Basketball Dream Diary #4: My Blazers Hat

Basketball Dream Diary #4: My Blazers Hat by Kelly BulkeleyOf SUVs, prosperous males, and watching witches.

On Monday night, the Blazers beat the Toronto Raptors, 118-113, in an exciting, closely-fought contest. The Raptors came out hot, taking a 13-3 lead before the game was barely two minutes old. The Blazers looked slow and hesitant, the Raptors young and springy. Damien Lillard had missed the previous game with a nagging abdominal injury, and even though he was starting tonight, he did not look 100% healthy. The Raptors’ brilliant small forward, Og Anunoby, made four 3-point shots in the first quarter alone, as Toronto soon pushed their lead to fourteen. But Portland gradually figured it out and got themselves back into the game. They mostly gave up on playing their two biggest guys, Jusuf Nurkic and Cody Zeller, and went instead with a rotation of smaller players who could keep up with the Raptors’ speed. Larry Nance, Jr., played especially well off the bench, scoring 15 points and making an impact at both ends of the court. He’s someone who’s big enough to defend the post in a small-ball lineup, and quick enough to take a rebound and dribble up court like a point guard on a fast break. This was a great game for him. C.J. McCollum was stellar as usual, with 29 points, 5 assists, and one amazing block at the rim. Despite being double-teamed every time he touched the ball, Damien finally warmed up and scored 24 points to go with 8 assists. He and C.J. each played 40 of the 48 minutes, a heavy load. But the Blazers bench made the difference in the game, with ten guys in the rotation throwing a constant series of new looks and fresh bodies at the Raptors, who only had one guy off the bench with significant time. Their starters all played 38+ minutes, and at the end of the close game, they didn’t have enough juice to overcome Portland’s two all-star guards and good-enough team defense.

Later that night, I had the following dream:

My Blazers Hat

Someone gives me a Blazers hat….it says “Suvvies” on it? Or the person says that when they give it to me?….I do like the gift, but that word is weird….Later, I see written on a paper to my left, “The witches are watching”….

(11/15/21)

Upon awakening, I didn’t see much meaning to this. Last night while I was getting dressed before the game, putting on a Blazers t-shirt and red-and-black Nike shoes (they haven’t lost yet when I’ve worn this pair), I had noticed a Blazers hat in my closet. I bought it earlier in the season, but immediately regretted it, as I realized I didn’t like the way it fit and looked. A twinge of self-criticism about the hat lingered after I closed my closet door and set off for the game.

The word “Suvvies” seems to be a way of saying multiple SUVs, like sports utility vehicles. When I was first thinking about it after waking, I wondered if “Suvvies” might be a variation on “Subbies,” which might refer to “substitutes,” and thus a reference to the Blazers bench players…?

Hmm.

If the dream wanted the hat to say “Subbies,” it would have done so. But the hat says “Suvvies,” apparently referring to SUVs. I don’t drive an SUV, but going in and out of stadium traffic last night, I was surrounded by them. In cultural terms, SUVs bespeak size, power, self-protection, and a disregard for fuel efficiency. Their prevalence at the game made me think of a recent survey I commissioned about dreams and interest in sports (full analysis and discussion to come), in which my first scan of the results found that high interest in sports correlates with, among other factors, being male, having a high income, and having a higher educational degree.

Hmm.

Then I start thinking about the symbolism of the hat. And I remember that the first dream of Wolfgang Pauli’s that Jung analyzes in his text on dream symbolism and alchemy is about a hat: “the dreamer is at a social gathering. On leaving, he puts on a stranger’s hat instead of his own.” Jung says the hat in general epitomizes the head, “the leading idea,” covering the whole personality. He referred to rituals of royal coronation in which a crown is placed on the sovereign’s head as an emblem of the solar disc. In Pauli’s case (which I’m writing about in my in-progress book The Scribes of Sleep, so it’s not such a random association), Jung interpreted the hat as a prefiguration of the mandala, symbolizing the whole actualization of the personality. What seems strange to Pauli in his dream is in fact the gradual emergence of his true Self, from which his waking ego is currently alienated.

Hmm.

