Is That Dream Junk?



Or, Why You Don’t Remember More Dreams


Throughout history people have differentiated spiritual, uplifting, divinely inspired dreams from dreams of losing their keys, getting tapped or chased, being confused, or embarrassed. Clearly, dreams that remind you of your weaknesses and failures are not spiritual dreams while those that remind you that you can reach the stars are.

Or are they? A lot of people say they are. Tibetan Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Shamanism, Sikhism, Freud, Jung, and probably your favorite dream author divide dreams into these categories. For example, in Tibetan Buddhism dreams are viewed as illusions, like a drug-induced hallucination. (But so is life!) There are six types of dreams mentioned in Tibetan Medicine that can be generally interpreted: dreams of what was seen the previous days, dreams of what was heard the previous days, dreams of what was experienced the previous days, dreams of fulfilling the spiritual wishes, dreams of fulfilling the normal wishes, dream omens or illness prognosis.

None of this sounds particularly spiritual except maybe dream omens or fulfilling spiritual wishes. The rest is mundane. The Indian text Upanishads, written between 900 and 500 BC, emphasized two meanings in dreams. The first says that dreams are merely expressions of inner desires. The second is the belief of the soul leaving the body and being guided until awakened. Here we can see the division into mundane and more “spiritual” dreams. Babylonians and Assyrians divided dreams into “good,” which were sent by the gods, and “bad,” sent by demons. They also believed that their dreams were omens and prophecies.

Hebrews also differentiated between good dreams, from God, and bad dreams, from evil spirits.   If you look at Freud you will find that he varies from this pattern, viewing almost all dreams in the first mundane category described millennia before in the Upanishads. If you look at Jung you will find a tendency to see every dream as a means of integration, and therefore spiritual in intent. However practically speaking, for Jung most dreams end up being expressions of one’s “shadow” or disowned self, and compensatory to one’s waking attitudes and dispositions. If you look at your favorite dream author you will most likely find dreams divided into these two categories, with most of those dreamed classified as “mundane” and dismissed rather cursorily. Healing dreams, lucid dreams, out of body experiences, meetings with spirit guides, historical figures, or life forces is much more powerful, awe-inspiring, uplifting, spiritual, sacred, and divine. At least that’s the way it often feels.

If this distinction is universal, it must be correct, right? We are universally told by our senses that the sun rises and sets. That was the truth, called the “Ptolemaic world view” in the West, for thousands of years. There was a time when you could get yourself killed by trying to claim otherwise. So going against common knowledge is not popular, nor is it always wise, in the practical sense of that word. But the problem is that both our senses and our common use of language lie; the sun doesn’t rise and set. Similarly, just because the world has always divided your dreams into categories of mundane and sacred, or that you have done so, doesn’t mean that this is the best or most accurate way to approach them.

Let’s take an example. Let’s say you wake up with a dream that some kid claims he is making healthy Mexican food. You investigate his room and find a large plastic jug of very cheap salsa that’s about to go bad. He also has some containers of creamy, sugary sauce, such as might go on a cinnamon bun. You suspect that he himself has stolen these containers of sauce. You like it, so you take them, Before you wake up, you realize that he’s found that his salsa and sauce are missing, and you’re the likely culprit.

How do you feel when you wake up? You just dreamed that you are a thief. As the boy, you are presenting something as healthy that is not, so you are also dreaming that you are a liar. These are things you already know about yourself, but spend a lot of time and energy telling yourself are not true and pretending to others that you aren’t. So this dream is clearly you kicking yourself where it hurts: reminding you of your failures and your weaknesses. In this short dream you play all three roles in the Drama Triangle. You persecute yourself by lying and stealing; as the subject of these actions you are a victim; you attempt to rescue yourself by taking foods that you like but by so doing you become a thief and do nothing for your health.

And so you ask yourself, “What sort of god would send you a crap dream like that? What sort of friend waste a friend’s time by showing them such a low-grade home movie? Not only do you not only already know and hate these “truths” about yourself; the dream doesn’t do anything to give you hope or confidence to fight the good fight in the world today. It confirms your worst suspicions about yourself and makes you want to go climb under a rock. No wonder you forget most of your dreams. You suspect that they mostly are about how you are screwing up your life!

