It is easy, and common (in a world historical context), to believe that the world is non-random, and that therefore there is some meaning to unusual phenomena such as dreams and synchronicities. But there is a big step from knowing that there is a meaning, to working out the specific meaning of a specific dream, or a specific 'coincidence'.
Typically, in seeking a meaning, people turn to the content of a dream or event; and try to understand its symbolism. The symbolism is often interpreted using some kind of standard 'key' along the lines of Freud's 'censor' whereby towers might mean phalluses and domes mean breasts; or Jung's mythic, archetypal personifications.
Such 'symbolic content' interpretative approaches are unconvincing and have, over many decades, proved disappointing. In practice, they seem to find only what they bring; they seem to force an abstract and generic template onto very specific and personal situations.
But in 1914, in a lecture about how we might set up contact with the so-called dead; Rudolf Steiner suggested a very different idea; which strikes me as being on the right lines*. We should understand dreams by the feelings they evoke; we should understand a specific dream by trying to understand the very specific effect that dream - as a whole - has had upon our feelings.
In other words, the meaning of a dream lies behind the dream as a whole, not its detailed content; as known by the distinctive and complex nature of the exact feeling experienced.
For example, if we meet a known person in a dream, and he does some thing; then the real meaning is not in that person or what he does; but in the person and events that are suggested by our feelings about that dream. So a dream person may appear to be one person but really be another - feel like another. That person might do something in the dream - but we find that our responsive feelings don't match with the events; and then we should infer that the significance of what the person did was actually given by how the events made us feel.
Similarly when it comes to a meaningful 'coincidence'; the synchronicity of thinking about a person (for the first time in years) and then receiving a letter from him, or reading about a strange and improbable event that soon after is mirrored in our experience; such meanings should be sought in the feelings that these events have upon us. It is the consequent feeling that yields the meaning, not the surface content, nor the apparent personnel, nor its symbolism.
Since I absorbed this teaching; I have brooded it on it sufficiently that it came-into a particular dream a few nights ago - in which it seemed to unlock a very convincing meaning relating to communication with a deceased loved one - a communication understood in terms of my feelings, and an interpretation relating to general type of influence. It felt like a first-step.
In other words, recalling Steiner's ideas 'made' the ongoing dream semi-lucid, such that I became conscious that I was dreaming, and then able to apply various tests to what was happening - although I had no 'control' over the unfolding events of the dream.
Others may be interested in testing this idea from their own experience.
*Here follows the relevant section of the lecture - as so often with Steiner, this lecture as-a-whole is a mosaic of genius, irritating self-justification, and systematised nonsense. We must be selective:
We develop the right feelings toward the dead if we become aware that their spiritual gaze — if I may use that expression — and their powers focus on us; they look at us, act in us, and add to our strength.
To experience such a spiritual fact in the right way, we need to develop a very specific type of selflessness and a capacity for love. That is why I stressed that one could love that person objectively, as it were, because of her qualities; one had to love her because she was as she was. A subjective love, a love arising out of personal needs, can easily be egotistical and can potentially keep us from finding the right relationship to such a dead individual. The difference between the right love, the selfless love we have for such a person, and selfish love becomes perfectly obvious in clairvoyant experience.
Let us assume such a person would want to help us after her death, but we cannot develop true selfless love for her. Her spiritual gaze, her spiritual will streaming toward us would then be like a burning sensation, causing a piercing, burning feeling in our soul. If we can feel and maintain a selfless love, this stream, her spiritual gaze as it were, flows into our soul like a feeling of warm mildness and pours itself into our thoughts, imagination, feeling, and willing. It is out of this feeling that we recognize who the dead person is and not on the basis of his or her appearance, because the dead may manifest in the guise of a person we feel close to at the moment. The form in which the beings of the higher world appear to us — and after death we are all beings of a higher, spiritual world — depends on our subjective nature, on what we habitually see, think, and feel. The reality is what we feel for the being manifest before us, how we receive what comes to us from this being. Regardless of what Joan of Arc said about the appearance of the higher beings in her visions, the occultist who is able to investigate these things knows that it was always the genius of the French nation who stood behind them. I described how we can feel the gaze of spiritual beings resting upon us and their will flowing into our souls. To learn this is analogous to learning to read on the physical plane. Those who merely want to describe their visions would be like people describing the shape of the letters on a page rather than their meaning. This shows you how easy it is to have preconceived notions about the experiences in the spiritual realm. Naturally, it seems most obvious to attach great importance to the description of what the vision looked like. However, what really matters is what lies behind the veil of perception and is expressed in the images of the vision.
Thus, in the course of occult development, the soul immerses itself in specific moods and inner states different from those of our everyday life. We have entered the world of the hierarchy of angels and the hierarchy, or we could also say hierarchies, of the dead as soon as our occult exercises have brought us to the stage where the sense of touch characteristic of the physical world no longer exists, and where a person's appearance is no longer characteristic of the I concerned. Then our thinking changes and we no longer have thoughts in the sense we have them here in the physical world. In that world, every thought takes on the form of an elemental being. In the physical world, our thoughts can agree or contradict each other. In this other world we enter, thoughts encounter other thoughts as real beings, either loving or hating each other. We begin to feel our way into a world of many thought beings. And in those living thought beings, we really feel what we usually call “life.” Here life and thinking are united, whereas they are completely separate in the physical world.
When we speak on the physical plane and tell our thoughts to someone, we have the feeling that our thoughts come from our soul, that we have to remember them at this particular moment. Speaking as a true occultist and not someone who just tells his experiences from memory, we will feel that our thoughts arise as living beings. We must be glad if we are blessed at the right moment with the approach of a thought as a real being.
When you express your thoughts in the physical world, for example, as a lecturer, you will find it easier to give a talk for the thirtieth time than you did the first time. If, however, you speak as an occultist, thoughts always have to approach you and then depart again. Just as someone paying you the thirtieth visit had to make his way to you thirty times, the living thought we express for the thirtieth time has to come to us thirty times as it did the first time; our memory is of absolutely no use here.
If you express an idea on the physical level and someone is sitting in a corner thinking, “I don't like that nonsense, I hate it,” you will not be particularly bothered by it. You have prepared your ideas and present them regardless of the positive or negative thoughts of someone in the audience. But if as an esotericist you let thoughts approach you, they could be delayed and kept away by someone who hates them or who hates the speaker. And the forces blocking that thought must be overcome because we are dealing with living beings and not merely with abstract ideas.
These two examples show that as soon as we enter the sphere of clairvoyance, we are immersed in living and weaving thoughts. It is as if these thoughts are no longer subjective and as if you yourself are no longer within yourself, as if you are living outside in the wide world. When you are in this world of living and weaving thoughts, you are in the hierarchy of angels. And just as our physical world is everywhere filled with air, the world of the hierarchy of angels is filled with the mild warmth I spoke about earlier that the beings of this hierarchy pour out. When our inner development has brought us to the stage where we can live in this spiritual atmosphere of streaming mildness, we feel the spiritual eyes of the hierarchy of angels resting on our souls.
Now, in our earthly life, we have certain ideals and think about them abstractly. As we think of them, we feel obligated to pursue these ideals. In the clairvoyant sphere, however, there are no abstract ideals. There ideals are living beings of the hierarchy of angels and flow through spiritual space, looking at us with warmth.
In the physical world, we may have ideals, know them well, and yet we may not do anything to apply them. Our emotions, and perhaps passions, can tempt us to shirk them. However, if we knowingly ignore an ideal in the clairvoyant sphere, we feel the spiritual gaze of a being of the hierarchy of angels directed at us with reproach, and this reproach burns. In the spiritual world, ignoring an ideal is thus a reality, and a being of the hierarchy of angels reproaches us. Their gaze makes us feel the reproach; it is the reproach we feel.
You see, learning to develop a real feeling for ideals is one way of entering the world of the hierarchy of angels. Limiting our consciousness to the physical plane may lead us to think that nothing will happen if we are too lazy to act on our ideals. However, we can learn to feel that if we do not act on an ideal, then, regardless of other consequences, the world becomes different from what it would have been had we followed our ideal. We are on the way to the hierarchy of angels when we begin to see that not acting on our ideals is something real, and when we can transform this insight into a genuine feeling. Transforming and vitalizing our feelings allows our souls to grow into the higher worlds.