There’s a lot going on in my head right now that isn’t consciously available to me. I can tell because last night I dreamed about competitive neo-nazi rabbits and marmalade, and on waking it is impossible to articulate what the connection between rabbits and orange jam was. This isn’t a one off. All of my dreaming lately has been vivid, colourful, complex, and rabidly incoherent. My normal dreaming tends towards more narrative, so I know from the change that something entirely different is happening in my head.
I’ve studied dreams and sleeping since my teens. Most of that has been an informal working with my dream experiences and attention to how dreaming relates to my life. I’ve poked around a bit in the psychology of dreams, and the science of sleep. Alongside that I’ve had exposure to dream interpretation books. I’m not a big fan of dream interpretation books – I think they’re reductive, and that personal symbolism is a far more complicated thing. I think there’s a lot more to dreaming than pulling ‘meanings’ out of it, as well, and that most dreams are not in the least bit prophetic.
So, why the neo-nazi rabbits and the marmalade? I suspect the rabbits are Nazis because of what I was reading last night. The rest of the features, if teased out and examined to see what they might represent, offer me nothing. No stories emerge, no powerful emotional associations, no coherence whatsoever. Nothing about this dream even suggests to me that it needs interpreting. I don’t think I’m trying to tell myself anything important right now, I’m chewing. I’m breaking down old concepts and investigating new ones, and the side effects are random because I clearly don’t have a symbolic language for this as yet, much less words I can use consciously.
How do we make radical changes to ourselves and our thoughts? If you’ve always felt or believed something, then changing it by a process of deciding to believe something else is very hard work. Beliefs send out roots and suckers into our minds, they connect to other things, and grow stories that keep them in place in our lives. You don’t just uproot and discard something like that in one go. Equally you don’t grow new concepts easily when you have no language for them, you don’t rework the stories you have without some upheaval. Possibly you do become able to change your thinking overnight. Or over many nights, more accurately.
One of the things that dreams can do is allow us to think what is otherwise, quite literally, unthinkable. By chewing on something in our dreams we can create new symbols and narratives that can gradually become available to the waking mind.
If this sounds like your sort of thing, I have a book out this summer, full of such approaches to dreaming.