Common Dream Symbols – Pt. 1

Isnake2t’s been established that I’m not big on symbols in dreams.  Visual representations mean different things to different people.  Only you can really determine what these elements mean to you, but here are some suggestions for further self-exploration.

I grabbed a few items from a list of 30 Common Symbols:
Animals are common elements in dreams. Depending on how you feel about an animal, the meaning may vary. Some people are terrified of snakes while others think they’re pretty and keep them as pets, so your interpretation of the symbol really depends on your relationship with the animal or the interaction you’re having with it in the dream. Even something you normally love can have a frightening presence in a dream. It’s suggested that the primal dream of being chased by an animal represented repressed fear, which is understandable.

Babies. Oh boy, there’s a topic for ya! Going back to the animal symbols, I’ve been told that dreams of fish represent desire for children, but I have seriously no desire for children. Babies in your dream could be literal, or they could represent how you feel personally or about someone else. Perhaps you feel you have needs that aren’t being met, or on the other hand you feel like you’re being called upon for caring/nurturing. Babies may also signify a new beginning (though they also say that about death in a dream).

Exams are a form of evaluation. If you felt unprepared for the exam, consider the subject. Perhaps there is something you need to work on. I often have dreams that I’ve returned to school only to realize I haven’t attended my math class in months and I’m sure I’ll fail the class. The exam doesn’t necessarily have to be a school subject, but it could reveal some feelings of inadequacy (even if it’s all in your head and you’re actually brilliant in the subject).

Falling is a really common element. It might wake you up clutching your sheets, but sometimes it doesn’t startle you awake. If you dream of prolonged falling it might actually signify letting go of things in your life that bring you stress. Adversely, it may also represent some perceived failure or fall from success.

Houses in dreams can take the form of any place you’ve been in your life, someplace entirely new, or some strange combination of places. You might find yourself inside your best friend’s childhood room, then walk out the door into a convenience store. However your mind is trying to tie these things together, what you’ll want to pay attention to are the things you associate with those places. Grandma’s kitchen might make you feel happy and welcome, but what’s with the museum in the hallway? Well, it really depends on how you feel about museums. If your grandmother has passed away quite some time ago, that could be relevant, and you’re simply wishing to reminisce about that time in your life.

Yes, I will return with more symbols like teeth falling out, tornadoes and floods, public nudity…all that fun stuff.

Lucid Dreaming: Part 1

I really hate it when a dream seems so real that I believe the events actually happened. I’ll do something terrible or embarrassing, and the next day I will feel like everybody remembers I did those things (only, of course, to realize that it never happened and they don’t know why I’m acting strangely). If only there was a way to tell myself that I’m just dreaming, I could have some control over the situation.

Well, some say there is a way. Lucid dreaming is the phenomenon in which the dreamers become aware that they are dreaming and are able, in some cases, to assert themselves over the content of the dream. If you are not making a conscious effort to achieve lucidity, it may happen infrequently, but you have probably experienced it at some point in your life. I remember my most vivid lucid dream. I became aware I was dreaming, but I still didn’t grasp the potential for experimentation. My dream still had to follow a story, so I created transitions instead of abrupt changes.

It went like this: I was walking down a highway and off to my left was this great prehistoric forest. Huge vines and massive trees set down in a valley. I was amazed and thought “I wish I could show this place to my friends…but it’s a dream.” With this realization, a light rain started to fall. I didn’t try to stop the rain. Instead, I created a place to escape the rain. On the other side of the highway, a strip mall opened up. The signs were all spinning like counters waiting for me to choose what kind of store each belonged to. What did I want? “Hmm, I could really go for some frozen yogurt.” A sign stopped on the TCBY logo and I went in to dry off and enjoy my dessert.

I hadn’t been trying at lucid dreaming; I wasn’t expecting it. I was unprepared for it, so I feel like I didn’t make the most of it. It’s hard to say if I could have controlled the dream any more if I had been expecting it, because our minds are wired to believe what they see. This is why hallucinations are so dangerous. Even if you rationally understand that your friend’s face couldn’t turn into a pile of squirming maggots, if that’s what you see, it will be hard to convince you it’s not real. For the same reason, no matter how strange and surreal the dream becomes, our brain is willing to accept it as reality.

EEG readings show higher amounts of beta-1 waves during lucid dreaming, which seems to indicate conscious thought. It can begin during a dream (dream-initiated), or you can transition directly from awake to dreaming without losing self-awareness (wake-initiated). I believe on occasion I’ve been able to transition through wake-initiated lucid dreaming, but it is very difficult to maintain conscious focus once you cross that threshold. I will close my eyes and begin dictating my environment, only to realize in a few minutes that my attention has wandered, wake and try again. Truly, if you need to get to sleep and your body/mind won’t let you, just close your eyes and really try to build a story. Don’t just think about things you have to do, visualize yourself doing them step by step. You’ll be dreaming in no time. Probably not lucid dreaming, but you’ll at least be sleeping.

A fair amount of research has been done on lucid dreaming, and one observation has been that the perception of time seems to be about the same during lucid dreaming as while awake. How do we gauge this? Eye signals. During REM sleep, our eyes jump around quite a bit, but imagine for a moment that you realize you’re dreaming and you have the ability to control where you look. Yes, you’re actually just looking at your eyelids, but your brain is still telling you what you see, so without breaking from the dreamscape, you are able to give messages to the waking world where scientists with electrooculograms record your activities.

The eyes are our best bridge for communication with the dreamer. In fact, devices have been marketed to lucid dreaming hopefuls that produce a blinking red light which is visible through the eyelid as a signal to the dreamer. Many of these devices were discontinued due to discomfort and poor success rate. The manufacturer says that success will dramatically increase if you follow the instructions on reality checking, but if you’re able to reality check in a dream, congrats you’re already expressing conscious control. They will lead you to believe that if you couldn’t do the reality check, the device isn’t working because you’ve failed to do your part. Sounds like a snake oil to me.

Awareness in dreams has been recorded and given names throughout history, especially early Buddhism. The term lucid dreaming wasn’t used until 1913 when Frederick van Eeden used it in a commentary article on sleep. It would be interesting to know, based on yesterday’s entry about the chemicals of sleep, what role adenosine plays in lucid dreaming. If you remember, adenosine is responsible for suppressing arousal, so would it also be responsible for keeping us dreaming once we’ve realized we are dreaming? Would higher levels of adenosine allow us more conscious control over the dream for a longer time or would it simply prevent us from realizing we’re dreaming?

Aside: Seriously, you need to watch Inception if you haven’t already. It’s pretty dark, but very relevant, especially with the inclusion of reality checks.

When I asked about the most interesting facet of sleep/dreaming, lucid dreaming topped the list of responses, so I would like to spend more time on this subject. Consider this Part One and check back soon for the continuation where I will discuss some methods used to achieve lucidity. Tomorrow’s free topic is just around the corner. Are you prepared?

Nightmares

I’ve got a schedule planned for this blog to give it some structure. Tuesdays will be the scientific/research/medical entries, Wednesday will be the personal subject commentary entries, and Thursday will be a free day for cool dream related stuff I’ve found. I’ll be adding a few more pages to the blog for helpful links and terms used in the blog.

Today is a Wednesday, so it’s a personal subject day. I chose nightmares.

I don’t remember much of my dreams from early childhood, but I do remember the nightmares. They were really simple and symbolic when I was a toddler. Between the ages of 2 and 4, I remember a recurring nightmare that I called “The Eyes.” But they weren’t eyes at all. They were just two spots that sort of floated in the air and followed me around. One was small and black, the other was large and orange. They were positioned like eyes, which I suppose is why I called them that. The dreamscape was usually some sort of newsprint. Black and white buildings, black and white paper cutout people from some era I’d only seen in old photographs. Perhaps the eyes were actually cigarette burns in this paper dreamscape and that’s why they were so scary, but I really felt stalked/haunted by them.

As I got older, the nightmares would have more real fear triggers, like snakes or tornadoes. I was terrified by natural disasters in my teen years. The big movies at the time were all about tornadoes and volcanoes, and a town nearby mine had been devastated by a tornado. I kept imagining how easily one could rip my little house apart and it was a very real concern of mine for years. I also had terrible dreams about monsters and zombies at this time in my life. During the early teen years I was very religious, and I was actually baptized at 14. I was plagued by nightmares several times a week.

During my later teen years, my parents were divorced, and the nightmares weren’t so terrifying anymore. There were some awful subjects, but they didn’t scare me awake anymore. I felt like I could handle them. In one, I actually remember myself dying. That’s something many people believe you can’t witness, but I know several people who have experienced that. I was fleeing from some people who had a Predator with them. I tried to hide in an old abandoned hospital. They found me and asked me “How would you like to die?” I suggested “Old age.” “Not an option!” My next choice was to be injected with something from the hospital, which they did. I saw myself sitting on a table, the needle go into my leg, and as my body fell back, I was suddenly watching from darkness above. There was nothing. No feeling, no light, just nothingness. It wasn’t scary. It was peaceful, like this was the most natural state of existence. I thought “Okay…what now?” Then I woke up.

Other nightmares involved the deaths of people close to me, but I actually woke up crying when I had nightmares of my pets getting injured. Around this time, I wasn’t going to church anymore and my spiritual interests turned more toward witchcraft. This continued into college. Infrequent nightmares and nothing so bad I couldn’t face the problem in my dream.

After leaving a bad relationship, for nearly the entire duration of the next serious relationship, I would have nightmares that my ex was back, but I would violently attack him and often wake up frustrated that all the yelling and hurting I could inflict wouldn’t make him go away. After entering the third serious relationship, the nightmares stopped. Nightmares now only involve separation from my important people from which I will sometimes wake up crying. There are other dreams that I would call “bad dreams” with some absolutely disgusting elements, but very rarely do I have nightmares anymore. At this point, I wouldn’t say I’m devoid of spirituality. I feel a great spiritual connection to the universe, but I experience it as an extension of the sciences.

Upcoming topics for this blog: REM sleep, time-lapse video sleep study, chemicals of sleep, and lucid dreaming.