What Your Dreams Can Teach You About Being Awake (and Happy)

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We all dream. Some more than others. Some people will go off on fantasy journeys to far of lands where the imagination creates a smorgasbord of sensual pleasures. Other people will toss and turn the night over as they struggle to wake up from a nightmare that seems all too real. But what are your dreams teaching you? Are they teaching you anything at all? The answer lies within this post.

Can dreams predict your future?

We have all heard stories about people dreaming something that then comes true the next day. The television show Medium has made a lot of money telling the story of Allison Duboix, the psychic District Attorney’s assistant, who sees the killer in her dreams. And that is based on a true story. And for the record, I have no doubt in my mind that some people can actually predict future events based on their dreams. I am sure there are meditation masters out there who do it all the time.

But that is not what this post is about. In fact, the idea of looking at your dreams to try and extract some direct meaning is contrary to what I am talking about. I am talking about the symbolic nature of dreams. I am talking about the fact that your dreams are a microcosm for your whole life and, if you choose to, you can learn a lot about being awake from what happens when you are asleep.

What your dreams can teach you about being awake

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So what can your dreams teach you about being awake and living in the real world? What lessons can we take from our pillow out into our daily life? Quite a few actually. Here are a few ideas I picked up from my Buddhist teachers as well as a lifetime of being a “creative” dreamer.

1. Dreaming teaches you about impermanence
The first thing you can learn quite directly (and sometimes painfully) from dreams is that everything is impermanent. I remember being a young man in high school and dreaming of beautiful women that I was madly in love with only to wake up with the stark realization that these women were gone. We were lovers in the dream state but as soon as I woke up they were no longer there. The impermanence hit me hard.

The same is true of life. Nothing lasts. Trees, boats, clouds, life, love, hatred… everything is impermanent. Nothing composite can stay together. Nothing that goes up can resist from coming down. Dreams give you a very tangible insight into impermanence.

So what’s the point? Why learn this lesson? Well, if you can remember that feeling of impermanence you will become less attached to things which you know cannot last. And that gives you an amazing sense of freedom. When you can enjoy someones company without worrying about holding on to them you are much more open to the whole experience. The fear is gone. You know it is going to end and as such you enjoy it for what it is.

2. Dreaming teaches you to open your mind
The most powerful thing you can learn from dreaming is how to open your mind. When you live your life with an open mind you are more relaxed and happy and you are less likely to be affected by things that are, always, impermanent. Let me explain.

Let’s say you are dreaming about being in love with a beautiful woman. You can smell her hair and feel her soft skin. You talk to her about wondrous things and you go on sensual adventures together that seem to last a long time. It is so real. And then you wake up. All of a sudden you realize how unreal the experience was but still you are upset that you have lost her.

It is EXACTLY the same as real life.

In real life we fall in love and grasp and cling to beautiful women, good food, our homes and family and our points of view. But this clinging is silly because we are clinging to things that don’t last. It is just like the dream state only longer. How silly is the person who clings to something that happens in a dream? Why? It seems real at the time. It seemed like it would last forever at the time. But it doesn’t. And it doesn’t in the waking world either.

Similarly, when you are asleep and dreaming even the most crazy ideas seem real. You could be best friends with a four eyed dancing bear that had an ear for a mouth. It is ridiculous to the awake person but real to the dreaming person. So perhaps our waking perceptions are not that realistic either. If we can dream up nonsense in our sleep then perhaps our waking thoughts are not all that on target either? Open your mind up to the world because your perception is not always correct.

3. Dreams teach you to let go of your worries
Are you one of those people who dwells all day on the dream you had last night? Do you sit and try to relive the experience and try to ascertain every meaning from every little thing that happened? I used to be like that. Not anymore.

In a dream you could have a problem that seems so terrible and real. Or, you could be dreaming something that, upon waking, has something to do with an important area of your life. And it worries you. You worry about the dream coming true or whether it is a prophecy of things to come. But you know what? You won’t be able to figure it out until it happens. So drop it.

The same is true of waking thoughts.

All day long we play mind games. We carry out scenarios in our head trying to figure out the best course of action to take. But ultimately this mental chatter just makes us stressed. It doesn’t get us any closer to a solution. So drop it. Your dreams are just dreams and your thoughts are just thoughts. Worry about it when it happens.


Dreams really do give us an excellent insight into the human mind. They show us that our perceptions are not as solid and real as we think they are and that all thing are impermanent. If you take these lessons to heart your awake life will be more spacious, open and free. Don’t cling to dreams – not when you are asleep and not when you are awake.

8 thoughts on “What Your Dreams Can Teach You About Being Awake (and Happy)

  1. Wonderful teaching post. The other night I had a dream of being out in a rough sea only to wake up in a nice comfy bed. Through the open window I could hear the water lapping against the shore and the wind howling.

    And sometimes dreams are just illusions created through the mind without purpose. It is good practice to not dwell on these phenomena when they occur.

  2. “I have no doubt in my mind that some people can actually predict future events based on their dreams”

    Oh brother. For years, James Randi offered a million bucks to anyone who could prove any sort of supernatural abilities. No one ever made good. While that doesn’t necessarily negate the possibility, it’s the sort of thing that should be approached with a healthy dose of skepticism. If someone can someday prove some sort of precognition, then I’ll believe it.

    I agree with your three points here, I’m just not sure that they’re lessons best learned from dreams. We can learn the same things while awake. In fact I think you’d have to recognize those things while awake to make the connection to the dream analogy. But it’s a nice analogy.

  3. I guess I fall into the category of “idiot” but I believe in precognition because I have seen it applied to my own life. My Buddhist teacher in India has several times said, “In six months when X happens you need to do Y.” And without fail, to the day, it happened. A very random event actually.

  4. I wouldn’t say “idiot” – I’m sure you’re quite intelligent. You maybe lack a bit of that inquisitive, skeptical spirit. It seems that way from your blog, at least.

    It would be interesting to hear what events were predicted, exactly, if you’re willing to share, but this is all post-hoc stuff here.

  5. “All day long we play mind games. We carry out scenarios in our head trying to figure out the best course of action to take. But ultimately this mental chatter just makes us stressed. It doesn’t get us any closer to a solution. So drop it. Your dreams are just dreams and your thoughts are just thoughts. Worry about it when it happens.”

    How can you say that? Life is not that simple. Not in this world, not if you want to be on top. Its too competitive for that nature or you at least have to draw the line somewhere. Let’s be one step ahead? And I mean from my perspective, I feel I’m able to be one step ahead and I can think out things. And, I may make mistakes and I may find myself surprised but perfection is never achieved and always striven for. Considered a master after 10,000 hours of up-to-par practice. I could ramble on but…

  6. My point, here, is that maybe its more beneficial than harmful for some to listen to mental chatter all day. Maybe it will help them plan ahead, make the right moves, dodge certain situations and mishaps and give them a boost up over the rest of the crowd.

    Me, for example, I can handle the stress and maybe not all cases, but I do feel it helps me with situations in my life both good and bad. It helps me achieve the well-roundedness I’m headed towards. And because it hasn’t happened yet and it’s all in my head, I do make mistakes and wrong speculations and assumptions but I feel that overtime and growing up, i’ll be able to direct, handle, and guide it all as well as knowing what to expect from experience and wisdom if I keep at it. Practice makes perfect. The more I do it the better I get eh?

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