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We haven’t really nailed down what dreams are all about and there are still differing theories. In the explanation that Freud promoted, dreams are a way to see into our subconscious desires, thoughts and motivations. This is where we get the idea that the things in dreams (manifest content) are really symbols for the latent, or hidden, content.

Other theories view dreaming as a way the brain generates new ideas and creativity. This explains how people wake up with a poem or the solution to a complex problem.

A more everyday variation on this theory is another that posits that dreams are the way we process the day’s information. In sleep and dreaming, we categorize, prune away and store memories.

However, none of these explain the persistent idea that dreams, at least sometimes, seem to predict or foreshadow future events. The three theories first mentioned all deal with the past, whether it be the past 48 hours, or our childhood years ago.

If you have ever had a dream that later turned out to be “true” or prophetic, you probably have some belief in precognitive dreams.

J. W. Dunne, a British engineer and amateur philosopher, proposed that the way we believe we experience time as linear was an illusion. Human consciousness fools us into believing that, when in fact past, present and future were continuous in a higher-dimensional reality. We have imposed this sequential time mental perception of time as a way to understand it.

He wrote about what he called “serial time” is a series of books beginning with An Experiment with Time (1928) , The Serial Universe (1934), The New Immortality (1938), Nothing Dies (1940) and Intrusions? (1955).

As the years passed, he connected “serialism” to psychology, parapsychology, theology, relativity and quantum mechanics. Several famous novelists were fans of his theories, including James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, and Aldous Huxley.

Vladimir Nabokov was another novelist who was taken with the Dunne’s idea that serial time allowed for dreams to “predict” a future we had already experienced. It also explained the déjà vu phenomenon.

In a recently published collection titled Insomniac Dreams,, we can see an experiment in time that Nabokov conducted himself.

Every morning for about three months, he would write down immediately upon awakening what he could recall of his dreams. Then the following days, he paid careful attention to anything that seemed to do with the recorded dream. This dream journal was recorded on index cards, which has also been his compositional method when he wrote Lolita.

He is surely not the only dream journaler who has believed that dreams are not just fragments of past impressions, but are both past and future events. Dunne said this was possible in his serial view of time because time then is not unidirectional but recursive.

Dunne would also say that the only way to observe the predictive nature o dreams is to pay careful attention to the content of dreams, as Nabokov and journaling do, and the events that follow in waking life.

Nabokov finds some instances of prophecy in his recorded dreams, but nothing I would consider extraordinary despite his idea that when you are confronted with predicted outcomes that might be explained as coincidences multiple times, you cease to believe they are coincidences and believe they “form the living organism of a new truth.”

I am more in the coincidence school of belief about the predictive aspects of dreams, and that they are given more weight when we pay closer attention, as Nabokov did.

Perhaps, I should do my own experiment paying closer attention to the followup days  and dream self-reflection. Though lately, I have not had any dreams to record as they seem to disappear before I even wake up with my dream journal beside me. What’s that all about?

 


Dreams offer a good time for self-reflection. Many dreams are generated from worries and fears and stressors in your life. They might even get you to visit a doctor or change something in your life causing problems.

You know that we don’t usually remember your dreams, even if you surely have several of them a night during your REM time.

I read recently that even vivid dreams are quickly lost because we can’t form memories while dreaming. If you are consistently remembering dreams in vivid detail, that might be a sign that you are not getting restful sleep. Try adjusting your eating, drinking, or nighttime stress-relieving habits.

The key to interpreting your dreams is not to find the book of dream interpretations at the bookstore, but to figure out your own personal dream language.

Most dreams should be interpreted more broadly instead of specifically. Dr. Michael Grandner, director of the Sleep and Health Research Program at the University of Arizona says that if in a dream you are having a heart attack, it might mean “you’re worried about your health, or maybe it means that you feel something bad may happen at work.”

Dreams don’t have to explain themselves because your unconscious mind already understands them. That is why all dream interpretation books suggest keeping a dream journal beside the bed to record any dreams as soon as you wake up. Skip the interpretation books and buy a nice blank book and start recording and reflecting. And pay attention to what pops up in your dreams tonight.

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

 

In a  column by Omid Safi, he says that “Driving itself is a spiritual experience for me.”  That got me thinking.

