Dreams as a Guide to Our Meaningful Life
Dreams as a Guide to
Our Meaningful Life
The Nature of Dreams
A dream is an illusory
psychic activity, particularly of a visual nature which occurs during sleep. It
is essentially a psychological phenomenon with many philosophical, religious and
moral implications. It can be natural or supernatural. If they are supernatural,
their origin lies in soul or God. Dreams are so complex that what causes them
can seldom be traced back to a well-defined external or internal stimulus
(Augustine, 1996). They are perhaps brought about by many interacting factors of
a perceptual, emotional, motivational, devotional, and physiological nature.
They occur in cycles following the fluctuation of sleep stages. As suggested by
some of the researches, generally, a person dreams for 1 to 2 hours distributed
in three to five periods lasting from 20 to 30 minutes, and each sleep period
followed at intervals of about 90 minutes.
We all dream but we do not
remember all of them. And those we remember are also full of confusions. Only
some dream we find to be somewhat meaningful and associated with our memories
and experiences of that day or of the past. This is the reason why Jacobson
(1999) has said that (i) there is no dream without nonsense, and (ii) there are
some in a form of prophecy. But the real problem is how to distinguish between
the two. Since it is all bundled into one snowball, the question is: how to
interpret which part is meaningless and which part is meaningful.
Beginning of the
A dream is a glimpse into
the subconscious or unconscious minds which functions differently from the
conscious mind. Therefore, we cannot expect dreams to be systematic and logical.
Moreover, when we try to interpret dreams, we try to do so through our conscious
mind. As a result, dreams remain distant and illogical hallucinatory experiences
most of the times. Credit goes to Freud that he kept the conscious mind in the
background and interpreted dreams with whole emphasis on the unconscious mind.
This led him to say that dreams were meaningful and attempted wish fulfilment of
unsatisfied desires. In his book, Interpretation of Dreams he argued that
the unconscious mind liked to depict the wish fulfilment wholesale but the
preconscious could not allow it. As a result, the wish or wishes remained
disguised within a dream. He further claimed that the counterintuitive nature of
nightmares represented a clash between the super ego and the id --
the id wished to see the past fulfilled, while the super ego could not allow it.
He also added that in nearly all cases these anxiety dreams were products of
infantile, sexual memories (Wikipedia, 2007). Dreams were thus "a tree for
secret erotic desires, a hat for oedipal tendencies, a pillar for adultery, a
bird for a phallic symbol in Freudian interpretation" (Bhattacharya, 2000).
rebel, Jung, however, did not agree with his teacher, and proposed many things
additional. He believed that during the rapid eye movement (REM) state, the mind
got in touch with the unconscious, which consisted of not only the 'personal
unconscious' -- with its repressed desires and fears -- but also the racial
memories and experiences of the 'collective unconscious'. He further maintained
that the interpretation of dreams was largely based on the personality and
circumstances of the dreamer. The general function of dream was thus "to try to
restore our psychological balance" in Jung's writings (Bhattacharya, 2000).
Adler also saw this past, present, and future influence on dreams. His main
contention was, however, to interpret how a person's lifestyle was reflected in
Present Status of
Everyone will agree that
Freud and Jung were the two masterminds in the field of dream analysis. Jung,
however, had an edge over Freud. Agreeing with his teacher reluctantly, Jung was
also pointing out his missing points that dreams represented the various layers
of the mind and contained ineluctable truths, philosophical pronouncements,
illusions, wild fantasies, memories, plans, irrational experiences, and
telepathic visions. Today, many of the researches are supporting Jung by saying
that dreams have an almost unlimited source of creative inspiration,
psychological insight, and spiritual guidance. Researches on brain are also
showing that when a person falls asleep, he/she has a steady pattern of alpha
waves on the electroencephalograph (EEG). "These are accompanied by regular
breathing, slow pulse rate, and a drop in the body temperature. This is the
non-REM sleep. In the REM state, dreams occur four to five times a night. REM is
also marked by intense motor activity, increased pulse rate, and a brain pattern
similar to alert wakefulness" (Bhattacharya, 2000).
