Knowing a dream is to interpret it.
Understanding a dream is living it.
The appreciation of the objective knowledge, purified from disturbing feelings, guesses, visions and mysticisms is characteristic for Western sciences, especially natural ones. Science is a good background against which we can examine the possibilities of knowledge.
Knowing a dream needs a knower, a dream researcher, an observer who is sitting in his supposedly neutral post, separated from his object. In this case separated from the dream, comparing it with the results of earlier observations, fitting new data into old conceptual systems, making decisions, adding and pruning explanations, searching for the dream the solution which fills all the criteria defined by the scientific reference group he is identified with. The interpretation is thus largely dependent on the external data, which functions as a distorting filter between the dream and the observer.
The data gathered from dreams and conclusions drawn from them must pass the criteria of the scientific community the dream researcher belongs. This means that the results; the interpretation of the dream must follow the rules of his scientific community, which in turn is subordinated to the historical changes of the surrounding community, which allocates funds for his research.
The science in all its branches obeys the same laws of group psychology as any human group movement. The stronghold of the traditionally accepted rules how to practice science is so strong that the majority of scientists are not able to see how narrow the channel of science is where they are allowed to advance. The conclusions obtained are thus dependent of the surrounding cultural background.
For any human group, scientists among them, it is extremely hard to jump out of the established tradition with all its power and economical structures, and to begin to declare some contradicting truths. To bring something really new into the community means opposing the traditional truths. The ordinary, 'routine' science has a heavy momentum. It changes its direction laboriously. Its main activity is searching new fitting pieces for an existing puzzle. It is not especially interested in totally new puzzles. This activity is assimilation; making similar, gathering especially such new evidence which fortifies the earlier results, accumulating new layers of knowledge onto the old hard, immovable core.
Knowledge, in its purest form reflected just in science, cannot bring us deeper into dreams, but remains at the more superficial level of explanations. Many people are satisfied with explanations. They do not long for more. They are content with the outlook on life, which they have assimilated for themselves mainly from the opinions of others.
Understanding is not an assimilative but accommodating process. Instead of gathering new evidence layers onto the old hard core by assimilation, the accommodation means melting that old hard core, adjusting itself into the resonance with the whole, accommodating into ever-changing situations of life like an eye seeing the world around clearly all the time with the help of its accommodating capacity.
Understanding a dream is living it, not in it but living it, adjusting ourselves towards the similar type of mental state where we are during dreaming. We are our dreams at night. Our nightly life form vanishes like stars against the rising sun of the day consciousness. Like the stars are not a reflection of the sun, dreams are not a reflection of the day; not only shadows of a 'more real' day, but both states of mind are equally valid, equally real.
How can we live a dream during the day? - Almost everybody of us has had many experiences of that kind of state of mind. We just have not become aware of their connection to dreams. -- Call back to your mind all the inspiring situations where you have been. It has been perhaps a fine evening with friends, a fantastic lecturer, an intensive theatre play. Haven't those moments carried the listener, the audience away from this physical reality to the fantastic journey of imagination, the sparkling metaphors carrying us into exotic realms, visions, new insights? Many of us have at times experienced this, laughing, crying, living together the moments of art, the union, the most inspiring moments of friendship, almost completely forgetting the passage of time and the actual, physical surroundings. This state is a very near relative to the dream state where metaphors flow over time and space, without the heavy chains of an 'objective', rational mind.
This is living the dreams, too. It is to throw oneself into the visions of mind, as a dream group, helping each other to climb to the astounding heights of the artistic moments, to the growing mutual trust to fellow man, acting as catalysts to each other. This is the living of common images, a common journey to Never Never Land where we are young again, nonspoiled, in the innocent state of the child without the reservations and psychological bulwarks of psychically wounded adults.
There are many other, more exotic states which are known for their potential power to deeply change one's life, and which cannot be dealt with by the typical scientific rational approaches. These kind of intuitional and inspirational states, meditative and ecstatic states, beyond the realms of rational thinking, are best expressed in art and religions, myths, poems, tales and folklores.
