Short vs. Long Dreams: Are There Any Differences in Content?

Short vs. Long Dreams: Are There Any Differences in Content? by Kelly BulkeleyA word search analysis of a five-year selection from my own dream journal reveals the same consistent patterns of content in both shorter and longer reports.

I’ve been wondering about this question for a long time now.  Are shorter dreams different in any fundamental way from longer dreams?  Some people naturally remember only brief dream fragments and images, while other people can remember extremely elaborate and detailed dream scenarios.  Most researchers prefer to analyze reports in the “Goldilocks zone,” not too short or too long, just right in the middle.  That is a reasonable methodological choice, but it still leaves unanswered the question I’ve been pondering.

To continue developing the word search tools of the Sleep and Dream Database (SDDb), I really need to get some clarity on this point.  The frequencies of word usage identified by the SDDb tools vary a great deal depending on whether the dreams have a smaller or larger number of total words.  Is this a problem, or not?

Short vs. Long Dreams: Are There Any Differences in Content? by Kelly BulkeleyI also have a personal reason for wanting to explore the question.  In early 2015 I began a new approach to my own dream journaling practice, which has led to at least one remembered dream every night for more than two years.  This is approximately double my recall rate for the previous several years.  The 2015 dreams were also shorter on average (74 words) than the dreams from previous years (all averaging 100+ words).  This made me wonder about possible changes in the content patterns of my dreams before and after 2015.

With all of this in mind, I started by tabulating the distribution of my dreams over a five-year period of time (2012-2016), separating them into four categories of word length (less than 50 words, 50-99 words, 100-149 words, and 150 words or more). Here are the totals for each year in the four categories, from shortest to longest:

2012: 41, 67, 50, 43 (201 total)

2013: 68, 83, 51, 50 (252 total)

2014: 51, 54, 40, 41 (186 total)

2015: 145, 120, 56, 31 (352 total)

2016: 91, 134, 64, 77 (366 total)

As I already knew, the increased recall in 2015 happened at the shorter end of the word length spectrum.  My new approach to recall seemed to yield a lot of short dreams that I might not have remembered or recorded in previous years.  Then the 2016 dreams shifted again, with a more even distribution of word lengths, closer to the previous years but with higher total numbers.

Dividing the dreams into these subsets makes it possible to address the main question: what are the content differences between dreams of different lengths?

For each of the 20 subsets of dreams I used the SDDb 2.0 word search template to determine the frequencies for 40 categories of word usage, organized into 8 classes (Perceptions, Emotions, Characters, Cognitions, Social Interactions, Movement, Culture, and Elements).

Short vs. Long Dreams: Are There Any Differences in Content? by Kelly BulkeleyThe results of this analysis suggest that shorter dreams are not dramatically different from longer dreams in terms of the relative proportions of their word usage.  The raw percentages of word usage do rise from shorter to longer dreams, of course, but the relative proportions generally do not.

Consider the following excerpt from the analysis, which shows the four subsets of dreams from 2013, and the results of searching these reports for references to “Perception” words, from shortest to longest reports.  The numbers are percentages of the dreams that have at least one reference to the words in the category.

Vision: 24, 54, 69, 76

Hearing: 1, 6, 18, 22

Touch: 1, 6, 16, 26

Smell/Taste: 1, 2, 0, 6

Color: 21, 42, 31, 56

The longer dreams have more references to “Touch” than do the shorter dreams, but the longer dreams also have many more references to “Vision” and “Color” than to “Touch,” which is the same pattern found in the shorter dreams.  It’s this kind of pattern—the relative proportions between the various word categories—that remains consistent regardless of the length of the dreams.

This finding suggests the proportions among the word categories do not, for the most part, dramatically change across word lengths.  These proportions can be found in short, medium, and long dreams.  Even very short dreams preserve the basic architecture of typical dream content.

I need to do a more precise mathematical analysis of these patterns, to illuminate subtler variations that may alter my conclusions.  But I’m reassured by these initial results indicating that shorter dreams are just as legitimate as longer dreams for data-driven research and theorizing.

Short vs. Long Dreams: Are There Any Differences in Content? by Kelly BulkeleyThat’s the big picture.  Within this portrait of broad consistency, there are a few instances where the longer dreams do have an unusually high frequency of a particular word category.  The most prominent are Fear, Speech, Walking/Running, and Transportation.  These are the word categories that seem to be over-represented in longer dreams.  They are significant contributors to what makes long dreams so long.

Here is an example from the 2016 dreams to illustrate what I mean, using the Emotions class. The numbers are percentages of the dreams that have at least one reference to the words in the category, from shortest to longest reports.  Note the dramatic rise in Fear words across the four subsets.

Fear: 3, 11, 36, 55

Anger: 2, 4, 9, 17

Sadness: 4, 2, 8, 5

Wonder/Confusion: 23, 40, 63, 75

Happiness: 11, 22, 20, 26

The shortest dreams have scarcely any references to fear, whereas more than half the longest dreams have a reference to fear.

What I think this means is that when a dream introduces a reference to fear, it heightens my awareness of what’s going on in the dream space.  It stimulates an expansion of what I notice and find significant, and after awakening this requires a lengthier report to describe adequately.

What about the unusual increase in Speech references in longer dreams?  Perhaps a dream in which people start talking with each other is more likely to deepen the interaction and extend the overall experience.

Same with the increased references to Walking/Running and Transportation: a dream in which people are moving from one place to another is probably going to include additional details about what happens before, during, and after the movement.

