Dreams Don’t Mean Any One Thing, They Mean Many Things

Dreams are sleeping meditations on emotions; waking meditations are dreams of thought.

“[Dreams] take patience, and sometimes they require you to dig down very deep. Be sure you’re willing to do that.”
Harvey Mackay, author and columnist

Lincoln Stoller, PhD, 2021. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International license (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

I have become dream enabled. It may have started with Covid two years ago. Since that time, my sleep has been broken, as I wake once or twice each night with dream memories.

I advise people who want to remember their dreams to set an alarm that will wake them during their dream cycle before their usual waking time. If you wake during your dream, you’ll remember them. You’ll need to jot down a few words.

Remembering dreams has been happening naturally, more than in years past, and it has given me a rich dream life. Because of the lack of sleep, I’ve taken to napping in the afternoons, which yields even more dreams.

Dreamwork is work. The recollection is disruptive. Waking earlier means you have to give yourself more time to sleep and some extra time when you awake. Most people don’t do it because remembering your dreams is just the start of dreamwork. Dreamwork is actually lifework.

Big Mistakes

Dreams are built of memories, but they’re not built from memories you normally remember. For the most part, dream images are situations you’ve never had before and, to confuse matters further, the scenes don’t conclude. They’re not meant to conclude. They’re not meant to pull things together. They’re meant to pull things apart.

Dreams are disintegrative. You rarely wake from a dream feeling resolved. That is because whatever you believe in waking life, you’re likely wrong. Dreams tap you on the shoulder to remind you of your ignorance, and sometimes they’re rather rude. This applies to everything.

Your mind’s natural inclination is to further buttress your point of view, and so to become further wrong. Your dreams scatter ice on the curves in order to send you over the guardrail of your imagination.

This would not be the case if your thinking was perfect and your conclusions precise, but they are neither. Our thinking is a jumble of assumptions, mis-recollections, and magnificent inductions that make cubist paintings look like real life.


I was a guest on a recent dream podcast in which the host interpreted my dream. As soon it became clear that this was what he was doing, I shut my ears. Any dream interpretation is nonsense because dreams are nonsense.

They are fertile nonsense, but nonsense all the same. They cast spotlights your range of underlying feelings.

Let me coin the word “anysense” in order to describe a perspective large enough to encompass contradictions and uncertainties. Some of these will be unreasonable and others will suggest reasons yet unfathomed. Using that word I can say that dreams are not nonsense, they’re anysense.

For one person to interpret another’s dream is a reading of Tarot cards, it’s a reading of a person, not the cards and not the dream. A dream interpretation is no better than the dream interpreter. The dreams, like the Tarot cards, laugh at your arrogance in fabricating a conclusion.

dreams growth therapy counseling dreamwork coaching health sleep creativity imagination lincoln stoller


To follow the plot of your dreams, look at the symbols. But to follow the ideas of your dreams, look at their associations. Look at the repeating symbol that appears in different forms, guises, and scales. The symbols mean what you see in them. They are contextual, not predefined.

In a dream last night, I kept encountering large, empty, public restrooms that had no toilets. I wanted to defecate but didn’t feel the need to. The search for toilets kept leading to dead ends and, at some point in the dream, I had the idea that this was symbolic. At that point, having apparently gotten the point, no more bathrooms appeared.

Like waking thoughts, dreams sprout from real events, but their meaning is not what you expect. The traffic sign next to the house doesn’t mean what it says, and the house is not referring to a house. The meaning is the relation between the feelings that are evoked by the two as you move between them.

Like a game of charades, the dream is building sentences from images, but they’re not meant for you to understand. They’re meant for the other players who inhabit your subconscious. These are the other dream makers, your other emotional personalities. The dream is their conversation, and you are listening through the keyhole.

Subsequent dream scenes will take associations and recast them anew. These scenes are woven together as if by a band of musicians improvising off each other’s riffs. You can’t see these musicians and they’re not playing to you, they’re playing to each other.

