What’s the Difference Between Dreaming and Reality?


Posted by Jill Whalen | Posted in Meditation, Spiritual Teachings, Spirituality, Thought | Posted on 07-29-2014

[Jill’s Note: If you prefer to listen rather than read, please scroll to the bottom of this post for the audio version.]

What's the difference between dreaming and reality?On a recent Sunday morning I woke up early, but eventually drifted back to sleep. I’ve found that with morning sleep I often have dreams that I’m able to remember.

This was one of those times.

The first thing that happened in my dream was a big chunk of my tooth came out into my hand. I remember thinking it was one that had recently been fixed at the dentist (it wasn’t actually), and being annoyed that I’d have to go back to have it fixed again.

That’s when I realized within the dream–I was just dreaming!

I knew for certain there was nothing I had to do. I would eventually wake up and all my teeth would be intact as they should be. There was so much relief in the knowing and not having to worry or do anything.

There was certainty that all would be well soon enough.

The cool thing was I continued to be aware I was dreaming. Therefore I had a certain presence that I don’t usually have in my dreams. I became the viewer of my dream world (which is what is referred to as “lucid dreaming”). Knowing it was just a dream turned it into a fun exploration which had me looking at things in different ways.

While I can’t remember the details (if there even were any), I do remember that I was shocked to discover that things seemed really clear in this dreamworld of mine. I mean that literally. Clear as opposed to fuzzy. There were written words that were sharp and in focus, as were all objects. At least that’s what I remember telling myself. Because when I think back on the dream now it seems as if it was fuzzy.

I also remember noticing some sort of wall that I felt mimicked a wall somewhere in my “real” life and being surprised by it. I had the feeling of amazement that I had somehow memorized the exact details in order to “project it” into the dream. I felt 100% sure that this wall was an exact re-creation.

Overall, I was struck by the seeming solidity of the dream.

That piece of tooth in my hand felt solid. I could squeeze it tight and feel its shape and its ridges, etc. And I knew that was odd, considering I was “just dreaming.” Looking back, I have no idea if things were as solid and clear as they seemed. But I know for certain that it’s what my dream thoughts were telling me, and therefore, it was my reality at that time.

Another interesting piece–which made me positive I was observing a dream–was I could faintly hear in the background, the gentle snoring of my husband (or possibly my own snoring…which is even more interesting to think about!).

Here I was, knowing I was asleep, yet also in some way having an experience of life, albeit not the life I think of as “real life.” Yet it seemed at the time as if it were some form of real life. I was definitely conscious that I was sleeping and dreaming, yet also being a thinking observer at the same time.

How cool is that?

Upon waking I contemplated what happened.

There were obvious parallels between my dream world and my waking world. Especially with all the analogies in spiritual teachings that “life is but a dream.” I’ve heard enough times that if we can realize life is very similar to a dream, then everything becomes easier. After all, there’s no reason to worry about things because we’ll eventually wake up.

Yet, this concept seemed (and still seems) nearly impossible for me to grasp.

Unlike in a dream, when a tooth breaks in real life, we have to get it fixed or face the consequences.  The difference seems to be that real life is bound by space and time. Each day, nay, each moment, is a continuation of the next. When something bad is going on in life, it doesn’t just go away on its own like in a dream.

Or does it?

What if we could take away space and time?

If that’s the one thing keeping us from believing that we’re really just in some sort of illusory world, then removing it would allow us to see another, perhaps truer reality state!

Which in fact is what so many of the “gurus” have been saying. By its very nature, “The Now” has no space and time. So being able to truly glimpse it (which I’m not sure I ever have) should provide additional insights.

I have an inkling this relates somehow to the difference between “form” and “the formless.”

We are told that if we look at the empty space around and between things that it can help lead us to a better understanding of the true nature of life. And with that in mind, lately I find myself staring outside at trees and noticing the space between branches and leaves where you can see the sky. It feels significant, but I’m not sure why.

At this point, all I really know is that this lucid dream was a gift to provide me with some related things to contemplate which may provide me with more insights down the road.

Here’s what I have so far:

My dreamworld seemed 100% real and solid, yet it wasn’t.

My “real life” seems 100% solid as well.

Could it be that it isn’t?


P.S. As you can see, I’m still trying to wrap my head around this. If anyone can offer additional insights, I’d appreciate it if you’d please leave your thoughts below.

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Re-reading this post 3 months later, I see I was definitely all over the place with it. And even I’m not exactly sure where I was going with some of it!

But one thing stuck out to me that I believe I have more clarity about. I said in the post:

When something bad is going on in life, it doesn’t just go away on its own like in a dream.

Or does it?

I would now say that yes, it can just go away. Because “bad” is simply a thought, and a relative one at that.

Therefore, a bad situation can indeed turn into a not bad one if my thoughts about it change.

Which is yet another example of how we create our own realities!