The Meaning of Dreams
Updated: Jun 23
Are dreams random mis-firings of the brain or are they telling us something? Given how much I talk about states of consciousness, there’s one state I’ve hardly discussed at all–the dream state. It is one of the four primary states of consciousness, the others being waking, deep sleep and transcendence and for many, it is the most mysterious. So which is it, are dreams full of deep symbolism and meaning or is it the work of a bunch of aimless neurons? The truth is, yes and yes.
Dreams as part of stress purification
For the most part, dreams are nothing more than mental garbage. Ever tried to tell someone about your dream and gotten a glazed-over look? That’s because it’s like showing someone the contents of your wastepaper basket. For non-meditators, sleep is their only form of rest, and just like during meditation, when stress is released from the physiology, it stimulates the mind in the form of a thought. Meditators know that these thoughts, which at times can have the flavor of the stress released whether it’s anger or sadness for example, are not to be taken seriously. During sleep, as our body is purifying stress, we experience these stress-purification thoughts as dreams. The dreams let our mind be active without waking us up. If the stress release is too much however, something may happen in the dream that pushes us all the way to the surface and we wake up.
Dreams as cognition
Sometimes dreams can be more significant. Just as in the waking state, during sleep we can experience cognition and other consciousness phenomena. Cognition is when we get a clear message from our inner selves. How do you know if your dream is a cognition or stress release? It’s the same as in the waking state. The more you meditate and start to experience that inner knowing, the more you become familiar with that feeling when it happens. There’s also that experience when you first start to wake up and your mind is relaxed allowing things you’ve been ignoring to come to the surface and realizations can emerge.
Sleep in higher states of consciousness
Sleep becomes a whole different thing once someone has been meditating for a while. I mentioned before the four main states of consciousness: the three relative states, waking, deep sleep, and dreaming and the fourth transcendental state, also known as Turiya. These are represented by the sound OM/AUM–the “A” (waking), “U” (dreaming), “M” (deep sleep) and the silence that permeates them (Transcendence). Before meditation, one’s consciousness travels from relative state to the other, however, over time, the meditator begins to experience the inner witness, the fourth state, awake all the time. The seat of awareness is no longer in the relative, in the wave of the ocean, it is deep in the ocean looking up. So even during sleep, there the presence of awareness that is a quiet continuum of “I am-ness” that feels very peaceful.. It is called “Sleep Witnessing.” A practice that explores the potential for enlightening one’s consciousness during sleep is Yoga Nidra.
Like with anything, the meaning of our dreams are self-referral. If you have a dream, and it holds meaning for you, that meaning is real and doesn’t need to be questioned. The higher your state of consciousness, things seem more and more like one and there seems to more connections and therefore meaning between everything. According to the Vedas, the waking state is called “the long dream,” so this all too, is a dream of sorts. It has meaning to the extent you give it meaning.