Now some of you clevertons out there are thinking, “Ah! That’s a dream about his shadow! And this is a very good dream, because by looking at, understanding it, resolving it, and integrating it he can stop fighting his shadow! But saying that a dream is useful is not the same as saying it is spiritual and divine. Sawdust is useful because you can make particle board out of it, but it’s not, shall we say, “sacred.” Dog shit is useful because you can perhaps…um…compress it into molds and make garden figurines out of it, like fat gnomes or something. But that does not make dog shit particularly spiritual. If you do attempt to claim that a dream of stolen salsa and sugar sauce really is a loving, compassionate dream of oneness, people will look at you with a blank stare or wonder where you got whatever you’re smoking so they can go get some too.

It is not difficult to come up with a plausible explanation for most such dreams. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist or author of dream dictionaries to sense what such dreams are telling you. This dreamer automatically and immediately associated his salsa-sauce revelation to his love of junk food, that is: high carbohydrate Mexican food (that dream salsa pumped up with sugar and salt) and his sugar addiction (that sugary sauce). Since he’s often sneaking sugar snacks because he feels bad about it, but does it anyway, that explains the dream. Why look any further? The explanation is obvious enough: like a little boy he eats stuff he knows he shouldn’t.  When he remembers the dream he feels bad and forgets it as soon as possible. If he fights that urge and holds the dream up to the light, rather like one might, on the way to the trash can, examine a dead mouse that your cat left under the bed the other evening, he is likely to conclude that it’s telling him he’s stealing from himself and robbing his health. He’s feeling guilty about it. Is this news?

If you get this far in your examination of some bit of the previous night’s soap operas, you have done an unusual amount. You have excavated something useful from the night’s compost pile. The dream at this point serves as a painful but useful precautionary reminder of how you steal from yourself and the lie that you live. That is a very long way from experiencing something from your compost heap as sacred. You have done nothing to raise the dream to divine status.

You are being presented with a very unlikely claim here: that the dreams you know are junk, because they scare you or make you feel depressed, ashamed, or guilty, are spiritual, sacred, divine dreams. Your first response should be skeptical, very skeptical. Why? Because this has not been your experience. Your experience, as certainly as your eyes consistently see the sun go down, is that a lot of dreams cause you to feel like you don’t want to feel or are just plain stupid, irrational nonsense, like trying to cut bread with a napkin. Even more likely, like the above dream, they can be easily explained by a plausible appeal to a mundane waking concern and therefore “proven” to be secular and profane and not spiritual or sacred. Attempts to show they are indeed sacred should be approached with skepticism, because doing so takes us a long way from common sense.

You have learned that the sun doesn’t rise and set and that your senses lie, but continue to say things like, “What time is sunset tonight?” Similarly, you may have learned that there is no real distinction between sacred and secular, divine and profane dreams but continue to experience the difference between these dreams as distinct, important, and real. You will probably take this knowledge and do with it the same thing you do with your knowledge of heliocentrism: You “know” the world revolves around the sun but continue to use geocentric language because it is practical, because that’s how people say things, and it’s harmless, because everyone knows that it is simply a convention of speech. If you do the same with your dreams you will quickly forget about what you have learned here and become re-immersed and lost in your habitual delusion regarding your dreams. Most of them are so much depressing, mundane drama, to be best dismissed as such.

To break out of this frame of mind you have to practice waking up; you have to relentlessly interview every dream you remember that you first think is meaningless and junk, until you begin to wake up in the morning assuming that every dream is important, precious, spiritual, and divine, even if you dream you are killing babies or eating cockroaches.

Let us take a practical example, using the above dream as a template for how you can go about proving the sacred nature of your mundane and profane dreams for  yourself.

Begin with three life issues. This is a way to tie your dreamwork into what’s important to you today in your life.


What are three fundamental life issues that you are dealing with now in your life?


