Dream Settings | Story Elements

dream settings

The Holodeck on Star Trek creates what is basically a waking dream

Dream Settings

Everything in dreams is symbolism. It’s the nature of the unconscious mind to communicate through symbolism. Which means that your dream settings are symbolism, too. They represent something about yourself or your life.

A setting can be understood by considering its basic purpose or function. Consider the following examples:

  • What do you do at a library? Seek out knowledge and information.
  • What do you do at a store? Make choices and decisions.
  • What do you do at a casino? Gamble, take risks.

Settings help tell the dream-story. They connect with the subject of the dream. For example:

You want information to determine whether a romantic interest reciprocates your feelings, and dream about bumping into the person at a library.

You are deciding whether to pursue an intriguing job lead or stay put where you are, and dream about trying on a new suit in a clothing store.

You have been having sex without protection, and dream about rolling dice in a casino.

These examples are not meant to say that every time you dream about a library, store, or casino it automatically means you are seeking information, making a decision, or taking a risk, but these are good places to begin. Dream interpretation is a process of trial and error. Other details tie together with the setting. They are clues that point toward the meaning.

For example, a clue that a dream uses the library to mean “seeking information” is the presence (as a dream character) of the person who is the object of your romantic interest. You want to know the person’s feelings and intentions.

A clue that shopping in a clothing store is related to a decision about make a decision about switching jobs is found in the suit. Suits are associated with clothing worn at work. New suit = new job.

A clue that a casino setting is related to taking risks is found in the action of rolling dice. The phrase “rolling the dice” means taking a risk. You roll the dice if you don’t use protection.

Common Dream Settings

While these settings are kind of obvious once you know how dreams use symbolism, many of the most common settings from dreams reflect the places you find yourself in daily, like a work place, home, or school. Sometimes these settings are simply a reflection of the fact that you were there the day before the dream, or anticipate being there soon. Dreams can and do reflect your daily life.

However, these settings are still clues. If you have a dream about work, it is likely to relate in some way to your work life. If you have a dream about home, it is likely to relate to your home life. If you are in school, you can bet a dream about your school has something to do with your school life.

It gets really interesting when you dream about places you used to work, live, or go to school. It obviously has to be symbolism because these settings from your past are not part of your daily life. By using dream interpretation techniques, you can figure out what the symbolism is and how it applies to your life. Although the settings are from your past, they still somehow connect with the present. For example:

You dream about the place where you used to work because you miss the camaraderie there. Your present work environment, by contrast, is stiff and formal.

You dream about the place where you used to attend school because presently you face a challenge for which you don’t feel prepared. School is supposed to prepare you for the challenges of adult life. Now you are an adult and in some way don’t feel prepared.

You dream about a house where you used to live because it is the last place you felt truly secure, and are presently seeking security.

The Exception to the Rule

While it is safe to assume that a setting is symbolism that ties in with the subject of a dream, sometimes settings are either common environments from your daily life, or are used as markers for the story. For example, if you dream about flying on a plane, it makes sense that an airport might be part of the dream. The airport doesn’t necessarily have its own symbolism. Then again, if significant action takes place in the airport, you can bet the dream is making a point. Or if you dream about a clown, you might expect to encounter it at a circus.

For example, you dream about being late for a flight to an important meeting and rushing to the airport. You get there and discover that you forgot your notebook computer, which has your notes for the meeting. You see that the plane is boarding, and now have to decide whether to take the flight without your computer, or to take a later flight and risk missing the meeting.

In this dream-story, the airport is significant. Sure, an airport is where you would expect to catch a plane, but dreams don’t necessarily follow the logic of our waking reality. A dream might show you catching a flight from atop the Empire State Building and it would make perfect sense at the time because the setting is deliberately chosen to mean something.

In our example, the airport might symbolize that you are in a time of transition in your life. Airports are, after all, places of transition from one location to another. In dreams, a place can mean “place in your life.”

Now let’s say for sake of example that the place you are trying to reach in your life is a steady career, symbolized as the important meeting. Problem is, you aren’t well organized. That fact is symbolized by the computer, a tool for organization. Forgetting the computer symbolizes your disorganization. The plane symbolizes ability to organize. That ability is the vehicle for getting to your goal of having a steady career. It’s what takes you from where you are in your life right now, to the place where you want to be.

In the above scenario, the airport is important to the overall dream-story. However, if nothing happens at the airport and you only board a plane there, the airport itself might simply be a marker for the story. It’s only in the dream because airports and planes go together.

I call this an exception to the rule because usually everything in a dream ties together to tell the story.

Settings: The Foundation of Dream-Stories

What’s the most basic element of a story? Or thought of another way, what’s one element that every story has? A setting or settings. Without a setting a story is not anchored to a time and place. I suppose there might be some avant-garde novel out there that tells a story without identifying any settings, but if so, I bet it’s not very popular. Why? Because people need settings to follow a story.

Same goes with dreams. Every dream has at least one setting, sometimes several settings. Even if the setting is just inside a car or in outer space it’s still a place where the story occurs. So if you want to understand a dream, begin with the setting.

Settings tend to give the big picture of what a dream is about. Setting set the stage. They provide context and definition for the stories. They show the big picture.

Ask yourself how you feel about the setting.

  • Does the setting bring out a particular feeling in you?
  • Can you relate that feeling to your daily life or recent events?
  • Are you happy, sad, lost, confused, angry, cheery, suspicious?

Feelings are central to most dreams and can be used to interpret story elements such as settings. A major clue that symbolism is being used is when your feelings contrast with the setting. For instance, you feel sad at an amusement park while everyone else is happy.

Also think of words associated with the setting. Like if the setting is a Van Halen concert in a big arena, the associated words are loud, crowded, fun, ticket, drugs, and music. Get the idea?

Brainstorm 101

Consider each of the following dream settings and what they could mean. Think of your own ideas. I’ll follow by giving suggestions and examples.

Note: Rarely does a single element or component of a dream tell the whole story, but you begin by looking at the pieces individually and brainstorming ideas. You then connect the pieces together based on how they relate or what they have in common, like putting together a puzzle.

What could it mean to dream of a…

  • Bank
  • Prison or jail
  • Home improvement store
  • Big city

Bank: Begin by asking yourself what a bank does and what it means to you. In simplest terms, it keeps your resources (money) safe. It’s where you go for financial help or advice. It is associated with money, finances, and savings. If you have a lot of money in the bank, that setting probably has good connotations for you. If you’re constantly bouncing checks and struggling for money, a bank probably has bad connotations for you.

Prison: Prison is a place where a person is confined, separated from family and friends. It is associated with punishment and isolation from society.

Home improvement store: Where people go to get the supplies and advice needed for home improvements. The key word here is “improvement.”

City: Where people go to make a name for themselves, find work, or be recognized. It can also be a place to get lost in the crowd or see special features of one’s culture (for example, going to Philadelphia to see the Liberty Bell). People who live in metropolitan areas might dream about a city in relation to their living environment. It’s simply a setting where they live their daily lives. But what if the city they dream about is not the one they live in? Then it must be symbolism.

Let’s begin with these four settings and analyze some dreams that feature them. Remember that I’m not giving all possibilities for what these settings can mean in dreams. This is just an introduction.

Bank dream: I dream that I’m looking for my bank and have trouble locating it. Along the street are vendors selling cheap trinkets like you’d find in Chinatown. I see something I want to buy. I don’t even remember what it is, but the price seems high. I look in my wallet, determined to make the purchase anyway, and don’t have any cash. I wonder if I have enough room on my credit card.

