Perchance to Dream

By Dr. Tan Kheng Khoo


"To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;
for in the sleep of death what dreams may come.
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
must give us pause."

William Shakespeare (Hamlet)

All of us dream. When someone says he or she does not dream, it is due the fact that he or she does not remember the dream. On the average an individual sleeps about 8 hours per 24 hours, i.e. he sleeps away one-third of his life. If he were 60 years of age, he would have slept for 20 years of his life. If he were 90 years old, he would have slept for 30 years in that life. Every night we dream about 2 hours in our 8-hour stretch of sleep, but we can only remember snatches of our dreams. On the whole, in one life time one sleeps about 5 to 6 years of that life.

Slow Wave Sleep (SWS) and Rapid Eye Movement (REM)

Sleep may be divided into two types: SWS and REM. The former (SWS) is named thus because the brain waves during this stage are large and slow. SWS is divided into 4 stages. The EEG (Electro-encephalogram) machine measures brain waves. At the start of sleep, stage one is registered, which is characterised by slow eye-rolling movements, a loss of alpha brain waves, and a lessening of muscle tone. Stage 2 is defined as comprising of a low voltage EEG, with mixed slow frequencies. A young healthy adult would have reached Stage 2 within 20 minutes of going to sleep. From now onwards, the sleep is deepened with larger and persistent slow waves dominating the EEG record. As far as deep SWS is concerned, the greater the amplitude and the slower the frequency, the deeper the sleep. Stages 3 and 4 are more synchronised and of higher voltages. Stage 3 is defined as having 20% to 50% slow waves of a certain amplitude, and stage 4 has over 50%. It is conventional to regard all the 4 stages as being slow wave sleep in contrast to REM sleep.

At the beginning, most normal people start with SWS until at least 45 minutes later when REM sleep begins. After this, there is an alternation between REM and SWS sleep, with REM arising out of SWS every 90 minutes. REM sleep is characterised by jerky eye movements (noticed beneath the eyelids) and total paralysis of all muscles except those of the chest for automatic breathing. The first sign is the loss of tone of the neck and throat muscles. It is found that during this period dreaming occurs. In humans, the small muscles of the face and hands twitch sporadically, as in animals. The total body paralysis guarantees that the individual does not act out the dreams.

The first REM sleep of the night lasts only a few minutes. Then as sleep continues its duration increases at each subsequent REM, until after several hours of sleep, REM sleep may last for 30 to 45 minutes. At the same time, SWS gets less and less as the night wears out. Therefore, there is some truth that most dreaming occurs in the second half the night. In REM sleep, there is penile erection in the males, and females have erect nipples, clitoral enlargement and lubricated genitals. The heart and respiratory rates become faster and irregular and the blood pressure also becomes irregular. Originally, it was thought that dreams or REM sleep was necessary for health, but now we know that this is not true. Preventing REM sleep with drugs has no bad effects on the individual. Half of the sleep in newborn babies consists of REM sleep, which may mean that this state is important in the development of babies. As animals also exhibit REM sleep, it is quite safe to assume that animals do dream as well. Dreams in REM sleep are more dramatic and exciting, whilst those in non-REM (SWS) sleep are calmer and less stimulating.

There is no muscular paralysis in SWS, and breathing is slow and abdominal. Sleep walking, sleep-talking, bed-wetting and teeth grinding are all performed during SWS.

Sometimes when one wakes up from a REM sleep one finds that one is still totally paralysed. All forms of movements with the large muscles are not possible. The best way to stimulate the muscles to come to life again is to move the small muscles of the face e.g. make a grimace. In this way the movement of the small muscles will lead to the recovery of the large muscles.


Nightmares are normally emotional in flavour and the subject matter is of secondary importance. The emotions are fear, guilt and horror in varying proportions and the dream ends in the subject waking up. About one in 20 people suffer from nightmares once a week. That means several millions of people in the world have nightmares every night. The worst sufferers may have one episode per night, sometimes more. To some the disorder is so extreme that they dare not go to sleep at night and few even tended to be suicidal. Nightmares maybe the cause of some fatalities during sleep. Some of them wake up breathing rapidly with an increased pulse rate and sweating profusely. Some of them may be yelling themselves awake. Therefore someone with an underlying heart disorder could easily die in this nightmare.

