M1. How you interpret the meaning of your dream rather depends on how you see the meaning of your life.
If you view your life as empty then quite likely your dreams will be empty too.
But if you see your life as being rich in meaning and full of purpose then, I believe your dreams will reflect that and will provide a rich source of insights for you to explore.
Two Lives are Better than One
So in my view, we essentially live two lives running concurrently. One is the normal waking life that is taking in sensory data and is characterized by waking consciousness that has the capacity of reasoning and a continuity that is shown by our constantly updated memories.
The other life is just as real as waking life but is called dreaming. It, in turn, is created by our imagination and is free of reason and does not retain past memories but instead draws on our waking memories in various forms.
As a result, waking life has consequences whereas dream life always starts a new adventure each night. But I for one, experience both just as real as each other and I recommend you also draw upon the meaning of your dream life as much as from your normal waking life.
What Exactly are Dreams Anyway?
In summary, dreams are:
- A mental activity that you participate in during sleep
- A simulated reality that makes use of and develops your existing neural pathways
- A reflection of your concerns and thoughts of the recent past (often the previous day or previous week)
- Largely unconstrained by current sensory inputs or your normal self-control mechanisms and can, therefore, be much more variable as a result
- Not constrained by sophisticated logic or rules. This is because dreams come from the older and deeper parts of your brain and brain stem rather than your external cortex or cerebellum.
When do you Dream?
Dreams tend to happen during particular stages of sleep as follows:
- The period when you are drifting into sleep tends to yield more unstable dreams or visions.
- Periods of Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep gives you what most people mean by dreaming
- The long period when you are in the process of naturally waking up after a good night’s rest gives a slight twist to the character of your dreams, in that they tend to be more directly related to the waking world as you kind of drift close to the threshold of wakefulness and sleep
- During non-REM sleep, there are far fewer dreams and they tend to be less narrative and more to do with problem solving, aural or static images
- Some people have very vivid day-dreams, and everyone day-dreams to some degree (even as much as half their waking time apparently, but that’s another story)
Why do you dream?
There have been many proposals on why you dream and there seems to be no consensus as yet. This gives an opportunity for some critics to say that dreams have no purpose at all and are simply a by-product of the garbage collection processes in the brain.
But this argument is not convincing to me because, for example, it is also true that there is no consensus on the reason we sleep either, but nobody suggests that sleeping is useless. Lack of sleep causes serious mental problems and chronic lack of sleep leads to a premature death.
What do people use dreams for?
According to psychotherapists, exemplified by Freud or Jung, examining your dreams are said to yield insights into your unconscious mind. The content of dreams has become a rich and relevant source of symbolism and metaphor in these practices.
Artists and musicians often cite dreams as being a primary source for their works since like most people they dream in pictures and hear music in them. For example, many of Salvador Dali’s pictures are taken directly from his dreams, and the musician Paul McCartney said he heard the complete song “Yesterday” in a dream.
Going back in time, dreams have been connected with religious rituals, ceremonies, and stories. Dreams have been interpreted as messages from the spirits or from the gods. In healing practices of different cultures, shamans have derived their powers from dream journeys or used information from dreams to diagnose or cure the sick.
So What about the Meaning of Your Dream?
People often tell me that their dreams are bizarre and weird, but studies of thousands of dreams show that most dreams are in fact rather mundane and, frankly, rather like ordinary life in their storylines and settings.
Of course, dreams are naturally unstable, the storyline can change abruptly and there can be a good few oddities, but they still mimic the everyday world more often than not.
My guess is that the reason people believe that dreams are strange is because they only remember the strange ones or those that are the most fun.
As far as the meaning of your dream goes, it rather depends on what school of thought you follow, but my experience is that only the dreamer can give meaning to their dream.
Both Freud and Jung used associations to explore their patients’ dreams, but there is no strong scientific evidence to support any theory of dream interpretation. The act of faith is that dreams are indeed a way to explore the depths and blind spots of your mind, or are messages from the spirit world or are pointers to future events or whatever your personal view is.
We can explore all those possibilities here.
Or see more on the larger meaning of all dreams.