I am trying to remember what I dreamt this morning. I used to be able to recall my dreams, but my memory doesn’t work the same anymore. Now I’m often left with only the ghost of emotions stirred in my sleep. All I can remember of this morning is waking and drifting and waking again, trying to shake off the dream and falling back into it, literally trying to shake myself awake. This took nearly an hour, from the time my alarm went off to the time I finally opened my eyes to reassuring sunlight.
The times we live in are not conducive to restful sleep. Although I have been sleeping through most nights, thank goodness, since the pandemic flooded the world, I often wake in a haze of angst. I’ll know the images of my dreams for a few seconds, maybe, then lose them in the light, in the prayers I recite upon waking, in the struggle to recall which day this is. Perhaps I should start writing them down when I wake, a practice I’ve used in the past to decipher myself.
Of course, my angst’s source is no mystery. Corona haunts us all. Deadly racism, the nightmare of too many fellow Americans of color, now demands attention from the rest of us, sleepwalking far too long. Our country is riven by rumors, conspiracies, distrust of difference. Our planet is suffocating. A free and fair election, my one hope for healing our democracy and saving our world, is in danger of disruption by those who place love of power over love of country.
Perhaps I forget my dreams these days because my conscious mind is protecting me. Why rehash in the day what I’ve already processed in the night? But my writer’s insistent curiosity wants to know: What is going on? What metaphor is my brain conjuring? What am I trying to tell myself?
I once heard an interview with the psychologist Frederick “Fritz” Perls, the founder of Gestalt therapy. He described each element of a dream as an aspect of the self. To understand it, he said, you query the element, you act out the elements in the dream. In so doing, the dreamer discovers her own interpetation. The answers can be surprisingly revelatory.
Unraveled, the dream can also become banal, the angst, simply a restatement of the known. Just as a fear that is faced is often defused, so, too, with dreams.
So, what am I trying to tell myself? In her book, The Third Reich of Dreams: The nightmares of a nation, 1933-1939, author Charlotte Beradt wrote of the dreams she collected from fellow Germans as the Nazis consolidated power:
Set against a background of disintegrating values and an environment whose very fabric was becoming warped, these dreams are permeated by a reality whose quality is unreal—a combination of thought and conjecture in which rational details are brought into fantastic juxtapositions and thereby made more, rather than less, coherent; where ambiguities appear in a context that nonetheless remains explicable, and latent as well as unknown and menacing forces are all made a part of everyday life.
One would think I’d be keeping a journal of this extraordinary period of history, when so much is at stake. Writing is intrinsic to my soul. But I haven’t been able to bring myself to do so. I don’t know why. Perhaps recording my dreams is the place to start.
This post was inspired by a collection of “20 Dreams for 2020” by the New York Times (June 12, 2020).
Image: Jr Korpa