Analysis: Knowing that a bank setting can say something about financial resources, I suspect from the beginning that the dream is related to trouble with finances because of the dreamer’s difficulty with locating the bank. Trouble locating something in a dream can imply personal trouble or difficulty with what it represents. The bank is only implied in the dream, not pictured, but it can still be analyzed as a setting that gives the big picture of what the dream is about.

The next scene identifies the source of the trouble. Cheap trinkets symbolize being loose with money, spending it on needless items. The dreamer reacts to the high price by deciding to try to make the purchase anyway, but finds he doesn’t have any cash in his wallet. The high price symbolizes the high personal cost of bad spending habits. The connection between the dreamer and the bank setting is between the dreamer’s spending habits and financial difficulties. The dreamer doesn’t see, or doesn’t want to acknowledge, that spending habits are the source of his financial difficulties.

Prison or jail dream: Over the course of several weeks I dream multiple times that I’m stuck in some sort of prison. I go to the dining hall and wait in line to get my food, then eat it while standing in line. When I leave the dining hall I walk down a decrepit corridor lined with disease-ridden people covered in blood. I never find my cell.

Analysis: A prison can be a way of describing how the dreamer feels about his life or living situation, so from the outset I suspect that the prison setting is a way of describing the way the dreamer sees his life. He is a 17-year old male whose parents recently divorced, father moved away, mother has a new boyfriend who lives in their house. He feels like a prisoner in his own home. Plus he feels alone, disconnected from his family.

The part about waiting in line to be fed symbolizes the bad parenting being served up, since prison food is notoriously low-quality. When he tried to explain his feelings to his mom she pulled the “I sacrifice so much for you” routine, and his dad talks to him mostly on Facebook. He is, in a sense, living in a prison and feels like he’s being punished for his parents’ divorce.

Jail Dream #2: In my dream I am visiting a jail, not anyone in particular, just a jail. It is dingy, dark, very little light. People are walking around. There is a staircase to the top, and everyone keeps telling me to not go up there because I won’t like what I see. But I go up there anyway. I am on the final flight of stairs and see a man. He doesn’t see me but he hears me and says, “I hear you, I know you are there, you have to see me.” I get scared and I run back down the stairs to a cafeteria. I pick up my daughter (I don’t even have a child) and we leave the jail and go to a green pasture. I breathe a sigh of relief.

Jail in this case symbolizes that the dreamer has a limited idea of himself. He is caged in by his self-perceptions. The dark setting suggests that the dreamer can’t see something about himself––a higher or broader perspective of himself is needed to live his live more fully.

The staircase up leads to the higher perspective of himself the dreamer needs. Upper spaces in dreams can symbolize intellect or spirit, and upward movement can symbolize raising awareness. The warnings from the other prisoners to avoid going up comes from the side of himself that’s more comfortable with a limited perception. The prisoners symbolize the part of himself that is confined to that limited perception. However, by going upstairs anyway he shows he is ready to raise his awareness.

The man who wants the dreamer to see him symbolizes the dreamer’s desire to see himself from a higher or broader perspective. The man wants the dreamer to “see me” because the dreamer needs to see himself from outside the cage of his self-perceptions. The child symbolizes the new perception he can attain. It is something new (young) within himself. The green pasture found after leaving the jail symbolizes that the dreamer has opportunities awaiting. His life can open up to new possibilities.

Green Pasture: Dreams can bring to life figures of speech like “greener pastures.” In the last dream the pasture symbolizes wide open opportunity. The symbolism can extend to fertility, too, because an open field has the potential to be planted.

Home improvement store dream: I go to Home Depot and there’s this guy with a big rifle who’s like a drug kingpin. I ask him what he’s doing with the rifle and he shoots three bullets over my head. I run a couple of aisles away and grab a grilling fork that’s three times normal size. I jab it in his neck and he falls on the ground next to a can of meatballs. He’s bleeding out and asks me if he can feed them to me as a dying man’s last wish. He picks up the can of meatballs (which look delicious but I’m not in the mood for them) and I give him the big fork.

Analysis: There is a lot of symbolism in this dream that will make sense in a moment. The setting provides the big picture for understanding it. To begin, where is “home” for the mind? It’s in your body. So a home improvement store can symbolize improvements to the body. But don’t stop there. Carry the analogy further and it applies to improvements made to the person––mind, body, or spirit––or to your life in general.

The dreamer had begun a heavy-duty exercise regime to improve her body, a body she said she hates. The conflict with herself over her body is shown in her battle with the man. He is actually a symbol for part of herself, as most dream characters are. Her weapon is an over-sized eating utensil, which symbolizes her over-sized conflict with food.

Defeating the man is a way of saying that she’s winning her battle against the temptation to eat rich foods like meatballs, but it’s a struggle. A part of herself would like nothing more than to eat a can of meatballs, symbolized as a dying wish. The whole dream is a story about a part of herself that is dying off symbolically, and the struggle that ensues.

Once you understand the symbolism of a home improvement store, the details of the dream all fit together to tell a story about the dreamer’s effort and struggle to improve her body.

Notice also that the bad guy fires three bullets, and the grilling fork is three times normal size. Groupings of three, or references to three, can mean that something in a person is incomplete. The psyche likes even numbers, plus the psyche tends to be composed of pairs and groupings of four. It’s a deep subject that distracts from the main topic of conversation about dream settings. I want to make note of it because it’s an important detail you might have noticed and wondered about.

By the way, you can read my discussion with the dreamer at reddit.com if you want to know more about how we figured out the message of the dream. I’m RadOwl in this conversation.

Big city: I have a recurring dream theme of walking around in a city I’m familiar with and coming upon a tall bridge. In some dreams the bridge is collapsed, and in others it is threatened by rising water. I somehow manage to make it across, but it is difficult and perilous.

Analysis: The meaning of the city symbolism is defined by the second symbol in the dream, the bridge. In essence, a bridge is a transition between two places, a route over an obstacle, and in this case the dreamer is transitioning between law school and beginning a legal career. The obstacle is the Bar exam he’s about to take. So the city setting represents looking for work. Passing the bar exam is the bridge to getting to the next phase of life.

In each example you can see how the setting connects with the meaning of the dream. I begin by considering the setting and asking how the other parts fit. Sometimes it works the other way around and the meaning of the setting is revealed by the other symbolism. It all fits together to tell a story about the dreamer.

The setting of a dream is understood within its larger context. This is how you narrow down the possibilities for symbolism.

Brainstorm 102Dream settings Dali

Now let’s tackle more examples. Consider the symbolism in the following settings. As we did with the last exercise, I will give an overview of the possibilities for symbolism, then analyze a dream featuring the setting. Consider the essence of the setting, what happens there, its purpose, and what it means to you.

  • School or University
  • Church
  • Amusement park
  • Restroom stall
  • Garden

Here’s how to begin analyzing the symbolism of these settings in dreams:

A school or university’s purpose is to educate. It’s where knowledge is gained. As as a dream setting it implies learning. Schools have wider implications as places where you meet friends and prepare for a career and adult life.

A church can be associated with religion, faith, or spirituality, but there are many kinds of churches and other possibilities for symbolism. For some people church is a place for socializing or fulfilling obligations. It might represent something avoided or disliked, or something that is uncomfortable. Some people dream about churches and have never stepped foot in one.

An amusement park is where people go for fun, thrills, and excitement.

A restroom stall is where people go to have privacy.

A garden is where living things are grown and tended, and where peace and rest are found.

Now let’s look at some dreams with these settings.

University: I have this recurring dream where I find out a week before finals that I should have been going to an English class all semester. I start to freak out and am embarrassed to begin going to the class at the end of the semester. I graduated college two years ago and don’t attend classes anymore.

