Considering that for a third of our lives we sleep, the question “Do dreams have meaning?” reminds me of another existential question: “Does life have meaning?”
Some people think that dreams are meaningless. To that I ask, “Is life meaningless?” Maybe if life seems meaningless to the dreamer, the dreams may seem meaningless too. To me, even so-called “daily residue” dreams mean something. Maybe we could use a scale to measure degrees of meaningfulness in regard to dreams, from daily residues to peak experiences… but in general—if we take time to examine any kind of dream whatsoever, there is usually something there in it or about it that is interesting. On the other hand—dream experiences influence waking experience as well. The longer I’ve worked with dreams, the more present I’ve become to seemingly mundane moments in waking life. I can find something interesting about sweeping the floor!
Researchers who claim dreams are meaningless—and they do exist—tend to minimize the importance of dreams by saying they either provide only a physical function in the brain (which is still meaningful in my opinion), or they have gone so far as to compare dreaming to psychosis—which is understandable when dreams are left uneducated, unguided, and immature into adulthood.
Many people say “it’s just a dream” and sweep it under the rug, rather than take the time to explore its meaning. Usually people do this because they don’t know what to make of it or what to do with the strange, bizarre, sometimes even “psychotic” seeming experiences in dreams that are usually just a normal part of development.
Learning to understand the meaning of dreams is kind of like learning another language. There are also different offshoots within the larger dream language, and finding the right one is part of the dreamer’s path when searching for meaning. For example: Freudians speak a Freudian dream language, Jungians speak a Jungian dream language, Lucid dreamers speak a Lucid dream language, and so on. Some dreamers are multi-lingual, and that’s fun.
When trying to find meaning in your dreams, try learning and speaking whatever ‘dream language’ you want, read any books or blogs about symbolism you want, and consider any other ‘dream language’ you’ve heard that might be helpful. The more dream education you have, and the larger your community of fellow dreamers becomes—the more options you’ll have at your fingertips. Then, you get the final word about what your dreams mean for you.