Common Dreams

As you read these words, one third of the world’s population is asleep and by the time they awaken, they will have collectively dreamt more than ten billion dreams. The individual dreamers will perhaps have experienced their dreams as apparently random occurrences that seem to be uniquely bizarre. The vast majority of these dreams, however, will also have followed some of the familiar themes and patterns that we all experience when we dream. These dream patterns have been emerging for tens of thousands of years and form the basis for our most enduring stories and beliefs in waking life.

I have analysed more than 200,000 dreams in my 35-year career as a dream psychologist and, during that time, I have become aware that there are about 100 of these universal dream patterns that appear over and over again. Dreamers from all over the world, regardless of country or culture, report these patterns with remarkable consistency. From Russian policemen to Japanese chefs, Norwegian bikers to Venezuelan nurses, Indian dancers to Angolan oil workers, everyone, everywhere in the world, experiences these same fundamental dream patterns. These universal themes aren’t just quirks of the dreaming process; they are deeper reflections of the dreamers who are actually creating the dreams.

Although we may tend to think of our dreams as being random occurrences that we have no influence over, the reverse is actually true. Dreams don’t happen to us, we happen to dreams. When we dream, we effortlessly generate entire worlds, from the twinkling stars in distant constellations to the fingerprints on a lover’s hand. We construct these natural patterns in our dreams because they reflect the essential nature of our waking lives. Beneath the busy bustle of our daily activities, we are trying to become more deeply aware of the true purpose and the real meaning of our lives.

The universal patterns that we create in our dreams echo this deeper search but paradoxically, it can be easy to believe that dreams are meaningless and serve no real purpose. Although our dreams may seem completely nonsensical, the key to understanding our dream language isn’t just in being able to identify individual symbols but also in being able to comprehend the deeper dream patterns that we create. A solitary symbol can often seem inconsequential but it can speak volumes when woven into the richer themes of our dream stories. When we step back and look at our fundamental dream patterns, we start to see the bigger picture, both in our dreams and in our waking lives.