With the cost of medical care rising, I’d like to suggest another, ancient form of healing: interpreting your dreams! Once you understand symbolic language, you have an inner source of wisdom that will give you information about your body, your emotions and your direction in life.
While science is just now beginning to understand the place of dreaming for our health, most ancient cultures seemed to understand that illness begins in the soul. And since dreams are the stories the soul tells us each night, perhaps we can consider paying attention to our dreams as a preventative measure for our health.
Until around the fifth century, there were over 200 healing temples spread throughout the Mediterranean region from Palestine to Spain. Dedicated to the Greek god Asklepios or the Egyptian god Serapis, people went to these temples to be cured of their diseases.
Once you entered the sacred precincts of the healing temple, you would participate in a ritual cleansing in a sacred spring, make an offering to the god, go to work out at the gymnasium and perhaps go to the Theater to experience a catharsis that freed up your emotions. Then you would sleep in the temple to incubate a dream in which the god came to you and either healed you or gave you a prescription for healing. The temple priests recorded your dreams and helped you understand what you had to do to heal.
The diagnostic value of dreams was acknowledged by the great physicians of the past: Hippocrates (famous for the Hippocratic oath of modern doctors) and Galen, the physician of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. These doctors believed that dreams could foreshadow physical symptoms and reveal their progress. Hippocrates noted that the Earth can symbolize the body, a river the blood, a tree for a man’s and a spring for a woman’s reproductive system.
Freud, who did not recognize the precognitive aspect of dreams, may have missed a dream warning that could have saved his life. Freud had a dream that contained a preview of the precise symptoms of oral cancer that eventually killed him twenty-eight years later. Instead of seeing the dream as an aspect of himself, he projected it onto the female client in his dream.
Louise Hay, in her classic book You Can Heal Your Life, shows how our physical ailments begin in our emotional body. From rashes which symbolize irritations that bother us, to knee injuries which reflect an inflexible attitude of pride and ego, to breast cancer which often develops because we do not know how to nurture ourselves but would rather nurture and worry about others, we develop into what and who we are. If we develop an illness, it is a call to us to pay more attention and to find out where we are cut off from a deep connection to ourselves.
If we only read illness as a physiological dysfunction, we lose the soul reason why we developed this specific illness in the first place. Once we learn to give meaning to our lives, even to our illness, we begin the real process of healing and becoming whole.
And dreams are important diagnostic tools that each of us, not only doctors, can use.