I’ve had a number of people ask what the real purpose of dreams are and one even suggested that they were only artifacts of a brain-clearing process and of no value at all. It was this last reader who comes the closest in naming the dream process though he should lose the “no value” component.
Research has shown that dreaming is the brain’s way of dumping all the stored data of the day, all the tens of thousands of input that we don’t even notice consciously, but that the subconscious picks up on, and then sorts through this material for what’s important for the conscious mind to retain and what’s not. Then it takes the saved material and stores it into the long-term memory files to be accessed when necessary. What’s left just degrades. Pretty simple, huh? So what’s all this ‘meaning’ mumbo jumbo that dream analysts apply to this data processing system?
Firstly, and I think most importantly, one might ask what is the filter through which the material is screened, what decides what is saved and what is dumped? Certainly it’s not the conscious mind, the part of the mind that most of us are aware of, the part that we identify as being ourselves. Something, then, is making the decision for me and where’s the free will in that?
And if this is the data that I then depend on to help inform my actions, shouldn’t I have some idea of its veracity? If there’s something unconscious that’s determining the material I will use to live my life, I certainly want to know where it comes from and I’d also like to have some say on what gets in there. I mean, I have a choice as to what media I listen to in my waking life e.g. my neighbor, my church, the local paper, the National Enquirer, radio talk show hosts, TV news, or internet media. Why do I abdicate that choice to some unseen force in the unconscious part of the psyche? I want to decide what’s of value to my life.
This process of sifting through our experiences is happening when we are awake as well and informs us with data that is categorized as being similar in nature to whatever it is we are experiencing in the here and now. Which is why we can take an instant dislike to someone, or some place when we haven’t had the time to consciously assess them.
Remembering your dreams and then discerning their meaning, or consciously assessing something, or someone, in real time, brings some of that choice back to you.
Secondly, the unseen force to which I allude to above is often a product of all the scary, messy, distasteful and unwanted aspects of ourselves, or in our experience, that we have actively stuffed away so as to not have to deal with them. Also, hidden in there are the unconscious beliefs that our families placed in us, and those hurts and fears as perceived by the child and the decisions about life that that child made about those experiences. And beneath all that is a collection of human archetypes built into the DNA that have been developed over eons of evolution and designed as part of an instinctual response system to threat, only the threats are much more complex and subtle today than merely running from a saber-toothed tiger.
This is the system that filters your experience and provides the foundation for all your decisions and all of your responses and thoughts, ideas, and beliefs. Of course if you were living in caves in the wild you may not need anything more than your built-in instincts to survive, but most of us now live in much more complex environments, but are still dependent on a system developed for living in something simpler and more straight forward e.g. throw a rock, or spear, or run like hell (though some would say that’s a pretty good skill-set for the streets of New York, or Los Angeles). Not that these instinctual responses aren’t still helpful at times, but they aren’t helpful in determining who to vote for, or how to deal with an idiot boss, or how to respond to an angry neighbor, or what kind of car is a responsible purchase environmentally, etc.
We can continue to let sleeping dogs lay and just ignore this arbiter of our lives, or we can take the revolutionary, and perhaps evolutionary, step of taking back full control of our lives. We can only do this when we know what it is that is making the decisions for us and what those decisions are. The access to that information lays in the unconscious mind, what some researchers have suggested makes up to 70% of who we are and the door to that hidden place is through the dream (there are other doors such as meditation, but I don’t want to get into that now).
However, even this 70% figure is challenged by Dr. Wayne Dyer who suggests that the unconscious may very well comprise up to 97% of who we are. That definitely suggests that we are mostly unconscious i.e. asleep. This suggests that the unconscious mind is the director of our lives. How do we get free of that? Perhaps the answer to that lies in our acknowledging things as they really are.
Lastly, all that data that’s being dumped is interesting and may hold many of the answers I’ve been searching for in my life. It is precisely this data that the artist, the poet, the writer, the inventor, the musician, the scientist, and the intuitive CEO tap into as they create. How much has been lost because we have not paid attention? I, for one, intend to pay attention.