Friday, January 17, 2014

Dreams: Desirable, Disconcerting, Disturbing

My entire life, I have been borderline obsessed with dreams. When Inception came out, I was simultaneously enamored and outraged with Christopher Nolan. The bastard made the movie I fantasized about creating! And goddammit, it was so much better than what I would have done! After all, by the time I was capable of casting A-list Hollywood actors, Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page and Joseph Gordon-Levitt would have been too old for the roles. Oh how I love them.

But I'm getting sidetracked. Dreams are equal parts mysterious and enlightening. There are many, many theories as to why dreams occur and their function. The least interesting being that the brain simply has to do something while in REM but the more flavorful hypothesis being that they are rich in symbolism and represent thoughts from our subconscious.

When I was young, I used to have terrible nightmares. I slept walked frequently and spoke in my sleep even more often. This was regarded with intrigue by my mother, who questioned me while I was asleep. Unsurprisingly, a majority of my dreams revolved around my father ("he didn't buy me the bingo chip!" became one of my infamous quotes). During the summers I spent at my grandmother's, I would sleepwalk the first few nights and then cease after I had been there for a while. She was concerned by this behavior, initially assuming I was awake as I would appear relatively lucid, my eyes open.

Once my mother, brother and I ran away from Illinois, my nightmares immediately stopped. I never wandered in my sleep again. Of course, for the month or so we were on the road, that would have been next to impossible since we slept on the bed in the back of the van like sardines in a can. Once we arrived at our destination of San Diego, California, however, I never started back up.

It was at that time that my fascination with dreams began to manifest into my creative outlets. I began writing a novel about a girl who traveled to a parallel universe in her dreams. Her arrival to this realm was an omen and set in motion events for which the people of the city who welcomed her could not face without her help. The more time she spent in this world, the less real her waking life became. Until eventually, she had to make a choice: either stay in this dream world or never return once she awoke. For a fifth grader, I was strangely in love with the question, "what defines reality?"

If your curious as to the choice the girl in the novel made, I can't tell you. We moved again before I could finish the story and I lost the notebook I was pouring it into during the move. At the time, I was reading a lot of Harry Potter and took up sleeping in my closet. The notebook could be there right now, guarded closely by the three daddy long legs I had named in absence of friends.

Once we moved to Michigan, my nightmares began again. This could likely be attributed to stress. I had started up another novel (this one similar to the one I previously described, except it was impossible for the girl to wake up from the place she had found herself in as the result of powerful magic), and my brother was terribly bored of me spending hours on end on his laptop. He bribed me 75 cents to go sledding with him on the water tower hill behind our house and after I begged my mom to let me keep sledding while he went to the library, I promptly crashed into a wooden fence immediately followed by a metal one and broke my leg in three places.
Since we were living with my grandparents (on my mother's side, not the grandmother I mentioned earlier), we didn't have much space. I spent all day on the couch and once I had read all the Anne Rice and Harry Potter I could get my hands on, was forced to watch whatever was on the television. My grandmother was very into horror video games and I remember watching, petrified, as she played Silent Hill and Resident Evil.

Thus the nightmares started back up. Yet this time, they were a hybrid of the monsters I saw on the screen and my family. I died often. My mother even more often. It's a little surprising to me that in spite of these recurring nightmares, I vehemently tried to persuade my grandmother to let us stay when my step grandfather kicked us out. Of course, the idea of trying to sleep in a van again now that I was stuck in a wheelchair may have had something to do with it.

On that note, however, these examples dispel the myth that dying in your dreams results in you dying in real life. I'm sure none of you clever, reasonable people really believed that but it is still a commonly spewed superstition even today. I have watched myself die in such a number of ways, both from a first person and third person view. My own funeral is a scene I am very familiar with. If the theory that our dreams are trying to communicate something from our subconscious mind are true, then what does death represent?
While I can offer you no proof or guarantee, I do have my own belief regarding this question. With the popularity of dream dictionaries, it would seem that these symbols are universal. As much as I enjoy my Dream Moods app, I doubt that is true. To illustrate this point, what winter means to one person may be entirely different than what it means to another. I, for example, would willingly sacrifice a finger in order to never experience winter ever again. On the other hand, I have plenty of friends who would be genuinely disappointed living a life without cold, putrid snow.

What could possibly be more interesting than dreaming? That's easy. Lucid dreaming. From a young age, I would often be aware of the fact that I was dreaming. My brother taught me how to observe the things I was perceiving in order to determine whether it was real or not, likely in response to my recurring nightmares. The most reliable trick I can recommend to those who desire how to learn to lucid dream is to look for something with numbers on it. A clock is generally the easiest to find. Once you spot it, notice the time. When you look again, the numbers will not be the same if you are unconscious.
"How can I possibly remember to do that while I'm dreaming?" you say. The power of suggestion. Before falling asleep, it is imperative that you focus your mind on this task. For at least a few minutes, preferably leading right up to when you fall asleep, you will repeat in your mind, "I will look at the clock. I will check the time. I will see if the numbers change after looking away. If they do, I am dreaming."

Lucid dreaming takes a bit of practice. When I was still new to it, the act of realizing I was dreaming would often startle me into waking. That's normal. Don't be discouraged. Simply keep trying.
After getting the hang of lucid dreaming, things start to get very interesting. You can begin to influence your dreams. I say influence and not control because in all my years of practicing this, I have never been able to manipulate every aspect of my dream. Strange things still happen. Generally, you only have command over yourself. Should you get very, very skilled at lucid dreaming, it is possible to change your surroundings and even the people who make an appearance. Prior to working almost forty hour weeks this most recent summer, I was at this point myself. The very first thing I do once I begin lucid dreaming? Fly. Every single time. I highly recommend it.

Now, however, I'm back to talking in my sleep. Just last week while taking a couch nap, my roommate assumed I was awake when she and I had a conversation. The specifics are gone from my head now, other than me saying something to her about "pomegranate bags", which made me burst into laughter and remark, "that makes no sense."

Whether it's a dream you're tweaking or one that's completely out of your hands, it's incredible the feeling one has once awake afterwards. Since my tendency to dream increases when stressed, I have been spending quite a bit of time lately considering my diurnal adventures (I would say nocturnal but as of right now, my sleeping schedule usually falls between 8am and 6pm). It's so strange how the emotions brought on by chemical reactions in your brain can have a profound effect on you even hours after waking up.

The image of an old lover, the sound of a long lost relative, the icy fear that trickled down your spine as you encountered something horrific - all these things tend to linger, whether we're aware of it or not. 

Though I doubt a concrete explanation for why our minds dream or what it means will be brought to light in our lifetime, there is a small chance that human curiosity towards this peculiar phenomenon will cease.

After all, I'm twenty something years old and I can't help but watch in wonder as Eevee, my German Shepherd, lays beside me twitching and making quiet grumbly noises in her sleep right this moment. There's still so many questions that need answers and I won't be satisfied until at least "what is my dog dreaming about" is resolved. Unless the answer is eating me. Then I'm okay with not knowing.

I could write all day about dreams but I understand that you, my dear readers, have lives to attend to. I hope that things in your waking life as well as your unconscious one go well. If it's not too much trouble, I'd be very interested to hear some of the dreams you lovely people have had. Feel free to leave one in the comments below. 


  1. 1. Dude, seriously, read Homestuck if I havent bugged you to already yet. This is relevant, dreams play a huge role in the comic, but you'd also just like it aside from that.

    2. You should let me tell you about my dreams sometimes, because I've been getting really weird and intense ones for the last few months and they're really really good and oddly specific and nobody seems interested in them except for me??? So I never get to talk about them.

    1. Text them to me, I feed on dreams like dogs feed on cat turds. As in, as many as possible when they're available to me even though they make my breath smell terrible. You're welcome for that strange and inaccurate simile


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