Dreams interpretation: Intro to an Indigenous perspective

Dreams interpretation: Intro to an Indigenous perspective

Hello all!

at my graduation

receiving my blanket

Hope you are all doing well and enjoying yourself. I am still smiling from my graduation last week 🙂 Read more about it here. I miss those people and it has only been a week! Such a wonderful blanket ceremony and a wonderful time. So I want to continue in the spirit of that great time and share some more wisdom and knowledge and perspectives that were shared with me in the wonderful program that is Aboriginal Focusing Oriented Therapy and Complex Trauma (AFOT). And today, I want to talk about dreams. 

You see, before I went through this awesome program, I was trained in western psychology. More specifically in psychodynamic/psychoanalytic therapy or psychology. Yes, the Freud stuff… That was my training. And although, I enjoyed it, I did not feel like it was enough. So I kept on going. I think I will be an eternal student…But that being said, because of my original training, I also believed that dreams had meaning, they serve a purpose. They bring to the surface information that, normally, when awake, our defenses would block out. I truly believe the dreams have a meaning and a message. But how do we interpret them? Here, I will be giving an overview of different schools of thought but will not be going in depth. As that would be a very lengthy article (I can talk a lot about dreams!)…But there might be a follow up at some point 🙂 I am including some books from Amazon at the end for those who are interested (I am using them in this article).

The psychodynamic vision on dreams interpretation

So as I said, I was originally trained in the psychodynamic school of thought. And dreams are certainly looked at, examined and used as a therapeutic tool. Freud is probably the father of all dream exploration. Or so most people think. But Jung is also another great mind who worked on dreams and develop great ideas and ways of working with them, using Native American concepts and spirituality.

all dreams

So here, I am just going to go with what I was taught without getting my books out. But generally speaking, dreams, with the western psychodynamic model, are thoughts to be fantasies, thoughts or ideas that come out when we are sleeping. When our defenses are down, as it is then less threatening. Because you see, if we were to experience them awake, we might feel threatened by them and block them, deny them or rationalize them for example. At night, we are unable to block them, so they come up. But they do not come up in a literal way. They get transformed in our dreams, so that we do not confuse them with reality. Our dreams are also affected by what happened in our life the day before the dream. What Freud called the “day’s residue”.

Jung and Eduardo Duran

Jung built on Freud’s work, adding concepts such as the collective unconscious (read more here), which led to the possibility of collective or ancestral dreams. Eduardo Duran, in Healing the Soul Wound, (see above and below), explains the dream process well: as our egos can be rigid (our defenses), it is hard for us to communicate with the sacred and our unconscious. Dreams are the Creator’s way of making sure we can do so. However, if communication was to be in every day language, as soon as we would wake up, we would block it out and not remember it. Therefore, like Coyote, the Creator invented another language full of symbols and tricks that our ego cannot understand. The dream language, one that needs decoding when we wake up. So we talk about the weird symbols and images we saw and experienced, we try to recall how we felt in the dream, to start to make sense of it and gain access to its message and wisdom. But how do we do that?


The AFOT/Indigenous perspective

4 components of dreaming

So let’s look at a dream using the component of the medicine wheel. The physical, mental, emotional and spiritual dimensions . Quickly, the physical aspect of dreaming refers to the REM (rapid eye movement) and NREM (non REM) phases of sleep. It used to be thought that people only dreamed when in the REM phase. However, it also has been discovered that people also dream in the NREM phase. According to studies by Patrick McNamara as well as those by Matt Wilson (at MIT), dreams in the NREM sleep refer to or focus on past experiences that might relate or inform future experiences. Studies have also shown that people who were awakened after dreaming in NREM sleep felt better about themselves.

Whereas, dreams in the REM phase (happens every 90 minutes), were about an actual attempt to move into and experience future possibilities. Dreaming in REM sleep gives us an occasion to test those possibilities out if you will. And here is the kicker. When dreaming in the REM phase, our body is paralyzed. If you were to wake up or have waken up then, you literally cannot move until your brain makes the switch and realizes you are awake. Scary you say? Well no actually. Because if you were not paralyzed, then you would actually act out the dreams physically! Which would not be good.

As for the mental aspect of dreaming, well we can see dreaming as a way to work out or dream your dreamsaddress our problems or challenges. If you are having an issue about something, think about it hard enough. You might just be able to will yourself to dream about it to work it out in your dreams. I kid you not!

The emotional aspect of dreaming refers to the fact that dreams provide us with a safe space to release difficult emotions. They provide a release. They allow us to emotionally deal with certain aspects of our life. However, emotions such as fear or grief might come up, emotions that might also come from our ancestors.

