Here’s an open secret about dreaming. It’s not fundamentally about sleeping. It’s really about waking up. In ancient Egypt, the word for dream, rswt, meant an “awakening.” Those Egyptians were onto something.
For starters, dreams wake us up to what is going on inside our bodies and what we need to do to stay well or get well. Mary Agnes, a registered nurse in Baltimore, dreamed she traveled inside her body and found it was like a boiler room in danger of blowing up. Waking, she realized she had been given a tour of her digestive system. She went to a doctor and found she had an ulcer that needed treatment.
Wanda Burch, author of She Who Dreams, received an urgent health alert from her dead father, who appeared with a surgeon in tow, shouting, “You have breast cancer – do something about it now.” Wanda believes that dream may have saved her life, by spurring her to get to a doctor’s office in time to contain a life-threatening disease.
Dreams not only diagnose; they can deliver a personal Rx. Nancy, a clinical psychologist in the Chicago area, dreamed she saw the words “valerian root” printed in huge black letters. She later discovered that valerian root is a natural sleep aid that also promotes dreaming.
Dreams wake us up to challenges and opportunities on the road ahead.
Teresa, an administrator for a software company in McLean,VA, dreamed she was headed to the airport for a trip to Europe but had to turn back because her passport had expired. The next day she put her passport renewal in the mail.
Hilary Swank, the star of Million Dollar Baby, dreamed she was called on to save someone’s life during what seemed like a heart attack. The dream prompted her to learn CPR. She was ready three months later when a man collapsed in front of her at an airport. She performed CPR, revived him briefly, but was unable to save his life. She’ll be ready if it happens again.
I dreamed of my possible death at a fork in a road, driving up a hill east of Troy,NY. Three weeks later, driving up that same hill, I found my view of a curve in the road obscured by a delivery truck. Because I remembered my dream, instead of pulling out, I slowed almost to a stop – and so missed a head-on collision with an 18-wheeler that came barreling down the hill at 60 mph, blocking the whole road.
When we can’t change a future event we preview in a dream, we may be able to use dream information to do some good. Carol, a pastoral counselor in Niskayuna, NY, dreamed she received a phone call from a client who told her that her sister had died. Snow was softly falling. “At a crucial moment,” Carol recalls, “without telling the dream, I was able to use the information to help my client prepare for her sister’s passing.” Three months later, Carol received that call in waking life, as a fine soft snow was falling.
Dreams can wake up the artist, writer or creator inside us.
Terry Persun, a novelist in Port Townsend,WA, dreams he is writing at his desk – then gets up and puts his body where it was in the dream. “I go from a sleep state to a waking state with the words already in my head.”
He’s in good company. Jacqueline Mitchard dreamed the plot of her bestselling first novel The Deep End of the Ocean and then dreamed up her second book. Architect Frank Gehry dreams up building designs. Paul McCartney dreamed the music of “Yesterday”.
Dreams can wake us up to the possibility of richer, more fulfilling relationships. They can even introduce our life partners. New Jersey schoolteacher Marybeth dreamed there was an “energy cord” running from her heart to her ultimate “Mister Right.” She imagined herself being drawn by that heart-cord towards the man of her dreams. Fourteen months later, she found him and they got married.
Dreams sometimes wake us up to our bigger story. As Viktor Frankl wisely insisted in his classic Man’s Search for Meaning, humans need meaning just as they need food and air. In the midst of the stress and clutter of everyday life, dreams can remind us what it’s all about and restore our inner compass.
In my dreams, the red-tailed hawk sometimes lends me its wings and its gift of vision, helping me to wake up to a bigger picture and see life’s everyday problems from a wider and higher perspective.
We can all do better when we wake up and dream.