Analysis: The theme of being back in college or school is common. Variations of it include knowing you’re supposed to be going to class but don’t have a schedule, having trouble locating the room or building, showing up late to class, or showing up on test day unprepared. The theme manifests in my dreams as realizing I need more classes to graduate.

In the case of the dreamer who finds out a week before finals that he should have been going to an English class, he was stressed about his professional life. He disliked the job he had but didn’t know what else to do with himself. Dreaming about being back in college is a way of saying that he doesn’t feel like his college years prepared him for a career he wants. Technically, yes, he got a degree and it led to a job, but it’s unfulfilling and stressful.

The part about it being a week before finals stems from the feeling that it’s too late for him to start over––he’s already graduated and stuck in the situation.

Many times I have connected the theme of showing up for a test unprepared with feeling challenged by something in work life for which I feel unprepared. Think of a test as being tested by something other than academics. When I dream about needing more classes to graduate I connect it with something at hand that is challenging me––my skills, knowledge, abilities. It happened while I was writing my first book. I had the writing skills and abilities to do it, but organizing so much material into a coherent structure was something I had to learn as I went. Another time the theme popped up in my dreams after encountering dreams I couldn’t interpret. I felt like I had more to learn. I needed to go back to school in the sense of continuing my education as a dream interpreter. Another twist on the theme is when I can’t find the classroom where I belong, a way of saying that I don’t know where to go to get the help I need to meet a challenge facing me.

Church: I dream I’m in a church, looking everywhere for a friend of mine named Faith (she’s a real-life friend). I feel uncomfortable since I don’t belong to any organized religion. A few members glance at me threateningly. I’m confused that my friend would want to meet me here. “This is so unlike her,” I think. I wander around and never find her.

Analysis: The church setting combined with the action of looking for a friend named Faith makes the meaning of this dream obvious to me. The dreamer had been considering whether to join his family’s church, and the dream says unmistakably that he won’t find what he’s looking for there. Or, perhaps its his lack of faith that prevents him from going to church. The dirty looks from the members is a projection of the dreamer’s own feelings about a church environment.

Church Dream #2: I find myself within the ruins of an old Spanish mission on the coast. It is dark inside except where holes in the roof are letting in rays of light. A very dark, evil, almost demented energy has taken hold. Protruding from the sand are sculptures of people with agonizing and contorted expressions on their faces. An incredibly helpless and powerfully dark feeling befalls me. As I am about to leave, a huge hole is smashed in the wall to my left, and outside I see a giant made of stone with fire and smoke billowing from its mouth and eyes. Along with other stone giants, it begins destroying the old broken church. I run out onto the beach and watch from a distance as these creatures level the old mission. Once it is destroyed, different giants come and begin building in the church’s place a huge sea-faring ship that is prepping for some kind of long voyage.

Analysis: The Spanish mission setting hints right away that the dream is about something related to faith or religion. The dreamer said it represents the religion he left. A roof caved in suggests that his faith or belief in the religion came tumbling down. The dark energy and tormented people symbolize his feelings about the experience of losing his religion, albeit exaggerated. The final destruction of the church symbolizes the dreamer getting fed up and leaving his religion. And the huge sea-faring ship that replaces it symbolizes that a new spirituality is blossoming within him that will carry him on a long personal journey.

Amusement park: I dream I’m in this really wild amusement park at night, with lots of bright lights and people screaming, only they are screaming in terror, not joy. Serious bloody-murder screaming. People are running in all directions. I’m standing in the middle of this scene, and it seems like no one is paying much attention to me. But they really should be because there are people dropping dead left and right, and I know it is because of this poetry I am reading. I remember nothing about the poetry except that it is poetry and it is killing people because I am reading it aloud. I am highly enjoying this for some reason, which disturbs me somewhat. And there seems to be some presence that’s kind of ‘ordering me’ to read this poetry.

Analysis: The amusement park setting sets the scene to tell a story about how the dreamer gets his kicks. What I see in this dream is enjoyment caused by making people squirm, creating discomfort by saying things that are off the wall or derogatory. You could say that the dreamer has a morbid sense of humor and feels compelled by a dark side of himself to say and do things that make people uncomfortable or even outraged. Amusement park in this case means personal amusement.

Restroom stall: I dream that I’m in a public place and have to use the bathroom. So I go find it and there’s not a soul in there but me. There are dozens of amazing stalls, but no doors on them! They are so lovely and I long to use one of them, but I just can’t fathom the thought of using one of them without a door, in case someone walks in! I find a stall that has a door but it’s disgusting.

Analysis: The restroom stall setting sets the stage for the rest of the dream. In this dream, the restroom is the setting but the symbolism shows itself with the stalls. When a dream features a dichotomy it’s usually deliberate. The dichotomy in this dream is between the restroom stalls with doors and the one without them. The ones without doors are “amazing,” clean and appealing, but offer no privacy. The one with a door is “disgusting.”

The symbolism here is related to privacy and the dreamer’s living situation. She lives at home with her parents in a nice home that’s clean and pleasant, but offers no privacy. She wants to move into her own place but fears in return for privacy she’ll have to live in a shit-hole apartment. Notice also that the bathroom is empty except for the dreamer. It’s a way of reinforcing the idea of privacy.

Garden: Think about what a garden is in the most basic sense. It’s a place where plants grow. They start as seeds or saplings and grow to maturity. Some gardens are used to grow food, others grow flowers, and others are places for peace and contemplation. For example, a Zen garden.

First consider a garden for growing food. How could that sort of garden relate to a person’s life? What is comparable to planting, tending, and growing? What starts as a seed and with care grows into something nourishing?

To answer, there are many situations in life comparable to a garden. For example: relationships. They begin as a seed. In friendships the seed is mutual interest, things in common, a basic sense of liking each other. In romance the seed is mutual attraction. If a relationship isn’t nourished it will probably whither. Weeds take over the garden. But tended with care, a relationship grows. The care is the time, effort, and thoughtfulness put into a relationship.

Now think of other situations in life that are said to start as seeds. One example that comes to mind is the parable of the seeds that land on fertile ground, compared with ones that get lost in the rocks. It was Jesus’s way of saying that in a crowd of people who all hear his teachings, some people will apply them, causing new life and understanding to grow within them. Others will be excited or intrigued at first, but eventually they will go back to their old ways. The seeds will sprout but soon they will die because they are neglected.

In my dream life, during my mid twenties, I went through a phase with recurring dreams about my father gardening in my backyard. On one level it symbolized that he had taken steps to repair our relationship after some years of emotional distance. It was a slow process of pulling weeds (hard feelings), planting ideas (we could have a good father-son relationship) and nurturing a new rapport.

On another level it symbolized a process going on within myself as I learned how to be my own parent, not just in taking care of myself physically, but in ordering my life. I found a good father within myself who praised my talents and efforts while tempering my childish impulses. I became my own father figure.

Another sort of garden is where people go to find peace and relaxation. In a dream detailed in my book Dreams 1-2-3, a guy’s trouble at his work place plays out in his sleep as a dramatic story, the details of which are too involved to get into right now. The part of the dream that applies to this discussion came when he returns home after a harrowing scene of confrontation with his manager, goes to his garden, and is so angry he can’t speak. In this dream the garden symbolizes his need to relax after work, a place to find peace of mind, but he was bringing his troubles at work home with him and could find no peace.

On the other end of the spectrum is this dream:

I find myself in my backyard. Everything seems accurate to waking life; however, there is more yard behind my fence that belongs to me. I had not given it any attention or landscaping. There is a raised garden of marble blocks, nicely shaded. I realize I can renovate this space and turn it into an outdoor yoga/meditation practice area, to hold classes and invite other yogis to join me. I decide I would begin working on this as soon as I get home from work.

