People have been interested in their dreams since time immemorial. Ever since humans could first think, they have wondered about the possible meanings of their nocturnal sojourns. Especially in ever-present danger or stressful circumstances, humans have sought more control over themselves and their circumstances, so they have become seekers of knowledge both within and without. This desire for knowledge from “on high” has led to the formation of religions and various schools of esoteric thought. These have been often founded upon the dreams and visions of prophets.
Dreams and their interpretations had their first notable inclusion in literature in many biblical references. Humans have a rich history of interest in dreams and therefore, if we look at the matter logically, there must be something significant about the dream world and its effects upon dreamers. Nature would not have put this mechanism in place if it didn’t serve a purpose. It is normal and natural to dream and everybody dreams whether they remember it or not. People of all ages from babies and teenagers to parents and the elderly regularly dream. However it is not only people but also animals who regularly dream. Who hasn’t watched beloved pets asleep dreaming with their eyelids fluttering and their excited feet running and kicking. All sentient beings with emotions need to dream.
There have been many theories as to the function of dreams. Unfortunately, Nazi experiments during World War II were the forerunner in scientific discovery as to the real nature of dreaming. These experiments deprived prisoners not only of sleep but also of dreams. Nazi scientists realised that when prisoners were dreaming, their eyelids would often flutter and they would have involuntary muscle movements, usually in the limbs. It was discovered if prisoners were allowed to sleep but then awoken when rapid eye movement (REM Sleep) began, their dreams would be halted and slowly they began the sad journey into madness. It was not sleep they lacked but time to dream.
From this cruel starting point, science has since determined the function of dreams is to neurologically process emotional contents. These left-over emotions that have not been dealt with during the day, are then dealt with at night by the brain. When a person has become sufficiently emotionally strong and healthy, traumatic events from previous years are then released. These memories have been stored in safe-keeping in the deeper recesses of the brain and rise to the surface of consciousness when a person is in an environment safe enough to deal with them. This is why many years after an event, the mind will remember traumas that we couldn’t deal with fully at the time as they may have been way too threatening.
Many areas of the brain are involved, as this emotional healing is a multilobular operation, which often can utilise both sides of the brain, memory, all our physical senses, our limbic centre which is main emotional centre. The brain often puts our dreams into a kind of symbolic code or language, which does not necessarily make sense to us, but does make sense to it. All this happens while we are sound asleep, in an altered state of consciousness. Our ego is less active and we cannot repress the event as we might if we were fully awake. The whole process however is of super importance to our mental and physical health.
Dreams are nature’s second chance method of propelling all of us towards consciousness, by dealing healthily with our emotional energies, after an emotional event. Freud called dreams “The Royal Road to the Unconscious”. To get to know yourself better, follow your dreams.
More on dreaming dreams, including predictive dreams in Part 2.