Maybe it’s the world we live in right now, with its multitude of stressors, but recently I’ve been experiencing a ton of brain activity, to the point where I’m finding it nearly impossible to make any connection between the source or the event that has triggered this activity, and those individuals who appear to be featured in my thoughts. 

Much to my surprise, this hasn’t been occurring during normal waking hours, when my creative output tends to be most optimal, but to a greater degree during the evening while I’m attempting to sleep.

Mind you, I’ve been a dreamer from as far back as I can remember, and always with the ability to recall the next morning the smallest of details from each vignette. Fictitious street addresses, specific clothing being worn and distinguishable speech patterns that a person might possess are but a few of the minute features that will come to mind hours after they’ve played out in cinematic fashion upon my “cerebral silver screen.”

At one point, maybe 20 years ago or so, I was gifted a “dream journal” filled with lined empty pages, which I began to fill quite rapidly, as I typically recall at least two to three dreams per evening. Every few years, when I find myself rummaging through some bins in the basement, I’ll come across this journal and a legal pad or two containing choppy, fragmented sentences with no true cohesive narrative — literally scattered bits and pieces of a movie script that lacks a beginning or an end.

For what seemed to be the longest time, the persons or characters in my dreams were unidentifiable. They completely lacked any family members, relatives or friends. What I did find was that many of them were composites of people I knew — individuals with the personality or voice of one and some physical features from another — but almost never did they appear to be one and the same person. This decades-long pattern seems to have dissolved as of late, with familiar faces now playing significant roles in at least one of my nightly screenings.

I think what fascinates me most about dreams is the lack of continuity when it comes to subject matter from one to the next within a given evening. Unlike our conscious, waking hours, in which our brain tends to be both proactive and reactive to what’s developing before us, our senses are at rest while we are asleep, allowing the brain to create whatever it pleases in an uninhibited fashion. Maybe on some cognitive level, it’s attempting to “fill in the blanks” or present us with metaphorical scenarios with which we can draw our own conclusions. We can either act upon them in real time or choose not to.

The best description I’ve come across that highlights this process was gleaned from a recent article written by Dr. Michelle Drerup for the Cleveland Clinic titled: “Why Do We Dream?,” in which she states, “The prevailing theory is that dreaming helps you consolidate and analyze memories (like skills and habits) and likely serves as a ‘rehearsal’ for various situations and challenges that one faces during daytime.”

Clearly, defining the significance of any dream is a completely subjective notion, yet it hasn’t stopped individuals (either experts who claim to be professionally trained or countless others with websites who are not), from offering their services in the interpretation of one’s dreams. At this point in time, it’s simply a field that lacks reliable, scientific data to support correlative findings from dream content that can ultimately be used in a therapeutic setting.

On some level, that sits just fine with me. It has been nearly 125 years since the first edition of Sigmund Freud’s “The Interpretation of Dreams” was published, and nearly a hundred or so since when Carl Jung began delving into the subject himself. Someday I might re-visit their groundbreaking works during a snowbound winter afternoon, but for now I’m okay with not knowing what the significance of a purple school bus filled with hippos portends, or the relevance it has to my life.

Dave Davis
Dave Davis teaches preschool for the Head Start program based at the Children’s Museum of the East End in Bridgehampton, NY. He is also a frequent contributor to “Who Smarted?,” a popular educational podcast for elementary school children.

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