It has been extensively demonstrated that various nightmare and recurring dream themes are quite universal, even cross-culturally, and that such situations can be transformed into positive and even pleasant experiences. The key to such evolution is a change of perspective, often accompanied by a new emotional response to the situation such as taking on an attitude of acceptance, curiosity and exploration to replace the existing reaction of fear or judgment (as in the dream example above). When these types of dream are connected with deep traumatic waking events, such as abuse, war, death, etc. the evolution of the dream into a more positive form may understandably take longer and require more waking attention and focus.
Though there is no unerring rule as to what any given dream might be about, a good rule of thumb is to re-experience the feeling of the dream and find out where this same feeling shows up in our waking life (often alluded to by the setting of the dream, though perhaps figuratively). This is the rule of associative logic - the dream associates to our life, and sometimes to our past, by a specific feeling.
I have no intention of providing an absolute dream dictionary (since dreamers and their experiences relating to specific symbols are so individual) and have no illusions about prescribing instantaneous solutions or cures, however a great number of people have gotten a lot of help and insight by learning about universal nightmare and anxiety dream themes which they are also experiencing. Here are some of the most common themes (with positive outcome examples for each scenario) and suggestions about what the dreamer might look at in waking life:
· chase or attack : The pursuer usually represents a fearful aspect of our shadow, and hence an exaggerated version of a denied or inhibited portion of our own personality that would benefit us if integrated and appropriately expressed. (ideal outcome: standing our ground, facing and dialoguing with our pursuer, and eventually, acceptance and embrace)
· falling dream : Am I feeling heavy, unsupported, worried about something? How can I feel freer, lighter? Also: do I need to be more grounded? (ideal outcome: feeling safe, landing, floating or flying)
· car out of control : Is life too hectic, out of control? How could I slow down, act more peacefully and "enjoy the ride"? (ideal outcome: driving well & within speed limits, walking peacefully)
· unprepared, late for or failing an exam : Am I feeling unprepared for some upcoming event? Unconfident about my performance? Am I worrying needlessly or do I actually need more preparation in order to feel confident and do a good job? (ideal outcome: feeling assured about oneself, performing well)
· stuck in slow motion, unable to move or make any noise : Where am I feeling stuck in life, like I’m getting nowhere or unable to voice my true feelings? What can I do to change it? (ideal outcome: relaxation and acceptance, and eventually, peaceful action & self-expression)
· embarrassed to be nude or naked in public, though nobody seems to notice or mind : Where in life am I feeling unconfident, embarrassed, unskilled? This type of dream is usually pointing out, by the fact that the other characters in the dream don’t seem to notice, that we are the only one viewing our self this way, and usually mistakenly so. (ideal outcome: comfortable with oneself as is, confident)
· personal injury, dismemberment : What part of my life—not usually the physical body—have I been neglecting, mistreating, forgetting—i.e. dis-membering as opposed to remembering? (ideal outcome: healing)
· trapped, locked in : Where am I feeling trapped in life? How might I open myself up to a new perspective, and explore new courses of action? (ideal outcome: breaking out, exploration)
· drowning, threatening waves, tsunami (tidal waves) or flooding : Am I blocking, denying or feeling overwhelmed by my emotions? How might I better acknowledge, accept, and feel these feelings—which often include vulnerability? (ideal outcome: swimming, surfing, breathing underwater)
· helpless, abandoned, or crying baby, monkey, bunny or small animal : Have I been taking care of my "inner child"? Is there a creative project or relationship that I have forgotten or abandoned that needs my attention? Maybe I need to laugh more, play outdoors, express my creativity, be more spontaneous, or enjoy more personal warmth and intimacy? (ideal outcome: caring for baby or animal, playing, simply having fun)
Precognitive Dreams, Premonitions & Warning Dreams
Though they are generally symbolic of psychological processes, some dreams and nightmares are intended as guidance or warnings on a very practical level. For example, if you were to dream about the brakes failing on your car, it might help to ponder whether you are figuratively having trouble "slowing yourself down" in your life, however, it would also be very wise to check the actual brakes on your automobile in waking life.