Kaplan (2002) has
elaborated these different stages of dreams in her book, Dreams are Letters
from the Soul very nicely. She says that the first stage of dreaming
is directional, goal-oriented, with a more masculine feel. In this stage, we
discern and integrate information about the dreamer. In the second stage, which
is spherical, spiralling and receptive, we learn to access and decode
information that lies beyond our individual awareness. These collective nature
of the dreams include the telepathic (information about something that is
happening or has just occurred), clairvoyant (awareness of an immediate future
possibility), and prophetic (awareness of a distant future possibility)
experiences. The third stage dreams are transformative which include healing,
teaching and oracular dreams. This stage of dreaming is a sacred marriage of the
first two stages -- a coming together of our directional and goal-oriented
dreams with our receptive dreams. The fourth stage dreaming is what the author
calls "philanthropic" dreams in which a person can "work" through the dream
world, in complete service to others. Most people will reach this stage only
after years of spiritual work, both in the dream space and in waking life (Denwiddie,
2003). Thus, according to Kaplan, "Our sleep is not merely a time for decreased
consciousness and rest. It is a time to awaken to the collective conscious of
the soul, to communicate with our Creator. Let us use them to help us become
truly awakened, that we may be used to awaken others."
Michaels (2005) has also
written in her book, A Bedside Guide to Dreams that both insights
and meanings emerge in our dreams. "Remember, dreams are letters from your soul,
not generally meant to simply entertain you. Under most circumstances, applying
the dream's insight will produce a constructive change in you as you align
yourself more closely with your soul's purpose." After documenting 27 types of
dreams, she summarized that dreams were related to the following six basic life
Health: When we
learn to pay attention to our dreams, we realize that we have our own built-in
doctor. Sometimes when we dream that certain foods disagree with our body, we
also see how to heal ourselves.
Very often, our dreams give us feedback about our behaviour in the
relationship and how to clear up our acts to make room for a better
Decision-making dreams do not give direct answers to our problems but offer a
clearer view of the situations, which can help in taking right decisions.
We may see ourselves doing something that is not characteristic of us but the
opposite trait needs to be brought in for maintaining balance.
Strength dreams act like meters to show us the level of strength or
vulnerability we are feeling.
Sometimes we have sex dreams as a way of balancing our own sexual energy or
resolving our psychological feelings about sexuality.
Thus, many of the
researchers (e.g. Thurston, 1978; Bhattacharya, 2000; Todeschi, 2002, 2004;
Reed, 2003; Holloway, 2006) are of the opinion today that dreams do not come
unbidden or without purpose. They come to help us in some way. They do this by
having us reach beyond our individuality into timelessness and spacelessness.
We, therefore, need to realize that all parts of the mind (conscious,
subconscious and unconscious) merge in dreams into one and become universal to
give us a window view of our soul (Michaels, 2005).
We have seen that dreams
occur in cycles in different stages. The first stage dream, which is directional
and which is more concerned with dreamer's unsatisfied desires, perhaps comes at
its own. Therefore, many of us experience such dreams as wish fulfilment of the
day-today desires as claimed by Freud in his first theory of dream
interpretation. But when we go deeper and deeper into our unconscious mind to
have second, third or fourth stage dream, we find them changing in many ways --
becoming more and more informative, constructive, meaningful and prophetic.
Dreams of such stages, however, appear only in such persons who want to have
them and also want to remember them. Otherwise, only some persons can experience
even second and third stage dream and that also occasionally. Kaplan (2002) has
rightly said that people can have third and fourth stage dreams (prophetic and
philanthropic) only after years of spiritual work in both the dream space and
waking life. Michaels (2005), therefore, has suggested the following steps to
remember dreams and to reach the fourth stage:
Get a note book:
You may find that you will
recall your dreams better when you record them in the note book. And the words
you choose to describe dreams also give you an insight to what the dreams mean
Relax before you retire:
By relaxing beforehand, you allow your psyche to shift gears away from the
outward, and enter into the inner role-oriented public life you want to lead.
Notice what is on your mind:
If you are aware of your
thoughts and feelings just before you go to sleep, you may find yourself halfway
to interpreting your dreams when you awake.
Don't forget to give yourself a suggestion:
"I will remember my
dreams" may suffice, or you may wish to pray for guidance, or understanding a
Wake up comfortably:
Try to wake up at your own
by giving suggestions to your mind. If you use an alarm clock, use a soft one
with quiet music.
Don't move too abruptly:
It is difficult to hold
onto the thin, filmy material of the unconscious. A quick movement, even a
stretch as you lay in bed can plant you firmly in the conscious world, only with
a wisp of feeling that you had some great and important dream.
Eastern and Western Thinkers
Bhattacharya (2000) has
examined the views of some of the Indian researchers in her article elaborately.
We find that the world of dreams has been a mystery for many of them. Therefore,
each one has been interpreting dreams in his/her own way. There was a time when
many were holding the view that during sleep the soul of a person was coming out
and wandering here and there, and was having all sorts of experiences known as
dreams. Today, however, there is a shift in their thinking. For some, it is a
reflection of repressed desires; for some, it is a desire of the jiva
(individual consciousness) to merge with Shiva (cosmic consciousness).
