Learn How to Understand Dreams, Visions, and Hallucinations
You do not have to be a prophet to have a vision, and you don’t need to go to a shrink in order to interpret a dream. You also don’t have to take drugs in order to have hallucinations. Interestingly, these alternative states of mind are not well understood, not even by the so-called experts—religious authorities and psychoanalysts. Let me explain . . .
What Are Dreams?
Dreams come at various stages of the sleep cycle. They often jump from one setting to the next and generally are full of psychological content. If you identify the emotion that you felt during the dream, you’ll probably see that it is one that you have been ignoring during your regular waking hours.
In your dreams, you often see those emotions that you ignore appear in a situation where they are exaggerated. That is the way that the brain processes emotions that you do not have time to process during a busy day. These emotions, once you’re aware of them, may guide you, such that you might lead a healthier, more prosperous life.
So, it’s best to try and feel what is in a dream rather than think about it. Once you think, the whole thing generally changes in meaning—moving you from dream mode to awake, thinking mode.
One special type of dream is the hypnogogic dream. These happen while people are falling asleep. They sometimes involve hallucinations that are projected into one’s bedroom. So, you might see a ghost or a spirit. Yet, while your eyes are open, you will probably not be able to move. That is because during most dreaming states the body is paralyzed. That is a homeostatic device that allows one to experience a grand array of emotions without the danger of one’s body moving in ways where it might get hurt.
During ahypnogogic dream, you will probably try to makes sense out of what is going on. That is because the rational part of your brain, he frontal cortex, is not yet fully asleep. Out-of-the-body experiences can occur during this form of dreaming.
One client reported floating next to the ceiling while looking down and seeing his body asleep on the bed. He tried to pull himself across the ceiling towards his roommate’s bedroom so that he might help him get down. My client tried to yell for help, but no words would come to his mouth. Eventually, he snapped out of it and woke up in bed.
The opposite of falling-asleep dreams, hypnopompic dreams, occur when people are waking up. They often involve the environment around the dreamer, and they may linger in a way that a person might think he or she has some control over his or her dreams.
It is unusual, but people can have hypnopompic nightmares during the process of becoming fully awake. One of my clients woke up in the middle of a nightmare. When he got up and stood in his bedroom, the nightmare kept going. He turned on the light and saw blood being splattering on the walls even after he screamed which caused his roommates to rush to his side. He told me it took him a minute or two to snap out of it. This happened despite him being awake enough to communicate with panic-filled statements to his roommates.
Free-spirited dreams are in a category by themselves. People who might be described as post-intellectual thinkers sometimes get them. In these dreams, historical figures—such as the president of the country or Jesus—interact freely in the context of the dream. Free-spirited dreams can be profound, such as being with President Lincoln at Gettysburg, surveying the aftereffects of the famous battle that took place there. Or they might be humbling, as in surveying the world from the international space station several hundred miles above the Earth.
What Causes Hallucinations?
Most hallucinations are visual projections of one’s emotional hang-ups and problems onto the environment while one is fully awake. They generally happen to distressed people. For example, one client suffering post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from sexual abuse would see men outside her home at night, lurking in the bushes. During these times, she was fully awake, and for her, the men were real, so she would call the police.
Similarly, one client, who was a veteran, thought I was the enemy. She was yelling, “F**king gook,” one session and tried to hit me. Later, in the hospital ER while on anti-psychotic medications, he said that he saw a Vietcong fighter coming at him in my office.
Besides psychological problems, hallucinations can also be caused by the ingestion of chemicals or certain organic matter. African devil’s weed, for instance, can cause the tail tight traces of passing cars to stay in one’s field of vision at night until there’s dozens of red traces from vehicles that are already gone. Something of this nature is technically called a distortion of reality. That is because it is based on something that really exists.
LSD experiences are quite intense. LSD can cause one to see totally-believable, imaginary settings—elves playing instruments, for instance, and dancing around a tree. But when they become a projection of one’s psychological garbage, the whole world looks to be made over in your worst fears and mental rubbish. This can be frightening, which is why it is called a bum trip.
Opiates can put one into a dream state, as they slow one down into a stupor. One ODs (overdoses) when the opiates—like heroin—slow one’s muscle function down so much that one’s heart stops. But the closer you approach death, and the more intense your stupor, the more lucid the dream you experience.
This is why heroin addicts often get killed. It is also why they find it extremely difficult to give up the habit and live a normal life—nothing in the everyday world is quite as exciting as staring death in the face and getting away with it. Low doses of heroin affect a person differently. Heroin takes a way both physical and emotional pain—lifting a person out of one’s misery.
In category all by themselves, profound visions fill the complete field of experience—360 degrees of both sight and sound—while one is fully awake. Visions are different from hallucinations and dreams in that they offer guidance in one continuous narrative. They block out the sounds around you so that you focus on what is in the vision. Generally, visions involve big decisions one has to make in the real world.
For instance, one client had an allergic reaction to a medication while at home alone. Her tongue bloated, she was filled with pain, and she was unable to speak. Being hysterical, she did not think of dialing 911 and just waiting. She did not realize she could go outside for help, perhaps because this took place at night. Meanwhile, her body was completely filled with excruciating pain. It was so horrible that she would do anything to stop the pain.
The woman started for her kitchen to get a knife, intending to stab herself in the heart. Suddenly, she found herself walking in an endless, sand-filled desert. Tall, sage-like women in flowing white robes stood before her. She began talking to one of them, discussing her situation. The tall women debated the idea of suicide in mumbled tones among themselves. Finally, one addressed her saying, “You can do what you want, but you have to think about how this will affect your family.”
My client calmly told the tall woman that she would think about it. Then, she asked, “Who are you?” The woman who had been speaking to her said, “We’re all your mother’s mothers.” That snapped my client out of the vision, and she decided to tolerate the pain as long as possible. Later, she lay down and waited to see what would happen. Finally, she was able to dial 911, and they sent a paramedic team, even though she was not yet able to speak.
Prophetic visions are a different sort of profound vision. During this type of vision, a supernatural being or a spirit of universal enlightenment conveys a revelation or profound truth. Some prophetic visions are seen when one is in a trance state or when one works oneself up into a frenzy, while fasting or burning oneself under the desert sun. This is what early wannabe Christian prophets sometimes did while trying to stimulate a prophetic state of mind.
Prophetic vision experiences appear in the Christian Old Testament Bible and in the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible. This led some people to think they had to discuss their religious experiences in terms of having a revelation. Otherwise, they feared others would not believe them. Because people would often lie, we have the concept of a false prophet. That derives from people making up stories about how they were contacted by God and how the future was revealed to them. This was done to attract followers and bring in money. If they called themselves the messiah, they were often slain just to prove they really were not capable of conquering the country.
Not all prophetic visions are religious. Prophetic visions sometimes occur among people who are totally obsessed about a particular philosophy, psychology, or religious way of life. René Descartes’ had a series of visions and dreams after crawling into a heated stovepipe on the night of November 11, 1619. He saw science as a unified field and thereafter, he spent the rest of his life proving it.
The Bottom Line
These mental phenomena—dreams, visions, and hallucinations—are altered forms of consciousness, and they should be embraced as such and not as rational thinking.
To take one’s dreams and be preoccupied by them all day long during your everyday life is to invite trouble. That is why it is not advisable to build a dream theory or to believe too heavily in someone else’s dream theory. What may happen is that you will dream increasingly about what your dream theory is preoccupied with. That happens because your unconscious mind tries to settle the psychological stress created by the belief in the dream system itself.
If you are looking for archetypes in your dreams, they will appear. Then, if you interpret these archetypes as having some personal meaning, you will dream about them even more. Soon you will have your own personal religion shaped around the dreams about which you are obsessed. This circular-reinforcement dreaming rarely helps one to understand oneself.
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Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (1970). Saint Joseph Edition of the New American Bible Translated from the Original Languages with Critical Use of All the Ancient Sources by Members of the Catholic Biblical Association of America. Totowa, NJ: Catholic Book Publishing Corporation.
Davis, P. J. (2005). Descartes’ dream: The world according to mathematics. North Chelmsford, MA: Dover Publications.
Richard, P. (1995). Apocalypse: A People’s Commentary on the Book of Revelation (Bible & Liberation). Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.
Mavromatis, A. (1991) Hypnagogia: The Unique State of Consciousness Between Wakefulness and Sleep. Florence, KY: Routledge.
Revelations. Wikipedia. Retrieved on May 7, 2013, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Revelation