Reprinted from Natural Awakenings Dec 2010
Every night, even though we may not remember, we dream for one to two hours in as many as seven different cycles. But why do we dream? Is there an adaptive function of these deeply creative private occurrences? These questions and dreams themselves have long been a source of fascination and exploration.
As far back as 4000 BCE, records show that dreams were viewed as significant. Greek and Roman military leaders had dream interpreters who offered insight into battle plans. The Bible mentions dreams more than 700 times. Native Americans tribes rely on dream life to contact ancestors and help guide life missions.
Sigmund Freud referred to dreams as the royal road to the unconscious. In 1900, Freud’s book, Interpretation of Dreams, set out to systematically understand the meaning of dreams. Today, neuroscientists and psychoanalysts are verifying what Freud considered.
Dr. Mark Solms, neurologist, psychoanalyst, and author of Brain and the Inner World, is a leading researcher on dreams. Solms and others have concluded that dreams help us express our deeply held wishes and fears. Dreams organically strive to sort out our daily emotional reactions and to solve current and ongoing personal challenges.
Indeed, many researchers now agree that dreaming is an information processing activity that deals with solving emotional problems, both current and from the past.
Most recently, technological advances such as functional brain imaging have allowed scientists to take an even closer look at the sleeping and dreaming brain. The parts of the brain involved with directing, planning, and other executive functions are quieter during dream sleep. Therefore, in dream life we are less inhibited by reality concerns and gain greater access to parts of our personalities that have been repressed.
The Language of Dreams
Dream life is made up of images, words, and other symbols. They are visual metaphors that illuminate emotional states while we dream. Like paintings and poetry, there are many layers of meaning in the content of the dream. Just as artists transcend reality, dreams also put together images, emotions, and ideas that are not typically joined in the external world. We may take poetic license in interpreting dreams.
The language of dreams is shown in vivid images that seem like hallucinations. At times, they evoke strong emotions suggestive of a great deal of personal meaning. Perceiving this varied content is an important first step toward greater self-awareness. Our conscious and unconscious minds are better connected. There is more ability to delve into the emotional significance of our dream landscapes. We are rewarded with growing and supported self-understanding, expanded inner vision, wider perspective, and ultimately wisdom.
There are many tips that help people in the dream discovery process. First and foremost, commit to remembering your dreams. Have a dream journal and pen (or tape recorder) by the bed. Upon waking, lie still with your eyes closed while gathering the images in your head and fix the dream sequences in your mind’s eye. Then quickly jot down all the details in the present tense as if the dream is still occurring.
Concentrate on the feelings and sensations elicited by the dream images. Describe each image with words or pictures. Try to capture the overall atmosphere of the dream and the more fleeting experiences.
If possible, have days when you can awaken naturally, without an alarm. This ensures completion of your last and longest dream cycle. You may recall multiple dreams.
As your dream journal fills, notice the themes. Give each dream a date and title. Keep your mind open, and try to associate to the different aspects of your dreams. Be brave. Stay with the physical sensations. Write down thoughts, feelings, and memories that come to find. Highlight significant words.
Consider what is most pressing in your inner life. How does this relate to your current situation? Are you better able to identify your desires and ways to seek out more satisfaction? Will you honor a deeper connection within yourself? Will you dare to dream?
Dr. Harlene Goldschmidt leads Dream Discovery Workshops in her Livingston, New Jersey office.
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