An Exploration into Dreams
I entered a coffee shop and asked for latte, then I headed to the service station for some sugar. A female employee was cleaning up. Not being myself I chatted her up. “How’s your day going?” — “Great, how about you?”. We exchanged pleasantries and then I mustered the courage to ask for her phone number. “Sure!” she replied. I searched my pockets for my cellphone, but it wasn’t there. I took off my backpack to fetch it, but it wasn’t there either. Only my diary and a pen. Nervously I pulled it out and handed it to her so she could write down her phone number.
She looked intrigued, somehow she knew it was my diary. “May I take a look?”. I reluctantly conceded. She turned the pages, some were illustrated with naive drawings ideas and projects. I looked at her face, it demonstrated no emotion, as when a teacher is reviewing your homework. I was anxious. Finally she reached the end of the diary and said “it’s beautiful, make sure you call me” and she wrote down her number.
I woke up to a relieved sensation. The mood was welcome after having been in an incapacitating depression for some months. I had fought very hard to overcome it. I looked at this dream and thought: “Every character in my dream is my own creation, so in essence I showed my diary to myself and I approved. This must mean that I now accept myself”.
I observed this conclusion with some skepticism. I wondered what might have happened if I had the same dream months ago: the barista would have been disgusted at the sight of my diary, probably. Fortunately, at the very beginning of my depression I started writing a diary. I searched for previous dreams.
I found much guilt, shame, and anxiety in those early-depression dreams. In retrospect this one seemed significant because the resolution was positive.
In the dream I was surprised at the sight of an illustrated diary, I keep one but it is not illustrated. I liked the idea: I will start illustrating my dreams and see if I can find more meaning in them.
I then started recording my dreams in detail without interpreting them, in an effort to find patterns and decide for myself what I thought about the issue. My opinion was that of the scientific consensus: that Freud and Jung are phonies.
I must confess to not knowing enough about them, I’ve read some articles on their theories of dream interpretation but I wanted to look into this for myself, with scientific skepticism, see what dreams contained.
My approach was somewhat haphazard but there was a method: during the month of September I would nap as frequently as possible with my diary by my side. When I woke up I’d write down as much detail of the dream as my mind would pour out (without narrative cruft that builds on later) and also carefully recording my feelings. After this month I’d draw out all my dreams as an art project which I owed to a friend (long story).
The month passed quite quickly as I was working hard on The Bézier Game, I registered all my dreams, no matter how stupid or irrelevant they seemed. I made no attempt at interpreting them, I was too busy with work. In downtime I sat to draw. The project started grabbing my attention.
As I put the stories together, what I saw were echoes of my current life tinged with emotions. I found I feel more when I dream. In informal conversations I’ve found that this is the norm rather than the exception. The events that happen in dreams cause an emotional response that will carry on to waking life.
In myths around the world one can find people who were told by a divine entity that they were the “chosen one”. If these myths were to be true, it is very likely that in waking life they were already having grandiose thoughts. I ignore if there’s a case of a slave having a prophetic dream and acting upon it, but a cursory look at world mythology will reveal that monarchs, mystics and heroes are more ‘prophetic dream prone’ than slaves.
Let us then never confuse the source with the echo, all dreams come within oneself and by simply looking at dreams it is possible to observe ourselves in a world where feelings are let loose, and how it impacts our behavior.
In a study done in 1991 with recovering smokers, people who recalled dreaming about relapsing into smoking (with it’s associated feeling of guilt) were more likely to maintain abstinence. My argument is that in the same way, you can create stories out of dreams in order to cause positive outcomes in your life.
I know this has already been discovered long ago, but it is interesting to stumble upon the therapeutic effect of dreams by accident. Carl Jung recommended identifying archetypes, if you are a man, every woman in the dream is your feminine aspect called anima. The female version is called animus, the masculine part of women.