In a dream about my mother, I’m tagging along on errands as I did for so many years during my childhood. In the dream, she’s more ebullient and talkative than she was in real life, and much more present than she ever was when she was alive. The locations and events were irrelevant.

What was relevant was her presence despite the circumstances and without regard to me doing anything. My mother got her shit together in my dream. She never did in real life, and I was not responsible in either case.

Your dreams are the primitive parts of your brain playing poker with your mind. The cards they’re playing with are your old memories. Each dream scene comes from the cards in the hands of a different player, a different person in your mind.

You wouldn’t try to understand a piece of music one measure at a time. A dream is improvised, not synchronized. They’re playing whack-a-mole with your memories, and your mind is their fun house. You’ll only get the message in the rare case that they decide there is one.

As the dream progresses, the stakes get higher and the emotions more pointed. The theme that was started by one part of you is raised by the next. These games go on for hours, and you remember a bit of the last one. There was no “point” to begin with.


I use my MUSE brain training headset for 10 minutes either after I wake up, or before I go to bed. I might get courageous and meditate at both times, but it might be too much. I’m not sure what it would be too much of.

Dreams are forged by mood, not intention. The musicians who appear to improvise your dreams are those you invite by your emotional texture before sleep. If your heart is easy and of good cheer, then a happy band will arrive to serenade your dreams. If you’re not happy, then you’d be better off facing it before the music starts.

Whatever you are, the appropriate players will appear. You can try to be intentional, but you can’t fake it. You’ll get what your mood desires and the best you can be is aligned with it. This is the point of the pre-sleep meditation: alignment.

Forget about your desires or intentions. Let them come to you while you’re still awake because they’ll inevitably arrive once you fall asleep. And if you are still awake, then there is a better chance that you’ll be allowed to take part. You cannot write the set list, but you might set the theme.

Meditation before sleep settles you at the bus stop of your higher mind, waiting to be picked up on the way to the gig. Meditating when you wake up has a complementary effect. The same bus drops you off and you can carry the memories home. You’ll better remember the forces that were at work.

When we awake, we are like children pushed out the door and told to go to school. School is our waking life and most of the time we’re reluctant to attend. Meditation early in the morning is essential if you intend to settle your dreams. I suspect it has the same effect even if you have few memories of them.

If you don’t remember or allow your dreams to color your emotions, then you’ll head into each new day with the same emotions as the day before. Where is the growth in that? Where will you find inspiration?

dreams growth therapy counseling dreamwork coaching health sleep creativity imagination lincoln stoller

Dream Invitation

You are the recipient of dreams, not the author of them. The authors are inside you, but you don’t speak their language.

They build networks of associations, and they don’t have time for reason. The strength of these nets is different at each node, and that strength depends on the associations that come together.

You are a network of possibilities. You are not a single line of reasoning. Your conscious mind follows a thread through this network, but the network is built first, and your conscious mind navigates it branch by branch in its wakeful state.

They say dreams consolidate memory, but that’s too reductive. Dreams build meanings from memories, and in doing that, some memories are strengthened and others weakened.

The best your conscious mind can do is recall a few associations at a time. You cannot consciously knit together a hundred associations, but your dreams can.

If you don’t demand reason from your dreams, and disengage from being reasonable, your dreams will move you toward a state of greater consonance through dreaming.

If you understand the rhythm, the musicians may let you play the tambourine. Your dreams won’t make more sense, in fact they’ll make less, but that’s what you want.

There can be meaning without sense, and in this chaos are your choices0. The more choices your conscious mind can grasp and your emotions tolerate, the greater your opportunity for growth.

If you’d like to talk to me about dreams, I’d be happy to oblige.
Schedule a short, free conversation with me at:

Enter your email for a FREE 1x/month or a paid 4x/month subscription.
Click the Stream of the Subconscious button.