From time immemorial people have been fascinated by dreams. They want to know what they mean. Centuries ago, those who interpreted the dreams of monarchs were in high demand. Decisions that had profound impact on history could have depended on the subjective interpretation of a single dream.
I’ve always thought that the word “dream” is a misnomer for the images our subconscious creates during our sleeping hours. “Dreaming” seems to connote imagining something really wonderful that you wish would happen, whereas my dreams tend to be scary, nonsensical, and/or downright crazy. In fact, more often than not, I’m happy to wake up and find that my real life is better than the story I experienced during my sleeping hours.
I’ve been in a number of discussions about what purpose dreams serve. No one has had the definitive answer, but I recall a time when dreams had a practical financial purpose if one had a dream book. Dream books were just as common in some homes in our neighborhood in Chicago as the Bible because they attached numbers to those parts of the dream that you remembered. These “lucky” numbers would then be used to place a bet as part of “the numbers game,” an illegal lottery played by people who needed a money miracle. It didn’t matter if four out of five times the numbers played didn’t win—there was always the possibility that the dream was prophetic and the people who published the dream book were modern-day prophets.
Sometimes when I’ve had a long, intense dream and clearly remember all the disjointed vignettes, I try to make the dream useful in working out something in my waking life. Between September 2010 and April 2015, I recorded some of the dreams I remembered. The stay-at-home directive gave me time to pull out the notebook and read what I wrote about these dreams. Here is the transcript of one of the helpful “dreams”:
I stepped onto the escalator with people in front and behind me. For some reason, I sat down on one of the steps of the escalator. I had a small shopping bag with me that seemed to contain food. The bag became caught in the escalator stairs behind me. As I turned to try to dislodge the bag, a loud, impatient voice shocked me with, “GET UP!”
I was doubly shocked when my alarm went off simultaneously for me to, in fact, get up.
Another dream in which I was at a NASPA conference planning committee with challenges that truly only could be dreamed up hardly needed an interpreter with special discerning powers to figure out what was causing me anxiety at the time.
Going to bed anticipating dreaming and planning to remember them may be a way to feel some sense of control. As strange as it seems, maybe dreaming during times when one’s sense of control is next to nil could be a way to relieve toxic stress and practice some psychological maintenance.
We can test whether you can see this response to your blog or not.
Thanks for bringing up this topic which feels so relevant as we collect anxieties each day by the boatload while we shelter at home and are submitted to the narcisstic erratic rulings of a reckless dangerous president. It was fascinating to be reminded of the different traditions about dreaming and to learn about the dream prophesies in your neighborhood that were believed to help get a winning number.
I have been a regular dreamer all my life and remember trading dream narratives with my sister as we were each making up our twin beds in the morning. One of my college roommates could never remember hers which proved a challenge when she had to keep a dream diary in a psych course. Perhaps the most useful article I ever read on dreams said something like, “They allow us to go safely insane each night and wake readier to cope.”
Thanks for the provocative blog.
Caryn McTighe Musil
Caryn, I really appreciate your thoughtful comments. I think the quote about what dreams allow us to do makes those scary dreams serve a purpose. Thanks, Caryn.