Simplify: a tool for interpreting dreams

Simplify a dream to understand it
A lot is happening in the above scene, but it can be simplified as a word such as “fear.”

Oftentimes the meaning of a dream is staring you in the face if you know how to see it. But like the picture above, there’s too much going on at once, too much competing for your attention.

A solution is to simplify your dream. Explain it in simplest terms. Summarize the entire dream or a scene or just a detail in a sentence, phrase, word, or picture. Identify a theme, subject, or idea. In the above picture I chose “fear” as the idea. Otherwise, the powerful drama and imagery can prevent you from seeing the simple, obvious meaning.

So, you dream that a dragon hunts you with the intent of eating you, and you run for your life. In simplest terms, you run from something. Now be more specific. You run from something scary, a dragon. It’s something you won’t face. It’s too big to handle. Now we have ideas to work with, all derived by simplifying, and you can start asking questions such as “What scares me?” “What’s too big to face or handle?”

Look at the story from the perspective of the dragon. Perhaps it simply represents a problem you ignore and it only gets worse the longer you wait. From the perspective of a dragon, a person is a small problem, right? In fact, afterward, when you use your imagination to look for Resolution and ask Mr. Dragon what’s its beef with you, it replies that it eats anyone that ignores it.

Now you know whatever the dragon represents is probably something you ignore. Plus, let’s say that just thinking about dream pegs the top of your anxiety meter, and that tells you it must represent something serious. It’s strong symbolism. A dragon isn’t a fly buzzing around your head, a minor annoyance. It’s a dragon!

A quick video lesson to teach you how to simplify a dream

You dream about losing control while driving and skid straight off a cliff. In simplest terms, what does that say? Out of control… in danger. A car out of control is a physical representation of a personal situation such as losing control of yourself, your life, or an area of it: health, finances, relationships, emotions, your job or career. Control is the simple idea, and the dream defines the idea as out of control.

[I use the example of control of a car in my lesson on dream symbolism.]

Dream interpretation begins with identifying a theme, subject, or idea and looking for details that connect symbolically. It gives you a place to begin. In the above examples we theorize that the dragon represents a big problem, or the car plunging off a cliff symbolizes loss of control, then test it by asking if other details in the dream’s story agree with that idea or not.

Like a detective, you only need one solid clue to piece together the details and solve the mystery.

Keep it simple, or at least start simple.

simplify a dream to see what it really means
Falling in a dream has various interpretations, but here’s a simple one for you: you are between two places.

Notice the obvious

Because you are in the thick of the action, noticing the obvious can be difficult, even later when you reflect on the dream, but the meaning is right there if you explain it in simplest terms. For example, you have a detailed dream about trying to get to a destination. You seek out directions, face obstacles, run across people you know. What’s the simple idea? “Going somewhere.”

Begin with that idea and see if it connects other dots (details) or sparks something in your feelings or parallels a theme in your waking life. You have a destination you want to reach; you are “going somewhere” in your life.

Or you dream about flying like an eagle, and the word that comes to mind is “soar.” It sums up your life presently and especially how you feel. Notice that the simple idea of soaring is also a possible association with the experience of flying like an eagle.

Just be sure to test your theories against the evidence provided by the rest of the dream. If you fly like an eagle because you are looking for a high point to escape danger, that detail doesn’t necessarily support the idea of “soaring.” Instead, “escape” might be the simple idea.

We call this process connecting the dots. A dream paints small pictures (details and scenes) within a big picture (the entirety of the dream). Seeing how certain details closely interrelate leads to seeing the big picture, and simplifying can give you the clue you need, like finding the piece of a puzzle that connects others.

Obvious meaning example

Here’s a dream with a meaning that’s obvious to everyone except the dreamer. He’s 16 years old and for the past six weeks he’s been dating a girl. They are boyfriend / girlfriend. Things are fantastic, couldn’t be better, except for one thing, and it shows in a dream he has about his girlfriend locking him out of his bedroom. When he asks her to let him in, she refuses, saying from the other side of the door, “It’s not safe.”

Connect the dots: girlfriend, bedroom, locked door, something isn’t safe.

