The Stuff of Dreams…

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These are not the dreams you have in the daylight. The kind of dreams you have for your children, your career, your life.

No. These are the dreams you have at night. When nobody’s watching. Not even you.

We all dream of the places we’ve been, the faces we remember, and the events we’ve lived. Sometimes we dream of what was. Sometimes we dream of what might have been. Sometimes, well sometimes we just don’t know what we’re dreaming of.

Dreams can be a time machine. Dreams can be a soul machine. Dreams can be a wish machine. That dreams are a machine attest to these two undeniable facts pertaining to them. First, they are man-made, an artifice of the imagination, engineered deep within your subconscious, and possibly there for the sake of efficiency. Second, they are inanimate. They aren’t alive. They may seem as vibrant as the living day, but they aren’t. Simply put: dreams aren’t real.

Yet we have this preternatural allure to dreams. They delight us. They scare us. They dare us.

Everyone wakes up from a dream with the same question: “What does it all mean?”

I’ve always had a strange relationship with my dreams. When I was very young, dreams evoked all kinds of emotions – from fear (“The gorilla is chasing me and for some reason my legs just can’t run.”) to joy (“No way! I just found a rare baseball card no one has ever heard of!”).

Very quickly, though, I began to see through my dreams. Within the dream, I recognized familiar patterns that told me I was dreaming. When unnatural forces prevented my legs from running, I knew I was dreaming. When I discovered non-existent treasures, I knew I was dreaming.

As a result, dreams shifted from some mysterious alternative reality to something more like a light-hearted matinee movie. They no longer sparked emotion. They merely entertained.

Soon I learned I could change the story in the dream. If I didn’t like the direction the script had the movie going, I rewrote the script. Yes, my conscious mind changed my unconscious mind. I didn’t like doing that. It kinda felt like cheating. Like playing a game where your adversary is severely overmatched, and you let him win, nonetheless.

This strange ability, however, could be harnessed for good. No longer were dreams captive to a list of unplanned movies. I taught myself to dream what I wanted to dream. What my dreams became, then, were a series of challenges the real world presented me. They were practice runs of the game of life. Like in the game of chess, where you think several moves ahead, dreams offered the opportunity to try out certain ideas and anticipate various responses or countermoves from whoever the opponent happened to be.

This wasn’t cheating. It was planning.

No kidding. Once, in high school, when I was on the chess team (of course), an interscholastic match was interrupted by a snow storm. I was down a rook. That put me at a major disadvantage. Worse, our team was in a bad position. The only way we could win the match was for me to stage a come-from-behind victory that, frankly, no one could reasonably believe.

When we resumed play, my ever-confident foe proudly told me, “I played this game a dozen times with my father, and the only time I lost…”

“…was when I knight-forked your queen,” I finished his sentence in a cool dispassionate tone. I didn’t even look at him when I said it. I kept my eyes glued to the board, as if I was searching for the hidden clue to a question more important than whatever he was saying.

“What!? How did you know?” asked my now befuddled opposite, his attempt to intimidate me obviously backfiring.

“Oh,” I continued calmly, eyes still fixed on the remaining pieces on the board, “I dreamt it last night.”

Five moves later I knight-forked his queen. He immediately resigned. My team won the match no one expected us to win.

Sure, I still had entertaining dreams, but the ease of changing them in mid-dream made them less entertaining. More interesting to me, however, was the stuff of dreams. As any nerd (chess team captain, if you needed more proof) would do, I began to read up on the subject. Edgar Cayce. Sigmund Freud. The high school library was rather thin on the subject. (Oh, what I would have given for the internet back then!)

Like many, I viewed dreams as an attempt by my subconscious to communicate with my conscious. That’s why I used dreams to solve problems I couldn’t immediately solve during my waking hours. I knew the answer was in there. It was only a matter of getting it out.

If I could learn how to interpret my dreams, so I felt, I could better facilitate that communication; thus, enhance my problem-solving abilities.

So I read and I read and I read.

And I found out no one had a reliable answer.

Yes, beyond Cayce and Freud, serious psychologists took their swing at the bat, each trying to map the dream world to the real world. None presented a foolproof translation table. (I did learn one thing: that part about changing the dream while you’re still dreaming? That’s called “lucid dreaming” and anyone can train themselves to do it.)

That’s not to say you cannot interpret dreams. Quite the contrary. My own experience tells me you can. And not just your own dreams, but other people’s dreams, too. My own experience tells me that, too.

Once word got out I could “interpret” my dreams, people came to me. They wanted to know what their dreams meant. I listened. Based on what I knew about the person, I offered a hypothesis. They didn’t know it was a hypothesis. They thought is was real. It was like their mind was a blank slate. The first thing they heard filled that slate. Power of suggestion? Maybe. Remember that.

But it is far easier to interpret your own dreams than someone else’s. It really is easy. Would you like to know how to do it?

Next time you have a dream, try your best to remember as much as you can about it. Most researchers say the best way to remember a dream is to wake up immediately after having the dream and write it down. Don’t interpret as you write, just write down everything in the same sequence which you dreamt it.

Now, take a look at all the words you just wrote. To interpret your dream, summarize all those words into one simple and generic sentence. All those people in the dream you think are important? They’re probably not. They’re just props for that one-line summary. Here’s the example from my chess dream: “I won the game.” Notice, I didn’t say how I won the game (by knight-forking my opponent’s queen).

The simpler the sentence, the more likely you’ve uncovered the heart of your dream – what your subconscious is really telling you. In the case of my game of chess, my inner soul wanted me to know that, despite being down by a rook, it was still possible for me to win. It didn’t want me to give up. It wanted me to stay confident, because losing confidence is the fastest way to defeat.

I projected that confidence when I returned to play the remainder of the game. That’s what made me win. Not that I knight-forked the guy’s queen.

And how do you explain that knight-fork? He knew that was the only way he’d lose. You’d think he’d be looking out for it. And yet, there it was, no sooner than five moves after I said it, he moved his queen into a position to be knight-forked. Power of suggestion?

Hmm, I’m already long on words. Perhaps I’ll leave “self-fulfilling prophecy” for another time.

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