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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Disturbing Dreams

Last night I woke up from another of my scarier dreams, a recurring one of being caught unprepared for an important assignment.

In this one I am about to bring the morning message at my former church, only to realize I have left all of my well-prepared notes at home. Since there is no time left to retrieve them, I’m in a state of near panic. And to make matters worse, I can neither remember my text nor get my thoughts together on another suitable topic I might speak on extemporaneously. My mind is blank.

A variation of the same theme involves my coming to a class I am to teach (usually at Eastern Mennonite High School, where I worked part time for many years) and being completely unprepared. In one case, I am without my class outline or any other introductory material, and the students in the class simply walk out. I am powerless to do anything about it.

Another dream theme has to do with my suddenly realizing I have neglected, often for days or weeks, some important responsibility. This may involve taking care of someone’s farm animals, in which I become aware that cows haven’t been milked, chickens haven’t been fed, major chores haven’t been attended to, and I’m totally at fault for failing to do what I had promised. Or I am supposed to teach a class or lead a seminar somewhere and somehow fail to show up.

Some experts believe dreams simply result from random firing of neurons in our brain, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Others assume every detail in a dream has revelatory meaning.

The truth probably lies somewhere in between. The characters, setting, emotions and actions playing out in our late-night “theaters of the mind” may each have something separate to say about what’s weighing on us, but the way they are put together may have little coherence or relevance.

Some believe dreams provide much needed release of distressed emotions for which we’re not finding suitable outlets. Studies in which subjects have been deprived of the REM sleep associated with dreaming, for example, tend to develop highly disturbed and even psychotic symptoms, suggesting that dreaming serves a therapeutic function.

In my case, I’m sure my scary dreams represent some of my very worst fears, like those of being humiliated, shamed and/or disgraced. So if occasional nightmare dreams can help flush some of those out of my system, I can live with that.

And waking up after one of them offers such sweet relief.

P.S. I'd welcome your comments on dreams!
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