There are two types of nightmares. The first variety consists of only 4%, and is found in SWS. These mostly occur within the first one and a half-hour of sleep. There are no preceding physiological signs. The individual wakes up screaming with panic and terror. Then the heart and respiratory rates are seen to rise right away after that. Most of these people do not remember their nightmares the next morning. Some experts believe that this type of nightmare is due to a disturbance of the arousal system in the brain. Sometimes a noise can precipitate an episode. Witnessing some violence in their homes during childhood has traumatised some of these sufferers, and thus remains the cause of the nightmares. These SWS nightmares are sometimes called ‘night terrors’ and are common in children. They are quite often not accompanied by visual images or a story.

The other type of nightmares is really anxiety dreams and they occur during REM sleep. They are by far the commonest. These are inevitably preceded by physiological signs e.g. increased respiratory and heart rates and rapid eye movement. Most of them cannot move due to muscle paralysis, and they are unable to shout out. Some scientists believe that this is the real cause of those who profess to be pressed by spirits in a haunted room. These REM nightmares are horrifying and the images in the stories are seen in gruesome details, quite often in colour. Some of these are recurrent.

Dr. Keith Hearne made a survey of 39 nightmare sufferers. Most of them were women, but this female bias may be due to the fact that males generally do not want to relate their nightmares to others. The age of onset is usually the first 10 years of life. Six out of 10 said that trauma had preceded the onset. Nine out of 10 in this group reported that the nightmares recur some or all the time. It is interesting in the fact that REM nightmares happen during the first half of the night, when REM sleep is more prevalent during the second half of the night.

There is evidence that nightmares occur more frequently in anxious people, and the pre-sleep level of anxiety is an important baseline. In sufferers of recurrent nightmares, the anticipation of another nightmare would lower the threshold even more. Conversely, any remedy to calm the individual before sleep either by medication or meditation would lesson the likelihood of another nightmare recurring. The 38 nightmare themes in the above survey are classified thus:

1. Witnessing horror and violence     12
2. Experiencing attack or danger   11
3. Flight from someone or something                       5
4. Sinister presence                                                     5
5. Being late and frustrated in travel                        2
6.Suffocation                                                               1
7. Hallucinating creatures                                          1
8.Paralysis                                                                   1
   Total  38

Themes 4,6,7,and 8 are the reasons why dream workers do not believe these episodes are due to spirits or ghosts pressing upon the sufferer.

From the above themes, it can be seen that most of them are either receiving or witnessing violence. As it turns out the contents of the dream are not as vital as the emotional makeup of the sufferers. Analysing their characters, they are principally (a) affected by feelings, (b) apprehensive, (c) tense, (d) undisciplined, and (e) self-sufficient. These anxious people have nightmares because their threshold is low. And any subject in their dreams could trigger a nightmare, which is enacted to fit the tense, apprehensive and emotional character of the sufferers. Therefore one can tell oneself daily prior to sleep ‘to remain calm and relax’ as it is ‘only a dream’. These are also prescribed as imagination exercises daily while one is awake. Another method is to get oneself awaken up just before each nightmare arises by some one else or by a ‘dream machine’, which sets out an alarm at a certain respiratory rate.

All nightmares are there to remind us of some urgent business to be resolved. Therefore, instead of waking up in the nightmare, stand steadfast and find out who or what really is the terror. Then ask the creature or the monster what he wants. Normally when confronted this way, the creature changes to be a much nicer personality, and the message will be delivered in a direct or symbolic way, like ‘give up drinking or smoking’ or ‘you are gambling your fortune away in the stock market’.

A case of lucid dreaming mentioned in Jeremy Taylor’s book, ‘Where People Fly And Water Runs Uphill’ is very illustrative:

"A man was fleeing from a fiery dragon in a scorched and smoldering landscape. While running, he suddenly realised that he was dreaming (i.e. lucid dreaming). So he turned around to face the dragon and demanded the reason why the dragon was chasing him all over the place. The dragon replied " I am your smoking addiction". At the moment of this realisation the fire-breathing dragon began to change into a charming, friendly, family dog. Thereupon, he also noticed that the dragon was covered by a nasty, sticky brown slime, and noxious smoke was oozing out from every orifice including underneath the scales. He was revolted by this repulsive odour coming from the dragon. He then said: "Get away from me! I no longer want you in my life". At awakening, the dreamer could give up smoking straightaway without the slightest difficulty. He never smoked since."

