Dream: a series of thoughts, images, or emotions, occurring during sleep. A state of mind marked by abstraction, or release from reality. ~ The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary
Every night it seems we are the guest at a special screening of our life in pictures. Sometimes these images are pleasurable or they frighten us, sometimes they make sense and sometimes they leave us scratching our head in wonder.
For thousands of years, cultures around the world have honored dreams, and the occurrences of the dreamtime, to such an extent that in certain cultures if a man dreams his wife is unfaithful, he will wake the next morning and accuse her and her lover!
Sadly, in these modern times, dreams are most often shrugged off as fantasy, or as left-overs from a busy or stressful day. Sometimes this is true, however, most often dreams are images sent from the subconscious as a way to communicate with the conscious mind.
Dreaming occurs when there is a period of increased brain activity during the sleep cycle known as REM sleep. R.E.M stands for Rapid Eye Movement, as this stage of sleep is characterized by the rapid movement of the eyes. You may have noticed this when watching someone else sleep.
The average person will spend 20 percent of their sleep time in a REM cycle, with the first REM cycle starting up about 90 minutes after first falling asleep and lasting maybe 10 minutes. REM cycles happen several times throughout the sleep cycle, growing longer with each occurrence, and generally wind up with a 90 minute cycle toward the end of your sleep time, which is generally in the early morning hours. During a REM cycle, the body becomes paralyzed, which is actually a good thing – so if you dream of taking a swing at someone you don’t deck your partner in your sleep!
Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, changed the way society viewed the subconscious mind. He believed that to gain knowledge into the complex, hidden world of our psyche, we had to travel the “royal road” through the world of dreams.
Freud most often believed that dreams were nothing more than secret, repressed, desires, even the scary dreams, but they remained at an unconscious level because it was believed that the desires were inappropriate. He believed through the process of discovering these hidden desires that his patients would find healing.
Carl Gustov Jung studied with Freud, and then branched out on his own with a new set of theories. Jung, too, believed that the subconscious mind had a symbolic language, and that dreams provided a very important link into the unknown, but rather than believing, as Freud did, that dreams were simply an expression of what was being repressed, Jung believed the subconscious mind had a very important message about the dreamer’s personal growth.
Both of these men have had a lasting influence on the way the western world views dreams, which are so much more than the remnants of a busy day. Dreams truly are the gateway into a world that offers solutions, encouragement and wisdom as we follow the path of the dreamer into the realms of the unknown.