Categorize Your Dreams To See The Seasons Of Your Life

Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom. — Aristotle 

In the Bible, in the book of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon compares the typical events of life to seasons.  

It’s a profound analogy that has stood the test of time. It’s been the basis for a hit song (Turn, Turn, Turn by the Byrds). It’s also been made into all kinds of derivative art, especially wall hangings. 

To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven: 

A time to be born, and a time to die; 

A time to plant, and a time to pluck what is planted; 

A time to kill, and a time to heal; 

A time to break down, and a time to build up; 

A time to weep, and a time to laugh; 

A time to mourn, and a time to dance; 

A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones; 

A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 

A time to gain, and a time to lose; 

A time to keep, and a time to throw away; 

A time to tear, and a time to sew; 

A time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 

A time to love, and a time to hate; 

A time of war, and a time of peace. 

You and I can’t always see the seasons while you’re living them; they’re only visible in retrospect. A lot of times you’re going through life in the middle of muck, plodding through. One foot goes in front of the other. It can feel like a forced march and that kind of hike can make you feel tired simply thinking about it.

To really see the seasons of your life you need perspective. 

Your dream journal can help you get this perspective while you’re living within the season.

Stop and think about the implications of this. They’re powerful.

If you do this, you can come away knowing a lot more about yourself than you did before. It’s the magic of the internalization process that goes along with learning from experience.

Organize Your Dreams Into Three Broad Categories      

When you’ve been keeping a dream journal for over six months, you’ll have enough material to do something with. Before this point, not so much.

The categories are: 

  • One-offs 
  • Period pieces 
  • Themes, which each individual dream falls into one or more themes (you may see more than one recurring theme to your dreams) 

It’s important to keep a journal daily, or as close to daily as you can. If the only thing you remember is the gist of the dream, write that.

The One-Off Dream 

One-offs are dream topics that occur once and don’t show up again. Sometimes they’re based on something that happened during a particular day. Sometimes they’re of a unique image or a symbol. Sometimes they might be a song. A phrase. The main point is that one-offs come and go, standing unrelated to any of your other dreams. 

At the time you have a dream, you might think it’s a one-off, but it isn’t. 

That’s why you can only tell if it’s a one-off in retrospect. 

Is it better to be Johnny Bird Removal or Johnny Sparrow? 

A young man was standing in a field asking me this in my dream. It seemed to be unrelated to anything else but, instead of being a one-off, it was triggered by my subconscious contemplating business decisions, one of which was deciding on a name for my business. 

I never had another dream pondering a business name, as far as I can tell. 

For me, dreams featuring music are very often one-off dreams, even though it might seem they’re related. In the dream, I can be sitting at a table listening to the song. Maybe I’ll be walking and listening to a song. I could be rowing a boat. Whatever. It’s as if my subconscious is passing time by remembering the song. Sometimes there is a meaning to the song, other times, I’ve decided, is that I really like the song and I like thinking about it. 

If something appears in a dream you probably like it a lot if it makes you happy. 

The one-off might show you how you might think about something. The particular subject may or may not be important to you, but whatever its importance, the subject doesn’t take up too much thought from you. The dream might show some playfulness or a passing fear but that’s about it. It can’t show much more than that. There’s not enough detail to the dream. 

The dreams of listening to a song many times are really about listening to a memory of that song. 

It’s as if they’re amusing or interesting bits that keep you entertained or engaged while you sleep. 

I’ve also had dreams about different products that I’m testing on a trial basis. No matter what the dream is about, underneath I’m considering the positives and negatives of the product. Ultimately, I’m asking myself if the product is worth it and if it will fit in my life.

Period Pieces 

When you’re talking about movies, period pieces are historical dramas set during a time in the past.

When you’re talking about dreams, period pieces are dreams based on events leading up to another event. For example, if you’re worried, focused, or concerned about a test, a class, or a job interview, your dreams might build up to a big event and then stop or change in some way. 

They really only become significant if you have more than one of these dreams. Otherwise, they’re really one-offs. 

When you have a bunch of dreams leading up to a big event, it means youre thinking about this coming event. It’s meaningful to you. 

A lot of things could trigger a series of these period pieces. It could be an important job interview, a move, the start of school or a new job, facing the loss of a loved one, or, really, anything that might cause you to plan for a change of any sort.  

Looking back over this buildup of dreams might help you have some kind of perspective in the future. You might learn, for example, that you tend to build fears up in your mind about certain things. Or maybe there are trends in the way you try to deal with things. For example, maybe denial is a favorite coping strategy. 

Later on, when faced with a similar problem, you might be able to say, “Well, here you go again.” 

Worry doesn’t really do anything good for you. It just makes you anxious. 

Planning can, however.  

We call these dreams “period pieces” because they’re confined to a certain period of your life. Once the move is finished, you’re not going to go and dream about your move anymore. You’ll have moved. You’re going to dream about other things. Once you get the final grade in a class you’re worried about, you’re unlikely to be worried about it anymore. You’ll know what grade you’re going to be getting. There simply isn’t any reason to worry about it. The topic of that dream is confined to a certain period in your life. 

Another kind of period piece can be focused on imagining positive outcomes or problem-solving. These, of course, are good dreams. 

Theme Dreams 

The final kind of dream is a theme dream. You’re going to find dreams of this kind of theme scattered throughout your journal. Often they will be concentrated over a series of nights.  

These dreams symbolize major concerns in your life, for good and for bad. If you’re always protesting some kind of injustice in your dream, then injustice is a central concern of yours.  

Themes of dreams would vary from person to person but they’ll center around basic needs people have.  

For example, if you go hungry for one reason or another, it’s very likely that you’ll have dreams revolving around food. 

Other potential themes of a series of dreams scattered over many nights could include one’s quest for love and friendship, loss of meaningful relationships, poverty, wealth, a fear of being exposed as undeserving or as an idiot. 

They could track Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Themes are going to be reflective of your concerns at their most basic. They’re going to tip you off to the real you, especially if you’re in conflict with others in your life who misunderstand you. People can be in agreement, for example, that something is a problem. They can differ very greatly as to what the solution is.  

With the insight gained from your dream journal, you have a better chance to explain why you think the way you do in a way that your opponent can understand. 

You also have a chance to listen more completely, increasing your chances that you come to common ground. 

Dream journal organization idea 

Understood this way, your dream journal is an alternative history of your life, illustrating your true concerns, and accompanying you as you gain mastery one challenge at a time. 

As in our time, preparing in one season can set you up for success in the next. Seeing the seasons is the first step toward preparation.

You can now use colors or stickers or some other system to set the “seasons” apart from each other. Use the seasons to organize your dream journal.

For further reading:

Why you should sometimes write your dream on an index card

Trying to control your dreams is like trying to be stagnant

Work with your subconscious to have a guided dream

What does it mean when your dreams have a similar theme?

Here’s why you might not be remembering your dreams


James Cobb, RN, MSN, is an emergency department nurse and the founder of the Dream Recovery System. His goal is to provide his readers with simple, actionable ways to improve their health and maximize their quality of life. 


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