By Asha Rose Byfield
You’re eating purple toothpaste out of an ice-cream tub because a goat with wings from a neighbouring planet told you it tastes like chicken nuggets…in a dream, of course. Now you’re scrolling through Quora forums – the WebMD of dreams – trying to figure out whether there’s a deeper meaning to it or if you’re just hungry.
Everyone’s had dreams, from bizarre and illogical narratives to chilling nightmares that haunt us through the night. What do they mean, though? There are various psychoanalysts who have proposed compelling theories on the underlying connections between dreams and reality. However, this is still an area of research with limited concrete knowledge. Whether or not our everyday lives translate into our subconscious, dreams and their meanings, has been a topic of debate for centuries and remains somewhat of a mystery.
Dreams are derived from our sub-conscience including imagery, sounds and further sensations that occur in our sleep. The most memorable and vivid dreams happen during the deepest stage of sleep, known as Rapid Eye Movement (R.E.M.). While movement of muscles are temporarily paralysed, our brains are the most active. This creates a playground for our imagination to roam free in.
During ancient civilizations, dreams were believed to be messages from the gods or the dead. They believed one’s soul would leave their sleeping body to actually experience the events of the dream, but in another location (possibly supernatural). In Ancient Egypt, dreams were categorised as one of three: demands from gods, warnings, and those received during dream rituals. Irrespective of the type, all dreams were considered oracles or answers delivered from the gods.
Aristotle, on the other hand, suggested that dreams were simply accidental products of the imagination that serve no apparent purpose. He perceived dreams as the product of experiences in our waking life transferring to our imagination due to subtle sensations. The line between fact and fiction are blurred beyond possible evaluation and are therefore merely fantasy.
In contrast, Sigmund Freud, known as the father of psychoanalysis, proposed that the subconscious mind could uncover wishes or events repressed by the conscious mind. He supported this theory by explaining that in dreams, the ego’s defences are lowered, which allows repressed material to be brought to awareness through hidden symbols or metaphors. Hence, if something heavy has been at the back of your mind, it may end up revealing itself in the form of a dream. This could be a persistent issue or even a deep desire. For example, if earlier that day you went through your calendar only to find you have a multitude of assignments due, this may invest itself into your dream by depicting a chase. This shows that you are avoiding responsibilities that are inescapable. Freud also explored the prospect of universal symbolism in dreams but claimed that symbols reflect individual circumstances and therefore vary based on each person. Dream dictionaries state what symbols or occurrences in dreams universally signify. How they were created is uncertain, which has left many in the psychology community sceptical of its scientific validity. Although Freud was not a fan of these, some people still agree with it.
Carl Jung, who studied alongside Freud believed in dreams having their own language. Adding onto Freud’s perspective, his theory states that our dreams do not represent specific ideas, but instead provide images that we assign meaning to based on our waking experiences. They may uncover hidden truths, revelations, fantasies, memories, illusions or plans. Jung emphasised on gaining awareness of our inner selves by understanding how our unconscious manifests itself in dreams hidden to our conscious selves. Analysing how our dreams may be influenced by our concealed thoughts should improve our self-awareness.
More recently, spiritual enthusiast Vasundhra Gupta noted a fresh perspective to dream significance. She claims that dreams are a powerful gateway into our subconscious mind and can arise for the following reasons: prophecies, healing and closure, guidance, purging, karma clearance and manifestation. Prophecies explain why we sometimes experience déjà vu; because we’ve seen things before but in our dreams. We may obtain closure when deceased loved ones appear in our dreams. Guidance explains why professionals such as artists, writers and businesspeople use dreams as inspiration for their successes. Purging involves uncovering our deepest fears. Gupta also explains, “The soul may clear old karma by enacting a soul lesson”. Lastly, manifestation is a more complex concept and requires lucid dreaming to control the outcome of dreams.
Regardless of which viewpoint you agree with, it is undeniable that dreams continue to intrigue us. As Astrid Alauda once said, “Dreams are road signs along the night time highway of sleep”. You might consider paying more attention to where your mind drifts off to at night. Is your subconscious telling you to confront a fear or desire?