Most of the spiritual path focusses on what we do, say and learn during the hours when we’re physically awake, but there is a whole other realm of human life that is spent in dreaming or sleep. While psychologists and doctors have much more to say than I do about the overall meaning and amount of dreaming that goes on, there are more than a few aspects of the dream world that relate to spirituality. Spirituality, ultimately, leaves nothing out and that includes the subconscious. That’s why, when we go through spiritual shifts, openings and awakenings, the subconscious also goes through its own transitions, involving healing, release and growth.
The dreamer awakens
I am going to be careful to not make too many metaphors related to sleep, but for those of you who have spiritually awakened, it is like coming out of one kind of dreamland. The physical world around us is, in so many ways, more illusory than the dreams that we have at night. So much of the world is overrun with lies and deceptions. But in the dreamtime, you are often in a world much more real because every emotion and feeling is coming directly from you. In this way, your dreams are often where you are most vulnerable and exposed to the truth. You can’t lie to yourself in your subconscious. Going into your subconscious, you’ll see where fear, anger and self-deception dominate your life. This is often why many people have nightmares. For some people, sleep and nightmares can be really bad because there is hidden trauma that the person has forgotten. Such people are afraid even to go to sleep. After years of avoidance and keeping themselves constantly busy in their waking hours, they develop insomnia to avoid dealing with what is coming up from the subconscious.
Intense nightmares indicate that the person is dealing with a lot of fear and fear is its own trauma. Watching horror movies and other things that are based on fear further exacerbates the problem. It’s like injecting poison into your body. At night, your subconscious is trying to rid itself of that poison. During a spiritual awakening, the ridding of poisons goes on everywhere and that includes your dreams and the subconscious.
Creating a dream journal
I am no expert on the psycho-analysis of dreams, but I can say for certain that keeping a dream journal can be an illuminating tool for anyone on the spiritual path. Simply have it close to your bed and when you’ve had a dream you want to remember, write it down before you forget it [dreams fade away very quickly]. Over time, you can discover themes and similarities. Since dreams operate in emotions and imagery, these are usually the most important parts to focus on. For instance, it may not be as interesting that you picked your step-father to play a stand-up comedian in your dream so much as the feelings that come from him, whether it’s inspiration to do something new, overcoming stage-fright and other fears, or something else. As you continue to get a better sense of what your dreams are about, you may find ways in which you can take action during your waking hours to address your deeper needs that your subconscious is telling you about.
For instance, you may have always dreamt of going to exotic places or driving on the road somewhere. It may show up again and again in different forms and as you recognise this pattern in your dream journal, you can begin to inquire with yourself if you need more time to explore life. That may mean actually travelling, or it may mean picking up new hobbies and meeting new people. Dreams work in metaphors, so you may not actually need to go on a road trip. Of course, that might be a fun way to explore anyway.
Nightmares and being alone in the dark
For others, dreams have long been a scary place. A dream journal can help, but looking at how much fear is in your everyday life may be more important. Take a look at the life you’re leading and how you’re handling the stresses in your life. Pay attention to what you are afraid of. You can write down your different fears to get some perspective, or you can talk to a close friend about what frightens you. While there are also ways that forgotten childhood trauma can be arising through nightmares, most often it is the way we live our daily lives that’s truly terrifying and traumatising us. Facing these fears in our waking hours and making meaningful changes are important parts of making space for a more restful sleep.
For those with a lot of trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD] and other deep pains, sleep can be an exhausting place because of all the upset emotions and memories that have yet to be consciously dealt with. Finding a psychologist to help becomes one aspect of achieving a better night’s sleep. Additionally, learning how to do lucid dreaming can be another way to engage with the inner darkness. Through techniques that are available, we can learn to be semi-awake in the dream. We can take more control and interact with the difficult emotions that are arising, to understand them in order to release them. In this way, nightmares can be transformed into an empowered situation and ultimately, they can gradually be released, allowing for a more restful sleep.
The dream that is too real
Have you ever had a dream that seemed like it was actually happening? Many people do. This can only be felt and while it isn’t something that I’ve really felt too often, I certainly know others who have had these types of dreams. However, these aren’t dreams. Most of the time, these are believed to be out-of-body experiences, which some call astral projection. For some people, the veil between this world and other dimensions is very thin. At night, their spirit simply steps out from underneath this veil. This can be a way to explore this world or other worlds. It can be a way to heal on the level of the soul and sometimes this is a way to heal directly with other people where healing isn’t possible in the waking world. For instance, the person has already passed, or the other person is violent or otherwise irreconcilable in his/her waking self. But their true self is a being of light. No matter how horrible they are in person, that soul can be approached on the energetic level for healing.
Certainly, you can become more conscious of these travels, but this is quite different than how we use our consciousness in waking life. In this space, you don’t feel asleep. You’re very alert and you can suddenly find yourself looking at your body in bed or moving into space. In this place, you can communicate easily and directly with other spirits. If you’ve had a loved one pass beyond and you still haven’t finished grieving, you may be able to contact them and say the good-byes that you could never do in waking life. This type of spiritual-level connection is deep and profound and, usually, doesn’t require words for communication. For some people it can be overwhelming. But the level of healing and expanding of consciousness that is possible is tremendous.
Letting go of fear
For all of these situations—regular dreams, nightmares and spirit-travel—releasing fear is essential. The more you release fear, the more you can learn from your dreams. The more you release fear, the less often nightmares will arise. And for travelling in the spirit realm, you will have a chance to see and experience amazing things that you might never have “dreamed” were possible to experience. As always, it looks easier to ask someone to “release fear” than to actually do it, but unless you begin the practice of releasing fear, you will live under its shadow forever.
So my quick tips on the topic always start with writing down what you’re afraid of. Pick an easy one and do it. In this way, you move into the fear. If you’re afraid of approaching that attractive man or woman at the coffee shop, go say, “Hello.” It doesn’t have to be a super big fear and oftentimes, large fears are built up of little ones. Chipping away at them over time helps to dissolve them.
And here’s an essential piece of the spiritual path; you move into discomfort, not away from it. Avoidance perpetuates pain. Unaddressed pain grows exponentially over time. But when you meet whatever it is that is upsetting you, then you can properly address it. Also, go slowly. Building patience is important and sitting in meditation with what frightens you is another way to prepare you to do something that scares you. Befriend your fear. It has been here the whole time, so it’s not like your fear is a new guest anyway.
My last few thoughts are that as we find more peace in our waking lives, we will find more peace in our sleeping time. A spiritual awakening is a special transition, where everything is particularly tumultuous, including sleep. That’s why meditation and regular spiritual practices become so essential. It helps to acknowledge and release fear on multiple levels so that you can make space for the peace and love that you already are. As you melt more deeply into that peace and love, the dreams that come may become clearer or even prophetic. This is the gift of the spiritual path. Letting go of all these burdens clears the way for you to dream the dream that matters most and then to bring that dream in your waking life.
This was first published in the July 2013 issue of Complete Wellbeing.
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