Sunday, December 11, 2011

835 Dreams

This morning, I recorded my 835th dream in my dream journal. It actually appears in the journal as Dream #815, but there are exactly 20 other dreams that escaped my numbering system, either because I jotted them down in the dark and promptly lost or forgot about them, only to find them later, or because I wrote them down before the days when I actually started numbering my dreams in a journal. Some day, probably in the next year or two, I will record my one thousandth dream. And then I think I will throw a party. I'll invite anybody who ever made an appearance in one of my recorded dreams. I doubt George W. Bush or his dad will come to the party, nor Barack Obama, nor Thomas S. Monson, nor J.K. Rowling, nor that actor who played the Scarecrow in the new Batman movies. But if even half the people I know in real life who've made an appearance in one of my dreams show up, that will be quite the rockin' party!

Oddly, I have yet to have an actual dream about practicing yoga. That is really strange, because since mid-July, I've become something of a yoga addict. There's only been one week (the week of Thanksgiving) when I didn't make it to yoga class six times in seven days. (I typically go every day except Sunday.) I've recorded 68 dreams since I started practicing yoga, and in those dreams I've dreamed about work and home and teaching and church, bathing, eating, going to the bathroom, sleeping, sex. I've even dreamed about dreaming! I've dreamed about just about every activity and experience that plays an important role in my life, except yoga. Weird, huh? I'll let you know if I have a dream about yoga, but so far none.

I have a working theory about why that is. I think it's because yoga actually brings me into a state of consciousness that is similar to dreaming. (I said that I've dreamt about dreaming, so I guess that wouldn't rule out dreaming about yoga. More on that in a second, but...) In my experience, through the breathing and the physical postures of yoga, I actually do begin abandon the conscious mind and move into a more subconscious state of awareness. That's actually what they tell you you're supposed to do in yoga. My teachers encourage me to empty my mind and to focus. Actually, if you're doing yoga right, you eventually can't help it. The breathing and the postures are designed to stress your body and mind in ways that force you to empty your conscious mind and focus, if you are going to be able to continue. The achievement of that relaxed state of focus is the whole goal of yoga.

Often when I achieve that, I experience moments of pure ecstasy and inspiration, and it's not uncommon for me to re-experience dreams. Dreams that I have forgotten or partially forgotten sometimes come back to me with vividness and clarity during savasana, the resting posture we always take at the end of a yoga class. After I had experienced this a few times, I wondered if perhaps the state of consciousness achieved through yoga was not similar to or connected to the state of consciousness I experience when I'm dreaming.

My dreams about dreaming are actually exceedingly rare: I've recorded maybe 2 or 3 of them out of 835. And even these weren't technically dreams about dreaming, they were more what I would calls "dreams within dreams": dreams where you "wake up" from a dream, only to find you are still dreaming. So if my yoga practice brings me into a similar type of consciousness, that might explain why I haven't dreamt about it yet.

I recently read through all my dreams, from beginning to end. I've actually created an index of my dreams. When I have a dream, I record the date of the dream, I assign it a number, and I give it a title that is descriptive of the main character, activity, or theme of the dream. For instance, the dream I recorded this morning I titled "Universalism Debate," because the portion of the dream that had the deepest emotional resonance for me involved me trying to explain to people why I was not a Universalist. (I know, I am utterly bizarre.)

I also assign the dream a category or type. The dream type is determined by two factors: where the dream took place, and what type of role was played by the central character in the dream. (Usually I am the central character in my dreams; often it is someone else.) So, for instance, if I have a dream that takes place in Utah, and my father is the central character in the dream, I would assign that dream the "12D" type. (12 = dreams that take place "Out West," D = dreams involving a father/father figure. If I were the central character in the dream, but the dream focused on my role as a father or father figure in Utah, that would also be a 12D dream.)

All of this dream data goes into a spreadsheet I've been keeping. The spreadsheet let's me sort the dreams alphabetically or by date or by category. The main reason I reviewed all my dreams recently was to make sure I was happy with how I had categorized them. (Categorizing is a very subjective process, especially since some dreams have multiple locations and multiple important characters, and it can be difficult to figure out which are most important in the dream.) Once I had completed this review and updated my spreadsheet (with 800+ dreams, it took a couple of weeks), I generated some reports. I was curious if a statistical analysis of my recorded dream life would give me any insight. It did actually give me some helpful perspective about what kind of person I am.

One nice thing about having all my dreams recorded in electronic format is that it makes it much easier to do studies of dream symbolism. For instance, the other night I had a very striking dream (#812, "Queen of the Underworld"), which took place on a train that was speeding through the English countryside. If I wanted to research the meaning of the symbolism of being on a train, I could just do a word search on "train" or "railroad," and easily find every dream I've ever had involving a train.

So far, I've sorted my 835 dreams into roughly 250+ categories. Many of these dreams are unique -- the only type of dream of a particular category. For instance, my "Queen of the Underworld" dream is the only "15Q" dream I've ever had -- a dream that takes place in "the old world," and in which the central character (the "Queen of the Underworld") plays the role of "herald."

The most common dream category I've identified is the "3B" category: dreams whose setting is my immediate home or neighborhood, in which the central role is what I call a "communications specialist" role. I have a lot (a LOT) of dreams that involve me being a scribe/writer/communicator. I guess anybody who knows me well won't be surprised by that. Almost one in five (well, 17.49%, actually) of my dreams has this as the most important role/activity. And a little over one in five (21.44%) takes place in my home or immediate neighborhood. In roughly 3% of my dreams, these two dream elements intersect.

