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Dreams - Training Evolution
"Dreams give us access to the deepest layers of human experience, so they can promote our health and personal development, and make us more aware of what it means to be alive." Anthony Stevens
For thousands of years, the Hindus have differentiated between wakefulness, dream sleep and dreamless sleep and shamans are looking for dream experiences much longer than essential communication between people and the world.
The meaning of dreams has been the subject of heated debate, at least since Aristotle doubted that they are inspiration from the gods. Freudians against Jungians, nativists against empiricists, neurobiologists against social psychologists, these were the names of some of the hostile camps in modern times.
Romanticism glorified the dream and explored it in all its facets. It was explicitly directed against the rigid forms of classicism and the absolute logic of René Descartes' thinking. So whoever argued about dreams argued for the way of life.
The core conflict always revolved around whether dreams swirl around in the brain as senseless memories or whether they convey important messages. Artists of all time, psychoanalysts and shamans viewed dreams as important, but some neuroscientists viewed them only as a product of brain metabolism.
For example, neurophysiologist Mc Carley saw dreams as an attempt by the cerebral cortex to somehow organize excess information. Crick even denounced the dream as a strategy to “remove parasitic phenomena”.
In contrast, J. Allan Hobson, one of the most important dream researchers in contemporary history, considers dreams to be clear statements and reflects them daily in order to determine his inner state.
William C. Dement, who discovered REM sleep, not only believed in the power of change in dreams, he even stopped smoking after dreaming of lung cancer.
Such dreams are the opposite of information waste; rather, they correct self-destructive habits of self-awareness.
The individual and evolution
"Every night we are involved in our dreams in a biological ritual in which our personal life experience is permeated by the" eternal experience "of our species," writes Anthony Stevens.
The complexes are bridges between the individual and the collective psyche. According to Stevens, we are all multiple personalities in dreams, and innate predispositions combine with personal development.
The analysis of dream images is still at the beginning, and what Darwin’s evolutionary teaching has done for biology is still pending in dream research.
However, we do know that certain issues keep occurring all over the world. For example, fear dreams are omnipresent. They warn us of dangers and motivate us to overcome them.
Classic warning dreams appear in the form of exams, for example. Especially when we let the study go, a dream in which we lose the final exam reminds us to discipline ourselves.
Fear goes hand in hand with vigilance, in the inner and outer world; it prepares us for fight or flight. All stages of fear, alertness, fear, panic and sheer horror occur in fear and nightmares.
The alp was, in popular belief, a demon who sat on his chest at night and caused bad dreams. The horror in the nightmare seems so real to us that we are even afraid to fall asleep.
The nightmare is about survival questions: Do I drown in a torrent, am I locked up without any possibility of fleeing, do I get lost in the dark? Do predators circle me? Strangers attack me All classic nightmares are also situations of our evolutionary adaptation in which we had to be really vigilant.
The evolutionary heritage is evidenced by people who are deafblind from birth. They dream the same fear figures.
“Dreaming is a way of grafting the life of the individual onto the life of the species. It makes sense to promote growth and awareness. ”Anthony Stevens
The four layers of the brain that we can roughly refer to as reptile brains, early mammalian brains, late mammalian brains and human brains are linked in human dreams.
In the older stories in the midbrain and midbrain, the organism probably produces the archetypal impulses: foraging, fighting, escaping and mating.
The brain trains this vital behavior during sleep, and the individual can access it in daily reality.
Consciousness can be understood as an interpretive instance of the brain that organizes a multitude of signals and explores their meaning. Our nature does not come without meaning: Dreaming, remembering and awareness are therefore necessities of our evolution.
Jung called the prototypes of the human psyche archetypes. They correspond to Noam Chomsky's deep structures of language in linguistics, the infrastructures at Lévi-Strauss in anthropology, genetically transmitted behavioral structures in sociobiology, and Darwinian algorithms in cognitive science.
Archetypal patterns of mythology that Joseph Campbell recognized across cultures of the world can be found in the dream:
- The wonderful birth and childhood of the hero.
- From poverty to wealth, the battle with the monster and the win of the kingdom.
- The youth meets the maiden.
- Fight between light and darkness.
- From wealth to poverty. The Return of Darkness (Hell, Underworld, etc.)
These episodes of dream and myth reflect real life, childhood, adolescence, adulthood and aging, leaving home, passing exams, breaking ties with parents and siblings, growing up through exams, proving oneself in the world and Conquering his position, overcoming the mother complex (defeating the dragon) - this becomes particularly clear when the monster devours the hero and the hero cuts itself free from the belly. This is how he saves the princess, so she can find his partner, take her as a wife and start a family herself.
Archetypes are, for example, mountains, rivers, seas, trees or flowers, the mother, the dark opponent, the child, the hero's devouring, the hero's rebirth. Tricksters, robbers, kings and gods are prototypes.
Personalize dreams, exaggerate them to make them clear and compare them: My neighbor, who constantly borrows things without giving them back, appears in the dream as a rat; a “mountain of tasks” that I have to do shows up in my dream as a real mountain that I stand in front of and that I have to climb.
The REM phase
"Dreaming is a process of selective information processing that continuously monitors new impressions and (...) evaluates them in the central nervous system." Anthony Stevens
In 1953 Eugene Aserinsky discovered that deep sleep (Rapid Eye Movement / REM) is accompanied by intense dreams. These REM phases are not determined by external stimuli, but occur several times in succession in each sleeping period.
When we fall asleep, impressions of the waking state mix with fragmentary images and dramatic events of the dream world.
This is followed by the non-REM phase, in which the eyes remain calm. We dream in this phase too, but the dreams are more thoughts; they are strongly influenced by the immediate experience of everyday life. There are no lucid dreams, illusions and the epic stories of the REM phase reminiscent of fantasy novels. This first “light sleep phase” lasts about ninety minutes.
We recognize the REM phases by lucid dreams, in which we know that we are dreaming, in the exciting battles with monsters, the dreams in which we fly, fall, meet talking animals. The first of these phases lasts ten minutes, the second and third are significantly longer, while the non-REM phases shorten.
We usually wake up after the third REM phase and the dreams we remember come from that time.
According to Stevens, REM sleep developed around 130 million years ago when the mammals gave birth to live young. Young mammals were much more vulnerable than the embryos in the eggs of the birds and reptiles. REM sleep was probably used to enable them to learn.
Cats dream of catching prey, dogs hunt in dreams, rabbits flee and rats search for their surroundings. The brain of these animals can only train these actions in a dream, because when awake the animal has to react in the outside world.
According to Stevens, REM sleep was the solution of nature to form a complex brain with a limited body size.
The human dream is less bound to the phylogenetic survival functions than the dreams of other mammals. We developed our culture, our symbols and language. The information in the here and now is linked much more closely to personal experience in humans, and yet in REM dreams we encounter the archetypal patterns of our evolution.
Even more, says Stevens: "Dreams can compensate for one-sided attitudes of the conscious self by mobilizing archetypal components from the collective unconscious to promote the better adaptation of the individual to life."
The REM phase condenses elements of memory into a meaningful story. It picks up on the past, brings it into analogy with the present, integrates and compares both.
The REM dream reinterprets old topics, it is the play of the psyche. He organizes memories, he invents, he turns upside down and creates. He changes us when we work with him.
The REM dream is also a game, it is very similar to the games of young children. It goes beyond satisfying primary needs and opens up new opportunities to shape life.
Why do we forget dreams?
Healthy adults differentiate between dream events and everyday reality. The mentally ill, children and presumably animals do not.
It would be fatal for children and animals to fully remember dreams and to keep them 1: 1 in the material world. If, according to Stevens, a rabbit dreaming of coming out of the burrow and being eaten fully remembered it, it would no longer venture outside and would starve. Infants would live in a world full of monsters, and no good talk could help them.
According to Stevens, only the message of the unconscious from the dream remains in the consciousness, in the case of the rabbit: be vigilant.
Lucid dreams are dreams in which we know that we are dreaming; we often intervene in the dream action and consciously decide which actions our dream self takes.
