Dream Catcher

When Joan Mazza was growing up in Brooklyn during the '50s, her mom thought that searching for underlying meanings in dreams was a bunch of baloney. She discouraged her daughter from discussing the disjointed scenes that played out in her adolescent brain at night. "My mother hated dreams," recalls Mazza. "She thought they were silly."

Sigmund Freud may have had something to do with how Mazza's mom and others of her generation viewed dream analysis. By theorizing that every image in a dream is in some way representative of a person's feelings about sex or hostility, Freud discouraged many people from even considering what secrets dreams may hold. And by assigning specific meanings to dream images, Freud, Carl Jung, and other dream-analysis proponents left little room for individual interpretation. So who could blame folks for being skeptical?

Like any kid, though, Mazza thought she knew better than her mom. At age 12 she began recording her dreams in journals. She wasn't examining dreams for hidden meanings back then, but her interest in dreams became the basis for a career. "We're all individuals, so it makes sense that neither Freud nor Jung could come up with a system of dream interpretation that covers everyone," says the licensed mental-health counselor from Fort Lauderdale. With her book Dreaming Your Real Self: A Personal Approach to Dream Interpretation, Mazza thinks she's come up with a system everyone can use -- not only to decipher dreamscapes but to use what we learn from them in our waking lives.

Dreaming is a way of talking to yourself, in the clearest and most honest way possible, according to Mazza. "It seems as if we are more psychologically healthy when we're in some sort of altered state of consciousness," she explains.

And a healthy mind is better equipped to deal with day-to-day problems. "The last thing you thought about or whatever was bugging you during the day," Mazza says, "is what your mind keeps working on and offers solutions to as you sleep."

Dreams also encourage folks to live up to their potential. "When I began to look at dreams, it was clear to me that there were messages in them," says Mazza. "When I say that I'm drowning or stifled in my work or daily life, I have dreams of drowning. You always look at the literal layer, but even when there's significance in the literal, there are other meanings."

If you dream that your teeth are falling out, for example, it doesn't necessarily mean that you have a dentist appointment the next day. The dream may reflect a situation in which you bit off more than you could chew, Mazza says, or perhaps you haven't been able to swallow something figuratively.

In order to analyze dreams correctly, it's necessary to recall them in detail. In her book Mazza suggests a couple methods: Tell yourself before you fall asleep that you will remember your dream, and keep a notebook on the nightstand to jot down details immediately after waking.

Once you have material to work with, she recommends talking about it with a friend or a group of friends. "They can hear [your dream] and give you feedback," she says. "That may not be interpreting the dream but helping you make connections with what is going on in your life, because they know what is happening."

So why are we able to work out the wrinkles in our lives so much better when we're asleep than when we're awake?

"Because [when we're awake] we spend so much time defending our need to look good, defending against our vulnerabilities and our quirks, we aren't in touch with them," says Mazza. "We are able to relax our defenses in these altered states. At least we can see personality flaws or positive possibilities for change."

-- John Ferri

Joan Mazza will discuss her book Dreaming Your Real Self: A Personal Approach to Dream Interpretation at 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 12, at Barnes & Noble Booksellers, 2840 PGA Blvd., Palm Beach Gardens, 954-564-6621.

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John Ferri