By Aditi Raman Shridhar
The last 10 days of my life have been extremely adventurous. I chased a cat down a road and sat with her by a river. I scaled the Mount Everest with my husband and we built an igloo on the mountain top. I also flew like Wonder Woman for a brief time in the woods of an exotic island on Earth. But the most memorable day was yesterday when I sat on a beach in Maldives, facing the ocean and sipping ice tea. My hair was loose and my white tees and blue skirt matched perfectly with the white sand and the blue waters. The air was cool and the weather, cloudy. And gentle waves were splashing softly on the shore, touching my feet and making low gurgling sounds as they receded into the ocean. An indescribable peace and cheerfulness enveloped me and a deep silence pervaded my heart.
Moments later, a big yawn and bright sunshine coming through my bedroom window brought me into the present. I curled my toes and looked around. The waves, the beach and the ice tea were all gone. But the silence inside me remained. I leapt out of bed, happy and cheerful, and the peace in my heart stayed all day long.
I wondered later how Maldives came into my dream when I am currently living in Nigeria. And the memory of my friend’s wedding invitation in Maldives flashed in my mind. She had described to me her plans of a beach wedding and we had shared our common yearning for oceans, beaches and the serenity it brought to us.
Dream is a fascinating subject and it has puzzled the humankind ever since the beginning of time. All of us have experienced the dream state and the emotion it brings after we wake up. Whether we like it or not and allow it or not, we all dream. What we interpret from our dreams is subjective, but we can all agree that it affects us emotionally in some definite way. We wake up feeling either refreshed after seeing a happy dream or sad and irritated from a lousy dream or sometimes fearful if we dreamt of a ghost or a haunted house.
There is no doubt that dreams evoke feelings and are tied to our memories, but the question whether it carries a meaning or can foretell future still eludes us. In short, only the dreamer can sense if the dream is trying to communicate something or if it is simply a random production of images and thoughts stored in the brain.
Countless theories have revolved around dreams since it was first found recorded by man. Ancient Egypt has plenty of records of dreams painted and jotted down on papyrus. Egyptians thought dreams were a medium of communication between the earthly world and the gods. Those who had vivid dreams were considered to be blessed with a special insight. They believed that the best way to receive divine revelation was through dreaming so many of them slept on sanctified ‘dream beds’ to gain wisdom from the gods. Similarly in Greek and Roman civilizations, people were convinced that dreams had certain prophetic powers.
However, when science and technology advanced, scholars called these supernatural ideas of dreams rubbish and hallucinatory. But prominent figures like Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung in late 19th century concluded that dreams indeed provide insight into the workings of the mind. They put forth the theory that dreams are ‘wishes in disguise’ and ‘repressed longings’ and that dreaming allows us to sort through our unresolved and repressed wishes. Freud’s most famous book, ‘The interpretation of dreams’, gives detailed explanation of how dreams should be analyzed and offers very interesting interpretations.
In 20th century nonbelievers contradicted Freud’s theory, stating that dreams don’t actually mean anything but it is only an ‘Activation Synthesis Hypotheses’. It means that dreams are only brain impulses that pull random thoughts and memories and since human beings are meaning –making machines they simply construct the dream stories as a natural attempt to make sense of all of it. A few years later, evolutionary psychologists conducted a vast documentation of human dreams as well as dreams that occur in cats and other mammals and theorized that dreams are a result of ‘threat simulation’ and started out of ancient biological defense mechanisms.
Taking note of the countless research on dreams, it will be convenient to state that the interpretation of a dream is very personal and very subjective for every individual. It is only the dreamer who can make sense of what he sees and how he responds to his dreams.
However, there is one additional research that offers very interesting findings. And this states that regardless of our nationality, cultural backgrounds and geography, all human beings have 12 common dreams and the meaning of these dreams is nearly the same for every individual. Lauri Loewenberg, Ian Wallace, Russel Grant and Lauren Lawrence are four dream psychologists who have listed down these 12 common dreams among human beings and theorize that the very fact we all have dreamt of these proves that there is a common subconscious element in all of us that produces these dreams and reveals something about our deepest selves.
