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death dream

This past week, I had two dreams about people I know dying. Though I have been a longtime observer of my own dreams and a reader of books about dreams, I don’t believe that dreams are premonitions. And yet, dreaming of someone’s death still gives me a really uncomfortable feeling.

In general, it is said that dreams about death often indicate “the symbolic ending of something, – whether that’s a phase, a job or a relationship.” A dream about death does not always mean death. Those dreams supposedly can also indicate attempts to resolve anxiety or anger directed toward the self.

I’m sure I am not alone in feeling that dreaming of someone dying is a bad omen. It seems to me that though it may not be a premonition of the person dying in real life, it may signify an end to something like a relationship.

I had read years ago that you can’t die in your dreams. Some safety valve in your brain will wake you before that happens. But I learned more recently that you can die in your dreams.

I started reading about dream interpretation when I was in high school and read both popular books and things like Sigmund Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams. Though a lot of Freud’s theories are out of favor now, the idea that our dreams were a way to get at secrets that we kept even from ourselves is still accepted.

If you dreamed of your spouse dying, it might mean you are afraid in real life of losing that person. But why? Are they ill? Are you having relationship issues that might lead to you losing them? Are you moving on in your career or in other ways? Is a phase of your relationship to this person ending, but perhaps moving forward in a good way?

Death dreams usually mean a change of some sort. In the symbolism of dreams, death signifies the end or a rebirth of something that you associate in some way with this person.

One person I dreamt had died is seriously ill. I probably had been thinking of him in the 48 hours prior to the dream, so the dream seems logical.

The other person I dreamt had died is someone I have not seen or communicated with for several years. I had not been thinking about her recently that I can recall. According to some dream interpretation guides, this may mean that if feel betrayed or abandoned by her in real life. Feeling sad about her death mirrors the sadness I feel in real life about how disconnected we now seem to be.

It is said that guilt feelings can lead to dreams about someone dying. As I think about that first dream, I wonder if it doesn’t stem from some guilt that I haven’t done enough to help him in real life. If I am not helping, then am I bringing him closer to death?

I also had a lucid dream recently. Unfortunately, everything about it vanished before I had time to recount it to my wife or write anything down. I have written about lucid dreaming here before and these dreams in which you know you are dreaming are very powerful.

The value in recording and trying to interpret your own dreams is in examining your life closely. I believe you can use the dream interpretation guides as a starting place, but you need to develop your own symbology for your dreams. What the ocean or  my father or standing at the edge of a cliff means to me is likely to not mean the same thing to you.

Still, those guides are if not totally accurate, interesting. One bizarre meaning for dreaming of someone dying that I read is that reports by women dreaming about seeing a person dying  seem to sometimes occur just before they got confirmation of their pregnancy. The two events seem far apart, unless you see it as a quite literal view of death as a kind of rebirth.

More

Man and His Symbols by Carl G. Jung

Dreamer’s Dictionary by Stearn Robinson

The Dream Interpretation Dictionary: Symbols, Signs, and Meanings by J.M. DeBord

 

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A few years ago, Malcolm Gladwell wrote about 10,000-Hour Rule. Then I read that the researchers who came up with that rule said he got it a bit wrong.  Gladwell made it seem that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become a world-class expert at anything.

Does 10,000 hours seem daunting? If you’re doing 8 hour work days, that’s 1250 days or 250 work weeks or 4.8 years. Seems like a long time, but 5 years to really become expert at something sounds reasonable.

The clarification is that different fields require different amounts of practice to become expert.

I found a more encouraging plan, that might be called a 5-Hour Rule.  This idea is based on a number of famous and busy people who set aside at least an hour a day (five hours a week) for something that they might classify as a deliberate practice or learning practice.

Three of these practices which we can all try are reading, reflection, and experimentation.

This doesn’t mean that you sometimes read. It needs to be a kind of discipline in the way that a musician or athlete practices  certain number of hours every week for set times. Arthur Blank, co-founder of Home Depot, reads two hours a day.

The reflection practice sounds too easy. Set aside an hour a day just to think?  Yes, but this is not an hour nap or staring at people passing from a park bench. But it’s not a mediation session either. LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner schedules two hours of thinking time per day. More sophisticated is billionaire Ray Dalio who logs into a system any business mistake he makes. The entry is public to all employees at his company, and then he schedules time with his team to find the root cause. Entrepreneur billionaire Sara Blakely is a journaler and has more than 20 notebooks in which she records and reflect on the good and bad things that happen in her life.

You can go back to Ben Franklin, Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison to find people who deliberately set aside time for experimentation. They were inventors, but most of us aren’t looking to invent for ourselves. Google was known for allowing employees to experiment with their own new projects during 20 percent of their work time.  Some of that led to new products like Gmail and Google Maps, but some of it may have led to new ideas but no new products. And that’s okay.

What might you experiment with?  Art, music, craft, a new language, a sport?