The lucid dream connects the inner world of the dream with the outer world, which we perceive awake. It mediates between the perceptions of the conscious and the unconscious.
Lucid dreams, shamanic journeys, active imagination and psychoses are similar. All are threshold states in which conscious and unconscious systems interact.
In dream therapy, clear dreaming accelerates the healing process. The dreamers perceive their inner experiences much more intensely.
Those who are familiar with their dreams, for example by keeping a dream diary, can dream much more clearly than untrained ones.
Clear dreaming can also be trained by asking ourselves several times a day, especially when falling asleep and waking up, whether we are dreaming. For example, if we notice that the thoughts are moving away, we can ask out loud, "am I dreaming?"
Or we pay attention when we realize that we are no longer "fully focused" on whether the impossible happens: Do our hands slide? Are we floating above the ground? Do objects change color? We can also perform such actions and recognize whether we are in a threshold state.
Those who perform such simple exercises usually have their first lucid dream in the next few weeks.
The exercise is to let the body fall asleep and keep consciousness awake. We can do this, for example, when we count at night and say: "I dream." At some point we really dream.
When you fall asleep, concentrating on the thoughts that haunt your head is also helpful to consciously shape your dreams.
Most lucid dreams arise at noon when the waking state slides directly into the REM state.
Autosuggestion also helps with lucid dreaming, for example, repeatedly telling yourself during the day “today I have lucid dreams”, or imagining lucid dreams while awake.
Dreams are neither insignificant fragments of experiences, nor is our conscious perception when awake. Rather, she creates a story out of needs, thoughts, feelings and experiences.
The "western thinking" of modernity sharply separated dream and waking state from each other. Buddhists, shamans and today's neuropsychologists doubt this. The lucid dream shows that the states of the waking state and the dreams are not separate, but merge into one another.
"If you want to do something, you have to dream it first so you know what to do." Alvin, 7 years old
Infants up to the age of three do not differentiate between sleeping dreams and wakefulness. So there is no point in telling them that the monsters in the closet don't exist. Just showing them that there is really no monster in the closet calms them down.
At the age of four to six years, the child recognizes the difference between inside and outside. It makes a distinction between day-to-day reality and dream, but does not yet understand that the dream only lives in it. Magical characters that influence the dream have their place in the universe of a six-year-old, and contemporaries are now discussing whether Santa Claus really exists.
Between the ages of six and eight, children recognize dreams like adults as a purely internal process. The mythical themes are steadily decreasing.
Children's dreams are often disturbing, in contrast to Freud's thesis, which viewed dreams as imaginary wish-fulfillments - and they are archetypal.
Children in postmodern societies dream the same fear images as children of hunters and gatherers in the environment of early humans: they are abandoned, kidnapped, animals hunt and eat them.
Figures in children's dreams such as witches and evil spirits also belong to the cultural images of hunters and gatherers.
From an evolutionary point of view, this is not a coincidence, because children are and were more directly exposed to the archetypal threats to humans than adults: a toddler without the protection of his father quickly fell victim to a hyena, a stranger was easier to abduct than a grown man.
Children in Tokyo, New York and London dream of animals with large mouths that devour them, although the real dangers are completely different, and even if they have never seen such an animal.
Freud's thesis of the hidden phallus and vagina symbols in dreams has long put aside a respectful approach to the complexity of the symbols. In a prudish society, Freud made the mistake of sexualizing dream symbols; sexual dreams are usually very direct.
At least today, hardly anyone dreams of sex by having penises in the form of walking sticks or house entrances as vaginas. Elongated objects can stand for the phallus in a dream, but they don't have to.
Freud brushed aside the creative potential of dreams and ridiculed the artists who found their inspiration in dreams as superstitious. We know today that Freud was wrong.
Creative solutions are often unplanned "flashes of inspiration" which are preceded by a long, unconscious storage of a topic. Suddenly the answer is there, when awake as in a dream. The dream usually presents the solution of problems as metaphors, which the dreaming person immediately understands and feels that they are correct.
