Saturday, May 26, 2007


It feels like, over the past few weeks, I have been spending the majority of my sleeping hours dreaming.
Yes, I know that physiologically, that is not possible, but everytime I wake up, it seems to be the end of the dream (I go into separate dreams with every hit of the snooze button), and I find myself recalling snippets of random dream memories all day long.

Coincentally (or maybe not), dreams have also come into play a great deal in my waking life lately, too. I have been reading some of Freud's case studies, which, by their very nature, rely heavily on dream analysis, as do those recounted in some of Yalom's case studies (side note- all you psyc folk and anyone else who just finds the human condition fascinating- you must read Yalom's Love's Executioner and Other Tales of Psychotherapy). Friends have been recounting intriguing and seemingly meaningful dreams to me, and I've been trying my hand more and more at a little amateur interpretation.

A little aside about dream interpretation... I have flipped through various opinions about what dreams are trying to communicate throughout my education. In high school, I would get out my massive tome of translations from a smattering of different theories, and quite literally assume the meaning from this book (e.g., forgetting where you parked your car is symbolic of an illicit affair). In the first few years of my university education, when I became quite the skeptic, I started to see the merit to more of a random activation approach, whereby random circuits are firing, and the brain forces a story onto them.

Now I take more of a moderate approach. I think anyone with any insight could not disagree that dreams are meaningful and communicative in their nature. However, I am dubious of the direct translation approach. While I haven't read much on the notion of the collective unconscious, I'm not sure that all humans are built with the unconscious device that automatically and universally converts thoughts of illicit affairs into dreams of losing one's car. I do think there are probably some cultural symbols that may be fairly universal-- e.g., our fear and awe of nudity in North America probably does lend some credence to the idea that the dream of being naked in public may reflect fear of exposure in the broader sense. However, I think the majority of dream symbolism is probably fairly unique to the person and their own experiences and thoughts.

Take, for instance, dreams of volcanoes, of which I had many in my childhood, and still frequently do. While dream dictionaries will tell you that this is because of a fear of emotionally exploding and the like, I am quite sure of a different meaning tied into a childhood comment by a friend. After I read about the devastation wrecked by Mount Vesuvius, she told me that every mountain whose name began with "Mount" was actually a volcano, whereas if its term ended in "Mountain", it was not. This comment actually had a fairly long term impact on me, such that when we went on family trips, I would look at maps frantically to see if we were driving anywhere near Mount Something, and would be tense the entire time we were in its vicinity. As such, I tie in a lot of my dreams about volcanoes to childhood anxieties, rather than emotional explosions.

Phew... more of a digression than I intended.
Anyways, lastly, last night I watched The Science of Sleep. Brilliant and cute film rife with dramatic dream imagery.

And last night I dreamt about death.
Specifically, the deaths of both the Duke and one of my very close friends. Their deaths seemingly switched between being interwined into one dream (they were in a car wreck) to being two separate dreams.
And I kept on waking up and consciously thinking that I was sick of being immersed in death, and going back to sleep and dreaming of more of it.
As the Duke pointed out earlier this week, and was also mentioned in the film last night, emotions are often maximized in dreams. These were some of the most emotional dreams I have ever had. I was absolutely overwrought with pain and distress. I was screaming, crying, feeling utterly out of control of any aspect of my life. It's actually almost a little painful to re-enact.

However, a few themes outside of misery also emerged. One being that which one is often faced with when deaths comes about-- and that is all the things that you leave unsaid in life due to trivial fears that you come to regret. Another being the importance of friendship. In real life, the friend who I dreamt of passing away, though not being a key player, was involved in some of the drama of the weekend. And in the dream, all of my close friends put their silly conflicts aside and came together to grieve. Also, a lot of the thoughts going through my mind in the dream were very similar to the very real thought I had that changed my perspective on life when I first lost someone who was close to me-- existential type of stuff.

This all feels too heavy for pre-coffee. I think I need to get a little sunshine and get away from contemplating the nature of death.


LMizzle said...

Death dreams suck! The meds I'm on make me dream more lucid dreams, and they've been giving me nightmares lately! Blech!

Beth said...

Wow - this is indeed a "heavy" post. And I'm too much in a fog right now to take it all in. But I am fascinated with recurring dreams. Whenever I dream of someone who has died, in the dream, they can never stay - must always leave.
Protection from waking up and having to experience the loss again (in a minor way)?

Eve said...

I agree with your conception of the meaning of dreams.

And death dreams? Eek!

Indiana James said...

Dreams are awesome and I'm happy that we're capable of having them. I have had a few deja vu epsidoes with my dreams of late. In one instance I remember standing on a balcony and looking into a neighbouring yard and seeing an outdoor fireplace. A week and a bit later, I stepped onto the balcony of a lady I started to date and I saw the exact same sight as from the dream. That weirded me out. I also had a dream where was in the process of dying a not so nice death. That was not enjoyable at all.

brandy said...

At least you consider that your dreams have a 'deeper meaning'. I have a friend who routinely dreams of her mothers death (who she's estranged to) and doesn't consider that maybe, just maybe there's a connection. I enjoyed this post!

cinemec said...

Interesting stuff indeed.
Not looking for any freebie analysis here but I recently had a very vivid dream in which my colleague's significant other met a rather untimely demise. I hold no malice against the girl, in point of fact my feelings towards her border on the completely indifferent. It was strange to me that she should play such a decisive role in my dream through the very act of her enforced absence.
And should you ever tell someone that you dreamed their girlfriend died? I'm guessing no.
/delurking for pointless comment

Ant said...

I'm with your sceptical younger self on this one - coming from the computational side of life, my belief is that dreams are essentially some kind of random organising or re-booting of our brains...

Geeky note: there are some standard memory management tools in computers which perform a similar process that props up my belief (albeit a lot more crudely) - namely analysing bits of memory automatically, when the processor is idle, to see if they have been actively used recently, and swapping them out of RAM into longer term storage if they haven't.

The fact that we imprint some kind of story on this memory management goes beyond my empirical realm, but it does strike me as a very human thing to do: trying to apply meaning to something that is essentially meaningless...