Why Believe Dreams Have Meaning?

Scientists still have yet to reach a definitive conclusion on why we become itchy or why our fingertips prune when we immerse them in water for too long. 


The same goes for dreams. Many theories have been espoused as to why we dream, a lot of them concerning activities in the brain. Some say dreams help the brain make room for tomorrow by cycling through the day’s events to store things in long term memory or get rid of them. Others say they are evolutionarily advantageous because they provide us with the opportunity to practice our response to emotionally disturbing events. Sometimes when I tell people I work with dreams they’ll reference one or another theory, or simply reply that dreams don’t have any meaning, they are just a random firing of neurons that go off while we sleep. 


After over four years of careful study of my own dreams, I know that for myself there is no study or experiment that could ever prove to me that my dreams don’t have any meaning. Like many purely subjective experiences, I think dreams will always be somewhat elusive to scientific study. I believe that my dreams, and thus dreams in general, have meaning because through Archetypal Dreamwork I have discovered a way of understanding dreams that is extremely compelling to me. By the same token, I would never try to convince someone that dreams have meaning if they are sure that they don’t, or try to persuade anyone to believe that the way they interpret their dreams is wrong compared to my method. This is because dreams only have meaning to the extent that individuals find meaning in them. If someone doesn’t think their dreams have any meaning, then they don’t.


At the same time, the notion that dreams have some meaning is hardly controversial. Why is it that so many people wake up after a particularly intense dream and have the thought, what did that mean? Why do people often wonder, what is my dream trying to tell me? Why is dream interpretation one of the oldest and most universal methods humans have used to understand themselves and draw conclusions about their future? All of this seems to point to some collective, albeit non-scientific, understanding that dreams are not simply meaningless and random. 


Perhaps the biggest indication of this tendancy to believe dreams mean something is the dual meaning of the word dream in English. To have a dream means the nighttime experience of images and emotion and a strongly desired goal. We seem to have an implicit understanding built into our language that there is some connection between our nightly visions and our daytime aspirations. It’s mysterious why this word has come to mean both the dynamic experiences that visit us each night and our deepest and wildest desires.  



I don’t think any of these questions can be appropriately answered by science. No experiment could be designed to explain precisely why so many individuals find meaning in the Mona Lisa. Theories could be developed, but could just as easily be disproven by one individual’s experience that differs from the theory. Yet, we would not then conclude that the painting has no meaning at all. To me the process of finding meaning in your life through paintings, music, poetry, or other arts is the same process of finding meaning in your dreams. Even if the process of Archetypal Dreamwork does not resonate with you, I would encourage anyone to study their own dreams the same way I would encourage individuals to appreciate art. To limit oneself to finding meaning only in those things that can be scientifically proven is boring at best. As my teacher Marc recently said, “dreams are good-intentioned art that we create just for ourselves.” Why believe dreams have personal meaning? I think the better question is, why not? 


The Power of Projections

I have been in a nearly consistent state of guilt for almost my entire life. I feel like I am always doing something wrong. So, for example, if I am in a room with other people, and I start to think that someone else is upset. Quickly, I could think of a reason that they would be upset with me, a reason to feel guilty. It could be anything. And the thing was, it always made sense. Why is this person upset? Oh because I didn’t go to that meeting they wanted me to go to. I’m guilty, I’m a messing up, I don’t know what I want, I don’t know what is wrong with me…on and on.

Why does this make sense? Because the rational brain uses the information it has to draw logical conclusions. But when it comes to the source of other people’s emotions, the information we have is extremely limited.  In fact, the rational mind is often unaware of the source of our own emotions. The rational mind perceives things, like our bodily sensations, but our ego has created mechanisms so that we do not understand those perceptions as our feelings. One of those mechanisms is projections.

So when we are trying to ‘figure out’ why ‘someone is upset’, this isn’t actually a thing that the rational mind is equipped to do since the inputs we have are so subjective and changeable, just as we know our own moods to be. When we do this, we create an opening for our own internal feelings of guilt to sound reasonable to us. Once these ‘explanations’ are brought up, the rational mind does not need to do any further research into our body’s sensations, our how we really feel, because it is attributed to something outside of us. In this way we are able to muffle the sensations of our bodies and avoid our soul by staying in our head. This is how projections are created and why they are so useful.

