Dream interpretation lesson: Trace dreams to source memories and experiences

Dreams begin with your memories as source material then build a story around them. Dreams are well known for processing memories and extracting out the most important aspects of the experiences. Which means that dreams really begin with experiences as source material. Tracing a dream to its source memories, then to its source experiences, helps you interpret it by giving you a place to focus. I’ll demonstrate.

A man who lives next door to his in-laws came to Reddit Dreams with the following dream (below is a summary; the link to the left goes to the original):

I wake up in the middle of the night and realize I forgot to get something at my in-laws house. I jump out of bed and go over there. The front door is locked (usually I just walk right in) and I figure, well it is the middle of the night so no surprise the door is locked. I walk around to a side window and look in….

And then it happens: as I look through the window I spot three shadow figures staring directly at me, with a freezing look. I can’t even see their faces properly because their eyes are all staring directly at me, fixed, as if waiting for me to come over and check the window. I just stand there, grounded on the spot, staring at them, completely stunned and taken off-guard. It’s scary, I genuinely feel like I can’t move my body an inch. After what seems like forever (even though it did last just a couple seconds) the dream slowly crumbles and I wake up, sweating like I ran a freaking 60-mile marathon or something.

Shared at Reddit Dreams

To find the source material that helps to interpret this dream, first we need to know if it replicates the in-laws’ home. Even when a dream uses familiar places as settings, it will change some details purposefully to symbolically express dynamics and ideas. More often though, dreams create completely fictionalized settings.

The reason? Dreams are your inner world projected out for you to interact with, and most dreams for most people most of the time focus on their inner world. The outer world is seen in a dream mostly through surreal impressions imprinted on your inner world. I teach my Dream School students to notice how far their dreams venture into fantasy because fantasy is the underpinning of inner life, and the more a dream ventures into fantasy, the more it is rooted in inner life. When they search for the context to help understand a dream, they search for what’s happening inside of them more so than outside.

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When dreams exactly replicate aspects of waking-life reality such as places (dream settings) and people (dream characters), it’s a notable exception. And it’s a clue that the source memories are rooted in events, situations, and conditions of outer life. The guy who had the dream says it replicated his in-law’s home exactly as it is in waking life. Now we know to begin the search for the dream’s source memories and experiences in an event, situation, or condition of waking life that’s directly tied to that setting, his in-laws’ home.

An event used as source material in a dream is likely to include more content specifically tied to that event than what’s seen in the above example. Therefore, my hunch is the source will be found in a situation because the dream reproduces a common scenario from waking life: running over to his in-laws’ home. What happens next gets us to the crux of the situation.

The crux of the dream

That’s when he’s confronted by the three shadowy people staring at him from the window. He does not recognize them, and his reaction is strong. The scene only shows people staring at him, nothing really scary about it, but it stuns him and sends his heart racing.

My observation provides an idea for a question to ask to help the guy figure out his dream: what’s going on between him and the people who live in that house? Maybe it will explain his reaction.

He says he’s in conflict with a sister-in-law who lives there and the friction between them has extended to include two other people who live with her.

Now we understand the situation. Whenever he goes to his in-laws house, he’s confronted by three people who give him hard looks. He says the tension is unspoken. In the dream, the three characters don’t say anything, but his reaction speaks louder than words. Subconsciously he knows what those looks mean (you know subconsciously what everything in your dreams mean), and he reacts based on that knowledge. So now we can understand why he freezes in place and his heart races. The situation is really tense.

Now that we’ve traced the dream to its source memories, we see that it spotlights a source situation of tension with three people in the home replicated exactly as a dream setting. We see the situation symbolized by the hard stares of the three dream characters. During my conversation with the guy he recognized who the dream characters represent after I gave him some basic information to help him understand his dream. The people the characters represent are not replicated exactly like waking reality, and it’s a clue that points inward to the dreamer’s inner life for the source. The characters symbolize his fears, so they are thought of as symbolizing those fears more so than the actual people.

He says the lesson of the dream is he has to face his fears. That’s the resolution of the dream.

The lesson in this post on how to interpret dreams is to analyze the stories told by your dreams for how closely they hew to the reality of your waking life. When they replicate your reality, look first for the source memories and experiences in the events and situations involving the places and people replicated. As the guy noted, his dreams rarely replicate reality as closely as it does in this example, and that’s the case for most people.

The source memories of this dream are in his experiences whenever he steps into in-laws home. The dream shows the fear that arises internally when confronted by three of the people living in that home. Trace the dream to its source to interpret it.

radowl's crash course in dream interpretation

Would you like more lessons on dream interpretation? I suggest my book RadOwl’s Crash Course in Dream Interpretation. It uses example dreams to impart knowledge and teach my D3 process.

RadOwl

I'm J.M. DeBord, aka RadOwl. I'm a best-selling author of four books including The Dream Interpretation Dictionary, RadOwl's Crash Course in Dream Interpretation, and Dreams 1-2-3. I also created DreamSchool.net, the online home for dream interpretation courses, and D3, a 3-step process of dream interpretation. I've been a guest on Coast to Coast AM, was quoted extensively in the Boston Globe, and was featured as a dream expert in Woman's World Magazine.

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