Keep on dreaming

I once met Robert Pattinson in a convenience store.

He was browsing through a tabloid magazine when we bumped into each other. I don’t remember much except that he was an exceptionally good hugger — it was a long, warm embrace and his soft flannel shirt felt like the world’s most comfortable blanket.

Dreams are undoubtedly strange things.

By no means am I infatuated with Robert Pattinson. I have no desire to meet him in person but yet, my subconscious seemed to be telling me otherwise. This sort of dream falls under the category of an ordinary dream, despite the odd celebrity appearance.

Other types of dreams, such as lucid dreams, recurring dreams, prophetic dreams and false awakening dreams, are a little more complex to understand.

Lucid dreams occur when you realize you’re dreaming. It’s during these types of dreams that the dreamer is able to take control over their actions and manipulate the situation to their advantage.

For example, I remember having nightmares of huge dinosaurs chasing after me as a kid. In these cases, I would change the dream “channel” in my mind to Barbie and imagine a bubble gum pink, candy-coated world instead.

This wasn’t always the case. A recurring childhood dream of mine featured a dark, spinning room with an eerie voice calling out to me.

According to Dream Moods, a dream symbol interpretation website, the spinning symbolizes confusion and a lack of control, while a dark room suggests repression and voices signify a message from a spiritual realm.

I’d like to think the dream was more a reflection on my fear of the dark, rather than suggesting I was some sort of troubled medium trying to regain sense of my life.

Come to think of it, these dreams weren’t experiences I shared with my family. In fact, I’ve always kept them to myself.

For others, though, dreams are a pivotal topic of conversation. Steven Griffin frequently discusses his dreams with his housemates, without any awkwardness around the subject.

“I just feel like everyone has their own dreams, their own things that go on inside their heads,” Griffin, ArtSci ’17, said. “I can tell one guy about how I met a celebrity and we went to Mexico … and then the other guy can tell me about how he went to Candyland.”

There’s no discomfort in revealing these personal stories because we’ve all had unusual dreams.

“I feel like it’s just this fun little thing we have that we can share the fact that we have really weird dreams … It’s kind of another level we can connect to as people.” But what about wet dreams? Otherwise known as nocturnal emissions, these types of dreams are in a category of their own. Griffin admits he’s had one or two before, back when he was on the cusp of adolescence.

“I didn’t really think of it too much, I was just like ‘oh, I was probably sweating at night,’” he said.

As a kid, he was very happy-go-lucky and carried on with his day without giving the wet dreams too much thought.

“It was nothing so intense or traumatic that it actually made me dwell on it … I don’t remember the dreams associated with them.” But dream symbolism doesn’t mean much to Griffin. The commonness of certain dreams and emotions, such as falling or losing teeth, weakens the argument in favour of dream interpretation.

“People like to a lot of the time think about the link between that dreamscape and real life and how they may be related,” he said.

“It’s just kind of interesting because the most common things that come up in dreams are associated with some of the most common emotions, which can be reflected on anybody … There’s nothing really too specific so I found myself believing somethings and not others.”

Not everyone is so open about discussing their dreams. Nicole D’Angelo is more selective when it comes to disclosing hers.

“There are some dreams I wouldn’t tell anyone just because they’re either bat-shit cray or … a personal thing,” D’Angelo, ArtSci ’16, said.

One thing is for certain, D’Angelo doesn’t believe that you can control your dreams. For instance, when she was younger, she used to sleepwalk to the point where she’d end up in closets or try to walk out the front door.

It’s these cases where she felt a complete lack of control, yet D’Angelo believes there’s nothing we can do about the situation.

“I feel like nightmares and dreams, you have to experience them for what they are and it’s a part of life.” While dreaming is an activity that affects us all, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what the phenomenon is. According to Alistair MacLean, a psychology professor at Queen’s, dreaming is the occurrence of thought-like activity during sleep, which is often accompanied by vivid perceptual activity. The reasoning behind why we dream is a disputable topic.

“On the one side there has been the view, largely following from the work of Freud and his followers, that dreams are essential to our mental well-being; on the other is the view that dreams are simply a by-product of certain types of physiological activity,” MacLean told the Journal via email. For MacLean, his take on dream psychology leans more toward the latter explanation.

“I am inclined to view dreams as a by-product of certain types of physiological activity.” That said, there are other beneficial uses to dreams.

“I think dreams can still be useful therapeutically because their content may [be] of considerable significance to the dreamer.”

Like Griffin, MacLean also finds the link between someone’s dreams and their unconscious desires a hard one to believe. “Statistically, most dreams are of commonplace situations, in known surroundings, and involving people who are familiar to the dreamer. Bizarre dreams are relatively uncommon but tend to be better remembered because they are unusual and striking,” he said.

“I don’t think that there is convincing evidence of a link between dreams and unconscious desires — what Freud called the ‘royal road to the unconscious’ — but I know there are colleagues who would strongly disagree with me on that point.” Joseph De Koninck, emeritus professor at the University of Ottawa’s School of Psychology, thinks otherwise.

In his chapter “Sleep, Dreams, and Dream” from The Oxford Handbook of Sleep and Sleep Disorders, he discusses how dreams can be used in psychotherapy.

Although contrary to Freud’s psychoanalytic theory that suggested dreams were a representation of repressed childhood conflicts, most modern-day psychotherapists still use dreams to resolve their patients’ personal problems.

De Koninck said these approaches rely on three assumptions: dreams are part of the waking experience without input from the external world, linked to the expression of emotions and can create new connections.

“In approaches labeled ‘dreamwork,’ therapists seek in dreams new expressions of current preoccupations of patients and work with them to derive associations with past experiences,” he wrote.

Although there has been a growing interest in using dreams to improve one’s well-being, these theories are not strongly backed-up by experimental research.

However, this area of study is gaining more attention in the research community.

“Dreams have fascinated humans from the earliest of times,” De Koninck wrote. “Yet modern research is still struggling to understand the nature and functions of dreaming.” Whether your dreams involve teenage heartthrobs, car chases or public nudity, rest assured that you’re not alone to question the rationale behind these bizarre experiences.

Sometimes the inexplicably simple must be embraced.


Dreams, Freud, Psychotherapy, Sleep

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