Dreams fascinate people. Part of this, I think, is because we don’t really know why we dream and because our dreams can be so hard to understand.
This article deals with involuntary dreams. It’s not about lucid dreaming or dream yoga. It’s not about dream-adjacent waking states, such as visions, daydreams, or hallucinogenic sleep paralysis. And it isn’t about the science of dreams, which is still very much in its infancy. (Did you know that you can dream when not in REM sleep?)
I’ll be covering the five types of involuntary dreams that occur to me. These are my own categories that I’ve come up with. There can be significant overlap between the different types (see footnote 1). Yet I’ve found it helpful to label my dreams this way, since it helps me better make sense of them.
Without further ado, here are my five kinds of dreams:
Type 1: Rehashing Dreams
Rehashing dreams are the most mundane ones of all. If you spent too much time playing Tetris and have a dream about playing Tetris, that’s a rehashing dream. Watch a TV show before bed and dream about that show—that’s a rehashing dream. Vividly reliving your prom night in a dream—rehashing.
Any dream that simply replays memories, even if they are recycled like a patchwork quilt, is a rehashing dream. They can still be significant and they can still be cool (sometimes you remember something you haven’t thought of in ages), but they don’t tend to have the novel representation, higher level of synthesis, or completely new information that some types of dreams seem to have.
Why might we have this type of dream?
Here are my best guesses:
Our brains are just trying to process our memories while we sleep.
We might need to improve our sleep hygiene and lifestyle, such as by not doing certain activities before bed or changing how we spend the bulk of our time (e.g. not playing too many video games or binge watching TV).
Also possible: something is trying to draw our attention to something that happened to us before. Perhaps we dream about our ancestors when they want us to remember our connection to them.
Type 2: Dreams of the Subconscious and Unconscious
Subconscious and Unconscious dreams are the classical fodder of Freudian and Jungian dream analysis. For my definition, I distinguish between subconscious to denote things we are marginally aware of that we try not to think about and unconscious for the things we are completely unaware of and have fully repressed.
These are dreams that force us to look at and deal with important issues that we don’t want to.
I once felt very insecure in a romantic relationship, and although I was aware of this, I still tried to not let it bother me. Then I had a very vivid and disturbing dream about everything I was feeling insecure about. My mind created scenarios that hadn’t happened. There was the kind of symbolism you find in a dream dictionary. And, most importantly to me, there was a feeling of intensity and urgency. After that dream, I could no longer deny the true extent to which I felt insecure, hurt, and unhappy in that relationship. It served as a catalyst for me to face the situation I was in. I spent more time reflecting on what I wanted. Ultimately, this lead to me doing more healing work on myself, as well as taking the risk to be completely open about my feelings.
Why might we have subconscious and unconscious dreams?
I think the obvious answer is to force us to confront difficult personal issues so we can heal and grow.
It’s also possible that our brain is just doing it’s thing, organizing itself at night, and these kinds of dreams are simply a coincidental byproduct. But I don’t think so. And if they are, what a happy accident that is—we can make meaning and find healing from something that is potentially random and inconsequential. I think that’s true alchemy. Lead becoming gold for our personal development.
I would hazard a guess that Type 1 and 2 dreams make up the vast majority of dreams people have. I also suspect that some people are, for whatever reason, prone to having a greater frequency of the next three kinds of dreams than the general population. Maybe it is related to being more adept at entering trance and transpersonal states. Or maybe it’s because a person has progressed in their self-healing to a certain point or because they are in simply in need of the special information that those dreams present. It could also be rooted in their innate neurobiology. Anyone’s guess is as good as mine.
Type 3: Journeying Dreams
Journeying dreams are very interesting, and they can, but don’t always, have a lot of overlap with subconscious and unconscious dreams. As I experience these dreams, I feel a distinct difference in “flavor” compared with Type 2 dreams. Something feels different about them—but it’s hard for me to describe what that precise feeling is. I also tend to feel exhausted after these dreams, as if I got no sleep and was working all night long, even if I got more uninterrupted sleep than usual.
You often journey to strange places in these dreams, even if they seem familiar: upper realms, lowers realms, the middle world, parallel worlds and realities, other timelines.
I find my journeys in the middle world particularly fascinating. A lot of places in my middle world have real-world correspondence, though they are often highly distorted or purely symbolic representations. There are many wormholes in it too, plus places that don’t exist in our purely physical world. One such place that I’ve visited quite a few times is this bathhouse, where I often end up being confronted by people that I’ve had conflicts or unfinished business with in the past. It’s as if part of our souls go there—naked, which seems fairly symbolic—in order for us to cleanse and refresh ourselves of our shared difficulty. The conversations have always been pretty straight forward. And even if they are a creation of my mind (which I don’t think is the case), they don’t seem to be playing out from a place of fear like is more common with Type 2 dreams. There’s often a resolution to the conflicts, or at least a better understanding.
Yes, active healing can occur in these dreams. I’ve done a soul retrieval for myself, helped earthbound spirits crossover, connected with guides, experienced profound energy healing, and more during journeying dreams. So even though a dream can be both Type 2 and 3, when the journeying aspect is involved, there’s a dimension for transformation that is incorporated during the dream that seems to be absent from ones that only deal with sub- and unconscious subject matter.
