Exploring the Sleeping Mind

Cultivating Mindfulness with Dream Analysis

In a world where we are constantly bombarded with information and distractions, our own thoughts can be drowned out, suppressed, or distorted. The drastic effects of this resulting mindlessness on our mental health are exemplified by the fact that the simple practice of mindfulness—a peaceful awareness of our present physical, emotional, and mental state—leads to a host of benefits, such as lowered stress, increased mental function, and even a boosted immune system [Firestone].

Achieving mindfulness can be a challenge. Those moments when we see past the clutter don’t always occur naturally. However, there is a time each day during which our minds are more focused on processing our thoughts and emotions—and that is while we dream. Suppressed fears and past hurts may surface as we sleep in the form of nightmares; fading relationships and un-chased goals may be mulled over in our dreams after being ignored during our waking hours. Dream analysis therefore gives us a window, from a different viewpoint, into our own minds. If we pay attention, we can often find a viewpoint that is intuitive, creative, and lucid.

When the often-restrictive logic of our waking thoughts slowly fades as we fall asleep, our minds are freed to see the world from a more creative, abstract point of view. Several famous thinkers and creators, such as Einstein and Dali, tapped into their dreams as a source of creativity and new ideas, and studies have shown that simply thinking about your dreams upon waking can boost creativity later. You can read my full post about dreams and creativity here.

Along with logical thought, our reliance on externally imposed definitions of the world around us also fade during sleep, allowing intuition to step forward. One of my favorite examples of this benefit is from a dreamer I wrote about in this post, who began dreaming about her ex boyfriend’s questionable intentions many months before she consciously picked up on the psychologist-defined warning signs of what would eventually become an emotionally abusive relationship. Long before he showed any measurable abusive or manipulative traits, while they were still in their honeymoon phase, she dreamed of seeing him with his face hidden by darkness, his nose broken—she had already sensed intuitively that his intentions were unclear, represented by the lack of visibility, and that there was something violent about him, represented by the broken nose.

Another benefit of dream analysis is its diagnostic indicator of emotional health. In our culture that values positivity and strength, emotions such as anxiety, fear, and hurt, often get pushed to the side rather than dealt with. Our sleeping minds on the other hand don’t care about keeping up appearances. As I wrote about here, I used to regularly experience nightmares that I eventually determined were stemming from relational issues from my past—something I thought during my waking hours that I had long moved beyond. Once I intentionally dealt with those issues, not only did my mind stop trying to conjure up nightmares on the subject, but my approach to forming new relationships improved, an approach I had never previously realized was even lacking.

Dreams are elusive—they are hard to remember and even harder to decipher—but with practice and dedication they can become a useful (and even fun) way to release creativity and insight along our path toward mindfulness.

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