And finally, the spiritual component of dreaming. Hmmm, how to explain that one. Well, dreams can be a way to obtain knowledge and wisdom, including from the ancestors or the spirits of all our relations, including animals and plants. Dreams allow us to explore All our Relations. Literally. We might have visitors from the past in our dreams. And that in itself can be terrifying, hence the presence of nightmares. However, as scary as they can be, nightmares teach us about survival, our survival. They help us rehearse survival techniques. They hold insight to help us move forward.

Just an aside: night terrors are different than nightmares. Night terrors typically happen between the ages of 3 and 10 and are related to cognitive development. Neurological work, development happens during night terrors. There is no lingering affect when the child wakes up. They do not remember the night terror. It is a normal part of the development process.

brown feather dream catcher

So how can dreams help us from an Indigenous perspective?

From an Indigenous perspective, dreams are alive and are there to help us. They are also collective, shared among our relations. They give us wisdom from our ancestors. They are a tool to help us process and give us access to traumatic experiences (that would be hard to look at awake), unresolved traumatic experiences that might also be collective experiences (e.g. colonization, residential/boarding schools). Dreams might actually contain little fragments of information, of wisdom that can help us on our path to healing. They might provide us with insight.

And also important: not all dreams happen when we are asleep. We can have lucid, day time dreams. As weird as it can sound, you can actually force yourself to have a dream (we practice that in our AFOT program and it was quite insightful). Dreams are alive, they move and the dreamer is the best one to interpret the dream (psychodynamic psychology would say the same thing). Each time you revisit a dream, you might learn something else. And really think about what ancestral knowledge it contains. What are your ancestors trying to tell you, to communicate to you?

Ok I think I will stop here for now, as I could go on and on. But I will write a follow up article about the meaning of certain symbols in dreams. But for now, keep a dream journal. Write down the content of your dreams, who was in it and how you felt in the dream. And I would also like to know what you thought of the perspective I presented here. What are your thoughts? Comment below!

All my Relations

26 thoughts on “Dreams interpretation: Intro to an Indigenous perspective

  1. Shaz

    Nice one Emily! I’m sure I dream like most others, but unfortunately I rarely remember them once I wake up. This has been the case like forever so now I don’t hope anymore! I learnt something new today – night terrors. Always confused them with nightmares 🙂

    1. Emily Post author

      Hi Shaz
      if you wake up in the middle of the night, do you remember your dreams then? If so, keep a journal and write them down then. I know for me, at times, it wakes me up and I think “oh for sure I will remember this dream in the morning as it was so vivid” but I never do!

  2. Jason

    Dreams are so mysterious. I remember when I was a child, I used to remember my dreams much more than I do before.
    Many people tell me that their ancestors spoke to them in a dream telling them of things that will happen or just sending a message.
    One of the issue I am having is not remembering my dreams at all! It is like one of the most frustrating things that happens to me.
    I have to spend some more time doing some research on this subject.

    I read the book Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill and he mentions Freud and Karl Jung as some real pioneers in the dream world.
    Emily, I will be coming back to read the follow up article. I really enjoyed reading this one.
    In the meantime, do you have any suggestions for me to help me remember my dreams?


    1. Emily Post author

      hi Jason
      I should post the follow up article in about a week 🙂 keep a journal, write down the dreams if you wake up right after them. Otherwise, by morning, we rarely remember them. They can certainly give us information we would not have access to awake.

  3. Billy

    I have always treated dreams as a window into a type of surreal world. I’m there just reacting to what is going on around me. Sometimes, I have been able to direct the dream to what I want to do, realizing that I am fully asleep and dreaming. Does not happen often, but enough for me to notice, and I love the dreams when I know I am dreaming. Boat loads of fun.

    I never thought of dreams having components. You have captured my curiosity on this. I think I will try your idea of a dream journal just to see where it goes.

    Thanks for the insight!

    1. Emily Post author

      hi Billy
      so nice to hear your thoughts! I have had those dreams too in the past where I know I am dreaming. For you to be able to truly be able to use the dream by directing it is awesome! More power to you. I will be writing a follow up post on certain explanations of possible elements in dreams. Stay tuned!

  4. matt

    Truly interesting article, I understand completely now. I sometimes think about a certain situation or challenge throughout the day only to explore it in my sleep.

    1. Emily Post author

      That is awesome Matt! If you use your dreams to try out solutions or think of them. Or sort out through issues that is so helpful.

  5. Yvette

    Emily I found that insight about being paralysed during REM sleep amazing! I had no idea.
    Strangely I very rarely ever remember my dreams unless I’m woken during or immediately after, or they are so traumatic I force myself to wake.
    I do tend to only remember the ’emotional dreams’, which always seem to leave me feeling frustrated or exhausted. But I like the idea of trying to learn forced dreaming! how awesome would it be to dream about pleasant things, where you wake feeling all warm and fuzzy! Would love that 🙂
    Thanks for the insight, very interesting!

