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In Dreams Begin Illumination

Ours might be the first civilization that pays no heed to our dreams, those semi-silent, highly personal, psychologically rich nightly weavings that are both fresh and repetitive, manufactured purely by us and for us, then completely ignored by us.

It’s not the only aspect of the natural world that we pay no attention to, because none of us spend so much as a minute a month gazing at the night-time stars. Looking at the stars and planets might have been our ancestors’ earliest awareness of what we’d someday call science, morphing from astrology to astronomy to landing on the moon to satellite telescopes capable of photographing the past.

Americans pay no heed to stars or dreams. But unlike the cosmos, there is no equipment equivalent to the James Webb telescope in assisting even the laziest of us who are busy ignoring our dreams.

Let’s suppose we had no dreams. Suppose we slept coma-like through our nights with no more mental stimulation than a cactus or an iceberg.

Then an astonishing new technology arrived. An app-like device became available allowing us to tap into our subconscious and receive nightly audio and visual messages of ourselves in familiar, and/or bizarre circumstances. Revelations we could recognize from our past, and other intimations suggesting our future would provide personal hallucinatory visions we could interpret as we wished.

How much money would we be willing to pay for such an instrument? And why do we ignore it when it’s free?

A few years ago, spurred by having read Sigmund Freud’s book The Interpretation of Dreams, I started keeping sloppily written, fragmented accounts of my dreams. It was at a time I arose several times nightly, and I used the interruptions to pause and scrawl recollections of what had been streaming through my mind a few minutes earlier.

I quickly discovered my dreamy episodes occurred far more often than I ever knew, and next I found that writing down even the scantest memories brought more and more detail to mind.

Some personal specifics were apparent:

1) My son and daughter, both now comfortably snuggled into middle age, appear frequently in my dreams but only as little children; Emily at around 7 years old, Lucas is maybe 4 or 5. (In “real life” they are separated by 10 years.)

2) The most common thread running through my nocturnal imaginations is that I wait. I never actually do anything in my dreams, despite preparations that continue until I awaken.

Whether I’m destined to drive a race car, bat cleanup, meet a celebrity, make a speech or receive an award, nothing ever happens, or even begins. I’m waiting for the bus, or for the opening kickoff, or to walk across the narrow wooden bridge, or get through the line at Walmart. I accomplish none of it.

All my life I have spent my dream(s) waiting.

3) That if I keep diligent track of my dreams they become more clear and detailed. What we recollect over morning coffee is often along the lines of “Well, I was following some guy who was Kip, I guess, and it was in Willits except there were big tall buildings in the distance, and then I think maybe you were in it but maybe not. I don’t know.”

Seem about right?

But keep track of your dreams by putting things down and believe me, more and more details emerge as you write. Entire scenarios and story lines come into focus as you recall how Kip got out of cab ahead of you and you’d both been at some kind of circus, and next you were standing on top of a building overlooking a huge city, eating peanuts and tossing shells to seals.

Your dreams will become rich and textured. Recurring scenes, images and anxieties will become apparent and open, and you’ll be able to dissect them at your leisure with increased clarity and understanding.

But maybe we don’t have time to pick at our subconscious. We’re too busy, and the distractions too many as we get blasted daily, hourly, nonstop by meaningless messages.

Fashion updates, news bulletins, ceaseless advertising conspire and succeed at diverting our attention; we haven’t time to think about our lives or purpose or happiness. Not with the 49ers on ESPN at 8 o’clock!

And to lay on our backs in some big meadow gazing at the stars is for another era, maybe back when Aristotle and Cleopatra and Genghis Kahn gathered together each night to puzzle out constellations overhead, hoping to glean meaning from the semi-hidden configurations.

Perhaps those answers and revelations would come later, in the wee hours, during their nightly dreams, all to be examined and pondered come next morning.

(Tom Hine offers a tip: If someone recounting a dream tells you of loud explosions, trains crashing over a cliff or people screaming as the Ferris Wheel collapses, that person is lying. There are no loud noises in dreams. If you hear a dog barking in your sleep you will awaken to the sound of a neighbor dog’s howling. TWK has no dreams and no life but a bright future.) 


  1. jonah raskin January 29, 2023

    “In dreams begin responsibility.”
    Irish poet William Butler Yeats

  2. Chuck Dunbar January 29, 2023

    Nicely done, interesting perspective on dreams and their role in illumination, and how easy it is in modern times to lose this long-known truth.

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