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November 28, 2016

Dreams and reality: What do nighttime visions reveal about our nature?

Sleep Dreams
Milky Way Shadow 08032019 Photo by Greg Rakozy/on Unsplash


I am a 19-year-old college student studying abroad for a year in Jerusalem. The experience is remarkable on every level. I study language, religion, history and politics. I meet friends from all walks of life. On breaks, I travel to Egypt and spend hours exploring the museums of Cairo. A close friend and I climb Mount Sinai. Yet, I miss my family in Utah. I’m the eldest of my parents’ seven children. I miss my siblings. I miss my parents. I’ve never been so far away from home.

Given this, I am thrilled when my parents plan a weeklong, Christmas trip to come and see me. It’s a huge undertaking on their side both financially and logistically. They leave my younger siblings in charge of the holiday celebrations and journey together to the Holy Land. The week of their visit is full of heartfelt discussion, sightseeing, eating at Middle Eastern restaurants, and wandering the Old City. I wish I could pause time and keep them with me. Their presence means so much.

Then, they prepare to leave. They board a bus in Jerusalem for Tel Aviv. Their flight itinerary will take them to New York City and then home to another land they call Zion – Utah. It’s a tearful goodbye.

That night I have a dream.

I am flying over the city of Rome.

It’s nighttime. It’s dark.

It’s raining, a lot.

I’m flying, but I’m not in a plane or helicopter.

My body is suspended in air, able to navigate the wind and altitude by intention alone.

I look down upon the city of Rome.

I’m looking for my parents. Are they all right?

The rain makes it hard to see.

I’m worried.

Upon waking, I am shaken. The dream feels as vivid as my regular, daily life. I’ve never been to Italy, but somehow I was flying over Rome. And why would my parents be there? Are my parents all right?

I write the dream down. I say a prayer of protection. Later, I call home. In an era before international cell phones or text messaging options, I dial the familiar number from the hall payphone in my dorm.

My mother answers. “Hello,” she says.

“Mom!” I reply. “I miss you so much. I'm so glad you are home safe and sound.”

“I am, too. I didn’t want you to worry,” she states. “But our pilot had to deviate from our itinerary. We made an emergency landing in Rome.” 

“What? Really?” 

“Yes,” she explains. “There was a big storm. I didn’t know if you would hear about it on the news. I was worried that you would be concerned. But we are fine. It’s all fine.”

I can see her standing in the hallway in our small three-bedroom home with my siblings running around. I miss my family. Tears fill my eyes. I tell her about my dream.

“You knew through your dreams, Amy,” she said. “The Lord gives us dreams so we can know things.”

The Lord gives us dreams so we can know things . Nearly 25-years later, I remember her words reflecting the strength of her Mormon faith. I’ll never forget my dream of flying over the city of Rome.


We spend roughly 30 percent of our lives sleeping. Most of us think of our identity, our “self” as the waking self that moves around throughout our day-to-day existence. Yet, a significant portion of our “self” sleeps for a good seven hours a day, engaging in the vitally important and regenerative power of dreaming.

What are dreams? Do visions remembered upon rising shed light on our waking world? And what do intuitive, precognitive, or revelatory dreams tell us, if anything, about our nature? How do dreams connect to religious or spiritual truth?

Such questions have inspired philosophical reflection throughout time. Today, many psychological and scientific theories regarding dreams exist. One of the most compelling relates to the role dreams play in helping us navigate difficult emotion. Herein it is believed that the stories told in dreams matter less than the emotions they evoke. Maybe at some point I had overheard on the news that there was a big storm. Maybe I worked out my anxiety regarding the weather and my parents’ concurrent travel through the dream.

But why Rome? How to explain that coincidence?

One possible explanation is that our physical bodies do not limit our identities or our ways of knowing. In other words, key dimensions of what we truly are can, and do, transcend the limits of time and space known by our mortal flesh. Perhaps a part of my consciousness did fly over the city of Rome. Or, perhaps the city of Rome lives inside the experience of consciousness.

I’ve always remembered my dreams quite easily and while dreams often mirror the emotional landscape of my waking world, they have also played an important role in “knowing” things. Consider this dream, one that relates to a close and complicated friendship I once shared with a man named Benjamin.

Ben and I are at a restaurant together.

He sits across from me. We are eating.

As he talks, all of the teeth in his mouth start moving.

They are crossing over each other, moving through his gums.

It is grotesque and scary.

Ben doesn’t seem to be aware of what is happening.

I lose my appetite. I want to leave the restaurant.

I watch his teeth move and hear the following sentence in my mind:

“His words are crooked.”

Upon waking from the dream, I knew intuitively that Benjamin had been lying to me about important items central to our friendship. I confirmed these lies a few months later following the dream.

Yes, dreams help us process difficult emotions. I get that. I was worried and sad that my parents were about to embark upon a trip across the world and this worry carried over into my dreams. With regard to Benjamin, perhaps some part of me doubted his telling of events and this doubt was processed outside of my waking life. Dreams certainly connect to emotion and they can shed light upon the world of feeling. Yet the fact remains that I had somehow intuited a dear friend was lying to me. I had somehow known that my parents had made an emergency landing in Rome.

 Amy Wright Glenn: The spiritual and religious dimensions of doula support

As a doula holding space for both birthing and dying, I am particularly interested in the study of dreams. For dreams exist in the threshold points, the murky, wise, and mysterious doorways that connect worlds. Those standing close to the entrances and exists of life – pregnant women and the dying – often report fascinating, complex, meaningful, and intuitively insightful dreams.

What dreams have you known? Have you ever had a precognitive dream? How do you make sense of dreams that reveal aspects of your waking life that can’t easily be explained by a materialistic vision of the world?

Our nighttime visions reveal something powerful about the nature of our reality. What exactly they reveal is something our waking selves will continue to explore. Our dreaming selves already know the answers.

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