This is an area I find deeply fascinating, as it really is truly unique to each individual. The key to interpretation is to metaphorically peel away the layers one by one, gradually revealing the whole picture. I tend to start with the largest and most basic section first; the emotions. Look first at how you woke up feeling: Were you feeling positive, negative, depressed, happy, energetic, etc.? This is vital, as a seemingly negative dream may well be telling you of a beneficial outcome, or vice versa.
Then look at your emotions within the dream. Ask yourself how you felt during the dream, together with how other people (if any) seemed to be feeling. This is often a handy way of pointing up underlying emotions which you may not be aware of; you may be feeling trapped in a job or relationship which is damaging you, or missing out on an area or direction in life which has the potential to make you deeply happy. It could be that you have an important decision that you are hesitant to make, and the clues to the right choice are provided in the dream.
Once you are satisfied that you have thoroughly established the over-riding "feel" of the dream, it's time to start looking in more depth at the images. For me, the next section I look at is the location and setting. Think carefully about what the environment of the dream means to you, and take extra care not to be swayed by what it may mean to others. For example, to one person a desert may signify barrenness, while to another it may mean peace and solitude. Throughout the whole process, it's vital that you look only at what it represents to you as an individual. Any other way is simply not being true to yourself, and likely to produce less satisfactory or helpful results.
Next take a look at any other "characters" in the dream. Start with any people you encountered: Did you know them in real life? If you did, don't be fooled into thinking that it necessarily means it was that person, but look instead to what that person represents to you. (This seems to be especially true if the person in the dream was an 'archetypal' persona: mother, father, lover, enemy, etc.) The same applies to any animals you encounter. If you don't know the person or animal involved, think upon the energy of the character. Even if they had a smile on their face, you could have felt uneasy around them, or suspicious of their motives. These things are all important to note as part of your overall analysis of the meaning of the dream.
Once you have the basic components generally understood, start to look at the events within the dream. Where did the decisions or actions you made take you? As with the whole analysis process, take time to think precisely what each aspect represents to you. You may have found yourself in a place that was bleak and desolate in your eyes, only to find that talking to a particular person (again, remember it may not be the person themselves, but the type of person they represent to you), picking up a specific object, or selecting a door or path, leads you to a place which is filled with joy and abundance as you see it. These are all indicators as to the right action you need to be taking in your life.
Now it's time to get on to the juicier part of the dream; the more surreal aspects to it. Did you notice any strange, or out of place objects or characters? Our unconscious minds have an amazing capacity for the surreal, and these elements can reveal the biggest truth behind the dream. Once more, forget what common interpretation may say, and focus on what that object or event means to you. Often it is a quite obscure link to other people, which is totally obvious to you. A bit like playing a word association game; it doesn't have to make sense to anyone else, it's what it means to you which is important.
Once you are truly satisfied that you have been thoroughly through each layer of the dream, it's time to start piecing together what you have learnt into the message that you feel it was trying to convey. It is particularly important at this stage not to allow your own ego, hopes, and/or fears to stand in the way. You may hope that the charming stranger with pots of money, who gazed adoringly at you was to be the new love of your life, but if you picked up something suspicious in their energy, it's far more likely that you're being warned not to be sucked in by them, or they'll con you out of your savings! Let the events tell the story for you, and take some time to sit with it if you feel it's particularly important to your life in the present, past or future.
By this point you should feel satisfied that you have gained the answers you seek from the dream. At the least you will have learned all that it had to teach you.
~copyright 2005, 2016, Lisa Mc Sherry
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