Dreaming Through a Window

“Certain moments from the dream stand out sharply. The moment the vehicle I was traveling in pulled up to the long row of stone steps leading up to the building and I first saw you. We nearly collided as we embraced. We only spoke briefly when you abruptly went back inside the building, as I walked around the building and ran down a hill to a deserted beach. Turning again toward the building, simply thinking about going inside found me standing in what seemed to be a university office. You were printing out some sort of form as it came up on a computer terminal above your head. One of them was supposed to be for me, and you pointed to a table across the hall, but I was unable to locate the form with my name.

Moments later, I was once again on the steps in front of the building, and when you came out I remembered saying, “God, you’re beautiful.” We spoke of meeting again and I had to return to my vehicle. For some reason I had to climb in the window of the building where I was staying, although I wasn’t sure why.”

– Excerpt from my dream journal

The clarity of the meeting and the startling sensation of familiarity stayed with me for quite a while after waking. It seemed at times that I was directing the action in the dream, although I truly was NOT expecting to see anyone at all when the doors to what may have been a bus opened. My sense of surprise and delight was genuine. The dream seemed more of how I would imagine it to be, rather than how it might actually be. In the context of my research into the nature of consciousness, I am more convinced than ever that the sleeping and dreaming components of neurological functioning, while clearly acted upon and influenced by the physiological changes that take place, are a window into a much wider world that we are only glimpsing presently.

An article in Discover magazine by Robert Sapolsky, Director of the neuroscience lab at Stanford, (“Wild Dreams,” Discover Magazine April 2001) concerning recent studies at the National Institutes for Health raises some interesting questions about much of our conventional wisdom, and puts many of the previously “established” ideas about dreaming into a new light. The experimental premise and positron emission tomography that tracks the blood flow through the brain in the different stages of REM sleep and slow wave sleep, verify the findings in a reasonable fashion, but the metabolic isolation of the regions of the brain that consolidate and retrieve memories was perhaps the most interesting finding of the study. The integration of visual patterns conducted in the subcortical regions are essential to what we “see” in our dreams.

The lessening of activity in the prefrontal cortex, and the increased activity in the complex sensory processing areas where emotions and memories are managed doesn’t explain how images that have never previously occurred in our experience appear. Complex construction of elaborate scenarios that have never taken place, may be partially the result of contributions from our imaginings or daydreams, but dreams like one I experienced recently seem to defy explanation.

“Last night I had an elaborate dream about a huge stone fortress, which had the appearance of Egyptian architecture. It felt as though I was part of a team of individuals investigating the site, spending much of the time in my dream exploring the many rooms and features. After an indeterminate amount of time, I was standing far out in front of the structure speaking with several colleagues when the structure started to tumble; slowly at first, but then like a row of dominoes the rest of it followed in a synchronous manner.

Huge chunks of the fortress came tumbling toward us and we scrambled to avoid them. I saw a ledge of rock above me that might just take me out of harm’s way. I leaped to get on top of it and turned to face the structure as it collapsed, and saw several individuals who were jumping away and may have been lost in the collapse. My leap propelled me high above the scene.

As I was imagining what might have occurred, simply considering what might be taking place below the collapsed section of the fortress, I suddenly found myself in what appeared to be a large chamber within the collapsed area.

For some reason simply my thought of what it might be like transported me there, and my very next thought–that it might be open to the air–sent a rush of fresh air upon me.” – excerpt from dream journal

Dreaming clearly puts me in a state totally dissimilar to my normal waking state, with only periodic moments of mental references that are actually familiar. The context in which even those familiar components appear is quite often anomalous to my waking memory of these reference points, and I am frequently struck by this very idea as I am dreaming, often recognizing that the dream event is taking place in a wholly different context than expected.

Dreaming for me is quite often a strikingly vivid experience, with a degree of sensation and occasional awareness of being in a dream state. As opposed to Sapolsky’s claim that we often have a sense of “reckless abandon,” I quite often seem to refrain from actions in my dreams, just as I might while awake, although still noticing a lessening of inhibition to some degree on occasion.

Our window into the world of dreams, while slowly revealing layers of involvement with both a physiological and psychological nature, also reveals that there is still much that is not understood about the processes involved in dreaming. The appearance of specific dream events not drawn from conscious memory, and elaborate scenarios conjured in an imaginative frenzy, suggest to me that there may be far more complex interactions that cannot be fully explained by the neurophysiology and metabolic activity in the brain, just as the true nature of consciousness itself and its link to our cognitive systems continues to elude scientists and philosophers alike.

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4 comments

  1. patricemj

    I liked this post,particularly your vivid dream descriptions. Dreams are fascinating. When I was in highschool my favorite writing teacher, a poet, was kind to me and wrote a quote of mine on the blackboard for the other students to paraphrase, as this was a daily warm up activity. It touched me to be considered someone whose thoughts would be reworked in the minds of my fellow classmates. My statement was indeed a paraphrase of another writer’s thoughts. Anyway, your post reminded me of it. “Tonights dreams are tomorrows windows.”

    The dream about the crumbling building is evocative. Those are my worse sorts of dreams, but you didn’t seem too upset as you were able to leap above the commotion. Good for you!

    • jjhiii24

      Speaking of tomorrows, your comment reminded me of a poem I wrote a few years back about dreams and tomorrow’s promise. I am touched by your thoughtful response and post this poem in response to your reply…John H.

      Tomorrow’s Promise
      By John H.

      On the horizon, where darkness meets light,
      My soul floats away into endless night.

      The sharp edge of day, it frequently seems,
      Releases the power found in our dreams.

      Wonder that deepens to love would I seek,
      A glimpse of eternal life, just a peek.

      For there we may see our life’s meaning unbound,
      Emerging as something grand that we’ve found.

      Time passes in moments, some rushing by,
      We don’t often stop to ask ourselves why.

      Hope I uncover and try to hold fast,
      Against the lonely despair from the past.

      On the rim of despair is where we fail.
      On the brink of our joy is where we sail.

      Standing together, our hearts side by side,
      Helps us to feel what our love wants to hide.

      Contained in reflections, words, thoughts, and deeds,
      Are every last one of life’s hopeful seeds.

      In mystery wonder, in science truths,
      Cruel hearts diminish, an open mind soothes.

      With yesterday’s joys our hearts we can lift,
      Tomorrow’s promise, an uncertain gift.

      © 2004 by JJHIII

  2. creatingreciprocity

    Interesting dreams – I often have crazy dream I have to admit. And though I am sometimes able to direct my dreams, unlike you I find I don’t restrain myself in situations where I would restrain myself in real life. Your unconscious is better behaved than mine, clearly! I find my dreams are often simple, almost dumb ways of my unconscious pointing out things to me that I can’t ‘see’ and once I can become conscious of the message in the dream, I will tend to stop having dreams about it. Mind you, sometimes I have dreams that seem to embed in my consciousness and feel extremely important even though I can’t unravel them. One of my friends (a psychotherapist by the way) often says things along the lines of – “Well, the interpretation of your dream is easy, Trish – you’re mad.” Lovely friend!

    Anyway, on the subject of the meaning/symbolism in dreams, I want to offer something about your second dream excerpt. It may be completely wrong so I’m not hanging on to it at all – it’s just when I read it, I was very taken with the symbolism of investigating (with others) an Egyptian fortress. I don’t know what that would suggest to you but to me a fortress is a place intended for protection and also very hard to get into from outside and Egyptian immediately makes me think of deciphering – like hieroglyphics, the Rosetta Stone etc. I couldn’t help thinking that this was saying something (no idea what) to you about your work to understand consciousness. Consciousness certainly is a fortress and is still impossible to understand unless we find the equivalent to the Rosetta stone. In your dream, I noticed that you jumped up when the place began to collapse and that this gave you a better overview of the site and that realising this then caused you to go back into the fortress – this time inside – a chamber.

    Anyway – I have no idea what your unconscious is specifically saying to you but maybe (really maybe, I’m not being coy) it is telling you something about the work you’re doing? Maybe it’s pointing you in a direction? I have no idea. Seems powerful and good to me from here but only you know what you felt in the dream.

    OK – hope that isn’t too presumptuous but thought I’d offer it to you in case it might be useful. Feel free to ignore it if it is of no use!

    • jjhiii24

      I don’t think you’re mad at all, Trish, and I am intrigued by your suggestion regarding the possible interpretation of the dream. It would only be presumptuous if I was opposed to the idea of receiving suggestions from the readers of this blog, and I am clearly in favor of hearing from my readers. I haven’t actually received very many comments along the way, but my choice of subject and my point of view aren’t exactly mainstream with the rest of the world.

      I think it’s entirely possible that you’ve hit upon a likely indication of at least part of the meaning in the dream, and I very much appreciate that you took the time share your ideas with me…John H.

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