I had the absolute weirdest dream last night.
I was at a lake, and someone was swimming back and forth across the water in front of me.
“Are there tadpoles?” I asked no one in particular. “Yes,” came the answer. Then, as the swimmer got out of the water, and dove back in, I saw that it was Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam—and decided tadpoles weren’t so bad. So I started swimming alongside him. When we got to the end of our trip across the lake, he gave me $20, saying, “It’s time to make the donuts.”
I don’t know what that means. I think that my daughter mentioned tadpoles yesterday, but I can’t remember in what context. I also played the ukulele last night, and Vedder plays the ukulele. But what was with him giving me 20 bucks for donuts? And why was he so good-looking when the real Vedder is kinda blah these days?
The internet is rife with sites and “experts” who claim to be able to interpret your dreams based on their ersatz-Native-American-ancient-Mesopotamian-spirit-guide dream dictionary, but Jane Reingold, MFT, a marriage and family therapist in San Francisco, says it’s never as easy as opening a book.
“Dreams are so personal,” she says. ”The symbols and imagery that come up have everything to do with the dreamer, and what they mean for that person, than with a one-size-fits-all answer. It’s not about the distanced interpretation of a dream—making meaning of a dream is personal, it’s about the dreamer’s internal world.”
Why Are Dreams So Complicated?
Reingold does admit that the Swiss analyst Karl Jung (who also insists that the context of a dream is the most important part of its interpretation) made a convincing case in the 1930s for the compilation of a wide range of symbols that have acquired meaning over the centuries, and entered a sort of cultural understanding. This means that the thing you see in your dream doesn’t necessarily represent itself—for instance, a dream cameo from your dad might not just mean that you miss your dad, but that you’re in need of guidance.
Over the years, Jung’s followers have continued to compile and adjust the shifting images and their power at the Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism—research that has been collected into a sumptuous coffee-table braniac read called “The Book of Symbols.”
According to this impressive tome, money is, well, complicated. The book talks about “the potency conferred on ordinary paper notes when by general agreement they represent a … standard of value.” In modern America, it says that cash is “the embodiment of … rags-to-riches optimism.” But it’s also “a descendant of those things early peoples … deceived to have magical or talismanic properties.”
When you put it that way, money sounds downright creepy: It’s a stand-in for thousands of years of superstitious idolatry. Also, “money evokes psyche’s currency, telling us where energy is invested, accumulating or frozen.” This is the real meat of the matter: When you dream about money, you’re not dreaming about money per se. According to Jung, it represents whatever is powerful in your life, and your dream about it probably means that you’re trying to uncover your relationship to whatever it represents.
Making Sense of Your Own Wild Money Dreams
My pal Marty has a recurring dream in which he finds paper money in odd places, like pinned to a tree. And it’s always in odd denominations that don’t exist, such as a $53 bill.
I’m dying to know: What does it mean?
“Well, I’ve got to talk to him to really know,” Reingold says. “But I’d ask him what he feels in the dream, and what other quirky details he noticed. With this information alone, it’s interesting that the money is familiar, but not usable. It’s literally growing on trees, yet he can’t use it. I’d wonder if this is frustration: He feels like good fortune is literally falling into his lap, but he can’t make full use of it—or even feels guilty about the good things given to him.”
Meanwhile, my friend Robyn often dreams that she acquires a huge amount of money. How she gets it is different every time—sometimes it’s earned, sometimes won, sometimes inherited and sometimes found. But the amount is always the same: $80 million.
“Is there something significant about the numbers 80 or eight? That’s the first thing I might ask,” says Reingold. “But another way to look at it is that there’s this consistent amount that comes to her. Maybe it’s not the money, but the idea of abundance—that she has this consistent, reliable presence in her life. If you look at it that way, this isn’t a money dream. It’s a spiritual dream.”
Another friend of mine dreamt that his wallet was full of money, but it was the wrong kind of currency. When he tried to exchange it, he was arrested. What could that mean? Reingold points to the fact that the dreamer is not able to use his gifts, and suggests that he’s feeling stymied in his creative expression or professional growth—and fear of taking the chance to fully embody his ambition.
Basically, dream interpretation is what you make of it. So take a look at what the different components in the dream mean to you personally, and what your emotional response was to the events of your dream.
One woman’s dream of dollars turning into coins, when she thought about it, was a guilty admission to herself that her spending was out of control. Your dreams are about your feelings and your experiences, and the meanings don’t have an easy answer.
“What about my dream about Eddie Vedder?” I asked Reingold.
She shrugged. “Maybe you want donuts,” she suggested. Yep. Sometimes a cigar really is just a cigar.