At this time in our world, we may need the power to dream and the ability to understand one another’s dreams more than ever. Our colleague, David Bedrick, has been writing about dreams and other psychological and social issues for many years now. In the blog below, originally published by Psychology Today, David gives us some insights into the mysterious, night-time phenomena, we call dreams and suggests some reasons why we should pay attention to their quirky and often wise messages and symbols.
#1: Dreaming is one of the most powerful natural healing events.
Dreams are naturally occurring; every night we live in a world where our deepest, but often suppressed and unconscious, experiences get to live in the form of symbols, feelings, and other worldly experiences. Then we wake up, and for most of us, these experiences get dismissed or simply forgotten as we attempt to live in what we believe is a more objective world of “real” people, places, and events. The underlying dreaming experiences of our lives become marginalized leaving us without a connection to our deepest feelings to move us, without our imagination to show us new roadways, and without a profound sense of what it means to be sentient, to be human. In short, dismissing our dreams dismisses our deepest selves.
#2: Dreams offer new resolutions to our greatest sufferings.
Albert Einstein said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.” Our dreams are absolutely brilliant at doing just that – flipping our usual script and offering a radical new orientation designed just for us. They reveal the fear behind our rigidity; the beauty behind what we hold as ugly and the ugliness behind what we hold as beautiful; the power behind what we deem vulnerable and the vulnerability behind what we deem powerful; and the wisdom behind what we deem foolish and the foolishness behind what we deem wise. Further, they compensate for our biases showing us parts of ourselves that are in dramatic tension and conflict with who we try to be. Thus, when we try to be thoughtful of others, our dreams reveal how we need to be more self-interested; when we try to be spiritual, our dreams show how we marginalize our body and sensuality; when we try to be disciplined, our dreams show how we need to let go and let life flow; or when we try to promote peace, our dreams show how we need to live in a more “militant” fashion or grab hold of our power.
#3: Dreams reveal our most private needs nakedly, completely, and honestly.
Dreams take off all of our clothes, showing the full range of our humanity in ways that our waking-selves would never do. I began commenting on people’s dreams in a public Facebook space about a year ago where 100’s of dreams have been shared with me – dreams of being fearful, powerful, brilliant, magical, ill, abused, brutal, and so many things that we wouldn’t show to others (and sometimes ourselves). It’s simply incredible to have a community of people, most who have never met personally, candidly revealing their deepest inner selves whether it is their demons or angels. Maya Angelou wrote in her inaugural poem for William Jefferson Clinton, “Give birth again to the dream. Women, children, men. Take it into the palms of your hands. Mold it into the shape of your most private need. Sculpt it into the image of your most public self.” Our nighttime dreams help us heed Dr. Angelou’s call – to make our private selves public.
#4: Dreamers are needed to resolve the world’s most protracted problems.
How shall we respond to the enormous difficulties we face as individuals and as a global society – war, terrorism, addictions, and the harm done to women and to people of color? We set up geographical borders and try to push them on the people of the Middle East to resolve their conflict, but it is not sustainable. We send people to treatment programs for substance abuse, but most relapse. We try to create a better world through revolutions and movements, but the new status quo ends up abusing and oppressing people in the same way that the old status quo did. We look at the problems of people of color and hope that some legislation and time will make it go away, yet the color line still remains one of the fundamental facts and tension points in America and much of the world. What can we do? We need dreamers who imagine outside the box, outside of our current paradigms, offering new ways of understanding, facilitating, and building deeper relationships with each other. Again, Einstein reminds us that, “The person with big dreams is more powerful than one with all the facts.”
#5: Our indigenous brothers and sisters consider the dream world to be sacred and we owe it to them to honor dreaming as they have.
The injury, death, and symptoms of trauma left in the wake of the genocide of America’s indigenous people are overwhelming – shame and guilt that most American’s survive via our defense systems and denial. Along with the injury and neglect of our indigenous populations comes the neglect of indigenous wisdom and ways of being, thinking, and relating that have always been connected to the earth and to dreaming. Making a connection to our dreams is one small, perhaps very small, way of holding on to and valuing the native culture that grew out of this land and nurtured by the original people of this land.
#6: Dreams express our unique and creative brilliance equalizing the light we all share.
No matter how different we are in IQ, physical capacity, and other conventional or arbitrary norms of evaluation, we all dream. Further, we find in our dreams a wildly and profoundly creative, psychological, and spiritual genius and insight. Whether sick or healed, a guru or a fool, each night each of us dreams of what we are less aware of during the day. Regardless of the person and their station in waking life, the brilliance in symbolism in their dreams, the genius in their crafting, and a dream’s capacity to see through the narrow boxes of convention, seems to be the same for all people.
#7: Dreams tell the truth about our inner diversity – we are not only “one,” we are “many.”
I think I am “David,” you think you are “you.” But dreams show how we are both sinner and saint, child and elder, Muslim and Jew, man and woman, gay and straight, able bodied and dying of illness, brave and terrified. Further, dreams show how these parts of us relate to each other, instead of falling into the trap of thinking that one way is right while the other is wrong or that resolutions will come from one way triumphing over another. In the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, our inner and outer diversity “inter-are.” Nhat Hanh writes, “Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow; and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either. So we can say that the cloud and the paper inter-are.” Dreams declare, with emphatic repetition that we are not one, we are many, tied in an intricate web of life together. We, in all of our diversity, “inter-are.”
David Bedrick is an author and speaker. His newest book, Revisioning Activism, provokes critical thinking, feeling, and dialogue. The book is comprised of essays that broaden our vision of activism to include how the social/political world impacts the inner lives of people, how dialogue across diverse viewpoints can impact hearts and minds, and how psychology can play a role as a social-change agent. Revisioning Activism is a daring call to empower activism and see ourselves as individuals intimately woven into a web of relationships and social issues.