“I just had the most normal dream….” said nobody, ever. They’re always the craziest, weirdest, wildest, and sometimes scariest. And why wouldn’t they be? Your brain never shuts off entirely (and thus, the popularity of meditation these days). During waking hours, there are constant external stimuli, thoughts to mull over, and projects to attend to that dominate your neurological activity. In repose, your eyeballs stare at the black backdrop of your eyelids, and in the absence of distraction, your neurons get to fire at random, creating the whimsical, fantastical, nonsensical scenarios we call “dreams.”

There seem to be two camps when it comes to dream analysis: basically, they mean something, or they do not. There is always some content in a dream that one can contemplate… as long as one can remember it upon waking. Everyone dreams; it’s just a matter of recollection. But somewhat like a horoscope, there’s no proof that these daily missives actually have any universal significance. That said, they can be used as ripe fodder to focus your attention or address a problem or project upon which you are working. So, too, with dreams. Maybe your brain conjured up a weird, flying purple squirrel for a reason (or maybe not) … but the real trick is deducing whether the sequence meant anything to YOU.

Most accurate dream analysis focuses on whatever feeling was conjured up as a result of a reverie. That’s the most important part: trying to discern what a dream might mean existentially because everyone has their own individualized frame of reference. Just as some people might have fond memories of a teacher they once had because they encouraged them or made them feel empowered, others might remember a boring, strict teacher who flunked them in 8th grade. Thus, dreaming of this teacher will mean entirely different things to entirely different people.

There are comprehensive references such as dreamdictionary.org that provide a kind of fun “grocery list” of common symbols and their purported meanings, but the accuracy of these is probably dubious at best. Some themes, though, do seem to have a generally accepted significance. For example, a common dream is losing teeth. This might signify a vulnerability or loss. And giving birth in a dream supposedly symbolizes growth or change. That can make a lot of sense. And who hasn’t dreamt they are flying? Another indicator of change, but more importantly, you need to identify the feeling you had while aloft. Were you terrified you might fall or were you happily gliding along like a bird in the wind?

Freud was probably the one who started this whole notion of dream analysis. While many of his theories have been debunked, nothing says your dreams are thus meaningless. They are certainly not insignificant. People who are prevented from entering a full dream state for almost any extended period of time begin to exhibit symptoms of psychosis, so it’s obviously a crucial behavior for your mind to practice.

Dreams are personal, maybe even the most personal thing of all. What is going on in your head as it flits about in REM might be the most telling. Your own conscience doesn’t edit the content of your dreams, so take them for what they’re worth. In the least, they can make for some pretty funny stories, and at best, maybe you’ll learn something about yourself.