The best theory of dream interpretation that I ever heard sees dreams as rehearsals. What we are anticipating or rehearsing for are unexpected events or twists of fate that could conceivably leave us caught off guard.
Many people I know have the final exam dream. Ever had the dream? You know, it's the day of the final and either yo are unprepared or suddenly remember that you are enrolled in the class. There are many versions, and they can involve actually taking the exam (in the dream, of course) or not showing up. I've read that this is the most common dream for people who went to college.
As in all dreams, it's the symbolism that's important. The exam represent anything we need to be more prepared to face.
When I taught psychology, most of my students had never had that dream. I should check in with a few now to see how prevalent it is. Popular among adolescents are dreams of losing teeth, dreams of flying or car crashes, and of course one of the top ten, being either naked or partially clothed.
I'd never had the naked dream until a few years ago. It's vulnerability. Do I feel more vulnerable at this point in my life than I did a few years ago. Probably, in some ways. I think living in a new town, meeting new friends, finding a new job, adjusting to having more free time all factor into the equation.
I've heard that as a person ages, or changes sleep schedules, dreaming changes. So far that's the case for me. I sleep later now that I'm semi-retired. More time for REM sleep= more dreams.
I continue to have school dreams, only now there are some repeated motifs. I didn't retire, I'm teaching in a different school. I usually have forgotten to take attendance and I don't know where the teacher's mailboxes are. I have not gone to all my classes, in fact, I did not show up to a couple of classes and have no idea if there was a substitute. And then one that hads appeared and reappeared a few times in the past year is that there is a class, a challenging class, a class with largely unmotivated students, and I have forgotten to plan that class. It's lunch time and I need to go in there now, but I'm not sure of the room.
What am I rehearsing for here?
I remember the day after 9/11 one of my colleagues at the time dreamed that she couldn't find her classroom. She was upset about the attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center, but even more (emotionally) about her dream.
I remember once discussing various theories of why we dream with a psych class once and some students were dismissing Freudian theory in favor of dreams being just random firing of brain cells. A student on the edge of the discussion finally speaks up and says, "If they were just random firings, what explains recurring dreams then?"
Got to love it.
One recurring theme for me is trying to get from one place to another. It takes a few forms, but often I need to get back to a hotel, or once it was the UCLA campus, or could be just a place I'm supposed to be. I can see where I ned to go, but I can't get there. Sometimes, when I do seem to make progress, I enter a street, or a stairway, or get on a freeway, and it's not the same. I'm no closer to where I want to be.