When I was in my early to mid-20s, I would do things in dreams unimaginable to me in waking life: inject heroin, die by gun suicide, die by gun murder, crash-land small jet planes in the San Francisco Bay.
Dreaming sounds dangerous. Yes, but not always. In one dream when I was 24—a couple year after a particularly bad heartbreak—I forgave the young woman who had crushed my soul.
Other than of the occasional dog attack, I don’t dream much anymore. After all the addiction, the dying, the near-death, the confrontation with deep emotional pain, you might say that’s a good thing.
The current dog-attack dreams are stark because they are the only ones that I remember. Since they are connected to real altercations with neighborhood dogs over the past two years, the dreams help make meaning.
The dog attacks of my dreams can represent any and all multitudes of secular fear: pandemic, politics, and their implications on the next generation.
The dog attacks of my dreams can represent a particularly unruly part of my inner Self (an interpretation less potent in my very domesticated mid-40s).
The dog attacks of my dreams can represent whatever I want them to, follies of possible self-delusion and misinterpretation notwithstanding.
The real trick, at least in the dream, is to vanquish the dog. Or befriend it.
Those dreams from my 20s still carry meaning, are part of my narrative, are the basis for a personal mythology, a personal religion. Those dreams are subconscious artifacts that mark a time of developing self-awareness, a time of great personal growth.
But have I lost my religion? Visions that could inform my life (i.e. sleep cycles that lead to remembered dreams) are interrupted by the biology of the old-ish (i.e. I gotta pee at 2 AM), as well as the physical aches and anxiety pains.
And there’s so much more that occupies waking life than there was in my 20s. Two more decades of personal and world history to process; responsibilities, regret, my relationship with friends and family to concern me. Personal growth continues; I interact with the joys and hardships of life and change. But that’s fairly artificial: the books, articles, television, and cinema that I consume will never fully reflect my own experience.
In a recent episode of Throughline, Abdelfatah points out that “in today’s world, where sleep is being cut short, caffeinated drinks are keeping us awake and screens vie for our attention, it’s become harder and harder to dream.” True. Can I quit coffee in the interest of better sleep? Can I refrain from my anxiety-inducing media addiction to foster more dreaming?
In my 20s—in the early days of my relationship with coffee and before the invasion of smart phones—I was able to take the experience of a dream and consider the metaphors, sometimes for several days. Sure, maybe I was a little interested in the escapism of taking heroin, but perhaps the dream was instructing me: temporarily extract yourself from your worries about school and love and change.
I could lament how much richer my inner life would be now if I were to remember more of my dreams. Or I could develop a practice of taking an extra five minutes before getting out of bed, letting the visions of sleep set in my waking mind so they could walk with me throughout the day.