WHY WE DREAM
We all dream, it seems. Though there's no agreement on why. Even animals dream. What's agreed upon is that the stage of sleep called Rapid Eye Movement (REM) is where all the action occurs, and when you're continually awakened from that stage, you'll soon begin to suffer, and if this continues, you'll even start to lose touch with reality.
Even though this seems to be the stage of sleep when you mainly dream and you must experience this stage of sleep to function; it doesn't mean you can conflate the two and say you must dream which is why there's no consensus about why we do it and what is its purpose.
So with this mix of certainty and uncertainty theories are free to roam. The one you want to explore is that of Carl Jung. Yes Sigmund Freud has his version, but Carl Jung's is more interesting and potentially useful.
WHAT ARE DREAMS
Dreams can be seen as part of our life unseen, the unconscious. Eminent Jungian author Robert A. Johnson puts it this way, "The conscious mind is but a cork bobbing on the sea of the unconscious mind". His book, "Inner Work" is an excellent overview of how to engage in Jungian dream analysis for yourself.
Dreams are a window through which you view your unconscious self operating independently from your conscious life. Each part of your dream is about you. Not omens of the future or even how you view others who happen to populate your dreams. Each character, every place and situation, the colors and sounds--all of it is telling you something about yourself.
WHAT'S THEIR MEANING
This can come as a great relief. For example, you dream of chasing someone important to you and you have an object in you hand. You may worry that you want to harm that person in real life. A Jungian interpretation would rather ask, what part of yourself is being chased? What part of you is doing the chasing? What part of you is the object you're holding? What part of your life represents the place the chase is taking place? Starting to get the idea?
If you dream being in a house, the house represents you. What part? Which floor or room is what part of you? While this encourages you to categorize objects into standardized symbols, Jungian theory would strongly discourage this. You are unique and falling into a cookbook approach would miss the true nature of your unique unconscious self.
YOUR OWN DREAMS
This methodology of interpretation also minimizes the risk of acting on dreams in ways that work against your own self interest. It keeps your dreams close to home and focused on where their evaluation will do the most good--looking at yourself.
Johnson's book, "Inner Work" and his latest book, "Living Your Unlived Life: Coping With Unrealized Dreams and Fulfilling Your Purpose In the Second Half of Life", take you through the steps in a honest and practical way. Analyzing your dreams and other aspects of your unconscious life yourself if you can't have the guidance and expertise of a Jungian therapist.
What do you think dreams mean? Can they be useful in our conscious life?