The more common dream settings and characters tell me about my "default" mode in life. These are the dreams I tend to find least interesting, because they are so common. But they are important, because they tell me most about who I am and what my concerns are in day-to-day life. The top four dream settings for me are: first, my immediate home/neighborhood (21%), second, downtown/work (15%), third, "out west" (California and the Intermountain West -- yep, I clock a lot of dream time in Utah) (9%), and fourth, a university/college or other institution of higher learning (8%). The top four main roles/main characters in my dreams are: first, communications specialist (17%), second, father/father figure (9%), third, researcher (9%) and fourth, fool/child (8%). (I spend a fair number of dreams being lost, confused, or desperately trying to find something!)

The more rare/exotic settings and characters are the most entertaining, partly because they are so unusual. They are the dreams that grab my attention, that I find "cool" and that I'm more likely to talk about with friends or family, or spend more time puzzling over and analyzing. The four rarest settings in my dreams are: first, the "Far East"/Pacific rim (0.8%), second, Heaven/a Heaven-like place (1.2%), third, outer space (1.3%), and fourth, Canada/"the Northwoods" (1.6%). (Yes, in my dreams I go to Canada slightly more frequently than I go to outer space.) The four most unusual main characters/roles in my dreams are: first, Jesus Christ/a Christ figure (0.4%), second, a "herald" (0.7%), third, someone in distress (0.8%) and fourth, God (0.8%).

In the past week I have intuited my angelic name while looking into the eyes of a long lost friend, used my power of flight to go in search of missing brothers in L.A., celebrated Seder with Jewish neighbors, witnessed the coming of the end of the world, exposed a polygamist plot being hatched by a corrupt Mormon mission president, hunted vampires in Eastern Europe with Göran by my side, and served as a military chaplain in Iraq, all from the comfort of my bed.

I guess when I do the math, it's slightly shocking how much time I spend recording and analyzing dreams. It's not just that it's good therapy, though often it is that, I guess (and a lot cheaper). I frequently have the experience of waking from a dream that on the surface I found rather alarming, only to puzzle over it for a while and, after taking a deeper look at its symbolism, being comforted or pleasantly surprised by the insight it offered into a difficult situation or question in my life. No matter how disturbing a dream may be to me, I've learned to get over it, and just write it all out, in all its gory detail. Sometimes it's the really weird, embarrassing stuff that holds just the key we need to understand something profound.

The day after Thanksgiving I had a dream in which I had decided that the disconnect between being gay and the world I lived in was too great, so I set off in search of a place on earth where being gay was normal. I decided to start looking in China (#801, "In Search of Gay America (in China)"). It was a sprawling dream that involved the heartbreak of leaving friends and family, getting lost in Shanghai (which, in my subconscious mind's feeble attempt at humor, had a quarter known as "Americatown"), struggling to get by in a place where no one spoke my language, but also occasionally being helped by angels in disguise (like a tall lesbian waitress dressed in white). The dream ended without me having found my destination, standing in a vast atrium in a glass building, near a fountain where the sun was shining down. A gay waiter (dressed in white like the lesbian) had led me there, and told me this was the place, but I still couldn't see it: just endless corridors heading off in different directions, and throngs of people coming and going. Maybe that was my subconscious mind's way of telling me that whatever we consider Utopia is not a place that we find ready-made for us, but a place we create through our choices.

That dream is a good symbol, though, of why I'm obsessed and fascinated by my dreams. It's about that life-long search to try to find myself in the place that's just right.


Duck said...

It never occurred to me to create a dream spreadsheet and use it to determine the meaning of the dream symbols and meanings of dreams, in general. What a brilliant idea! Thank you for sharing it.

Wow- you have worked, with great detail, to record your dreams. I am a believer in dreams and what they can tell us. And, I am a believer in the spiritual dreams that come from on high, to tell us what is going to happen.

Merry Christmas, John, to you and yours. You are a stellar writer and I love the ideas you write about. I learn so much from you and feel so blessed to have you for a friend.

love and respect, always. slp

J G-W said...

Hey Duck! I came up with the idea of categorizing the dreams on a spreadsheet after I had recorded about 100 or so dreams.

While I have never had exactly the same dream twice, I realized that there were certain themes that repeated in different dreams. I also realized that there was a kind of dream geography and a dream cast of characters in my head that was actually fairly consistent. I came up with the categorization scheme in order to more easily compare dreams that were similar to each other.

I'm glad you don't think I'm obsessive and crazy!

I do have the experience of dreams as divine communications. Not all dreams, necessarily, though every dream tells me something about me. Being attentive to my dreams I consider a spiritual practice.

Duck said...

I agree with you when you say that it is imperative to pay attention to what our dreams tell us about ourselves.

I have had many dreams that have been profound and have enlightened me, correctly, about others in my life, too. (I also have many dreams that seem to be nonsensical and silly. I do not know if they reveal things to me or are simply manifestations from meds I am on.)

Thank you, again, for another thought-provoking post. I have been thinking a lot about what you wrote. And, as soon as I can figure out how to make a spreadsheet, I am going to steal your idea and pay more attention to my own dreams.

love and respect, always. slp