DREAMS: THE ILLUSION of EXPERIENCE
Where do the thoughts go once forgotten? Where do the seen events go once ignored? Where do the feelings go once forbidden?
If you seldom ask these questions, well, then we are sailing in the same boat and hopefully, my blog will help you find out answers to the unuttered questions.
Whether recalled or not we all dream. In fact, every individual spends approximately 2 hours dreaming in their sleep. Each sleep cycle may consist of a dream that lasts from 5 to 20 minutes on an average. (Sleep cycle is explained in detail later).
Have you ever remembered your dreams just seconds after waking up? Have you ever recalled your dream so vividly that you could see the setting you were placed in, the people you interacted with, the animate or inanimate objects that added to the background, the distinct peculiar rhymes or even drifting whispers and chuckles of acquaintances, the obscure forms of unknown identities that left you wondering …. WAIT! WHAT WAS THAT?
Have you ever dreamt scenarios usually forbidden to even think of in our society, religion and moral equation? Have you ever dreamt so closely that you felt the physiological sensations of your own imagination? Have you ever dreamt so deeply that your dreams took control over you?
Well, I sure do recall my dreams undistorted and undoubtedly. Hence, the next question arise- What does it mean?
When I wake up with horrific flashes of my dreams, my body reacts in a way that it almost experienced reality. Thrilled by this, I realized we can experience emotions as well as events without actually witnessing them in reality. Initially, these thrilling dreams occupied my mind with worries and nervousness. However, With time I learned the inevitable nature of dreams hence I started accepting them as it is or as it isn’t.
At a point I started to enjoy them, It felt like a whole new world of virtual reality unfolding right in front of my eyes. Sometimes I experience the profuse, comfortless and tattered feelings. At other times, I escape to a clear blue sea, or the calming cascades of waterfalls or bask in the warmth of sun. The timelessness about the dreams compels us in thinking that it would never end.
I dived right in, trying to interpret my own dreams, trying to decipher the implicit meaning of events and animate objects I recalled time to time.
Have you ever dreamt of something and the incident actually took place in the near future? Or have you ever seen some mystic form of energy in your dreams and assumed it to be a warning or a sign of caution? Or have you ever sheerly been intuitive in your dreams? Well, in that case, you will be thrilled to know that this experience dates back to a thousand years. In the ancient times, it was not only assumed that dreams are a source of caution or crucial signals to the mankind such as sent to the dreamer to warn him or foretell the future but also empty dreams were assumed to misguide the person or lead him to destruction.
Aristotle did not consider the dream a product of the dreaming mind, but a divine inspiration.
Dreams are said to reach out to our repressed wishes; the ones we usually brush under the carpet. This may help us to connect or even reconnect with our needs, desires and unspoken fantasies. More importantly, dreams may help us to explore our authentic self. We can understand our dreams better by confronting the conflicts it represents either in forms of symbols or emotions.
The concept as abstract as Dreams also hold certain common characteristics:-
- Egocentrism: dreams are highly egocentric in nature, hence they always revolve around you.
- Already experienced scenarios or past events are more likely to be present in a dream.
- External stimuli in the environment such as a change in temperature, noise, air often affect your dream.
- An individual is rarely in command of their own dream.
Let’s take a step back to understand how our physiology works during sleep time
When you go to sleep at the end of your day, it feels nearly effortless.
But our body and brain go through a lot of preparations before reaching the “dreaming state” while sleeping.
Therefore, sleep has two specific types:
1. Non-Rapid Eye Movement (non-REM) – is a state of quiescent sleep, so it is usually little or no eye movement . Non-rapid eye movement is further divided into 3 stages:-
- Stage 1: this spans the transition from wakefulness to sleep. occurs right after you fall asleep and is very short (usually less than 10 minutes). Therefore, It is considered to be light sleep from which you can be awakened easily. Your body reacts in various ways such as your heartbeat, breathing, and eye movements are slowed down, and your muscles are relaxed.
- Stage 2: spans from 30 to 60 minutes. This is a period of light sleep before you are about to enter deeper sleep. The heartbeats and breathing is slowed down, and muscles are more relaxed. More importantly, your body temperature tends to drop and eye movements stop. Brief bursts of electrical activity in noticed in the brain waves in this stage. You spend more of your repeated sleep cycles here.
- Stage 3: spans from is 20 to 40 minutes and it entails deep sleep. Indeed it is difficult to wake up someone from this deep sleep. It spans for a longer duration in the initial half of the night. The heartbeats and breathing is slowed down to the lowest levels during deep sleep. And your muscles are completely relaxed. Essentially, deep sleep is required for a refreshing morning.
2. Rapid-Eye Movement (REM)– Rapid eye movement sleep occurs on a deeper level than non-REM sleep. During REM sleep:
- The eyes and eyelids flutter and as suggested there is rapid eye movement.
- Breathing becomes irregular and this might result in short episodes as breathing stops.
- Most of the Dreaming occurs in this period and lasts five to 30 minutes.
