People have random eye movements under closed eyelids (REM) from time to time when they are asleep and if wakened at these times they report dreaming. In this way sleep researchers found that most people dream for about a fifth of their sleeping time. A person of age seventy-five will not only have slept twenty-five years, but will have spent five years dreaming! We need this for, if deprived of REM sleep for a while, we become disturbed and even psychotic. Although occasionally there is speech in dreams, it is mostly composed of dramatic visual representations. There are no proven scientific theories to explain the experience. So why is it important? How can we understand it?
Why your dream is not easy to understand
Clinical psychologist Wilson Van Dusen, wrote that dreams tend to deal with a wide range of present-life concerns of the person. The precise meaning of any one however is unclear, even though it makes use of people, situations and objects familiar to the sleeper.
Because of familiarity with the content, it isn’t immediately apparent that the dream uses things and people in a symbolic manner. In this way whilst getting an inkling of what is going on — we are protected from a blunt expression of those inner concerns and desires we would rather keep from daytime awareness.
Dreaming is thus a personal process that need to be understood in a personal way. And so a book offering a general meaning of dream symbols is probably not valid.
If you haven’t worked with your own dreams, they can easily seem to be a mishmash of elements into which one could read almost anything.
How to understand a dream
- When you next wake up after the dream, jot down a phrase or two about it in order to jog your memory later.
- The next day try to get back into the dream, reliving it. Slowly tell the dream to yourself. What were you feeling at different points. Ask yourself, ‘What did it feel like when …. ?’ ‘How is that like my life?’
- Pretend to be a person you dreamed of, and tell the dream story from this perspective. You may get clues as to what the individual figure represents in you.
- Assume everything in the dream is you. Your most conscious day-time feelings and thoughts are shown by you in the dream. Less conscious aspects are represented by others eg one’s future potential, choice points, what is hoped for. See what you associate with each person, place or thing in the dream.
- Summarise the dream and listen to the summary for its meaning.
- Reflect a little on the rest of the dream’s connections during the day and you may find the remaining meanings.
- The only valid interpretation of a dream is that which you, the dreamer, give to it.
Revelatory nature of dreams
In using images in a symbolic way it is as if the dream is allowing you, the dreamer, to remain in freedom to listen or ignore its message. If your dream simply said you boast too much or waste too much money, it would not only would be a distressing insult but one you could not fail to see. Instead it offers an intriguing drama you can try to remember and work out only if you wish.
Carl Gustav Jung suggested that dreams come from a level more objective than one’s subjective point of view. Dream images are not from the dreamer’s usual subjective sphere of thought and language. It is as if what the dream is saying goes beyond our daytime conscious understanding to reveal something true about the inner quality of our life. It possesses a higher wisdom and knowledge about all our memories, hopes and fears.
The reality of our inner mind
In his books The Natural Depth In Man and The Presence Of Other Worlds, Van Dusen gives a clear picture of the hidden reality of our inner world. His understanding not only comes from his own experience as a psychotherapist working with his patients dreams but also his study of Eastern and Western philosophy, particularly the extraordinary insights and often frightening experiences of Emanuel Swedenborg. Van Dusen concludes that in a wide range of states of consciousness (including that of dreaming) an inner world is revealed as precisely Swedenborg describes.
This is a hidden realm of spirit which will become fully conscious to us all following our bodily death: a spiritual world which permeates all our human minds, whilst we still live on earth, with inflow of high and low desires, pure and corrupt thoughts, as well as beneficial and harmful impulses; an influx of good and bad influences that are perfectly balanced to preserve our inner human freedom.
Copyright 2012 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems