A dream is a succession of images, ideas, emotions, and sensations that usually occur involuntarily in the mind during certain stages of sleep. A daydream is the stream of consciousness that detaches from current external environment when attention drifts to a more personal and internal direction. In both types of dreaming, our awareness is turned inward and we become caught up in our dream.
It’s also good to realize that fantasies are a form of daydreaming. When we get caught up in a fantasy about an individual or life circumstance, we get caught up in a dream that has nothing to do with the external present moment. The difference with a fantasy is that it carries with it a story that it projects on to our external environment, either personal or situational.
As with anything in life, dreaming has its benefits and its challenges. When dreaming opens us to possibilities for re-imagining our life, dreaming can be of great value for creative action. However, if dreaming remains turned inward, it can become an escape mechanism that absorbs you into a life disconnected from reality.
If we come to believe the stories of our fantasies, we enter into a relationship with life that cannot be actualized because it is detached from the truth of what is really happening. In order to keep our fantasy alive, we will either have to control another person or circumstance, or we will have to give away our true sense of self. We can easily martyr ourselves in savior fantasies.
So how do we tell if we’re dreaming? You can tell by how connected you are to the present moment. Is it happening now? Is it relatable to others right now? Is it internally focused, or focused on right and loving action in the moment?
While it might sound simple to just stay in the moment, it isn’t. Daydreaming and fantasies can be used as defense mechanisms to avoid past pain, trauma, and overwhelm. When we are present beyond our stories, we are left with the raw feelings we have been trying to compensate for. The most common of those feelings are feelings of abandonment, loss, less than, and brokenness. Resistance to these feelings creates a void, or emptiness within that can seem all consuming and overwhelming. However, by opening to these feelings and allowing them to process through us, we can begin to release the charge they carry. As the title from Dr. John Grey’s book says, What You Feel You Can Heal.
When we enter into these deep feeling places, we come face to face with our deepest vulnerabilities and the fantasies we have created about them. This allows us to process through them instead of denying them or engaging a fantasy about them. Having a good friend or counselor to share these feelings with can help us to stay with deep feelings and process them without becoming lost in our storied fantasies about them – to help keep us present and real in the moment.
Mindfulness and meditation are important tools in awaking. When used correctly, they allow us to gracefully transcend our dreams and fantasies and gently become present to our vulnerabilities with healing deep peace. Each time we practice we become aware of what the experience of being present in the moment is like, and with each experience, we carry a little more of this peace and presence with us into our daily life. The purpose of meditation is not to escape from the world, but to help us become more fully engaged in life.
Our close partners, wives, husband, or children are not the best suited to help us through deep and traumatically painful feelings. The one we love usually becomes woven into our defense mechanisms and can easily trigger our pain by not conforming to our protective needs. This is how co-dependency and counter-dependency behavioral patterns are formed. This is why it is best to have a good friend or counselor help to process deep pain or trauma. Since they are not a part of our daily lives and fantasies, it is easier for them to keep us focused on what we are feeling in the moment, and focused on the reality that is happening in real and “awakened” time.
Reality and truth are always uncomfortable and sometimes painful, but they ultimately lead to more personal happiness and to healthier relationships. The goal of waking up is not to change you. Change is your choice. Its goal is to build awareness, connectedness, compassion, understanding, respect, empathy and acceptance toward yourself and others. Learning to be present is the foundation of a loving and fulfilled life.