Did you just have a dream a few minutes before logging on to this newsletter? Did you dream last night? You are in interesting company, Alexander the Great, Robert Louis Stevenson and Rene Descartes all believed that they were guided by dreams. You have had thousands of dreams in your lifetime; good dreams, nightmares, beautiful dreams, and so on. Dreams provide us with priceless information about our inner selves, and the rich and varied symbolism in our dreams can guide our lives towards psychological health and spiritual clarity.
We have always been fascinated with our dreams
All through the ages, dreams have fascinated humankind. The Native Americans of North America cherished their dreams, and dreams played an important role in all aspects of their culture. Gifted prophets, priests, scientists, doctors, artists, and philosophers in the many cultures of antiquity attempted to decipher the obscure symbolism of dreams to discover the essential truth hidden within. Of course, this search for meaning continues today.
Composer Richard Wagner and physicist Albert Einstein were both inspired by dreams. Wagner’s opera Tristan and Isolde was inspired by a dream, as was Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. As a young boy, Einstein dreamt that he was sledding downhill so fast that he was approaching the speed of light. When he awoke, he knew he had to understand the meaning of this dream.
Freud, Jung and New Age
Over the course of the twentieth century, our understanding of dreams underwent a complex evolution. Sigmund Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams proved to be a breakthrough. Published in 1900, this work became the cornerstone for psychoanalysis and a therapeutic tool for treating mental illness using the techniques of free association and hypnosis. Although Freudian psychotherapy is no longer seen as an effective way to heal a disturbed mind, it did open the door for dreams to become the subject of scientific research. One of Freud’s most important discoveries remains a central psychological premise. Emotions buried in the unconscious surface in disguised forms in dreams, and working with dream symbolism can help uncover these buried feelings.
Psychiatrist Carl Jung was greatly intrigued by Freud’s theories. Eventually, Jung’s fascination with psychology and precognition, in addition to his disenchantment with Freud’s emphasis on sexual themes, led Jung to conclude that dreams are natural reactions to current situations. Dreams offer clues to insight and personal growth. They may be forward-looking as well as retrospective. Dreams may tap into a mysterious reservoir of mythological images, presenting symbols and archetypes that share a fundamental essence with those of all other cultures. Most importantly, dreams provide a channel of communication for our psyche, helping us to understand our very being. Jung developed an entirely new vocabulary to analyze dreams and the structure of the psyche.
Jung’s broad and complex view of dreams inspired further research. In 1953, scientist’s first attached electroencephalograms (EEGs) to the eyes of test subjects and discovered that everyone spends part of each night in a sleep state characterized by rapid eye movements (REM). It’s during this REM phase that most dreams occur, particularly longer and more vivid dreams.
During the 1960s, working with dreams became part of the New Age experience, and people began talking about lucid dreaming, astral traveling, and out-of-body experiences (OBEs). New Age personalities expanding upon dreams were anthropologist Carlos Castaneda and mystic Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. Castaneda wrote about a conversation with a mysterious sorcerer named Don Juan. One of Don Juan’s mysterious powers was lucid dreaming, or a person who is aware that they are dreaming. Rajneesh wrote The Psychology of the Esoteric, which developed a logical framework for explaining a range of dreams from the ordinary to the extraordinary.
Everyone dreams, it’s universal, but how many of us remember our dreams, or can decipher them. For some, dreams can be a mysterious source of creativity and problem-solving, or even precognition. For the psychoanalyst, dreams provide a window to the subconscious and its repressed desires. For still others, dreams can be a pathway to spiritual growth, or a gateway into the parallel worlds of the shaman. It’s up to you as a unique individual to search out the special meaning of your dreams, because they will only unlock and open up one world – your own.