Are nighttime dreams of any use in helping me stay healthy?
While there is some difference of opinion in this area, my own belief, based
on both personal and professional experience, is that dreams can be extremely
valuable in maintaining our health, especially if we understand health to include not
only physical but emotional, psychological, and spiritual domains.
Consider your dreams to be a foreign language, complete with rules of grammar and
translation. The key to understanding one's dreams is to appreciate both the
rules of grammar and the translation of specific symbols.
The meaning of a specific symbol will be influenced heavily by your personal experience. It may also contain more universal meaning, reflecting what Jung called an archetype. Jung also suggested that
our dreams tell us something of which we are unaware, pointing perhaps to a
blind spot, an area of arrogance, or even toward some positive quality we are
avoiding within ourselves.
Let me share an example with you. Several years ago I had this dream:
--- I am at a motel. A Nazi SS General is there and is entrapping children in
some evil scheme. I confront him, run him off, yet still bless him as he leaves. --
I woke up from this dream feeling somewhat self-important, impressed
with the implied heroism. Yet later that day, recalling Jung's directive that
each symbol in a dream represents some part of oneself, I realized "I have
something of that Nazi in me as well!" Hardly a pleasant realization. I
concluded that the Nazi represented what is known as the Shadow, that part of
my personality that I deny.
Certainly, it was and is humbling to admit that
I can be rigid, dictatorial, and manipulative. Yet the denial of such
potential makes it that much more dangerous. I needed to find the Nazi within
me and, as the dream stated at the end, needed to redeem him.
Dreams can make statements about physical health as well. My friend
Maureen Potts writes in her book The Three-edged Sword of a dream she had
while she was in a period of remission from lupus. The dream was of her skiing
with wolves running in the forest nearby.
Only after recalling that the Latin
word for wolf is lupus did she recognize that her unconscious was warning her
to not become blind to the fact that the lupus was still a part of her.
Study your dreams. Keep a dream journal. Read some books on dreams but
avoid so-called "dream dictionaries" since they ignore the meaning of a dream
symbol which is unique to you. You may find a gold mine of guidance within
that vast inner wilderness.
Richard B. Patterson is a clinical psychologist
in private practice in El Paso, TX. He is the author of three books on psychology