No scientist has a definitive answer as to why we dream. Theories suggest it might be a by-product of nighttime neuronal activity or a mechanism for processing emotions and memories. Whatever the case, dreams are a constant source of fascination for humans. Dr. Carder Stout, a Los Angeles-based Depth Psychologist and Dream Analyst, answers your questions about the mystical, unnerving and frequently ambiguous qualities of dreams…
Culture Trip: Why do we have reoccurring dreams or nightmares?
Dr. Stout: Usually, when we are having a recurring dream or nightmare there is something in our psyche that is trying to get our attention. It recurs because we have not acknowledged it the first time and it will keep attempting to be seen until we understand it. Often when someone is struggling with honesty, deception, fear, anger or addiction, the emotions appear as figures in the dream, and they want to be reckoned with. Until we change our behaviors, they will continue to haunt and pester us in restless or frightening dreams.
CT: What does it mean when a character or scene in your dream suddenly switches to something completely different?
Dr. S: Dreams are completely non-linear. They have absolutely no grasp of time and are embedded in the infinite. Therefore everything is present in the dream and our feelings, fears and tendencies can change momentarily in the present. The faces of people are representing aspects of your character, your values and insecurities. These things can change on a dime.
CT: Why do some people have the ability to lucid dream while others don’t? Is it a skill that can be learned?
Dr. S: Lucid dreaming is essentially trying to insert consciousness into a dream. I do not believe it is helpful or relevant and therefore should not be a focal point of the dream experience. Dreams are about letting go and allowing our soul to take us on a journey. It is a fully unconscious experience. Ego should be left at the door and there should be no attempt at maneuvering through or negotiating in a dream. Dream are sacred and should be experienced not directed.
CT: Some think that dreams are a way for the subconscious to explore something the conscious mind has touched on but not addressed in waking life. What psychological role do dreams play?
Dr. S: Dreams are meant to heal. They are compensatory. It is the soul’s intention to help us rebalance our fragile psyche through administering specific images in our dreams. Dream images are the language of the soul and they are meant to restore our psychological equilibrium.
CT: Why do we have sex dreams about people we aren’t consciously attracted to?
Dr. S: Sex dreams are really about connecting to intimacy. If there is something inside you that you find unattractive—a quality like shame—then this feeling may be represented by a figure in the dream. Having sex with this figure is really about becoming more intimate or accepting of that part of yourself.
CT: Why do we forget some dreams and remember others forever? Ones from our childhoods for example.
Dr. S: The dreams that we remember forever are usually archetypal dreams or “big” dreams. They reference a myth or story from the vast history or all things that have preceded us. When we connect to the collective it is a powerful experience that embeds itself in our psyche forever. Most people have only four or five dreams like this over a lifetime. They are truly spectacular, spiritual experiences.
CT: Why are faces unclear or fuzzy in our dreams?
Dr. S: Sometimes we are uncertain of what we are truly dreaming about. Just like in waking life we may become confused or overwhelmed at times. Dreams may be referring to several narratives at once and it is possible for them to blend together and blur the criss-crossing lines that bind them together.
CT: Are there any techniques I can use to better remember my dreams upon waking?
Dr. S: Keep a journal beside your bed with a pen stuck inside. Immediately when you wake up jot a few dream images down. Write down the most powerful ones. Then in the morning revisit the images and make a more comprehensive stab at recounting the fullness of the dream. These few images will place you right back in the center of it.
CT: Are dreams linked to the feeling of deja vu?
Dr. S: We dream all night long but only remember small portions of them when we wake. [I believe] deja vu‘s are moments that we have dreamt about, forgotten, and then actually seen in waking life. We have seen the future in our dream and then it comes to pass in real life. Remember dream are non-linear and do not reference time. The past, present, and future all share the same bed.
CT: Why are the majority of my dreams very commonplace and dull? Why do I never fly?!
Dr. S: If you want to have more archetypal, spiritual and meaningful dreams then you must begin a dialogue with your soul. Reintroduce yourself to the most authentic, truthful and loving place deep down in the depths of your psyche. Visualize a reunion with your spiritual center and then ask for your dream images to flourish with color and pulchritude. Then wait for it. You’ll be amazed by the results.