I’ve always been an avid dreamer, so my mum deemed a dream diary an appropriate present to celebrate the submission of my monograph. When I unwrapped the little notebook last week I was sceptical. Dream interpretation, to me, has always reeked of new age-like navel gazing. Dreams, while entertaining, are simply reflections of whatever is on your mind. Or so I thought. But there being a lot on my mind at the moment, and my dreams being accordingly weird, I thought I might as well put my present to good use.
In some respects this decision was a funny trip down memory lane. In the past I’ve taught Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams, a seminal text if there ever was one. Despite my scepticism when it comes to dream interpretation, I’ve always found Freud’s approach refreshingly practical. Although Freud is notoriously misunderstood as the guy who traces everything back to repressed sexual frustrations, his listing of all the ways in which unconscious ideas and desires are represented in dreams is a useful tool box. Not only when it comes to interpreting actual dreams, mind, but also as a practical starting point for any kind of literary analysis.
Of course Freud was not the first, nor the only one, to write about dream interpretation. Personally I quite like Jung’s emphasis on archetypes. I even have a soft spot for those cheap guides you often find in crappy book stores, the type that tell you that dreams about losing your teeth are really about fearing your mother. But because dreams are so individual, so much shaped by your own ideas and whatever is going on in your life, cookie cutter interpretation guides will only take you so far.
So, the dream diary. My current approach is simple: immediately after waking up I write down whatever I can remember. This requires a certain discipline. Procrastination is no good: memories of your dreams will disappear within minutes. But I tend to keep my notes short, aiming at capturing the general mood and basic set up, rather than wasting time and energy on detailed descriptions. I’ve found that this is often enough to jog my memory when I return to my notes later on. First conclusion: the act of writing down is in itself a great memory booster. I can easily remember three or more dreams every morning, whereas before I considered myself lucky if I remembered one.
But why bother in the first place? A quick look at my notes from last week suggests that I’ll never need to turn to mushrooms if I ever want to experience mind-bending hallucinations. Crawling into bed and getting some shut eye will do just fine. Hence the reference to broccoli in the title: one of the dreams I had this week had me wandering around a farm where many different types of broccoli were grown. Some were conventional-looking, others were blue, glittery or fluffy. Why? I honestly have no idea.
Keep writing, however, and patterns will emerge. For me, keeping a record has already given me a unique insight in what is going on inside my head, even if I’ve only started doing it in earnest about a week ago. My family appears quite a lot, not a surprise, given that I’m due to visit them next month. Many of my dreams also revolve around organization, again no surprise, as I’ve spent quite a bit of time recently sorting out long-running issues, including a belated spring clean. What does surprise me is the recurring emphasis on caring, be it for babies or animals. While I have no desire to make any changes to my childfree status, it does suggest that my devil-may-cry-days are over for good.
Even if you’re very sceptical about all this and consider dreams to be nothing but the spiritual equivalent of taking out your bins, recording your dreams still has benefits. It’s a useful creativity booster, as your sleeping brain tends to come up with images and connections your waking self considers impossible. Conventional logic goes out of the window the moment my head hits the pillow and the result is a stack of ideas that will no doubt become a fertile basis for future art projects. Apparently dreams were so important to Salvador Dalí that an American museum created a virtual reality experience of them. And who am I to disagree with the master himself?
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