If there’s a visual language every one of us uses every day, it’s the language of dreams. And dreams underscore how much meaning is carried by imagery, in the feeling created by overall relationships in the scene and not in what the things are in the scene. So much of waking life is concerned with identity and definitions. But definitions are not meaning. A book thrown at us means something quite different than the book in our lap. It is only in the relationships that we see conditions of attack or comfort. A dream can emphasize the more complex feelings like confinement, paranoia or disorientation, and every one of them could be taking place in our living room. The gestalt, the feel of the whole picture, is understood like we understand the relative safety or creepiness of a new place we visit. Our initial impression includes what we expect from the type of surroundings in relation to our personal intentions.
All the meaning of dreams is connected to how it feels to be there. The attraction for the surrealists was the complete visual freedom to put anything with anything, to neutralize the power of definitions and emphasize the feeling we get from the whole picture. The room in the dream may look exactly like it always does, but the foreboding connects to a memory and what about it should be reinforced. Erich Fromm wrote that dreams process emotional evaluations of situations that weren’t noticed in the practical concerns of the day. Dreams are largely visual and do their job whether we remember them or not. Free from real world constraints the subjective experience felt by the dreamer is interpreted with whatever symbols fit. When something is wrong with the picture it shows.
Visual language is the dominant mode in dreams. We are shown the way to look at something where conscious purposes may obscure an important ingredient. Dreams are a mechanism in our ongoing adjustments for psychological balance. With conscious purposes focusing most of our attention during the day, subtle feelings about experience are missed. The current idea about the dream compensating for the onesidedness of waking life dates back to early Taoism which felt the same thing. The language of dreams is the universal language. They portray subjective states as actions with greater precision than language can manage.
Many who study dreams say the faculty of imagination continues at night and artists like Salvador Dali felt night imagination, unobstructed by conscious desires was far superior and developed his system of waking himself so as to do “hand painted dream photographs”.
Non-artists have experienced the insight that led to a solution or a discovery in a dream.
Scholars of most religions treat dreams with respect. It’s written in the Talmud- “A dream is its own interpretation.” This is a way of saying dreams show us something. Rabbi Jonathan said, “A man is shown in his dreams what he thinks in his heart.” This is like what Emerson meant when he said the wise person reads their dreams for self-knowledge, not the details but the quality.
Dreams emphasize the importance of your position, where you are. Daydreaming envisions a different position and dreaming of the future is where you want to be. Visual language is everyone’s heritage. Conscious cultivation of it can deepen our holistic understanding.