What are dreams anyway? Dreams are Pricesless Guides and Mirrors to our Souls

By Dr. Keith Witt
October 25, 2011

brain_gears_tranparent_110 What About Dreams?

Like most therapists, I work with them all the time. In this blog I’ll explore three dreams I had one night a couple of months ago (you can work of the same dream for years).

First dream:

I am in a room with several women. One of them, a small pale woman, is giving birth. I’m supposed to bring the baby from the womb. I feel awkward and incompetent, but reach out and do my best to focus on helping this tiny soul into the world. The baby crowns, and tiny hands reach out with the skull, as much like a very old person as a newborn. Becky crouches next to me with a smile on her face, and I say, “Please help me.” She reaches out and takes the delicate arms and the baby is born. Suddenly I’m walking on a desolate city street.  An American Indian woman walks towards me on the opposite side of the road. She is in her late thirties and self-absorbed. “A Sioux woman,” I think, and an American Indian man appears. They are the baby’s grandparents, caught up in themselves. I wake anxious and write down the dream. I lie down and do Big Heart meditation until I drift to sleep:

Second dream:

I’m exiting a suburban house with my beloved Aunt Dorothy and Uncle Jim (who died this year). We’re just leaving for a concert/ceremony, and I realize I need to go back inside to get my shoes. When I emerge, everyone’s gone. Worried I might be late; I climb into a tree, and jump on the back of a huge blackbird/bluebird, which takes off with me holding precariously to handfuls of feathers. I land in a New York City deli, and rush out by two African American kids into the street to ask people for directions to Lexington. I wake really anxious and write down the dream. I look at the clock and see 4:00 AM. I roll over and spoon Becky, feeling future Keiths and past Keiths guiding me to gratitude for her sweet presence and my blessed life until I cross over the sleep threshold and dream:

Third dream:

I’m at a party at a house across the street, in a living room with mostly women. A 9-month-old baby girl is lying next to a calm mother who is my friend. I smile and play with the baby. She crawls off and I tickle her and she laughs. She looks me in the eyes and says, “Sounds like your feelings are disconnected from your body.” This blows my mind. I stand up and hurry into the next room to her mother and the other women. “Your baby just told me, ‘Sounds like your feelings are disconnected from your body.’ This is way more mature than any 9-month-old can be.” They laugh and the baby’s mother says, “She does that all the time.” Becky and I leave to go home, and this nice woman— heavy, about fifty, and beautiful with calm radiance—catches my eye, “Good to see you Keith.” I smile, embarrassed, “I’m sorry. I don’t remember your name.” She smiles back and replies,” It doesn’t matter.” These dream images carry mythic power—communicating directly from my unconscious. They build, as dreams tend to do throughout the night, becoming more coherent and focused. An infant is born in the first dream, and there is a nine-month-old in the last dream. I feel awkward and ill at ease as midwife in the first dream, and relaxed and happy playing with the baby in the last dream. There are selfish, immature parents in the first dream, and a mature loving mother in the third dream.

Dreams solve problems.

I don’t want Aunt Dorothy and Uncle Jim to be distressed at me being late in the second dream, so I hitch a ride on a giant bird, and run through the streets of New York asking for directions to get there on time. I’m currently learning to know New York City through meetings with my Evolutionary Collective. It is full of challenge, mystery, and possibilities, and “Lexington” is an old name to me, evoking historic forces. Dreams communicate deep desires, passions, and fears. I am fascinated with families, love, and early development, and one of my missions is to help parents and children. I’m delivering a baby with Becky’s help in the first dream, noticing how the selfish couple on the street are poor parents, and discussing how the little girl in the last dream is way beyond normal in emotional and mental development. Dreams provide intensely personal images and experiences that figure in our unique individual mythologies. Becky helping me deliver an infant that is simultaneously a newborn and an old soul speaks to our current life where she is developing her Life Vessel Santa Barbara business, I am writing and speaking more, and we are supporting each other. The giant bird reminds me of my personal totem, the hawk—a warrior symbol of complete focus and fierce resolve. My anxiety about disappointing my Aunt and Uncle speaks to their approval—and others’ approval in general—being important and distracting. New York has become a symbol of adventure, change, and community as I extend my writing and teaching into my visits and friends in the city, and Dorothy and Jim have always been my most communitarian and spiritually oriented close relatives.

What are dreams anyway?

Amazingly to me, and I imagine to anyone else who works with dreams, there is a lot of disagreement about what dreams are. Some believe they are merely neurological events with little inherent meaning (E. O. Wilson in his otherwise awesome book, Consilience, takes this position), but these people are way in the minority. Modern research, clinical work, and wisdom traditions tell us that dreams are multileveled and have many interweaving meanings and functions. For example:
  • Over 60% of dreams are problem solving dreams, as if our brains are providing potential problems, solutions, and a safe practice arena for difficult situations.
  • Some memories don’t become fully encoded—called consolidated memory for those memories most firmly embedded in our life stories—unless we’ve dreamt about them.
  • Conflicts in dreams reflect both real conflicts with others, and interior conflicts between parts of ourselves.
  • Deep concerns and yearnings are often revealed directly, symbolically, or thematically in dreams.
To understand your dreams more deeply, keep a pad by your bed and begin writing about what you remember as soon as you wake. Better start quickly because dreams fade fast. Later that morning, read your dream, or describe it to someone you trust, with the idea that there might be valuable lessons and messages. Examine each symbol and character for what they might mean to you. For instance, what about the two African American kids in the deli I rush by searching for Lexington? What about Lexington? I haven’t the foggiest notion at this moment what these images might mean, but if I continue to consider them, I know insights will emerge.

Have dialogues with figures in your dreams.

For instance, if I ask the nine-month-old what she means by “Sounds like your feelings are disconnected from your body?” and then imagine myself as her responding, I—as her—find myself saying, “Keith, you sometimes think when you should relax and just feel.”

Sharing dreams and dream work with others boosts intimacy with them, and doing it with yourself deepens self-knowledge.

This reminds me of Socrates’ main key to happiness (much aided by paying attention to your dreams)—“Know thyself.” To know the stories—personal myths—of your life more thoroughly and deeply, pay attention to your dreams. Write them down. Cherish them and tend to them and they’ll give you insights and help you grow. How cool is that?

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