Dreamers unite! It is time to take back your power. Do some radical dreaming and when it comes to your dreams, don’t accept the status quo! You may think that you don’t understand your dreams but all that you need is inside you. You know enough. You do not need to defer to some random authority or trend in dream work. You do not need to learn one particular system or philosophy either. All you need to understand your dream symbols is yourself. Here are a few steps to get you started or deepen your dreamwork.

Throw out your dream dictionaries. At best, there are some that will give you a jumping off point for your own associations. The worst of them were based on ancient dream dictionaries and that’s not who you are. If you dreamt that your teeth fell out, the ancient dictionary of Artemidorus (pictured above, 200 c.e.) would tell you that your upper teeth have to do with the death of someone in your household; the lower teeth refer to the less important household members i.e. your servants or your slaves! Can you relate? Of course you can’t!

Make up your own dictionary. Start by recording your dreams. I know I’ve said this before but it’s required! Without the details of your dreams, you will quickly forget what you dreamt and when you dreamt it, let alone the context for your life when you had your dream. You will also have difficulty seeing the patterns and commonalities in your dreams and dream themes that connect them over time. Next, ask yourself these few questions to unearth your own dream meanings. These are based on the work of Gayle Delaney who empowers dreamers to say what their own dreams mean. (In Your Dreams, 1997)

Let’s chew on the teeth theme, for example. Imagine you had to explain teeth to someone from another world who didn’t know anything about our planet or our culture. What are teeth? What are teeth used for? Why wouldn’t someone want to lose his or her teeth?  What were your feelings in the dream when you lost your teeth? Do these feelings connect with feelings you have had in your waking life? You can do this for anything you can dream up, whether object, setting, characters and so on. Most generally, describe the object in the dream. Ask yourself why we have them (or use them, or what they are like) and how you feel about them in general. The more subjective your response, the easier it is to get at the metaphor. This process doesn’t require accuracy in your definitions. What is important is for you to unearth your associations, prejudices and preferences, not someone else’s theories.

Years ago I had a series of dreams about me driving on a highway that I frequented on my way to work. So I asked myself “What is a car? What is a car used for?” Once I knew what it meant to me (notice I’m not telling you what that meant because I want you to figure out your own car associations) I then asked myself about the type of car I was driving. Was it my current car? Was it a car from my childhood or something totally different? Was I even the driver? I continued on in this way, looking at the highway, at the action in the dream and what that meant to me (as I might describe it to an alien). And finally, when I had some good associations for everything in the dream, I looked at the feelings and looked to see where they connected with what was going on in my waking life at the time. It was an extremely important series for me, all the more enriching and insightful because of the self-dictionary that I developed. Now when I dream of cars, I have this shorthand that emerged through this exercise, that takes me right to the message.

You can start your own dictionary doing this too. If you have a lot of animals in your dreams, start by describing the animals that appear most often. Do you dream of owls? Do you associate them with wisdom, fear, evil, night vision or something else? Remember, one dreamer’s nightmare is another dreamer’s exciting dream. Whatever common dream themes or objects appear frequently for you, start with them. If you have a nightmare or dreams that you can feel strongly in your body and your emotions, start there. Start wherever you are and become a Radical Dreamer, defying dream theories, dream authorities, and even gravity as you soar to great heights in self-understanding.