These common dreams are: 1) Falling (from a cliff or off the bed or somewhere else), 2) Our teeth or hair falling out, 3) Test-taking (in school or college), 4) Dying, 5) Driving an out of control vehicle 6) Meeting a celebrity, 7) Being chased 8) Being cheated by a partner, 9) Seeing a ghost, 10) Showing up late somewhere, 11) Flying, and 12) Being pregnant or seeing your child around.
The very fact that these dreams occur in every human brain and produces the same emotional and physical stimulation is a proof that dreams play on common subconscious elements. There is,therefore, no doubt that dreams are the brain’s mechanism of solving problems, forming new creative connections and processing emotions that we created throughout the day.
EMOTIONAL BENEFITS OF DREAMING
We can choose to ignore our dreams or not assign any meanings to them, but we sure cannot escape from seeing them. And now when there is evidence that dreaming is an important part of our well-being, wouldn’t it be wise to make them work for us?
Dreaming can occur in any stage of sleep but the most vivid and memorable occurs in the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage of sleep. REM is also the stage of sleep where we process learning and also which guides our emotional health. A 2016 study showed that those who experience disturbed REM sleep had higher rates of insomnia and anxiety while those with a deep and uninterrupted REM stage of sleep experienced happier emotions. Therefore, to ensure a deep REM stage, we need a deep and uninterrupted sleep.
The media you watch, the content you read and the situations you experience just before sleeping have a profound effect on what you are about to dream. Taking an hour’s gap to prep yourself for sleep, by taking a warm bath, breathing deeply and letting go of your day’s entire emotional and mental baggage goes a long way in ensuring you have a deep sleep.
What do you dream about, how deep do you sleep, what’s playing on your mind when your eyes are closed? Hope you have a deep sleep and happy dreams, until next week.
12 common dreams and their interpretations
- Falling – This dream means there is a major life problem with work, relationship or some other facet of life.
- Teeth Falling out – Teeth is a symbol of power and confidence. Falling out of teeth signifies that something in the dreamer’s life is causing him or her to lose confidence.
- Test-taking – This is usually common among those who feel the need to be perfectionists. Test-taking shows there is a lot of induced stress and pressure on oneself to perform at work and to stay alert.
- Dying – This dream is said to reveal the wish to terminate one’s life, a relationship, a job, a career path, or even the past. This dream is not necessarily a nightmare. Instead it encourages the person to embark on a new endeavor or start afresh.
- Driving an out-of-control vehicle – The dream signifies you don’t feel control on your road to success. This also means that a current bad habit may become a long-term problem.
- Meeting a celebrity – In this dream the celebrity one is dreaming of is very relevant because the dreamer hopes to inculcate some value he or she sees in that celebrity. Dreaming of celebrities is a symbol of personal need for recognition.
- Being chased – Despite the nightmarish feel of this dream, it is considered to be a positive sign. It is meant to encourage the dreamer to finally face a problem that they are avoiding. This dream is said to be more common among women than men.
- Being cheated by a partner – Most psychologists caution that this dream must not be taken as a clairvoyance. The cheating dream happens when your mate is spending too much time and attention on something that does not involve you. A lack of trust in a romantic relationship tends to spark this dream.
- Seeing a ghost – This dream can either signify a very real fear of ghosts and supernatural stuff or that one is grieving for losing someone near and dear. Seeing your own ghost means you are scared of something in your own nature.
- Showing up late – This dream is a sign that the dreamer is too overwhelmed and doing too much. It also symbolizes a caution to not make too many promises you can’t keep.
- Flying – This dream encourages the person to let go of the current issues and allow things to fall naturally into place. Flying is a sign that there is an out of control situation in real life.
- Being pregnant – This dream is usually associated with women willing to become pregnant or that they are cultivating their own childlike nature and growing mature and happier. It can also mean that a new creative project is on its way.
Aditi Raman Shridhar is an Indian journalist, therapist and health instructor.