Health And Wellness

4 Steps To Having Good Dreams That Are Full Of Wisdom & Insight

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woman sleeping with mask

What is a good dream? If you wake up happy from a dream, is that a good dream? Can you learn how to have good dreams?

Bill Dement, one of the founding fathers of dream research, recounted a dream that he had in his 30s. This dream was a nightmare, but it changed his life.

Dement dreamed that he had a cough and got an X-ray of his lungs. His radiologist friend looked at the films with him. Dement saw multiple white spots all over his lungs — lung cancer!

Dement was terrified, realized that he was dying and that nothing could be done. He kept thinking to himself, "How could I have wasted my life?"

Dement was a two-pack-a-day chain smoker before the dream. After the dream, he never had another cigarette.

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Dement’s dream was terrifying, but it was a "good" dream. In fact, a great dream. It changed his life. Of course, Dement knew, before he had the dream, that cigarettes caused lung cancer.

Something about the dream — and how real it felt — connected Dement’s head with his heart in a way that simple information never could. He felt the reality of cancer, viscerally, and that changed his life.

You can learn how to have good dreams that are meaningful in 4 ways:

1. Get enough sleep.

This is crucial, especially in the early morning.

2. Avoid sleeping pills and sedatives.

They suppress dream sleep, as does alcohol.

3. Listen to your inner self.

Sometimes, we have bad dreams because our unconscious needs to wake us up.

4. Practice the ancient art of dream incubation.

When you go to bed, think about an issue that's troubling you. Don’t dwell on the problem. Turn it over to a higher power and ask it to speak to you through dreams.

There's research available that dream incubation helps to solve problems

We look for happy dreams but, instead, we should hope for the gift of dreams that matter. 

Our culture encourages a superficial search for happiness and contentment instead of depth. We distract ourselves with drugs and booze and porn, watch endless spectator sports.

We are spectators — even in our own lives — and sometimes we lack the courage to really live.

Lucid dreaming is thought to be a strategy for how to have good dreams.

There are shelves of books describing techniques for lucid dreaming. Lucid dreamers call themselves "psychonauts" and take pride in their control of the dream world.

Certainly, lucid dreaming is a topic worth exploring and a skill worth developing. But the vast popular literature about lucid dreaming focuses almost exclusively on the "how," not the "why." 

Sure, it’s fun to fly around in your lucid dreams, but where are you going to fly to and why?

And in lucidly taking control of your dreams are you actually avoiding pain that might lead to wisdom and healing?

What if Dement had lucidly taken control of his dream and flown off on some escapade instead of going to the radiologist? He might have continued to smoke and his lung cancer would have progressed.

Dement’s dream was unusual in its transparency.

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Typically, it takes some work and thought to understand and interpret a dream.

Lucidity could be a powerful strategy for deepening the dream experience. Instead of recreational lucidity, lucidity could be used to deepen and enhance the meaning of the dream experience.

A lucid dreamer might, for instance, have a deeper conversation with an important dream figure like a witch, or spirit guide, or a wise old man. 

In some ancient cultures, like Tibetan Buddhist culture, lucid dreaming was a spiritual practice honed through years of spiritual exercise and guidance by a mentor.

Now we can read online tips for how to have lucid dreams and have another meaningless recreational hobby.

Historically, one of the most famous lucid dreams was recorded by St. Augustine in the fourth century. He describes a lucid dream that his friend Gennadius had.

In it, Gennadius, who is having a crisis of faith, learns through the lucidity in his dream, that our life on this earth is like a dream in relation to eternal life. The lucid dream restores his faith.

Gennadius becomes aware that he's dreaming as he dreams, but he doesn’t try to control his dream, he listens to its message.

Listen to your dreams without trying to control them.

If you try to control your dreams, you're likely to muck them up. Dreams, thank God, are one thing you can’t easily control. You have to let them happen. 

Think of dreams as messages — calls to change. Messages don’t always make you happy, but they can bring you spiritual and psychological riches.  

Dreams are part of a package.

They are the tip of the iceberg that is our inner world that we're no longer even aware of. For many of us, dreams are the last piece left of an inner world that we have come to ignore.  

A few thousand years ago our ancestors felt awe in the presence of the natural world, they felt the presence of the sacred in every mountain brook and wooded grotto, they could pray and know that their prayers were heard.

We have lost all that. Instead, we have cable, the Internet, TikTok, casinos on every street corner, and football games at any hour of the day or night.

Maybe that was a good deal, but probably not.

Understanding our dreams may be one way of undoing that bad deal we made long ago. Remembering how to have "good" dreams is vital to finding our way back.

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Greg Mahr, MD is a psychiatrist and student of dreams in Detroit. He is part of the Henry Ford Hospital sleep research program. His book, The Wisdom of Dreams: Science, Synchronicity and the Language of the Soul, co-authored by Chris Drake, PhD will be published by Routledge in early 2021.