Dreams connect us and develop us.
The power of dreams is a concept that modern day culture is still unveiling, despite a very intricate history of dream meaning and purpose in people’s lives.
They are being seen to be more significant than we thought. Of course, ancient wisdom cultures already knew this.
Historical Dream Meaning
Dreams have had a central position in most historic culture. Their meaning and scope is always rooted in the cultural and spiritual backdrop of the time. Dreams, in general, are seen as social, emotional and spiritual connections and guidance for humans and their development.
Australian aboriginals honor what they call the Dreamtime as reflections of the personal and societal mental status of the community. They also provide a direct access with their ancestors, with dreams considered to be oriented outside of time and space of everyday life.
In the ancient Toltec culture in Mexico, they consider the sleep dream more “real” then the wake dream. The dream becomes a way to focus and control your mind, through lucid dreaming for more freedom in wake life.
Native Americans looked to dreams for guidance, innovations and life purpose. It is also part of the ritual, fasting, vision quest experience, especially as rites of passage.
Hippocrates, the “Father of Medicine”, a physician from Greek history, grew up with this island covered in temples dedicated to healing through the use of dreams. Although he verified a science basis about bodily illness, he also believed that dreams were a direct access to healing. Similarly, to the Native Americans, through ritual, prayer, fasting, and then dreaming in temple rooms, one could dream the answer to their illness.
Chinese dream beliefs were similar. They saw dreams as our direct relationship with our soul’s physical and spiritual aspects. They saw dreams as a way to observe your consciousness and develop it.
Ancient Egyptians have records of dream interpretations as early as 1350 bc. They saw dreams as very significant and sacred in their meaning. They recognized them as awakening, prophetic and highly informing. Initiates also studied conscious dream travel for spiritual development.
Clearly, dreams have been considered important and vital to our daily functioning and development.
Carl Jung and Dream Theories
Carl Jung, renowned psychoanalyst from Switzerland (1875-1961) who took the dream work of Freud and went further. He recognized that dreams reveal our mythic narratives, that are meant to guide us as human beings. In other words, they reveal the stories we create about ourselves, life and the meaning of it all. He believed that to know ones’ dreams means to be connected with your inner personal and spiritual development which is just as important if not more than our intellect and reason.
Jung considered dreams to be the brain process of integrating our conscious and unconscious lives, experiences and emotions. He called this process “individuation” or the mind’s quest for wholeness.
Jung concluded that dreams are beneficial for our quest whether we observe them or not. And when we do analyze them that it can speed up the evolution of our individuation process significantly.
Jung’s dream work and its relationship to other cultures views led to his collective unconscious theories of universal archetypal imagery.
I have always resonated with Jung’s work. It has helped me acknowledge the wisdom and guidance of dreams for the past 25 years. I use my dreams to problem solve work issues, ask romantic inquiries and clear blocks in my path. Dreams are a powerful tool in my life.
Current Day Dream Research
Scientifically, research has attempted to clarify the role and purpose of dreams for years. It has not made much definitive progress. Current research has expanded the ways to view dreams with the EEG, and fMRI, widening the hypotheses about its purpose and function.
Sharing about our dreams socially is still a pastime being documented. Like the historic cultures, today, dream recall is occurring in 40-75% of the general population with a friend or intimate. This is an important clue to how potentially supportive socially it would be for dreams to be shared more. It connects us with each other when we wonder about their meaning.
One research focus that is important is the dream correlation with creativity and emotional processing. Researcher Robert Stickgold found that dreams open our cognitive thinking to be more creative especially after REM sleep. He also sees dreams are a way to stay more intimate with our emotional and mental processes that we are too distracted from in the day to day life. They help us problem solve and face inner conflicts and problems that we are not being conscious of.
In this sleep dependent, emotional brain-processing study, called Overnight Therapy? The Role of Sleep in Emotional Brain Processing, Matthew Walker and Els Van der Helm also found that sleeping and dreaming created a overnight modulation of our emotional system. It facilitates our brains in processing emotional material of the current day, helping us be less reactive and lowered mood disturbances the following day.
People awaken after REM sleep where dreams occurred, with more perspective, less emotional dysregulation and more insight. This reflects an increase in emotional intelligence which has already been shown to radically support our physical, emotional and mental health but also strengthens our skills for productivity, communication and effectiveness at work.
In a review, by Tore Nielsen on Rosalind Cartwrights new book The Twenty Four Hour Mind: The Role of Sleep and Dreaming in Our Emotional Lives, she states
“(I) consider the emotional function of REM sleep and dreaming to take place on several levels: the short-term improvement of mood across the night, the longer-term adaptation of an individual to emotionally challenging situations such as divorce, and the emotional changes built up over the lifespan that constitute one’s self-concept. Dreaming is not only a window into the dynamics of these regulating processes, but an integral part of it. (I) see dream images as perpetually creative products that both reflect the activity of established schemas and act as filters or evaluators of current experiences.”
These studies are important in revealing some of the purpose and power of dreams. Emotionally processing material and helping us have more creative ways of seeing challenges in our lives supports our growth and self-actualization.
These concepts reflect Jung’s work and the theory of individuation that we all consciously and unconsciously strive for this sense of wholeness.
We are a far way off in modern culture from understanding and applying the full complexities of dreams and how they are impacting us. Suffice it to say, the more we focus on, study and share our dreams the more helpful emotionally, mentally and spiritually it will be for us, both personally and societally.
Dr. Kate Dow a transformational psychologist who helps women clear the blocks to their personal empowerment and step into their feminine leadership.