Do you know what dreams mean? A big portion of people I know state that they “never” or “rarely” dream. When people do dream, it often doesn’t mean much to them. Why in the world are we gifted with the ability to dream?
I’m not able to get too much into the science and research behind dream theory here. I promise I will (one day) in the future on Fearless Men. But I just want to posit my own thoughts and experiences here and get everyone discussing. Now, I say that with hesitation because I don’t really enjoy reading websites that take anecdotal evidence as fact. So, please do your research and draw your conclusions.
What Dreams Mean – Why Am I Creating This Crazy Nonsense?
Ok. Think about this.
When you dream of yourself running from danger—say a jaguar in the night. You are actually feeling the emotion. The feel, the danger, the sensations of the run. Sight and sound. Maybe even smell and taste.
You are the actor, the main attraction of the dream. But you’re also the filmmaker. You create, populate and fill a dream as you yourself are acting in it.
Here’s what’s wild—not only are you running from the jaguar—you ARE the jaguar. Why don’t you feel that dangerous little mammal’s emotion? Why don’t you feel his desire to eat YOU? Why are you only feeling the desire to flee?
Well, I believe there is a reason why we create and fill the dream as the main actor all at the same time.
What Dreams Mean – What purpose is there behind my dream?
From reading, watching documentaries, drilling friends with questions, and taking notes on my own dreams, here’s my unscientific conclusions on the purpose of our dream state. If you’ve ever asked yourself why we possess such an advanced ability-the subconscious ability to create cinema-read on.
I. A safe practice arena for physical threats
Is there any better way to practice escaping with your life than to fully engage all your senses-sight, sound, hearing, and fear and emotional stress-than in the safe arena of a dream?
We practice real life all night long.
If you watch the documentary Dreams: Cinema of the Subconscious you’ll hear researchers conclusions that we dream for this very reason. To practice challenging tasks. Whether it’s practicing making a speech, running from danger, resolving a conflict or playing piano, we practice real life all night long.
Here’s a real dream I had:
Dream (nightmare) begins in a room with no windows. Three men have kidnapped me. One points a gun in my face. I’m standing inside a large black suitcase. He tells me to curl up inside it. I know inside that they’re going to zip it up and keep me in a closet for days. And I don’t want to stay in a closet in such a horrible position for days (I read about this actually happening to a man-and he lived. So now I don’t read about terrible crimes right before I go to sleep).
I decide within myself I’d rather be shot than take my chances and maybe get killed anyways. So I take a risk, do some action hero stuff, take the gun, blow some brains out, and spare one guy until he tells me where they’re holding the girls (I somehow knew they’d kidnapped others). After he surrendered the info, I turned his head into a canoe. A door suddenly appeared, I called the cops, exited, and was whisked away into another dream.
What did this dream mean? Was it a spiritual foretelling? Was it just me watching too much Batman? I don’t think so. Dreams truly are a rehearsal ground for real life difficulty and danger. And it’s held in a place safe from injury and death.
II. A place to be your own shrink
In life we face daily emotional pressures and sometimes extremely tense relational conflict. This can be with a spouse, a child, a boss, co-worker or subordinate. These situations may cause us extreme stress.
A lot of times as men we don’t get the relational and emotional closure that we need from tough situations because we don’t want to process emotionally. We don’t hash it out with our bros and talk through, literally, our feelings.
That’s a sad place for a guy to be. And it shouldn’t stay that way. BUT-aha, brain to the rescue. We all dream, and we all serve as our own psychologist. Your mind may not tell you direct answers to what you should and shouldn’t do in waking life. But through a dream experience, you may practice a difficult situation—that you are convinced is real while sleeping—and wake to have found a solution or at least emotional resolution to your difficulty.
Once again, this is what dreams mean. Not always a prophecy for the future. But a safe playground to act and practice in challenging relational situations.
III. To assimilate information
What happens to all that information our subscious absorbs throughout the day? While you’re at work you can’t pay attention to all the strange noises, sights, sounds and peripheral conversations that surround you. But your brain is absorbing much more info than you think.
In the dream state your mind takes this opportunity to identify, tag, and file away information that your brain didn’t know what to do with during the waking moments of the day.
IV. To learn and create long-term memory.
There’s a story of a musician who dreamed about a piece of music while he was sleeping. Upon waking, he searched and searched for the song. He couldn’t find what music he’d dreamt of. He played the dream music for a close friend. This friend told him that he’d never heard it before, and stated to him that he created that music in his dream.
That dreamer is Paul McCartney, and the song is “Yesterday.” Read the story here.
Do you think you never dream?
We dream all night long. Our mind doesn’t shut off once we pass out. It keeps thinking. Playing. Processing. Practicing. Non-stop. Sometimes that time is well spent practicing stuff we actually like and need to do. Sometimes your mind is rethinking events and it’s helping turn that information into a long-term memory.
Once I knew how critical dreams are to memory integration, I changed the way I prepared for speaking engagements. I would read my speaking notes through a few more times immediately before I went to bed the night before. I adhered to the theory that I would think upon the content at night while I slept. And the content would be even more embedded within me as I was presenting the next day.
Read more about memory integration here.
What dreams mean – Are they a reflection or something more?
I truly believe that dreams aren’t only a reflection of our real lives, but they are “real” life. Listen, I’m not a granola chomping hippie. Dreams don’t exist outside of the dreamers experience. But because the dreamer experiences them, they are as real as waking moments. They are something we are truly experiencing.
It’s important to understand that you are the director and the player within the dream. In fact, you are the player of every character within a dream. If you have a conversation with your wife in a dream, you are not only playing yourself, you are actually having a conversation with yourself. You are acting as your very own wife!
I subscribe to the theory that dreams are the safe place for us to practice dangerous circumstances and emotionally challenging situations. Whether it’s running away from a panther or resolving a tough emotional situation at work. Dreams are essential to us excelling in life.
I haven’t found much direct insight from my dreams, but it has brought me emotional resolution. Once I’ve figured out why and how I feel and behave a certain way within a dream, it certainly helps me figure out when/where/why I should make certain decisions. It helps unlock what dreams mean.
Your dreams aren’t just a reflection of you. They ARE you. It’s tough for many people to remember their dreams. But when you do, write it down. Give it some thought. Chew on what you made up and directed in the cinema of your subconscious that night. I believe you’ll find some revealing insight about what makes you tick.