Simply waiting for the solution in a dream does not work. Composers, writers and scientists repeatedly report creative solutions that appeared to them in dreams, for example when they fell asleep at their desks after hours of unsuccessful efforts.
This indicates that the unconscious processes what we consciously deal with and, the more we delve into a topic, the more we work on a solution.
Dreams and mental illnesses
According to Stevens, dreams can be described as insanity permitted by sleep and are similar to the states that mentally ill people experience when they are awake. But why should a process that resembles a mental disorder have creative potential?
If we exclude mental illnesses as abnormal, dreaming would not be a creative activity. But if we consider psychiatric symptoms as sensible strategies of the brain, their proximity to the dream no longer shocks, but is a signpost.
For example, Korsakov's syndrome, in which alcoholics first forget their memories and second fill these missing memories with fantasies, resembles dreams in which we hardly remember the waking state and our unconscious mind instead creates dramatic stories. The brain cannot bear the emptiness and fills it with new contents of the conscious as well as the unconscious.
A woman suffering from paranoid schizophrenia runs through the street screaming. In addition, it gives out stranglers. She roars: "Your black magician is departing from me." She believes that black magicians who have been up to mischief since Egyptian antiquity have hexed them, implanted themselves in their bodies with magical powers, and also have Angela Merkel and the "New World Order" under them Control. Sometimes the black magicians are with vampires in the bundle, sometimes with zombies and werewolves.
Her delusional characters are archetypal, and the same characters appear in fearful spaces. Just as the dream combines everyday experiences with these original patterns, the schizophrenic acts when awake.
A maniker's megalomania coincides with our dreams in which we kill dragons, fly into space and live in golden palaces; the mood of a depressed person overlaps with nightmares in which we are trapped or tied up, in which weights overwhelm us, or in which we walk alone through a dead world.
According to Stevens, dreams are symbolic dramas of the unconscious, rituals are symbolic acts in consciousness. Active imagination describes techniques to create unconscious fantasies, i.e. dreams, i.e. to look at what is happening in the dream and to relate to its characters.
The characters in dreams are real parts of ourselves, and we learn to appreciate ourselves if we take them seriously.
Active imagination reaches a threshold between being awake and sleeping. We recall characters from our dreams and let them unfold. We ask them questions: How old are you? Are you married? Do you have children? What do you want from me? Why do you appear in my dream? We soon feel which answers are correct, and often the characters start talking to us.
Many writers work like this: They design figures as sketches and watch them develop themselves. Like the dream diary, we write down the active imagination as it happens.
It doesn't matter if we like the dream characters. The "monsters" show our darkest and weakest aspects. Therefore, these are the images with the greatest growth potential, because only integrating the shadow enables developments.
"In dreaming, we have a resource that we can only neglect at considerable personal cost." Anthony Stevens
There are three versions of each dream: the dream I dream, the dream I remember, and the dream I tell someone else. The second and third versions are already dream work. I design a coherent setting.
In a dream book, we can write down dreams as well as paint symbols and pictures that come to mind. We should write down all the details that come to mind. Any interpretation must be avoided.
Then we let the associations sprout, all of them. Our intuition tells us whether they are right or wrong.
When gods, demons, witches and saints appear in our dreams, we research in the library and on the Internet about their cultural background and their archetypal meaning. Art, literature, religious studies and mythology help us to examine their symbolic meaning in all its facets.
Interpretation is never about right or wrong, but about the meaning that is most important for our self-knowledge. If there are multiple interpretations, and this happens frequently, we leave them as they are. Most of the time we understand what they mean and how they relate to each other.
In order to reinforce the message of a dream, we can develop our own rituals, we write down what the dream means for our life, we can paint and draw it, or model the most important symbols in clay and thus grasp them.
We can implement lessons learned from the dream directly, for example, report to an old friend we dreamed of, or work on them in pschoactive role play, Gestalt therapy, in music or theater.
We can also conjure up the dream image in the imagination whenever the situation is there that the dream draws attention to: when I'm afraid of a conversation with my boss, I think of how I tamed the tiger in the dream.
