Recurring dreams can be a strange and confusing thing. If you've ever experienced the same dream more than a few times, it might leave you wondering what your subconscious mind is trying to tell you and why you can't seem to shake the image or scene that keeps appearing in your dreams. While a lot of theorizing has been done on the subject, a Finnish neuroscientist named Revonsuo published what may be the most convincing and well- documented theory to date. Gaining a clearer understanding of your recurring dreams, combined with a little lucid dreaming, can help you see what your mind is trying to communicate and maybe even stop these dreams from occurring altogether.
In 2000, Antti Revonsuo published a paper explaining his theory of recurring dreams. He posited that not only does dreaming itself serve a psychological function, but the contents of our dreams also developed to serve a clear evolutionary purpose. Essentially, the theory states that dreams, especially recurring dreams, evolved as a way to provide our ancestors with a way to face realistic, everyday threats in a safe environment. According to Revonsuo, our dreams originated as a threat simulation system, much like a flight simulator in pilot training or a roller coaster simulation at the fair. It provides all the experience and adrenaline with none of the danger (or wind-swept hair, as the case may be). He does point out that plenty of modern dreams do not fit into this mold, but his point is that they originated to serve this purpose and then evolved over time. This is sort of an "elephants are grey things but not every grey thing is an elephant" situation; threat simulations were programmed into our brains as dreams, but not every dream is a threat simulation. The most immediate fear for a child is often monsters, which results in recurring nightmares of the bogeyman or giant insects as the young subconscious mind prepares to face what it perceives as its greatest threat. As we grow older, the perceived threats become more realistic.
A friend of mine, whom I'll call Ben, has had a recurring dream like this for most of his life. The premise is very basic: he is in the middle of nowhere, and discovers a tornado coming his direction. There's a cellar nearby, but when he climbs into it for shelter, he notices that the walls are covered in spiders of every size. The first time he had this dream, it was a nightmare that created a lot of anxiety for him. Since then, with each successive dream, Ben gets better and better at responding to the impending tornado. He has developed a routine over time so that he knows exactly what to do, where the shelter is, and how to warn other people of the danger. Additionally, the spiders became less and less of a feature as the dream developed, which indicates that it was a "bonus" fear that were less and less important as he learned to focus more on the tornado. The dream became a standardized exercise in efficiency instead of a lifelong torment.
Dreams like Ben's make the strongest case for Revonsuo's hypothesis. In theory, if Ben were ever to find himself in the middle of nowhere with an oncoming tornado, he would have some idea how to handle the situation. Granted there probably wouldn't be a shelter or other people in predictable places, but years of responding to tornado threats in a secure environment might just mentally prepare him and make him more equipped than some to get himself and others to safety.
How Lucid Dreaming Can Help
Having a recurring dream typically indicates that there is something in the dream that you're missing. Theoretically, your brain has decided that you are not responding to the threat well enough, and there is something more you need to figure out or do before you can be satisfied and stop having the dream. It's like a video game with a level that you just can't beat. This is where lucid dreaming comes in. If your recurring dream is a video game, than lucid dreaming is like having a full list of cheat codes. Getting to a state of complete lucidity in your dreams will take a bit of practice, but once you are there, you can manipulate your
situation and surroundings at will. If you have dreams of a house fire, you can use your lucidity to devise a way to put out the fire instead of just running away from it each time. Perhaps Ben could make the tornado reverse directions and avoid the town altogether.
There is great power in lucid dreaming. If you, like so many others, have been visited or even tormented by recurring dreams, you might reconsider them as your brain's way of preparing you for battle. If this doesn't help or change your dreams, use the power of your mind to fight back and find a new way through them. Good luck and happy dreaming!