Sunday, September 22, 2013
The Realm of Dreams
Last time I promised to write about dreams, so write about dreams I shall.
However, I'll make several posts on this topic, a bit like I did with hypnosis. But fret not, those of you who are not the least interested in dreams, since I probably won't make all these posts in a row. Still, do not decide not to read these entries just because of sheer lack of interest. This is your chance to learn something new about a subject that not that much is really known of, thus I urge you to read at least this introduction to dreams, even if I think the following parts will be even more interesting.
It may be that I should have researched more before writing this, but I think the memory of past information hunts will suffice.
There is a lot that could be said about dreams, but I think I'll stick to what might be perceived as interesting, for the most part.
It's a bit funny that no matter how hard scientists are trying to find out about the truths of the universe, we humans actually don't know all too much about our innermost selves. There are several theories, but neither psychologists nor other seekers of wisdom and knowledge know for certain what the purpose of dreaming is. One reason might be that there is a certain lack of trying to find out about it, compared to other areas. That said, there are still quite an amount of studies dedicated to dream research.
Dreams in general have intrigued the human species for quite some time now, and several different beliefs have been held about them. In ancient Greece and in Rome as well as in other places, it was not uncommon that dreams were thought to be visions, of differing kinds. Sometimes of the future, other times symbolic messages. Well, I'm not superstitious, but I admit that there is a certain mystique surrounding dreams, so I can understand why many still believe that dreams are links to other worlds.
Everything supernatural set aside, dreams are still very interesting. By now, most people know that everyone dreams, it's just that not everyone remembers their dreams. In most cases, that can quite painlessly be fixed, if one wants to. I'll get to that later.
People of differing kinds also tend to have different kinds of dreams. Your own personal dream realm is more or less unique to you. As of yet (unless you believe certain myths), dreams cannot really be shared, well, maybe the contents, but not the experience. I don't think that most of you realize just how realistic dreams might feel, and what paths that opens.
The blind do dream as well. Their dreams are, however, mostly consistent of what other senses would detect in real life. Just like you can't imagine a color you've never seen (well at least no color outside of the human color spectrum. It would be awesome if you'd discover a new color, like pink for instance, first when you are a teenager), I doubt that a blind man could imagine what it would be like to see. The dreams of those born blind are still said to be at least as vivid as the dreams of the seeing.
I've actually heard of a cool experiment that would be fun to try out, but it comes with a lot of cons. I've heard of people who have, for varying reasons, kept a blind day, week, or in the most extreme a blind month. Other than this altering your other senses and your experience of your surroundings, this also affects your dreams, or so I've heard (---the more you know---).
People of different gender and of different ages also have dreams that differ from one another. I'm not going to go into that side note any more than this, but more is to be found on the never ending interwebs.
Another interesting fact that I don't truly believe in (for reasons), is that every single face that you come across in the dream realm actually has a real counterpart IRL. This is to say, the murderer that infested your dream a few nights ago might be one of the million faces you've seen at some point in your life, maybe that one chick at the beach when you were traveling and which you do not consciously remember, or maybe a face you've seen ten years ago on TV. While it would be cool, I do not see what grounds this claim stands on, but I assure you, the myth does exist (---the more you know---).
On a more physical level, momentarily drifting away for more psychological aspects, when do dreams occur? Well, while you lie unconscious in your bed, you go through this one thing, researchers call the sleep cycle. In this cycle, as the name suggests, you go through several different stages of sleep. Depending on what you want to include in the cycle, you could go through stages like drowsiness and deep sleep (some people view drowsiness more as a preparation for sleep, than like an actual stage of it). However, one of these so called stages stands out more than any other, REM-sleep.
All the other stages are classified as N-REM sleep stages (Non-REM). What does REM stand for then? I'm sure many of you already know, but REM stands for Rapid Eye Movements. In this stage of sleep, your brain activity is very much alike that what it would be when you are wide awake. Also, during this stage of sleep, your eyes are literally rapidly moving under your eyelids. It is in this sleep stage, that dreams have the most common occurrences, and the dreams during the REM-sleep are in general remarkably more vivid; clear; real.
These cycles usually reset in ninety minute loops. And for every cycle, the amount of REM-sleep included grows. In the first cycles, you experience significantly more deep sleep than in the later ones. This is to say, the longer you sleep, the longer you dream. In average, a person dreams 6 years of his life, so why not make use of that? Think about it, six years you can (and will, whether you remember it or not) spend in another world, without the rules of physics, yet, as real feeling! It's not that easy, or it's impossible, you might say. Well, this is not so, for most people. And there are several approaches to largely affect your dreams, and what you remember of them. There are also multiple other reasons as to why you should at least think about it all.
Before I continue where I'm going, I'll have a short (edit: fail, long!) side section here.
I'm no Sigmund Freud (in actuality, I believe he might have as well been almost as mentally ill as some of his patients were, but I should remember he lived long ago, in a not as well educated reality as I live in). Many still think there is credit to his research about dreams. Well, in some ways I might agree, but not for the most part.
Even without any Godly intervention, many believe that dreams contain symbolic messages, and that these encrypted signs are readable. The thing is, I don't believe in an accurate dream dictionary, any more than I believe in astrology (please do note the difference between astrology and astronomy). Like horoscopes, dream dictionaries are designed to fit everyone, which is to say, generalized as fuck!
Even if some dreams could be messages from one's subconscious (which I believe is a valid possibility for several reasons. Wanna know why? Ask. It's not like faith, I really have come across reason to believe this might very well be plausible), there is no chance that there could exist a universal dictionary for dream symbols. Symbolism is extremely personal. If you are from the same culture, there is a slightly higher possibility that you might associate things similarly to one another, but reading dream interpretations should be taken with a pinch of salt.
This said, there are some dreams that have been documented to be much more occurrent (my version of occurring, not a real word) than others. Often these dreams are different types of nightmares. Like the very classical chase dream (which I can't recall ever having had).
But the most usual dream ever would have to be "the falling teeth" dream. Some of you may actually have experienced this sometime. Especially since it is often a frightening scenario (the likelihood of remembering a dream is heightened by a ridiculous extent if you wake up from that dream, and often, you'll wake up if you have a nightmare). I don't remember what this type of a dream is said to symbolize, but I have had probably around ten to twenty of these that I recall (which is not my reason for believing this is the most common dream type), the previous one having taken place less than a week ago. Often, you'll just do normal things, and then suddenly, maybe you hit one of your teeth very lightly, but still, you notice that the tooth you've hit is really loose. Also, you might look in the mirror and realize that your teeth are rotting (has not happened to me). Pretty much everything that revolves around teeth in a dream classifies as a tooth dream (no shit, Sherlock).
Luckily, I haven't had a real nightmare in at least seven years now, which you might find odd considering I just mentioned having one of these teeth dreams. Well, I don't really see things as nightmares unless I get frightened, or feel a great sense of discomfort. Naturally, me remembering around 2 separate dreams a night in average, I've had my share of less pleasant dreams, but nothing too bad. I seldom wake up glad that what I just experienced was only a dream, and that I'm happy for. It does happen though. But even if I experience horrible things in my dreams sometimes, I tend not to get frightened at all, while others have said themselves having been frightened to death by most trivial things in their dreams. Thanks subconscious! Your unconscious must have the power to alter the way you perceive things in dreams; otherwise this would not make sense at all!
Another thing I find extremely interesting is the relation between the physical realm and the dream realm. While you are dreaming, you haven't fully escaped the actual world. You can still hear things, feel things, and even see things, like a bright light through your eyelids if you are dreaming. This can even affect your dream. You've probably experienced this yourself sometime. You hear your stupid alarm clock, and for a while, you don't have an explanation for this in your dream, so your subconscious makes one up for you, maybe the church bells suddenly were ringing or something (I know they seldom sound the same, but remember, in the dream world this could be a perfectly valid explanation for the sound. It's just the subconscious mind trying to explain something that doesn't belong in the dream, so that you won't realize that you are dreaming).
It's not unusual that physical pain takes out its lot on the dreams too. I read one guy's writings about him having broken his leg (or something like that; paraphrasing as usually), and that he, because of feeling that pain in the dream, was limping through his entire dream (which wouldn't be that funny, I think). In my own experience, I once had a dream where I drank liters upon liters of water in my dream, only to end up waking up thirsty. I guess it was my dreams way of saying I should drink something. Also, a few weeks ago, a friend told me he had a weird dream where he experienced emesis. Our best guess as to the reason behind his vomit-filled dream was that he had a very sore throat. It seems like someone is always sick...
Did you know, while you sleep your whole body is practically paralyzed (aptly called: sleep paralysis). This is to prevent you from living out your dreams. Sleepwalkers have a disturbance in their sleep paralysis. Funny thing is, you can actually be awake while being in this state (ironic, I know). However, this is seldom a pleasant occurrence. You see, during sleep paralysis you might experience hypnogogic or hypnapompic phenomena (sleep paralysis while awake is one of these) like hallucinations. And unpleasant ones! I'll go deeper into this subject sometime, but here is a blog post (not of my making) describing a specific experience of "pavor nocturnus", a.k.a. night terror.