Sometimes we dream of something we have never done in waking life: skydiving, traveling to Africa or learning Japanese. Not everything has to be symbolic. Maybe it's things we always wanted to do - and then we should do it.
Reading a dream is hard work. We check ourselves how we react to the setting of the dream, and for that we go through it point by point like a writer does his work, namely:
- Location, landscape and situation of the action
- The characters, their skills, their story, their attitudes.
- The behavior of the characters
- Do animals appear that could embody symbolic properties (clever foxes, gossipy magpies ...)?
- Which objects appear, what are they used for, what do they mean symbolically (clothes, carriages, jewelry, bottles ...)?
- What moods does the dream create, what is the atmosphere (hedonistic, agonical, depressed, aggressive, funny)?
- colors, numbers and patterns that can have a symbolic meaning?
In general, according to Stevens: The picture is the teacher, and we should be careful with interpretations and not interpret the unknown, because this is where the undiscovered aspects of ourselves lie.
Diagnostic dreams have nothing to do with supernatural beings and esoteric evocations, they are, in the literal sense, natural.
Our unconscious often recognizes dangers before we consciously reflect on them. It chooses suitable symbols - the language of the dream is the language of metaphors and transmissions.
We often dream of organic diseases that we are not yet aware of. Healers experienced in dream work also see metaphorical images of diseases in people other than themselves, children dream of diseases of their parents and siblings.
Stevens mentions a patient who dreamed of a Balinese disease demon who put her on a red-hot heater and who felt a burning pain in her leg while sleeping. When she woke up, the pain was over.
The dream repeated itself twice, and after the third time she felt the pain real. Added to this was dizziness. She went to see a doctor and he recognized a bladder and kidney infection.
Dreams indicate future opportunities. Religions claim that the prophets' dreams predicted the future.
No dream can. Put simply, the older part of our brain learns from experience and stores this experience in the unconscious. The forebrain, on the other hand, estimates and plans, and in the dream both parts interact with each other.
On the one hand there are dreams that are reminiscent of horoscopes. Your pictures are so extensive that they always somehow apply. For example, if I dream of a ship going under and the next week I read that a freighter was sinking in front of New Guinea, the chance coincidence of internal and external events is so likely that the supposed prophecy will come true.
On the other hand, there are dreams that actually seem to apply in exactly the same way. One of the most famous is that of Abraham Lincoln, who dreamed of being shot by an assassin - and shot by an assassin.
Another example is Sitting Bull, who performed a sun dance before the Battle of the Little Big Horn until it collapsed after massive blood loss. In a dream, he saw the Sioux win a victory over the US Army. The dream also contained a warning not to take any of the whites.
A few days later, the Indian warriors destroyed Custer's regiment. They celebrated as if in a frenzy and took the rifles of the American soldiers. But over the next few months, the US Army put one Sioux group after another and forced them into reservations.
Both dreams seem to inspire, but closer inspection shows the waking spirit of the dreaming: Lincoln had abolished slavery, won the war, and had innumerable enemies against him. He had to expect an assassination attempt.
Sitting Bull was surrounded in Little Bighorn by the largest force the allied tribes had ever gotten together, led by the military genius Crazy Horse. At the same time, he knew only too well the superiority of white America and knew that the Lakota were not allowed to weigh themselves safely.
So what appears as prophetic dreams was the work of the unconscious of two great thinkers, whose analysis condensed into images in dreams.
Far more common are dreams in which we only think that they were true or that we had previously dreamed of an event. A dream diary helps here, with which we can check whether we really had this dream.
However, anyone who thinks dreams are foams throws away a substantial part of what it means to be a human being and refrains from getting to know himself and shaping his life according to his needs. (Dr. Utz Anhalt)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
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- S. Hau: Experimental sleep and dream research, Krovoza A., Walde C. (eds) dream and sleep. J.B. Metzler, Stuttgart, (accessed 10.09.2019), Springer
- Anthony Stevens: On Dream and Dreaming - Interpretation, Research, Analysis, Kindler Verlag, 1996
- German Alzheimer's Association V .: Korsakow syndrome, (accessed 10.09.2019), deutsche-alzheimer.de