Finding meaning from our dreams

Dreams can signify two different things: the kind that happen when we sleep and the kind that shape our future life-goals. First, a word about the sleep kind. They are the images, ideas and emotions that occur involuntarily in our minds during sleep. The content and purpose of dreams are not clearly understood, though throughout history they have been a topic of scientific speculation, as well as a subject of philosophical and religious interest. There is even a sixty-four thousand dollar word for the study of them: oneirology.

I got the idea for this column from a dream. I don’t, however, go in for those often-byzantine dream explanations, although today on the web anyone can explore them. If you’re interested, just Google “Dream Dictionary” or “Dream Interpretations.”

In modern times, dreams are considered as a connection to the unconscious mind. And as the unconscious is vastly wide-ranging, dreams can be very diverse and different. They can be nightmarish, exciting, mysterious, adventurous or sexual. Dreams can at times provide creative thoughts or a sense of inspiration.

Religious folks have been ambivalent about dreams, although the Bible is full of them. Jacob’s dream of the ladder of angels in Genesis (28:10-12) is famous. In the Christian Scriptures, Joseph had a well-known dream (Matt. 1:20) telling him, “Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.”

But in the Middle Ages Christians became more negative on dreams. Martin Luther considered dreams to be the work of the devil. St. Augustine and Saint Jerome, on the other hand, had claimed that their lives were heavily influenced by dreams.

So religion is all over the lot with dreams. But whether you’re religious or Freudian, use dreams if they help; ignore them if they don’t. As Henry Ellis, the British physician, writer and social reformer, asked, “Dreams are real as long as they last. Can we say more of life?”

But about the other kind of dreams: about our hopes for the future direction of our lives. These dreams are far more important. As the French poet philosopher Paul Valery said, “The best way to make your dreams come true is to wake up.” Or as Edgar Allen Poe wrote, “Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night.”

We need these dreams. Without these goals, we end up wasting our days on the everyday trivia which consume many lives. We need these dreams to get out of the ruts in life’s road, which can derail us spiritually.

Joseph Campbell uses a movie metaphor to make the same point. “Dreams and goals are the coming attractions in your life.” We need to visualize the future before we can attain it. Our dreams do that for nothing will happen in our lives unless first we dream about it.

Retired from the administration at State University of New York at Fredonia, Daniel O’Rourke lives in Cassadaga. His columns once appeared more regularly in the OBSERVER. A grandfather, Dan is a married Catholic priest. His book, “The Living Spirit” is a collection of his previous columns. To read about that book or send comments on this column visit his website