Interpreting a dream about an outer life event
One reason why we dream is to process the daily accumulation of memory. The link between dreaming and memory is well-established in neuroscience, medicine and other disciplines. Sorting short-term memories for the long term is a basic reason for dreaming. That’s how I understand it. I’m not a neuroscientist.
Optional reading for students
But I am a dream interpreter and have witnessed thousands of times that your dreaming mind doesn’t just replay memories, it translates them into symbolic imagery, which you then translate back to conventional language during dream interpretation. The dreaming mind places short-term memories into broader and meaningful context created by you, life, and your deepest inner self.
The story of the dream also provides context to understand the meaning, and in the coming demos of radowl’s dream interpretation process I show you how context is the glue that holds together a dream.
Memory-based dreams speak to dynamics of your outer life as well as inner life, including your thoughts, feelings, emotions, and perceptions — but especially feelings. Knowing this, search your dreams for which memories they’re processing and why.
That’s the rope a good scientist or doctor climbs to a dream’s meaning because it follows the strongest evidence from the science of dreaming. But a dream interpreter knows — and I mean really knows — that dreaming is a phenomenon with no one correct approach or theory behind it, and that dreams bubble up from a source we barely know, which has an agenda we barely understand. The roots of dreaming grow much deeper than mere memory processing — they nurse from the living heart of who and what you are.
By the way, I think the dreaming mind can create imagery including faces that doesn’t draw from your memory. Imagination centers are where dreams are created, and imagination is limited only by you, the individual.
D3: Your process of dream interpretation
Let’s use the D3 steps to interpret a dream that tells a story about an event that happened in this young man’s life:
Title: Bad Hookup
In my dream I hook up with this girl. She says it’s OK because she broke up with her boyfriend. We spend the night together at her place. The next day I find out she really hadn’t broken up with her boyfriend and cheated on him to be with me. I hear rumors that he’s looking for me, and later hear that my hook-up’s best friend explains everything to him and he doesn’t blame me anymore.A dream shared at Reddit Dreams. It’s told in present tense to put your mind’s eye into the scene to feel and experience it. Always tell your dreams in present-tense.
What is the dream really saying? It’s a story told symbolically. Without knowing it’s based on the memory of an event from the previous day, you’re at square one and have a lot of avenues to test as possible routes to the meaning.
In this case I find the meaning in the story by applying a dream interpretation technique I teach in Step 2 called Simplify. What’s the basic idea behind the imagery and story? Boil it down to the simplest statement possible and turn it into questions. I’ll show you how. First, we walk through the D3 process.
Step by Step to Interpret this Dream
In Step 1 you note the settings, characters, symbols, actions, reactions, and resolutions. To build the story, a dream can use one or all of these story elements and narrative components.
Settings of “Bad Hookup:” The place where he meets the girl (not noted by the dreamer); her place, and wherever he is when he hears about the side drama with the boyfriend. In this case, the settings don’t say much. Other times, they’re central to the story.
Characters: girl, her boyfriend, her best friend, the dreamer. They all symbolize something or come together in the big picture. The boyfriend and best friend don’t appear in the dream, but we still treat them as characters in the story because they play roles. The dreamer is a participant in the story, too, which makes him a character.
In Steps 2 and 3 we utilize D3’s tools to find the symbolism and know the characters through their parts in the story, so in Step 1 we need to identify them.
Symbols: None to note, though as we’re about to see, the dream features symbolic actions.
Actions: cheating; hearing boyfriend rumors; being lied to or given false information. And you might say sex is an action but the dream only hints at it. That suggests to me that the dream’s main idea, found in Step 3 when you connect the dots, won’t be the sex part of the dream.
The hint of sex in this dream is better understood as a detail in a larger story about cheating — with infidelity, sex is involved in some way, shape or form. Through story analysis we notice it’s really told through cheating, not sex, and because it’s the central idea, the center of gravity, it’s central to understanding the dream. Otherwise, sex would be a bigger part of the story.
Reactions: Most fully formed dreams feature details where the dreamer reacts to the story or the story reacts to the dreamer like a choose your own adventure. Decisions made while dreaming affect how the story unfolds. In this case, the dreamer reacts to the idea of cheating. What does the dream really mean by that? Find out in Step 2.
It’s not shown in the dream or the dreamer’s description of it, but a simple question begs to be asked: how do you (the guy who had the dream) feel about the idea of cheating with some other guy’s girlfriend? His answer: I’m no cheater. The implication sparks a strong reaction in him.
Note: Answer the question in the context of the dream. Perhaps as a rule, this guy would never cheat or enable it. It’s against his principles or morals. But cheating in this dream means something other than cheating in the relationship sense, and to interpret the dream we need to see his reaction in context.
Resolutions: One to note. I explain below.
In this dream, the narrative components are more heavily in play because the basic story is told through the idea of cheating, an action, and the resolution with the boyfriend. In the story, cheating is used in the relationship sense — he hooks up with a girl who is cheating on her boyfriend but he doesn’t know it at the time — and in his life the cheating happened in another sense. A resolution for that storyline is given when the boyfriend stops blaming him.
I got to the bottom of the dream by understanding what cheating really means in this story during the process of interpreting the symbolism and analyzing the story in Step 2. Simple facts #2 and #3 about dreams tell us that dreams are stories told using symbolism. Cheating is symbolism and it’s used in the context of a story where the dreamer doesn’t know at the time he’s cheating.
If you had this dream, how would you turn these observations into questions to ask yourself and trace it all back your recent memories? I’m about to show you how I did it.