Analysis: The setting of this dream is a backyard, which can symbolize the background of your life or thoughts, but the garden is what really defines the symbolism. Notice that the garden does not exist in the dreamer’s waking life, though the rest of the details about the space match it. This is a sign of symbolism. The garden is raised, a way of saying that something is trying to get the dreamer’s attention or is raised in importance.

The dreamer took the suggestion and started acting on it the next day. An IT professional by day, he taught yoga at night and decided he would focus more on teaching yoga. He decided to get advanced training as a yoga instructor. He did not literally build a yoga space in his backyard; that wasn’t what the dream meant. The suggestion of the dream was to raise his yoga practice to have more prominence in his life.

Brainstorm 103

At this point I hope you are catching on to how dream settings use symbolism to reveal the underlying meaning and tell a story about the dreamer. Now let’s consider more settings. As with the last exercises, generate your own ideas before I give my suggestions. I’m not going to give a dream analysis with these examples.

  • Shopping mall
  • Airport
  • Hotel or motel

Shopping mall: What you do at a mall? You shop, usually. Shopping is about making choices. Many choices are available at a mall. So what is comparable to shopping? The most obvious connection is with making choices.

Take the example of looking for a job. Most types of jobs have several employers to choose from, comparable to stores in a mall. When you find the right one you make a decision that’s comparable to buying something. A job is an investment of your time and energy, and when you buy something you invest money. When you spend your money at a store in the mall you get something in return, and with a job what you get in return is income and benefits, perhaps prestige, authority, security, or personal fulfillment.

When deciding on what sort of job or career you want, you consider the options and pick among them. Maybe you take an internship, comparable to trying on an article of clothing. If the first employer doesn’t work out, you can always try on the next one––or get a refund, or go to the next store.

In life we also make choices about the sorts of people we want to be, the crowd we run with, and the image we project, plus myriad other choices, and these situations are all comparable to shopping at a mall.

The analogy can be used to describe looking for a romantic relationship. We are said to “shop around” when considering choices about who to date or marry. A mall is comparable to a dating site like Match.com or okcupid. You browse through the offerings and decide on who you want to contact. At the mall you browse through stores before deciding what to buy. Or you go to a nightclub or social outing and scope out the offerings, see what’s available, consider the possibilities. Or you think about the people you know and wonder who would make a good partner. You are looking at your options and deciding what to invest yourself in.

The meaning of dream symbolism depends on your personal associations, so in the case of a mall setting there are more possibilities. If you work at a mall the setting in a dream might symbolize something about your work life. If you go to the mall to do laps in the morning, a mall might represent something about exercise or activity. Or if you are like I was at age 16-17, the mall is a place to socialize. I rarely bought more than a burrito or a drink while there, but spent hours just wandering around with friends looking for excitement. At that age, if I dreamed about a mall I might be dreaming about the things I chose to do for excitement or entertainment.

Another possibility is a mall is associated with materialism, keeping up on the latest tends, and obtaining “must have” items. Malls are the object of many jokes about material culture.

Airport: To understand the dream symbolism of an airport, think about why people go to airports. Unless it’s a job site, usually the purpose is to hop on a plane and go to a destination. In another sense, a destination is a goal or ambition, a nonphysical place you want to reach. Airports are a place of transition from one location to another, and transitions can happen in our lives as we go from one phase of live to another or change our thoughts, feelings, or perceptions.

In Dreams 1-2-3 I used an example of airport symbolism from my dreams that struck a chord with readers. I got feedback from people who said that recurring dreams they puzzled over––sometimes for years––made sense to them after I explained what getting to the airport symbolized in my life. I dreamed off and on for many years about trying to fly to Paris, but I’d show up at the airport without my passport, or no money to pay for a ticket, or no idea which flight to take.

Paris symbolized a goal of mine to be a professional writer (author), something I worked toward for a long time before having much success at it. Paris is a center of the literary world, like New York City. Except to me, New York is more about commercial success, selling books––for example, the New York Times Bestseller List. I’d love to write a bestseller, but long before money was a concern I dreamed up the ambition of being an author who is recognized for intellect and imagination, and Paris has a reputation for being a place where great thinkers and artists go to make a name for themselves. When trying to reach Paris in my dreams it symbolized trying to find success as a writer recognized for my intellect and imagination.

So when you dream about airports, first consider where you want to go in your life. It could be related to your job or career ambitions, or maybe to some other goal like finding love. On top of being a literary city, Paris is considered to be a romantic city, and in some of my dreams, trying to fly to Paris symbolized trying to find a romantic partner.

The ambition symbolized as taking a flight might not be as lofty as success at career or love. It might be something like making the time to take a vacation, improving yourself, or going on that adventure you’ve been dreaming about.

To give another example from my life, I’d like to go to some peaceful place like a monastery or meditation retreat and think about nothing for a few weeks, with the idea in mind of cutting through the clutter of my surface thoughts and digging deep into who I really am. The destination I’d like to reach has nothing to do with a career or love ambition, or with vacations or adventure. It’s just something I feel like I need to do at some point, a personal destination.

While going through changes in her family life, a friend of mine dreamed frequently about airports. Often, family members were with her. In those dreams the airport setting symbolized that her relationship with her family was in transition.

Finally, a whole new set of associations come into play in the dreams of people who fly frequently. To them, an airport can symbolize boredom, being on someone else’s schedule, feeling delayed in their lives, or anxiety over missing an opportunity.

Hotel: A hotel or motel is a place where you go when away from home. It’s a temporary space, unless you live or work there. In dreams, hotels can be used to tell stories about transitions in our lives. We experience transitions between phases of life, points of view, and relationships and jobs. A relationship can transition from cold to hot, or from informal to formal. People change but it doesn’t happen overnight. Sometimes we stay in a sort of limbo for a while.

The way we see things can change––ourselves, our friends, our lives, the world. Opinions change. Self-perceptions change. The possibilities are wide open.

If you think of home as where the heart is, in dreams, staying at a hotel can symbolize feeling like you aren’t settled. You are away from home in the sense of feeling like you are not where you belong. Maybe you are unsure about your identity. Maybe you really are living away from home. Or maybe you just need to get away for a while.

Now it’s time to interpret a dream based on the setting. I’ll tell you the setting and you think about it. Apply what you have learned so far about how to analyze a setting. Consider its purpose, its function, its connotations. Ask yourself if you know any figures of speech that use the word I’m about to give you. Here we go.


Think about it. Next I’m going to give you two hints.

One, the dreamer is a young female, early college age.

Two, she’s in love with another girl who wants to remain just friends.

Here is the dream:

I wake up in my room but something is different. I am in a bird’s cage, and everything is bigger than me in my room. I can see my phone showing me some type of messages. As I look closer it is Riley (the girl I love) and she is messaging with a guy who is flirting with her. I try to get out of the cage and can’t. The messages keep coming as I am unable to do anything about it.

The movie The Birdcage is about a gay couple who have to pretend temporarily to be heterosexual. Birdcage is used in popular culture to express the idea that a gay person is in some way trapped by their circumstances, culture, or sexuality.

The setting itself has other possibilities for symbolism. A cage in general implies trapped, confined, held back.

Even if you don’t know the popular connotation of a birdcage relating to homosexuality, haven’t seen the movie, and don’t know that the dreamer is gay and pining for a straight friend, you can still see the idea played out in the part of the dream where she notices the messages on her phone. A guy flirts with her friend via text message and it bothers her, almost like the messages mock or torment her. She’s trapped in the situation. There’s no escape. She is never going to have the girl she loves.

