I’ve often heard that when we dream, there are things we dream about that are symbolic or have some kind of meaning. For example, if a person dreams about being caught in a public place in nothing but his or her undergarments, then it could mean that he or she is nervous about some upcoming real-life event. I’ve just made that up, of course, but that’s the kind of symbolism I’m referring to.
I’ve always thought (based solely on my own experiences) that symbolism and such things are only heavily involved in dreams that occur repeatedly or during stressful periods in the dreamer’s life, and that standard dreams — the ones that occur on any given stress-free night (or relatively stress-free, anyway) — have meanings with much less depth, i.e. the contents of the dream can be traced to recent experiences from real life, even if the dream has created warped and sometimes twisted reflections of those experiences.
This is how I’ve thought of dreaming for as long as I can remember, or at least since the first time I saw the original Ninja Turtles movie. When April first meets the turtles and Splinter, she is convinced that she’s dreaming and says “Those guys in the black pajamas, they jumped me. And that rat . . . I saw you in the parking lot.” She relates guys in black pajamas (the Foot soldiers) to her muggers from the previous evening, and that rat (Splinter) to the rat she saw scurrying around her feet in a parking lot.
Even though the principle of matching dream contents with real life experiences was first presented to me in the form of a kid’s movie, I always think of it when I match occurrences in my dreams to events from real life.