COLUMN: Playing many roles in dreams

Some of us can remember our dreams. Sometimes.

Everyone has dreams. So say the medical specialists, who observe our sleep patterns.

Rapid eye movement (REM) signals the state of dreaming, even if we can’t remember having had a dream.

Some of us can remember our dreams. Sometimes.

A few years ago, I decided to include my dreams in my daily journaling. It’s been an interesting exercise.

I wake up, for example, clearly recalling two dreams overnight. I sit down at my computer to write about them. By the time I write a few notes for the first dream, the other has vanished. Completely.

Something about nailing down one story banishes the other story into limbo. It won’t come back, no matter how I rack my brain.

The same might happen, perhaps, if I were to tell someone my dreams. But now that I live alone, I have no one to tell, so I can’t try that experiment.

Writing down my dreams has, however, had a practical outcome. I discovered that there’s a flow to my dreams, a progression of themes and contexts.

For several years, I had dreams in which I had to write an examination. For a course that I hadn’t attended. I didn’t even know the subject. I didn’t know where to go for the exam. The only thing I knew for sure was that I couldn’t bluff my way through it.

And sometimes, I was also stark naked.

I’m told dreams like that are about performance anxiety.

In another series of dreams, I had to get back to my room, in a hotel or boarding house or retreat centre. Sometimes on a cruise ship.

It was not always clear to me why I had to get to my room – I just had to do it.

But I couldn’t find my room. It had moved. Or been removed. Or the whole floor had vanished. The cruise ship had erased that entire deck of cabins.

I felt panicky. Desperate.

In still another series of dreams, I worked for some large agency or corporation. My boss had given me an assignment. A writing job. Always with one common theme – I wasn’t getting it done. I felt obligated to resign, rather than continue getting paid for doing nothing.

Today, as I look at what I’ve just written, I see “FEAR” writ large. But fear of what? Not of those situations, obviously. None of them apply to me in real life.

Fear of an uncertain future? Fear of letting someone down?

Psychologists say that dreams are our subconsciousness rising to the surface. When we’re awake, we suppress the subconscious.

We try to be rational, reasonable, practical.

Put another way, we pretend to be what we want to be.

Dreams cut away the pretence.

They also say that in dreams, we play all the parts ourselves. After all, it’s my dream, not someone else’s. So I am the bewildered student stumbling into an exam. And the invigilator, glaring accusingly at me. And the student at the next desk, passing me a pencil to write with.

If so, which is the real me? Or, perhaps, the more-real me. Am I the victim? The critic? The helper?


To use a biblical analogy, am I my neighbour?


Jim Taylor lives in Lake Country.