“I have dreamt of monster waves. I have run from them, closed the storm gates on them – at times I was swept under. Until one day, I turned back and thought: I’ll merge in. I’ll become the water.”
~ Maria Lehtman
Do you dream? Can you recall what you see every night? Do you wake up at night breaking sweat and with a heart beating as if you just run a Cooper test? For decades, I did. I have seen dreams ever since I was a child and feared the darkness that held such unfathomable secrets. Until one day I taught myself to confront my fears and use any elements I came by in my dreams.
The big data of dreaming
The first thing you need to understand about people and dreaming is that not everyone can recall seeing dreams, but everyone has them. According to Psychology Today REM is a trigger for dreaming. However, dreaming occurs during different stages of sleep. Some people have fleeting memories of what their subconscious witnessed. Others can vividly recall their dreams even years later.
Instead of trying to read or listen to the dreams scientists realized that dreams are complicated to the degree that visual recording may be the only reasonable way to decode them physically.
Scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison identified a “hot zone” area in the brain that indicates when people are dreaming. Dreaming causes a decrease in low-frequency activity in the zone when dreaming. From the identification of dream activity, the scientists moved into studying lucid dreaming (see: hypnagogia, i.e., semi-conscious dreams) where the dreamer is aware they are dreaming. In a study by Martin Dresler and his team, scientists assigned simple tasks to the lucid dreamers to associate it with the functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) activity of dream content. They could see the amygdala, brain area closely related to emotions, increase with activity in REM stage of sleep. Instead of trying to read or listen to the dreams scientists realized that dreams are complicated to the degree that visual recording may be the only reasonable way to decode them physically.
Scientists like Kamitani and his team are already categorizing and decoding contents of dreams by interviewing the dreamers and building catalogs of the results. Some scientists today believe decoding and programming dreams will be a critical area, e.g., to train new skills and behaviors, to heal emotional trauma and cope with change.
I know they are correct and I am looking forward to a future with visualized dreams. I have used decades to decode my dream symbols and reprogram my subconscious to build coping mechanisms through dreaming. Will this be easy with scientific tools and methods? In my experience, it is extremely challenging because dreams work in layers of dimensional space. A single vision in a dream has multiple of symbolism and meanings. Dreams can be as real as a day in our lives – sometimes they seem even more concrete.
Meeting a dreamer
“Morpheus: Have you ever had a dream, Neo, that you were so sure was real? What if you were unable to wake from that dream? How would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world?” ~ The Matrix
My recommendation is never to undermine a person recalling a dream.
Our subconscious is a 24/7 processor continually augmenting, analyzing, processing, organizing and anticipating experiences and emotions that we go through in our lives. Dreams can provide insight into other people and what their experiences. At best, sharing a dream opens up a new communication channel with others and ways to support them.
Have you ever wanted to stop seeing dreams? People can suppress seeing dreams, e.g., when going through a very traumatic experience. Dreams do still happen, but they are no longer surfacing on the conscious level. I would typically not recommend this course of action because it may also prolong the healing process. Instead, if someone recalls a dream, ask open questions, use associated thoughts – try to connect the dream to the person and his/her experiences.
Five secrets how dreams can change your life
1. Dreams can change your career.
Let me give you an example of how your mindset, realized and programmed into a dream, can change your life.
Over a decade ago I was struggling to keep up my motivation in my current job. Many things had changed in the company during my years of employment, and I no longer felt it was the best fit for my internal culture. I thought I might need to call on a new job. Instead of going into a whole application hurdle that I did not have the energy for, I sent out ‘a request to the universe.’
Two weeks later I saw a dream: I was standing near a river with dark murky water. I thought: “I can change that.” I took out two colorful light wands from my pockets, threw them into the river and the oily blackness began to dissolve leaving the water crystal clear. I then turned into the crowd standing around the river bank mingling in their business suits.
I looked around and saw this very kind looking gentleman talking to someone. I thought: “That man, I want him to walk up to me and offer me a job.” In a minute the man turned to look at me, walked over to where I was standing and said: “I would like you to come to work for us.”