Assuredly, not all precognitve dreams are about dire events, though when they are, such nightmares or anxiety dreams warn of current behavior trends, courses of action, or decisions which may soon become detrimental unless we change them, as exemplified in this dream by Stanford University pioneer sleep researcher Dr. William Dement:
"Some years ago I was a heavy cigarette smoker, up to two packs a day. Then one night I had an exceptionally vivid and realistic dream in which I had inoperable cancer of the lung. I remember as though it were yesterday looking at the ominous shadow in my chest X-ray and realizing that the entire right lung was infiltrated. I experienced the incredible anguish of knowing my life was soon to end, that I would never see my children grow up, and that none of this would ever have happened if I had quit cigarettes when I first learned of their carcinogenic potential. I will never forget the surprise, joy, and exquisite relief of waking up. I felt I was reborn. Needless to say, the experience was sufficient to induce the immediate cessation of my cigarette habit."
Somehow, dreams have access to information above and beyond the physical senses, both in terms of geography and time. Exactly how this is possible is an extremely interesting question, both for the individual who has such experiences, and, in general, for the scientific community—where a solely objective investigative approach often misses a lot of valuable clues about the nature of reality, especially when it comes to the realm of subjective experiences such as dreams. My view is that the state of consciousness from where our dream experiences arise is not the same as the "normal" physical waking state (which varies a great deal also), and so perceptions which come to us from such a state (and similarly with meditation, and even day-dreaming and deep states of creativity) arise from a framework beyond our physical one, and hence come from outside our normal framework of time and space. Therefore, it is actually no great surprise and even somewhat common (especially with dreams) that we can sense, through a faculty other than the five physical senses, information which, within the physical world is either ahead or long past in terms of time, unavailable to us in terms of physical location or geography, or unknown to us though others in our life are aware of such information.
Catholic Bishop Joseph Lanyl dreamed of the assassination of the arch-duke of Austria, François-Ferdinand de Habsbourg. In vain, he tried to reach the arch-duke to warn him of the assassination which occurred June 28, 1914 in Sarajevo — the event that triggered the first world war.
A few days before his assassination, American President Abraham Lincoln, who was very attentive to his dreams, dreamt of his own corpse laid out in a room in the white house.
A day before the Titanic's demise, a woman on the infamous ship dreamt of the horrible event that was to occur the next day. She told her husband, who scoffed at her worries and ignored her pleas. However, the dream so affected her that she secretly prepared herself the night before and had all her children sleep in their warm clothes in order to be ready at a moment's notice. During the night, when the ship struck the iceberg, she and her children managed to escape and be rescued. Her husband, sadly, went down with the ship.
That it is possible to know about future events not only courts the disbelief of skeptics, but also often scares people who have such precognitive dreams. Such experiences are actually somewhat common, so people's apprehension is rather unfortunate, because the cultivation of such dreams can really be a beneficial skill, much like a natural talent in music or writing or dance, and can truly become a helpful gift developed both for the benefit of the dreamer and for those around him or her, as shown by this dreamer's premonition:
"I had a dream where my father had blood pouring out of an eye from an accident involving the machine he was working with, and I knew he had lost his eye. Upon awakening, I immediately phoned my parents and asked my father what he was planning that day. He said he was going to work in his workshop with his drill and circular saw. Hearing this, I strongly urged him and eventually got him to promise to wear safety goggles while he was working. Then I spoke to my mother, told her the dream, and convinced her to keep a close eye on Dad. That night, Dad phoned in disbelief to tell me that a piece of wood had flown off the saw right at his eye and shattered the safety glasses. He was very grateful and admitted to me that it was truly a miracle that his eye was untouched." (S.B. Montreal, Qc)