myths and truths about dreams

Empirical research into sleep and dreaming has rapidly invalidated many old “pop” theories that enjoyed debate for so long among dream enthusiasts. Recently even a few of Freud’s theories have taken some hard hits. Before looking at what is now known to be true of dreams, let’s review some common misperceptions.

Dreams Are Only in Black and White

In the 1950s in Europe and the United States, it suddenly became popular to debate whether people dreamed in color or only in black and white. Some contended that we dream in black and white but remember our dreams in color—that is, we “paint them in” afterward. What is interesting about this debate is not the question itself but rather the time that the question came to be asked. The debate was popular in the late 1950s. Prior to this time, however, in all of the literature that exists that pertains to dreams, the question of color never came up. Freud did not raise it, nor did Jung or any other psychoanalyst of the early twentieth century.

If you have never seen a black-and-white world, it would be hard to imagine one—wouldn’t it? The cause for this debate appears to be the widespread diffusion of black-and-white television in the United States and Europe in the 1950s! It is true that people can dream in black and white; for that matter, there is no reason to discredit anyone’s claim to occasionally dreams in black and white—or purple, or Technicolor, or Day-Glo. Much as our brains effortlessly recreate our outside world with all of its vivid colors. so too can they recreate the black and white world we see in films, on television and in photographs. No one hears much about the black and white theory today. Most people have color TV sets. Now the only time we might dream in black and white is after spending long weekends watching old movies on cable.

Sex in the Dreamscape

When lucid dreamers become aware they are dreaming, their orientation to the dreamscape naturally changes. Usually, whatever tension or immediacy which was present in the dream dissipates, and lucid dreamers are able to relax in the knowledge that the experience, after all, is only a dream. In this state of relaxed awareness, a playful curiosity inevitably develops. Lucid dreamers compare dream objects against waking experience. They strike up conversations with dream characteristics to see how these characters of their own creation will respond. Lucid dreamers fly and explore their dreamscapes. They pray, meditate, and ask for spiritual guidance with problems in their lives. Camouflaged representations are asked to identify themselves. Lucid dreamers also try to share dreams, to “leave their bodies” and enter into the world of astral projection. And, of course, lucid dreamers explore fantasies in their dreams.

Great Sex

It probably comes a little surprise to learn that many people, upon becoming lucid in a dream, seize the opportunity to act out sexual fantasies. (Freud is smiling in his grave.) But for many people, lucid dreaming represents an unique opportunity to act out, and to fulfill, some heartfelt sexual desires. In the dreamscape, we can be an uninhibited as we dare in our sexual explorations. We can have sex with abandon and without consequences. The dreamscape is a place where we can all attempt to consummate some of our most private sexual fantasies.

The fact that dream sex is widely reported to be great sex—that is, that the experience or orgasm in dreams is widely reported to be especially intense—adds an intriguing dimension to lucid dream sex. The ability for people to achieve powerful orgasms in dreams probably is due, at least in part, to the fact that our bodies during dream sleep are profoundly relaxed—far more relaxed than during any “quite” or resting awake time. Psychologically, one must also consider that: Is there anything in life more private than a dream? The truth of dream experience is that we can do whatever we want in our dreams, and no one excepting ourselves will ever be the wiser. This freedom from inhibition coupled with the relaxation of the body most likely explains the powerful orgasms of dream sex adventures.

We Become Aware of the Unconscious Mind

Perhaps better than any other experience, lucid dreaming illustrates the fundamental dichotomy of human experience—that we possess both conscious and unconscious abilities. Nowhere is the unconscious mind more powerfully tangible than during a lucid dream, where the creations of the unconscious are dramatically represented for us to touch and feel, to spend time with, to interact with, to engage in dialogue, and, as our memory for the experience is restored, to reflect on. Lucid dreams bring home the verite of the unconscious mind like no other experience.

Recognizing that there are unconscious processes is a large first step for most of us. People are inherently resistant to attributing processes of the mind to anything other than ordinary awareness. Lucid dream experience, however, illuminates the conscious and unconscious elements of the mind. This fabulous display liberates us from a fundamental ignorance of our own nature. It is the first psychological significance of lucid dreaming. 

©1995 Charles McPhee. Excerpted from Stop Sleeping Through Your Dreams: A Guide to Awakening Consciousness During Dream Sleep published by Henry Holt and Company, Inc.

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