The Nature and Characteristics of Dreaming

What is the actual duration of a REM dream?

It is fairly prevalent to believe that dreams represent a time warp, in that it is fleetingly short at the end of each period of sleep. However, in the dream laboratory it was found that the period of dreaming corresponds very well with the period of the REM. Waking up the subjects at various intervals and asking them to describe their dreams confirms this. The researchers found that the longer the dream the more words are used to describe the dream. The number of words is proportionate to the length of the dream. Also, a spray of cold water is used at varying intervals on the subjects who are woken up at varying intervals of the dream. Here again, the subjects would dream of water in their dreams, which corresponds to the timing of the spray. However, there are experts who still believe that the duration of the dream is shorter than the story that has transpired.

Does Everyone Dream?

There are people who say that they definitely do not dream at night. However, when they are studied in the dream laboratory, these individuals do dream, but they forget them very easily. When woken up during REM periods, they confess that they do dream. When woken up after the REM period, they remember much less of their dreams than normal dreamers. In the morning when they finally wake up for good, they do not remember any dreams at all!

Forgetting of Dreams

Unless we are woken up during REM sleep and asked to specifically remember our dreams, we normally tend to forget our dreams, especially the earlier REM dreams. Those that spontaneously remember dreams in the mornings only remember the most recent ones. So every night most of the earlier REM and the non-REM dreams are forgotten in the morning. Why is this so? This is because dreams are not stored in the brain like normal wakeful events. This is the crux of the matter. In order to retain dream events, at awakening, one must not move or look at the clock or do something to shake off the dream. The same position is held with eyes shut and one must re-enter the dream scene in a systematic method. Dreams are normally illogical, chaotic and unmemorable, and therefore not startling enough to be retained. A frightening nightmare is a different story altogether, because we are woken up by the nightmare at that moment. Even when woken up during a REM dream, some time must be allowed for that dream to be stored in the brain. Otherwise it is very quickly forgotten.

The Colour of Our Dreams

When questioned about colour in their dreams during the day, about half would answer that they dream in colour. When awaken up during a REM dream, the percentage goes up to 70%. On further questioning, another 13% vaguely remember colour in their dreams. The theme of a dream is always the predominant feature and the colour element is glossed over. Therefore, we generally dream in colour, but this aspect of the dream is forgotten.

Other Features of REM Dreams:

1. The movements of the eye are not scanning the images of the dream. They are merely automatic movements, and we do not dream throughout the period of REM.
2. Deprivation of sleep per se and not prevention of dreaming will produce some psychological distress. Dreaming, however, may have a function of resolving emotional conflicts.
3. We do dream during SWS (i.e. non-REM), but the incidence is much less. Primary process thinking and illogical stories are also carried out throughout the night’s sleep.
4. External stimuli (like cold due to falling of blankets or water sprayed) and internal stimuli (like hunger and thirst) do get incorporated into the themes of dreams. When one is cold in actual fact, the individual dreams of being in the arctic. When one is hungry, the dream will be about eating a wondrous feast. When water is sprayed on them, they dream of rain.

Dream Recall (How to keep a Dream Journal)

In order to work on your dreams, you must learn and practice how to recall, capture and write them down. Although we dream about 4 to 5 times per night, it is usually the last dream that we remember. The following steps are suggestions for you to take:

