Should Your Dreams Guide Your Life?
MOST people desire sound guidance in their lives. They want to know more about themselves, their future and how to make wise decisions. But where can people find such guidance?
Many today look to their dreams as a guide in life. This is nothing new. Interest in dreams has a lengthy history. Ancient writings reveal that dream interpretation played an important part in the lives of the Babylonians, the Egyptians and the Greeks of long ago. People would often sleep overnight at “dream oracles” in the hope of receiving communication from a god in a dream.
But why all this interest in dreams?
It may be because dreams are so puzzling, lacking in organization and coherence. In the topsy-turvy world of dreams a person may see himself in an auditorium viewing a fencing match instead of hearing a lecture. He may dream of animals talking or people and objects floating through the air. Often people envision themselves trying to sprint free from an onrushing locomotive, only to be virtually frozen in their tracks. But none of these bizarre happenings seem abnormal to the dreamer—until he wakes up, that is.
Why do people dream? Do such night visions really contain the key to self-knowledge? Can you gain special insight, including knowledge of the future, from your dreams? Should your dreams guide your life?
Science Investigates a “Mystery”
During the past twenty years scientists have devoted much study to the mysterious world of dreams. With the aid of volunteers in specially equipped “dream labs” some interesting facts have come to light.
Scientists have noted, for instance, that a sleeping person experiences rapid eye movements (REM) about once every ninety to a hundred minutes through the night. These REM periods, which suggest that a person is dreaming, may last from ten minutes to half an hour and recur three or four times a night.
Experiments have shown that dreaming is a necessary part of restful sleep. Calvin Hall, director of the Institute of Dream Research at the University of California, writes:
“If a person is deprived of dreaming for a number of nights, his waking behavior appears to be adversely affected. He manifests various aberrant ‘symptoms’ that border on being pathological . . . These results seem to indicate a ‘need to dream.’”
This “need to dream” is so strong, explains Hall, that “when a person’s dreaming is reduced by awakening him every time his eyes begin to move, there is a significant increase in REM time when he is finally permitted to sleep undisturbed.” Thus people “make up” for lost dreaming time.
But why this need to dream? Is it, as some say, that dreaming aids people to cope with the stresses of life? Does it help people to sort out and process information that they have taken in while awake? Or does dreaming perhaps benefit the nervous system by recharging the brain cells? Dr. Julius Segal and Gay Gaer Luce admit there are no scientific answers to these questions. In their book Sleep they say: “Many conjectures about the purpose of the REM state are plausible. Yet they are not answers and the purpose of the dream state remains a mystery.”
What Prompts Dream Content?
A small percentage of dream content results from stimulation of the senses from the outside or within the body of the sleeping individual. Thus lights, sounds, hunger, thirst or the need to urinate all have some effect on a person’s dreams. Research has shown, however, that recent events especially influence what a person dreams about.
The book Sleep explains: “Perhaps the best established, out of all the factors that influence our dreams, is the role of events in the preceding day.” These become mingled with past experiences, including ones from childhood. A study made at the National Institute of Health revealed that dreams early in the night surround current events. As the night progresses, dreams center around things of the past and become more vivid. Then, as waking time rolls around, dreams once again focus on current events.
Do you find that your dreams often contain unpleasant aspects? You need not become overly concerned about this. Experiments with hundreds of dreams have shown that unpleasant dreams, in which the dreamer is the victim of some type of misfortune, outstrip pleasant dreams by a ratio of 7 to 1.
But what if you are troubled by repetition of the same type of unpleasant dreams, perhaps ones that contain allusions to sexual immorality, egotism, aggression or similar things? Remember the close relationship between recent events and dreams. The cause of your bad dreams may be in the things you practice and dwell on mentally from day to day. The solution to bad dreams may call for an adjustment in your routine of life, especially in what you regularly feed your mind.—Phil. 4:8.
“Royal Road to the Unconscious”?
Sigmund Freud, known as the founder of psychoanalysis, stated that dreams are “the royal road to the unconscious.” Many individuals believe that they can gain deep insight into their own personalities through dream interpretation. Books that encourage self-interpretation of dreams are available in abundance today. But are dreams really a sound guide to a better understanding of yourself?
That depends on whether interpretations of things seen in dreams are reliable. Are they? George Nobbe, in an article entitled “What Your Dreams Mean,” observes: “One of the vagaries of dream analysts . . . is that they seldom agree on the meaning of anything in a dream. Talk to two of them and you’ll get two different notions of the meaning of the plot of the same dream and the objects that appear within its framework.”
Freud, for example, theorized that people dream about wishes, particularly of a sexual nature, that they repress during waking hours. The psychoanalyst’s job, according to Freud, would be to probe through the things actually seen in the dream and to lay bare its hidden meaning. This, he thought, would be related to repressed wishes that arose from events of the preceding day and desires established in the patient’s early childhood.