Staying healthy; eating right

Staying focused in my work and on my work

Staying out of the Drama Triangle


Tell me a dream you remember.  It can be an old one, a repetitive dream, a nightmare, or one that you’re sure you understand. 


Some kid says he is making healthy Mexican food. I investigate his room and find a large plastic jug of very cheap salsa that’s about to go bad. He also has some containers of creamy, sugary sauce, such as might go on a cinnamon bun. I suspect that he himself has stolen these containers of sauce. I like it, so I take them, Before I wake up, I realize that he’s found that his salsa and sauce are missing, and I’m the likely culprit.


Why do you think that you had this dream?


Guilt over eating junk food I know I shouldn’t eat it because I’m cheating myself.


If this dream were playing at a theater, what name would be on the marquee? 


Junk Food Addiction


These are the characters in the dream, beside yourself…


Boy, Salsa, Plastic Jug, White Sugar Sauce, Glass containers with Lids, Shelves they are on, nondescript building we’re in.


If one character had something especially important to tell you, what would it be?


Let’s choose the Plastic Jug, because it is a very mundane character. Nothing spiritual about it. 


Now remember how as a child you liked to pretend you were a teacher or a doctor?  It’s easy and fun for you to imagine that you are this or that character in your dream and answer some questions I ask, saying the first thing that comes to your mind.  If you wait too long to answer, that’s not the character answering – that’s YOU trying to figure out the right thing to say!


Plastic Jug, are you a character in Joseph’s dream?




Plastic Jug, look out at the world from your perspective and tell us what you see… 


I’m about a third filled with salsa. I mostly sit on a shelf. I should be in a refrigerator, but I’m not.


Plastic Jug, would you please tell me about yourself and what you are doing?


My job is to hold this salsa. When it’s gone I’ll be thrown out. I’m not made for recycling, though I wish I were.


Plastic Jug, what do you like most about yourself? What are your strengths?


There is a certain utilitarian dignity in being able to perform a function, no matter how mundane, and to do it well. I am a sturdy and reliable container. 


Plastic Jug, what do you dislike most about yourself? Do you have weaknesses?  What are they?


Like I said, I’m going to be thrown away. I would prefer to be recycled or reused. 


Plastic Jug, what aspect of Joseph do you represent or most closely personify?


Parts that are functional and practical, that he takes for granted and that he views as expendable. I suppose in one sense I’m like his stomach or digestive tract, in that he uses it or relies on it/them very practically to eat and digest, but then discards them from his awareness completely. He is only aware of them, just like he is of me, when something goes wrong. And that is how it should be, so he is free to concentrate on other, more important things. My role is functional and supportive, like his digestive system. 


Plastic Jug, if you could be anywhere you wanted to be and take any form you desired, would you change?  If so, how?


I would probably be his stomach and digestive tract. That way I would be alive and my usefulness would be recycled perpetually. 


(Continue, answering as the transformed object, if it chose to change.)

Digestive Tract, how would you score yourself 0-10, in each of the following six qualities: confidence, compassion, wisdom, acceptance, inner peace, and witnessing?  Why?


Confidence, 0-10. Why? I would give myself an 8. Why? I digest pretty much anything that is put into me. I am reliable. I don’t cause problems. I have confidence that I will do my job well, within realistic boundaries. There are all kinds of stupid and unwise things that could be put into me that would create problems, but that rarely happens.


Compassion, 0-10. Why? ? I don’t know. I’ve never thought about it. I am not self-reflective enough to be compassionate about myself, and I don’t have any empathy for any difficulty Joseph may have in changing his habits or in the difficulty of making healthy choices about what to put into me. 


Wisdom, 0-10. Why? 8 or 9. If Joseph tried to do what I do naturally,  he’d kill himself. He knows nothing about when or how to produce peptides, hydrochloric acid, break down proteins, carbohydrates, or fats. It’s not his job; it’s mine, and I do it well, naturally. 


