What We Can Learn By Viewing Life As A Dream

I recently heard poet, author, teacher and certified dream therapist Rodger Kamenetz say in an interview that our dreams are just the script – a ruse to invoke feelings. He explained it isn’t what happens in the dream that matters, but instead the feelings surfaced by the dream that provide the real insight into our lives. This piqued my interest. I’ve always been curious about and entertained by my dreams, and I’ve had many moments looking up interpretations the morning after a random or particularly intense one. But I’ve never done any real research into them. I’ve never investigated what the dream researchers, therapists, and psychologists say about what our subconscious is up to while we’re sleeping.

So, I turned to Google. But this time I avoided the lure of the many dream dictionary websites and looked for the real research. I quickly came across the Dream Studies Portal, an educational blog started by dream researcher Ryan Hurd. Unsure of how much true science exists in dream analysis and always the skeptic, I checked out Ryan’s resume and found it was full of academic presentations, contributions to books and peer reviewed publications, and teaching experience. Apparently, more people study dreams than I realized. Ryan’s site seemed legitimate, so I decided it was a good place to start.

First, I read an article about renowned psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung and his theories on dreams. Essentially, he believed that we are all in conflict with ourselves. He taught that one of the ways we work to resolve that inner conflict is by using dreams to integrate our conscious with our subconscious. Jung called this process individuation. According to the Dream Studies Portal, individuation is best described as, “the mind’s quest for wholeness.”

This makes sense with Roger’s ruse comment. If it’s all about feelings, perhaps our dreams are doing the work of confronting the feelings we consciously avoid. In our mind’s quest to resolve any and all inner conflict, it uses dreams to show us the feelings we refuse to face when we are awake. We may not be ready to confront them in real life, so our subconscious packages them into a movie to watch while we sleep as a reminder that those feelings exist. The problem is, when thinking about our dreams, so often we get caught up in the movie script – who was there, what was happening, and what does it all mean. But maybe we are missing the point. According to Jung, dreams don’t predict the future, replay the past, or symbolize something happening in our present like so many dream books would have us believe. Rather they are showing us our deep-rooted thoughts and feelings. It isn’t what happens in the dream that matters – the point is how we feel about what happens.

The next article introduced me to Calvin Hall, a behavioral psychologist who focused on the cognitive dimensions of dreaming. In his book The Meaning of Dreams, Hall wrote, “The images of a dream are the concrete embodiments of the dreamer’s thoughts; these images give visual expression to that which is invisible, namely, conceptions.” He then went on to outline five important concepts that dreams provide insight into –

1.      Concept of Self

2.      Concept of Others

3.      Concept of the World

4.      Concept of Impulses and Desires

5.      Concept of Problems and Conflicts

It’s an interesting way to look at our dreams. We tend to focus on who the characters are and what they say or do, or the circumstances we find ourselves in and how we react. But maybe the who, what, where, and when aren’t what they appear to be. According to Hall, they are a reflection of us and our understanding of life. So, a dream about our mother isn’t necessarily about our mother at all. Instead, it could be showing us our thoughts on authority, our feelings on opposing views, or even a perception we have of ourselves. It’s so easy to look at the surface level of the dream and assign meaning to it. But perhaps the value in dream interpretation is always bringing it back to what it reveals about us – looking inward instead of outward.

I love this concept because it makes dreams that much more interesting. It provides an entire new level in which to view them – a deeper level; one that holds more significance and meaning for our lives.

And then I started thinking… what if the same is true for life? Maybe the “script” – the daily who, what, when, and where – isn’t what really matters. Instead, maybe it too is just a ruse to reveal our inner workings – our perceptions, thoughts, feelings, joys, and struggles. Perhaps, like dreams, the purpose of daily life is to resolve our inner conflicts.

Maybe all of it is insight into the state of our psyche – showing us which parts may need repair. All of it serves an important purpose of helping us become whole. In that case, it doesn’t matter if we get cut off in traffic, denied a promotion, or have our heart broken. What truly matters in life is how we see it, how we feel about it, and how that plays into our concept of self. We are always either healing or deepening the hurt.

If we view life this way, significance begins to shift and what we allow to define us takes on a new shape. All the sudden it doesn’t matter what job we hold, what car we drive, or the house we live in. There’s no meaning in our education level, relationship status, or retirement fund. These are all just part of the script – ruses used to surface our feelings. The significance lies in the feelings and how they shape our view of the world. Are we humble, grateful, and optimistic? Or are we selfish, power hungry, and negative?

Perhaps what life is really trying to show us – through all the plot twists and turns – is how to heal ourselves. Every moment of pain, discomfort, hatred, judgment, jealousy, and anger is uncovering a wound that needs work.

Dreams may be where our subconscious handles the healing process… but life is where we take the stage.

Author of I Gave Up Men for Lent and host of The Better You podcast

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