I had the strangest dream last night.
Who hasn’t spoken — or heard — these words before? They usually precede a story that defies logic but invites interpretations of all kinds. We all dream, even animals, yet few of us wake up knowing what any given dream means. That’s what makes them so much fun to recount, so interesting to analyze.
Dreams tend to the weird and the fantastical. They carry more than a hint of mystery and the supernatural. Over millennia they’ve been considered prophecies, a window into our wildest desires, a method for our brain to work out pesky problems, and a way of helping us store memories. Now, in the age of artificial intelligence and big data, they’re also the social glue that binds us.
Welcome to the era of dream groups.
If you’re scratching your head over this one, you’re in good company. I didn’t know such an entity existed until I read about them. But dream groups are a real thing, just like book clubs and wine groups and Bible study. People like them because they’re a safe space to decipher those impenetrable visions of the night.
In her new book “Why We Dream: The Transformative Power of Our Nightly Journey,” journalist Alice Robb delves into how dreams relate to reality. She posits, in an excerpt published in Time magazine, that Westerners “are just out of practice; maybe they don’t know how to communicate their dreams. The reluctance to talk about dreaming is a culturally specific — and recent — phenomenon.”
I’m pretty sure I’m one of those Westerners who initially considered this renewed attention to dreams a bit over the top. Quite frankly, I believe the junk buried in the basement of my conscience is there for a reason. Repression becomes me.
Wasn’t it Sigmund Freud, that quirky Viennese psychoanalyst, who believed that dreams were the mind’s forbidden wish fulfillment factory? He may have fallen out of favor these days, but the old man had a point. The subjects (and themes) of our dreams are usually about sex, running away (or being chased), getting caught naked in public, and failing at something: all topics of psychic trauma. So why would I go around digging in that pit of anxiety?
I rarely remember my dreams, which surely means something dark and sinister. And though there are plenty of ways for me to jog my memory, I haven’t really bothered to try any of them. I figured I didn’t need one more serving on my already full plate. Then I began reading about these dream groups, about the powerful message of dreams, about what Robb calls “a potent, overlooked force.”
So I’ll admit to this now: I have a recurring dream, one that has haunted me forever. Over the years it’s gone through several mutations, but the main storyline has remained the same. I’m running to catch a school bus.
That’s it, nothing more, nothing less. All I do is run and run and run. And the yellow bus keeps chugging ahead of me no matter how fast I pump my legs. Honestly, the dream, and recalling it upon waking, is pretty depressing, especially since I’ve not taken a school bus in decades.
If Freud was right about dreams as “liberation of the spirit from the pressure of external nature, a detachment of the soul from the fetters of matter,” perhaps I should get serious about getting to the bottom of this. Perhaps I need to ask the hard questions.
Will I ever catch up to the bus? Will the bus ever slow down? Why does it leave me behind no matter how much I windmill my arms and shout after it? Why can’t I run fast enough? And why, oh why, am I still stuck in the purgatory of middle school half a century later?