Three weeks later I was invited to an interview via a friend of mine. We had not spoken for a long time. I had never met the hiring manager who was flying in from abroad. We had planned to have an offline chat because the company was not in the field I had in mind as my next step. Stepping into the coffee shop, I met the man who had offered me the job in my dream. So I opened my heart to listen to his message, and I ended up accepting the position. I never regretted my decision.
2. Dreams can save your life.
Your dreams can warn you about emotional and physical threats in your life.
One night I was dreaming about my father. In the dream, he had entered my house in the middle of the night. He was acting aggressively towards other people in the hallway and demanding to see me. I wandered out of my bedroom to talk to him. He kept on ranting, and it took a while before I managed to get him out of the door.
I turned to walk back into my bedroom, but he returned, and this time with a vengeance. I got furious, my pulse raised, I started yelling at him and pushed him out the door. My stress level was so high that I woke up, only to I realize that I could not breathe or say anything.
Due to light and draft sensitivity, I often sleep with a scarf over my eyes and neck. It is typically just gently set over me, but this time, I had wrapped the scarf around my neck and turned in my sleep so that it was strangling me. I woke up gasping for breath. I coughed and had to calm down before I could move or talk again. I realized that my “father” in the dream was my subconsciousness, my guardian, aggravating me to the point of waking me up.
There are many accounts similar to mine. Some people see warnings of fatal illnesses in their dreams. Not all of them turn out to be physical conditions. In time, if you keep studying your dreams, you will learn to differentiate an emotional threat from a physical one. It never hurts to check on the symptoms even so.
3. Dreams can teach you how to conquer fears.
As digital leaders, we are living and breathing examples of business social behavior. If we intimidate people into better performance through fear or show fear in our actions, we let it become our weakness.
Fear is not a weapon – no one wins using it. Fear works in the opposite direction from benevolence and gratitude with a lower loyalty degree. The challenge is that most of our fears reside on our blind side, invisible to us.
Dreams are an excellent way to capture what is ailing you. Instead of dreading nightmares I use them to learn more about my anxiety by noting down patterns, symbols, and metaphors. Your dream symbols are your own and have layered meanings. E.g. my career dream symbols are often ships, tall buildings, elevators, meetings and events with people related to work.
My subconscious level interprets events that are happening or about to happen. Instead of trying to forget about fears in dreams, I replay the scenarios and often decipher the reason for an underlying concern. Sharing the dream with someone often helps to air out thoughts.
4. Dreams can show you how to deal with emotional burdens.
Emotional stress tends to build up like an onion, layer upon layer, from both work and private life aspects. There is never a straightforward answer to why or how people get overwhelmed by stress. Dreams are a magnificent tool to work through emotional burdens. Whenever I have issues that I need to resolve, I program my subconscious to work on the problems during the night time.
Here is a simple exercise you can try before going to sleep:
Imagine a chalkboard or a whiteboard. Walk up to the board and write down a question or a ‘command’ related to your issue. Wipe out the text and rewrite repeating the action three times. After multiple nights an answer may come in dreams, awake, or the situation, or your emotional response to it, begins to dissolve.
5. Dreams can boost your empowerment.
If you are a fellow dreamer, you may have experienced sleep paralysis. In this state, you are partly conscious but unable to move any part of your body or speak. Typically sleep paralysis involves an “arch nemesis.” Some people may see dreams of aggressive people, monsters, dragons or other demons. I have read countless blogs, books, and articles about people who experience enormous fear in sleep paralysis.
Note: You can conquer sleep paralysis.
When I started meditating after several years of sabbatical, I began to see more and more lucid dreams and was caught several times in sleep paralysis. I was not able to move a muscle even to shout out. In the dream, someone would be standing next to me holding me down. I thought of all the movies and books I had read and considered ways how to “weaponize” my mind power.
In the beginning, I was only be able to shift my arm an inch. Gradually I taught myself to thrust out my energy and start moving about. I learned to shake off the dream paralysis stage faster and faster. I used to wake up soaked up in sweat, pulse raising and my mind in terror.
Now I call on my energy and force myself to full awareness in seconds. My pulse stays completely stable, and I can go back to sleep or start the day without a second thought.
Our mind has the lock and the key. Treat dreams like any other challenge in your life: with self-empowerment!
Dreams will not kill you, but they can make you stronger.
~ Maria Lehtman
Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before
~ Edgar Allan Poe