Acceptance, 0-10. Why? 8 or 9 Again, it’s pretty much my job – to accept whatever is sent down to me without complaint and transform it into something useful as best as I can. I generally do a good job, but it’s also part of my job to complain if I’m given too much of the wrong stuff. Generally I do complain at such times, but I’m also adaptable. I can learn not to complain about toxic sludge that I should complain about.


Inner Peace, 0-10. Why? 6 I stay relaxed while I’m working, but I’m always working. Would it be good for me to take a break every now and then and not have to do anything? Yeah.


Witnessing, 0-10. Why? 3 It’s not my job. Right now, when I am integrated into Joseph’s noospheric consciousness, I have a lot of ability to witness, but normally, I don’t. I am naturally very un-self conscious and very un-self aware, because that awareness would get in the way of me doing my job. But for me to be aware now, in the context of being allowed to speak and to be listened to, is a very good thing.            

Digestive Tract, if you scored tens in all six of these qualities, would you be different?  If so, how?


Hmmmmm…Like I said, I wouldn’t want to be tens in witnessing; it would interfere with my competency in doing my job. But the ability to be a ten in witnessing on occasion, via interviews such as these, is interesting to me. If I were a ten in witnessing, I would be clear about what my needs were and could communicate them well. For me to be a ten in inner peace I think Joseph would need to eat a lot simpler and a lot less. In this interview I would guess my compassion is an 8 or a 9. I understand why he makes the choices he does and how and why he’s stuck. 


Digestive Tract, how would Joesph’s life be different if he naturally scored like you do in all six of these qualities all the time?


He would naturally be in touch with, in tune with his body much more than he currently is. He wouldn’t be in the Drama Triangle, playing little games of self-rescue and self-persecution around food, as he does in this dream. Life would be simpler; he would feel more grounded and more supported. 


Digestive Tract, if you could live Joseph’s life for him, how would you live it differently?


Like I said, I would eat more simply. Also, I would do interviews with me around any food choices he wonders about. Why? Because it’s really just about him and me. I’m the chef; I’m the chemist. I’m the guy who takes the orders and serves the food from the kitchen. 


Digestive Tract, if you could live Joseph’s waking life for him today, would you handle his three life issues differently?  If so, how?


Staying healthy; eating right I’ve discussed this.

Staying focused in my work and on my work If you are eating the right stuff in the right amounts staying focused should be easier.

Staying out of the Drama Triangle I don’t do drama; if you are in touch with me, you won’t either. 


Digestive Tract, what life issues would you focus on if you were in charge of Joseph’s life?


Those are fine.


Digestive Tract, in what life situations would it be most beneficial for Joseph to imagine that he is you and act as you would? 


Whenever he wants to become more self-aware about his food choices and through that, to become more supported by and grounded in his body.


Digestive Tract,, do you do drama?  Do you get into playing the Victim, Persecutor, or Rescuer? If not, why not?


Like I said, I don’t. 


Digestive Tract, What is your secret for staying out of drama?


My secret? I’ve got work to do. It’s important and I take it seriously. I don’t allow myself to get distracted.


Digestive Tract, you are imaginary. Why should Joseph pay attention to anything you say?


Because I’m a part of him that he thinks he’s in conflict with. I don’t see it that way.


Digestive Tract, why do you think that you are in Joseph’s life? 


To serve him. 


Digestive Tract, how is Joseph most likely to ignore what you are saying to him?


Forget about me and our relationship; go back to taking me for granted. 


Digestive Tract, what would you recommend that he do about that?


He will grow in compassion and trust if he reads over this interview occasionally.


Digestive Tract, why do you think Joseph had this dream?


He was trying to depict how he steals from himself by getting into drama about his food choices. But I don’t think that’s what’s going on and I don’t think that is what he has to learn from this dream. Getting in touch with me, listening to me, respecting me, trusting me is really why he had this dream, from my perspective. Now, if you ask the White Sugar Sauce, you might get an entirely different answer.


Digestive Tract, why do you think (some dream event happened) or (some character) was in the dream?


I’ve pretty well given my opinion above.


Digestive Tract, why should Joseph pay any attention to what you have said? Aren’t these just a projection of Joseph’s own wishes and projections?


