The Role of Dreams
Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood.
- Marie Curie
A few months ago, my children and I watched the movie Kubo and the Two Strings. It is a brilliant animation film about a boy named Kubo who battled against evil spirits. After the movie, my children went to bed. My six-year-old son Ladon fell asleep right away; however, in about ten minutes, he woke up crying because he had a nightmare about the evil spirits in the movie. I held him tightly and told him that movies were not real. He fell asleep soon after and slept through the night peacefully.
Dreams provide us with honest and timely feedback about our states of mind. Although the monsters in my son’s dream are not real, his fear is.When he is scared and anxious, he gets nightmares. When he feels happy, he dreams of flying or turning into bunnies.
Even though we are the ones to dream, what and when we dream is beyond our control. This proves the existence of a part of us that we are not consciously in charge of. Some people call it the unconsciousness, while others call it the soul.
Although dreams are not always easy to understand, they are honest and authentic. The human mind works in complicated ways. In wake times, we navigate complex situations, taking into consideration of long lists of pros and cons, and make trade-offs, sometimes against our better judgements. When things don’t sit right, strange dreams will show up to tell us that.
A Dream of Two Whales
I had a strange dream about 10 years ago. I was alone in this dream, hanging precariously onto a zip line with hands and feet and inching slowly over a vast and treacherous ocean during a raging storm. The wind was howling, the atmosphere dark and thunderous, and waves violently pounding into one another. Two whales emerged from the deep sea, a mother and a calf. They swam right under me and exhaled a big splash of water. I felt the cold vapour on my skin and woke up - feeling exhilarated and awe-struck.
It’s been a long time since I had my whale dream, but it has always stayed vividly in my mind. Whenever I think about it, my mind takes me straight back to the sensation of clutching to the zipline, bracing gale, suspending in midair, and cold water hitting my skin.It felt so real and astonishing. Most people can remember at least one or two such dreams they’ve had in life.These are the big dreams, as opposed to mundane small dreams that quickly vanish in the daylight.
My whale dream didn’t make sense until recently. I came to realize the meaning of this mythical dream and its relevance to my life as I became familiar with dream science and started practicing dreamwork and dream sharing.
My early life - growing up in China as the only child of working parents, immigrating to the United States in my late teens, changing career from an investment banker to an independent small business owner, and balancing work and my multicultural and multigenerational family - had set the stage for this dream to manifest. In fact, it revealed my outlook on life up to that point and mapped out a path towards happiness, which eventually compelled me to share my personal dreams, stories, and perspectives with the world through this book.
I had the whale dream right around the time when my first child was born.Before that, I had been very career-focused. Over the last ten years;however, motherhood, though challenging at the beginning, has become my primary source of joy. The love for my children is motivating me to move the world towards a safer and more peaceful direction because that’s the world my children will live in. One of the things I do to accomplish this is to advocate for dreams because I genuinely believe they can help everyone attain happiness and bring transformative changes to our societies.
The knowledge I gained from the meaning of my whale dreamfundamentally changed my view on dreaming and dreams. I now see my dreams as navigation tools to help me make better decisions in life, and I believe anyone can utilize their dreams to do the same.
Dreams in History
Throughout history, dreams have played an integral part in human lives. Dreams were considered gifts from God(s) by ancient humans who used them to guide and plan their daily lives. Ancient Egyptians from 4,000 years ago believed dreams were like oracles. They even built dream temples to incubate dreams and to receive advice on health, relationships, and warfare.
All of the world’s religions originated from some forms of revelations delivered to humankind in dreams, linking humanity to that unknownrealm where creation, destiny, and hope reside. Many people believe that God(s) speaks to people through their dreams. One of the most central religious beliefs to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam - the concept of heaven, comes from the well-known Jacob's dream at Bethal, in which there was a ladder that stretched from Earth to Heaven.
Before modern times, people used to pay much more attention to their dreams. However, most people today choose to do nothing at all and let their dreams go to waste.