Birdcage is not a common dream setting, but in my experience the next setting to consider pops up pretty frequently. Here it is:


A hospital setting implies that something about the dreamer needs to heal or improve. Hospitals are related to health. Health can mean physical health, or mental or emotional health. Health is used to describe other areas of life, too, like healthy relationships, healthy finances, or healthy work environments.

Hospitals are associated with emergencies. Something urgently needs attention. The emergency might be in your external life like your job, family, or marriage. It might be a situation that’s become chronic. Or it might be in your internal life, a feeling you can longer ignore, a lifestyle you can no longer maintain.

Consider words associated with hospitals like sickness, illness, birth, sterile, doctor, and death. When a hospital is a dream setting I consider all these possibilities.

Sometimes a detail about the hospital will give away the meaning of the symbolism. For example, a geriatric hospital could symbolize something about old age, wisdom,or the feeling that something is wearing you out. A dog (man’s best friend) hospital could symbolize a friendship that needs help.

With that in mind, analyze the symbolism of the hospital setting in this short dream:

I dream that the guy I’ve been seeing (in my waking life) lives in an abandoned hospital.

The dreamer said the relationship is not romantic, it’s a ‘friends with benefits’ (FWB) arrangement.

To understand this dream, I thought about why people choose friends with benefits over romance. In some cases it’s because they’ve been hurt or heartbroken and don’t want it to happen again. In a FWB relationship they get the soothing experience of sex without the likelihood of getting attached or hurt. The arrangement creates safe distance.

Now relate that idea to the abandoned hospital setting. In this case the hospital symbolizes healing––healing the dreamer’s heart after it took a blow in her last relationship. The hospital is abandoned because it expresses her feelings about being abandoned in her last relationship.

“Abandoned” defines the symbolism in “hospital.” This is how you narrow down the possibilities for the meaning of the symbolism.

Now apply that idea to the next dream setting:

Underground Football Stadium

A football stadium can symbolize something about public spectacle or how you feel in crowds. Or it can symbolize a stomach or other enclosed space in the body. Take that big hint I just dropped and analyze this dream:

I am sitting in a underground stadium with my dad for an NFL game. In the center of the 50-yard line is a 15-foot tall bumpy mound/steep hill. I go to get drinks. I return in what seems like three seconds later and notice some little kid in full uniform sneak on the defensive line. The refs kick him out for sneaking in. I get a feeling that the real game was halted and that the little kid is actually part of a movie being filming. And actors are now in football uniforms. Some running back makes a break for it and runs up the steep rocky mound and down the other side.

The dreamer is a young male. I don’t know his age, but do know he’s old enough to be a father, because that’s what is symbolized in this dream. His girlfriend is about to have a child, he told me.

The first detail that gives away the meaning is the presence of the dreamer’s father. Since the dreamer is about to become a father, his father is a natural choice to help tell a story about it.

Getting drinks is another giveaway because one reason why people drink is to celebrate. Having a child is a cause to celebrate.

The kid sneaking out onto the field is an obvious detail once you know that the overall theme of the dream is related to becoming a father. When I first read the description of the dream, at that point I suspected the dream to be about fatherhood. Keep in mind I didn’t personally know the person; I had a conversation with him about his dream online at Reddit Dreams.

Then the dreamer realizes the whole scene is part of a movie being filmed. Having a child is one of the major events of a lifetime, and is a detail sure to be included in the story of a person’s life. A movie is a way of telling a story.

Having a baby is also a public spectacle, and so are football games.

The steep rocky mound in the middle of the field and the running back who dashes over it are also related to fatherhood for this young man because having a baby is hard work. He’s been busier than he’s ever been getting ready for the big day when his boy comes into the world. He’s climbing a hill in his life, meeting a challenge.

All those details point the same direction, but the clincher is the setting. An underground stadium can symbolize a womb. That’s where the dreamer’s little football player is growing. “Underground” defines the symbolism of “stadium.”

The refs telling the kid to leave the field is a way of saying he is soon to leave that environment. He will leave the womb.

Notice in this example how every detail from the dream points the same direction toward the idea of fatherhood: the presence of the dreamer’s father, celebration drinks, a kid, life story, a tall hill to climb, the underground stadium representing a womb, and the kid leaving the field. I couldn’t look at any of the individual details and come up with an interpretation. The details give me clues, but it’s the connections between them that lead to the conclusion.

I have demonstrated in previous examples of dream settings how the symbolism defines itself, but have yet to talk about the main way symbolism defines itself: through actions. Actions define the symbolism. Let’s explore this idea with the next example:

Roller coaster

What is the main action that happens while riding on a roller coaster? You go up and down. Life can be full of ups and downs, thrills and spills. Popular figures of speech use that imagery and wording, so no wonder it appears in dreams.

Another use I’ve found for roller coaster symbolism in dreams is to describe getting high. You consume the drug or whatever and suddenly find yourself feeling like you are lifting off the ground or plunging into depths. Most drugs with intense highs also have intense lows, called “coming down.” Doing drugs with intense highs and lows is an experience in life that is ready-made for comparison to riding a roller coaster.

While we’re on the subject, let’s talk about other possibilities that have less to do with the action of riding a roller coaster. Roller coasters ride on tracks, and “on track” can mean ‘likely to reach a goal or target,’ or staying focused. For example, “The student is on track to graduate,” or “Let’s keep the discussion on track.”

Similarly, a roller coaster with a missing track can symbolize getting off track, out of focus, diverted. Tracks are also a support system, so missing track can symbolize lack of support.


Skyscrapers are commonly associated with “getting to the top,” so the symbolism can be associated with “climbing the ladder,” gaining authority, and taking the steps to advance to the top of a profession, organization, or craft. They can symbolize high hopes, high ideals, or high aspirations.

On the other hand skyscrapers sometimes stand alone, and therefore symbolize isolation or loneliness. Skyscrapers make people feel small in comparison.

Skyscrapers can be associated with the human body. The top of a skyscraper can symbolize the head. Skyscrapers have “bowels” and “guts.” They also have phallic associations because they are tall and erect.

Looking up toward the top of a skyscraper from its base is comparable to a small child looking up at a tall adult.

Dreams about riding an elevator in a skyscraper can be a journey through the years of your life. For example, take an elevator to the 20th floor and you could be visiting the 20th year of your life.

With those ideas in mind, analyze the next dream.

I’m standing on the top floor of a skyscraper. It’s the dead of night, and as I look down on the city through the window I realize that I’m completely alone. The whole city and everything around it is completely abandoned, as if humanity had decided to move on and I had been forgotten. I look toward the horizon and all I can see are violently flashing thunderheads slowly approaching the city. I expect to hear the crashes and rumbles of thunder, but everything is completely silent. Somehow, I realize that these thunderheads are not storm clouds, instead they are the end of all things. Realizing that there is nothing I can do, I watch as silent oblivion approaches. I wait to die alone.

The bleakness of this dream expresses the bleakness of the dreamer’s life. The skyscraper is a setting to describe how the dreamer feels alone in a world full of people, none of whom take the time or care to get to know him. The dreamer really does feel like he is forgotten and will die alone someday.


Orphanages are homes for children who have no parents. Therefore, they can symbolize the need for parenting or guidance, or the feeling of being alone or abandoned. The theme pops up a lot in the dreams of people whose parents were neglectful or absent. Also, it pops up in the dreams of high-achievers who were forced to grow up too soon. While their friends are playing, they are studying or taking care of other responsibilities.

Orphanages can symbolize a sense of belonging––or not belonging. And they can relate to having or raising children. For example, you might dream about your child being in an orphanage as a way of expressing the feeling that you have been too busy to give your child enough time and attention.

