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Life in a time of covid-19 - part 12: dreaming





You know that lazy afternoon feeling - sitting on a hillside/beach/boat/at a table on the pavement outside a cafe/bar - mug/glass of something hot/chilled in your hand - clouds slowly sliding across a blue sky - a gentle zephyr of a breeze dancing through your hair - and nothing to do but sit and stare? That feeling when your thoughts succumb to day-dreams and your eyes close and real dreams start to unroll inside your head. 
Has anyone else noticed that social isolation has a similar effect - all-be-it one laden with anxiety and punctuated - like big fat rain drops tumbling out of the sky - with frustration? The lazy afternoon bliss of holiday freedom replaced by the lazy afternoon en-trappment of a global pandemic, but both tipping us into our dreams. So, this becomes another day for dreaming. Like yesterday. And the day before. And then for dreaming about dreaming. And perhaps for asking, 'What is a dream?'

Dream - definition: noun - a fantasy of the imagination occurring when sleeping. The verb to dream is to experience, in sequence, the thoughts and emotions and story of the fantasy. Dreaming is therefore experiencing the dream; seeing it play in your mind's eye. Because you are incapacitated by being asleep, it is a bit like watching a film, where you are embedded as the main character but don't appear to be completely in control of what happens. You struggle to control your limbs; you can't do anything fast, like running or swimming or climbing. But you can fall fast ... which has always struck me as being odd. Everything slows down in a dream, apart from the things chasing you, or you the moment you fall off a cliff, or down a hole. I guess it's the experiences we know; the ones we have learnt that play in slow motion, but the feared ones can hit the speed button, because they exist only in our imagination. I'm not an expert in psychology, or the field of dreams, so - in this amateur interpretation - I may be wrong!

However - and pushing the perplexing landscape of dream activities aside - a quick bit of internet research reveals that dreams and dreaming can essentially be clumped into three groups -

There's the 'what did you dream about last night' category of dream. What did it mean? Did it mean anything? And why do we dream in our sleep anyway? This type of dreaming is probably top of everyone's list when given the words dream and dreaming to think about.
We can turn the why do we dream question round a little and ask instead do our dreams have a purpose - are they helpful?
Psychologists think dreaming can help manage our mental health - they speculate that we dream to rehearse our responses to certain situations. If we are anxious about an exam, for example, we might dream about turning the paper over and not recognising any of the questions - this is my most frequently recurring nightmare. The argument goes that by rehearsing this scenario in a dream, we have practised the associated emotions and if when awake this situation arises, we will be calmer, less anxious and better able to cope. Maybe - I think I'd still panic in a real life version of my exam nightmare situation.
A more obvious flaw in this explanation, surely, are the falling dreams - they always, in my experience, end with a jolt awake. How will that prepare for a real life fall? Unless the jolt awake is a jolt into a new wakefulness, in a new reality, beyond life ... but I don't really believe that; do you?
Have you ever tried to get back into a dream? Perhaps you want to know what happens next; perhaps you want to change something you did during the dream; perhaps your dream therapist wants you to rehearse difficult situations; perhaps the dream was in a setting or with people you miss and you want to get back to that place or those people; perhaps life in the dream was better than life awake - perhaps, you find yourself thinking this

"When I waked, I cried to dream again." 

Caliban, Tempest; William Shakespeare 

Next - and this is in no particular order, other than my own - there's the 'what do you dream of' dream. The hopes, aspirations, longing type of dream. Currently, I think we're all dreaming of hugs with loved ones; of travel to holiday destinations; of life not impacted by coronavirus and social isolation and endless politics and debate and worry. In the past - maybe still now - we might have dreamt of being fitter, of living in a dream house, having a dream job, of writing a book and having it published, of graduating, of finding a dream partner. Now, seeing beyond today into a better tomorrow is dream enough. If we've learnt nothing else over the past few weeks, it is that our dreamed of things can be smaller; we can reign in our ambitions and hopes and make them more achievable, more realistic but no less valuable. We should dream of things that make a difference. Dream of the 'I can' things not the 'I might but probably won't' ones. The I can dreams will deliver on self esteem and wellbeing in bucket loads. The I might ones - which, after all, are actually 'I want' dreams - will only deliver resentment and hopelessness and jealousy. So, take my advice and don't dream them.

It's inevitable that dreams of any sort at a time of pandemics or wars can look hopeless. They tend to look back at distant times when life was easier and the world recognisable and safe. They risk taking you down a rabbit hole like this one -

"I dreamed a dream in time gone by
When hope was high and life worth living
..But there are dreams that cannot be
And there are storms we cannot weather"

Claude-Michel Schonberg et al

While these are poetic, song lyrics of despair, we must look to our own mental health. We must not let life kill the dreams we dream. We need to find new ways of dreaming again and making our dreams hopeful. And realistic. We could start with little steps. Small achievable dreams. Things we know; tangible, easy to measure achievements. Once these small, daily dreams are lived and met, we can start to build ourselves bigger dreams. Bigger things to dream of. Bigger hopes. But we must remember that now as always, success in our dreams, like success in anything, is built on a foundation of many, many smaller failures and some of our dreams will not be fulfilled. Dreaming and then dreaming on will take effort. It always has -

"All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them."

Walt Disney

Finally, in my catalogue of dreams, there's Dreamtime - the aboriginal belief in ancestors and why we're here and how the earth, the sky, the sea, rivers and lakes and springs, and the wind came to be. And what our purpose is here on earth. And how that purpose has inspired wonderful, distinctive, earthy, and in my opinion, deeply comforting aboriginal art: it touches something deep in our collective memory of simpler days, and an un-burdened, child-like respect and regard for our home, our planet and our duty to protect it.
Whatever we choose to believe - in religion, humanity, ancestors - the big changes in our lives and in our history come about when we dream together.

"A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality."

John lennon

So we dream; I dream. I dream of all sorts of things. Awake and asleep. I prefer the daydreams, the dreaming of dreams to the nightmares. I dream of long dog walks with family members I haven't seen for too many weeks. I dream of holding my children; of buying a flat-white and sitting on a pavement people-watching. I dream of browsing in a book shop and touching the books there. I dream of taking my eyes to an art gallery and wandering for a few restful hours lost in the worlds of paintings and drawings. I dream of visiting a garden and being inspired by planting plans and buying plants to take home. I dream of meeting my friends and of shared meals. I dream of all sorts of things. I dream of better times. I dream of these things and tears fill my eyes -

I cry very easily .. tears are words waiting to be written.

Paulo Coelho

Have you ever watched someone asleep and dreaming? Someone ... or some dog - Bertie Baggins, for example, asleep here on the kitchen floor; paws twitching as he snorts and snuffles, chasing ... what? A pigeon, perhaps; a rabbit; a windfall apple rolling away from its tree; or the 'gooseberry man' ... yes, a little man with a gooseberry head - tufty bit on top; a body of two gooseberries, segmented like a wasp; and limbs of gnarly, twiggy bits of broken gooseberry bush, wearing a crinkle-edged smock of grey lichen, as he sprints up the garden screaming, 'You can't catch me!' 
I dream - you see - of a garden where Bertie Baggins and Four-legged-friend don't eat everything?! They can strip a gooseberry bush in one munch-ful afternoon. And did last year, every bush!


Looking at that photograph ... perhaps I should dream of a world with cleaner windows!






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