Dream Interpretation | Simplify

Interpret a dream by first simplifying it

A lot is going on in this picture, but it can be simplified as one word: fears.

Simplify a dream to identify themes and subjects that underlie it

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

The solution is to simplify your dream. Explain it in simplest terms. Summarize the entire dream or a scene in a sentence, phrase, word, or picture (a picture says a thousand words, after all). Identify a theme, subject, or 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 symbolized as the dragon, perhaps something that scares you or that you can’t or won’t face, something too big or scary to 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 what’s its beef with you, Mr. Dragon replies that it eats anyone that ignores it.

Now you know whatever the dragon represents is probably something you ignore. Plus, it 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!

falling dreams

Plunging off a cliff in a dream is usually interpreted as taking a dive in your life, but consider an alternative, simplified meaning, too: you are between two places.

You dream about losing control while driving and the car skids all over the road then straight off a cliff, and you wake up just before impact. In simplest terms, what does that say? How are you out of control? What danger are you in? 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, your job or career. Control is the central, simple idea.

Interpretation begins with identifying a dream’s theme, subject, or idea and looking for details that connect symbolically. It gives you a place to begin. In the above example, 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-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.


Notice the Obvious

Because you are in the thick of the action, seeing 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. The theme of the car example is about control. One word says it all. Start there and ask, “am I out of control?” Or you dream about flying like an eagle, and the word that comes to mind is “soar.” It sums up how your life is going and how you feel.

Just be sure to test your theories against the evidence provided by the rest of the dream. You fly like an eagle, yes, because you are looking for a high point to escape danger or view the big picture. In which case, soaring is a secondary detail. We call this process connecting the dots. A dream paints small pictures with a big picture. Seeing the small pictures — how certain details closely interrelate — leads to the big picture.

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. Now it’s obvious. 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 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?

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!


More to Consider when Interpreting Dreams

dream interpretation dictionary

Everything you want to know about dreams, in a user-friendly dictionary format.

Consider the possibility that the girlfriend in the dream symbolizes something other than the girlfriend. Talk about a new wrinkle! 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?”

I often 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. She’s way too grounded to speculate with me what else might be possible. 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 into the picture. If it feels right, you can be reasonably confident it is right.

Explore Further: The First Rule of Dream Interpretation: Consider the Obvious

There’s Obvious, Then There’s Really Obvious

Noticing the obvious extends to dreams with 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. Could mean that you’re allowing a situation to fester — or that you have an infection developing in a tooth. Either way, the dream is  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.

J.M. DeBord

I’m J.M. DeBord, aka “RadOwl.” Click to learn more about me.

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 this:

How to tell the difference between an ordinary dream and a precognitive dream


More Examples of Simplifying a Dream

In simplest terms, what is a baby? It’s new life. Now translate the dream image of a baby into a question: 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.

Next, an example of a dream interpreted by simplifying it:

Dream: Swimming in River Styx | Find Meaning in the Dream Story


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