“Trust in dreams, for in them is hidden the gate to eternity,” Kahlil Gibran once wrote. The poet, the priests, the poor and the theoreticians have all tried to interpret dreams and their meaning. In the past, dreams played an important role and held much significance, unlike today. Various cultures assigned different belief systems to them – the Mesopotamians recorded on clay tablets that the soul actually left the dreamer’s body and travelled the real world; the Egyptians believed dreams to be oracles or messages from God, hence the dreamers were thought to be blessed and given a special status in their society; similarly the Greeks believed that gods, both good and evil, visited the dreamers with messages.
Over the years, as gods, dreams and religion all became intertwined, it also paved the way for privilege and manipulations. Social historian Jawhar Sircar emphasises on the aspect of exploitation of the God-fearing masses by higher castes. “Hindus used dreams, as in Swapnadesh or divine sleep, for religious purposes. Lack of codification in Hinduism leaves the field open to interpretations by a consensus restricted to the ruling class. Suppose one morning, a zamindar decided to install a stone and build a temple, because he had a Swapnadesh. This will then be ratified by a Brahmin priest for whom it means business. The elite classes referred to Swapnadesh, the religious masses accepted it, without any opposition. It has been used widely everywhere to justify the entry and even adoption of new religions. Swapnadesh as a concept would always go unchallenged because there is no codification, central command or a legitimate court in Hinduism,” explains Sircar.
As society lost its cult-like faith in dreams, it led to a very different approach. Today, dream interpretation can be broadly divided into two branches – psychoanalysis, and more recently, physiological. Researchers study brain mapping and neurological impulses, and claim that dreams are physiological stimuli, connected to images gathered in real life.
Sigmund Freud is the leading name in dream theory; he delved into symbolism for its interpretations. In the harshly puritanical Victorian era when anything sexual was considered immoral and profoundly wrong, Freud believed that dreams were projections of the unconscious mind’s repressed sexual thoughts which society deemed unacceptable. His psychoanalysis has layers of interpretations and symbolism. For example, cylindrical objects, including poles, guns, and swords represent the penis; anything dark, cavernous, with an opening depicted a vagina; and activities like horse riding and dancing meant sexual intercourse.
Carl Jung is the other prominent name in dream interpretation and psychoanalysis. Initially a supporter of his mentor Freud, Jung later developed his own theories. He believed that dreams are not to be interpreted, but rather to be explored. According to his theory, each figure or symbol in the dream was a part of the dreamer’s psyche, representing a role which is buried deep in his consciousness. Understanding the manifestations of the anima — whether it is in the form of a sibling, colleague or neighbour — will improve the dreamer’s awareness of the subconscious, thereby leading to gradual development of the psyche as a whole – or individuation. “Anima as Jung uses it is the soul in a man, his feminine side, so it doesn’t really apply to women. Jung was very interested in searching for the meaning of dreams. By exploring their meaning, his approach to dreams was less analytical and more synthetic and constructive. Dreams were there, above all, to balance the conscious attitude of the dreamer and offer a path towards becoming their whole self,” says 61-year-old Kusum Dhar Prabhu, who is a Jungian analyst trained at the Jung Institute Switzerland, based out of Bangalore.
“Individuation is becoming who we truly are — not only what our parents or friends or community want and expect of us. It is the same process in a human as that of an orange tree or mango tree growing into what it must be. There is the same necessary pattern in each human which they discover through their passions and their dreams, and sometimes through other people,” explains Prabhu.
While deciphering dream symbols, one must take into account personal associations with objects and also the cultural background of the dreamer – like cats, which are considered goddesses in some cultures and evil in others. “Socio-cultural background is very important to understand dream symbols, as each animal or plant or landscape has a very different meaning in each culture. However, in addition to this cultural context, the meaning of a symbol for a given individual is as important. For example, what role has a particular room in the house played in this particular person’s life? Was it a place of refuge or a place of danger? For each symbol in a dream it is important to know the dreamers personal associations to it,” says Prabhu.
Dreams can leave a lasting and shocking impression in the mind of the dreamer, as Mumbai-based musician and jazz singer Isheeta Chakravorty recounts. “There was a time when I had very powerful dreams which didn’t relate to my immediate reality. I have always been very fascinated with the idea of dream analysis and interpretation. I believe dreams are a window to the inner workings of the psyche and consciousness that we are not normally aware of. I wanted to make sense of my dreams which were so vivid that even after waking up, they would still remain with me,” she says. This experience, coupled with a keen curiosity about the field, led her to seek professional guidance on dream symbolism and interpretation.
Dream interpretation is often used by psychoanalysts during their practice and sessions, and patients are asked to maintain a dream journal. “It is important to write down a dream as soon as you can or you may forget it. The dreamer should write about what happened a few days before they had the dream to get a sense of what the dream might be in response to. It’s also good to give a title to the dream and add drawings or sketches as more details of the dream emerge,” says Prabhu.
“One can’t look at dream therapy as a clinical method with immediate results. Dreams are like messages about transformations at a very subconscious level. It has definitely helped reveal certain aspects of myself which are not black and white,” says Isheeta, who has now been working on her dreamen to wake up with your dreams still fresh, note it down and start a journey of self discovery.s for almost six months. Prabhu believes that dreams are not a taboo in Indian society and people are quite open to working with their dreams.
This article was published here by Firstpost on Jan 5, 2018