What Are Dreams (Actually), and Where Do They Come From?

(travelblog.org: vulcan osorno at dawn)

Hello fellow dreamers,

At the end of the movie, when Dorothy returned from her sojourn in Oz, her aunt and uncle and their 3 farmhands were there to greet her at her bedside. On waking, she was told by her Auntie Em and the kindly doctor (who looked remarkably like the Wizard) that she had been hit on the head during the twister and had passed out for a time.  When Dorothy insisted that she had actually been off traveling in a strange and wonderful land “…that was sometimes scary, but mostly very beautiful”, she was assured by all present that it was “just a dream”.

Alice, of Wonderland, and later Looking Glass fame, is described as getting very sleepy while reading a book “without pictures”, and nodding off either just before -or just after- she spies the white rabbit and goes down the rabbit hole after him. Was that a dream too? Or “just a dream”? Curious and curiouser…

Shamans and mystics from cultures throughout the world speak to us of the dream world as a very real place, a parallel universe, if you will. Judeo-Christian mystic tradition tells us that our soul can leave our bodies at night and travel in astro-realms. (Which is, by the way, the reason you are not supposed to wake a sleeper up too suddenly: Because the dreaming soul is connected to the body by a thin silver thread, and too sudden a wakening can snap the thread and the soul would not be able to find it’s way home back into the body.)

Lynn McTaggert, in her landmark book on non-local consciousness “The Field”, writes: “Deep in the rainforests of the Amazon, the Achur and the Huaorani Indians are assembled for their daily ritual…at dawn… as the world explodes into light, they share their dreams…The dreamer is the vessel the dream decided to borrow to have a conversation with the whole tribe.” The dream is not an individual possession, it is owned collectively by the whole tribe. I love that – “the dreamer is the vessel that the dream decided to borrow”. Doesn’t it feel like that at times?: That we are but a vessel when we wake with the sense that something came through us, rather than from us.

So, what is a dream actually? And where do dreams come from? Michael Harner, anthropologist and shamanic practitioner writes that one of the core principles of shamanism is that spirits are real, and that spirits produce dreams. Shamanic theory states that the human soul and other spirits that have an attachment to the person can produce their dreams. This is a way of understanding those vivid visitation dreams we sometimes get of departed loved ones- that their spirits still have an attachment to us. That is an infinitely comforting thought to me.

Our bodies talk to us in our dreams. Patrick McNamara, a neuroscientist at Boston University School of Medicine, encourages doctors to routinely ask patients about their dreams as a way of assessing mental status (Boston Globe, 2/3/14). “Dreams are faithful reports of a patient’s emotional life,” he states. We also know that unresolved emotional baggage from days or years before can show up in our dreams, trying desperately to get our attention by keeping memories of events or the feelings about the events alive until we resolve them. This is the essence of PTSD dreaming.  We can also get medic alerts through our dreams, long before a symptom sends us to the doctor.

Philo, an ancient philosopher says that there are three kinds of dreams: 1.) Those that originate within us, 2.) Those that originate in the angelic or spirit realm, and 3.) Those that originate from God. Our prophets and holy men and women are often cited as having conversations with God either in a dream, or as a waking dream day-vision.

In a modern sleep lab, scientists can now chart the exact portions of the brain that are involved in dreaming and chart the REM cycles on a graph. There are those in the scientific community who maintain that dreams are merely random neuron firings of the brain (I report this in the spirit of inclusiveness, however as a spiritually oriented therapist dreamworker, I would not put myself in that camp.)

Whether our dreams come from within our brains, our bodies, the spirit realm, or the Divine, the worlds we visit in our night journeys have gifts and messages for ourselves, our communities, and perhaps for the world. Awake to your dreams! Use their messages to heal, to grow, to explore, to journey, to connect with all manner of strange and wondrous beings. Go down the rabbit hole and over the rainbow to see what you may find. Then come back and tell about it. (tip of the hat to Mary Oliver)

Sweet dreams

Linda Yael