The only piece of information lacking is the fact that she won’t have sex with him. With that personal context as a clue, the meaning is obvious and simple to see. Locked out of a bedroom (a room associated with sex) by a girlfriend who is putting off sex, and her reason is it’s not safe. As in, she fears she will get pregnant, or catch a disease, or her parents will find out, or she isn’t ready for sex or whatever. It’s obvious, but first the dream must be simplified as a one-sentence question the dreamer can ask himself:

What is my girlfriend denying me?

In the dream she denies him entry to his bedroom.

To him though, the meaning of the dream isn’t obvious, and it’s not a defect or anything, it’s just a blind spot. Plus, he’s young. As we experience life and accumulate associations, the dreaming mind has more to work with, and dream themes progress from general to highly personal. At 16 years old, his dreams tell the story as his girlfriend locking him out of his bedroom. At 60 years old, his dreams might tell the story of his girlfriend hiding his Viagra!

dream school by jm debord
When the student is ready, the teacher appears. I’ll teach you dream interpretation.

More to consider when interpreting dreams

What if the girlfriend in the dream symbolizes something other than the girlfriend? Talk about a new wrinkle! Or what if the young man is the one who has the hangup about sex and he denies himself the opportunity to get physical with his girlfriend, but it’s hard for him to admit to himself so the dream projects the action onto the girlfriend-character?

What if his girlfriend symbolizes a subject that is “closed off” to him and he won’t “go there” because it “isn’t safe?” The simple idea of “denied” takes on a new meaning. The dream could use the same basic scenario of being denied access to his bedroom to mean something other than being denied sex.

I find this sort of symbolism in the dreams of people who limit themselves and their experiences. They have strong boundaries and won’t deviate. For example, it’s “not safe” to “open the door” to pursuing a certain subject because his girlfriend wouldn’t like it. I know from experience that every time my mouth opens and the letters “U” and “F” come out, my wife stops me before I can add “O.” It’s just not her thing. It’s a closed-off subject.

Those are possibilities for how the dream could be interpreted, but we know better because the young man is eager to get physical with his girlfriend and she’s not. The personal context connects the dots.

Every dream presents multiple possibilities for meaning. Just because something seems obvious in a dream doesn’t mean it’s correct. Make a hypothesis about the meaning and test it against the evidence. See if it fits the picture. If it feels right, you can be reasonably confident it is right.

There’s obvious, then there’s really obvious

Noticing the obvious extends to dreams with simple, obvious messages. The meaning and message are right in front of your eyes. For example:

  • You dream that your car’s brakes fail while driving on a familiar road. It might mean you can’t slow down your life. Or, you felt some softness in your brakes and subconsciously can sense they’re about to fail. Maybe you are ignoring the obvious.
  • You dream your tooth is infected. It could mean you’re allowing a situation to fester, or you have an infection developing in a tooth. Either way, the dream is a warning and you are wise to investigate both possibilities.
  • You dream that you lose your wallet, and the next day you find yourself in the exact situation as when you lost it, except now you’re awake. Do you secure your wallet?

Always consider the obvious.

You can often tell the difference by how a dream with an obvious message mirrors reality. The car with bad brakes in your dream is your car, and the road you drive on when they fail is one you drive on regularly. It’s not an imaginary car on an imaginary road. Dreams that closely mirror reality are more likely to have direct messages.

To know more about this type of dream, read my lesson on precognitive dreams.

More examples: simplifying dreams

In simplest terms, what is a baby? It’s new life. Now translate it to questions such as: What’s new in your life? What’s new about you? The baby could mean something else, but the simplified idea gives you a place to start.

  • What does it mean to endlessly pack luggage? You get ready but never go anywhere. You make plans but they don’t materialize.
  • What is a pack of hyenas? Trouble.
  • What is a bridge? A route over an obstacle. What obstacle are you facing in your life?

Using this technique can also help you understand at least one part of a dream, then use what you know to interpret the rest. You know that the bridge in your dream represents a route over an obstacle, for example, and it explains why the river beneath it is filled with credit card bills and you are shirtless: because the obstacle is too much debt, the route over it is your plan to pay off the debt, and your fear is you will end up financially ruined (shirtless) if you don’t get a handle on the situation.

Simplifying helps you see the obvious. It helps you see through the clutter and discover what connects a dream’s details together.

Next lesson

Explore further: A dream interpreted by simplifying.