Escaping an orphanage can symbolize getting away from rules and restrictions, or finding your way home in the figurative sense. Home is where the heart is, according to the old saying. Home is where a person feels welcome, safe, loved, and accepted.


Restaurants are most closely associated with food, but they have other possibilities for symbolism.

A restaurant setting can speak to choices, since going to a restaurant usually involves ordering from a menu. Sometimes the number of choices in your life is overwhelming, so restaurants can be associated with having lots of choices.

Restaurants are associated with consumption, since they are places where food and drink are consumed. Think beyond edibles to consider that opinions, news, media, and information are “consumed.”

Restaurants are associated with the things that are delivered, and I don’t mean delivered like the mail. Think more broadly. Babies are delivered. Information is delivered. Projects are delivered.

Restaurants are also common settings to meet friends, family, and colleagues.

And finally, returning to the relationship between food and restaurants, food is nourishing. Nourishment also applies to emotions and spirit.


Villages are associated with simplicity. Compared to the big city, a village is a simple place. Life moves slower. Communities tend to be tighter knit and more traditional. Dreams can play with any of these associations.

A village can represent a place where a person is out of their element. In contemporary storytelling, a village can be a setting to show the city-person what he or she is missing. Take them out of the city and plop them down in a place where life is slower and people are simpler, and maybe they start to see their lives differently.

Movie theater

Meaningful dreams are stories about our lives. Movies are stories. A movie theater, therefore, is a terrific setting to tell a story about your life. The story can be an overview of your life, or about a specific area of it.

Another possibility for symbolism is a word play with the word “movie.” The sound of it is close to the word “move.” Move can mean moving from one location to another. “Make your move” is a phrase used in gambling, seduction, sports, and business.


To top off our discussion of dream settings, I want to explore the symbolism and possibilities for houses in dreams. A study I read claimed that a house is the most commonly reported setting in dreams. That jives with my experience. So let’s take a good look at what houses can mean in your dreams.

Start with the idea of where you live, not physically but mentally. The place where your thoughts live. You live in your mind, which is connected with your body. In a larger sense you live in your life. And as you live your life you construct it around you. You build it up. Your life becomes your home.

Because we build or construct our lives, a house is ready-made symbolism for your life. It’s a setting dreams can use in many different ways to tell stories about your life and all its areas: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and so on.

Do You Recognize the House?

One way to tell if a house setting in your dream is symbolic of something about you is by asking if it mirrors the one you live in, or if it’s different. If your “house” in your dreams is a place you have never actually visited, that is an indication the dream is using symbolism. (Note: This is a rule of thumb, not a commandment.)

For example, let’s say you dream that you walk around your house and notice a leaky faucet in the upstairs bathroom that needs fixed. Let’s also say that you really do have an upstairs bathroom, and everything about it and the house in the dream mirror your waking reality. The dream could be spurring you to check your plumbing in that bathroom, or fix a leaky faucet you’ve been ignoring.

On the other hand, let’s say that the bathroom in the dream is nothing like your bathroom at home. You live in a single floor apartment, not a house. And let’s say that you’ve had a runny nose lately. In that case, an upstairs bathroom with a leaky faucet could symbolize your runny nose. Sinuses can leak and clog just like plumbing. Upstairs in a dream can symbolize your head. The ideas connect.

Upstairs / Downstairs

The upstairs of a house in a dream can symbolize your head, but more often, in my experience, it symbolizes your thoughts, intellect, or spirit. These are referred to as the “upper realm.”

So if the upstairs is your thoughts, what’s downstairs? It is the realm of feelings, emotions, and instincts. When related to the body it can refer to the bowels or genitalia. For example, a clogged drain in the basement of your house could symbolize constipation. Also consider that instead of representing a physical location in your body it might represent something in your feelings. Perhaps you are having difficulty passing a feeling through you, or you are not listening to your instincts.


Take the idea of location around a house and apply it to what the outside of your house means in a dream. In my experience it can symbolize whatever is outside of myself, not part of my inner realm but still associated with my life. For example, a backyard can be dream-speak for the background of my life, something that isn’t given prominence. I used an example in the garden settings discussion. A yoga instructor finds a raised garden in his backyard and he gets the idea of using it for yoga and meditation. It symbolizes that he would benefit from raising the importance of yoga in his life. He responded to the dream by giving his yoga practice more importance, in a sense taking out of the background of his life. Instead of being a sideline hobby, he decided to get the training needed to become a full-time yoga teacher.

Alternately, the front yard can symbolize the foreground of your life, the part of your life that is visible to the public. For example, a tree planted in the front yard can symbolize having children, because families are compared to trees and children are in the foreground of parents’ lives.

See how it works?

Brainstorm 201dream-settings-dali2

Let’s apply what we’ve learned to some common dream scenarios. I will list them first and give you a moment to think about them. Then we’ll discuss them and analyze some dreams.

  1. Unwelcome person at your front door. It means… _________
  2. Fear that you left your windows or doors unlocked _________
  3. Evil child in your basement _________
  4. House is a mess _________
  5. Stormy weather outside rocks your house _________
  6. Construct a fence between your home and your neighbor’s property _________
  7. Keeping out an intruder _________
  8. A house you used to live in _________
  9. Find a new room ________

1. Unwelcome person at door:

What could be symbolized in a dream by an unwelcome person at your front door? Begin analyzing by thinking about what the front door does in waking life. It’s the place where you welcome people into your home (or not). It’s the boundary between your private life and public life.

If I had a dream about an unwelcome person at my front door I would ask myself if someone unwelcome is trying to be part of my life. A friend told me about a dream his wife had where some person she didn’t know showed up at their front door and asked to come inside. She felt strongly that she wanted to keep the person out. He suggested to his wife to think about anyone who had recently tried to be part of her life, anyone she didn’t want to “let them in.”

She immediately made the connection. Her father, an estranged character in her life, had recently contacted her. He had left her life when she was young, and over the years would suddenly reappear, always bringing with him trouble and turmoil. The dream told her very clearly that she was not willing to try again. She wanted to keep him out of her life. The person at her door was unfamiliar because she didn’t really know her father anymore…and didn’t want to.

2. Fear that you left windows or doors unlocked:

I dream that I wake up in the middle of the night and fear that my doors are unlocked. I check and find them unlocked. I think to myself that I’m lucky I checked because otherwise a stranger could have just strolled in.

The house in this dream looked just like the dreamer’s actual house, so it is tempting to interpret it literally. I have bolted upright in the middle of the night and realized I’d forgotten to do something like lock a door or shut a window. But in this case the doors really were locked, the windows shut, and the house safe and secure.

Always consider a literal interpretation first, and when it doesn’t fit, next consider symbolism. Fearing that doors are unlocked can symbolize that your life is in some way insecure. It could be financially insecure, could be personally or emotionally insecure.

In this dream the unlocked doors symbolize the feeling that the dreamer is emotionally insecure. She tries to keep people from really seeing inside of her. She doesn’t want anyone––especially strangers––knowing who she really is inside.

3. Evil child in basement.

I have a recurring dream about an evil child in my basement. The basement is in the house I’ve lived in all my life. The only times I dream about the basement are when I encounter this child. He is hard to describe physically, I just know that when he’s around I get a feeling of evil or impending doom. In the last dream I decided to confront the child. I hunted around the basement for him, didn’t find him in his usual hiding places. Then as I was walking away I sensed him behind me. He held a knife. I wanted to yell at him but felt powerless. I woke up before anything else happened.