Another interesting thing about journeying dreams is that they can be transpersonal. Shared dream experiences do occur. Sometimes, not all the participants are dreaming, though this is a rarer and more mystical occurrence. We can also have dreams where we learn things that we didn’t know before which are confirmed after waking. There are many stories about people learning of a loved one’s passing this way. I have learned about a surprising amount of things likes this. Some of it has been very mundane, like first learning about a kind of plant in a dream. Others things are a bit spookier. I’ve visited places in dreams I’ve never gone to or seen a picture of in real life, only to later learn how accurately they were depicted in my dreams. I learned about part of my genetic ancestry in my dreams, which was previously unknown, only to later have it revealed through DNA testing. And I’ve learned about various healing modalities, metaphysical practices, and esoteric information in my dreams that I verified once I was awake. These were things I didn’t know before. While I can’t prove this to anyone else, for me, my personal body of this kind of evidence is in part why I believe there’s a lot more to our reality than meets the eye.
Why might we have journeying dreams?
I think these dreams are blessings that allow us heal, grow, and learn when we aren’t even awake! They’re wonderful gifts, though there can definitely be scary and dangerous Type 3 dreams.
Also, I notice that I sometimes have more of these dreams when I don’t spend enough time doing self-healing and transformational work in my real life. This is especially true for the dreams where I feel most exhausted upon waking. It’s as if the work must go on, whether I do it while conscious or it occurs involuntarily during my sleep. And some of the days where I’ve done the most self “work” during my waking hours, such as doing a lot of conscious journeying, I end up having no dreams at all and enter into a super restorative, blissed out sleep state instead. A little bit of that kind of sleep goes a long way (see footnote 2).
Sometimes I think we may also have these dreams as a continuation of the work we started doing in our waking life. Many times I’ve done a brief journey or something like cord cutting, which was followed by a Type 3 dream that furthered the work I began.
Type 4: Prophetic Dreams
Prophetic dreams aren’t that common. Also, most prophecies aren’t completely set in stone. I think most people understand what these kinds of dreams are. I’ve had several over the year, most of which I don’t feel at liberty to discuss.
One I can allude to, in part, I had when I was pregnant with my first child. (Pregnancy dreams can be weird.) It was a long dream and all these things happened that, at the time, I never thought would occur. I saw people I knew get married. I saw different career paths people who take. I saw the different things I was going to do next. And so on. (There was more to it, but I am not disclosing at this time.) Over the months and years, it became apparent that all those things which I thought wouldn’t happened had been coming true. Things from that dream are still playing out, but it’s remarkable to me that it’s held true for a decade now.
Why might we have prophetic dreams?
To warn us of the future so we can prepare or make needed changes.
To serve as a litmus test so we’ll believe something else in the dream.
To show us that reality is not what it seems. Are we sure time is purely linear? Are we sure that there isn’t more to life apart from the material realm?
As a manifestation of siddhis/magical powers or because we are connected to something higher than ourselves.
Perhaps they can serve to trick us, as in the case of self-fulling prophecies. They may exist to cause us to live in fear of the future or to make us feel dependent on sources outside ourselves for our salvation.
Or they could be purely coincidental.
Type 5: Allegorical Dreams
Allegorical dreams are the weirdest to me. I almost didn’t want to make them their own category, because I think they’re very rare and somewhat hard to define. Unlike subconscious and unconscious dreams, these deal with mostly transpersonal matters. And they differ from prophetic dreams in that they aren’t necessarily about the future; they can describe something that has happened, is happening, or is always true. You can definitely experience an allegorical dream within a journeying dream, as a means of being taught new information. But there’s more to them than that.
For me, these are dreams that represent something in our reality—often something profound—that we are shown through symbolism.
I haven’t had many of these types of dreams, but the ones I’ve had had stuck with me. I don’t feel comfortable, yet, sharing mine, but I’ve been blown away by how creative they were. They have a quality where I want to keep revisiting them upon waking, and only gradually do I understand what the hidden meaning is.
The lessons have been mind-blowing. I think that might be why they are represented symbolically, because I don’t think my mind could grasp them otherwise.
Why might we have an allegorical dream?
Either they are a meaningless construct of our brains that we assign meaning to, or they are something meaningful that is converted into a form that our brains are capable of handling.
As with prophetic dreams, having them might be a sign of mystical prowess or higher connection. But they may also be a means to steer spiritual seekers off course. As with anything, take them into consideration, but use your own discernment.
So much overlap in these categories I made up. . .Prophetic dreams can be presented as allegories, like many of the dreams depicted in the Bible. Dreams dealing with our subconscious and unconscious might have a lot of allegorical imagery (symbolism) in them, and we might use journeying in our dreams to works out subconscious and unconscious issues. Etcetera.
I wonder if the anecdotes people have about needing less sleep with yoga nidra are related. For those unfamiliar, yoga nidra is a very systemic method of doing a journey with the purpose of self-transformation.
Although not the same as journeying, it is also common for highly advanced practitioners of some yogas (like hatha) and meditation to require much less sleep with increased practice. (There’s also a tendency to naturally and easily sync your waking to just before dawn.) I believe that this points to sleep providing a function for humans that it, meaning sleep, is not purely necessary for—because some people preternaturally can thrive with much less, and this seems somewhat cultivatable—nor sufficient to cause—as in the case of people who never feel restored no matter how much sleep they get. Who knows what that function or functions could be? Perhaps one function could be to help interface our non-physical consciousness with our physical beings. Just a thought.