Every night when I settle into my pillow, a strange thing happens. Just as I close my eyes and allow my brain to float… to drift… to slow down, dreams from the previous night flash before my mind’s eye. Bits and pieces of vivid scenes flit and dissolve into sensations, movement, colors, buildings, and people. A sense of place evolves, and it is always the locale of the dream that occurred the night before.
What’s going on here? I rarely think of the dreams during the day, but when it happens, a little door opens in my head and I see it all - often in its entirety.
For example, on Monday night the most powerful dream of the evening involved me running around Salzburg. That’s right, I took off for Austria in my pajamas and wandered cobblestone streets, passed high-spired churches, and drooled over delicacies in bakery windows. There was a sense of urgency that went with this dream, a searching for … something or someone. Maybe it was an apple strudel or Berliner (jelly donut). I can’t remember that part. But the scenes, streets, buildings, all came back as soon as my head hit the pillow the next night. In seconds. Maybe milliseconds.
On Tuesday, I dreamed of my father. He passed twelve years ago, and although you might think it odd, I consider these dreams “visits” with him. They are always pleasant, full of conversation, validation, and affection. In this dream, he was teaching me how to filet a fish. Dad was a great fisherman. I guess in Heaven cleaning a fish isn’t quite as gross as in real life. This fish had no stinky innards and its flesh was flakey and white, as if already grilled to perfection with lemon and plenty of butter.
On Wednesday, similar images returned before I moved on to new dreams. I saw Dad, the fish, and then swirled into a new adventure.
Is there a scratch pad memory in our brains that keeps an imprint there from the night before? The Dream RAM, or something? Maybe that’s it.
Some of my best dreams – mostly the ones involving skiing on gorgeous fluffy snowy hills – come back as well, months or years later. Now, see, it’s extra cool because I don’t downhill ski (I’m a wimp), but I do cross-country. Merged in these dreams are the thrilling sensations of sledding down a hill with the freedom of being upright on skis. With no fear, of course, and no falls. It’s bliss.
Then there are the recurring dreams. Like the one where I can’t find my locker in school, or my class schedule has disappeared and I panic.
How long has it been since I’ve wandered the academic hallways?
Of course there’s the obligatory “I can’t find a bathroom when I need one” repeater dream. That one usually happens in the morning, when finding such a facility is a necessity, but I’m in sleeping too deeply to actually get my lazy self out of bed and stumble to the next room.
The flying dream also recurs frequently. I cherish that one. Willing myself from my earthly bonds, I lift up, higher and higher, until with arms spread I soar across the skies. Sigh. It’s the best one of all.
These connections, from night to night, as well as the connections with loved ones lost, are not dissimilar to another sensation that hits me daily.
When I’m writing a novel, I need to be in a certain zone, immersed fully in the story and in my character’s mind before I can move on to the next chapter. I write a chapter a day, in good times, and each night before I begin the next chapter I need to review the work from the day before to get into that zone. I ease into it, with anti-noise headphones doing their thing, relaxed in my comfy leather chair with my dog beside me. It’s connecting, it’s establishing the ground plane, and it’s essential. The feeling is not unlike that dreamy quality of just-before-you-sleep drowsiness. There’s a bit of a dreamlike quality to writing. After all, it’s all happening through pictures in your head. Right?
Is it close to the subliminal? Do writers tap near their subconscious when they create? Is it like this for an artist or musician?
I wouldn’t be surprised.
The layers of our lives are complex. Those deep-seated pockets of the subconscious, where fears from childhood fester, are not impossible to breach with focused therapy. The middle ground – the place where we dream – floats beneath consciousness and above fundamental memories, wafting like clouds waiting to descend. They’re all connected.
The next time you lay down to dream – notice what happens. Can you connect the events to the night before? To a commercial you saw on TV? A dialog you read in a book? A fervent desire? Think about it.
And remember, we’re all connected. Whether through God, oxygen, atoms, the net, or something more ethereal and lovely. We're all connected.