Anyhow, finally back to dream recall, which will be the final topic for this first real entry about dreams.
I do realize that most of you won't engage so much in dreaming that you'll take up writing a dream journal just because of this post. Still, I'm going to give you a few easy tips (seriously, no effort needed) that if followed, will guarantee you'll be able to reminisce a few dreams (at least some details), and quickly for that matter!
Two basic things. First, you need to set an intention (not that important later, but especially if you almost never remember dreams this is essential). Before you go to sleep, simply make up your mind and decide that you will remember at least one dream when you wake up. Now, there are far more advanced ways of approaching this, but I'm sure that really making up your mind will suffice. It helps to be honest though. Dreams often consist of things that have happened to you during your latest days, especially if something has an emphasis on it. If you are serious about your intent to remember your dreams, you'll certainly remember them.
The other thing is when you wake up in the morning (or why not in the middle of the night). Do. Not. Move. At first this might be difficult to remember right upon waking up (and do this on a weekend to begin with. Seriously, being woken up by an alarm clock will fuck up your dream recall in one way or another more often than not. If you don't automatically remember your dreams despite of the clock, leave it be 'til you need not be woken up by it).
Same thing goes for moving. Moving instantly upon waking up will distract your mind away from the dreams that might already be difficult to remember. So while laying still, try not to think of anything in particular for a moment. Trying to remember your dream too hard will also disturb the process more than help it. After lying still thinking of nothing for a few seconds or so, a small fragment of your dream should already begin to pop into your mind (especially if you woke up from a dream, otherwise it is still possible, but might take a bit more time). I you really can't remember anything after this, try very slowly returning to the very position you were sleeping in. Also, instead of trying to remember what you dreamed about, focus on how you are feeling. If you feel happy for no apparent reason, chances are you felt happy in your last dream as well. Try to catch up any small bit of any dream if you can. If you find the smallest of a piece of your dream, this might be a mental image, a feeling, or something you just know, think about it. After this, it is very, very likely that you'll begin to remember other fragments of your dreams, and after a while a lot of the dream can be tracked not much unlike a puzzle is built. However, most of the time, there will be missing pieces. Dreams are often jumpy, and put their emphasis on things far from eachother. Sometimes there is no smooth transition.
If none of this worked. Don't fret. Simply try again. Within three nights it is almost certain that you'll remember something (often already on the first try). Sometimes it takes a while for the intent to set in. If you keep doing this, it will be easier and easier to recall your dreams. You have around 6 dreams a night in average, and it is possible to remember everything, but nothing you should feel a need to strive for.
I would not be even close to as interested by dreams if it weren't for one last key factor. The promise, of everything you could imagine; the real prize of the bargain.
Some of you might have experienced this (especially usual with children), but there is one type of dream, one that really makes all the difference. There is an awesome thing called "Lucid Dreaming".
This is, essentially, being aware in a dream that you are dreaming. It is possible to gain full control of your lucid dreams. If you're not a natural, it's still doable by practice, but at the moment it takes slightly more devotion than I am willing to pay. But I've come a long road (I've probably had hundreds of lucid dreams, even though I at the moment remember only thirty or so, last one having occurred yesterday night). Whenever I get more time and motivation I'll focus even more on my intention. I have not experienced a dream where I had full control since I was a child (as I said, children tend to have more lucid dreams [there are different stages of lucidity]), but I know a ridiculous amount about dreaming anyway; in psychology, my area of expertise is hypnosis and dreaming (not professionally...). But even if I know quite some about hypnosis, it is not comparable to what I know about dreaming.
If you have any dream related question, I'll gladly answer it. In the rare case that I don't know the answer, I know the very best places to look it up (unless it has to do with dream history, in which case you are probably on your own with Google).
The next part of this dream exploring series will be focused upon lucid dreaming, and there will probably be several different entries discussing this. But as I said, probably not in a row.
I know I've written a long post once again (my second longest, actually), so I beg your pardon for that. This introduction is probably messy as hell, but you'll get over it. You always do.
'Til next time!
I actually composed a short song specifically for this entry (instead of writing it), the night between Wednesday and Thursday.
It should have been recorded in a more proper manner, but you know me...
I intentionally mimicked certain elements of some compositions featured in Final Fantasy 7, so that and this post to honor, I named it: