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.”