Others disagree radically with Freud. The well-known columnist, Dr. Joyce Brothers, writes: “Freud’s view of dreams, however suggestive, doesn’t provide a complete explanation, because human adults are not the only dreamers. Dogs, cats, cows and horses dream. So do babies. Fifty percent of the newborn infant’s sleep is spent in dreaming.” Certainly these are not all dreaming to fulfill repressed wishes.
Numerous other theories to explain the meaning of dreams have appeared during the last two decades. Concerning them, Calvin Hall writes: “The ratio of research to speculation is still so small that it is difficult to draw any firm conclusions regarding the validity of these speculations.” Will you allow such guesswork to guide your life?
A Dangerous Fascination
Many, however, have reported dreams that they believe are “supernatural” in origin. One writer states: “In dreams, [I] am informed, sometimes uncomfortably, of facts of which I can have no knowledge by normal means.” Thereafter this author furnishes examples of several dreams in which she saw specific details of coming events.
Such experiences have led many to become fascinated with dreams, feeling that they may come from God and hold the key to important future events in their lives. They note, for instance, that on a number of occasions God imparted vital information, even long-range prophecies, to people by means of dreams.—Gen. 20:3; Dan. 2:3, 28; 7:1; Matt. 1:20; 2:12, 13, 19, 22.
It is important to note, though, that with the completion of the Bible canon by the end of the first century C.E., God made available a complete inspired record in written form for the guidance of mankind. After that there was no need for God to communicate with man in dreams, or in any other miraculous way. As to “spiritual gifts,” including supernatural “prophesying,” the Bible shows that these were not to be permanent, but were to be “done away with.”—1 Cor. 12:1; 13:8-10.
In view of this, fascination with dreams today can be dangerous. The Bible, at Zechariah 10:2, associates certain dreams with “divination,” saying: “The practicers of divination, for their part, have visioned falsehood, and valueless dreams are what they keep speaking.” Divination involves gaining secret knowledge, especially about future events, with the aid of occult powers.
Could God approve of a procedure that leads to “valueless dreams”? The Scriptures, at Deuteronomy 18:10-12, state:
“There should not be found in you anyone who . . . employs divination, a practicer of magic or anyone who looks for omens or a sorcerer, or one who binds others with a spell or anyone who consults a spirit medium or a professional foreteller of events . . . For everybody doing these things is something detestable to Jehovah.”
God’s Word here associates divination (including the looking for omens, as in dreams) with spiritism, which involves the influence of wicked spirit forces. (Eph. 6:12) Because wicked spirits may occasionally cause dreams that correctly predict the future, God warned his people to shun the “dreamer of a dream” who would encourage false worship, even if “the sign or the portent does come true of which he spoke to you.”—Deut. 13:1-3; compare Acts 16:16.
Something Better than Dreams
The Scriptures urge people to seek vital guidance in their lives and knowledge of the future, not through divination, but from God through his appointed “prophet,” Jesus Christ. (Deut. 18:15-19; John 6:14) That calls for a careful study of the Word of God. We read, at 2 Timothy 3:16, 17: “All Scripture is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness, that the man of God may be fully competent, completely equipped for every good work.”
The Bible, as a “complete” guide for human conduct, is something better than dreams. It is not vague, uncertain as to meaning. The Scriptures contain specific counsel on marriage, family life and other human relations, as well as sound principles that provide a basis for making wise decisions.
What about gaining insight into one’s own personality? No human can provide that through interpretation of dreams, no matter how skillful the analyst. The Bible, at 1 Samuel 16:7, states: “Mere man sees what appears to the eyes; but as for Jehovah, he sees what the heart is.” If a person really wants accurate analysis of his personality, he must go to God. How?
In the Bible, at Hebrews 4:12, we are told: “The word of God is alive and exerts power and is sharper than any two-edged sword and pierces even to the dividing of soul and spirit, and of joints and their marrow, and is able to discern thoughts and intentions of the heart.” What is the point of that verse? It means that diligent study of the inspired Word of God will help a person to examine himself, to detect the difference between what he appears to be as a living creature (the soul) and what he really is at heart, in attitude (the spirit).
The Bible also provides dependable information about the future. Fulfillments of hundreds of Bible prophecies are now a matter of record. The Scriptures indicate that within the present generation Almighty God will sweep the earth clean of wickedness and usher in a new order in which suffering, oppression, sickness and death will be things of the past. (Dan. 2:44; 2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1-5) Would you like to live on earth during that glorious time?
But preoccupation with dreams can hinder you from doing this by causing you to look to something other than the true source of guidance that God has provided, and possibly even involving you with harmful spiritistic influences. It is only God, through his inspired Word, who can guide you to a meaningful life now and lasting blessings in the future.—John 17:3.
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A leading dream researcher says: “The ratio of research to speculation is still so small that it is difficult to draw any firm conclusions” about the meaning of dreams. Analysts seldom agree on the meaning of anything in dreams. According to the Bible, certain dreams may even predict future events, yet not come from God.