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A Note on Dreams and Dreaming

When we dream, we believe we are awake. That is, while we're actively engaged in a compelling dream, we truly believe we are awake. The only other time we believe we're awake is-- well, when we are actually awake. Dreams mock our very sacred sense of reality. Perhaps, it is one reason we pay such little attention to them, or, more accurately, why we so frequently and persistently try to dismiss our dreams.

On occasion, however, we are all visited by a dream that is not so readily dismissed -- what is sometimes called a "big dream." It might be nightmarish, eerie, or just rich with meaning. Whatever the reason, it simply lingers through the day; it won't let us go, and it begs for interpretation.

Much has been written across time and cultures about approaches to dream interpretation. Virtually all such approaches allow us to make psychological sense of dream content. They do this essentially by explaining the dream in terms of our view of the waking world. Our psychological sensibilities--the things we just presume to be true become the gold standard we use to evaluate our dreams.

Such approaches presume that we can understand dreams, a form of non-ordinary consciousness, by comparing them to ordinary waking consciousness. Much like the pre-Copernican view of the solar system, this is a comforting but highly psychocentric perspective. It denies the existence or importance of anything that lies outside of our current waking frame of reference. It also sanitizes the unconscious, neutralizes the mysterious, and limits our personal growth.

The spiritually fatal flaw of such dream interpretation is that it implies we can come to fully understand a dream. An alternative approach suggests there is a meaningful but irreducible mystery in dreaming. In the end, is it not more important to know there is meaning in a dream than to know exactly what that meaning is? We can best understand dreams only in the larger context of the process of dreaming itself.