Seven Things You Really Want To Know About Dreams
As a practicing psychologist, I find that my clients are fascinated by dreams. Most of them have read a little Freud, who called dreams "the royal road to the unconscious." Freud believed dreams can help us access our innermost thoughts; our fears, wishes, and desires. Think of dreams as a window into our unconscious life. They can be humorous, erotic, tantalizing or terrifying.
When I came up with the premise of the Dream Club Mysteries, I envisioned a group of Savannah women who would meet once a week to eat some fabulous Southern desserts and talk about their dreams. And of course, they would solve a murder or two in every book. I thought this might be an intriguing plot device and could pave the way for some interesting characterization.
As the women reveal their dreams, they realize that they held hidden clues to the crime scene, usually in symbolic form. Sometimes they even uncover the identity of the murderer. But were these clues really "revelations" from the subconscious or merely coincidences? I remembered Freud's claim, "There are no coincidence." I chose to sidestep the question and leave it up to the reader to decide.
When I'm asked to speak on dreams, I find that people have strong beliefs--and sometimes misconceptions -- about dreams. Here are a few questions I've come across.
1.Can you only dream about things you've experienced in real life?
No, of course not. Anything can happen in a dream. You can take on a new persona, explore lands both real and imaginary, and have adventures worthy of Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean. Since dreams are not subject to time and space constraints, you can share a plate of marrons with Marie Antoinette ("Let them eat cake!") one night and be part of the first space mission ("Houston, we have a problem") the following evening.
2. Isn't it true that our bodies don't respond to our dreams? We continue to slumber, unaware that our minds are playing out a little fantasy in our sleep.
This is false. Think about the last time you did something physical in your dream. Were you climbing a mountain or swinging from a zip line like Angelina Jolie? Your blood pressure may soar, your heartbeat may ratchet up a notch, and your chest probably felt tight. If you awake in the middle of an "action" dream, just take a few deep breaths and everything will return to normal in a few minutes. On the other hand, what if you're dreaming of lounging in a meadow, taking in the sweet scent of honeysuckle as you thumb through a book of poetry? Your body will show signs that you are indeed at rest. Your heart rate will ratchet down a notch and your breathing will become slower as your mind enjoy this respite from the cares of the day.
3. What does it mean if a dead relative appears to me in a dream? Does it mean I'm going to die?
No, not at all. When people dream of a loved one who has passed, they usually experience a sense of joy and peace. It reassures them to know that their friends, relatives, and spouses really do exist on another plane. Invariably, the loved one appears to be in perfect health, happy, and relaxed, with no sorrow or cares.
4. Sometimes I dream about a beautiful house. What does it mean?
The "House Dream" is very common and well documented. The house is supposed to represent all the untapped potential in your life. All the rooms are bright and airy, and dreamers report that they seem to stretch on forever.
5.Sometimes when I'm dreaming, I'm suddenly aware that I'm dreaming. I can choose to end the dream if I want to. Is this common?
This is called "lucid dreaming" and most people aren't capable of doing it, but it's an interesting phenomenon. With practice, you can become proficient at it.
6.I have vivid, violent nightmares. What causes them?
Some medications increase the likelihood of "disturbing dreams." Also, many people experience nightmares at times of great stress in their lives.
7. Sometimes I find myself dreaming about being stranded in a strange city at night. I have no car, no money, and no way to get home.
This is a classic anxiety dream. The dreamer feels alone and vulnerable and this usually occurs when things seem to be "spinning out of control" in real life.
Whether or not you're a "believer," it's fun to explore our dreams and try to decipher what they really mean, as the women in the Dream Club do. The members like to think that they are uncovering clues to solving murders in Savannah and they seem to have had some success. They combine intuition with solid sleuthing skills and some dream work. But do clues from their dreams really solve crimes? Is it luck, or coincidence or a combination of the two? Again, I leave it to the reader to decide.
Mary Kennedy is the national best-selling author of more than forty novels. She is a psychologist in private practice on the East Coast and lives with her husband and eight neurotic cats. Both husband and cats have resisted all her attempts to psychoanalyze them, but she remains optimistic. You can visit her at www.marykennedy.net