedroom uninvited and messing with his computer. The roommate is physically powerfully and capable of violence, and the dreamer is leery of him. The roommate’s behavior is wildly unpredictable and he must be handled delicately. The dream connects those dots when the dreamer is sweet with the gorilla. It’s actually his strategy for dealing with his roommate.
Obvious isn’t always correct
Let’s look at other possible interpretations for these dreams. Always think of other ways of interpreting a dream. Not only is it wise; dreams can layer meaning. If you latch onto the top layer, you might not see the other ones.
The dream about the girlfriend shutting out her boyfriend from his bedroom could be interpreted as the dreamer denying his feminine side. Let’s say that the girlfriend-character represents his feminine side. Plug in that bit of knowledge and see how it could fit with the dream’s other details:
- A bedroom can symbolize a personal sanctum or something about you that you don’t let other people see. So if the girlfriend-character represents the dreamer’s feminine side, the action of being locked out his bedroom could mean he won’t allow himself access to that part of himself, or won’t let other people see it. He keeps it “under lock and key.” We could spend hours talking about getting in touch with his “inner woman,” when really he just wants to physically get in touch with his girlfriend!
- “It’s not safe” could summarize why he won’t “go there.” It’s not safe to let any hint of traditionally feminine traits show in himself. Why? Well, he’s 16 years old and the typical environment for someone that age is pretty brutal toward anything that deviates from the norm. He’s scared of being labeled a “fag.” Or he struggles enough just trying to live up to the cultural ideals of being male. Why complicate things?
The dream about the gorilla could be interpreted as symbolizing the dreamer’s inner “animal” nature. We could end up talking about following instincts and getting to know his wild side, when actually the dream is about how he handles his wild roommate.
I see this mistake a lot. Don’t make it too damn complicated!
My point is, the most obvious answer is often the correct one, but when obvious answers don’t apply, we go deep. We brainstorm other ideas and test them out. We break out the tools Carl Jung and his contemporaries in depth psychology gave us to interpret dreams, using deep analysis of the psyche and understanding of the unconscious mind to figure out the meaning. Use Gestalt techniques. Pray for guidance. See your dream as a journey of your spirit, as Edgar Cayce taught.
With most dreams I don’t find it necessary, though.
More examples of obvious meaning in dreams
Dream: blind fiance
I dream that my fiance is completely blind. As we sit on the couch together I remember that he can no longer see my face and it makes me cry.
A reference to vision in a dream can mean “see the person or situation as it is.” When applied to people, it can mean “see inside them; see who they really are.” By portraying her fiance as blind, the dream is saying that the dreamer feels like he doesn’t really “see” her. There are other possible interpretations, but I zeroed in on this one because of the dreamer’s reaction during the dream. It hurts to know she is engaged to someone who doesn’t really see her for the person she is.
In comparison, check out the next dream, about processing perceptions related to the person the dreamer is about to marry. The dreamer is engaged and her wedding day is right around the corner.
Dream: wedding-day rescue
The meaning of this dream seems obvious to me. She needs someone to rescue her from marrying the wrong person. Somewhere deep inside, she knows that marrying the person she’s engaged to is a bad decision and can’t figure it out for herself, so her dream makes it unmistakable. You could say she’s “blind to the obvious.”
I sympathize. She’s in love and probably didn’t realize until after getting engaged that the man she plans to marry is blind to who she really is. Dreams show us what we don’t realize consciously. They amplify the overlooked and ignored voices in our head. They teach us what we need to know to make good decisions and live our lives better.
Other possible interpretations
The obvious interpretation fits in this case, but that dream has other possible interpretations. The wedding could symbolize a commitment only related to marriage by the fact that it’s a big commitment. Let’s say that the dreamer is about to take a job she doesn’t really want and her ex-boyfriend is the person who told her to never settle for less than what she really wants. In that sense, rescuing her on her wedding day symbolizes remembering his advice just before committing to the job.
Sometimes things are hard to admit to oneself and your dreams help you realize it. They help you realize what’s obvious, what other people see that you don’t. They help you see into your blind spots.
Depth psychology provided my introduction to dream interpretation, and I am forever grateful for how it expanded my mind and opened my life to new possibilities. It’s invaluable for understanding those occasional dreams that have no obvious connection to daily life and ordinary concerns. The deep dreams about life of the soul. But before breaking out those dream interpretation tools, follow the first rule of dream interpretation and consider the obvious.
Check out the second rule of dream interpretation: