“The world as dreamed and the world as lived cross-pollinate each other.”
– Marc Ian Barasch
Have you ever wondered why you dream what you dream?
Profound, strange, and often otherworldly, our dreams seem to be totally elusive experiences. Many of us believe they’re random and hold no meaning, brushing them off as soon as we wake up and forgetting about them forever.
Here’s a thought:
Our dreams are actually incredibly insightful.
I know, I know. It’s just a thought.
If you can, stick with me and you might find yourself agreeing with me.
The History of Dreams
People have long been interested in dreams. Many ancients believed dreams were a way to communicate with the Gods, understand the cause and cure of physical ailments, heal emotional traumas, and receive guidance.
In ancient China, they believed dreams to be a window into a person’s condition. Because they recognized the importance of one’s dreams as a way to understand and heal, they produced many volumes of dream dictionaries in order to properly diagnose and treat the sick.
In ancient Greece, dreams and visions were seen as a gateway to the Gods. Ancient Greeks routinely sought healing guidance and the Divine power through their dreams. Dream temples were in existence throughout many parts of the ancient world, and a temple in Greece, known as the Temple of Asklepius, was among the most famous of them. Asklepius was the Greco-Roman god which was associated with healing and medicine. Within this temple, people from all over would come to sleep. It was believed that as they slept in this temple dedicated to him, he would heal them through their dreams. Additionally, Hippocrates, the Father of Modern Medicine, utilized dreams in his practice. He used dream therapy and encouraged his patients to incubate healing dreams in order to cure their ailments. Aristotle, a famous Greek philosopher, also helped further the theory that a person’s dreams reflected their health and could be used in the diagnosis and treatment process.
Many Native American cultures used dreams to receive guidance, prophecies, and heal. Dreams might have shown one when to plant, where to hunt, what herbs might be used for specific things, new rituals, or what step to take when considering a decision.
The Science of Dreams
So, what are dreams?
They are often successions of images, sounds, emotions, symbols, ideas, and sensations that occur within the REM stage of sleep. REM, or Rapid Eye Movement, is associated with a deeply relaxed body, continuous eye movements, and brain activity which is reflective of a waking mind. Dreams can last for 20 seconds or 20 minutes, and they often happen in spurts throughout the night. The average person dreams about 2 hours a night with roughly 3-5 dreams total, though some have as much as 7.
And to think – most of us don’t remember them at all once we’ve fully woken up.
In studies done, those woken during REM reported that they were dreaming. In a separate study, those who were not allowed to enter REM sleep – either by being woken or not being able to reach it because of environmental factors – actually experienced a marked decrease in their health and wellbeing. Dreaming literally gives us vitality. Without it, we become irritable, unfocused, and sometimes even lose our grip on reality. All this being said, our dreams are absolutely essential to our health and wellbeing on all levels.
A popular theory in the neuroscience community believes dreams to be random firing of brain impulses while we sleep. However, Freud and a number of other psychologists have found that dreams are actually incredibly important when understanding the unconscious and subconscious mind. Evolutionary psychologists today are tending to agree with theory more and more – our dreams actually do serve a purpose.
One thought suggests that dreams are a way for us to process our emotions.
Another thought suggests that dreams are a way for us to understand our subconscious urges.
Either way, it’s becoming clear that beginning to pay attention to what is going on in our dream world can offer us a whole lot of wisdom about what’s going on behind the scenes of our conscious mind – and life.
We may not understand how we dream, but we all do. Even those who
might be are definitely swearing up and down right now that they never dream – trust me, you do. You just don’t remember. Whether we remember them or not, our dreams don’t just happen by chance. In fact, they are metaphors for our existence – body, mind, and spirit. Our dreams are direct messages from our subconscious which map out our subconscious experience of ourselves and our world. The voice of our subconscious is nothing more than metaphor, symbolism, and imagery, which is why things like hypnotherapy, visualization, and guided meditations are so powerful and transformative. Through our dreams are we able to connect with and receive the valuable information the subconscious is trying to bring to the attention of our conscious mind.
Here’s some more science for you:
By the time you’re 60, you will have slept an average of 175,200 hours, dreamed roughly 87,000 hours, and experienced about 197,100 dreams.
Crazy! If our dreams weren’t important, why would we spend so much time doing so?
And, why would they be the center of research by so many brilliant minds for centuries?
Maybe because there is merit to be found within them.
Like stories and movies, our dreams play out ideas and lessons that we may not be aware of in our waking life. Through them, we can understand our deepest thoughts, feelings, hopes, and fears without having to consciously analyze them. This lack of analyzing allows us to process and see clearly what is happening within us, and sometimes, within our relationships and experiences. Our dreams can actually act as tools for guidance and healing within our lives. We may experience a dream of our significant other cheating on us, but as dreams are not literal and only speak through metaphor and symbolism, this may mean we are feeling fear about being abandoned or betrayed. We may dream of a loved one dying, which could highlight the need for spending time and appreciating their place in our life. We may dream of our teeth falling out which might suggest that there’s something going on in your life that you literally can’t fully “bite into.”
No matter the dream, there is always something to be found within.
If you’re interested in learning how to connect with your dreams, stay tuned for the next post! I plan to share all about dream journals and how to start interpreting what shows up in your dreamscape.