Thursday, November 4, 2010

Perchance to Dream

Like most people, I have long been fascinated by dreams and over the past year have been reading a bit about the physiological as well as psychological aspects of dream research in preparation for a one-week Road Scholar course Lynn and I will teach next year.

I feel more than usually unprepared and inadequate to the task since I am not a psychologist or trained Jungian analyst. But I can focus on the influence on dreams in films and on literature and talk about myths. In this connection a book by Anthony Stevens, Private Myths, is well-titled and very revealing, both about the "two-million-year-old brain" we have inherited and about the universal themes that are expressed in myths and dreams.

Reading about Gilgamesh being troubled by bad dreams and having them explained by his mother in the 5000-year-old epic is amazing--and revealing about the relation between the hero and his boon companion (and lover?) Enkidu, who is needed in the story to temper GIlgamesh's ego-driven desires. We see in this earliest of recorded dream interpretations a truth found in Robert Louis Stevenson and other authors: Man is not one, but two. There is another, hidden side to us, revealed to us in sleep; this other self is completed in and through another person, providing a balanced, integrated personality. Or so I think Jung says.

As I began to list some of my own recent dreams, I find nothing quite as profound to be discovered there, just garden-variety apprehensions. Typically, a fear of being embarrassed by being unprepared. But last night I was in Monaco meeting Grace Kelly, the dream girl of my youth, whose palace I found disappointing. As she looked at me and talked, we seemed to be in a movie, a point reinforced when Lynn, a shadowy presence unseen near me, wanted to leave the theater; I woke up wondering if Monaco was part of a movie or if I was "really" there. I remembered re-watching "Rear Window" about ten days ago: did that influence this dream?

There was the usual theme of being let down, something that often happens as my dream narratives unfold: what begins as glamorous ends up being ordinary or grim. Last night's private myth was an interesting reflection of the idea that all movies are like dreams and all dreams are like movies, the products of that dream factory called Hollywood. Apart from the cinematic analogy, the awareness we are given of the unconscious self who is timeless and mysterious and powerful, an observer of the conscious self who lives in time, is always fascinating.

Salvador Dali ate strong cheese before bedtime to induce vivid dreams that he turned into surrealist paintings. I doubt if I will follow his practice, taking what dreams may come as I sleep and being grateful that I can remember the main parts of the interesting ones.

1 comment:

Ned Kessler said...

Fascinating description of your dream. Also, Rear Window is one of our top, top favorites; we have the DVD. My list of our commonalities continues to grow!

You've got me curious about what knowledge a Road Scholar class would impart; what is a Road Scholar, I wonder.