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Dreams and Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

The American psychologist Abraham Maslow proposed a theory of human motivation in a 1943 paper published in Psychological Review. In it, he presented a hierarchy of needs, which became a popular concept often depicted in the form of a pyramid with basic safety needs at the bottom and self-actualization at the top. His hierarchy of needs has found its way into business courses as well as courses in psychology, which is where I first encountered it. A quick Google search will give you all the basics concerning this theory.

I find that the concept of human needs presented in the form of a pyramid is very useful in connection with dreams as well as the conscious waking state. Our dreams reflect our conscious life, our hopes, fears, and daily struggles. Dreams can be thought of as a daily review by the subconscious of what we have done during the course of the day. Sometimes the unconscious portions of mind abhor what we have done, and other times we find approval and encouragement to continue on our present course.

Dreams also show us consequences of our current thoughts and actions. We see a view of where the road leads. If change is needed, we may see dire consequences if we continue on our current path. If we are moving in a positive, life-enhancing direction, the future depicted will be positive and harmonious.

The theory of motivation expressed as a hierarchy of needs states that we must first deal with our basic needs before moving up the pyramid toward higher needs. If we are without work and hungry, it is difficult to become self-actualized. If we fear for our safety, self-esteem will not be our foremost concern.

Dreams follow a similar pattern by focusing on our basic needs first, if those needs our not being met. Dreams that will help lead us to a more self-actualized life are likely to wait until basic physical and social needs are met. We can still have dreams related to our higher needs, but the primary focus of our dreams is likely be on the lower needs not being met first. This is also the case for our conscious daily life as pointed out by Maslow. If you are submerged in problems related to your physical needs, you may still spend some time reflecting on higher needs.

In my own case, I explain in my book how certain needs came to the forefront in my dreams during my early work with dreams. It wasn’t until I had resolved certain issues that my dreams dealt more with self-actualization. We have to resolve issues on the level where we encounter them before we can move to higher levels. It is silly for a person to expect spiritual enlightenment while at the same time harboring hatred for a family member or neighbor. The hatred must first be faced and resolved before moving on.

In my early years of working with dreams, I occasionally had a precognitive dream, but it was the exception. I first had to resolve certain issues in my life before my dreams became completely transparent. Now, each day the main events or interactions in my life are first played out in dreams the previous night.

Dream studies can be very misleading. If a university researcher studies dreams of the students, then the study only reflect the dreams of that age group in the setting of the university. It does not necessarily shed light on the potential of dreams. As in my life, the early dreams did not review the true potential of dreams, only where I was at that point in my life.

Dreams depend upon age, level of self-awareness, and spiritual orientation. The effect of meditation on dreams is quite pronounced and a subject I will discuss more in a separate post. Our conscious spiritual searching opens up higher levels of consciousness in our dreams and can help bring us closer to the essence of our being. First, focus on your issues where you meet them. Dreams can help you resolve them and take you to the next level, but first you must deal with shortcomings when and where you find them. There is no shortcut to self-awareness.

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