The Hidden Power of Dreams
Who Am I?
That is the question, is it not?
A simple answer would be that “We are the sum total of our experiences.” In other words, who we are depends entirely on events that happened in our past.
That makes sense.
When we think on our experiences, we invariably and exclusively ponder the events that happened in our waking life- jobs, children, car wrecks, battle. Momentous events that change the course of our lives as well as the countless little memories that seem to periodically and unexplainably pop into our consciousness at seemingly random times.
We make decisions based on the results of similar events that occurred in the past, a vital survival tool that keeps us from repeating actions that produced pain as well as reinforcing actions that led to pleasure and success.
However, while we put great emphasis on the things that happen from the time we wake up to the time we go to bed, we forget entirely our experiences that happen during the night while we sleep. Our Dreams may have a much more profound effect on who we are than we think.
The average human will spend one third of their life sleeping and have about 5 dreams a night. That adds up to a lot of experience over the course of a lifetime. An average 75 year old person would have had about 136,875 dreams!
Dreams last from five minutes to about half an hour- plenty of time to fly around the neighborhood or save a couple of damsels. The same budding octogenarian will have spent, on average, over two million minutes dreaming his subconscious bubblings.
But even by the time we are 20 and are just coming in to who we are, we have had over 36,000 dreams. 36,000 experiences that we just don’t remember. 36,000 events that while they were happening we were unaware we were dreaming. 36,000 instances that become part of who we are whether we are aware of them or not.
Put another way, before we leave our teens behind, we have logged over half a million dream minutes; we have lived 9,000 dream hours.
The hidden impact of dreams seems empirically logical. But how can it be tested? Dreams cannot be recorded; they can just be inferred by investigators from physiological changes and waking recall. How can we hope to uncover for analysis tens of thousands of hallucinations?
We don’t even know why we have dreams.
Nevertheless, I think it not a stretch to assert that our dreams can play as large a role in determining who we are (strengths, weakness, fears) as anything that happens with our eyes open. That dreams are not real should not matter; at the time of experiencing, we are unaware it is a self-created fiction. Dreams make us the unknowing star of experiences that are created from and played out entirely in the subconscious.
We would all agree that what we watch on tv and at the movies can at least affect our mood. Powerful images (movies, video games) can even affect behavior. Shadowboxing in the parking lot after seeing Rocky III, calling an absent spouse after seeing Dear John to tell him you love him, or something more antisocial like stealing a car or shooting up a liquor store. Most of the images that populate the media landscape are minions of little fictions created to entertain and engross. Yet they have the power to influence events.
Dreams, and the footprints they leave behind, etch an even deeper and more indelible mark. Yet, and this is the intriguing part, we remember only a portion of the 1,825 dreams we have each year! The rest are events our consciousnesses experienced as if they were real but are not consciously contemplated again. They are there, though, below the surface waiting for triggers we will not know are sprung or what springs them.
If we are the sum total of what we experience, and since we operate in dreams as if they were real, then dreams have to be considered a significant influence on who we are. Controlling them (lucid dreaming) or, at the very least, remembering them will give us deeper insight into our personality, character and behavior.