By the way, in case you’re interested:
Step 2 | Interpret and Analyze
In Step 2, you use tools for interpreting dream symbolism and analyzing the story. One way you can do that is an interpretation tool I call simplifying the dream or aspects of it. Take a detail or interrelated details from the dream, summarize as simply as possible, and form the simple idea into a question:
Did something happen very recently in my life where I was told I could do something, I did it, then found out it was wrong?
That’s how I translated the story of hooking up, thinking it was OK at the time, then finding out later it was cheating.
I wasn’t expecting that question to bulls-eye on the first try, but it did. That’s why simplifying is the first process I follow to interpret a dream. It doesn’t always get me where I want to go, but for good reason it’s one of my four keys for quick dream analysis you will learn about later.
The personal context that explains Bad Hookup
The guy who experienced the dream and shared it at reddit.com resonated with my question. The dream’s simple idea points right toward the memory from the previous day where he used notes while taking a test and the teacher accused him of cheating. For the longest moment of his life it looked like he was in real trouble. But because the teacher knew him to be a good student, she accepted his declaration that he thought he was allowed to use notes during the test.
In the dream he’s given wrong information that leads to cheating, and in his waking life he believes wrong information that leads to him being accused of cheating. The connection is obvious.
During Step 2 you have more tools to use to interpret the symbolism and analyze the story, but they aren’t needed for this dream. We see that it’s based on a memory formed the previous day, and simplifying is how we form the question that leads to the answer and ultimately to the dream’s meaning.
Step 3: Connect the Dots in Context and Reflect on Your Life
The story of this dream revolves around the central idea of cheating, and all the details connect to it symbolically or as part of the story. The story provides context, and so does the personal life of the guy who experiences the dream.
In the final step of the interpretation, the dreamer reflects on what’s happening in his life and easily finds the source material — the memories — the dream draws from to tell the story. He has the information he needs by working through Steps 1, 2, and the first part of 3.
More Dream Interpretation and Analysis
I invented the part about the boyfriend looking for him, as a way of showing how a dream could express what he felt during that moment when he was accused of cheating. Dreams are sure to touch on the emotional and important moments of the previous day while processing memories from short term into long term. That feeling of “oh shit” found in the dream is another route to the meaning. You ask, did I have an oh shit moment during the day prior to the dream?
The part about the best friend making things right with the boyfriend could be a dream’s way of saying that he patched things up with his teacher. Notice that the boyfriend character is never pictured in the dream, he’s only referred to. A dream could deliberately use that detail (dreams have a reason for everything) to express the feeling or other perception that the threat posed by being found guilty of cheating on a test never seemed like a realistic possibility. It never materialized, so the dream tells the story as a threat coming from the boyfriend that never materializes.
The guy who had the dream knew he wasn’t intentionally cheating so he kept his cool and explained himself, expecting to be believed. In the dream, the best friend explains the situation in a way that cools down the boyfriend. If the teacher hadn’t believed him and he’d gotten in trouble, the dream could show it as the boyfriend beats him up, instead.
The best friend character can be understood symbolically as the dreamer’s best quality in that situation being his good reputation with the teacher. That personal quality is a friend to him in the metaphorical sense. It’s why he didn’t get in trouble.Translating metaphor is part of Step 3, Story Analysis.
Outer and Inner Life in Dreams
Clearly, this dream resulted from the dreaming mind translating a memory into symbolic imagery. It’s based on an event in his outer life.
Inner life is more frequently spotlighted in dreams, for most people most of the time. Inner life dreams tend to vibrate deeper and punch harder. Dreams about deepest inner life are distinctive for their felt sense of importance and oftentimes fantastic and highly metaphorical stories.
I use the categories of ‘outer life’ and ‘inner life’ as initial roads of inquiry into a dream. Is the dream based on something that happened in outer life? If so, the source of the dream is probably easier to find in those memories. What’s happened recently in your life? Most dreams are created around memories from the past day or two, so you reflect in Step 3.
As a dream interpreter, I begin by asking a simple question or two then pinch myself when it gets to the source of the dream in the memories of recent events — probably the bigger and more important events — in outer life. The dream interpreted above is such a case. Dreams are deeply personal experiences and I continually remind myself that it’s amazing I know anything about them that’s useful for anyone but me.
Inner life dreams require going down a different road because everything in them is a projection from the interior life of the person. On one end of the spectrum you have inner life thoughts, feelings, and perceptions, and on the other end you find psyche and spirit, the center and roots of our lives as conscious beings.
Dreams can address outer and inner life simultaneously, too. In fact, that’s their usual M.O. They start with what’s happening in your outer life, business as usual, then turn imaginary when they show your inner life reactions to the happenings of outer life.
In other words, I make it sound easy but dream interpretation is rarely as easy as ‘answer the question and presto!’
Follow the trail to the meaning
When interpreting your dreams, look for any reference to an outer life event and follow the trail if you find it. For example, your workplace is the setting of a dream, or a colleague or co-worker is in the dream, so you look first at your recent memories from work, if any. If a dream places you in a room of your house and tells a story there, look first for any memories that might have formed the previous day while in that room. There’s more to it, but that’s where you begin.
Look not only at events in outer life, but also the thoughts, emotions, feelings, perceptions and so forth of inner life.
Apply that lesson to anything in your dreams that correlates with your waking life, not only the imagery but the situations and scenarios — you are likely to find parallels. That’s how you interpret the above dream by finding its source in the situation when the dreamer was accused of cheating. Explain all the details of a dream in context and your job is done… for now.
Side Lesson: An Outer Life Event as Source Material for a Dream
Demo #2 is next. I hope you keep going. The fun is just beginning!
The Intro Lesson is linked below in case you missed it.