“What else do we do that has become so mundane, so ordinary, so boring? What else can be opened up, like a sunroof, to reveal the luminous inside? What else is there in my daily life that could stand to have its sunroof opened up and the windows lowered?

What else is there in your life, friends, that could stand to have sun shining down on it with the winds swirling around, connecting you to the core of your being, your friends, your neighbors, your beloved, the soil under your feet, and the stars above?”

I don’t share that feeling. I think that when I was much younger I did. I loved cars as a kid. I read car magazines. I built model cars. I watched car racing on TV. I could identify almost any car driving past me.

Now, all the cars are interchangeable to me. I don’t read about cars, except for checking Consumer Reports when it’s time to get a new one. I want one that gets me from Point A to Point B economically and without repairs. Almost any new car will have more options than I really need.

“Spiritual” in this context is about things affecting the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things. The word is often tied to religion and the sacred, divine, or holy.

But Safi’s quote above and that spiritual feeling doesn’t come from cars. It comes from driving. Although driving an older Toyota Corolla is certainly a different car experience from driving a new Tesla, I wonder how much it changes this spiritual aspect once you have been on the road for a few hours.

I have seen writing about the spiritual connection you might have to the car itself, but it is not a connection I have ever had to the vehicle. I loved my first car, a 1971 VW Beetle, which I drove for 11 years, but I never felt any spiritual connection to it. But I suspect many Corvette owners might disagree with me.

The book Earth Angels: Engaging the Sacred in Everyday Things by Shaun McNiff caught my eye n a shelf because the cover has an Edward Hopper painting. He would disagree with my soulless car theory, as he believes that we need to honor the souls of cars, and also furniture, rooms, computers and other ordinary objects.  He didn’t convince me about “soulful materialism” but I’m sure he has his followers.

I’m also not sure if everyone would agree, but I find being the driver and being a passenger on a drive makes the entire experience different. I find being a passenger much more spiritual. You need to be able to let the mind wander. You need to be able to really see what you are passing. Of course, this eliminates the Romantic notion of the solo road trip which I suppose is another level of spiritual experiences.

I still make mix CDs specifically for road trips with songs that resonate for me when I am driving and sometimes for where I am driving. One of the best experiences I have had with a friend was when on a long drive we sang along with almost the entire Simon and Garfunkel song catalog. Driving on the New Jersey Turnpike while they sing “America” click something in my brain.

The other factor is where you are driving. I have no love for the mundane city driving experience and I doubt that there is much spirituality involved. Any writing I have seen about driving that leans to the Romantic side is probably about open highways and wide vistas. Speed play a part, but it can also be a low-speed drive along a twisting coast highway.

The New York Times had a piece about a retrospective of Stephen Shore’s photographs, many of which are his cross-country color photos (collected in the Uncommon Places). The Times asked some American writers to create short fictions or comment on some of Shore’s photographs.

One piece, “Contemplating Geologic Time While Eating a Filet-O-Fish Under a Cloudless Sky,” by Charles Yu which was inspired by  the photo “U.S. 89, Arizona, June 1972.”

“Don McLean ON FM radio, windows rolled all the way down. In an old car in a new country. Midday’s brutal, blue.

He kills the engine, gets out for some air. Opens the door and the potential energy of the fight quickly dissipates, carried away from them along with their voices, words spoken a minute ago propagating waveforms of fear, of love, tumbling down into the canyon, the historical event of their first argument now traveling outward in all directions to the ends of the universe, sounds they made halving themselves again and again, until somewhere, hundreds of feet below, they break against the rocks in a wash of ambient vibration…”

Yu’s piece reminds me that I would include the road stops when driving as part of the driving experience – the scenic outlook, the classic diner, the odd, unnamed general store or the gas station with one pump in the middle of nowhere.

If you look at a dream interpretation site of book, you will probably find that a dream about driving a car is supposed to be about being in control of where you are going. Driving is taking responsibility for your actions. And in that dream symbolism way, being a passenger in a car might mean you are allowing someone else to control you or your life; or you feel you have no control over your life, and that someone is  “taking you for a ride.” I actually don’t recall any driving dreams (and I am someone who keeps dream journals).