There are many more archetypes. You might dream of a wise old man in the form of a benevolent grandfather. I have a cousin who appears in all dreams making a physical and moral mess, a part which I have identified as my shadow, that aspect that you can’t see and don’t acknowledge of yourself. Jung says all these are aspects of our personality and that they are manifested as characters in dreams.
I found the argument quite far fetched, but I played with the idea. Stories started emerging naturally from the dreams and I would see these stories have a positive effect in my life. I released The Bezier Game and it didn’t have the success I expected. This should have crippled my fragile state, instead it went by with little more than a shrug. I was happy that my self-esteem was no longer tied to my professional performance.
These are the kind of drastic healing effects that dreams can provide. It is not necessary to actually believe them, I do not believe in my own interpretation of my dreams myself, but just look at them and play with the meanings. Spin your dreams into signs that go into the direction you want to grow. You will find that you don’t have to lose your skeptic mindset for it to be beneficial in your life.
In fact, dreams might have already helped you out. You’ve surely dreamed of winning the lottery or payday if you have financial related stress. Look at your dream, do you notice yourself anxious? Did this anxiety cause any change in your behavior? Were you more frugal or thrifty? If so, dreams have already had a therapeutic effect on you.
Dreams about basic needs are straightforward. The prehistoric equivalent is a successful hunt and feast. Sex also comes up often; not necessarily pure lust, as it’s frequently mixed with emotional baggage. Enjoyment and guilt can be felt at the same time: our moral code is at odds with our nature.
Some dreams seem to point to an evolutionary source: parents dream their kid falls down the stairs, prompting them to get off their ass and get that baby gate. A youngster dreams that he talks to that classmate he likes, she responds positively. Go get her tiger. A girlfriend dreams that his boyfriend has cheated on her. Now she’s guarding his faithfulness with more care.
It’s been a while since I’ve seen physical aggression in my dreams, but in younger years I recall beating up my boss, fighting with vicious dogs, beating up bullies and such. I think it’s been replaced by a more benign form of protection from outer threats. I’ve seen myself with a group of friends in a zombie apocalypse trying to save our asses. It’s reasonable to speculate that in another age the zombies would be enemies of war.
Dreams in a completely different category are sensorial experiences. The most common of these is the feeling of falling. Sleep paralysis also belongs to this category. The range of sensory experiences that exist between consciousness and sleep is vast, as is the variety and quality of voids experienced in dreams.
Other dreams seem to have moralistic themes. You dream that you cheat on your spouse, you either feel good or bad about it. You might dismiss the importance as “just a dream” but the conditioning has been done. In your dream it “felt” right, thus one has certain intuition of what is to be felt if you were to infringe your personal ethics.
Nightmares are a topic on their own. It is evident that a recurring nightmare is a result of some kind of trauma, and that this trauma is meant to be resolved. The resolution is best left to the experts, but I think that if you were able to achieve lucidity in a nightmare and face your fears, the effect would be profoundly healing.
But one must admit there are certain dreams that don’t follow these patterns. Most people carry around one, either a short recurring dream, or a long and detailed dream that is remembered vividly. One acquaintance who is gay, for example, as a child dreamed repeatedly of being lost in a horrible castle. He was trying to rescue a beautiful queen and he was afraid of monsters that chased him. I mentioned that according to jungian psychology, he would be searching for his feminine part. He was happy with the interpretation.
It never occurred to me to ask if he played too much Mario Bros.
I list my dreams in chronological order. I offer no interpretations, not because of privacy but because it would be a chore to read. Instead, the title of each dream does not reflect dream content, but the interpretation I chose to draw out of the dream. Hopefully you can see the symbols that lead to the conclusion.
I’ll be ok if I’m frugal
I was hanging with a harness from a helicopter, I had hired the pilot to take me to a canyon where I knew there would be a tube filled with money. The view was beautiful but my eyes were on the prize, and I was determined to get it. I caught sight of it and directed the pilot towards the tube. The tube came inches away from my hand, but it wasn’t close enough to grab it. After more failed attempts, the pilot turned back and landed at the heliport.