    1. Emily Post author

      Hi Yvette
      thanks for visiting. The emotional dreams can certainly be easier to remember as the affect they leave us with is very strong. But yes for sure it is possible to “control” what we dream about. But it does take practice!

  6. Garen

    Hey Emily,

    I to have often wondered about dreams and what they actually mean. I didn’t know that you were actually paralyzed when in the REM phase. I have woken up once in my life and couldn’t move which was very scary. But, after 2 seconds I was able to move.

    As far as lucid dreams go I have always been fascinated with those. I have heard people can train themselves to have lucid dreams too. Have you ever heard of any foods or anything you can consume that will allow you to have a lucid dream? I have read about it online before, but was never actually able to do it.

    1. Emily Post author

      Hi Garen
      yep one is paralyzed during REM sleep. But at the same time, can you imagine being able to move and act out the dreams? That could be dangerous. As for lucid dreams, well it depends. Certain substances can enhance one’s abilities. And almost or lead to visions. Native Americans have used peyote for that purpose for centuries.

  7. Demi

    Hi Emily..I could go on reading about dream interpretation..Whenever I dream something, I recollect it and search the web to find the meaning..This post is very relevant to me. I would love to see more posts of dream interpretation.. You certainly enlightened me to an extent in understanding dreams..I would surely check the books you recommended..

  8. Yvonne

    Hi Emily,

    Many times I forget what I dreamt or only remember parts of it. But there are times when I can recall vividly certain dreams. I’m not sure what causes us to remember some dreams and to forget others. When it comes to scary dreams somehow I know in my dream that I’m dreaming and then I sort of forced myself to wake up. Lol.

    1. Emily Post author

      hi Yvonne!
      well that’s good that you have that ability! So that you can get out of the dream before it is too scary. Some dreams can certainly be more vivid or related to a stronger affect, hence why we remember them better.

  9. Nnamdi

    Hello Emily,

    The REM dream is indeed very scary, because I have experienced it couple of times. You know, having regain consciousness of some sort and not being able to move any part of your body is horrifying. And also feeling or seeing that something (evil) is sitting on top you could also be terrifying to death. That is why some have the belief that it is evil.

    But with your post and explanation it could be something useful, however I don’t wish to be in a REM dream.

    1. Emily Post author

      hi Nnamdi
      I totally get your point. Most people who wake up in the REM sleep is when they were having a nightmare. So to be paralyzed after that would very scary. A lot of people feel like a dark force is sitting on them. But it is a normal experience. If that is reassuring in any way….

  10. Troy Halstenson

    You had mentioned that the dreamer themselves are the best interpreters of their own dreams. Not to get religious on you but how would you explain from a biblical perspective regarding the dream interpretations of the baker and the wine bearer including pharoah by Joseph? Do you believe others have the gift of interpretation to decifer peoples dreams today?

    1. Emily Post author

      hi Troy
      The dreamer knows how the dream felt to them, what possible meaning it could have in their life. With help, some answers and wisdom can be found. I cannot explain anything from a biblical perspective. As this is not my role nor my knowledge.

  11. Nastasia

    Few years ago I’ve had a dream that I cannot forget..

    I’ve had repetitive dreams about comet/asteroid falling down on earth. I felt amazed, like something unknown was happening. Every time I was dreaming about this..I saw light flying down, but then the last time I’ve had dreams about asteroid…I felt like something is gonna hit the earth. Suddenly I’ve heard the loudest noise/explosion (the sound that I still hear in my head, I remember it) and the brightest light I’ve ever seen… The explosion woke me and I was terrified, scared because of the noise and I thought that everything is over – the end of the world… I ran outside to see what happened and I asked my mother if she heard and saw that…and she said: What?
    I still think about this dream….

    1. Emily Post author

      hi Nastasia
      thank you for sharing your dream with us. it seems like it was a really vivid dream that seemed quite real. Are you still having the dream?

      1. Nastasia

        no, not anymore – now I have different kind of dreams that keep repeating. I keep dreaming that my plane crashes.. I don’t die, I survive every time. Last night, for example, I had a dream that a plane took off and crashed into the sea immediately after taking off. I was swimming back to the shore and we (the passengers) were told that the engine will be repaired and that we will take off soon (we will try again). After some time we took off again and came safely to our destination.. I my everyday life I am extremely afraid of flying.

        1. Emily Post author

          welcome back. It seems like you experience very real and vivid dreams generally speaking. Is that correct? Your added interpretation is interesting (the trying again part). most dreams do not have a literal meaning. There might be a theme of survival, of things that are out of your control but that you somehow go through and maybe come out stronger of.


Leave a Reply to mariewulsonruiz Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *