Do our dreams actually mean anything or are they just meaningless psychic garbage, our brains attempts to process the days events?
And if they do have meaning, can we access their power?
Current psychology has many current theories ranging from dreams not having much meaning outside of what we project onto them to memory processing to simply being a response to biochemical and electrical changes as we sleep.
The psychotherapeutic approach goes a little further because every dream can be seen as being a message from our unconscious that can be interpreted to enhance our understanding of ourselves.
In ancient Greece dreams were seen as a direct source of healing from the god Ascelpius. Entire temples were devoted to healing through dreams.
Then there are also Lucid Dreaming, Tibetan Dream Yoga, Shamanic work to travel to different worlds- any number of different ways to work with and understand dreams.
So who's right?
In my view all of them.
And this is the most powerful gift of being familiar with how to work with dreams- they give a permission to explore and discover that can totally transform our world.
Dreams are a doorway to a deeper experience of life
If you have ever had a beautiful dream and on waking can't quite bring yourself to let it go fully because it is just so delicious, you know exactly what I mean. Your whole experience in that moment has been transformed by the dream.
It could be a shining natural landscape or the idyllic embrace of the perfect lover or any one of an infinite series of delightful scenarios.
Occasionally we’ll allow ourselves to sink back into the embrace of the dream but rarely will we bring that quality forward until waking life experience. But that dream is actually an invitation to experience and explore this quality.
It is an invitation to broaden our experience of life and a stepping stone into a better future.
Even difficult dreams have something important to offer
More frequently, it is the disturbing dreams that make their way into our waking state experience. Anxiety, fear, guilt- sometimes a dream can take us into a state that is excruciatingly painful and hard to shake off.
When this happens it’s all too easy to take the dream at face value, to immediately interpret the difficult feelings as a negative message about ourselves and our lives. It’s natural in a sense because in those moments of being consumed by a bad dream we simply feel so bad.
It is also, however, an invitation to broaden our experience and move into something far better and greater than we are experiencing in that moment.
If you are experiencing difficult dreams at the moment you may disagree strongly with me here and having struggled at times myself with difficult dreams I do empathise.
At the same time however, I have never yet worked with a dream- no matter how bad- that hasn't on exploration offered an invitation into a greater way of seeing and experiencing the world.
The reason I say this with such confidence is because of a little-known way understanding the structure of the dream.
The structure of the dream
Every dream can be seen as a self-contained world with its own rules, customs, laws, inhabitants and cultures. We are one of the actors in the dream as well as the entire dream.
The dream unfolds in sections that follow a specific structure- problem, turning point and solution / reaction.
It's a bit like in a story where we have the set-up and get to know the lay of the land, the characters and their relationships.
We’re just settling in to the story when something happens to upset the status quo taking the story in a completely different direction- this is the same as the turning point in the dream.
It is a place where everything is disrupted and is the place where the creativity of the inspired mind can be revealed.
The turning point of the dream
The turning point is fascinating for two reasons.
Firstly, it happens so fast we tend to miss it. This is important because while the turning point is the biggest opportunity for us to change, our habitual tendency in the dream and in life is to go with the reaction.
This reaction is the old, habitual part of the mind that fights against change.
It is is the main reason that we have difficult dreams- we have reacted against an invitation to change and the old parts are basically doing all that they can to convince us to stay the same. And they are very persuasive.
On those occasions where we don't react against the invitation to change, this is where we have those beautiful expansive experiences mentioned earlier.
We have said yes to a different kind of future where whole worlds of different possibilities exist.
The turning point is where we have free will
The second reason turning points are so interesting is because they are the key place in a dream where we have true choice and free will. Until then we have been following the unfolding of the dream in an habitual way- now we have an opportunity to experience something different.
The question is will we choose the seductive but familiar pathway of the old? Or the exciting but scarily unfamiliar path of the new?
The choice is always ours and using this method and understanding of dream structure gives a way for us to train this skill safely and effectively and then bring it fully into our lives.
Once we have this basic understanding of the dream structure as problem, turning point, solution / reaction, then all sorts of ways of working with dream start to open. We’ll explore three.
We can connect the dream to our day to day lives
We can connect the dream to our lives by finding the understanding that is hidden within the dream.
Strictly analytical approaches can be limited at times as we can try to make the interpretation make logical sense to us. To paraphrase Einstein and Jung ‘we can’t solve a problem from the same level of thinking that created it’- which is the risk of working in a strictly linear way.
But if we work with the principle of discovery we are often surprised by what the dream is really trying to tell us. We can make creative leaps.
This can be especially powerful because it will often move us from wasting time solving the wrong problem to focusing our energy where it will really make a difference.
Dreams are the perfect arena to explore and train our minds and wisdom
The second area we can explore using this dream structure is that the dream opens up an arena where we can experience and train ourselves in all sorts of different and exciting ways.
If we open more fully to the different experiences that the dream is inviting us into we become more open and compassionate to those around us.
Then as we get to know how the problem, turning point, solution / reaction structure works in our dreams we become more sensitive to our own process and how this same structure also works in our daily lives.
We get triggered less easily and catch ourselves earlier when we are triggered.
And as a by-product of working with our dreams our ability to make creative leaps, work with our intuition and our effectiveness at problem-solving all improve.
The wisdom that lies behind the dream wants the best for us
The third and last area is for me the most subtle and probably the most profound.
As we start working with our dreams in this way we get to explore in our direct experience (rather than theorising) what this intelligence is that lies behind our thinking minds.
In some traditions this is referred to as guidance, higher power, inner wisdom, intuition, Mind- whatever we call it the relationship that we have to this place in us is what determines how creative and inspired we are and how far we are able to bring these qualities into the world.
This exploration of the relationship between the day to day habitual self and the inspired mind of the creative self is the most exciting and life-changing aspect of working with our dreams.
Reconnecting to this part of ourselves is simultaneously like meeting an old friend and a loving teacher. And it’s available to us all built in if we just turn towards it by learning how to work with our dreams.