Dreams are made of this

My youngest sister is researching dreams as part of her interdisciplinary art degree, and has asked people to share their dreams.

I’m a bit reluctant to share my dreams. I’m not precious, or especially private, but I simply see dreams as a by-product of our brains functioning, which means they are simultaneously meaningful and meaningless. I think our brains assimilate information in the form of dreams, and that dreams can contain no more than our experience. Most of my dreams buzz around things I’m anxious about, or things I’ve been absorbing late into the night, and whilst I do think that dreams can reveal some things that might be hidden or ignored, I don’t think they are in any way prophetic – I don’t think they can tell you any more than you already know, or have known. I know lots of people are seduced by the notion of interpreting dreams to foretell the future, but I find the idea problematic, not just because I think dreams come from within, not without, and therefore can’t tell us anything new or unknown, but also because of the methods commonly employed. Dream dictionaries, for example, rely on you being able to distinguish and recognise different elements of your dreams, mainly as objects or scenarios, which necessitates another level of interpretation. It’s not an exact science, but that isn’t the trouble (anyone that knows me well knows I have little room in my head for, and little appreciation of, science).

One of the things that irks me about the way people talk about dreams is the way that they are commonly referred to as moving pictures, or collections of images. I’m sensitive to visual stimulus, but can honestly say that I’ve had few dreams where I’ve employed the faculty of sight, or even come close to ‘seeing’ something. Dreams are not a collection of pictures beamed into my head. Instead, they are situations, feelings, behaviour, action… I know what my dreams contain, because I am me – there are no visual clues for anybody else to understand what is going on, and even less for the dream to give anyone else an insight into my world. Dreams, the ones I have, can only be explained, written down, talked about – they don’t contain ‘signifiers’ or ‘symbols’ in the common sense of the words. How many dreams have you had where you’ve know who the other person in the room is even though you can’t really see them? Where you’ve observed amorphous figures and have known that you are out of your body, and you even know which of the shapes is you? Stuff happens in my dreams, that’s for sure, but the pictures only come after… in the same way that you consciously conjure an image from reading prose or a poem.

I suppose that my reluctance to share my dreams lies in the assumption that they will turn into images at the hands of someone else. I’m not sure why that worries me, but there’s something odd about it. I’m also aware that once I start to talk about my dreams, they begin to unravel – what can seem sure and certain in the morning when the eyes are still heavy with sleep will surely become insubstantial after any amount of interrogation. It’s this, more than anything, that leads me to believe that dreams are intuition and (sometimes subconscious) self-reflection rather than images: images can be returned to and remembered, sometimes falsely, but images burn themselves into my brain, and dreams do not. Our visual sense, and the dependence we have upon it is interesting, but it’s for a better brain than mine to explore.

Still, just to show willing, I’ll record the only dream that I remember. As with many of my sister’s correspondents, this dream dates back to childhood:

I’m in a tunnel, perhaps made of sand or sandstone – the material around me is not oppressively dark, but I am hemmed in. I am mortally afraid. I know there is a creature with a girth that matches the diameter of the tunnel I’m in, it’s a worm or snake-like creature, and I know if it finds me, I will either be squashed or suffocate. I run blindly through the tunnels, turning this way and that, desperately trying to find an exit.

I frequently willed myself to wake up when I was a child because I was convinced that I was suffocating, in both my dreams and in reality. That feeling, which I remember as plain as day, gives real substance to the idea of the suffocation of sleep.

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