Right away the basement setting with the “evil” child in it gives us a clue to the meaning of this dream. Something deep down within the dreamer is unhappy. About what, it’s hard to say from the dream. However, the young boy is a clue that the dreamer has left a part of himself behind. It’s a part of himself that feels left out of his life.

Sometimes parts of ourselves split off and recede into our psyche because of trauma or abuse. And sometimes it happens because of neglect or circumstances. That could be what the child symbolizes in this dream.

For example, maybe you wanted to be a dancer but your parents wanted you to be a doctor so you gave up your dream in order to make them happy. The dancer in you will never be happy with that decision. It will recede, and you will feel that loss in your quiet moments. You can tell yourself that being a doctor is more financially secure or whatever, but the kid in you who dreamed of being a dancer and not a doctor will not be happy with that answer. Or maybe you loved someone romantically and it ended badly, so part of your heart is no longer fully present. It’s caught in the past, hiding down in your emotional basement with a knife in its hand, angry and frustrated.

The dreamer said he hadn’t experienced any severe trauma at that age of his life depicted by the child in his dream. He wasn’t abused or molested or anything. The dream is more related to having an adversarial relationship with what children of that age have in abundance: enthusiasm, imagination, curiosity, spunk. He feels estranged from these qualities in himself.

The feeling of the child being evil is a projection of the dreamer’s perceptions. It results from the estrangement he has with a part of himself. He wondered if the child represented an evil spirit in his basement or something, and an evil spirit is something that is rejected, estranged, lost. No, the dream image of the child is an exaggerated way of bringing to his attention that he needs to reunite with a lost part of himself.

4. House is a mess: 

If your house in a dream represents your life, what does it mean if the house is a mess? It’s pretty obvious once you know how dreams use symbolism. Here is a dream to illustrate:

My good friend comes over to my house and I’m embarrassed to let her in. The house is a mess and rats are running around.

The mess referred to in the dream is the emotionally messy state of the dreamer. The friend who comes over is a person who knows her well enough to see it, and the dreamer is embarrassed for anyone to see what a mess she is inside herself, symbolized as the messy state inside of her house. The rats are another way of symbolizing the dreamer’s decrepit condition.

5. Stormy weather rocks the house:

I had a dream I met my brother on a road and he said, “Come look at my house. I built a room I wanted to show you.” He took me in the house. He had built a room upstairs that took up the whole upper floor of the house. It was round and had glass on all the walls so you could see out in every direction. I stood there with him amazed. Then I saw a storm coming. It looked real bad. I told him to get down. We both laid on the floor and the storm rocked the house. When it passed I said to him, “I’m impressed. Apparently you built the house on a good foundation because it should have come down.”

To begin analyzing this dream, some information about the dreamer is helpful. First, the brother in his dream is his real brother, not an imaginary character. Second, the dream occurred after his brother had spent years addicted to drugs and in a relationship with a lady who was not good for him.

Now ask yourself what could be symbolized by the dreamer’s brother building a room on top of his house. It’s symbolism for adding a new area to his life. What area? Well, it’s in the upper part of the house, and that can represent intellect or spirit. You’ll have a better idea after I explain the symbolism of the storm.

When people make major changes in their lives they will be challenged. Storms will come and try to blow away the good things they do for themselves, the new areas of their life they “construct” or “reconstruct.” A storm brewing can mean there is trouble brewing. The dream is anticipating a storm because the dreamer’s brother, at the time of the dream, is on the verge of completely turning around his life by quitting his use of drugs, moving away from the lady holding him back, and joining a church.

These changes in his life are symbolized by the new upstairs addition to his house. The decision to quit using drugs and join a church is a new addition to his spiritual life. The storm symbolizes temptation to go back to his old ways. And the fact that the house held up against the storm (because it’s built on a solid foundation) presages the fact that the dreamer’s brother would be successful in standing his ground against his addiction.

6. Construct a fence between your home and your neighbor’s home:

A fence is a dividing line, something that separates. Now take that idea along with what you know about house symbolism and apply it to the next dream.

I was outside in my driveway and there was a Japanese artist painting some kind of mural on my fence dividing my home and my neighbor’s home. The mural kept changing. I remember seeing dollar signs.

What figuratively separates a person from their neighbors? Wealth, social status, class. When I suggested to the dreamer that the fence in the dream represents separation in the figurative sense, he replied that it makes sense because he and his family live more comfortably than his neighbors. That explains the dollar signs on the mural. Japanese society is known for being rigidly divided by class structure, so I think that’s why the artist in the dream is Japanese, though that idea didn’t ring a bell with the dreamer.

7. Keeping out an intruder:

When you analyze a dream about an intruder in your home (or an intruder trying to get in), you have a few possibilities to consider. Think along the lines of things that are intrusive, that invade your privacy, that are unwelcome or detrimental to your mental, emotional, or physical state of being.

For example, a virus or disease is an intruder in your body. A neurosis is an intruder in your mind.

If the intruder robs your home, that symbolism can apply to situations that threaten your physical home. A foreclosure or eviction notice, for example, can be symbolized as someone robbing or threatening your home. Someone living in your home who causes trouble is a threat.

Or think about it in terms of something that robs your peace of your mind, like an argument with a family member or a conflict with a neighbor. Or trouble at work that affects your home life.

Addictions can rob people of opportunities to create the life they want, or rob their health, wealth, or freedom. In dreams an addiction can be symbolized as a thief or other sort of unwelcome person in your home.

8. House you used to live in:

When dreams refer to places or people from the past, oftentimes they are connecting something in the present with the past. So if you dream about a house you used to live in, ask yourself how it is relevant to what’s going on in your life presently.

If I have a dream featuring a place I used to live, one of the first things I consider is how the past influences me today. For example, I often dream about one of the apartments I used to live in while I was in college. While in college I was learning and gaining knowledge. When I dream about that apartment I ask myself if I’m being challenged to learn something.

That apartment is also where I lived when I started caring for myself better. I got rid of my tv and started meditating. In my present life, if I’ve been wasting valuable time or feeling out of kilter, I might dream about that apartment to remind myself that I have the inner tools and resources to make good use of my time or regain my equanimity.

If you dream about being in your old neighborhood and it is being destroyed, it could symbolized that old structures in your life are coming down. By structure I mean the way your life is structured around your attitudes, beliefs, and values.

9. Finding new rooms in your house:

Finding new rooms in your house is akin to finding out new things about yourself. It symbolizes self-discovery. It can also mean that you are opening up to new possibilities.

Rooms or Areas within or around a House

Dreams can also use rooms in a house as symbolism. Look at the following list and think of possibilities for symbolism. I’ll give you my ideas next.

  • Kitchen
  • Living room
  • Bathroom
  • Bedroom
  • Garage

Kitchen: Begin by thinking about what you do in kitchen. It’s a room where food is prepared and cooked. When you need to prepare for something in your life you can dream about it as working in a kitchen. For example, think of the preparation that goes into a wedding, a job interview, or a test.

Cooking involves combining ingredients and making something new out of them. Mix together flour, sugar, milk and eggs to make cookies, for example. The same idea applies to combining “ingredients” in your personality or character. For example, combine a good work ethic together with skill, learning, and resourcefulness to create a successful career. Extend the idea further and working in a kitchen can symbolize preparing for a change in your character or personality. Dreams can illustrate subconscious processes, and changes in yourself rarely come out of the blue. First, preparations and new connections are made in your psyche, largely outside of your conscious awareness.

Cooking in a dream can be used to symbolize “cooking up a plan” or “cooking up an idea.”

A kitchen setting is especially suitable for dreams related to creativity. Imagination + articulation = writing a book. Inner vision + fine dexterity = creating a painting. These are simplistic examples but they get across the idea.