- Gradually, you are unable to act out your dreams as your brain paralyses the muscles.
- In order to enter REM sleep, a person usually has to progress through the 3 stages of non-REM sleep, This gradual progression takes around 1 to 2 hours after falling asleep.
- This sleep cycle is repeated three to four times each night.
- An adult tends to spend more time in NREM sleep than in REM sleep. Whereas, A baby usually spends equal time in either of the sleep periods.
We spend around six years of our life dreaming and yet some people don’t take dreams seriously.
Ancient rational dream interpreters of the Persians, Artabanus pointed out that dream pictures mostly contain of which one has been thinking while awake. More interestingly, dream interpreters say that whatever dream your mind reproduces in sound sleep roots from the remotest past and the dreams reproduced towards morning have a recent origin.
Now that we are familiar with the basics of sleep, you might have guessed it that the chances of recalling dreams is higher when you wake up suddenly from a REM session.
Moving on, how can I talk about dream work and not mention the father of psychoanalysis- Sigmund Freud. The best description of Freud is “ you can love Freud, You can hate Freud but you can’t ignore Freud.”
What Does Your Dream Say… According To Freud
“Dreams are the royal road to the unconscious.”
Are you aware of your unconscious wishes? Because your dreams are.
Freud explains dreamwork as a strong source of fulfilling our suppressed, forbidden and ignored wishes. Wishes that are unconscious yet embedded deep in our minds. It could be something we are ashamed of thinking about or something we shouldn’t have thought about.
Basically, dream work allows the unconscious wishes to cleverly slip away from all the barriers of moral policing and censorships we have created and enter our dreams.
More interestingly, the dream wishes are rather hidden in peculiar forms, symbols and objects that we see in our dreams. Hence, the underlying meaning of each dream must be understood in either pictorial or concrete language.
No wonder why Freud suggested that dreams are similar to “picture puzzles” more like rebuses.
When we try to explain dream images in words, to our surprise, we may realise that the images are indeed representative of the words we just used to describe them.
Where Do These Unfulfilled Wishes Stem From?
The unfulfilled wishes either stem from Incidents occurred in present- the bits and pieces of the previous day – like little troubles, bothersome behaviour, certain desires that were left unsatisfied or incidents from the distant past – wishes from early or middle childhood that we left unfulfilled- dreams use the unresolved events of our waking lives as a path to their expression in our dream lives.
Freud says that this process is “psychologically the most interesting.” It involves a massive level of ingenuity that few of us are capable of in waking life.”
On this royal road, only dream interpretation can uncover the disguised meaning of our dreams.
How Are Dreams Disguised?
Well, reading dreams is like breaking The DaVinci Code, there are ample of symbols, angles, positions, authority positions can cleverly hide the true meaning of the dream in them.
Some of the widely known symbols are:
1. Parents appear in form of the president, teacher, boss, that is in form of authority. Parents tend to take form of something that epitomises authority and has immense power over you.
2. Vagina appears in form of oven, box, chest. It may be due to the shape of the objects and the basic role of being on the receiving end. A womb can be represented in form of bowl or a house door which can be exited.
3. Castration anxiety, that is fear of losing the genital organ by a boy as punishment for forbidden and shameful wishes toward the mother, may appear in dreams in form of growing bald or losing teeth. The major part of the dream forces you to feel embarrassed, shameful and appalled.
4. Losing teeth could also mean you are holding something in and unable to say it or communicate with your loved ones. The tension of holding something back and the frustration on being unable to communicate effectively is portrayed.
5. Anxiety dreams can revolve around failing an examination in your dream, unable to find your examination hall, walking around or being naked in your dreams and dreams of the death of your loved ones.
5. Falling dreams mainly signify the loss of control over yourself or the situation. It even indicates stress, anxiousness and fear.
6. Flying dreams signify that you are in control of the situation, therefore you are flying above the problems or certain things. Basically, you reign over everything else.
7. Running dreams typically convey that you are running away from certain situations or tasks, this may be due to the fact that you have a lot on your plates such as workload, tons of submissions, grave responsibilities or commitments.
However, not all dreams are based on the wish fulfillments’ theory some dreams follow the principle of repetitive compulsion. In cases such as patients suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, they are likely to experience the same frightening dreams repeatedly.
“Dreams tell us many an unpleasant biological truth about ourselves and only very free minds can thrive on such a diet. Self-deception is a plant which withers fast in the pellucid atmosphere of dream investigation”
Dream Work As An Effective Therapy Tool
Although some psychologists consider dream work analysis as a very subjective way of therapy, dreams can serve as an effective and flexible therapeutic tool . The flexible nature of dream work provides optimum therapeutic benefits.
Firstly, dreamwork helps individuals to recognise and overcome their unhealthy defence mechanisms.
Secondly, dream analysis by a professional therapist or psychotherapist will help the clients to be in touch with their deeper levels of awareness and desires.
