I’ve always been a good dreamer; both awake and asleep! I love my dreams and have learnt how to capture them – keeping a dream diary – although many slip away, unremembered and unrecorded. They are ephemeral and elusive things, but they sometimes come back in idle moments, when your conscious mind slips up a little. Half-remembered dreams can sometimes be caught again, like slippery fish!
I have not slept very well in lockdown, but I am good at catching up. Cat naps we call them in English. A short daytime snooze. I am also a light sleeper; waking up and going back to sleep during the night. But that’s good for catching dreams! If you really want to remember a dream, its best to write it down straight away, before it fades. As you do so, you might notice that some of its strangeness, its peculiar quality, starts to ebb away as it meets reality. Capturing its essence isn’t easy and is the work of artists. But scientists also dream!
If we can’t travel to actual places, we can at least dream about them. Some of my favourite places often appear in my dreams, although they are usually a little bit different from the real thing. I know, for example, when I have had a dream about being in Greece. I remember the feel of the place, the sun and the sea. But the Greece I create in my dream is slightly off kilter. It’s never an exact replica of somewhere I have been, or know well. It’s a recreated version. It has all the essential elements, but is a bit different. A different universe perhaps? There are supposed to be billions of parallel universes out there. Do we tap into them in our dreams? Probably not.
It took me a while to work out how we produce dreams in our minds. All that incredible detail! How do we create images and sequences – like a film – as good as reality? New things as well. The answer of course, is that we also create reality in our brains whilst we are awake. We create what we ‘see’ when we are awake in a similar way to when we dream. We take all of the sensory information gathered by our senses – eyes, ears, noses and so on – and make a so-called reality in our minds. We believe what we see to be reality, but it resides in our brains. In dreams we somehow recreate this reality.
There is no one reality which all organisms see in the same way. Insects have ultraviolet photoreceptors that allow them to see more of the electromagnetic spectrum than we do. Bats have exquisite hearing that enables them to hear a flying moth. Dogs (and moths!) have a fantastic sense of smell that enables them to detect things we are completely unaware of. People also differ in terms of what they perceive. I am great at spotting insects and finding coins on the street (head down!). Other people walk around looking up listening to bird song. And some write symphonies based on what they have heard: Messiaen.
What we dream about depends on our moods, circumstances and predicaments. We worry about certain things at times and these worries appear in our dreams, although perhaps expressed in a different way. I often dream that I have lost my car. I can’t remember where I parked it, and wander round car parks looking for it. And I don’t even have a car! The lost car is just a substitute for a feeling of anxiety. Being late for meetings, or forgetting your homework is the same sort of mild anxiety we all experience at some time or another.
Another recurring dream I have now that I am retired, is that I am back at work, but have not been paid! In the dream, I try to raise the issue with my boss, that I have not received my salary, but I never get any satisfaction! This is just coming to terms with the reality of retirement: i.e. not having a job and salary!
I once dreamt that God took me on a tour of the universe. We were flying through galaxies and stellar clusters – all those wonderful images produced by the Hubble telescope. There weren’t any answers, alas. No ‘Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything’ as in the The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. Or if there was, I’d forgotten it by the time I woke up! But I did wake up with a profound sense of well-being, and I firmly believe that dreams can be healing. We may not have these restorative dreams exactly when we need them, but they do occur occasionally, and can provide a great comfort.
However, sometimes dreams are nightmares. We wake up in a sweat; heart pounding. What happened? Where am I? A simple remedy for such panic attacks is simply to rub your neck. Reality gradually returns. The world starts to come into focus. The dreams fades. Breathe deeply and go back to sleep, perchance to dream again!
It often pays to try and piece together the nightmare. What was it about? Better to face it than to forget it, I think. Well, that’s my strategy. Analyse your dreams.
I read a lot about Carl Jung at one time. In fact, I so identified with his book, Memories, Dreams and reflections, that I now have Jungian dreams! These dreams are populated by dark, archytypal figures, full of energy and menace. I always wake up feeling energised by these dreams, although I sometimes struggle to understand their precise meaning! A psychoanalyst one told me that to interpret your dreams you had to examine the feelings you had whilst you dreamt. How did you feel about the dream, not what was in the dream. The unconscious mind works in riddles and metaphors and fables, not logic and science. That’s for daytime consciousness.
I once dreamt that a photocopier, yes a plain old photocopier, started to swallow things. Soon it was sucking in everything around it, and we had to contain it like the Chernobyl reactor. The danger was that it would swallow the world. What was I worried about? The Covid virus maybe? Elon Musk worries about robots and artificial intelligence. Perhaps we will invent something that takes over the world. Such fears are probably universal.
Another sort of dream I have, which I also think is universal, is dreaming about famous people. I have dreamt about Donald Trump, The Queen and Vladimir Putin. In my dream, Putin was a harmless old chap who likes to make glass art works. Just nonsense, but these characters we see everyday on the TV haunt our dreams.
Well the Covid lockdowns in 2020-21 have probably left some of us with more time to dream. Others will, I know have had to face some real life nightmares, and my heart goes out to them. But I would finish by restating that I think that dreams can be a source of solace and healing; a way to reinvigorate yourself in times of hardships.
Sweet dreams everyone 😊