Only the dreamer can interpret her own dreams.
That was my main takeaway from a workshop I attended a couple of weeks ago on dreams and spiritual direction offered by Jungian analyst and spiritual director Janice Bachman, O.P. Our focus was on helping people (including ourselves) to notice and understand what our dreams might be saying to us in the context of helping people to find what God is doing in their lives rather than on analysis of dreams such as one might do in therapy, but the principle of self-interpretation holds true.
The best and worst of my dreams over the past five years have centered, of course, on Josh. Some of them, fragmented and terrible nightmares, seem to be means for absorbing and processing what has happened to us. I didn't sleep much the first few years after he died, but apparently I slept for periods long enough to fall into the REM sleep required for dreaming. The dreams themselves indicated a mild form of PTSD, although it didn't feel mild at the time. I often thought that I stopped sleeping more than a few hours a night because my dreams were so horrific. These days, I still have the dreams, but it seems that I've gotten used to them.
Others? Like most parents who have lost children, I have vivid, joyful dreams of my son, of all my children, to which I try desperately to return when I awake. Josh is so alive in those dreams. It astonishes me, that our brain circuits retain so much detail of times and people long past that they seem to live in complete fullness as we sleep. The voices, the gestures, the shining hair ~ all as it once was. I wonder sometimes whether those dreams are indeed a form of communication, whether Josh, or God, or someone, is trying to tell me that he's fine, beautiful and whole and healed. Or are they merely wishful thinking, brain circuits working overtime, trying to recover an irretrievable sense of well-being and security?
I wish that I had the confidence in dreams that Biblical dreamers demonstrate. We spent a chunk of our workshop on Jacob's dream, reflecting upon it in great detail as a way of practicing what we might explore with a spiritual directee. Rich layers of meaning that can be extracted from the symbols and repetitions. Can I apply to my own dreams the reverence that Biblical dreamers applied to theirs?
Ironically, this past week-end, my daughter and I went to see Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat, her Christmas present to me. Joseph, of course, does interpret the dreams of others, and thus changes the course of history. I wonder whether we could alter our own lives if we could fully access and understand our dreams.