How Do We Know Which Of Our Dreams Are Important?
by David Rivinus
The most important dreams we have are those that are the most intense. When we dream during sleep, our dream messages have to filter their way through several states of awareness. Anyone who has kept a dream journal knows how tricky it can be to bring the memory of a dream to full consciousness. Some dreamers work diligently to remember dreams, so their dream recall is good. Many others are less interested and miss the majority of their dream messages.
Nevertheless, dreams are a vital source of communication. At times, the messages they bring to us are not to be ignored. Even among those who disregard dreams, the dreams themselves make a heroic effort to attract attention. They do so by going to extremes. The images they present become particularly bizarre or emotionally intense. In the most dramatic cases, dreams become terrifying nightmares.
It isn’t that the dreams are trying deliberately to be unpleasant; they simply want to be remembered. Most likely, the message an intense dream delivers is one that has come to the dreamer before in a gentler manner, but it has been overlooked.
For example, suppose someone needs to change his penchant for avoiding important decisions. He has a dream in which he finds himself holding a thick file folder with the word PENDING prominently stamped on the front of it. As he is glancing at it, he happens to look around his office and sees that the entire room is stacked floor to ceiling with similar folders, and he thinks to himself, “Boy, in an earthquake, this could be bad!”
Perhaps, the dreamer remembers this dream and is amused by the odd imagery. Maybe he lives in a location that is not likely to experience an actual tremor, so he dismisses the possibility of an earthquake as silly, not realizing that the dream is referring to his own potential personal shakeup. Maybe he doesn’t remember the dream at all, since he is not inclined to pay attention to such frivolous things. His attitude of avoiding important pending decisions persists, and his subconscious continues to send alarm messages, trying to motivate him to shift his behavior pattern. Eventually, as this pattern reaches a crisis point, his subconscious sends a message that he simply cannot ignore.
This time he dreams that he is being chased by a horrible monster. No matter how fast he runs, the monster keeps gaining on him, and finally he finds that he has run right to the edge of a precipice. He sees that there are three possible places that he can jump, each with a sign in the shape of an arrow that is pointing downward, but with the words THIS WAY UP written on it. He thinks that some prankster has sadistically put the signs there. Further, he is panicked because he has no idea what lies on the other side of the cliff edge. How far will he fall? Will he die? Will he be maimed? Just then, the monster catches up with him and is about to dig its filthy and lethal claws into his shoulders. At that moment, the dreamer suddenly wakes up to find himself lying in bed sheets drenched with his own fear-induced perspiration.
This nightmare is trying to tell him that although the only path left to him seems as if it will lead to his downfall, it will actually result in an assent out of a self-destructive behavior pattern. If he doesn’t take that route, the monster will most assuredly capture him. It isn’t that the dream and his subconscious are trying to be malicious, it’s only that now they are making a concerted effort to attract his attention since he ignored them before. He needs to make a change and he isn’t listening to his own warning signs.
It is a strange fact of life that most of us need a figurative shove or some other unpleasantness in order to move beyond our own complacency. This is true even when the status quo is unproductive or detrimental. That is why many of the most important dreams we have tend to be unsettling at the very least and sometimes shocking.
Important dreams that we have during sleep are fairly easy to pinpoint. Even those of us who follow our dreams faithfully only remember a relatively small percentage of them. Of those, it is the intense ones that are usually the most important.
However, I have seen much evidence that the process of dreaming also goes on during the day while we are awake. The same metaphoric messages are delivered to us from our subconscious in events that I call waking dreams. Since we are more likely to remember many events from our waking hours, how do we know which of these daytime occurrences (waking dreams) are important?
The answer is that the same principles apply. While there are certainly exceptions, it is the disconcerting, upsetting events of our daily lives that carry the most urgent messages. Over the years, I have isolated three categories of waking dreams that particularly warrant our attention: 1) An event that is shocking like a near collision with a car. 2) An event that is unusual and bizarre like a person sitting in a pew, thinking they are attending a church service, only to find themselves unintentionally in the middle of a stranger’s funeral celebration. 3) An event that repeats itself like a plumbing pipe that continues to leak no matter how many visits there have been from the expensive plumber.
The common denominator of all three categories is that the person experiencing the occurrence becomes totally absorbed in the event. In doing so, he gets completely caught up in the drama including the shock, the embarrassment and the aggravation.
For example, suppose a conscientious woman is falsely accused of something and finds that the plaintive has brought a lawsuit against her. Imagine how upsetting such an experience would be! It would probably consume every ounce of her energy and attention. Yet in addition to being an objective, waking-life event, this incident is also a dream, one laden with important, message-delivering metaphors.
As such, the solution is to act counter-intuitively. Rather than allowing herself to become completely engrossed in the horrors of the dilemma, if she can pull back and look at the unpleasantness as if it were a dream full of metaphors, view it as a nightmare that is occurring during her waking hours, often that is where she would find resolution. The message might be something about her tendency to blame herself excessively and inappropriately. If she could act to change her mindset and behavior pattern, she might be amazed at how a resolution to her lawsuit might almost-magically present itself.
Important messages come to us in dream form, and the process continues both in sleep and during our waking hours. Oddly, it is the disconcerting ones that are the most urgent. Those are the events both daytime and nighttime that we need to pay special attention to. They are the ones delivering the vital messages from our subconscious and indeed from life itself messages that we should examine very carefully.
About the Author
David Rivinus has been a dream analyst since the late 1960s. His subsequent discovery that one can analyze startling daytime events as dreams revolutionized his approach, and he has lectured and facilitated dream workshops internationally ever since. Recently, he documented his findings and methods in the book, Always Dreaming. For more information, please visit www.teacherofdreams.com