No. They are his intelligence and awareness combined with my perspective and my level of intelligence and awareness. He gives me voice, meanings, and personality that I lack. However, I do have preferences, and he is giving me a way to express them.


Thank you, character! And now a couple questions for Joseph: 


What have you heard yourself say?


I will benefit if I eat more simply. Also if I read over this interview. Thinking about food containers as metaphors for my stomach and digestive system gives them a sense of respectability that they normally lack. I get this sense that I haven’t respected my digestive system the way I need to and as a result have put myself into an adversarial relationship with it when that is not at all appropriate or necessary.   


If this experience were a wake-up call from your inner compass, what do you think it would be saying to you?


That I am mistaken to focus on factors like diet. It’s most important that I learn to listen to and respect my digestive system. If I do so I will move out of drama regarding eating and weight, and these issues will naturally normalize. Interesting. 


Look back over the interview and list the specific recommendations that were made:


Simplify my diet.

Read over the interview.

Think of food containers as metaphors for my digestive system.

Stay out of drama about food. If I don’t, it will just show up as dream drama. 

Interview my digestive tract regarding my food choices. 


Would I say I now see this dream as sacred, divine, or spiritual? It has changed my definition of these things somewhat. I’m not used to thinking about my digestive system in such terms. Is my gall bladder heavenly? Awesome? Evocative of the sacred? Representative of life’s ultimate meanings? No. I take it for granted; I don’t even know it is there except as a concept I learned years ago or if something goes wrong with it. Still, why not? Why do we humans yearn for connection with a “divine other” and dismiss as mundane the divine that is already present? Right now mankind is spending billions to find out if there are microbes on Mars or elsewhere. If microbes are found, they will lack, by far, the sophistication and intelligence of our digestive tracts. But where do we place our fascination, effort, and value?

After listening to my digestive system, I would have to say that I want to define the divine, spirituality, and the sacred less along the lines of epiphany, kratophany, awe, Marian Apparitions, near death experiences, miracles,  mystical oneness, messiahs, or non-dualism, and much more as respect, trust, and listening. I am reminded that my priorities ignore the gold I already have in hand. Respect, trust, and listening are not typically strongly associated with the sacred, the divine, or spirituality, although it is easy enough to see the associations. People talk about respect for God or respect for God’s law. They will talk about trusting their intuition, God’s voice, or their spiritual parth. They will talk about prayer as talking to God and mediation as listening to Him. However, they are seen as means to the end – contact with the sacred, divine, spiritual, rather than the end itself. This may be a fundamental perceptual mistake that humanity, in its infancy and early adolescence, still makes.

To me, there is nothing that is more spiritual than showing respect. The two basic ways I know how to do that are by listening and by doing, based on the listening. Doing, or acting on what has been heard, demonstrates trust, and that trust is sacred, in that it is transformative and more than belief, more than reason, more than the combination of both.

If fearlessness, compassion, wisdom, acceptance, inner peace, and witnessing are core qualities of enlightenment, the sacred, of spirituality, then what are we to do when something mundane, like a spoon or a porcupine scores highly in such qualities? Are we going to expand our definition of what spirituality means or are we going to continue to listen to ourselves and our own biases, prejudices, and assumptions, even if they aren’t getting us the contact with the sacred we’re seeking?

In an unexpected way this IDL interview has transformed this dream into a sacred experience and deepened my contact with the divine, but only by broadening my understanding of these terms beyond the way they are normally understood.

Associating the Jar with my Digestive System was not planned or contemplated. It was a spontaneous association that fit, and out of that association came a perspective that allowed for a profound reframing of this dream in a way that was no longer secular or mundane. It no longer was about the Drama Triangle. It no longer was about the actions in the dream. Instead, it was about the intent, preferences, and perspectives that keep me stuck and about those which bring freedom.

Will you have similar results with a mundane dream of your choice? I do not know, but I invite you to perform a similar experiment for yourself. If you do, I would like to know your conclusions. Is there a real distinction between sacred and secular, spiritual and profane dreams, or is that a projection of your own limited perspective?

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