Dreams:Messages from the subconscious


Dreams:Messages from the subconscious

by Dr. Frederic B. Tate

An hour or so after you fall asleep tonight your brain will start to crackle with mental electricity. It will begin firing high-voltage impulses and unleash a wave of chemicals into your forebrain. As a result, images that are rich, strange, erotic or terrifying will unfold inside your head. You will be dreaming. Thanks to scientific advances, we now understand how we fall asleep and wake. However, why we dream remains a mystery.

Not everyone remembers his or her dreams, but each of us dreams every night. Even the human fetus dreams while floating in the amniotic sac. One theory is that dreaming allows for nerve cell development in the unborn child. Primates also dream.  We can only hypothesize, but most likely dogs dream of eating a bone or chasing a cat.

From ancient times to the present, dreams have been considered a link to spiritual realms. Every civilization has looked to dreams for guidance, revelation and inspiration. The Egyptians recorded dreams and considered them gifts of prophecy from the gods. The ancient Mesopotamians also considered dreams prophetic. The Greek philosopher Aristotle believed dreams were not only messages from the gods, but also reflections of the inner self:  “Dreams are analogous to the forms reflected in water,” he proclaimed. Throughout the centuries, dreams have influenced war and politics, scientific iscoveries and creative masterpieces.

Living in a contemporary Western society has its advantages. However, there are also disadvantages. As we have become more “civilized” and rational, we have tended to sacrifice the more mystical and spiritual aspects of life. Science attempts to convince us that dreams are nothing more than the result of the random firing of neurons. Even those who question this interpretation rarely make time in their busy schedules to record and interpret dreams. The indigenous people of more “primitive” cultures are light years ahead of us spiritually. In part, this is because they still believe in the importance of dreams and see dreams as opportunities to gain clarity and guidance. Could the spiritual void that so many Americans experience be the result of no longer regarding dreams as viable?  How many parents sit with their children at breakfast, interpreting dreams? How many of us carry dream journals? Dream work is too rarely encouraged or reinforced.

Swiss psychotherapist Carl G. Jung, who studied the symbolic language of dreams, once said, “The dream is a little hidden door in the innermost and most secret recesses of the soul.” Despite scientists’ increased understanding of the physiology of sleep and reaming, many of us still find it difficult to access “the most secret recesses of the soul,” and when we do, we cannot make sense of what we find. Jung felt that there were many ways to tap into our subconscious — through psychotherapy, art and meditation, for example. But Jung considered dream interpretation the single most valuable and accessible tool for self-understanding.  

Dreams come to us bathed in symbols — interpreting them is similar to translating a foreign language. Dream symbols are simply the forgotten language of the subconscious. You may have difficulty interpreting your dreams, especially in the beginning. With time and persistence, however, the meaning usually comes. Following are several suggestions for remembering and working with your dreams:

✺ Keep a notebook beside your bed. Record your dreams as soon after waking as possible; memory of dreams can fade fast. Keeping a small tape recorder at your bedside is also a good idea. You can quickly record a dream without turning on the lights or getting out of bed. Often a few key words are all you need to jog the memory and retrieve the full dream.

✺ Say to yourself every night as you fall asleep, “I will try to remember my dreams.” The simple power of suggestion can make a difference. If you do not remember a dream, that is OK. Be gentle with yourself; this practice takes time.

✺ Look for components in your dreams such as settings, people, animals, action, colors, feelings, themes and words. Every symbol in a dream can represent a part of your personality. If you dream of a certain friend, for example, consider what part of your personality he or she may represent.

✺ Work on analyzing your dreams every day. Otherwise, assessing their progression will be difficult. The more you read about dreams, share dreams with friends, and record dreams, the more you will remember and the easier the process of interpretation will become.

✺ All dreams have meaning. A dream that on the surface seems silly or insignificant can be profound. However, very emotionally laden dreams, such as nightmares and recurring dreams, are often especially significant. They may indicate a failure to learn or to change behavior. Remember, because they get our attention, nightmares can be the greatest gift from the subconscious.

✺ At times, practical interpretations are best. Keep it simple. Look first for a lesson. What have you refused to face or what have you ignored? What is the overall feeling in the dream? What are you trying to avoid? What might the dream suggest? Why did you have this dream?

✺ If you experience precognitive dreams (dreams that come true), out-of-body experiences or lucid dreaming (awareness during the process that you are dreaming), do not panic. These experiences are not as rare as you may think.

✺Be cautious of dream dictionaries. A dream about a ring with a red stone, for example, could hold different meanings for each of us. For one dreamer it might be symbolic of sacrifice; for another it could represent passion. Dream dictionaries will restrict and limit free-association, or free-thinking (similar to brainstorming).

Dreams come to guide and help, not merely to amuse. If we are open to them, they can direct our attention to errors and problems, and they can offer encouragement and insight for healthy decisions, endeavors and changes. Pleasant dreams!

Tate, F. B. (2008, March). The Health Journal. Retrieved December 24, 2012, from http://www.thehealthjournals.com/archives/2008/WHJ_Mar_2008.pdf

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