I haven’t been writing much lately outside of writing speeches for Toastmasters, but I thought this recent speech (the goal of which was to practice word choice) translated pretty well to the written word. Hope you enjoy!
Imagine floating… slowly… silently… down a gentle stream. The stream empties into a pond so still the surface reflects the sky like mirror. The steady force from the stream nudges you forward, and you glide across the water. Your one-man boat resembles a floating leaf, and it leaves hardly any wake in its path. The pond is surrounded by lush, green forest, and the sky darkens to a deep indigo blue. On a hill ahead of you there is a white cottage and the windows are bright with warm candlelight. You steer your vessel to the edge of the pond and step out of the boat – your bare feet sink just slightly into the damp soil. You embark on the short walk through the forest to the welcoming house.
It’s a different day now, but you’re once again on the water – this time, on a speedboat crashing through Pacific waves. You head west, towards an island just visible on the horizon. The wind whips at your skin but the sun is warm. A pod of dolphins joins alongside the boat. They leap in random rhythm, revealing shiny, smooth bodies that sparkle in the sunlight. There’s a bag of peanut M&M’s in your hand and you savor the moment, grabbing one candy at a time. You eat the chocolates in layers, gently cracking the shell with your teeth until the soft chocolate beneath is completely exposed. Then, you wait until all the chocolate has melted in your mouth before crunching down on the salty peanut core. Everything about today is perfect.
Both of these stories are experiences I had. The second story, on the speed boat, happened in my waking life… and the first in my sleeping life. It was a dream. But the memories I have of each are equally as vivid and real in my mind. In fact, they are both memories I revisit often, especially when I’m lying in bed unable to sleep.
My fascination with dreams began when I was a snaggle-toothed kid. My brother and I shared a bedroom, and one morning he confided in me that he had seen my dreams. He peeked in my ear when I was sleeping and watched the dreams inside my head like a film. I was shocked, but surely my big brother wouldn’t lie to me. “I’ll prove it to you”, he said, “tell me what you dreamt about.” I told him. “Ah ha!” he said, “That is exactly what I saw in your ear.”
I have been trying to make sense of dreams ever since.
In high school, I took a psychology class and it was full of angsty teens eager to self-diagnose all of our quirks. We were given an assignment to present to the class on a topic of our choosing. I chose lucid dreaming, which is being aware that you’re dreaming while you’re dreaming. Many people that practice lucid dreaming control what they do in their dreams, like a choose-your-own-adventure book where anything is possible.
I marched to the school library ready to research this window into the subconscious. The Internet was pretty new then, but my web search yielded a long list of results… all of them blocked by the library’s censorship program. I was indignant, and more intrigued than ever. Anything considered too risqué by the school librarians must be cutting-edge and I needed to know more.
Since that research project many years ago, I have trained myself to lucid dream. I’d like to say it’s resulted in many introspective experiences where the secrets of the universe are revealed and I discover a greater sense of self. But mostly, I just like to fly. It comes so naturally to me in my dreaming world. I just take a few big hops and before you know it I’m gliding along zephyrs with the birds, whizzing from one rooftop to the next.
I’ve heard that dreams are an important tool for us humans. When we dream, we are processing events and emotions that our conscious brain hasn’t fully synthesized. In a dream state, we aren’t as emotional as we are in waking life and time is more elastic. That’s what makes it a great environment for our brains to make sense of difficult or confusing experiences. Think of it as happy hour for your brain – a chance for it to decompress and sort out what you’ve put it through in the last 16-odd hours.
There are many scientific reasons why dreams are necessary for good brain hygiene. But to be honest, I think the real gift of dreaming is the memories it leaves us with.
There’s another favorite dream I revisit often. I am roller blading through a park. The asphalt path is smooth beneath me and picking up speed is almost effortless. My route is nestled between fields of tall beach grass. As I gently skate up and down the rolling hills I pass a large pond where ducks are swimming. It must be evening because the sun is low in the sky, illuminating everything in peachy light. There is a warm breeze, and the grass rustles. The gentle vibration from my skates reverberates up my legs, through my body, and back out through my fingertips. My whole body feels alive, each cell so full it might burst. As I pass others on the path, they smile serenely.
It may have just been a dream, but the memory is no less significant than events that transpire in my waking life. Do you have a favorite dream memory? I’m curious if other people have a similar Rolodex of sweet dreams.