And then, in my dream, there are the witches. Three of them, at least. I don’t actually see them, I’m just aware of their presence as I read their words on the paper. So, does this mean that while I am watching the basketball games, the witches are watching me? As I immerse myself in a realm favored by other prosperous, socially powerful males, am I drawing the attention of darker anima energies at the other end of the psychological spectrum? Do the witches have other ideas about proper coverings for one’s head?

 

The Jumbotron Critique of Lucid Dreaming

The Jumbotron Critique of Lucid Dreaming by Kelly BulkeleyAs a dream researcher, I try to promote public interest in dreaming and its many exciting possibilities. And yet also as a dream researcher, I try to highlight potential problems and misleading claims that can do more public harm than good. This creates a dilemma with the topic of lucid dreaming, which is increasingly popular and yet has pitfalls and drawbacks that its advocates rarely mention or even seem to know exist.

The crux of the problem is this. Lucid dreaming as experienced by people in present-day Western society is not equivalent to the practices of consciousness in dreaming among non-Western cultural traditions through history. Anyone who suggests otherwise is very likely trying to add an appealing veneer of foreign exoticism to an essentially modern Western practice.

To explain what I mean by “an essentially modern Western practice,” here’s an analogy that came to mind while attending a recent NBA game: Lucid dreaming is like a basketball player who stops in the middle of the game, finds a television camera, and then spends all his time posing so he can see himself on the Jumbotron video screens hanging down in the center of the arena. It is self-centered, self-inflating behavior that disrupts the spontaneous creative flow of the game/dream and substitutes ego grandiosity for immersive play and openness to new experience.

This is not how other cultures have approached consciousness within dreaming. In Hindu and Buddhist traditions, for example, the goal of dream awareness is conceived as an extension of the spiritual discipline of meditation—a process of dissolving the ego, not pumping it up. In the shamanic traditions of Siberia, Australia, and the Americas, conscious awareness within dreaming is motivated by the desire to serve one’s community through healing, gaining knowledge, and communicating with the ancestors. Many of the “witches” persecuted by the Inquisition in medieval Europe were agrarian mystics whose plant-based methods aimed to stimulate consciousness in dreaming as a path towards deeper natural wisdom and spiritual maturity.

By contrast, people in the modern West often approach lucid dreaming with the goal of extending their individual feelings of ego gratification and control over reality. Hence the Jumbotron analogy: Look at me, look at me, I’m dreaming and I can see myself dreaming! In many other cultural traditions through history, this would be regarded as an entirely trivial insight that would be dismissed as a distraction from more important pursuits.

I can imagine friends and colleagues responding to this critique by saying they teach their students precisely what I’m suggesting as an alternative—a slower, more self-reflective approach, with less emphasis on ego control and more on opening one’s awareness to the dream world. Yet this misses the bigger point about the distinctive cultural environment of the modern West, an environment that prods, spurs, and stimulates in countless ways people’s desires for personal pleasure and fantasies of control. Whatever teachers of lucid dreaming are saying, many modern Westerners are hearing what they have been culturally prepared to hear, which is that “going lucid” in dreams is fun because it can give you a new experiential rush of control and power. To ignore the realities of this context is sociologically naïve and does no credit to the field of dream research.

If you happen to be someone who lives in the modern West and feels curious about lucid dreaming, what can you do that is true and authentic to your context? Here are three questions to ask yourself.

First, have you paid any attention to your non-lucid dreams? If not, I wonder if your interest has anything to do with actual dreams, rather than the various fantasies you’ve heard are possible in lucid dreaming. Instead of rushing into aggressive practices to induce lucidity, maybe you can use that energy first to follow your dreams over time and observe their natural, spontaneous patterns of content. Pay attention to what is happening, rather than pushing so hard to make something else happen.

Are you engaged in any serious meditation or prayer practices? If not, I wonder if you have done enough to prepare for the kinds of experiences and sensations that can arise in lucid dreams. In most non-Western traditions, people take years to train their minds for effective dreaming consciousness. Have you been doing any kind of preparatory practices like that?

Do you have a teacher, guru, or therapist who has been working with you for a long time? If not, what happens if you get in over your head? Who would tell you if you were? Again, most non-Western traditions provide specially trained guides who help newcomers navigate their personal paths into these expansive realms of dreaming. In almost all cases, the path requires shedding the individual ego and throwing oneself wholeheartedly into a larger dynamic interplay of unconscious power, intelligence, and intentionality.

In other words, you can’t move forward on the path of enlightened dreaming if you’re stuck at the beginning, staring at yourself on the Jumbotron.

 

Note: this post first appeared in Psychology Today on November 9, 2021.

Basketball Dream Diary #3: Fans

Basketball Dream Diary #3: Fans by Kelly BulkeleyThe Blazers beat the Memphis Grizzlies, 116-96, last Wednesday night, to even their season’s record at 2 wins and 2 losses. They played excellent defense and held Ja Morant, the Grizzlies’ young star guard, to 17 points, half of what he had been averaging the first few games of the season. The Blazers had a strong second half, with more amazing dance-and-shoot moves from C.J. McCollum, who plays with astonishing grace and fluidity. He excels at step-back jumpers, mid-lane floaters, sneaky inside drives, and quick-release 3-pointers, always hunting for the spots where he knows he can elevate and hit his shot. Damien Lillard played well enough on offense to give C.J. room to maneuver, which seems to be part of the season’s overall design. And the bench continues to gain in confidence and cohesion. There was a great play towards the end of the game when Dennis Smith, Jr. took a C.J. Elleby outlet and made a touch pass to Greg Brown for an alley-oop dunk. Everybody loves to see that.

Again, the question arises: Is this the real team? Or maybe the question should be instead: Is there even such a thing as “the real team”? It seems every other franchise in the league has already had at least one truly great game, and at least one shocking clunker. Every fan now has good reason to hope their team can make a championship run, if their guys can just play the way they played in that one game… And also, every fan now has good reason to fear the whole thing could collapse in a second, and their team tumble into the bottom ranks, especially should one of their key players gets injured, which in the NBA in recent years has felt like a matter of “when” rather than “if.”

None of this made any apparent impact on my dreaming imagination that night. Instead of dreaming about the game, I dreamed about the experience of attending and watching the game with other fans:

Jane Fonda at the Center

 A group is helping Jane Fonda with something inside a place….She is happy, being treated like a VIP….Everyone is trying to take good care of her, she is smiling in the center of it all….

(10/27/21)

The dream quickly brought to my mind two aspects of the game-attendance experience I had noted the previous night. First, the efficient staff at Moda Center, from ushers to security staff to entertainers to servers, all of whom have been doing an excellent job of making people feel happy and well-treated, like VIPs. Second, the shameless antics in which people will engage to attract the attention of the television cameras, with the ultimate goal of simultaneously performing and seeing oneself performing on the jumbotron screens hanging over the center of the arena. To give people the feeling of being a happy VIP at the center of it all—that’s clearly considered by fans and stadium alike as a highly desirable feature of attending a Blazers game. Live and let live, I usually say to myself during a break in the on-court action when the TV cameras roam through the crowd to find the most wildly dressed and/or dancing people for their three seconds on the jumbotron. What do I care if the world is sinking into a vortex of narcissism, and people are lost in screen-mediated labyrinths of their own egos? So what? No harm, no foul. The game will start again in a few seconds….

This whisper of misanthropic negativity towards my fellow Blazer fans seems to have evoked later that night a surprising dream response, in the form of Jane Fonda. I can say with confidence that I have never dreamed of Jane Fonda before. Nor does she appear often in other people’s dreams (just 1 reference in the 30K+ dream reports of the SDDb). Yet here she is at the center of my dream the night following an excellent, highly satisfying Blazers victory.

Hmm….

An unusual, anomalous character like this raises the question, why her rather than anyone else? What are the qualities of Jane Fonda, in my own mind at least, that make her a singular figure?

Overall, I suppose I have a positive impression of Jane Fonda. In fact, I’d say I admire her. She’s a very talented actress, a cultural innovator, a passionate advocate, a courageous risk-taker, a source of surprise and wonder. She is physically beautiful and has remained so throughout her life. She has courted controversy, defied authorities, and made very public mistakes. Some people find her unbearably annoying.

Hmm….

Would I describe her as a narcissist? That seems too harsh. But I would say she has a very healthy and robust sense of her own importance, which seems consistent with what transpires and how she behaves in my dream.

Aha!

Maybe Jane Fonda embodies a spirit of courageous creativity that I admire, even if it generates flak and friction from others—myself included. Can I recognize that same spirit in the Blazer fans around me? Can I stop rolling my eyes and appreciate their creative energy, too? Their unusual talents and risk-taking aesthetics? Their willingness to provide others with three seconds of surprise and wonder?

That makes sense and feels like it carries forward the energy of the dream. And yet, it does seem like there’s more….

Hmm….

Okay. Can I also recognize my own yearning for public attention here? My inner Jane Fonda, my unconscious desire to be a VIP at the center of everything, smiling and happy? Can I turn the critical analysis of my fellow fans around and see how I am projecting my concerns onto them? Am I anxious about my own fortunate status as a “VIP,” by being able to attend so many games this season? Yes, that’s in there, too.

Two nights later, the Blazers hosted the Los Angeles Clippers, who had crushed Portland by 30 points. This would be a chance for the Blazers to show they can bounce back from that kind of loss. And they did, beating the Clippers 111-92 in convincing fashion, even though their star forward Paul George III scored 42 points. Damien Lillard played his best game of the season, scoring 25 points to go with 6 assists. A winning brand of Blazers basketball is emerging: good team defense, hustle rebounding, a deep bench, and so many offensive weapons that someone is bound to have a hot hand. It was a very entertaining game, and promising for the future of the season.

That night I had a dream that carried forward the theme from the previous one:

The VIPs Behind Me

I going to my seat at the Blazers game, and there are complications and confusing aspects with the ticket and my phone….hmm, this is stressful….but I get there, it is all going to be good….But several other people, VIPs, one of them former President Trump, have come up behind me, and they want to pass me and go ahead….I say no, you have to wait, we will all get there in time….

(10/29/21)

I did have phone troubles at home before game, trying to get my ticket to appear on the screen. Everything was fine once I got to the game, but I must admit I felt very anxious waiting in line at the arena, because what if it happens again? That’s a very uncomfortable prospect, of fumbling with my phone while other people wait in line behind me, growing increasingly frustrated. A true nightmare.

Hmm….

It suddenly made me think of waiting in line to get on an airplane, the same feeling of anxiously making sure my papers and documents are in order, standing in a closely-packed crowd of people with whom I am about to share several hours in an enclosed space. Trying to be diplomatic, managing my own discomfort, biting my tongue at the rudeness of some of those around me, keeping an eye open for possible bogeys who might snap and cause serious disruption…. And yet unlike an airplane, the people coming into the arena are expecting to yell and scream, not sit quietly; to express their individual passions, not comply with federal regulations; to drink as much as they want and eat as much as they want and get up and down as much as they want.

Hmm….

The ex-President’s appearance adds metaphorically to the feeling of an increasingly rowdy, mostly male crowd wanting something it believes it is owed and yet being unfairly denied. And I’m blocking them, slowing them down, standing in their way.

Hmm….

The dream does suggest that there is a potential for all fans to get what they desire, if they can just show a little patience. The line is moving, slowly but surely. My troubles have been fixed, and everyone will arrive where they need to go in plenty of time. I say this to all the other people who act as if they are VIPs and should get special treatment, at Moda Center and elsewhere; I also say this to myself, insofar as the ex-President represents at some level my own selfish impatience in these situations, my own temptation towards arrogant, boorish VIP behavior. Whoever we are, however fast we move, wherever we sit, and whatever we do when we get there, can we all come together as fans to enjoy the game?

Basketball Dream Diaries #2: The First Two Games

Basketball Dream Diaries #2: The First Two Games by Kelly BulkeleyThe day before the opening game of the Trailblazers’ 2021-2022 season, I was bothered by something I read online about Damien Lillard, Portland’s best player. The article ranked him lower among the league’s top players than I think he deserves; it dinged him for his defense, and emphasized the catastrophe that would befall the Blazers should he ever leave. The tone of the article reflected the very low expectations people seem to have for Portland’s performance this season. The Blazers hired a new head coach, Chauncey Billups, who has never held that role before, but whose previous assistant coaching focused on defense, and that’s where the Blazers most needed to improve (tied for 3rd best team in the league in offensive efficiency last year, but 19th in the league in defensive efficiency). Otherwise, Portland made no big roster moves during the off-season. They let Carmelo Anthony go, which I thought was too bad, he had a great run with the Blazers the past couple years. They re-signed their big mid-season acquisition from last year, shooting guard Norman Powell, which is certainly good. They added several new players to the bench, including two big guys who play great defense, Cody Zeller and Larry Nance, Jr.

What’s not to like? The fear is that it doesn’t add up to enough in an NBA that gets faster and more skilled every year. Yes, Damien and C.J. McCollum will score points. But will the rest of the team be able to perform at championship-levels of competition? Nothing that happens in the preseason should cause too much anxiety, but losing all four games didn’t help in calming the worrisome vibes as the first game approached.

The Sacramento Kings were the visiting team. Led by veteran Harrison Barnes, they have lots of quick, young, talented players who clearly want to change their reputation as one of the league’s weakest teams. They certainly succeeded in gaining new respect from the Blazers, who lost in a very dispiriting fashion, 124-121. Portland played terribly for the first three quarters, made a comeback in the fourth, then fell short as Damien missed a last-second 3-point shot. For the game, Damien missed all nine of his 3-point attempts. Ouch. The team had no chemistry, and looked slow and out of tempo. The defense was awful.

Prospects of a truly disastrous season suddenly loomed. What if the Blazers had suddenly dropped into the lower ranks of the league? What would that mean for Damien and C.J., who have been the subject of trade talk throughout the off-season? Watching a franchise go through a sudden decline is a very, very painful experience for a fan…

That night after the game, I had this dream:

Will Damien Be Distracted?

Damien Lillard goes onto the basketball court with a gift someone gave him, a white rectangular box with a few things in it….He is happy, but I am confused….Won’t this distract him from the game?….

(10/21/21)

The dream made me think back to the opening ceremony before the game started, when Damien stepped to center court and spoke to the crowd. He welcomed everyone back to live action (yay!), and promised the team would try hard, even if the initial results might not be pretty to watch (hmm).  The announcer thanked him as “Dame D.O.L.L.A.,” his musical pseudonym (double hmm). Now that I thought about it in light of the dream, it struck me at the time as a strange moment, breaking the fourth wall to reach out and lower our expectations, while gesturing towards his career beyond basketball. Damien is the not just the leader of the Blazers, but also the unquestioned athletic Alpha of the city, so it felt jarring somehow to hear him talk like this.

In the dream, I don’t know what’s in the box. It seems like a gift box for nice candles, or small jars of preserves, or little containers of grooming products. Whatever it is, it makes Damien happy. For nine seasons, a happy and confident Damien has led to a lot of Blazers success. What makes me worried about him now? His gifts. Literally and metaphorically, Damien Lillard is amazingly gifted. And that’s exactly what worries me. He has so many talents and future potentials, what if he isn’t totally committed to the Blazers anymore? What if he could do better as a musician than as a basketball player for Portland? It feels disrespectful to Damien even to think such a thought—so it comes out in a dream.

But one game does not a season make. No matter what’s going on with Damien, he’s not going to miss every 3-pointer he shoots. We could certainly hope for a better showing in the second game, even though it would be against a much better team, the Phoenix Suns. Led by rising star Devin Booker and all-time great Chris Paul, the Suns went all the way to the NBA Finals last year. If the Blazers were ever going to show a new level of defensive competence, now was the time to do so.

And lo and behold, an entirely different team showed up. The real team? Maybe. The Blazers overwhelmed the Suns, 134-105, and it could have been much worse. Booker did what he does, and scored 21. But the Blazers out-shot, out-rebounded, and out-hustled the Suns on both ends of the court. C.J. McCollum was hot and scored 28, while Damien had 19 points to go with 8 assists. Lots of bench guys got to play, and they looked great, too. Nassir Little and Anfernee Simons brought high energy and confident shooting, and Dennis Smith, Jr., had 5 assists in just 15 minutes of play. Ahh. What a wonderful exhale of a game.

That night after the game, I had this dream:

A Knife’s Edge

I am paying attention to a guy, his story, like in a book….A knife’s edge is threatening something of his….A round dark piece of fruit?….He is doing ok, though, overall….A couple, a man and woman, are sitting next to me on my right….But they just see the pages in the book, the images; they do not hear the story, and so they have no real idea what is going on….But I do….The guy in the story just has to keep moving forwards, that is all….

(10/23/21)

In the dream, the people to my right reminded me of the young couple sitting next to me at the game. They were in a happy party mood, friendly and chatty, shouting at the players by name, and getting high fives when they could. And yet… For most of the game they were fiddling with their phones, taking pictures, making videos, instagramming, etc., completely oblivious to the actual game in front of them.