The understanding of dreams - and of the whole life - is living without the obstacles of the observing ego, without the controlling filter between us and life, be it in dreams or in day consciousness. To 'forget oneself' or to 'lose oneself' are typical expressions of our most inspiring moments when we are totally absorbed in the object of study. Many great artists have described how the masterpiece has appeared unexpectedly somewhere from beyond, just when he was not trying hard, when his storming ego has calmed down, stepped aside, and bang! there it was, the masterpiece. The greatest works of art come from beyond the artist's own conscious ego.
When our waking ego is not any more controlling our every moment mincing every experience through the mincing-machine of our defense mechanisms, just that is the state where dreams do not die pierced with our sharp arrows of interpretations, but begin to revive, to burst into blossom reinforcing the atmosphere of confidence, revealing the common experience of humankind where we really begin to understand which is the deepest meaning of 'our fellow man'. When we see how similar his deepest feelings are with our own, our moments of joy and sorrow, aspirations and fears, it is a state of understanding. Understanding is to see the common denominator in all of us, to understand it directly, in all its immediacy and intimacy, without any need for external teachings and analyzing efforts.
Montague Ullman, who has devised the dream group process which maximizes the discovery of this creative state, describes it as follows (italics mine) (The Orchestration - Letting the Dream Speak. Dream Appreciation vol 3 nr 1, Winter 1998):
I'll begin with a feeling I always have when I do succeed in bringing the dream to life for the dreamer. The feeling is that I am not doing anything. True enough I am talking to the dreamer, but it is as if I am just a vehicle for thoughts that are forming themselves. Or, to put it another way: I know they are my thoughts but they seem to be coming from a place somewhere between the dreamer and myself. It is as if the feelings the group managed to elicit from the dreamer in the course of our work sets up an emotional field to which we all react to a greater or lesser extent. It takes very careful listening to tune into that field.
It also takes another ingredient which is hard to define. The closest I can get to it is to so distance myself from what I think I know about dreams generally and this particular dream specifically so that all a priori assumptions are drained out of my system. Only then do I feel properly prepared to receive what is being conveyed to me from the dreamer.
This state of mind is not scientific. It is not logic, not evidence based practice. It is not interpretation. It cannot be taught by only adding knowledge. It can be understood only by living it, diving into it, experiencing its immediacy in the atmosphere of fellowship.
It is a vision, in its richness beyond any one-dimensional, anemic interpretations. It is diving into the same state where dreams are born. It is the life itself, the same red thread going through it like through all the philosophies and religions, being little more discernible in those individuals which have not become too polluted with rationalizations and blind beliefs, but have been able to maintain - perhaps even amidst their petrified traditions - a fresh view of the areas of life where the intellect is blind and the faith is lame.
This does not mean at all that knowledge is useless. The artist needs to know his media. The painter must master his brushes and colors, the moviemaker the limitations and possibilities of his complicated technical instruments. Without them nothing creative can be accomplished, mediated to others.
The dreamworker, too, needs to know his tools. He needs to choose his way to approach the timid wild horse of the dream, ready to run away, so easily escaping behind the horizon at any moment if it is not treated very gently.
Knowledge is a midwife who assists a dream to be born into the daylight, but the birth process itself is beyond the reach of any midwifes. Knowledge is like a sheltering hand for the flame of life to grow stronger, protected from the egocentric winds of the society. But the hand is not the flame itself.
Understanding and knowledge must work in unison
in the exploration of the human soul. The growing knowledge helps to
devise still better shelters for the dream to be able to speak with its
own voice; to be understood. The best combination of knowledge and
understanding is their mutual alliance where both know their place,
their limitations and strengths. The knowledge alone is blind, the
understanding alone is lame.
(More detailed treat of this topic is found throughout my book UnderstandingDreams - The Gateway to Dreams Without Dream Interpretation)