"The Indian tradition believes that the pre-dawn moment is the Brahama
muhurat or Brahama time. When the last stars are still twinkling in
the sky, a window opens in the cosmic consciousness and reaches out to the
individual consciousness" (Bhattacharya, 2000). This results in prophetic dreams
in some devoted persons. Thus, Bhattacharya and some other Indian thinkers have
been considering dreams to be prophetic in nature (like "letters from the
soul"). They have not been, however, talking about other stages of dreaming as
Kaplan (2002) is saying today which seems to be more logical and convincing.
There is another
similarity between Eastern and Western thinkers. Both the groups have been
saying that lucid dreaming is possible only by affirming again and again by the
dreamer that he/she wants to have meaningful dreams. Unless a person gives
importance to such dreams, it is not possible for him or her to have it.
Castaneda (1993) has rightly said in his book, The Art of Dreaming that
dreaming is an art of shifting our assemblage point -- a point of brilliance
inside the energy field of human body. "The greater the displacement, the more
unusual the dream." Thus, according to him, nothing is impossible in the dream
world, if a person wishes genuinely. Wahiduddin (2005) has also written in his
article, In an Eastern Rose Garden that mastery lies not merely in
stilling the mind, but in directing it towards whatever point we desire, in
allowing it to be active as far as we wish, in using it to fulfil our purpose,
in causing it to be still when we want to still it.
Sri Aurobindo in India
presented a similar view during Jung's lifetime. He said that dreams could be
classified as those occurring on the subconscious levels and those occurring on
the corresponding but the higher levels of consciousness ("subliminal" or "supraconscious"
levels). "All the subconscious level dreams will be composed of various
impressions from the environment or physical nature and from deeper levels of
the subconscious related to the personal and collective past. The supraconscious
dreams are due to activities of our higher levels of being, involving
perceptions or experiences.... These levels of consciousness are seen as the
origins of inspirations, creativity, intuitions, ideas, will-suggestions,
sense-suggestions, and urges to action".
Thus, many of the great
Indian thinkers have been thinking about dreams to be a feedback mechanism of
our subconscious mind and Higher Self from the very beginning which the Western
researchers are emphasizing today after so many years of research. They were,
however, not accounting dreams stage-by-stage as these researchers are
Critical Evaluation and
From the above discussion,
it is clear that every person is dreaming almost every night. It is another
thing that many of them don't remember them because they don't have the
intention to remember. Similarly, even if they remember some, they don't give
much importance to their dreams. Therefore, for them, dreams appear to be
meaningless. Otherwise, any person who wants to remember his/her dreams can
remember them and can find meanings in them. Stone (2004) has rightly written in
his article, A Spiritual Perspective on Dreams and Sleep that since for
the Senoi Indians, dreams are more important than their real lives, every
morning upon rising they are sharing their dreams with each other as a sacred
Dreams are definitely
complex in nature. We, therefore, need to understand how our subconscious and
unconscious minds function during sleep and how our conscious mind interprets
them in the morning on awakening. For this, first of all, we need to understand:
(i) what is mind? and (ii) how does it matter for dreams? Though mind has been
defined in many ways by different authors, an appropriate definition has come
from Vedanta. It maintains that mind is like an internal instrument which is
getting the power of consciousness from soul. And it is functioning like a
mirror which can perceive things clearly only when it is neat and clean. Soul is
like the sun which is throwing lights on it constantly. Now, it depends on the
absorbing ability of the mind that how much it gets illuminated. Only a
well-illuminated mind can have correct perceptions and decisions; otherwise, it
will have distorted perceptions. Since there are layers in it, from functional
viewpoint, psychologists have divided it into three parts: conscious,
subconscious, and unconscious. Otherwise, as a whole, these three parts
constitute one mind best known as Superconscious or Universal Mind --
Superconscious because consciousness comes from the soul and Universal because
it has infinite intelligence. This Universal Mind is thus functioning like a
mega computer that orchestrates the activities in every little computer of
conscious, subconscious and unconscious minds connected to it (Reed, 1989; Koh,
2004; Sharan, 2007).
During sleep, the mind
gets a chance to function better because the person is at rest and dreaming. It
is not possible for the person to have this kind of mind when he/she is awaken
(except in meditation) because it is actively involved in day-today problems
dealing with anxieties and worries. But the moment a person goes to bed, he/she
starts feeling relaxed and at peace. This allows the person to go deeper and
deeper into his/her mind and have all sorts of dreams, including prophetic
dreams. Wahiduddin (2005) has rightly said that "The mind has no leisure; it is
perhaps worrying, or planning, or thinking over the struggles and anxieties of
which life is so full. There is hardly ever a time when the mind is at rest,
except when nature gives it a rest because it is too exhausted to work anymore."
