Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Our Dream Life

Normally, I seek to avoid petty annoyances by developing ritualistic habits and routines. For instance, I perform what I call a "four-point check" at regular intervals, patting pockets as I go: keys, phone, wallet, asthma inhaler. The idea is that if one of these essentials is missing, I'll know right away and be able to easily retrace my steps. Strangely, however, I had lately begun to forget my keys on a fairly regular basis. Fortunately, in each case I had been with my wife who did have her keys and all was good.

A couple mornings ago, I was reflecting on this uncharacteristic turn of events when I realized that I hadn't actually been forgetting my keys at all; it had merely been a series of recurring dreams I'd been experiencing over the past few weeks. After shaking my head over how mundane my dreams have become, I began to wonder how many other dream "truths" I, and others, live with in an unexamined way. I mean we've all had the experience of arguing with a loved one in a dream, then found it hard to set the anger aside upon waking. What if the dream isn't so dramatic? What if it's about buttoning shirts or stumbling on stairs or forgetting ones keys, things that one doesn't wake up recalling as part of a dream? How much of what we "know" about ourselves, other people, and the world comes from dream experience.

Maybe none. It's quite possible that we catch most of them before they fully cross over, but it seems likely that at least some of the more nuanced aspects of our dream world come to life in our waking world. And I think it highly likely that this is more true for young children with less experience in reflective practice than it is for adults. All of the research I've seen into dreams focuses on the question of what do they mean, from Freud and Jung through their contemporaries. And dream interpretation has long been an industry unto itself, but I've never seen anything about this possibility of our dream worlds leaking over into our waking lives in this way.

Again, maybe this is nothing, but I've been thinking about the three-year-old who last month became lost in the woods for 55 hours during some brutal winter weather. When he was finally found, he told the story of a friendly bear who had cared for him. Most have written it off as a fantasy or hallucination, but I think it's just as likely that this bear simply crossed over from his dreams. His story sounds familiar to me. Children regularly tell me fantastical stories that don't seem like lies or fabrications. A three-year-old once went a week as if convinced that she could sometimes sprout wings from her back like a fairy and fly around. She didn't know how it happened and didn't have any control over it, but she was certain it was true. Another told me that she had another mommy, one I'd never met, who gave her candy whenever she wanted it. Again, she told me about it with a straight face and while I didn't try to poke holes in her story, she seemed as if she fully believed it.

It's easy to dismiss our dream life as separate from our "real" life, although I still carry with me a few very strong memories (emotional and otherwise) from dreams I had as a child, memories that are as clear and real as any others. As adults we tend to be more firmly convinced of the difference, but the children we teach are still working that out. And, of course, it also makes me wonder what we have lost when we grow up and learn to pack our dreams tidily away.

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