But here’s the kicker–the person we project onto is often as disconnected from their own emotions as you are. Just as you are asking yourself, how do I feel?, and you don’t know the answer, the person across from you is probably thinking a similar thing. When you stare at someone, or even if you ask them, ‘how are you doing?’, if you are thinking to yourself, ‘this person is upset’, they will pick up on your tone, on your body language. And then they might think–she thinks I am upset! Am I upset? Why would I be upset…oh, yeah, she didn’t go to that meeting she said she would go to. Ya she is such a flake. She needs to get her shit together. The person might even get upset about this. And that is why projections are so difficult to  let go of–because they can even be true. The person might actually start to feel upset about this, or have already been. But that does not mean it is not a projection.

From the perspective of the soul, both things can be true. From that place, the goal is never to be right. It is simply to be and experience what is. So, as the dreamwork therapy I am a student of teaches, it doesn’t matter whether your projection is true or not. The goal for you is to be in your real feelings, that is all. There is an intense struggle to break projections when other people are expressing the emotion you are also projecting. This is the power of the projection.

But the soul’s truth is simply to be what is. Until you break your projection you will not be able to evaluate your actions effectively. It’s not that you never do anything wrong–but only from the place of your real feelings, can real regret emerge as a pathway to change. Guilt, on the other hand will never lead you to the support and love you have to accept to move forward.


You Are Already Choosing

Sometimes when I am walking around I think about how amazing it is that I happen to be walking past the person I am walking past, out of all the people in the planet. Just how extraordinary and random it is that I have the specific experiences that I have, out of all the possibilities.

This is what comes to mind when I think about the consequences of trying to talk about my faith in God, a term I know means drastically different things to different people.

For me, it is my faith that there is something for me in every single moment of my consciousness, but it is my job to feel it, not Hers. That there are things I am meant to do throughout the course of my life, but it is my job to do them, not His. That there is a part of me that is eternal, infinite and an aspect of the divine, and it is something that I can manifest in this world through effort. And further that this is true for every other person on this planet.

I have not come to this faith through any religion, but rather through my dreamwork journey. But I understand that it sounds like so many religions. I can say these things but that does not mean I am living them. That is part of the struggle of being a communicator. Very often the messenger gets confused with the message. Belief in the messenger becomes a replacement for the real thing, believing and living the message. Religion suffers from this.

The ability to live in faith like this sees no class, no education, no race, no age, no experience, and no hierarchy. It is available to anyone. It is the fiercest love I know. It goes to the darkest places in the universe and turns on its light. It does not know right or wrong. It just is.

So I think about people I have talked to before about faith like this, people I have judged. Remember how I cringed when they said “Well, that’s the way God planned it” when describing something awful that had happened to them. I can understand how feeling like who is sitting next to me in a park is significant in some way is an even more insane extension of that.

And yet, here I am left with that feeling. What am I suppose to do, when I know how amazing it feels to think there is something for me in every moment?

Writing it like that makes it sound easy. It is anything but. It is actually terrifying. It forces us to believe in love even when we have already taken a risk and been burned. It forces us to stand in the paradox of putting all of your trust in a force that has no control over what happens to us.

Most of the time, my faith is crushed as soon as it sticks its little head up. There is a voice that tells me that if I believe I will become crazy, stupid, guilty, I will lose everyone I have ever loved, I will never feel love, I will be alone, I will be rejected, I will become destitute, anxiety-ridden, compulsive, addicted, angry, muttering under my breath in a corner as I repeat the same mistakes over and over.

But isn’t that what happens to people all the time anyway, even when they don’t believe?

I think this faith is an ideal, and like everything in our world ideals are nearly impossible to achieve. But if there is something infinite and eternal then all possibilities are possible, even the ideal. Our problem is that we think the ideal means there will be no pain, that there will be no fear. That everything will always work out for us. That is the ideal of our ego, which is an illusion. Our egos know which experiences are good and which are bad. In the ideal, there will be no illusion, but there will still be pain, still be fear.

