“When I’m in the Middle of a Dream, Stay in Bed, Float Upstream…”

I had planned a different post for today, but I awoke this morning in the middle of a dream and decided to write about dreams instead.  I’ve always been fascinated by dreams.  I view them as windows into my subconscious.  They often reveal anxieties of which I hadn’t been consciously aware.  I experience and remember dreams often, probably a few times a week.  After I wake, I lie in bed for a few moments and think through the details of my dream, attempting to understand it and tie it to my waking life.

My dreams have changed over the years.  When I was younger, they were more surreal and otherworldly.  I could often see myself in my dream; now, I usually dream from my own perspective.  I used to know which real-life people my dreams’ characters represented, but those people didn’t actually look like themselves in the dream.  My dreams are much more realistic now.  They are set in logical times and places and include somewhat normal conversation.  Lately, my dreams have featured a variety of people from my past–high school classmates, for example, with whom I’ve had no contact for years–mingled with present-day colleagues and friends.

Though I haven’t had them recently, I’ve experienced recurring dreams at different points in my life.  When I was feeling stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed, I would sometimes dream that I was enrolled in a class, but I had forgotten about it and had not been attending or doing any of the work.  In my dream, the semester would be nearing its end, and I would realize that I was going to fail.  I’ve also had the common dream where I notice, while in public, that I’m either naked or wearing pajamas.  These particular kinds of dreams are commonly experienced by so many people that they have certain accepted interpretations.

I stumbled across this BBC program on dreams (it’s a bit old now), and I was surprised to learn that the science around dreams is far from settled.  In fact, at least as of 2004, neuroscientist didn’t understand much about dreams at all.  We do know that dreaming is not exclusive to rapid eye movement (“REM”) sleep, and that most people have dreams, even if they don’t remember them.  More recent scientific developments suggest that dreams are a way for our brains to consolidate and reorganize memories, make sense of our experiences, and test hypothetical scenarios.  I also came across this RadioLab episode on lucid dreaming, which has been a topic of research of late.

I think dreams can be a rich source of insight and creative material.  I’ve occasionally attempted to work dreams into paintings or poems, though it isn’t something I’ve tried lately.  I’d like to be more diligent about recording my dreams so that I can return to them later and make greater use of them in my art and writing.  (Dreams, of course, have a rich history in literature; you can test your knowledge by taking this quiz. Dreams have played a prominent role in art history, as well.)

Do you pay attention to your dreams?  What have you learned from them?  How do you use them?

(Side note: While researching this post, I came across the website of someone I knew from college who now makes a living doing coaching and dream work.  Interesting!  I haven’t had a chance to reach out to her yet, but you read about her and the work she does here.)

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