We’ve all had them. Dreams that are so convoluted and disjointed that there’s no way to make sense of them. “I had a dream last night” you’ll say. “I was in my grandma’s house, but it wasn’t really my grandma’s house, you know? Stephanie and Joe walk in hand-in-hand like they were dating – but they’ve never met! Then Michael starts throwing ping-pong balls for the dog to catch, but they turn in to raw eggs when they land. And then, we’re at my office. Not the one I work in now, the one at my last job…”
The person you’re telling begins to look at you a bit oddly, and you realize you’re starting to sound like a lunatic. “Oh well. Never mind” you say. “It kind of made sense at the time.” That’s the thing about dreams. When you awake from one, sometimes you feel like it was significant and was trying to tell you something. But that is usually a fleeting feeling, and more often than not, is gone as soon as you are fully awake and the early morning fuzz has left your brain.
Other times, our dreams stay with us. They leave strong impressions on us and their power is undeniable. There have been times that I’ve woken up so angry with my husband because of something he’s done in my dream. I know it’s irrational, and sometimes I can’t even remember what he did, but the feeling of anger is undeniable.
What does it all mean?
I heard a theory about dreams once that was much more scientific than mystical. If I remember correctly it went something like this: Our brains are filled with bits and pieces of information. Everything that has happened during the day, recent and long-ago memories, snippets of images that we’ve seen and heard – all swirling around together in our minds. When we relax into sleep, these various memories and images float through our subconscious mind. The theory suggested that since we are intelligent beings, our brains try to cobble these random thoughts into stories. The fact that the stories sometimes make more sense than other times is purely by chance.
While this isn’t the most romantic notion of dreams, I have to admit it makes a lot of sense to me. There have been times, however, when this practical theory of our dreams just isn’t enough to satisfy me. Take recurring dreams for instance. Years ago, I often had what I’d call “driving” dream. In it, I would be behind the wheel of a car. I would be going very fast down narrow side streets lined with parked cars. I was unable to slow down and the steering wheel would turn, but didn’t seem to be connected to the tires. I would speed along, careening from side to side, clipping off side mirrors and sideswiping cars as I’d go. None of the collisions would slow the car down and I would wake up in a sweat, filled with a mixture of adrenaline and dread.
I had these dreams through college and into my young adulthood, and the symbolism seemed crystal clear. At that time of my life I was often filled with anxiety and uncertainty about my studies, my place in the social pecking order, boyfriends (or lack thereof), etc. Nothing could have mirrored my feeling of not being in control better than those driving dreams where I literally couldn’t control my path. As I got older and gained confidence in myself, the dreams abated. They have shown up now and then throughout the years when I am struggling with something, but for the most part, they’re gone.
Recurring dreams like this make me skeptical of the “random thoughts making up stories” theory. The struggles I was having were coming through in my sleep in a very coherent way. In my waking life, I wasn’t always even aware how scared I was – or if I was aware, I worked hard to fake my confidence – but my dream life knew all about it. I’d wake up in the cold sweat of panic that I felt deep down but didn’t want to admit. Could that really be random?
Another intriguing aspect of dreams is precognition or premonitions. I had this happen once several years ago and it still haunts me. My husband’s aunt had terminal cancer. I had a dream one night that she called and said simply “I’m fine now!” In my dream I hung up the phone feeling relief and happiness that she was going to be ok. The next morning my mother-in-law called to tell me she had passed. Had she been on my mind and therefore the dream was a random case of wishful thinking? Maybe. Or was she somehow reaching out and telling us she was no longer in pain. This mystery is what has fascinated people about dreams for centuries.
As I discussed in a previous post, my Grandmother was filled with superstitions and rules of behavior based on those superstitions. Two have to do with dreams.
The first: If you dream of a death, you’ll hear of a birth. If you dream of a birth, you’ll hear of a death. Whenever I dream of a birth or a death, I am hyper-vigilant the next day, listening for news of either. I’ve rarely been able to confirm the truth in this one.
The second: If you tell your dreams before breakfast, they’ll come true. Many a morning I’ve told Mr. Maid “I had the craziest dream. I’ll tell you about it after I eat.” I’ll happily tell him when I dream of laying on a sun drenched beach. I’ll wait until after my cereal to discuss the ax murderer who chased me through the forest. As irrational as it might be, I follow this rule to this day, just in case.
Maybe dreams are messages from our deepest soul or from the great beyond. Maybe they are just a jumble of random thoughts and any significance to our lives is merely a coincidence. Heck, I don’t know! Tell me what you think.
Author’s Note: Speaking of coincidences, I had been mulling over writing this post for about a week when fellow blogger Rashmi at Mind and Life Matters posted this exciting story about a dream. “Hmmmm…” I thought. “I guess something in the universe is telling me to write this.” Then, while in the middle of composing the post, one of my favorite blogs, called Brain Pickings showed up in my Facebook feed with an article called “The Science of Dreams and Why We Have Nightmares” about a book called “Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep.” I’ll be adding it to my reading list.
That settled it – I had to write about the subject of dreams this week.
I strongly suggest that you check out Brain Pickings or check out its Facebook page. Its author, Maria Popova, discusses books about various subjects, but it’s much more than just a book review site. Ms. Popova writes eloquently and in depth about topics that she is passionate about. Whether you want to read the books she references, or not, her posts are worth a visit. ~Rita