There are many different ways to understand dreams. My method is a mixture of traditional and contemporary methods, and intuition. More than anything I keep in mind that a dream is a communication: it has something to say. Here’s an example.
The dream narrative: I am flying in a 747. I am sitting at the front in the nose-cone of the plane with my girlfriend. I think we are going on holiday. I have met the pilot who is a tall genetically-perfect, confident pilot. The aeroplane lurches to the right and dips low – I don’t feel right about this. Through the window at the front of the plane I can see that we are skimming buildings and trees. I am hoping we will make the runway, but we plough through earth, stones and steel girders. Although we are flying into the ground the plane holds its shape, but eventually comes to a stop. I push my girlfriend forwards out of the wreckage and shove her up on to a stone flagged road. I leave her there in the sunshine and tell her to wait while I get the others out. I can see a wall all broken down that the aeroplane has gone through. The wings have broken off along with the undercarriage, though the fuselage is still intact. I see what looks like a seaside train taking the passengers away and I realize we are on our own and that no one will necessarily believe that we were on the plane. I return to the plane to fetch my mobile, so I can phone my mother.
The dream interpretation: The central motif of this dream is the impossibility of the aeroplane’s fuselage surviving the crash. Flying itself denotes a mental or intellectual – or even spiritual – activity that provides a clue to the content of the dream. The vehicle in a dream usually stands for the ego self. The ego is the identity or separate self we identify with throughout life – our self – and in this dream the ego symbol is the biggest, possibly most successful airliner of our time. So, either the dreamer is self-aggrandizing himself or he has a magnificent life purpose.
He is in the front of the plane with his girlfriend who is (as he confided to me himself) merged or confused with his anima. The anima for a man is a guide, often a challenging one, to inner wholeness. Rather like Beatrice in Dante’s Divine Comedy. The dreamer is with her but he mainly saves her, which is curious in itself. What guidance does his anima give to him? Well, he travels at the front, as he said, “in the nose-cone of the plane”, and he noticed that he is going somewhere (on holiday), whereas usually in dreams he observes he is “coming back”. So the anima is involving him in the new pursuit of going towards something.
It is well-known that we should drive our own vehicle in our dreams. This denotes that we are in charge of own lives. Here though a genetically-perfect individual, not the dreamer, is the driver or pilot. In other words his unrealistic aspirations for perfection are driving him on in his mental or spiritual pursuit aim (the plane flying) of achieving his goal (on holiday?).
While the body of the plane – the fuselage – is intact, it is back to the “wreckage” of the plane he goes to be reunited with the great modern day symbol of the umbilical cord – the mobile phone. In the body of the aeroplane he will find the umbilicus which connects and unites him again with his mother (the mother ship, the Boeing 747, was also known as “the Queen of the Skies”).
Since the umbilical motif ends the dream we can safely assume that the message of the dream lies solidly here: Review and explore your early life, your relationship with your mother (in this case the emotional abandonment, personal rejection and betrayal) that has created emotional-behavioral patterns that have perpetuated your suffering throughout your adult life.
Does leaving the plane unscathed (“without feeling stress or fear” – the dreamer’s words) symbolize escape from the ego, as the dreamer suggested? No, return to your early life and the insights you will find there. Partly this is before the ego was formed of course. But the unscathed escape from the plane crash actually stands for something much deeper. This dreamer has not engaged with life fully. If he died today, he would regret that he hadn’t really lived (he acknowledged this when it was put to him). The fuselage that holds its shape and remains unaffected is the childhood ego-shaping that has ensured his survival. It stands for the maxim: Nothing will get to me, nothing will hurt me… ever again.
From the fuselage he must rescue his girlfriend – can he love her? want to be with her? save her from his lack of feeling and emotional commitment? The other people are parts of him, aspects of his life. As he is going to rescue them (from his disengagement from life) he sees them going where he was headed before the crash – on holiday (on the seaside train). The passengers, the other aspects of him are incidental and remote. But never as remote as in their exit from the dream. His experience of enjoyment of life is as remote, far-fetched and out of reach. They disappear from the dream leaving him (and presumably his anima-girlfriend) alone with the uncertainty that his tenure on the truth may even be doubted (they may think we were not even on the flight). To fly is to live, but we must be present and involved and engaged: we must be here!
This dreamer does not, nor can he ever under the present circumstances – though he would probably refute it – enjoy himself. Because even when he is he is not engaged, he is always looking over his shoulder for the perfect woman, the perfect holiday enjoyment, the ideal moment. The tall, genetically-perfect and confident pilot is his mother’s perfect lover who stands for the dreamer’s ineffectiveness, inferiority and inability to satisfy her – emotionally and by association sexually (the dreamer has confirmed the fantasies he has about sex with his mother).
One last thing – he pushes and shoves the girl forward. But it is she sitting passively alongside who accompanies him always at the front of the plane on the journey within (in a sense the dream itself). This journey – the inner journey – is a descent; a descent into the deep unconscious to hidden selves, to repressed inner emotions and conflicts where his soul vies for place with his heart, where his mother competes with his innocence. But if these fights or conflicts are allowed to live on he can never be the winner. It is in the resolution of the conflict gleaned from deep insights which await him in the inner word that his freedom may be attained. And not only his freedom but his wholeness too.
Are freedom and wholeness the meaning of the holiday motif? His uncertainty is evident at the outset of the dream; like a child or someone who is not informed he only thinks” he may be going on holiday”. Is “holiday” the enjoyment and engagement with life that he craves? Or is holiday an unknown spiritual trajectory? Well, it’s both: Holy-day and Wholly-Day, the religio-spiritual occasion as well as the celebration of his desire to be wholly himself. But the wings of the aeroplane (the spiritual traveler) have broken off. For now he has missed the train. And here is food for thought; for the train is unable to deviate from the tracks that are set out for it, whereas wings offer the freedom of the air. So, for now his journey to freedom is held back, his wings broken, but the restricted access the train gives is also denied him. He must wait with his anima and realize that he is already wholly himself.
Self-dream analysis may be effective, but it is unlikely that the deeper messages of the dream world will be forthcoming unless you work with an experienced and preferably gifted dream practitioner, e.g. a therapist, counselor or other inner guide. Such a person should be able to help you to monitor your dreams effectively and fruitfully and enter into an ongoing relationship with the unconscious that can be an unexpected treasure of wisdom in your life.