Dreams have mystified and captivated us throughout history. We spend almost six years of our lives — 2,100 days — in the shadowy world of dreams. They have predicted events, started wars, and resolved business decisions. But because of their deeply personal nature, we know few facts about them. But the commonality of certain dreams, along with examination of the dreamers’ shared experiences, has generated interesting theories as to their impact on our lives.
After we fall asleep, our mental and metabolic condition progresses through four stages. The fourth stage, known as REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, is when our blood pressure, brain activity and heart rate increase significantly. As our voluntary muscles become paralyzed, dreams begin to unfold.
It’s a fact that daily activities affect our dreams. When you suppress your feelings during the day, there’s a good chance they’ll show up in your dreams. For example, if you wanted to express anger toward someone, but chose not to do so, that anger may appear symbolically in your dreams.
I have a friend who tells me that on the eve of a particularly difficult business negotiation, he will often have intense dreams during which he “rehearses” what he will say in the meeting. He reports that when he wakes up, the stress and anxiety that could have affected his performance and judgment are gone. He is now ready to do it again — this time for real.
People share some dream themes. An interesting website, www.dreams.ca, suggests that the top ten subjects are (in no particular order):
1. being in an out-of-control car (is life maybe too hectic and out of control?);
2. falling (am I feeling “unsupported” or worried?);
3. arriving late or unprepared for an exam (am I lacking confidence, or feeling unprepared for an upcoming event?);
4. being chased or attacked (is there a fearful aspect of my personality?);
5. encountering a helpless baby or small animal (have I been attentive enough to myself?);
6. drowning or experiencing huge waves (am I denying or feeling overwhelmed by my emotions?);
7. being injured or dismembered (is there a part of my life I’ve been neglecting or forgetting?);
8. being trapped (should I open myself up to new perspectives?);
9. being naked in public (do I feel insecure or ashamed about something?), and,
10. being stuck in slow motion, unable to move or make a sound (am I getting nowhere in some endeavor, and unable to voice my true feelings?).
Of course, these are open to speculation. We’re all different, and variations will be reflected in our own imaginations.
I like to refer to dreams as “day residue” where the mind seizes onto a particular trigger event encountered during our waking hours. It could be as small as a few words overheard in a restaurant, or as large as a life-changing experience. The feelings it evokes are integrated into our memories, symbols, anxieties and perceptions, and then played back — rich in imagery. The feelings linked to the trigger are re-experienced as the dream unfolds.
You can sometimes figure out what the trigger event is. Try this: Immediately after waking up, apply what dream researchers call “associative logic.” In other words, because the dream connects to you by way of a specific feeling, you can match that feeling to some event (the trigger) that took place when you were awake. As you recollect the past day or so, a particular incident that generates the same feeling (you’ll know it when you feel it) is probably the one that triggered the dream.
Another interesting exercise is called lucid dreaming, where you realize you are dreaming and maybe even manipulating the outcome. Some people actually work to develop the skill of continuing the dream without waking up. There are products on the market from CDs with rhythmic sounds to blinking sleep masks that supposedly help develop this capability (I’m not endorsing ANYTHING). Though there’s a lot of baloney out there, it might be fun to give it a try. Imagine a little fantasy world where “anything goes!”
It’s important to bear in mind that dreams are not real. They are nothing more than intricate fabrications of your psyche, and healthy by-products of your complex, yet always mindful, self.
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