Another kind of creation is a baby. Combine sperm with an egg, heat in a womb for nine months, and voila! A baby is born. The figure of speech “bun in the oven” expresses this idea. An oven can also be used to symbolize “getting baked,” as in frying your brain with cannabis or other drugs.

Kitchens are also related to diet. A kitchen setting in a dream can relate to food choices or nutritional needs.

Another type of need is for warmth, as in personal warmth, and kitchens are known for being the warmest room in the house. Warmth in a dream can mean relatedness or nurturing. A warm person is someone that makes people feel welcome.

Sometimes a setting in a dream is not related to symbolism but instead refers to something that happened there. For example, while cooking in your kitchen you remember that a bill hasn’t been paid. You are busy at the time and the thought slips your mind. That night you dream about a repo man breaking into your kitchen and repossessing your refrigerator. The kitchen is used simply to refer to the thought that crossed your mind while in your kitchen.

And finally, kitchens are associated with knives and cutting. Cutting can mean “cut off,” as in cutting off support or a conversation. For example, a dream about a guy’s sister grabbing a knife in the kitchen and cutting the throat of their brother symbolizes that she does not want to hear what the brothers have to say about the man she is planning to marry. She “cuts off the conversation.”

Living room: In many homes, the living room is main room for socializing. In dreams it can be a setting for depicting the image of yourself that you want others to see, or for the way you see yourself.

Thinking broadly, a living room can be used to describe your living situation. For example, a messy living room can symbolize a messy living situation, not just physically but personally or emotionally. A clean and orderly living room can be reflective of a clean and orderly life.

A living room can also have similar symbolic meaning as a front door, a boundary between your public and personal life. Guests who come to home are welcome in the living room, but might not be welcome in your bedroom, for example. They are welcome to see the public version of you, but not the private version.

Bathroom: A bathroom is where we clean up or eliminate waste. It’s also a private space where intrusions are generally unwelcome.

Taking those ideas and applying them to dream symbolism, a bathroom setting can symbolize “cleaning up your act” because it’s where people bathe. If looking in a mirror is involved, the setting can symbolize improving your social appearance, or getting a good look at yourself – not just at your outer, physical appearance, but at who you are on the inside, or at how you are perceived socially.

Showering can symbolize trying to get rid of feelings of guilt or regret, or trying to overcome a bad experience. For example, after a bad relationship experience people are said to “wash away” any lingering residue. A shower can be a word play on “to shower,” the verb, which means to bestow in quantity. A shower in a dream can also symbolize an event like a bridal or baby shower.

Eliminating waste in a dream can be a way of symbolizing getting something out of you in the figurative sense, working it through your system. For example, jealousy is known as a waste of energy. After relationship turn sour and breakups ensue, we are said to “get him (or her) out of your system.” It means process the experience and move on. In such a situation, a dream could show you on the toilet taking a big dump.

Bedroom: A bedroom is often our most private space in a home. Think of the teenager who tapes a big sign screaming “KEEP OUT!” on their bedroom door. Because the bedroom is a private space, it can signify aspects of yourself you don’t want other people to see, things you want to keep private.

Also consider common activities in a bedroom. Bedrooms are often associated with sex, so a bedroom can symbolize something about your sex life or sexuality. Beds can have similar symbolism.

Garage: Garages are used for storage,especially for storing cars when they are not in use. Cars are associated with the movement of a person’s life. A garage, or a car in a garage, can therefore signify idleness, not going anywhere in life. It could symbolize a period of malaise or doldrums, or lack of direction or motivation. Or a garage could symbolize something that is separate but close to your life or yourself.

Let’s Interpret

We will now apply what we learned about rooms in a house to interpret a couple of dreams. Use the setting as a clue to the meaning, but also consider other details when thinking about the interpretation.

Dream #1: I’ve been dating this girl for six weeks and things really are going great. But last night I dreamed she was at my house, in my bedroom, and wouldn’t let me in. She said, “It’s too risky.”

Think about it.

The meaning of this dream seems obvious to me. “Too risky” can be associated with a reason to refrain from sex. A bedroom is associated with sex. His girlfriend shutting him out of his bedroom symbolizes that she is not willing to have sex at that point in the relationship. All the details of the dream point that direction.

Without the part about the girlfriend saying it is too risky to let the dreamer into his own bedroom, the dream can be interpreted differently. Since a bedroom can represent privacy, getting shut out by his girlfriend can symbolize she won’t give him privacy. Or let’s say that the dream is about her locking him out of her bedroom. It could mean she’s not opening up personally or showing him who she is inside.

Let’s interpret another dream where the setting sets the stage to tell the story. The meaning is found in the action that happens in the setting.

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Dream #2: Today I had a really weird/scary dream. In it I saw my sister. She had a butcher knife and was doing something with it near the kitchen sink. Next thing you know she walks over to my brother and cuts his throat. Seriously. I saw a ton of blood. I ran outside of the house and went to my neighbor’s house to call 911.

Think about it.

To really understand what’s going here it’s helpful to know what the action of cutting a throat means in this dream. The throat is associated with words and speaking. To cut a throat can symbolize that the cutter doesn’t want to know what the “victim” has to say. I considered the possibility that the dream is enacting a metaphor for “cut your own throat,” but it doesn’t fit because the sister cuts her brother’s throat, not her own throat or the dreamer’s. Plus, the dreamer is an observer. When observing in a dream instead of being the main character or actor, it’s a sign that the dreamer is observing something going on in someone else’s life.

The dream is about a situation in the sister’s life where she is engaged to a guy that the dreamer and his brother think is bad for her. He is a “user” taking advantage of her, in their opinion. They have tried to tell her––in particular, the brother who gets his throat cut––but she doesn’t want to hear it. She is “cut off” from any further discussion.

Dream #3: I dream that my friend, a girl I’m interested in romantically, comes over to a house where I’m at that is unfamiliar. We cuddle on the couch. Suddenly her parents come in and we straighten up, thinking that seeing us together makes her parents uncomfortable. Then I’m back at my house and looking for my friend in the previous scene. I quickly clean up the house so I won’t be embarrassed. I straighten up the living then head for my bedroom. When I walk in I see that my bed has been ransacked. I look around for who did it and find my sister, who admits it was her. It makes me really upset and I yell at her.

Think about it.

Being in an unfamiliar house can symbolize being in an unfamiliar place in your life. For this dreamer, a young man who just graduated from high school, much about his life is unfamiliar. In particular, dating. He’s new to it.

Cuddling can symbolize how two people fit together. On the surface it represents the physical way their bodies fit together, but dreams can use that idea to express how people personally fit together. Are they compatible? This dream is asking if he is compatible with the girl in the dream. The answer seems to be yes, except he’s not sure if her parents will accept him as her boyfriend.

What does he have to do first? Straighten out his living situation. He doesn’t have a job or a car, and to be a good prospect he needs those things. He is working at it, and the dream symbolizes his effort as straightening up his house, specifically his living room. Living room = living situation.

Then he goes to clean his bedroom and finds his bed ransacked by his sister. It symbolizes that he is straightening up his living situation, but his personal situation is more complicated. His family life is messy. He wonder if it will impact his desirability. It’s not something that can be straightened up the same way his living situation can be straightened up. His sister is in the same boat as he is, personally impacted by their messy family situation. Also, his sister intrudes on his privacy, and a bedroom is a private place, so those parts connect together.

To delve deeper into dream work and interpretation, grab a copy of my book Dreams 1-2-3: Remember, Interpret, and Live Your Dreams. You can also find out more about it at Dreams1-2-3.com