I took off the harness and found the pilot sitting on a plastic chair. He still had his sunglasses and helmet on. “That will be $200 pesos, kid”. I was annoyed that he called me kid. I opened my wallet and was surprised to find it filled with money. I felt obliged to give him a tip. The pilot said “don’t be stupid, spend it all on whores and booze”. I was irritated at this quip.
Echoes of meditation experiences appear in dreams
I was in a void, I moved my head and I clearly felt my pillow under me. I had a candy in my hand, I popped it in my mouth and it tasted sweet and real. I rolled over and I felt the sensation of the mattress underneath me. I rolled over again and again until I fell the height of the mattress (not much, since it lies on the floor). I felt the cool hardwood floor. By now I was convinced that I was sleepwalking, and that it would be better to not move. But, to not move is to not feel; so that when I remained still, all senses ceased.
I was in the void now with only thoughts. What would happen if I remained silent? Will I cease to exist? I shut up my mind and tried to sense the infiniteness. I failed. Instead, I felt myself pleasantly elevated to consciousness. I was in my bed and I hadn’t moved an inch.
I’m still thinking about money
I entered a shop with the intention of buying a gift for someone whom I don’t remember. I saw food, I was hungry. I hastily ate a cheesecake and a hotdog. I felt guilty afterwards, I had spent all my money on food and now I couldn’t buy the gift.
My shadow cannot be exorcised, I must make peace with it
I was in my neighborhood’s supermarket with my best friend. There was a baboon on the counter of the meat department. It was throwing things all over the place, an embodiment of chaos. We tried to lure him out with food, but he would only scream at us. It was of no use.
It occurred to me that if we emptied the store of all food, the monkey would have to come out. I proposed this idea to my friend and we filled our arms with food to haul out. I passed the freezer aisle and made a pause to admire it: an endless line of fridges that extended beyond sight. We’d never finish. My friend tapped my shoulder, gave me a bag of chips, and I was thrown into a void and slowly ascended into consciousness.
A desire to provide protection, unsure if I’m up to the task
I was in my childhood home in Puebla, Mexico. The world was in great scarcity, a post-apocalyptic world. I was on the rooftop holding a rifle, along with a kid who was my protégé. The day was pleasant and we were enjoying the sun.
Two guys in ATVs came from the field next to my house, I was frightened. We went downstairs to see what they wanted. They demanded food, we had none. They then restrained me and took my friend. I was left devastated, knowing that they would eat him.
Anxiety due to being unable to diffuse an awkward situation
I was in the back of a car. There was a married couple and their son was riding with me in the back. We went past an aquatic park that was close to my childhood home. “Oh, I love coming here” said the wife, who was driving the car. “I love it too, I come here often” I said. “Then you might have seen my tiny bikini” she said with a smile. It was a very embarrassing moment for the rest of the car, and I only muttered some excuse. I caught sight of the husband’s face: his eyes were watery and red.
Real life activities again blend into dreams
I was in a chalet with my parents and my cousin. Seeing my parents together stroke me as odd, they’ve been divorced for many years. My father was sitting at the computer trying to complete an architectural project, which also struck me as odd since he’s not an architect.
My mother had bought a novelty stove that looked somewhat like a gas heater for open spaces. It had four arms on which you could place pans and pots, and a flat surface on the top where you could heat tortillas (a “comal” we call it in Mexico).
I took a look at the manual and the stove could be programmed. I was trying to figure it out but my cousin was kicking me. I tried to ignore him but he wouldn’t stop. Finally I lost my temper and screamed at him, he retreated feeling hurt. I went to sleep and I dreamed that I was programming the stove (a dream within a dream). The syntax made no sense — “StructFun!? Who the hell invented this”.
