On Dreams

People are fascinated by dreams.  Whenever someone learns that I work with dreams, he or she begins telling me about a dream they had or they say, 'What does it mean when you dream about (fill in the blank with almost anything)?'  Once, I spent an hour in a dentist's chair listening to the dentist and her assistant discuss their dreams.  It was at least distracting. The study of dreams and dreaming mostly fell out of fashion in professional psychology for the past several decades due to that field's emphasis on becoming both more scientific and, at the same time, more relevant.  Working with dreams and indeed with the unconscious at all came to be seen as too subjective, too time-consuming -thus expensive - and perhaps even elitist.  As our practice became increasingly oriented to what we refer to as 'evidence based' therapies, that, is those that can be studied and counted and replicated, the deeply individual work of attending to and understanding one's dreams no longer fit the preferred model.

That's a shame, because our dreams have a lot to offer.   Dreams are not mere by-products of random neural firing in an otherwise resting brain.  Dreams are purposeful, beneficial to our physical and mental health, and meaningful within the context of personal and spiritual growth.  Dreams are messages from the unconscious mind to the conscious mind and their goal is always to increase our wholeness.

Fortunately, scientific inquiry moves with a life of its own, and, new technologies and new questions have led to new interest in dreams.  Neural scientists and sleep researchers have, within their respective areas of interest, begun to observe and document what goes on in our brains while we sleep as well as the effects of that activity.  In summary, these folks have concluded that dreams:

Supply us with insights about our lives,

Help heal emotional trauma and cope with daily stress,

Help us survive,

Promote health and healing,

Promote learning,

Promote creative problem solving.

Quite so.  Some of us have been saying that all along.  And, if that's true, then perhaps it's also true, as Freud and Jung suggested all those years ago, that dreams reveal what has been missing from our conscious perception, help us make meaning of the events and patterns in our lives, and provide insight to our deepest selves.  That has been my experience.

I think our dreams deserve our respectful attention. Some folks tell me it's just too frustrating trying to understand them. I sympathize with that, but I think that means they are working too hard. All you have to do is listen to the dream and see what it's trying to tell you. If you don't get it right away, that's okay.  You will when you can and when you need to. The more you attend, the more you will know.

If a dream stands out as one you really want to know more about, write it down, share it with someone close, set it aside, come back to it again later. Then pay attention to the next dream. Our unconscious mind is patient and persistent. Soon the meaning will emerge either as an aha or in some apparently insignificant insight that will subtly change your life for the better. I promise.

'I've always used dreams the way you'd use mirrors to look at something you couldn't see head-on, the way that you use a mirror to look at your hair in the back. To me that's what dreams are supposed to do. I think that dreams are a way that people's minds illustrate the nature of their problems. Or maybe even illustrate the answers to their problems in symbolic language.'  Stephen King

Well said, Mr. King.