These five hours are not about productivity as much as being about improvement. All of us do some degree of “lifelong learning” every week, but it is probably more “just-in-time learning” than deliberate blocks of time for improvement without set products at the end.

The author of that article compares this to have minimum recommended dosages of vitamins, or step goals on your fitness monitor or on the machine at the gym.

I wonder if I can count the hours I spend each week writing on my blogs?

I never thought of myself as a stoic, but I might be wrong. If you have heard of Stoicism, it might be because you learned about it briefly in some high school or college course. It is philosophy. You might say that Stoics are calm and almost without  emotion. They don’t show what they are feeling. Stoics can endure pain and hardship without showing their feelings or complaining. They accept what is happening.

But all that isn’t really accurate to the origin of Stoicism. For example, another misconception is that Stoicism is a religion. Although the Stoics made references to the gods in their writing, this was a philosophical, rather than religious, doctrine.

The Stoics were a group of philosophers who first began teaching their ideas in the Hellenistic period. Stoicism was founded by a man named Zeno, who lived from 335-263 BC.

Stoics were not opposed to emotions entirely. They were opposed to negative emotions, such as anger, anxiety, jealousy, and fear.

I don’t think many people today would label themselves as stoic, but some of the principles of Stoicism can probably make you happier and a better person.

Zeno put death in the forefront of things to consider. But what that means is that you should cherish each day of life. Stoicism is certainly not the only philosophy that encourages living in the present. (Buddhism is another.) It seems quite modern to be “mindful” of the present moment and to make that a practice. That might involve meditation, or solo walks in nature.

It also means you are more conscious of being thankful for things that we do have. Zeno wouldn’t have kept a gratitude journal as some people do these days, but he would probably approve of the practice. This little act of mindfulness does have value, like keeping a food journal when you’re on a diet so that you consciously spend some time considering what is happening to you.

In writing about what Stoicism is not, William Irvine says:

Although Stoicism is not itself a religion, it is compatible with many religions. It is particularly compatible, I think, with Christianity. Thus, consider the so-called “Serenity Prayer,” commonly attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

It echoes Epictetus’s observation that some things are under our control and some things are not, and that if we have any sense at all, we will spend our time dealing with the former group of things.

Stoicism was modified by the Romans, most prominently Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, and Epictetus, and you can still read their words, even on an e-reader.

Stoicism has evolved and a kind of modern stoicism exists. How would the Stoics of old cope in our times? Seneca said, “Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own.” People are still finding reasons Stoicism matters today.

Maybe more of us are Stoics than we thought.

 

Last spring, I wrote about the Law of Attraction and the LOA came up in a conversation this past week. A friend asked me if I had ever heard of it. I said I had. He asked me if I ever tried using it to my advantage. I said I had not.  Why not, he asked. And I didn’t have an immediate answer. We discussed it.

This “law” has a pretty big community online and plenty of pages talk about it, including Wikipedia. Of course, there are books about it too.

It is not a new idea. It has been around since the late 1800s.

It has been covered several times in Psychology Today which looked at what they see as “the truth” about it. An article titled “Throw Away Your Vision Board” got a lot of hits online (many of them negative about the topic even being covered by the magazine) and a follow-up to the first article.”

If you have not heard of it before, this law, or technique, might sound a lot like a scam. The idea is that you can use it to manifest the things you want. If someone told you that by using the LOA you would be able to attract into your life whatever you are focusing on – a person, a new car, or a job – you might be interested. The belief is that LOA has the power, using just your mind, to translate whatever is in your thoughts and materialize them into reality.

That friend that I had a conversation with recently said it was described to him as “think it and it will become true.” I don’t think believers would describe it as being that easy. Hey, we have all wished for things and not gotten them. In broader terms, LOA is saying that if you focus on negative thoughts, negative things will be attracted to you. A focus on positive thoughts will attract positive things and lead to you achieving your goals.

Become what you want to attract. It sounds much too easy.  But will the Universe respond to your positive vibrations?

If you dig a little deeper into LOA, you will find tactics like using vision boards or mantras. You will find most of these techniques used in other self-help book that are not about LOA. But I have read that the law of attraction is not so much things you do, as how you live.

My friend decided after our conversation that it sounded similar to him to weight loss programs. Someone is always coming up with a new diet plan, but essentially what needs to happen in order to lose weight and keep it off is for you to change the way you live.

I can accept that negativity attracts negativity. Being positive probably will improve your life. But I don’t know that positivity alone can get you things.

Read some sites about the law of attraction and you will find a lot of generalizations for how-to: follow your inner truth,  listen to the universe, and pay attention to the messages and signs it presents to you.

The writer of those articles in Psychology Today ended up digging deeper into LOA and writing a book about it – Throw Away Your Vision Board: The Truth About the Law of Attraction. Spoiler alert: His conclusion is that there is no Law of Attraction. But he also has his own “Key to Achieve Principles” and The Action Board goal-achieving system. Self-help attracts self-help. Help yourself.

