On this page you will discover the basic knowledge you need to understand your dreams on all levels – psychologically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. Read below for the full article on why we dream.
Other pages on this site will give you more detailed information about your dreams and can be found by following these links as well as the links on the left:
- 4 Steps to Understanding Symbols
- Dream Incubation
- Remembering Dreams
- Defence Mechansisms
- Overcoming Denial
Dreaming is an amazing fact of human existence!
Where else can we experience such rich emotions, such a variety of experience and such incredible journeys?
Theories on why we dream have evolved and changed through the centuries but I believe we are closer now than ever before to being able to understanding what our dreams mean.
My knowledge has come from intense study of my own and others dreams as well as a background of study in modern psychology – primarily psychoanalysis and the works of Sigmund Freud, Alice Miller, D.W. Winnicott and Carl Jung; therapeutic interventions and techniques such as Gestalt, image work, transactional analysis, psycholinguistics and psychodynamic counselling. I also draw in spiritual beliefs and practices from Buddhism, New Age, Kabbalah and Christianity, such as body symbolism, cultural symbolism, energy healing and esotericism.
Drawing all these paradigms and belief systems together gives us an overarching and comprehensive understanding of dreaming.
The foundation of my understanding about the make up of the human mind and how that relates to dreaming comes from the work of Sigmund Freud. He was the first to postulate the theory that the mind is made up of three levels of consciousness – the unconscious, the subconscious and the conscious mind.
The Unconscious Mind
In the unconscious live the thoughts and feelings that we are so afraid of that we’re not even aware of their existence. For instance children that have gone through extremely traumatic events such as rape frequently do not remember the occurrence although their behaviour can display signs of trauma, such as an inability to form close relationships. The mind protects us from destructive events using defence mechanisms such as repression, denial, dissociation and distortion and consequently, feelings of anxiety and annihilation are withheld from consciousness.
The Subconscious Mind
The subconscious mind is also largely unconscious in that we do not normally use it in our waking state but it can be accessed, and information gathered from it, in certain circumstances. An example of this is when hypnosis is used to remember a number plate that a witness could not consciously recall. On the same lines, information we didn’t know we had absorbed comes out in our dreams very clearly. For instance picking up small cues from other people’s body language that are not cnsciously recognised but nonetheless noted in the mind.
The Conscious Mind
The conscious mind is everything that we are aware of when we are awake and interacting in our environment; facts, figures, knowledge, language, self awareness, direct perception, opinions, personal identity – the I of our experience.
The way this relates to dreaming is that unconscious, subconscious and conscious material will be expressed in dreams. I believe this is an effort of the self to integrate into a state of health and wholeness in much the same way as our biological body does. In the dreaming state we are presented with information that if acknowledged and processed, can help us become more emotionally, mentally and spiritually healthy. That is why I think it is important to develop an understanding of dreams that includes all of these elements.
There is no definitive answer in scientific circles about why we dream. The theories range from the belief that they serve no real purpose to them providing an essential function in keeping us sane by processing unexpressed feelings and making new connections in the brain.
While I have great respect for scientists researching dreaming and the conclusions they have reached, they are long way from being able to tell us how we could dream about a relative dying 200 miles away at the very moment they pass away. Most of us have had an experience similar to this or know someone who has – a dream experience that makes no logical sense in a scientific way.
The Spiritual Level
I believe that dreaming serves several functions and one of the most interesting is the spiritual one. Our self is constantly working towards integration and health on all levels. When we are dreaming I believe that unencumbered with our physical body and far away from the business of everyday life, we can more easily connect with our energy bodies, our higher self, our spirit guides and universal energy. Read more about our energy bodies here.
We can access information that we would not normally be able to in our ordinary waking state. The exception to this is the meditative state which also enables connection to the subtler parts of ourselves and universal energies. Here are some of the spiritual dreams I have had – if you would like to share yours with others on this site email it to me and I’ll upload it.
The Emotional Level – Processing & Releasing Feelings
Sigmund Freud was one of the first modern psychologists to ask the question, “why do we dream”? His theory was that it was a way for us to process feelings – particularly anxiety and desire. It can be difficult in day to day life to express all our feelings. Some of them aren’t socially acceptable and some would not be appropriate expressed in certain environments like the workplace – we could get into a lot of trouble! Some of our feelings are buried so deeply that we aren’t aware of them but they still need expression. Unconscious feelings ie: feelings we have no knowledge of, can be expressed in a safe way during the dream state.
What happens when we have an experience that produces emotional arousal is that the hormones released will stay in the body if unexpressed. Holding emotions in like this causes lots of stress on our bodies and minds. During REM sleep we process these unresolved feelings and the feelings can be discharged. The dream can also bring into conscious awareness the emotion and the events surrounding it, so that we have an opportunity to resolve the issue and move forward.
The Intellectual Level – Thought Processing
Throughout our daily lives we are bombarded with information. We think continuously – how to solve this problem, do something more effectively, our beliefs and perceptions of the world are constantly challenged. These are but a few of the kinds of things we may think about. We learn completely new skills, new ways of doing things, new ways of relating. The list is endless.
Just like a computer we need to defrag and put all of this information into some kind of order to stop us from getting slow and bogged down and possibly, to prevent us from becoming insane. Dreaming does this for us.
Our mind is so good at processing thoughts in the dream state we can actually learn things; solve problems and create inventions.