Dreams – Personal learning from beyond oneself?

dreamsAre you interested in your dreams? Do you suspect that they might help you better understand yourself and your inner life? The content and purpose of dreams have been a topic of scientific speculation, as well as a subject of philosophical and religious interest, throughout recorded history.

The view of dynamic psychology is that dreams express unconscious beliefs and desires. This view that one’s dream is fashioned out of one’s life and speaks of one’s life, appears to be widely accepted. Fritz Perls, who helped start Gestalt Therapy, maintained that everything in a dream relates to some aspect of the dreamer. Individual figures, scenarios and objects are said to symbolise for example fears, hopes, aspiration and so on.

One member of a psychotherapy group dreamt he was examining people with an inverted telescope that made them more remote. He had been in denial about holding others at an emotional distance and not opening up about himself during the group sessions. The dream was like a slap in the face obliging him to recognise his own attitude.

Transpersonal dream-maker

The mystical nature of some dreams suggests to me a higher intelligence at work in creating them.

“Dreams provide us with insight about what’s preoccupying us, troubling us, engaging our thoughts and emotions. Often healing, often mysterious, always fascinating, dreams can ….  show us who we are.” (Michael J. Breus, clinical psychologist)

Science has no place for any mystical realm of spirit or higher consciousness. However, there is no reason to believe that the limits of science are the limits of knowledge.

“The dream reflects your deepest thought. Its wisdom may well transcend your ordinary understanding.” (Wilson Van Dusen, clinical psychologist)

Carl Jung, the founder of Analytical Psychology, described dreams as messages to the dreamer and argued that you should pay attention for your own good. He suggested that dreams come from a level more objective than one’s subjective point of view. He came to believe that dreams present the dreamer with revelations that can uncover and help to resolve emotional or deeper problems and fears.

Building on these ideas, some people work on their dreams, not always with help from psychotherapists. They buy into the bold idea that dreams are actually messages about us from a higher consciousness beyond our own self-hood. That there is, so to speak, a sort of dream-maker. An intelligence that creates a dramatic story. One that expresses, in a disguised way, the various conflicting feelings and ideas to which we are inwardly attracted.

Difficulty remembering dreams

You might wonder if dreams originate with a higher intelligence seeking to educate us, how come we usually cannot even remember them?

One theory is that, during dreaming, like the rest of our body, our lower faculties – such as retention – are asleep and so we don’t easily take on new memories. Another suggestion is that dreams, lacking as they do any apparent logical sense, are difficult to assimilate into our way of thinking. A higher insight isn’t easy to get hold of in words and incorporate into understanding and memory.

Despite the usual difficulty in dream recall, experts, like Stephen Laberge, maintain it is possible to better remember dreams if regularly practicing certain skills.

  1. Getting plenty of sleep means you can afford to take a little time during the night to wake up and record dreams.
  2. Intend to remember dreams and remind yourself of this intention at bedtime.
  3. You are more likely to recall a dream if waking up directly from one rather than later. Consequently, before you learn to awaken from dreams without help, you can set an alarm clock to go off at certain times. This means taking advantage of the fact that REM periods occur at approximately 90 minute intervals from falling asleep.
  4. Upon waking ask yourself “What was I dreaming?” “How was I just feeling” “What was I just thinking?” Best to wait until you can answer without moving the body or letting the mind wander on to other thoughts.

Respect for our freedom

Another reason you may be put off the notion that dreams come from a transpersonal sphere beyond ordinary awareness, is not wanting to be told what to think. However, it seems the dream-maker respects our freedom.

The dream-maker is not obliging you to listen to the message about yourself. 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 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. According to Sigmund Freud, dreams disguise the ‘latent content’ of unworthy thoughts and shameful desires with a ‘manifest content’ which is more familiar and acceptable.

I would say that only when you choose of your own accord to take any notice of the content of your dreams, and start to reflect on their possible symbolic meaning, can you receive the message from beyond yourself.  Personal study of dreams have found them to :

  1. Remind one of one’s needs, e.g. the need for love or acceptance
  2. Give one another perspective on what one is doing, e.g. seeing your job through the eye’s of your family or noticing your neighbours concerns about your garden fence
  3. Give clarity to one’s real values e.g. the importance you place on loyalty or honesty

My conclusion

The potential insights dreams offer are for those who are willing to attend to them. I believe the plausibility of their higher source can only be assessed by the person who takes the trouble to reflect on their deeper meaning.

Copyright 2016 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

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