A Place of My Own by Michael Pollan has two subtitle versions: “The Education of an Amateur Builder,” and the one I used for a previous post in 2010, “The Architecture of Daydreams.”  That this book has sat on my bedside book stack for all these years is not an indication of the quality of the book or my enjoyment of it. I bought it 7 years ago, started it, put it aside, and then started back into it again last spring and have dipped into it on and off and between other readings. I finally finished it on New Year’s Eve because I didn’t want it to remain unfinished into the new year. A small, doable, New Year’s resolution. It works reading it in parts as a story and as instruction. Think of the chapter as courses in a very long meal, or as occasional visits to Michael’s little place for another lesson. His place wasn’t built quickly, so why read it all in a weekend.

I was attracted to it because, like Pollan, I have long wanted of a room of my own. Okay, not a “room” but a separate building, albeit a small one. For me, it has been a small log cabin that has been in my head and sketched on many sheets of paper ever since I read Walden and a host of other books where people escaped and wrote in some cabin isolation. You should not need a cabin to be a writer, but it still seems Romantic (capital R) to me.

cover

In the snow…

He wanted a “shelter for daydreams” and I identify not only with that, but also with his lack of skills needed to build such a place. Pollan writes that “Apart from eating, gardening, short-haul driving, and sex, I generally prefer to delegate my commerce with the physical world to specialists.”

So,  I read the book for both of its subtitles, as instruction manual about how to actually build such a structure, and as an armchair-dreaming builder. As instruction manual, it had its limitations. I’m not in a place where I can hire a real architect and custom builders to make my cabin. Plus, my plan has always been to do it myself. I also don’t have the land to build on, so it is astill “armchair building” for now.

But as an armchair building adventure tale, the book is kind of a Moby-Dick reading experience to me. I learned about building a little place and how to place it on a piece of land, and also about the history and meaning of all human building. It is about finding your place in your environment in the same way that you need to place your cabin to take advantage of views, sunlight, and to deal with drainage and winds and weather. In Melville’s book, you learn about whaling, whale and the sea, and about your own place in and away from this world.

In the spring

Will I start building this spring? Well, I still don’t have that piece of land or all the skills to build a place on my own or a set of blueprints that I would use yet. But over the years, I have learned some of the building skills by repairing my home, building a rock wall and a garden shed. I have collected plans for cabins and one-room sanctuaries, though none feel like “the one” that is floating somewhere in my brain.

Perhaps 2018 will be the year the daydream gets built.

Winter is the most hygge time of year. Hygge (pronounced HEW-ga) is the Scandinavian word for a mood of coziness, comfort and conviviality. It is associated with feelings of wellness and contentment. Recently, it has become a characteristic of Danish culture, and in the past year it has spread well beyond Scandinavia.

It seems particularly appropriate to winter and especially Christmas Eve. On a cold, snowy night, this is all about candles, nubby woolens, shearling slippers, pastries, blond wood, sheepskin rugs, lattes with milk-foam hearts and, of course, a warm fireplace.

Hygge can be used as a noun, adjective, verb, or compound noun. Danish doctors apparently recommend “tea and hygge” as a cure for the common cold. You can hygge alone under a thick blanket,  in your flannel pajamas, sipping a hot toddie, but it seems that true hygge is done with loved ones. Couples are good, but four seems to be the ideal.

I had heard about this last year, but it wasn’t until I listened to the ladies of the By The Book podcast  (Jolenta Greenberg and Kristen Meinzer) who test out self-help books and they recently tried hygge via The Little Book of Hygge.

There is certainly no shortage of books on hygee, but to embrace it only requires some conscious appreciation. I find in it elements of other cultural movements and philosophies. It encourages a kind of slowness and being present but also enjoying the present. Sounds Buddhist, but I like adding that enjoyment part.

There seem to be lots of hygge words that have emerged, such as hyggebukser, which is that pair of pants you love and wear around the house but never wear in public.

The happiness levels of Americans are lousy compared to those of Danes. Why are they so happy? Maybe it is all that cold and snow, which how I imagine Denmark. Their homes are supposedly more homey. They better be homey for when you get out of that cold. They celebrate experiences over possessions.

Some of those books are “How to Hygge” and some have recipes, tips for cozy living at home and healthy hedonism.

Last year, an article in The New Yorker that called 2016 the Year of Hygge, so I guess I am a year late to the party. Though it says that you can’t buy a “hygge living room” and there are no “hygge foods,” I have seen a few books about just those things. Hygge has gone commercial.

Want some hygge food and drink tonight? Try some cardamom buns,  ultimate muesli “ne plus ultra,” and triple cherry gløgg.  That gløgg is a Scandinavian mulled wine with more cardamom pods and star anise and sounds perfect for tonight – and I do love cardamon in my chai tea too.

Is this a possible cure for SAD? I doubt it, but it might help.

Want to feel some hygge? Cuddle up with someone on the sofa, wear cozy socks and clothing, light only candles, turn off the phone and TV and have some cake with your favorite hot drink. Get cozy.

 

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