To be clear, I have no problem with a fun date at the basketball game. Courtship at the court is an awesome thing and should be encouraged whenever possible. The dream doesn’t really seem to be about this couple or my feelings towards them. To be honest, the obnoxious man sitting to my left was much more annoying, so if this was a crowd-focused dream, I’d expect something from that direction. Instead, the dream revolves around the guy, his story, and the image of the knife and the round dark fruit. When I think of the dream in the light of the previous night’s game, the fruit immediately reminds me of an ad (for whiskey?) I saw on TV recently in which an artist spins an art-work basketball made of black shiny ceramic. That struck me as really cool and creative. And the guy in the dream with his story makes me think of each individual Blazers player, and what a big win like that means to them, how it opens up a new vista of confidence, reassurance, and possibility.

All of these basketball-related associations hover around the dream. Yet they shouldn’t distract from what Ernest Hartmann called the central image of a dream, in this case the piece of fruit and the knife. Sports aside, what other symbolic and metaphorical meanings can be connected to this specific, vivid image? Hmm. It could be seen as a vision of perilous sexuality, with the knife a phallic danger. It could be seen simply as part of preparing a piece of fruit to eat, and thus an image of impending nutrition. A knife and piece of fruit are common elements in classic paintings of “still life” scenes. Hmm.

The biological purpose of fruit is to bear seeds into a favorable growing environment, carrying the potential vitality of the plant into the future. Aha, there’s something that strikes a chord. The seed idea feels connected to the preseason-as-fertilizer metaphor from BDD #1, like an extension of nature-language to make sense of the basketball experience. In the dream, it felt like the fruit-like object needed to go forward with him, that’s the desired flowing growth of the story. But the knife is a threat; it could stop the flow (a player could be cut from the team?), and so it requires great caution in moving forwards (the Blazers’ weakest position?). The fruit is right next to the knife, right by its edge…

That seems to be the metaphor of the dream, or at least one of its metaphors: Playing on the knife’s edge. That’s what all the guys were doing last night. The story of the Blazers’ new season, the stories emerging for each player, the fate of their deepest seeds of potential, all entered last night’s game in a perilous and uncertain condition. Who is this team? How well can they perform?  Do they have a future? By meeting this challenge with such a powerful and thoroughly entertaining performance, they put those questions to rest, at least for a night.

The couple in the seats next to me did not seem to share any of my concerns, but that’s fine, they clearly had a great time at the game, too. To be honest, they reminded me of Ronnie and Amber LaFontaine from “Modern Family.” I tried to be a really, really good neighbor.

The Nightmares of Halloween

The Nightmares of Halloween by Kelly BulkeleyIt’s more than a metaphor to say that Halloween is a time when our nightmares go on parade. The scary images, decorations, and costumes that take over the month of October have a direct psychological connection to the actual themes and patterns of people’s nightmares. If we look at current research on nightmares—who has them, what they’re about, what causes them—we can gain new insight into the unconscious creativity of our Halloween festivities.

Who has nightmares? Numerous studies have reached the same conclusion: children are especially prone to nightmares, and so are women. Let’s start with age. The younger you are, the more likely you experience nightmares. Ernest Hartmann’s 1984 book The Nightmare notes the frequency of nightmares in children between the ages of 3 and 6, and he suggests that bad dreams may begin even earlier than this: “It is quite likely that nightmares can occur as early as dreams can occur; that is, probably late in the first year of life.”

The age factor shows up clearly in the nightmare patterns of adults. In a 2010 survey (available in the Sleep and Dream Database) in which 2,993 American adults answered a series of questions about sleep and dreams, the following are the percentages of people in different age groups who answered “Yes” to the question, “Have you ever had a dream of being chased or attacked?”

Chasing/Attack dreams, by age:

18-24: 71%

25-34: 65%

35-54: 59%

55-69: 48%

70+:  40%

Now for gender. Women tend to have more nightmares than men do, although how much more seems to vary during the life cycle. A meta-analysis by Michael Schredl and Iris Reinhard in 2011 found a striking pattern: similar frequencies of nightmares for males and females in childhood and old age, but a significantly higher frequency of nightmares for females during adolescence and adulthood. There seems to be a “nightmare bump” during women’s lives that elevates their frequency of bad dreams consistently higher than men’s. Is this nature or nurture? Probably both. A similar pattern appears in the 2010 SDDb survey cited above, when analyzed in terms of gender.

Chasing/Attack dreams for men, by age:

18-24: 68%

25-34: 63%

35-54: 56%

55-69: 47%

70+:  37%

Chasing/Attack dreams for women, by age:

18-24: 82%

25-34: 71%

35-54: 65%

55-69: 50%

70+: 46%

No matter how we explain these differences—more on that below—the basic pattern seems clear. Nightmares are especially frequent early in life, and especially for women during adolescence and young adulthood.

What do we have nightmares about? The most common content is fear, of course. And yet, what terrifies one person may have no emotional impact on someone else, so it’s difficult to generalize about the contents of nightmares. Still, it is possible to identify a few typical elements. In the SDDb, I selected four types of dream text (“bad dream,” “nightmare,” “nightmares,” “worst nightmare”), of 25+ words in length, which yielded a set of 423 dreams. I analyzed these 423 dreams using a word-search method with a template of 40 categories of content. I then compared the nightmare results to the results for the SDDb Baselines, a collection of more than 5,000 dreams representing ordinary patterns of dream content.

The dreams in the Baselines average about 100 words per report, while the 423 nightmares have an average length of only 65 words per report. This means the Baselines will tend to have higher frequencies on all categories. That’s actually helpful for our purposes, because it makes it easy to spot the categories that are unusually high in the nightmares (Baselines included in parentheses):

Fire: 4.7% (4.3%)

Air:  6.4% (4.4%)

Falling: 10.9% (8.3%)

Death: 18.4% (8%)

Fantastic beings: 10.4% (2.1%)

Physical aggression: 42.1% (17.6%)

Religion: 7.1% (6.7%)

Weapons: 9.9% (3.9%)

These are the categories of content that seem to be over-represented in nightmares, appearing more often in bad dreams than in ordinary dreams. They are also the themes that characterize pretty much every horror movie ever made, and countless video games, and, of course, many of the costumes and decorations of Halloween.

Why do we have nightmares? Psychologists have offered several theories about this. For Sigmund Freud, a nightmare is a failure of the sleeping mind to contain the instinctual desires aroused in dreaming. Similarly, the neurocognitive theory of Ross Levin and Tore Nielsen explains nightmares as a failure of emotional regulation during sleep. Carl Jung viewed nightmares as reflections of inner conflict, and thus potential revelations of insight and guidance. Antti Revonsuo’s “threat simulation theory” focuses on chasing nightmares and their potentially beneficial role in preparing the individual for similar threats in waking life.

The simple fact that nightmares are so common seems to be evidence against a theory of dreaming as a form of play (such as I propose). How can a frightening experience be playful? Actually, a theory of dreaming as play has a good explanation for the prevalence of nightmares. Research on play in animals and humans has found that play-fighting is one of the most common forms of play among social species like ours. Although it’s not “real” fighting, play-fighting does involve real aggression, threats, and negative emotions, and it seems to have a valuable rehearsal/preparatory function similar to other forms of play. Paradoxically, play-fighting can also promote social bonding by creating a safe arena to work through interpersonal tensions.

This brings us back to the connection between nightmares and Halloween. Seen in this light, the many little rituals of Halloween are ways of playing with our nightmares, welcoming them into waking awareness, sharing them with others, and celebrating their wild creative energies. Once each year, we invite these energies into the community as a way of enlivening and strengthening our collective bonds, at a time when daylight is waning and the nights are growing colder. This is the psychological wisdom of Halloween, infusing us with a playful burst of unconscious vitality just as we’re preparing to survive through the coming darkness.

Note: this post first appeared in Psychology Today on October 21, 2021.

The Basketball Dream Diaries #1: Preseason

The Basketball Dream Diaries #1: Preseason by Kelly BulkeleyEarlier this week I attended the preseason basketball game between the Portland Trailblazers and the Sacramento Kings. Although the Blazers played with lots of energy, the Kings beat them handily, 107-93. That night (it was a Monday), I had the following dream:

Fertilizing the Basketball Court

Lots of people are engaged in some activity, trying to set up a sports game, on a basketball court…. They are sweeping and spreading lots of soil onto the court…. To fertilize it?…. I am confused, but I go along with it, curious to see where it leads….

(October 11, 2021)

This is the first basketball dream of the 2021-2022 season, and it offers a simple and actually quite beautiful metaphor for the meaning of the preseason. Of course, it might seem at first glance like nothing more than typical dream nonsense, the random combination of two incidents from my previous day—watching the basketball game, and spreading compost in my yard, which I did in fact do earlier that morning. The dream puts these two bits of “day residue” together in a way that makes no logical sense. Spreading dirt on a basketball court in the way it was spread in my yard would prevent a game from going forward, not help it along. But this is a case where we need to put aside a literal reading of dreams and think of them in metaphorical terms. As a metaphor, the soil may express something else, a meaning related to its literal qualities but connecting those qualities to a non-literal situation.

That sounds abstract, I know, so here’s a practical way to bring out the metaphorical dimensions of a dream. I call it asking questions of specification. Why soil? Of all the things my dream could have portrayed as being spread across the basketball court, why this and not something else? It could have been sand, or pennies, or ping pong balls—but it wasn’t any of those, it was specifically soil. What are the qualities of soil, of composting earth, that might metaphorically relate to a preseason basketball game?

Just as my dream might seem trivial and insignificant, the game that night could be considered trivial and insignificant, too. Only one of the Blazers’ regular starters (Jusuf Nurkic) even played, while Damien Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Norman Powell, and Robert Covington, Jr., sat out the whole contest. The Kings pretty much dominated at both ends of the court, with the Blazers making 27 turnovers and shooting only 21% from 3-point land. Not a pretty game. But was it meaningless? Not to the bench guys who did play, and played hard, every one of them striving to use his minutes on the court to learn, grow, and demonstrate to the coaches how he can contribute to the team. They were playing as energetically as they could, flashing their best moves and testing their newest skills. Pre-season games are vital for these players’ developmental progress, and beneficial for the whole team’s long-term success.

This suggests one aspect of the dream’s metaphor: Pre-season games are like composting a garden. And, composting a garden is like getting a sports team ready for a new season. They’re both about nourishing, preparing, getting ready for big moves and expansive growth. Fertilizing the future, empowering the fullest expression of latent potentials, fueling the competitive fires that animate all forms of life.

The concept of a season is another metaphorical link. Both gardens and basketball teams follow a regular annual cycle of activity and rest, with transitional states between. With gardens and Nature in general, the coming of winter brings a lessening of external activity and an inward focus on survival through the dark and cold, and preparing for new growth when light and warmth return. Basketball runs on an opposite (complementary?) cycle, with activities turning indoors and revving up just as the days shorten and chill of winter approaches. To understand the rhythms of a season for a garden or a basketball team is to understand the distinct and essential value of each stage in the cycle, and how that specific stage adds to the ultimate health, strength, and dynamism of the overall process.

And, as a further metaphorical extension, compost doesn’t smell great. But the stinky smell is actually a good thing! The strong, earthy odors of a well-fertilized garden—and the turnovers and missed-3s in a hard-fought preseason game—are all part of a deeper, long-term growth process. In basketball, it’s part of the magical transformation of a disparate group of individual players into a cohesive, high-performing, championship-level team.

And how good it will smell when the garden blooms again and the regular season begins…

 

About the Basketball Dream Diaries: Dreams about sports have been a recurrent theme in my life since childhood. Since moving to Portland, Oregon in 2010, I have become a big fan of the city’s NBA basketball team, the Trailblazers, and my dreams have reflected that interest with several references to the team, the players, and their interactions with the rest of the NBA. I’ve attended several games at Moda Center, and had a lot of fun each time. I have also noticed how the intense stimulation of the games, starting at 7 pm in the evening and going till 9:30 or 10, has a direct impact on my sleep and dreaming later that night.

This year, I’m unbelievably fortunate to have season tickets to the Trailblazers home games. In anticipation of possible basketball dreams to come, I’m starting this chronicle to track the influence of the Blazers’ season on my dreams, and to see how my dreaming imagination evaluates and interprets the Blazers’ performance this year. It’s going to be color commentary from the unconscious. A surrealist angle on the NBA. A self-experiment in sports-mediated dream incubation. And an open door and welcome mat for the metaphor-generating wizard of my sleeping mind.