1. Keep a notebook or a small tape recorder beside your bed. It is better to have a notebook, because you still need to transcribe your tape recordings to the notebook at a later date.
2. Before you sleep, put down the date and one or two lines of the eventful incidents of the day.
3. In your mind, have the intention of remembering your dreams for the night, and instruct this intention to yourself either aloud or in silence.
4. Do not use an alarm if you can. If you have to use one, use a buzzer rather than a radio. Do not wake up fully. Lie still in that twilight zone with the eyes shut. Stay in the same sleeping position and try and remember as many details as you can of that last dream. Take your time, and do not think of anything else like office or shopping. After the first dream, try to remember the ones before that.
5. Try and write down your dreams while still in bed. If you do not remember any dream, identify your mood, and merely jot down your moods. Use a penlight if it is dark.
6. Give a heading to your dream. Try and capture as many details as you can, including names, places, periods and phrases. Always write down any quotations, phrases or poems first.
7. Do not censor or interpret your dreams. Be as outspoken and as outrageous as the dream. Do not worry how bizarre or ridiculous is the dream. Put down all the mundane or humdrum details down. Colour of the dresses and houses and the state of disrepair of the homes are all noted meticulously.
8. Feelings and physical sensations. Pay attention to your feelings and body sensations. Fit the feelings to the images, and enquire as to what the physical sensations are in relation to the story line.
9. If you cannot recollect a dream, just stay put in bed for awhile. Slowly move from one position to another and a strand or fiber of the dream may arise, and from there you can recollect your dream.
10. Even if there is no dream, write down your thoughts, sensations, and physical feelings, and in this process something may turn up. Certain periods of the month may be conducive to dreaming and certain hormonal levels (e.g. menstruation) may be inhibitory to dreaming. Julius Nelson found that his rise and fall of his dream recall varied with the lunar month. Similarly, women recall much less during the menstrual period than in the mid-cycle.
11. Read your dream journal periodically, or share some of the dreams with either a partner or a group. The journal must be frequently made use of.
12. You do not have to register a dream every day. If you can write down 2 to 3 dreams per week you are doing fine. However if you are serious about recording your dreams, a good dreamer should be able to record 600 to 900 dreams per year.

Additional points to remember when keeping a dream journal:

1. Find a notebook that allows of some comments to be added on one side of the book.
2. Keep your journal in a safe place and well guarded, so that nobody is allowed to read it.
3. Index your dream theme.
4. Note recurring theme and locality. Lateness, trains, being pursued etc.
5. Are your dreams precognitive? Tie up any relationship of the dream to external events.
6. Does your dream overlap? Does any other person share the same dreamscape as you?
7. Draw as many diagrams and pictures as possible in your journal.
8. Re-entry into the dream. If for some reason one wants to clear up some points, like the location of the dream, or to clarify some teachings, one could go back to the dream after being wide awake for some time. Lie down on the bed as in falling asleep, then pick up a scene of the dream and let your consciousness flow back into that dreamscape. Once you are back in the dream, you are able to concentrate on the details that you have missed out in the first instance. The location, the message, or the exact words that have been used can all be retraced in detail. If possible, a Shamanic drum may be used to re-enter your dream. Sometimes, one can change the ending of a dream with a re-entry. Rarely, one maybe able to make amends with our adversaries, if they turn up in our dreams. Forgive and ask for forgiveness.

In chapter one of Jeremy Taylor’s excellent book called "Where People Fly and Water Runs Uphill" he enumerates and discusses ten basic assumptions in dreams. We will now run through eight of these assumptions.

1. All dreams come in the service of health and wholeness. This means that there is no such thing as a bad dream. Even nightmares are there to rudely awaken you for you to pay attention to a truth that you have been ignoring. Any dream that can be remembered is of value.
2. No dream comes to tell you what you already know. Even if you know the fact, the dream is there to remind you to move further along that path for growth and development. Sometimes you may know a truth, but the dream comes up to remind you to act on it.
3. Only the dreamer can say for certainty what meanings the dreams may hold. All the experts in the world may suggest meanings in your dreams, but the dreamer is the only one that can be right all the time, if he or she takes the time and care to interpret the dreams.
4. The dreamer’s ‘aha’ of recognition is a function of previously unconscious memory and is the only reliable touchstone of dream work. The dreamer himself is the only one that can remember consciously the insight of the levels of meanings, which are there unconsciously from the beginning. All dreams have multiple meanings and layers of significance. There is no such thing as a dream has only one meaning. The dream’s multiplicity of truths about one’s life can be dissected out if required. Every interpretation of a dream is incomplete on its own.
5. All dreams speak a universal language of metaphor and symbol at the archetypal level. This universal language of dream cuts across all racial, sexual, intellectual and social barriers. Everyone speaks the same dream language.
6. All dreams reflect inborn creativity and ability to face and solve life’s problems. Dreams are workshops of evolution. Our dreams are our aspirations of our future. Our hypocrisy and our lies about ourselves are all mirrored in our dreams, and it is from this point of facing the truth that we can start our new lives.
7. All dreams reflect society as a whole, as well as the dreamer’s relationship to it.
8. Working with dreams in voluntary groups builds community, intimacy, support and understanding.

