As I lay sleeping…

On the back of this stirring painting, The Nightmare,  by John Henry Fuselli (1781) is a sketch of a portrait of a woman that the artist had loved and lost. She often visited him in his dreams (of an erotic nature). I find this very moving. I too have an active dream life. Sometimes they are so obviously tracable to my day to day activities I find it annoying: once I had a long involved dream about getting ready for work. I was furious when I woke up and had to – get ready for work.

Writer and philosopher Steven Pinker believes that human beings only imagine the soul as separate from the body, making the afterlife a possibility in some people’s minds, because we dream. He argues that if we didn’t have the out of body experience of dreams we would be unable to conceive of ever existing outside of our bodies (we can not imagine what we can not imagine). That idea: that our imaginations are the ultimate in limitation, is something I find interesting. I think Plato touches on both these ideas with his Allegory of the Cave: of course- what we perceive as reality, but also what we are or are not capable of imagining.

I have always had vivid dreams, I still remember many nightmares of my youth and many wonderful dreams when I was devastated to wake- mind and body unwillingly reunited. Some people I know have seemingly prophetic dreams, but mine don’t seem prophetic.  I have never dreamt the winning lotto numbers or any answers to my most burning questions. They seem entirely limited to my own imaginings.

My youngest son and I often discuss dreams because he doesn’t remember having them and I do and we wonder why that is so. Maybe he has it all worked out and has no need of nightly sessions of intense processing. Maybe it requires a measure of self-cruelty to experience a demon on ones chest, tormenting the soul with desires or anxieties, trapped in your limits.

“It takes courage to push yourself to places that you have never been before… to test your limits… to break through barriers. And the day came when the risk it took to remain tight inside the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
Anais Nin

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9 responses to “As I lay sleeping…

  1. Everyone dreams, unless there is a health issue. Remembering dreams is a skill that can be learned. The best dreams are lucid dreams, something I would love to do.

    • Alex, most people have lucid dreams naturally; without having to learn how to do it, as some actually seek out Buddhist monks, nuns and other people to learn how to do as though its some form of meditation.

      Lucid dreaming is also quite common with people who experience sleep apnea. I’ve lived with sleep apnea my entire life. The number of incidences increased as I got older and continue to do so. It’s so common now that I never go a week without it occurring at least once. I experience episodes once to a few times in a single night, and this can reoccur 1-4 nights consecutively. It happens when I sleep on my back, belly or side and can last seconds to several minutes.

      I experience all the usual symptoms; REM, out-of-body sensations and false awakenings.

      I do get a sens of extremely heightened hearing awareness. I can hear almost anything that’s faint. You’d be surprised as to what I’ve heard and discovered while lucid dreaming that I had no idea existed while I was awake. When I get up from some dreams, I find mice holes and ants nests in places of the house that are so far from the bedroom; all because I pinpointed their locations through hearing the animal activity. Truly, lucid dreaming is a hypnotic state that makes the impossible seem real but this is an aspect of my lucid dreaming that I believe is an exception. I liken this to a person who has been blind for a couple years.

      Don’t be thrilled, it’s not all fun and games. In my experience, nightmares are quite common with these dreams for me and usually include sleep paralysis.

      With nightmares, I occasionally imagine things or beings (yes I’ll call them demons here; not that they are no more than the products of my neurons firing off chaotically) that seem to try to attach themselves to my head, neck, back or chest. I imagine, and feel a sensation, that they’re trying to draw my very soul from me. This is really feels like a strange and frightening holy battle of wills given my Christian upbringing; even if it is only a profound hallucination.

      My false awakenings are almost always recurring dreams in which the whole house is dark, and no matter how many lights I try to turn on, ever switch fails to work. I’m now at a point where if I have this dream, I know immediately that it’s not reality, just my own mind. I can calm down in this one and can bring myself out of it most of the time.

      While people like to lucid dream this way, I hate it. Sleep therapy clinics make all sorts of claims that they can cure me or or teach me to control this phenomenon. I’ve concluded that they’re just masters of sucking money out of me, and have resided myself to the belief that one day I will not way up from this. THAT’s by far the worst aspect of this; the fact that my wife is likely to wake up and find me dead. I know that she couldn’t deal with that.

      My wife has had to revive me many times, and its getting more difficult for her to do it as the years go by. Many times I’m totally aware of her trying desperately to bring me back. She’s frightened as all hell, I’m totally aware of her efforts and everything else going on in the room but my mind and body won’t adequately respond until it’s ready to.

      Emerging from a serious bout that lasts minutes (so I’m told) always leaves me exhausted and weak. I immediately drop right back off to sleep and I’m likey to cycle the event again.

      You’re dealing with a phenomenon that’s not fully understood. I do not recommend playing with this.

      • Thanks for your insight. It appears you have a terrible sleeping experience. I am unable to lucid dream, though the closest I come is that moment which you write about of lights failing, for when that happens I know I am heading into nightmare land, so I fight to get the lights working with varying degrees of success.

  2. My oldest son experimented a bit with that. I have noticed with my youngest that the more we talk about it the more he can at least recall that he has had a dream, but my point is- what does it matter? I remember a lot of dreams, so what?

    • I have this painting in a book published by Time-Life Books:

      “With talons that caught and remorselessly held, with weight that crushed the breath away, with eyes that gleaned foul images, shadow demons invaded human houses and human dreams.”

      • I like that: “human houses and human dreams”
        I’m with you, sometimes it seems a sort of battle waged at night…more exhausting than anything else. At least your dreams seem of some occasional use!

  3. My sense is that dreams are anything but practical, yet they are essential, even the seemingly silly ones that seem just to regurgitate daily events. Always something is a little askew. I especially like how things get stitched together from different times/places as the subconscious does its work. And I guess I think that dreaming is doing pretty critical work, that without it we’d be in trouble. Have you seen “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”? For some reason that film hit a nerve with me, probably the romantic in me, but the dream sequences were really well done, I thought, and part of a long film tradition of dream sequences–see “Stranger on the Third Floor,” (1940) or “Murder My Sweet” (Dali worked on the sets for the dream sequence, I believe…) Love the Plato reference. I think the allegory of the cave is one of the most provocative and powerful of stories, and that reading and thinking deeply about it is always fruitful…though even if you do ever break your shackles and climb out of the cave to see the true world of forms, you’ll go blind…

    • They must serve some purpose! Most likely they do. Probably. Perhaps.
      Or maybe we just assume import because they are there…things should mean something…shouldn’t they?

  4. Found this… Some really good answers to your questions–complete with lots of real scientific support (and no references to film noir)…

    http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/03/19/why-we-need-to-dream/

    I’m also reading I-mag-ine by this same author, which I highly recommend, and there he looks at dreaming more in the context of the dance between left brain/right brain….

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