Thirdly, dream descriptions in therapy can allow a withdrawn, reserved or unsocial client to open up with their feelings, issues, distant past memories, fears and unconscious wishes. The client may coherently express their thoughts freely to the therapist.
Altogether, with active participation and consent from the client, a therapist can help them explore their dreams, refine or unravel the meaning of their dreams, and take necessary actions to resolve issues in their waking life. Human mind and behaviour has a complex and dynamic interplay and cannot be justified with reductionist or extremely objective therapeutic tools alone.
Nevertheless, clients should be given enough space, time and comfort by the therapist in order to talk freely about their personal dreams. It cannot be forced and no immediate judgments or conclusions should be passed based on a few peculiar dreams.
At the same time, the therapist could ask the client regularly to bring in dreams only if the client feels that he is in his safe space of discussion. There is no hard and fast rule that all clients are expected to dream mandatorily. So, if a client isn’t bringing in the dream, do not contradict them or make their concerns invalid. Instead the therapist is expected to say “I would still like you to be open to possibly having a dream and bringing that dream into therapy for discussion”.
Dream Interpretations has always welcomed many perspectives. It does give an in-depth explanation but it not completely. Subsequently, it is strongly advised to grasp the core essence of a dream rather than beating around the bush.
Free association is a technique used in psychoanalytic therapy originally advised by Freud. In this the therapist asks the client to freely share their thoughts, words, feelings without any moral policing. The client needs to say every random thing that comes to their mind.
If the client is uncomfortable with free association, the therapist can ask the client what each of the dream images suggest -how do they interpret or analyse their own dream symbols? Ask the client about one dream at the time and let them elicit or project their feelings on the dream content which they have described.
Usually, the central image carries the emotional force of the dream, at times the vague bits of images can lead the way towards breakthrough insights for the client.
Gestalt Therapy : A Novel Look At Dream Work
“You are the maker of the dream …
Whatever you put into the dream must be what is in you.”
-Fritz Perls, father of Gestalt psychotherapy
This perspective focuses more on how do you feel while dreaming certain things rather than focusing on what do the things that appear in your mean. It is an effective way of understanding oneself and emotions than blindly assuming what the dream symbols mean.
For example, a dream in which it rains can elicit different emotions in you and different emotions in me. Personally, I love rains so it may induce a feeling of calmness and tranquillity however for someone who does not like rain might not feel so good about it. Hence, in gestalt therapy, the focus is shifted from “ what does the rain mean” to “how do you feel when you see the rain”.
Gestalt therapy the method of working dreams is to enable the client to produce a drama with the client playing all the parts, writing the script and dialogue, and then acting out the drama. The therapist’s job is not to interpret the dream or even point out to the client what is going on in the dream, rather it is to load the client to parts of the dream that they might be avoiding. This can be by projecting their own thoughts, words, emotions onto someone else in the dream.
How Can You Recall Your Dreams Better?
1. Journaling Dreams: In the start, you can journal your dreams in your diary right after waking up. Sometimes you might not remember the dreams at all and sometimes it might. It is okay!
2. Recognise it: is asking yourself throughout the day if you were awake or dreaming. So, recognising the occurrence of your dreams will help you recall them better.
3. Be in the mood: Wake up slowly from the dream to be consistent with the mood of your dream. The mood may elicit the memories of dreams.
4. MILD: The Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreams technique- a memory technique designed to help you set and carry out the intention to remember that you are dreaming. It was developed by LaBerge in his course of dissertation research to increase will-full access to the lucid dreaming state. MILD is ideally carried out at nighttime when you wake from dreams and prior to returning to sleep. When you awaken from a dream, you memorize it and apply the intention-setting skill known as the three Rs: rescript, rehearse, and remind. Repeat these as many times as necessary to feel confident that you can carry out your intention to remember you are dreaming when you return to sleep.
5. Dream incubation: is learning to focus on a specific dream topic to occur before going to sleep. For example, you may repeatedly think about a class presentation that is due tomorrow or a specific mathematical problem you were unable to solve. Most of the legendary mathematicians, poets, authors, scientists believed in problem solving through dreams and used dream incubation to direct their dreams to the specific solution.
One of the well known Indian personalities is Srinivasa Ramanujan, an Indian mathematician, who lived during the British Rule in India. It is known fact that most of the insight for his work came to him in his dreams. Ramanujan said that, throughout his life, he repeatedly dreamed of a Hindu goddess known as Namakkal. She presented him with complex mathematical formulas over and over, which he could then test and verify upon waking.
Every one has wishes which he would not like to tell to others, which he does not want to admit even to himself.
– Sigmund Freud
In the end, you can never turn a blind eye towards your dreams, especially when you spend nearly six years of your life dreams. Your mind cannot deny what is known and your unconscious can not deny what is unknown to you. The more accepting you are of your wishes the better chances you hold of a fulfilled living. Yet some people disregard dreams just like they take no notice of the accumulating storage in their attic until the attic is overly congested. Well, you might forget the attic in your house over time, but mind you the attic is still there…..and the stockpile is not going to clean itself.
Other Important Articles