The above 8 points are truly pearls of wisdom from a dream expert who has been called ‘the most experienced and insightful explorer of the dream world today’. Much more time can be spent in analysing and discussing these points, but space does not allow it. However, another dream from Jeremy’s Taylor book is most illustrative of points (1), (3), (4), and (5). I quote the dream of a lady in an ‘empty nest syndrome’ in toto:

"I am alone in the kitchen. I hear the sounds of a party going on down in my basement. I think to myself, ‘There haven’t any impromptu parties in my basement since my kids lived at home. What’s going on down there!’ I go down to the basement and see all these people standing around talking and drinking, but now I can’t hear anything----it’s as though I have gone deaf! I move around and it is as though I have turned into a ghost----no one seems to be able see or hear me. I realize that I am carrying my handbag now. I didn’t have it with me before, but now I have it. And I know that there is a piece of rotting meat inside the bag, and I am afraid to open it up for fear the smell will offend everyone. So I wander around in the basement feeling more and more anxious and frustrated and hopeless until I finally wake up in a sweat."

The dream group that she attends came to the interpretation that the ‘rotting meat’ is a cancer, the basement suggests the lower abdomen and the handbag localising it to the uterus. The prognosis is ominous because ‘she is turned into a ghost’. Although physically she felt fine, she went and did a Pap smear, which turned out to be normal. Her anxiety was not relieved and she got a specialist to do a sonogram (ultrasound) and this test found a thickening of the lining of the uterus, which on biopsy was diagnosed to be an aggressive cancer. Urgent surgery was performed and her condition was cured. She was due to go to Europe for a holiday. If she had not had the operation immediately, it would have been too late after the European holiday.

Lucid Dreaming

Hervey de Saint-Denys coined the phrase " lucid dream" in 1865 when he found that he was able to ‘dream on, knowing he was dreaming’. Lucid dreaming is when you are aware that you are dreaming while dreaming. Whilst normal dreaming is when you realise you have been dreaming only after you wake up. In lucid dreaming, you are watching yourself lying in bed and dreaming. You also know what you are dreaming. The awareness of you lying there dreaming and about yourself in the dream may shift back and forth. You may at some stage go solely into your dream and lose the lucidity of knowing yourself dreaming.

Robert Moss prefers the name ‘Conscious Dreaming’, because the name Lucid Dreaming has been associated with one’s ability to control dreams. Nobody can control dreams, but one may influence dreams when in Lucid Dreaming. Moss also does not like the methods suggested to induce Lucid Dreaming, like looking at your hands during a dream, and keep reminding oneself that tonight one is going to be lucid. These methods according to him are not watertight.

The best way to be lucid in dreaming is to realise at that moment that we are flying or changing shapes or squeezing ourselves into keyholes. When these fantastic scenes are realised, then one can be spontaneously aware that we are dreaming. Sometimes a noise may provoke us into lucidity: a telephone ringing, a doorbell or a voice. Once you learn about lucid dreaming and have a desire to experience it, you may struggle to be conscious while dreaming. One can acquire the skill to lucid dreaming. Whilst dreaming, one must hold on to the awareness of dreaming. This awareness must be held tenaciously, or else you return back to uncontrolled ordinary dreaming. Therefore, do not relax. There is much joy in maintaining this lucidity. A pre-lucid state is one that you suspect that you are dreaming. Then you test this state to find out whether you are dreaming or not. Once the test confirms that you are dreaming, you can push it into lucid dreaming. It takes time to induce lucid dreaming. It needs practice. Sometimes in a nightmare, you realize that you are only dreaming and that usually wakes you up. However if you realize that ‘as it is only a dream, it cannot really hurt you’, you may convert the nightmare into a lucid dream. When you become lucid during a nightmare, do not awaken, as there is no terror anymore. Continue the nightmare as a changed lucid dream.

Another method is to recognise the dreamlike quality of your dream, and this will make it lucid. There should not be any emotional stress in this recognition. Also try to see any incongruity in your dream. This may trigger lucidity.

What is the nature of lucid dreaming? It is much more realistic than ordinary dreams. Animals and objects rarely speak as in ordinary dreams. Your body rarely changes form in lucid dreaming. Although lucid dreams are exceptionally real, miracles do happen, e.g. flying, changing environment and travelling to distant places at an instant. Perceptions are vivid. The colours are very lifelike. All the other sensations like sounds, tastes, odours, etc are very real. The physical feel, the psychological attitudes and perceptions are all like waking life. The thought processes are not as sharp as in waking life, but sharper than ordinary dreams. When awake, the memory of a lucid dream is very clear. It is much more easily recalled than an ordinary dream, as it has generated much excitement. The whole range of emotions is present in lucid dreaming, but the dreamer usually remains calm in a lucid dream. Do not allow excitement to wake you up in a lucid dream.

Two phenomena are usually associated with lucid dreaming. These are (1) false awakening and (2) flying. A false awakening is a state in which the dreamer is still dreaming, but he thinks he is awake. This state may follow a lucid dream or a non-lucid dream. When he finally wakes up he would realize that it was a dream after all.

Flying dreams quite often precede lucid dreams, and lucid dreamers have many more flying dreams than ordinary dreamers do. Nearly 40% of students in Kentucky and Tokyo experience flying in their normal dreams. Psychiatric patients have a lower percentage of flying on their dreams. Perhaps, they do not want to be thought that they are crazy. Usually flying dreams are a prelude to lucid dreaming. One can also learn to fly in one’s dreams, and after the first successful attempt, flying becomes easier the next time around. Gliding a few inches above ground is another distinct possibility and this is considered flying. One advice to dreamers is to talk about flying and lucid dreams intently for a few days. Concentrating your thoughts on these subjects may bring about flying and lucid dreaming very soon. With this method unpleasant dreams may be changed to pleasant ones.

Lucid dreams normally occur between 5:00 A.M. to 8:00 A.M. after a good stretch of restful sleep. Some observe that their flying dreams usually are the last dreams of the night. That means flying and lucid dreaming tend to coincide during this period of late morning sleep.

Meditation and lucid dreaming: The meditator is conscious throughout the period of his meditation. When he meditates down to theta wave, dreamlets and dreams begin to appear. Even when he goes deeper into delta wave, he is conscious and aware all the time. That means when his body is asleep, his mind is still conscious and aware. In contrast to normal sleep, in which the dreamer tries to become conscious while dreaming. The meditator never loses consciousness throughout the period of meditation. The dreams come during theta wave, which is equivalent to R.E.M. sleep. The yogin then can change his lucid dream while meditating. He can explore anywhere he likes. He can heal patients miles away with his powerful distant healing. When he wakes up from his meditation, he remembers every detail of lucid dream in his meditation. That means he can be conscious in his waking period, in his meditative dreams and remain in the same consciousness after meditation with full memory of what has transpired. It also follows that as you progress in your one-pointed meditation, you will also progress in your lucid dreaming. This is especially so when one can separate a watcher in our meditation and remain detached to the events occurring in the dreams. Do not be excited, and do not fear any image that arises in the dreams. Be fearless and calm. Be detached and equanimous. With repeated successful experiences, the meditator will grow spiritually rapidly.

What are the advantages of lucid dreaming?

1. Firstly it makes us more aware of our thoughts and emotions. Being more conscious in dreams means we are more conscious in life. So the first benefit is the expansion of our consciousness.
2. Secondly, one is more likely to be able to enter a higher spirit realm and move forward and backward in time.
3. An experienced lucid dreamer is then able to see the multidimensionality of his consciousness. He is then able to move up to level 4 and then whisk down to level 2 with expediency. During all this time he is aware of these higher spiritual realms. This feat alone will enhance his spiritual growth greatly.
4. A healing process may be expedited with or without the help of guides. In this high spiritual state, any disease can be healed in accordance with his karma.
5. Shared dreams will now be a possibility. ‘Dream date’ may also be pursued with the connivance of a partner.
6. Lucid dreaming is also most valuable in the instruction of life after death. Most religions teach that our entire life is to teach us about how to die. The bardo states in the ‘Tibetan Book of the Dead’ is the book par excellence to depict life after death through lucid dreams by Tibetan monks. In other words, lucid dreaming is to relate to us what is life after death. Sleep is a little death, and lucid dreaming is witnessing life after death.
7. Lastly, with lucid dreaming, the process of out-of-body experience becomes second nature and one does not have to learn specifically to achieve OBE. An experienced lucid dreamer may actually see his etheric or astral body (dream body) moving out of his physical body, and then he is able to see his dream body move to higher realms. There is no fear involved. It is an instructive viewing.

With all the above benefits, it is still a rare occurrence for someone to experience a lucid dream, even though he has done it before many times.

If one were to make a study of dreams meticulously and in detail, one can definitely conclude that we cannot totally control our dreams or radically change our dreams. However, we can influence our dreams. A great lesson arising from the study of dreams will tell us that our dreams are messages from our collective unconsciousness to our waking consciousness. If, therefore one does not register our recollections of our dreams we are missing important lessons for our spiritual development. Remember that ‘all dreams come in the service of health and wholeness’. Our deep unconscious knows that we are going the wrong path and our habits may shorten our lives. So a series of recurrent dreams will emerge to remind us of our folly. If we do not recall our dreams to obtain the message, a nightmare will then arise literally to wake us up. These messages cry out ‘stop your bad habit’ and ‘what you are doing is very wrong’ etc. And if you are not aware of these warnings from your dreams, then the harmful or fatal outcome will eventually come to pass. One could really conclude that dreams and nightmares are guidance, warnings and lessons from our higher self or guides.

Guidelines for interpreting dreams

1. Description of the dream. Write down as detailed as possible all the elements of your dream. Particularly note the (a) settings, (b) people and animals, (c) objects, (d) feelings, (e) actions in the dream and (f) a diagram would help a great deal.
2. Recapitulate the whole dream using the dreamer’s own words. Edit a little to bring out the main theme of the story. The words used may sometimes trigger the meaning of the image and theme of the description.
3. Bridge the images to specific situations in the dreamer’s own life. Does the theme remind you of anything or anyone in your life? Does it remind you of any part of yourself?
4. Test your bridge. In what way does the dream element relate to his waking life? Is the match strong? If the match is weak, drop the bridge. Look for another match.
5. Summarise the descriptions and bridges at the end of each scene. Add thoughts to the summary, and it is here that the meaning of the dream may come to light.
6. Reflect. What changes or actions should the dreamer take in view of the lessons learnt from his or her dreams? Read the dreams of the past week 2 or 3 times so as to consolidate the lessons or insights. Then act on them.

Dream dictionaries on the whole are next to useless. One cannot expect one interpretation of a theme to fit all individuals. A person’s dream is symbolic and metaphoric to that person alone. The dream comes in the wake of the person’s own term of reference, his background, emotional makeup and his existing circumstances. No two persons have the same set of emotional background and circumstances at the same time. If one is lazy and does not want to follow the above 6 guidelines for interpretation, one may buy 6 or more dream dictionaries and refer to every one of them to find out which dictionary gives the nearest interpretation to a particular theme. This is a hit-and-run method and could be quite misleading.

Personal Dream: A good example of how symbolic is a person’s dream to the dreamer himself is exemplified by a dream of my own. In my dream, I am attending a funfair. The man manning the entrance and selling the entrance tickets was an anesthetist, a friend of mine. I asked him what was the cost of a ticket. He answered $2. So I dished out four 50-cent coins to him. This unusual form of payment went unnoticed by me. A ticket was then issued to me. It had a number ‘389’ on it. On awakening, I tried to conjure up a 4th digit to buy a 4-digit lottery with the numbers 3,8, and 9. My brother and I assembled several 4-digits with the ticket number, ‘389’. We then bought these 4-digits, but we were totally unsuccessful. In turns out that the 1st prize 4-D ticket number was ‘5555.’ This is my four 50-cent coins payment towards the $2 ticket into the fair!

1. Freud, Sigmund. The Interpretation of Dreams. Trans. John Strachey. New York: Avon, 1965.
2. Jung, C.G. Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Ed.Aniela Jaffe. Trans. Richard Winston and Clara Winston. New York: Vintage, 1965.
3. Jung, C.G. Dreams. Trans. By R.F.C.Hull. ARK Paperbacks, 1995.
4. Garfield, Patricia. Creative Dreaming. New York: Ballantine, 1976.
5. Empson, Jacob. Sleep and Dreaming. Faber and Faber Limited. London: 1989.
6. Hearne Keith. The Dream Machine. The Aquarian Press. 1990.
7. Taylor, Jeremy. Where People Fly and Water Runs Uphill. New York: Warner, 1993.
8. Moss, Robert. Conscious Dreaming. Three Rivers Press. New York: 1996.
9. Moss, Robert. Dreamgates. Three Rivers Press. New York: 1998.
10. Delaney, Gayle. In your Dreams. Harper Collins. New York: 1997.