These are questions I’ve been asking myself for most of my life, and I’ve never come up with answers that satisfy me.
If I am to believe Freud’s theory that dreams are simply “disguised fulfillments of repressed wishes,” I’m even more perplexed. Just the other night, for example, I was tried for murder in a British court, with a former neighbor acting as my counsel. She lost the case and I was sentenced to hang, which is not a repressed wish, or something I can dissect to figure out the meaning.
Several years ago, I read “Creative Dreaming” by Patricia L. Garfield to further educate myself on the state of dreaming. The book told the story of a man who had a recurring dream where night after night was chased by something horrible, and when he tried to escape by bicycle he’d always get a flat tire. He told his psychiatrist about the dream, who suggested that he simply fix the tire the next time it happens and ride away. The man replied that he didn’t know how to fix a flat tire, so the psychiatrist suggested he learn. He did, and was able to fix the tire in the dream, ride away from what was chasing him, and end the nightmare for good.
The story proves that we all have the power to control our dreams. I personally don’t remember any instances where I’ve actually controlled the outcome of a dream, but I am often aware I am dreaming, so I can tell myself not to panic if it’s particularly bad.
I’ve also had dreams that I refer to as miniseries, where I’m dreaming, I wake up for a moment, fall back asleep, and continue the same dream. I suppose a certain amount of control on my part is needed to make that happen.
Another theory referred to as activation-synthesis came from researchers J. Allan Hobson and Robert McClarley. Their theory suggests that circuits in the brain become activated during REM sleep, which the brain synthesizes and attempts to find meaning behind, resulting in a dream. Hobson says that “dreams are our most creative conscious state, one in which the chaotic, spontaneous recombination of cognitive elements produces new ideas. While many of these ideas may be nonsensical, if even a few of its fanciful products are truly useful, our dream time will have not been wasted.”
I can relate to that. Most of the time, my dreams are bizarre and make little sense. But on occasion, I have been lucky enough to dream story ideas that feed my passion for writing fiction, indicating that we are all writers in our dreams. Surely the topics of our dreams come from the same part of our imagination that spark ideas for all works of fiction. Some of us — like the prize-winning Norman Mailers or Alice Walkers of the world — just do it better than others.