Dreams in Modern Times
Only in the last century or so with the rise of technology and media have dreams faded out of mainstream consciousness. Radios, TVs, computers, and mobile devices offer endless streams of information, entertainment, marketing, and propaganda, all competing for our ears, eyes, hearts, and minds.
We communicate through stories. Both dreams and media function this way. Dreams, with their subtle signal strength, simply cannot compete against the thought-provoking contents, award-winning acting, sophisticated visual effects, and masterful storytelling present in today’s news, videos, movies, games, and social media.
Instead of waiting for dreams and internal thoughts to quietly manifest in our heads, most people can now turn on a screen anywhere any time to experience stories originated externally. Our egos tend to cling to stories that support our existing narratives, which are built upon circumstances we were born into and experiences we have accumulated in life. Without dreams to remind us of what’s really important in life, it’s easy for us to lose sight of the big picture and surrender to external influences that could lead to extreme views.
Dreams, once the headline act throughout history, have been pushed off the centre stage that is our mind and heart and into obscurity. As a result, our minds become grounds to be conquered and manipulated for ideological and economic gains.
A New Role for Dreams
It’s more important than ever to remind ourselves to think independently and not to be brainwashed and radicalized. Dreams can help us stay true to ourselves, but only if we pay attention to them. Without dreams, we lose touch with our true selves and become unsure of our ability to make a difference in the world and attain happiness.
To reclaim the autonomy of ourselves, we need to value our own dreams, which hold the records of our past and clues to our future. Although my dream of the whales was surreal and incomprehensible at first, it appeared in my mind as a real experience. Rather than discarding it as total nonsense as many people would, I treated it as an unsolved mystery. Astime passes, I have gained knowledge from new life experiences. This past dream suddenly made sense and revealed a path to the future.
Many people today don’t believe in God(s) or spirituality; however, no one can say that they have never dreamt.With the discovery of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep and advances in neuroimaging and technology, scientists have been studying dreaming and dreams in labs and have made significant progress in recent years.
Dreaming is universal. Dreams transcend race, religion, gender, ideology, nationality, wealth, age, ability, and whatever else that makespeople different and divided.
Differences breed stigmas, whiledivisions lead to competitions andconflicts. In our globalized world today, conflicts are everywhere and escalating in intensity. Violence against innocent people for all sorts ofreasons have become frequent occurrences. Just this year, over the Easter holiday, the deadly terror attacks took place in Sri Lanka, killing 290 innocent people and injuring over 500. This was carried out in retaliationto the deadly mosque shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand that took 51 lives.
These senseless acts of violence, fueled by generations of vengeance and hatred, are happening all over the world - on the streets, in schools, at places of worship, at businesses, and in government offices.
For parents of young children, it isextremely alarming to observe these never-ending violent behaviours, thegradual erosion of safety and stability, and widening fragmentation in society.I often wondered, if these trends were to continue, what the world would be like in twenty years when my childrenhave grown? Would it ever be possible for people from different walks of life to coexist peacefully and happily?
How do we end deep-rooted hatred and violence and make the world a safer and more peaceful place? To achieve resilient and long-lasting peace, we need to help every member of our society achieve happiness. This may sound like an impossible task, but I genuinely believe dreams can help.
Dreaming is natural, free, personalized, and a self-healing function of the brain. Dreamwork iscapable of resolving various psychological problems and lead each person to happiness.
Our society is formed by individual human beings, just like the ocean is made of drops of water. When each drop of water changes, the tide will change. When each person feels happy, they will feel less isolated, scared, anxious, desperate, and angry.They will want to help rather than harm others. There will be less violence and bloodshed and more peace and happiness.
Our lives are all different; thus, our paths to happiness all vary. There is no one size fit all solution. However, no matter where you are in life and what your circumstances are, your dreams can provide timely and personalized intelligence to guide you towards healing and happiness.
In today’s world, many people feel lost, hopeless, and have no idea how to be happy. Our own dreams can function as the personal navigation system that tells us which way to go, warns us when we are lost, and recalculates the route to get us back on track. By working with your own dreams, you can overcome negative emotions, find solutions to wake time problems, and orient yourself towardsattaining long-term, resilient happiness.