Dream Analysis and Audience Participation

Written by Philip Walter on Jun 5 at 10:11 am in iSPIRITself, weMINDculture

Photo courtesy of
Amy Walter

Anyone who owns a dog knows the amusement to be had when one of them takes off on a slumbering romp through dream-land. Even just five minutes watching their paws flutter in a sideways “jog-in-place” and their lips flap and furl in an attempt to pursue some imaginary squirrel beats the hell out of a whole night of American Idol. I find myself wondering what forest he’s sprinting through, what stream she’s swimming across, or what mailbox he’s pissing on.

Last week I was reminded of all this while listening to this story on NPR’s All Things Considered. The basic gist was that college students everywhere are awakened in the middle of the night by dreams of failing their last final and being unable to graduate, or of tripping on their way across the stage at their graduation ceremony, or of arriving at the show naked altogether.

This sort of dream, according to the story, seems to be stress-induced, triggered by anxiety surrounding the event of graduation, an event looked forward to and toiled over for many years. But these dreams don’t just pop up in the midst of the experience. They can show up years and years later. The theory behind this is that college in general and graduation specifically can be very stressful, so when we encounter stressful situations later in life, and our brains try to sort those situations out, our dreaming selves return to the images of college and graduation in an archetypal way.

But it’s not just schooling that has this effect. Most of my stressful dreams involve working situations. When I first began my career in television and video production, I worked in Master Control. This is the place at a TV station where a bunch of guys (and girls too) sit around watching tape machines, hard disk recorders, and computer-controlled playlists in an effort to make sure nothing screws up. These are the folks running around pulling their hair out while you stare at a black screen or color bars for 2 minutes.

Anyway, I used to have nightmares about being all alone in Master Control and all hell breaking loose. Nothing worked right. The phones rang off the hook as grandparents everywhere called me from their Craftmatic adjustable beds in a panic because their favorite episode of MASH had been sitting in black for the last five minutes. I am of course already aware of this when they call, but every time I hit play on the tape machine, nothing happens. This continues until my alarm goes off and I realize I’m not standing in Master Control anymore.  All is well.

The dream state is a fascinating subject. We are aware of ourselves, but we are not really ourselves. You’re capable of doing things impossible in waking life. Things seem ecstatically wonderful, horrifying and beautiful, yet somehow they are not “real.” Sometimes you’re flying over a breathtaking landscape, other times you’re pulling your hair out with anxiety. Either way, you’re only dreaming, and when the waking state returns once again, so too does “reality.”

I’m curious what kinds of dreams you guys regularly remember. Do you have stress-related dreams surrounding your school, your job, events that happened years ago? How do your dreams affect your waking life? Please let us know what you think by leaving a comment below.

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