I am much more likely to find spirituality in a walk in the woods than in a drive, but I cannot dismiss the driving experience because I have had those kinds of experiences too.  What about you?

Dream lucidity means that while you are dreaming, you are aware that you are dreaming. There is a chance that it has happened to you. But there is a better chance that you have not had a “lucid dream.”

So, does this seem familiar? You are in the middle of a normal dream and suddenly realize that they are dreaming. This type actually has a name: a dream-initiated lucid dream.

I have had this type of dream twice. And despite trying to initiate a lucid dream, I have not been able to force one to occur though there are lots of suggested ways to make a lucid dream more likely.

An even rarer and odder type is called a wake-initiated lucid dream. That occurs when you go from a normal waking state directly into a dream state, with no apparent lapse in consciousness.

There are references to this phenomenon in the ancient Greek writings of Aristotle. He wrote that:  “often when one is asleep, there is something in consciousness which declares that what then presents itself is but a dream.”   I question the “often” part of his statement, but clearly this is something that we have observed for a very long time.

The term ‘lucid dream’ to describe the phenomenon was coined by Dutch psychiatrist Frederik van Eeden in his 1913 article “A Study of Dreams.”

There is no way to force yourself to have a lucid dream, but there are methods that are said to make it more likely. I have written before about lucid dreams and I have tried all the methods I have read about.

One suggestion, which I have followed for many years, is to keep a dream journal. I keep my beside my bed and a few times a week I have a dream that remains clear when I awaken and I write it down. 99.9% of those dreams are not lucid. The journal is supposed to train you to remember more of your dreams. We all know that dreams fade very quickly if we don’t review them when we are awake by writing them down or telling them to others. I have also tried using a voice recorder to eliminate the time that writing takes. I have had dreams fade away while I am writing them down.

I have also been told that repeating a phrase such as “I will be aware that I’m dreaming” before you fall asleep. The official name for this technique is “Mnemonic Induction to Lucid Dreaming” (MILD). This is also a way to turn on awareness of your dreaming. Another awareness reality check is to stare at their hands for a few minutes before they go to sleep.

Increasing your ability to have lucid dreams is part of  the Tibetan Buddhist practice of dream Yoga, and the ancient Indian Hindu practice of Yoga nidra.

Neuroscientists are also interested in lucid dreaming as a way to study differences in brain activities while waking and sleeping. I read about a study in which researchers triggered lucid dreaming using low-power electrical currents of specific frequencies applied directly to the head. That is not a method most of us can access – and personally I wouldn’t want to try it.

Lucid dreaming is not without risk. People who are not mentally stable should probably consult with a doctor before experimenting.

All of experience some sleep paralysis during the REM cycle of dreaming. That sounds bad but it is a good thing as it prevents you from physically acting out your dreams. You don’t want to leap off your bed while asleep when you’re dreaming about jumping off a dock into the water. If while lucid dreaming you are in that  half-dreaming and half-waking state, you may feel awake but be in a kind of sleep paralysis.

For myself, the two times that I experienced a lucid dream state they were uninitiated. It just happened. Both times it was during a recurring dream. In one instance (which I wrote about “pre-lucidity” two years ago), I had a dream about walking down a particular street, stopping at a home and walking up the steps and knocking on the door. I had that dream three times before. The fourth time I had the dream I thought while I stood at that door that “This is a dream and I need to keep knocking until someone answers.” I did that and I finally met the person behind the door. It was someone I know, and I wrote as much about the dream as I could recall in my journal, but I still have no interpretation of its meaning.

Roald Dahl + Steven Spielberg = The BFG – book written by Dahl. Film directed by Spielberg, from Disney.

The story of a young girl, Sophie, and the Giant who introduces her to the wonders and perils of Giant Country. The BFG is a Big Friendly Giant, unlike other inhabitants of Giant Country. 24-feet tall but not like Bloodbottler and Fleshlumpeater (who are twice as big and known to eat humans).

Sophie is a 10-year-old girl from London that BFG brings to Dream Country where he collects dreams and sends them to children, teaching her all about the magic and mystery of dreams.

Disney’s The BFG comes to theaters July 1, 2016. Start reading now.


books by Roald Dahl

films by Steven Spielberg

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