Delving into the Meaning and Mystery of Dreams

“For me, time is the greatest mystery of all. The fact is that we’re dreaming all the time. That’s what really gets me. We have a fathomless lake of unconsciousness just beneath our skulls.” ~ Anthony Hopkins

Since the dawn of time humans have dreamt, and those dreams have a served a purpose, but are we any closer to figuring out what that purpose is?

Borghese_Sleeping Hermaphroditus_Louvre

Sleeping Hermaphroditus, by Bernini c. 1620 (Louvre)

Have you ever woken up in a cold sweat, with your heart racing, gasping for breath, temporarily terrified that what you just went through in your sleep was real? Sometimes it can take a few seconds to realise that it was all a dream, albeit a rather vivid one.

I had one just like that just the other day. I might as well share it with you, it was quite strange!

The Nightmare, by John Henry Fuseli

The Nightmare, by John Henry Fuseli

I was working in some sort of complex, (I couldn’t tell you what I was doing, but it was scientific), and then there was a commotion, and we looked out the window to see a rocket coming towards us.  I saw the rocket hit the ground not far from us, and the explosion rapidly engulfed us. I didn’t feel the heat, but soon it became quite obvious that instead of waking up, as I had just perished in a fireball, that I was now a spirit. Somehow my spirit was asking questions. What just happened and why? I began to investigate the causes of the crash.

I was only aware that I was still in the land of the living when Ruby climbed into bed beside me, warming her cold feet on me, cuddling up to me, saying, “Mummy, I had a bad dream.” Comforting her helped me to forget the horror of my own nightmare.

I began to wonder what had transpired in my life to dream of such bizarre circumstances.  If I took Freud’s theory of ‘wish fulfillment’ literally, I might arrive at the conclusion that I have a death wish!

What I find amazing is that our minds can create such real scenarios that we live out in our sleep, so much so, that even after we become fully conscious those mental images can still haunt us.  Equally strange that some dreams we forget almost instantly; and others make us reflect…

Sleeping Girl, by Domenico Fetti

Sleeping Girl, by Domenico Fetti

It is surely a healthy release for our subconscious minds to process all the emotions and events going on in our lives, and interpret those sensations and thoughts into a series of seemingly unrelated mental pictures that, if analysed, could tell us about what is going on deep in our psyche. I find it fascinating that our ‘inner’ eye is every bit as detailed and accurate in painting pictures on the canvas of our minds, as are our biological eyes at capturing so called ‘reality’.

It seems to me that dreaming is our way of integrating our thoughts and beliefs that have been repressed or that are transparent to our conscious mind.  The illumination of our experiences, hopes, and fears into messages that our conscious mind can make sense of. Shining a light, (even if it is a blurry one), into the darkness.

Perhaps we are not meant to fully understand our dreams. Perhaps it is enough that we acknowledge them, and honour them, by paying more attention to what has been unfolding in our lives, thus making us more aware.

BBC documentary on  dream interpretation:

When I was a child I used to have regular recurrent dreams, one of which was flying over fields. Maybe I watched Peter Pan once too often! Luckily, the muscle paralysis in REM means we’re unable to actually physically live out our dreams. But I wonder, how do we sleep walk? That phenomena has long interested me.

Occasionally I find myself lucid dreaming, and during one such episode I had an out of body experience. I can’t remember the dream, only that I was awake in the dream and I was aware of what I was creating as I went along. I was on the verge of drifting back into sleep and I felt myself sinking into a super relaxed state when the OBE occurred. It was an incredibly profound experience, one that I think about often. It lessened my fear of death significantly.

Both Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung studied and analysed dreams, with Freud publishing his findings in his book The Interpretation of Dreams. Jung rejected his theory that dreams were meant to be secretive, and became immersed in his mythic world of archetypes and our universal experiences of the Collective Unconscious. For serious dreamscape navigators, there are two books that might be of interest by Jung: his autobiography, Memories, Dreams and Reflections, and his personal dream diary, The Red Book.

Carl Jung – The Wisdom of the Dream (A world of Dreams):

From Wikipedia:

Jung stressed that the dream was not merely a devious puzzle invented by the unconscious to be deciphered, so that the true causal factors behind it may be elicited. Dreams were not to serve as lie detectors, with which to reveal the insincerity behind conscious thought processes. Dreams, like the unconscious, had their own language. As representations of the unconscious, dream images have their own primacy and mechanics.

Jung believed that dreams may contain ineluctable truths, philosophical pronouncements, illusions, wild fantasies, memories, plans, irrational experiences and even telepathic visions. Just as the psyche has a diurnal side which we experience as conscious life, it has an unconscious nocturnal side which we apprehend as dreamlike fantasy. Jung would argue that just as we do not doubt the importance of our conscious experience, then we ought not to second guess the value of our unconscious lives.

The film A Dangerous Method follows the story of Freud, Jung and his disturbed young Russian patient, Sabina Spielrein. There is a great scene in the film where Freud and Jung are analysing one of Jung’s dreams:

Interesting article from The Harvard Review of Philosophy

Plato’s Dream – By Voltaire

I would sign off by saying, “Sweet dreams,” but maybe it would be better to say, “dream big, dream of your future, and trust that your present dreams are somehow leading you there…”

“All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.” ~ Edgar Allan Poe

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