While programming I realized I was dreaming (a dream within a dream), and I thought all this work would go to waste. I decided I need to pull my laptop under my hands without waking up. I did so and I felt the keyboard under my hands. I was convinced that I was really typing. I got frustrated with the syntax and decided to leave it for a moment when I was not dreaming.
An unresolved ambiguity towards sex
I was with my ex. We were walking behind Mexican ex-president Carlos Salinas and his family. He had high heeled boots and was dressed fashionably ridiculous. He had a pair of boots strapped to his head as ear warmers. His outfit stroke me as cutting edge fashion.
Suddenly he appeared with his family: an elegant and attractive middle-aged woman was his wife, and a shy young adult studying anthropology was his son. They directed us to their home and assigned us a room. Me and my ex slept in separate beds for several nights. After a few days the wife came storming into the room furious that we hadn’t had sex yet. I felt confused as we were no longer together but I felt I had skirted my obligation as a man.
Arrogance and false humility are disgusting
Joseph Gordon-Levitt was my friend. We were in an unknown city, next to a river. Joseph received a phone call:
— “Nominated to an Oscar?”, he paused to listen — “No no no, tell them to pull me out of the nomination, you know I don’t care about prizes” he said and hung up. — “Are you going to deny youself an Oscar?”, I asked — “No, the movie was a disaster, I wouldn’t have won. This way at least I seem humble”.
His attitude revolted me. Suddenly a car came down a hill and crashed into the rail, leaving it to hang precariously from the edge of the curb. Joseph directed me to climb on the bonnet to prevent the fall, but it was useless. We jumped off before the car fell into the river. Joseph walked away as if nothing had happened.
— “Aren’t we doing anything about the people who just fell?” I asked. — “Why should we, they are already dead and we couldn’t save them, it’s not news anymore” he replied. I was speechless at his lack of humanity.
I then woke up at my father’s house. There was a party going on and I really had to pee. I opened the door to the bathroom and someone behind me asked me if I didn’t mind that he enter with me, there were two toilets anyways. The toilets were facing each other, fused at the tips. The guy behind me started peeing in one of them. I felt uncomfortable peeing there and I saw a urinal in the corner, so I went to pee there.
I started peeing for so long that a crowd had gathered around me “wow, it looks like it will never stop” someone exclaimed. I closed my eyes to focus on peeing and when I opened them I was in a convenience store, still peeing into a receptacle and employee looking straight ahead. “Wow, 3.4 liters, that’s a new record by far”. I inferred it was some kind of promotion by a local beer brand. I felt proud. Then the attendant said “you should get yourself checked by a doctor”. I worried.
What people think about me doesn’t matter, I have my own standards
I was back in university and we were having a class inside a bus. People were being friendly with me. I assumed I was some sort of “student leader” when people asked me to say some words in front of everybody. I had no idea who I was or what I was supposed to say, so I improvised a speech that said absolutely nothing. I felt deflated but people congratulated me on such a great speech, nonetheless.
The teacher came in and gave instructions in a very charming manner. I felt envy towards him because he was was skilled at public speaking. He left and we were supposed to complete some tasks, but I found it boring and decided to explore my former university.
I went into the dorms and I found my former room (I didn’t live in dorms in real life, so this was not my actual my room). I went inside and it was a bedroom with racks of old macs on the wall. There was a flat-screen TV connected to a Mac IIci. I wondered how I made it work, since Mac IIci’s don’t have a modern port to connect to the TV.
Somebody knocked at the door, it was an old friend (whom I also don’t know from real life). She invited me over to her suite so I could take a look. Her room was spacious, with a small kitchen on the side. She showed me an annex room where three people slept in beds. They weren’t home.
She had a Mac Classic, I wondered how she worked on such an old computer. I looked into the fridge and I was disappointed that she only had the same kind of food I keep in my own fridge: mostly healthy stuff. I wanted to indulge in more tasty pleasures.
She insinuated she wanted to get things going, I looked at her carefully and observed that her face looked like that of an orangutan, but she had a great body. I thought not much about it and jumped into bed with her.
