Friday, February 26, 2010


"Last night I had the strangest dream,
I sailed away to China, in a little row boat to find ya,
and you said you had to get your laundry clean.
Didn't want no one to hold ya, what does that mean?"

Most of us are probably familiar with these opening lyrics from 'Break My Stride' made popular by Matthew Wilder in 1983 and subsequently covered by many others. Catchy lyrics and a catchy little beat - you can listen to several different interpretations on YouTube if you now have the ear worm. It kind of makes you want to dance or skip or at least bounce in your chair a little.

I've found myself saying that opening phrase quite often lately. I've been participating in a class on creativity and it's had some interesting and unexpected side effects. One of them is dreams. About 5 weeks into the course they said they wanted to alert us that some people might begin to experience a more vivid dream life. The warning came about 4 weeks too late for me - I was already well into it. Going to sleep these past few months is like going to the movies.

I know that we always dream (they say we average about 2 hours of dreaming per night), but most of our dreams are relatively short or mundane. Often we don't remember our dreams or we lose them moments after waking. Since participating in this class I've had lots of dreams. Very odd dreams. Dreams that I am remembering. In great detail.

The meaning of dreams is something people have struggled with through the ages. Their meanings have been debated and discussed in psychology and philosophy and theology. The ancients believed they were messages from the Gods and even those who weren't raised in the church know all about Joseph's dreams and their prophetic nature thanks to Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice. Freud believed they were subconscious wishes or desires we are too afraid or inhibited to express in waking. Subsequent theories have proposed that our dreams are our long-term memories, or they are a way of dealing with our real life issues or problems, or even simply that they are the brain's way of dumping daily 'waste' from our thoughts and emotions.

Many people believe in dream analysis and there are a number of online sites that are available to tell you all about what your dreams really mean which, whether you believe in dream interpretation or not, is likely to give you a good laugh or two or at least a good snort. I suppose that dreams probably do mean something - but the idea that there is a generic and universal meaning for dreams seems a little arrogant and unimaginative to me.

As I've thought about these dreams that I've had recently, some of them do seem to have meanings that are painfully obvious - a little like being hit over the head with a brick. One particular dream reflected a specific past period in my life experience and my role in how that time played itself out. Certainly no need for a psychologist to interpret that one for me. I'd have to be deaf, dumb and blind not to get it.

Others though, and I would say most actually, have no real apparent meanings to me - nor am I particularly looking for them. Instead I'm simply enjoying the cast of characters that is running through my dreams every night. It really is like going to the movies and I'm now at the point where I'm actually eager to go to sleep to see what dreams will come. Who will show up in my head tonight? I've had a stream of family members, old college friends, high school friends, people from past places I've lived, past jobs, past relationships.

These people of my dreams mix in an interesting way - people who have never met each other in real life are having a wonderful time together in my dreams. The events of the dreams are also strange and strangely mixed. The dream starts in one place at an event and morphs into a different place where the people don't belong and are doing things they don't really do. In some dreams I'm being taught how to do things I already know how to do in life but in my dream I appear to be a novice. In others, the opposite is happening - I am doing something quite efficiently that I have no idea how to do in my waking life. Most of the time during the dream I actually have the sense of knowing that I'm dreaming and thinking that these people and things don't really make sense together but I'm having fun so why not just sit back and enjoy the ride.

These night dreams have caused me to think of day dreams, our bigger dreams or our conscious dreams. Those things we hold onto that we see for ourselves and our lives and our futures. It makes me think that perhaps those are things we should hold a little loosely. If my current life and past lives are doing so well in such a mish-mash in my night dreams, why do I think that my day imaginings must be only a certain way. Maybe my life can be less structured and rigid and controlled, less compartmentalized.

Maybe the roller coaster dream world of night does have a larger lesson to teach us for the day - a lesson that goes beyond thinking that the reason I'm being chased in my dream is because I'm running away from my problems in real life or that taking a test in my dream world means I must be feeling scrutinized in the real world. Maybe it can teach us that our life has endless possibilities - combinations of people and places and events that can come together into a beautiful story. Maybe the story isn't totally coherent and logical. Maybe it doesn't have to be.

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