The line between the world we experience in dreams and the one we experience while awake seems to be clear. You cross it when you wake up and open your eyes to the real world, and the one you leave, that seems to exist only in your mind while dreaming, is completely separate from it.
But the line blurs when the dream world follows you into the waking one. When you dream about an old friend you haven’t seen in years, then bump into them the next day. When you wake up with a thought out of the blue that maybe you’d take the opportunity for a new job, then find an email from a recruiter waiting in your inbox. When you receive guidance in a dream, then see signs to follow when awake.
It reminds me of the story I heard about the captain of a fishing boat who dreamed about where to find the catch of the day. When a dream told him where to find the fish, he found them there, every time.
Synchronicities like the ones given above challenge us to rethink where the line is, or if it exists at all. You can say to yourself, oh, it’s just a coincidence, but something behind the scenes chuckles, sure, a coincidence; believe that if you want to.
And that’s what people do when they can’t accept that the dream world and the awake world aren’t so far apart. They write off synchronicities as coincidences and fortify the defensive lines of belief against accepting that there’s any reality other than the one they experience with eyes open. The belief that the world always operates mechanically and as expected.
Carl Jung said that the two worlds are a continuum, and the line between them is a boundary created by the ego. He collaborated with Nobel laureate physicist Wolfgang Pauli to explain the connections between psychology and physics, and in an astounding bit of theorizing they said that the inner world of the psyche and the outer world of material reality are a continuum, and the fundamental basis of the material world is non-physical.
Go to the outer boundary of the psyche and cross the line and now you are in material reality, but really there is no line, it’s only an artificial barrier created to carve out the space needed to identify oneself as separate from everyone and everything else.
The theorizing of Jung and Pauli is not the same as speculating. They were trying to explain what they observed about the workings of synchronicity. What’s the mechanism for how the outer, material world responds meaningfully to the inner, mental world?
Their answer: it’s a continuum, not separate worlds as we’ve conceived them.
Seemingly, the reality of the dream world follows us into the awake world, but mostly it stays behind the scenes as we go about our daily lives. Then, out pops a reminder that it’s there.
I started crossing the line without realizing it when, as a child, I experienced a nightmare about an evil man hunting me down to claim my soul. Dramatic, for sure, but not unusual as far as nightmares go. But the man didn’t vanish from reality when I woke up; he lingered in the tall grass of memory, waiting to strike suddenly like a snake, and for the next 30 years he appeared in my nightmares, but also crossed the line by congealing behind the scenes of the awake world as a sort of dark force in my life. He still wanted my soul, the innermost and most precious part of me, and the way I put an end to it was by accepting that the dream world and the awake world were not separate.
The ordeal came to a head in the office of a shamanic practitioner. I told him my story and he worked with the narrative to find a path to healing. And until the final moments, when I crossed the line going the other direction and found and confronted the evil man in his reality, I would have sworn that it wasn’t possible.
Even after all I’d learned about and through dreaming, I wanted to believe that the conflict of my inner world couldn’t be made manifest in the material world. The shaman I worked with just shrugged and grinned knowingly when, afterward, I questioned how it was possible that a man from my dreams existed in a reality beyond the physical one.
He understood that the worlds of inner and outer are a continuum, and in his wisdom he let me find out for myself. I tell the full story in my book Nightmares: Your Guide to Interpreting Your Darkest Dreams.
It’s been more than a decade since the day I crossed the line for good, but still, I resist fully accepting that the inner reality is just as true and real as the outer one.
Recently, I had a revelation while interviewing dream expert Scott Sparrow for The Dreams That Shape Us, the podcast I co-host with Steve Ernenwein. Beginning in college, Scott experienced receiving the Light in his dreams. Full-blown mystical experiences where the Light revealed itself to be behind the scenes of his dreams, and it entered him, filling him with ecstatic love.
His revelation reminded me of something I heard about the stuff of material reality being energy that takes form, and 99.999 percent of it is empty space. Reality as we know it is like the super thin surface of a bubble, and what we see and experience are reflected images on that surface. Images from a deeper reality. In that way, life is very much like a dream, a reality we create for ourselves, arising from some deeper reality.
Then, Scott dropped another truth bomb when he said that everything in a dream is the Light. Behind every dream image is the same Light of the divine that he experiences in his dreams and in the deep silence of meditation.
My busy brain made the connection: if everything in a dream is the Light, and everything in material reality is made of light, then everything really is the Light.
Everything. It’s not merely a metaphor.
Two nights later I dreamed about telling two characters about this revelation. One asked me, “Have you experienced it?”
“Yes, once,” I replied, smiling widely. But on reflection, I don’t remember experiencing the Light while dreaming or awake. Then, a song started playing in my mind: “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door.” I hope that my dream foretold a future experience awaiting me. Or am I experiencing it right now and my eyes just can’t see the truth of it?
Thomas Moore, the author and mystic known as a caretaker of the soul and teacher of its ways, told Oprah Winfrey in an interview that when we dream, we return home to where we originate as conscious beings.
Are we knocking on Heaven’s door every time we dream? I’m starting to think that the answer is yes, and that perhaps dreaming brings us closer to the truth by erasing the line.
About the Author
Jason DeBord is an author of four books about dreams and a teacher of dream interpretation and analysis, including his newest work Nightmares: Your guide to interpreting your darkest dreams. He created the DREAMS 1-2-3 process of dreamwork and presented it at the 2022 International Association for the Study of Dreams conference in Tucson.
Since 2013, Jason has led the world’s largest online community for dream sharing, r/dreams, where he is known as RadOwl.