When we finished having sex she seemed to be very happy and glad about it. We went for a walk to the cafeteria and her friends were there. They knew what had happened and one of them had a solemn face, another was laughing and the third had a questioning face looking towards me.
I told my friend to let their friends eat shit, that we would go somewhere else. I was glad about it.
The rational and the magical are at fight
I was at the house of my best friend in my hometown. We were struggling to get into a car because his mom didn’t want to go in the front. We were having a discussion when she gasped out loud at the sight of a table with toys scattered on top.
“This is a very bad omen, we need to call in the neighbors” she said. The neighbors came and they all recoiled at the sight of the table. They were having a lengthy discussion about it.
— “We should send someone to speak with him”, somebody said.
— “But you know there’s no skeptics among us”, other responded.
— “Yes there is”, I said while stepping forward. There was a collective gasp.
I was sent to the house of an old mage who lived a few blocks away. His house was of marble and it looked like a dark temple. I knew this to be all hocus-pocus, so I was not afraid at all. I entered the temple to a dark hallway. It looked like a dungeon.
In the middle of the hallway a black crow appeared. It slowly extended its arms to show me six luminous gems, three on each wing. From the darkness behind appeared an old wizard, and demanded to know what I wanted. “I need to know why are you here”, I asked. “Why do you care?” he responded. I felt an intense fear, I now believed in his power and I understood his capacity for destruction without having to exchange any further words.
I went running back to the neighbors and calmly told them we were all fucked. They all put their heads down. One reluctantly said “well, there’s another way”. “No, we can’t call Godzilla again, remember what happened last time”. Godzilla appeared into the horizon, in between the sunset and some buildings. “No, no. Call him off” said the guy who brought up the idea. “We will wait and only use him as a last resort. Remember what happened last time”. I saw a scene of great destruction.
The inner world is beautiful
I was in a natural water park. My best friend had given me a set of brushes and a canvas to paint. I saw a rock formation that looked like person and I wanted to paint it, but I felt uncomfortable with so many people around. I decided to venture somewhere else. I went through some tunnels and I finally arrived to a secluded waterfall.
I was completely mesmerized by the beauty of the scenery. I forgot I was supposed to paint it.
The chase is a waste of time
I was in a field with an attractive female friend. She told me she’d have sex with me and share some marijuana if I devised a way to get her a bath, since she was all dirty. I built a wooden box with aluminum foil as an improvised tub. She thought it was too small and asked for a better solution and then left.
I decided I’d shovel a pit and later cover it with a plastic sheet. It was taking me a long time. My friend came back and said she had found somewhere to shower but that she was thankful for my effort. I was left disappointed.
Being larger than life has consequences
I was in a nondescript office, two women were sitting facing each other between a desk. They were discussing the latest issue of “ex-unam” a magazine devoted to prestigious alumni of a renown university. A friend whom I consider brilliant but narcissistic appeared on the cover.
—“He’s so handsome and intelligent”, one of them said.
—“Oh please, he is indeed handsome and intelligent, but he’s so full of himself”. I found myself surprised at expressing myself in this way of a friend.
It was an awkward moment, so I decided to leave the office. I opened the door into a three dimensional labyrinth within a void. In the middle of the labyrinth stood my friend and his boss.
—“You must say the truth and apologize” the boss motioned.
—“I am the vice-president, but so is everybody else in our company. I am sorry that I misrepresented this fact in order to appear on the cover of a magazine” he said.
My friend was visibly ashamed and his boss was relishing it.
It’s not prostitution if you like it
I was sitting on a curb next to a lovely lady. The buildings on the street were in ruins and a strong stench came from the sewers.
—“I know it’s hard to survive, but selling your body for money is not for you”, I told her.
—“This life is tough, but what else can I do?”.
—“I don’t know, maybe you can move to another city, with your beauty you could have anybody you want”.
—“I’m not sure, let me think about it”.
