The earliest dream I remember featured a convertible careening down a wide flight of outdoor stairs, followed by a jack-o-lantern swooping from the sky to stick pins in me. Over half a century later, I can still see the vivid orange of the pumpkin, the deep indigo of the star-speckled sky where he lived. The dream terrified me. Of course, I was three years old. My definition of “terrifying” was limited.

Dreams have intrigued us for as long as we’ve dreamed. What is this otherworldly place we visit while asleep? How can unfamiliar settings be so recognizable?

From Oneirocritica in ancient Greece through Freud’s 1899 landmark The Interpretation of Dreams to countless dictionaries offering dream symbology, there are plenty of resources out there eager to help us interpret what our dreams may be trying to tell us. On some level, though, I think we already know.

For more than a decade, I dreamt on and off about a house I hated. Initially I stood outside of it, but each time the dream came back, I found myself roaming further down eerie passageways, always in search of a way out. The house revealed new rooms, but a sticky, oily darkness kept me from entering them. I’d wake up unsettled, annoyed that the dream had come again. Then, one night, as I hurried through the house looking for a way out, I realized that I didn’t need to dream about this place anymore. A door appeared; I opened it and walked out into fresh air. The dream never returned.

Most of us have dreams that allow us to process emotion and release stress. Sometimes we can pinpoint the daytime stressor, sometimes we can’t. If we’re lucky, the dream helps us resolve a situation. I’m seldom that lucky, but stress dreams at least provide me with a safety valve to blow off excess anxiety. I can’t imaging how tense my days would be without dream-release.

I dreamt about my husband three times before I met him, dreams so vivid that I recorded them in my journal. The same man appeared in each dream. He didn’t look like my husband, but each dream brought a continuation of his story. When my husband and I finally met, the pull was undeniable. Revisiting my journal entries years later, I saw that the details of his life as presented in my dreams were in sync with what I eventually learned about him. The message from the second dream made sense: “Wait for me. I’ll be there.” The last dream had occurred the night before we met (a totally uneventful meeting where I mostly found him arrogant) and foreshadowed the band that finally ignited our friendship.

I don’t believe that dreams are set-in-stone prophecies. One moment’s “future” can be altered by the next moment’s choice. I do, however, think that dreams pass on very real possibilities if we care to look.

Some dreams are so solid that it feels like they’ve actually happened. And, in the spiral of time, maybe they have. Maybe we just need a nudge to remember that a particular outcome exists in our personal realm of possibilities.

It’s hard to trust something we can’t examine with our five physical senses, but that’s probably exactly why we should try. Unfettered by behavioral expectations and structured time, dreams can slip back and forth between our conscious and subconscious, illuminating information not easily absorbed while our eyes are focused on physical reality. For me, it’s worth strapping on my discernment to consider what a texturally vital dream may have to say.