Can understanding your dreams benefit you in the real world? The answer, according to many psychologists and health professionals, is an unequivocal “yes.” Based on an evolving understanding of the way dreams work, an increasing number of professionals are recognizing that dreams may hold the keys to developing intuition and building self-esteem, and may often offer hints and information that can help doctors diagnose and treat physical illness. Even a basic understanding of the nature of dreams can help you understand how to gain confidence, boost self-esteem and encourage physical health.
What Are Dreams Anyway?
Dreams are more than just stories that occur while sleeping. Not long ago, scientists thought of dreams as meaningless—just the random firing of nerve signals during sleep. But a growing body of recent research suggests that something far deeper is at work. In recent years, Western researchers have moved beyond simply identifying the physical mechanics of dreams to attempting to understand where dreams come from and what purpose they serve. The research, both in the fields of psychology and neurology, has spawned a number of theories, including:
- Dreams help to cement new knowledge into long-term memory.
- Dreams may help with emotional trauma/drama.
- Dreams may facilitate creativity.
- Dreams may help people to prepare for real-life situations.
The Aha! Moment—Dreams as Epiphanies
Whatever the science may say, culture has always attributed far more power to dreams than Western psychology and medicine traditionally has. How often have artists and inventors proclaimed that their latest work came to them in a dream? And how often, when faced with a thorny problem, does someone advise you to “sleep on it”? The reason that happens so often may be because the sleeping brain doesn’t have the same filters the conscious mind does. Since the sleeping brain is not self-censoring and rejecting information, it has access to the full range of information collected over the course of a lifetime—and, according to Jung and others who have built on his work of the collective unconscious—a vast sea of collective memory and knowledge that is common to everyone. Freed from the necessity to “make sense,” the dream self can see and draw connections between things that seem unrelated when awake, or dredge up forgotten memories that hold the perfect parallel for the current situation.
The Mind-Body Connection
This “new” understanding of dreams coordinates well with what a lot of traditional, ancient cultures have always understood. Dreams are an essential part of medical diagnosis in traditional Tibetan medicine, for example, situations in which “dream signals” hold clues to the energies and channels in the body that are blocked or out of balance. Psychologists have long recognized that suppressed emotions often show themselves in our dreams as nightmare characters and unsettling images. By recognizing the origin of those dream images and symbols, you can begin the process of healing them and take steps to better your emotional health—and since emotions are so often intertwined with physical health, you’ll often feel the effects physically as well.
The Role of Dreams in Physical Healing
Dr. Stephen Aizenstat tells the story of a man at one of his Dream Tending seminars who had dreamed of a piano (Aizenstat 186-189). As he visualized the dream image more deeply, he found a small crack in one of the legs and pinpointed the precise location of the damage. He subsequently scheduled an appointment with his doctor, who found a herniated disk in his back that corresponded with the location of the crack in his dream piano leg. It’s not beyond the realm of imagination that this man had been suppressing his experience of the pain in order to do his work, and his dream was trying to alert him to the injury.
How to Build Self-Esteem Through Your Dreams
Aizenstat’s process of Dream Tending suggests that actively listening to and interacting with your dreams can help you not only pinpoint what’s troubling you physically and emotionally, but also take the steps to heal those wounds within yourself. By stepping into the dream landscape and engaging with living images that populate it, you have the opportunity to sit with them, learn from them and ultimately heal them through loving interaction. As your dreaming self becomes more aware and confident, you’ll naturally carry that newfound confidence with you out into the world.
By Deb Powers
Deb Powers is a freelance writer who has studied and written extensively about archetypal images, dreams and metaphysical subjects. Her self-published tarot deck focuses on using tarot images and concepts for self-empowerment, problem-solving and personal growth.
- Dream Tending: Awakening to the Healing Power of Dreams by Dr. Stephen Aizenstat, Ph.D.
Dr. Stephen Aizenstat
Stephen Aizenstat, Ph.D., is the Founder of Dream Tending, Pacifica Graduate Institute, and The Academy of Imaginal Arts and Sciences. He is a world renowned Professor of Depth Psychology, an imagination specialist and innovator. He has served as an organizational consultant to major companies, institutions, Hollywood films, and has lectured extensively in the U.S., Asia and Europe.
He is affiliated with the Earth Charter International project through the United Nations where he has spoken. Professor Aizenstat is the Chancellor Emeritus and Founding President of Pacifica Graduate Institute. He has collaborated with many notable masters in the field including Joseph Campbell, James Hillman, Marion Woodman and Robert Johnson.