We parted ways and I entered a nightclub. A firm exuberant dancer had the crowd hypnotized. I somehow understood that she would have sex with anyone she wanted. She didn’t ask for money, but you’d willingly give it to her afterwards. It was an appealing proposition but I couldn’t stop thinking about the young woman I had meet before.
“This is the right way to live, unbridle your passion and the monetary rewards will come with it” — I thought. I had a sense of urgency to let her know, so I went back running to the curb where we spoke. She wasn’t there. I ran around the block but I couldn’t find her. A sudden realization came to me: I was going to tell her because I wanted to fuck her. A sharp sense of shame fell upon me, despite this I lamented the fact that I wouldn’t be able to have sex with either of them.
I can befriend a naive part of my personality and I’m still feeling ambiguity towards sex
I was in the apartment of a neighbor downstairs. My neighbor was a fair headed Ukrainian youngster, about 16 years old. We sat in front of the computer and he showed me his latest programming projects, along with some philosophical and spiritual stuff. I thought we could be great friends, but our age difference would be viewed with suspicion.
His sister arrived. She was a tall attractive twenty-something Argentinian brunette. Her personality was charming and her disposition was very kind. The three of us lay on the bed of my new friend, as there was nowhere else to sit. We chatted a bit and the kid put his arm on my chest and snuggled a bit. His sister said “Andrei, stop being all over people”. The kid didn’t stop but at least I felt exonerated of the embarrasment. I was very attracted to the woman and I caught myself leering at her, wondering how to bone her. I then felt shame for these were wonderful people that welcomed me into their home and my attitude was very innapropriate. I was overtaken by a deep sense of inferiority.
The devastation leaves behind some gifts for my shadow and my self
I was in a run down motel room. My cousin dropped a bottle of coke and let it spill on the floor. He got into bed and ask me to put a porno on the TV. We looked at the programming and saw there were two porn movies, one standard porn and the other transexual porn. My cousin wanted to see the transexual porn but I felt uneasy about it. Instead I proposed going outside. He conceded.
The motel was on the top of a hill next to the ocean, we descended to a restaurant close to the beach. We observed a swell in the ocean that became a colossal wave. A guy in a boogie board was dragged with the wave into the road. The wave rushed almost to the top of the hill and the guy disappeared out of sight. There was great devastation but we were unharmed. As we walked up back to the motel, I noticed that the only building unaffected by the tsunami was a church. I thought of it as a curious coincidence. When we got back to the motel it has become a beautiful backpacker’s hostel, full of plants and bustling with people.
Pandora’s Box has been opened, it’s OK.
I was trying to open a closet which didn’t belong to me. I intended to fetch something I sorely needed, but I can’t remember what it was. The knob seemed to be stuck, so I forced it open. The knob came loose and I realized the reason why it didn’t open was because it was locked. I worried that the owner might come back and misinterpret my intentions, but there was justice in my action. I started looking around for the item when the top shelf snapped, I tried to put it back together but I only made it worse. I accidentally tipped a bottle of lotion, and it started soaking the clothes. As I was trying to contain the spill the drawers started coming loose. I had made a disaster and now this would be very difficult to explain.
Though my artistic skills are still very rough, the difference from the first dreams I drew and the last ones is remarkable. The dreams were drawn in random order, I just drew whatever dream suited me at the moment. Had I not dreamed of an illustrated diary I’m sure this project wouldn’t have come to fruit.
As I look back into the interpretation I gave to my dreams I cannot help to notice I’ve filled in many blanks. This is a story of my own fabrication that happened to have a therapeutic effect on my well-being. It helped me accept myself and understand what I was going through. I have noticed no ill effects or delusions, just a serene acceptance of myself and an awareness of areas where I need to grow.
I suppose anyone with an average capacity for recalling dreams can embark in a similar experiment. If you do attempt it, please let me know how it went. I’d love to hear everything about it.
You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or @duopixel.