Everyone dreams, even those who claim they do not. The truth is more likely that they simply don’t remember their dreams upon waking, which is fairly common – and, may actually be tied to a vitamin B deficiency.
There are at least three states of consciousness confirmed and supported by scientific study and research: waking, dreaming and deep sleep.
In the hours of waking consciousness, which make up the majority of our lives, we function in a dualistic, mostly logical world where there are rules and consequences, actions and reactions, or true and false. This is the state of consciousness in which we go to work, pay bills, read magazines, and play with our kids.
Deep sleep, on the other end of the spectrum, is characterised by certain brainwave patterns that mark a lowered state of active consciousness. During deep sleep, we are more difficult to awaken. People who are roused during this state do not adjust immediately and often feel groggy and disoriented for several minutes after they wake up. In deep sleep, the mind is not engaged in using logic, symbols, or mental images.
The dream state, however, is entirely different. Somewhere, in that typical mental space between the alertness of waking consciousness and the stillness of deep sleep, the dreaming mind is alive, formless, and active.
Robert Van De Castle, PhD, dream expert and author of Our Dreaming Mind, lists various theories behind the cause of dreaming: “They might be visits from an external god, the wanderings of the dreamer’s soul, a shift in dimensional planes enabling the dreamer to peer into the future, the reworking of unresolved emotional tensions from the preceding day, or fall-out from some temporary disturbance of the brain or digestive system.” Whatever the cause, whether physical, mental, emotional, spiritual or sexual, the fact of the matter is that dreaming happens, and when it does, people are moved, inspired, forewarned, and enlightened.
Now, the big question. Can you harness your dreams, using them to further your journey of wellbeing? Absolutely!
The perceptive work of Van De Castle helps us explore the various ways that dreams affect the world. His list includes –
- Dreams that have found expression as works of art
- Dreams that stimulated people into important political action
- Dreams that prophesied and warned
- Dreams that touched ultimately on spiritual truths, or moments of enlightenment.
The human mind, which recent research maintains reaches beyond the physical structure of the brain and connects with a larger “Consciousness” in the Universe, has amazing capabilities. Dreaming is one of them, and this can be understood and used as a tool towards positive transformation and wellbeing. “Lucid dreaming” and the psychodynamic processing of dreams are two gateways through which we can move to unlock messages of wellbeing for ourselves.
Lucid dreaming is simply dreaming while knowing that you are dreaming. It is experiencing a dream with waking consciousness, and while this sounds contradictory, it’s quite possible. Within a lucid dream, the dreamer is able to access the conscious attributes of memory and willpower while still fully participating in the events and emotions of the dream.
For example, a lucid dreamer may find oneself standing before a river that separates them from something of great importance on the other side. Because s/he is aware that s/he is dreaming and that all things are possible in dreams, s/he may “create” a bridge and walk across it, or decide to find a boat nearby that will take him/her to his/her heart’s desire. Either way, s/he is actively involved in the dream, rather than simply reacting to it. This makes all the difference.
There are various ways you’d train yourself to dream with lucidity. One of the most effective is to repeatedly ask yourself during your waking day, “Am I dreaming?” Repeating this question to yourself during the day will encourage your mind to ask the same question while you are asleep and dreaming. When you find yourself answering “Yes, I am,” while in the middle of the dream, you will know that you are consciously aware of the dream. At this point, you may even exercise some degree of volition within it.
One of the aspects of lucid dreaming that makes it such a powerful tool for encouraging wellbeing is that you can approach problems from your life from a different angle than the logical, dualistic point of view that typifies waking consciousness.
For example, in your dreams, your mind may present your recurring problem with being fat or overweight by using different images. Perhaps, it seems you are stuck in a large, unattractive building that you despise and which feels claustrophobic and overwhelming. If you focus with a lucid intent into your dream, you would be able to re-decorate the building to your liking, knock down walls and re-model, or, perhaps, create a door where there wasn’t one before, and you could leave the building and find a more suitable place to live.
Of course, it helps to understand the language of dreams – so you know what your dream symbols are telling you. And, this is where psychodynamics comes in.
The language of dreams is typically made-up from a wide variety of information collected by your senses in waking reality and, thereafter, presented in a new way during dreaming.
Literal and symbolic dreams
Generally, there are two different kinds of dreams: literal and symbolic. Literal dreams present information that is directly parallel to your everyday life. For example, you dream that you’re looking at a clock that reads 8.15 am. You realise in your dream that you may have overslept and are late to work, and, that, indeed, is the case.
While literal dreams are not altogether uncommon, most dreams contain a wide variety of symbols, which are images, or objects, that can be translated to mean different things to different people.
Many psychologists acknowledge that the symbols and events in dreams can be considered important markers for growth and state of your inner landscape.
An interesting way to approach dream symbols is to consider them as aspects of yourself. In some psychodynamic processes, anything that turns up in a dream can be understood as some kind of a mental projection of the dreamer.
Work with your dreams
If working with your dreams seems intriguing or motivating, you should seek the help of a qualified psychotherapist who can actively participate in your “dreamwork.” Typically, such therapists will espouse a Jungian, Gestalt, Transpersonal or Integral Psychological point/s-of-view. But, they would all be more than useful to understand your dreams, and your aspirations.
Dreaming is a universal phenomenon, cutting across all social, racial, economic and cultural lines. It is one of the few activities with which virtually every human being on Planet Earth engages on a frequent basis. Dreams can be reflections of the life that you experience both internally and externally.
It’s through them can you contact a deeper sense of self, and also come closer to recognising your full potential.