So I let myself feel into the possibility that who happens to be around me is significant in some way. It doesn’t always feel true, and that is fine. This does not negate the original feeling. I make the choice to let myself have this feeling because I choose to believe in their power, even though it can never be ‘proved’ to me the way my rational mind wants it to. This is what the practice of dreamwork teaches us to do.

And there is a part of me that knows how ridiculous it sounds, just choose to believe things have this meaning and they will! Especially when your life is filled with terrible things happening all the time. How are you suppose to believe in your divine possibility when your life is shit?

That is a really true question. And that there is no ‘good’ answer. But there is this reality: we have a choice. And in fact, we are already choosing.

Whenever I do not choose my faith, I choose the opposite. Life has no meaning. I am nothing more than a random set of genes and chemicals reacting to my random environment. Love is just a fleeting and elusive possibility. I am not meant to fulfill any specific purpose. Perhaps I should try to be ‘happy’, for its own sake, but it seems so hard to do just that.

What are you suppose to do when both sides are impossible? I don’t have the answer yet. I just choose to try to have this faith. Why do I choose this? Because there is a choice.

The Real Self

When I began dreamwork in May of 2009, my teacher Marc Bregman called my soul, my ‘real self’.

He probably used the term soul at first, and I said, what do you mean, soul?

That term had no meaning to me at all in my waking life. ‘Real self’ was a stretch. You have a real self  Marc told me. I remember clearly the excitement I felt when he told me this with such confidence. I had no idea what that could possibly feel like, or mean, but wow! What a concept. There is an aspect to my existence that is the real, true me! 

I understand that there are many people who don’t make this distinction in themselves. What do I mean when I say there is a ‘real me’? Isn’t everything we do the real us?

Well, it depends on your definition of real. In one sense, yes, whatever we do can be considered our ‘real’ selves. But what about the split we so often experience, between what we feel and what we do? Between doing something we ‘know’ we shouldn’t? What part of us wants us to do the thing, and what part of us ‘knows’ that it is bad? Where does our ‘conscience’ come from? Why is it so hard for us to make decisions?

These are what the split between the ‘real’ self and the ‘pathological’ self can look like on a day to day basis. This isn’t an absolute, because sometimes even if there is a two sided conversation going on in your head, both sides could be the illusion of pathology. But sometimes, this split is between your real self and your illusionary self, between the part of you that wants to paint pictures instead of coordinate a coat drive, the part of you that wants to write instead of watch reality television.

Why don’t we just call it the ‘good’ self and the ‘bad’ self, a split that we are all familiar with? Because we do not know what is good and what is bad. If we are identified mostly with our pathological selves, which most of us are, we may have decided that a whole host of pathological, illusory things are actually ‘good’ for us. In fact, pathology uses humanity’s desire to be ‘good’ to paralyze our souls, imprisoning us with guilt and shame and blame whenever we come to the decision that something is ‘good’ and thus something else is ‘bad’. Making judgments like this are often damaging to the soul.

Plus, it is really powerful and important to consider the pathological aspects of yourself as ‘not real’ rather than ‘bad’, since anytime we judge some part of ourselves to be bad, or bad in other people, we are just creating another place for pathology to make us feel guilty, shameful, or project those feelings onto others.

The soul has no idea what is good and what is bad for others, it can only feel what it feels for itself. As humans we possess consciousness, but we cannot be conscious about what is ‘good’ or ‘bad’. We can just learn to notice when we are not in our feelings, in our ‘real selves’. This is what it means to fall from grace when we eat from the knowledge of good and evil.

It has taken just over three years for me to start to understand the distinction between this real self and the other in me. One of the hardest parts is accepting that this is not an understanding, but a feeling. In this sense it is not a distinction I can rationalize, but is actually a leap of faith.

The idea that there is a real you is not something that I can convince you of through argument. It is something you have to feel, over and over, until you can learn to feel the pain when it is gone, the rush when it is there, the ways that it escapes from you, the utterly personal ways it meanders through your veins. This is one of the primary gifts of the dream, every night, giving you all the experiences you need to remind you of who you are meant to be, who you have always been.