I used to think sleep was mostly an inconvenience that I should minimize. But now I think the opposite: sleep is incredibly productive.

For one, sleep diverts energy to the unconscious which can do massively parallel, non-linear thinking that the conscious mind can’t do.

For another, sleep recalls the conscious mind to the depths of the unconscious. And there in those depths the conscious and unconscious powwow.[1]

Dreams are one example of that rendezvous. I never used to put much stock in dreams and even looked down on people who thought there was anything to them. To me, bad dreams were a nuisance, good dreams were entertaining, and most dreams were neither — just nonsense.

But when I told that to a seasoned explorer of the psyche he disagreed, “Are the dreams nonsense? Or does it just seem that way because you only remember disjointed fragments? Maybe you’d find them more coherent if your recollection improved?”

He had a point. Considering my general disregard for dreams, why would my recollection be anything but poor? He also had a solution — first thing in the morning I should write down my dreams.

This turns out to work well. The simple expectation that you’ll need to remember your dreams does wonders for remembering them.

Of course you may not want to remember your dreams, or revisit those bizarre scenes first thing in the morning, or take on the liability of cataloging scenes too disturbing to even share with your spouse or friends.

So why do it? One reason is that dreams may be an attempt by the unconscious to tell the conscious mind something it should know. One theory, for example, is that dreams are compensatory — an effort by the unconscious to compensate for the flawed priorities, value misjudgments, and misspent attention of the conscious mind.

In other words, stock quotes, the weather report, earthquakes on the other side of the world, and where to eat out for lunch may not be major concerns of the deeper part of you — the part of you lobbying for individuation, self-actualization, and the full development of your personality. Dreams may be the unconscious mind’s attempt gain the support of the conscious mind.[2]

So given the general atmosphere of modern life — gross ignorance of human potential, our attention consumed by the irrelevant and inconsequential, ultimate questions of existence left unanswered, chronic spiritual malnourishment — the unconscious may have a lot of work to do. Expect some crazy dreams.

[1] It’s strange that I chose to use the word “powwow.” I seldom use it in speech and probably haven’t ever used it in writing before. I had to look up how it was spelled and whether it was one word or two. So I was rather amused to find when I did that powwow is actually a Native American word that literally means ‘he dreams.’

[2] You might be wishing that there was a way for the conscious and the unconscious to communicate less symbolically and more straightforward, like a normal conversation between two people. Indeed there may be a way, but many will find it even less comfortable a thing than studying dreams. Ever heard of channeling?