This is the time when mind says, 'I will have a good sleep.'
For prophetic dreams,
however, a good sleep is not enough. It needs to function in a particular
direction to go deeper and deeper and to have more and more meaningful dreams.
Therefore, the person needs to have a genuine interest at his/her conscious
level first to have meaningful dreams. This kind of intention and expectation
prepares the subconscious and unconscious mind to have incubating dreams of the
second and third stage. Thus, only in the case of strong desire to have
prophetic dreams, the dreamer reaches the fourth stage and has prophetic dreams.
Actually, this kind of request or instructions to the conscious mind conveys a
message to the subconscious and unconscious minds to find out something
meaningful by filtering the dreams. This process of filtering thus changes the
dream pattern from one stage to another and is successful finally in having
prophetic dreams of the fourth stage. Wahiduddin (2005), therefore, has rightly
suggested that unless the mind is directed to find out meanings in dreams, it
cannot do it at its own.
Secondly, a good sleep
starts with the first stage dream of personal nature including satisfaction of
some of the unsatisfied desires of the dreamer. Then, in second stage, the
dreamer has a different kind of dream which is more concerned with the
information that lies beyond his/her awareness. Then, if sleep is uninterrupted,
the dreamer experiences third stage dream which is of transformative nature --
saying more about solving a difficult problem. Then, when the dreamer's mind is
fully (spiritually) prepared, it enters into the fourth and final stage where
he/she has prophetic and philanthropic dreams which reflect more about future of
the dreamer. Since a person is reaching the Universal Mind only in this stage,
it becomes possible for him or to her to glimpse spiritual and moral
possibilities hidden in it only in this (fourth) stage. According to Ellis
(1994), "It holds possibilities which are locked away from the conscious mind,
for it has at its disposal all subliminal psychic contents, all those things
which have been forgotten or overlooked, as well as the wisdom and experience of
uncounted centuries which are laid down in its archetypal organs...." J.
Krishnamurti is also of the same opinion that "In oneself lies the whole world
and if you know to look and learn, then the door is there and the key is in your
hand. Nobody on earth can give you either the key or the door to open, except
yourself." All of us, therefore, need to learn how to have such dreams to reach
the Universal Mind and to know the "whole world." Michaels (2005) has already
given steps to remember dreams and to reach the fourth stage. However, the most
important thing in this context is what Kaplan has said that people can have
third and fourth stage dreams (prophetic and philanthropic) only after years of
spiritual work in both the dream space and waking life. This includes repeated
affirmation and prayer by the dreamer that he/she wants to have meaningful
Thirdly, for understanding
such prophetic dreams meaningfully, we need to learn about the art of
interpreting them. Scientific methods have not been found to be of much use in
this regard. Psychologists, therefore, need to realize the limitations of their
experimental and other methods which can explore only up to REM and some other
physiological changes involved in dreams. But for getting hidden meanings in
dreams, they have to change their mindsets and have to accept Intuition as a
method of psychology. This is the reason why many Indian thinkers like Dr. S.
Radhakrishnan (McDermott, 1970), Swami Vivekananda (2005), Sri Aurovindo (1996)
have been pleading strongly for having Intuitive Awareness for getting truth.
The same view is now being supported by many Western psychologists like Thurston
(1978), Todeschi (2002, 2004), Seale (2002), Reed (2002) etc. It has been
rightly said that without following Intuition, intellectuals will remain
imperfect and divided, and blind to the truth behind appearances. According to
Swami Omkaranand (1999), "Intuition is the only way by which Absolute can be
realized and experienced in all its totality. The mortal, finite, limited senses
and the intellect cannot comprehend the Reality which is immortal and
Not only dreams,
psychologists can also understand topics like love, trust, confidence,
concentration, creativity, spirituality, wisdom, etc. better by accepting
Intuition as a method of psychology. Since they are trained to address only such
questions which can be tested in a precise, objective, and publicly verifiable
fashion, they are unable to capture these topics. But once they come out of such
mindsets, they will enjoy Intuitive Awareness of all these topics including
dreams. All of us, therefore, need to realize the limitations of our methods,
which offer only a few subjective and objective factors, involved in each of
these topics but not the "Gestalt effect" created by these factors. Only through
Intuitive Awareness this Gestalt effect (as a whole effect) can be appreciated
which is full of spiritual meanings in each of these topics including dreams.
These spiritual meanings actually serve as a guide to one's meaningful life.
Ashish (2007) has rightly said that "Movement on the spiritual path necessarily
involves taking light into the dark corner of our psyche, and it is there that
dreams provide an open window into the inner reality.
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