The Hidden Meaning of All Your Dreams

In these turbulent times, many people report having more dreams. If you let them pass by without taking the time to recall and consider them, they remain an untapped resource. Here are some tips from a dream expert on how to engage with your dreams.

What’s the first thing superbrain sensation Jim Kwik does every morning?

Even before he brushes his teeth?

He makes a point of remembering his dreams. His rationale: our brain is working all night. In fact, our brain is more active during REM sleep than when we are awake. Why not take advantage of all this nocturnal creativity rather than letting it go to waste? 

The Hidden Meaning of All Your Dreams

Dreams have been the catalyst for many scientific and creative breakthroughs from Einstein’s theory of relativity to the Beatles’ song, Yesterday.

At a more personal level, they sort through our emotional lives and present us with helpful metaphors for whatever is most important or troubling to us: they point to what matters.

Sadly, the vast majority of our invaluable dreams are forgotten, and their full benefit goes unrealized. We all dream what is essentially a feature film worth of dreams every night, yet most of us wake up with little recollection of all that has transpired. And other times, our dreams are so dramatic, we are left with an indelible impression of them, but they seem so nonsensical, we dismiss them.

I have two suggestions for you, the first to help you recall your dreams, and the second, to help you make sense of them. I have just spent the better part of a year researching dreamwork for my book, A Clinician’s Guide to Dream Therapy and am now working on a version for non-therapists who want to work with their own dreams.

In the process, I have gathered the most current ideas and research about what dreams are and how to work with them.

So, how can you remember your dreams?

There are many ways to improve dream recall, but the first is quite a simple, and tested practice. Mostly, it’s about setting an intention and following up on it. Get a journal and keep it by your bedside. Right before you go to sleep, write down a brief question or note about a particularly troubling issue or question and locate a felt sense where in your body this question most keenly felt.

Don’t try to solve it with your mind (which mostly shuts down for the night), but instead attend to it as an image or felt sense because this is the stuff of dreams. Set an intention to dream about the issue, and treat any dreams that come that night or the following as if they are an answer. 

When you wake up, whether it’s in the middle of the night, or in the morning, let yourself come to consciousness slowly. Don’t move your body, but stay in that liminal state between dreaming and waking for as long as you can, and pull back any memories that linger there.

When we are asleep and dreaming, the tape recorder for memories is mostly turned off, but during the crossover as we wake up, we still have access to our dreams.

So even though it may feel like the dream images you have with you as you awake are clear and unforgettable, they can so easily slip away if you get up and get on with your day. Instead, rehearse the dream imagery in your mind a few times, and then write down as much as you can, including all the strange little details you may be tempted to leave out. 

Dreams respond to our attention. Even if all you have are a few scraps of image, write these down and treat them with respect. More will come.

How to work with your dreams?

Of course, a vast literature exists on this topic, but this tends to give the impression that understanding our dreams is a complex business. It really doesn’t have to be! The first thing to do with a dream, once you’ve written it down in detail, is to simply let the feel of it wash over you. It doesn’t come from the rational, logical part of your brain, and cannot be understood that way either. 

Lifetime dream researcher Ernest Hartmann called dreams ‘picture metaphors’ of our most salient emotional concerns. His famous example is of a tidal wave that depicts the overwhelming emotion following trauma. In other words, do not take dream material literally or logically, but as symbolic.

If you have a dream where you are careening down a mountain with no brakes, maybe you could ask if you feel this way in your life? 

The emotional current of the dream is the key to their message. And they don’t come just to tell you what you already know, but rather to show you what’s important and invite you to move forward from there. Just for fun, try dreaming your next dream forward.

They tend to end in the middle of the action, so they are begging for completion. In your mind’s eye, jump in that speeding vehicle and take the wheel, for example. Imagine the brakes are miraculously working and that you can start to slow down.

What might this mean for your life?


Leslie Ellis

Leslie is a teacher, author, speaker, and psychotherapist. Her mission to help others to cultivate ways to explore their inner lives and dreams. She also teaches therapists how to do this for their clients, offering classes in person and online. She teaches somatically-oriented complex trauma treatment skills, as well as focusing, dreamwork and ways to work with nightmares. She recently published a book, A Clinician's Guide to Dream Therapy (Routledge, 2019). She has a PhD in Clinical Psychology from the Chicago School of Professional Psychology and a Masters from Pacific Graduate Institute. She has worked as a therapist in private practice in Vancouver, BC for 20 years. For more, see

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