Simcha Fisher, author of The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning writes for several publications and blogs daily at Aleteia. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and ten children. Without supernatural aid, she would hardly be a human being.
Is there anything more fascinating than dreams? Anything more liberating than letting the unconscious mind go on a romp in utter freedom? Anyone unluckier than a husband whose wife wakes up already mad at him because she knows he didn't actually do that -- that thing in real life, but still, oh my gosh, what a jerk?
Not that I would do such a thing. But if the morning isn't too rushed, I do try to ask my family what they dreamt, because it gives me a hint about what's going on with them. My son, for instance, spent a few solid weeks having classic disappointment dreams: it was Christmas, but there was nothing in his stocking but tuna and garbage; it was his birthday, and nobody came; we went shopping, but he had to put back everything he picked out. In his waking life, he seemed cheerful and contented, but I learned from his dream that he was suffering more than he let on (or even realized, himself) about a disappointment he had suffered a few months ago. That was helpful to me -- a reminder to be more patient and understanding.
Aquinas thinks it's fine to try to interpret dreams, as long as you (as usual) don't get carried away, and aren't into any occult weirdness. Sleep is a place where the supernatural, the natural, and the occult can all get a leg in. Aquinas acknowledges that God occasionally communicates with people in their dreams. But I've also heard many people say that they or their children had persistent dreams of malevolent rats, spiders, snakes, or other fearsome creatures -- and that these disappeared after the room was blessed or some occult influence was rejected.
But most dreams are just your own mind at work. If my subconscious takes the trouble to put on a memorable show about something when I'm asleep, then it's often something I really need to deal with; and so, especially with disturbing dreams, I make an effort to decode them. Here's the key to interpreting dreams: What really matters is the emotional atmosphere, not the details or setting.
For instance, if you dream that someone walks into your house while you're gone and leaves enormous, juicy oranges all over the table in an odd pattern, that might sound quirky and amusing when you retell it -- but while you're dreaming it, you might be filled with a fear and dread that's hard to convey when you're describing it.
Maybe the oranges are a trivial detail, grabbed up by your memory because you happened to see an orange juice commercial on TV right before you went to bed; but sometimes they are meaningful, and help to decode. Maybe you associate oranges with your dad, because you always send him oranges on his birthday -- and here the oranges are coming to you, unbidden: a reversal. Maybe you're afraid you'll need to start caring for him soon, when he's cared for you all your life? Maybe. But you'll have a lot more luck interpreting the meaning of the details if you pinpoint the emotional charge of the dream first.
I don't know what men generally dream (please don't tell me!!!), but the women I know tend to share some dream symbols in common: picking up bits of dirty laundry all over the house? Time to go to confession and get rid of those venial sins that have built up -- the whole place is starting to smell funky. Walking around the house in the autumn, closing it down after the summer months? Maybe you're heading into menopause (or at least saying a bittersweet goodbye to one stage of your life). You have a sweet baby who is wonderful and good by day, but turns into a ravening werewolf at night? That was no dream: babies really do this.
Some symbols are fairly universal. Almost everyone seems to associate teeth with strength in dreams: losing your teeth (or having them pulled) often means that you feel powerless (and this could apply to any kind of powerlessness: losing physical strength, facing a new and unknown situation, etc.). Many people dream of driving, with clear symbolism (When I hit puberty, I dreamt I was driving a car that had two gas pedals and no brakes). Many people also dream of flying, or of almost flying -- discovering that they can, at least, glide, or do some really impressive hops. And of course there's the classic "naked in homeroom" dream, or "I'm starring in Annie Get Your Gun, and I don't actually know the words."
But again, what matters most is what these dream symbols mean to you, the dreamer. Those dictionaries of dreams, that tell you that hazelnuts stand for devotion and earlobes signify royalty, are pretty silly. There's a difference between paying attention to your own mind and being superstitious, which is a sin.
It all comes down to what it means to you. The almost-flying dream, for instance, could mean disappointment, when you have to settle for something less; or it could mean a triumph -- learning how to find a balance between feet-on-the ground pragmatism and pie-in-the-sky airborne fantasy. It all matters how you feel. And I don't think I've ever made a decision based on what I dream; I just use them as ways of clarifying what I already know, but maybe don't know I know.
Some people communicate more directly with their subconscious, though. My sister once dreamt (if I remember right) that she was in a room with some beautiful, glowing halos of light that bobbed and weaved around the air with magical grace and speed. She asked them reverently, "Are you angels?" And they replied, "No. We're bagels from heaven!" And when she woke up, she realized that her idea of heaven was as far below what heaven is really like, as bagels are below her idea of angels.
What's been your experience with dreams?