So here’s a more refined conclusion: Shorter dreams are mostly similar to longer dreams in their basic content patterns, except that longer dreams tend to be scarier, more mobile, and more conversational.

Looking specifically at the 2015 dreams, I found the word usage frequencies were mostly lower compared to previous years, but they generally stayed the same in terms of their relative proportions to each other.  Even though the 2015 dreams were much shorter than the dreams of previous years, they shared with the other dreams a consistent profile of relative frequencies across all the word categories.  So my increased recall that year did not significantly alter the content patterns of the dreams.

Finally, I thought it would be fun to try a “blind analysis” of my own dreams.  Now that I have identified this remarkably stable profile of my dream content over five years of time, including both short dreams and long dreams, what do the patterns reveal about my life?

If I pretend that these dreams came from a stranger about whom I have no biographical knowledge, I would predict that in waking life this person:

Is male

Is visually oriented

Often experiences wonder/confusion

Is sexually active

Cares about his wife

Cares about cats

Has equal relations with men and women

Likes running

Is not concerned about death

Has lots of interactions with cars and streets

Likes basketball

Likes music and movies

Has lots of interactions with water and earth

All of these inferences are grounded in the statistical results of the word searches, and I would have to affirm every one of them as accurate.  Indeed, this is a remarkably concise summary of my concerns, interests, and activities in waking life.

Most importantly for the topic of this essay, the content patterns that helped me generate these inferences are observable in the shortest dreams.  I would have made most of these same accurate predictions if I had only been looking at the dreams of less than 50 words.

This means the answer to the opening question is no, there is not a significant difference in patterns of content between short and long dreams.  Perhaps dreams should be conceived as having a kind of fractal quality: even at a small scale they reflect the same basic structures that shapes things at a larger scale.

Short vs. Long Dreams: Are There Any Differences in Content? by Kelly BulkeleyI will close by noting the three most striking discontinuities between the word usage frequencies in my dreams and the concerns, interests, and activities of my waking life.  These are instances where my blind analysis predictions would have been wrong.

First, I have very few references in my dreams to “Fantastic Beings,” which might lead to the inference that I do not like the cultural genres of science fiction or fantasy.  This is not true; I have always loved books, movies, and tv shows in the sci-fi and fantasy realm.  Perhaps what I like about these stories are not the odd characters (vampires, zombies, aliens, robots, etc.) but rather the spirit of unpredictable novelty and imaginative adventure.  Putting it in those terms, my high frequency of “Wonder/Confusion” words might be a better sign of my cultural interests in this direction.

Second, I have only moderate references to “Reading/Writing,” which might suggest I do not engage much with these activities.  This is not true; I am a voracious reader and prolific writer, and have been so for several decades.  What strikes me as discontinuous is that my dreams don’t have far more references to reading and writing, given their central importance in my waking life.  Ernest Hartmann’s notion that we typically do not dream of the three R’s might be a factor here.

And third, I have very few references to “Religion,” which would prompt the inference that I have little or no concern about religion.  At one level this is definitely false; I have a Ph.D. in religious studies and I read and write about religion very frequently.  One would never know this about my waking life based only on the patterns of my dreams.  And yet, at another level this inference is surely true; I was not raised in a religious household, I do not personally identify with any official religious tradition, and I rarely attend religious worship services.  Perhaps this all makes sense in that religion is an important intellectual category for me, but it is not a personal concern.  My spiritual pursuits are more likely to be expressed in dreams with references to other word categories like water, art, sexuality, animals, and flying.

That’s as far as I’ve gotten.  The next step will be trying this same process of analysis with other sets and series of dreams.

 

Note: this post was originally published in Psychology Today on May 4, 2017.

199 Dreams of Donald Trump

199 Dreams of Donald Trump by Kelly BulkeleyA new collection of dreams about the new US President sheds light on his psychological impact in the minds of those who support him and those who oppose him.

These dreams were gathered via a website I manage, idreamoftrump.net, which has been active since early 2016.  A total of 143 came from people living in the U.S., and 56 came from people living in countries outside the U.S.  In terms of gender, 124 reports come from females and 75 from males.  I asked a question about how the individual would describe his or her political ideology, and 43 said they were progressive, 44 liberal, 50 moderate, 8 libertarian, 37 conservative, and 9 very conservative.  

This is certainly not a representative sample of people from the U.S. or the human population, so I want to be cautious in drawing conclusions from the data.  This sample represents a self-selected group of people who woke up remembering a dream of Donald Trump, found my site online, and shared the dream with me (for which I am very grateful!).  The results of analyzing these dreams can illuminate several possible dimensions of meaning which are interesting and important, though not definitively proven or established using current research methods.  What I’m going to lay out is more than mere speculation, but well short of settled knowledge.

199 Dreams of Donald Trump by Kelly BulkeleyThe good news, from a research perspective, is that this set of 199 dreams turns out to be remarkably consistent with the content patterns of average or typical dreams.  In my 2016 book Big Dreams I describe the “SDDb baselines,” a set of more than 5,000 dream reports I gathered from normal, healthy people to create a portrait of the baseline frequencies of average dreaming.  I analyzed the 199 Trump dreams using the same word search template I used with the SDDb baselines (which includes classes for Perception, Emotion, Cognition, Movement, Characters, Social Interactions, Culture, and Elements), and I found the results match up very closely with the frequencies of the baselines.

What this means is that the Trump dreams are not radically different from ordinary dreams.  The same general currents that shape regular dreaming also shape the dreams in which Trump appears as a character.

199 Dreams of Donald Trump by Kelly BulkeleyThis also means the few differences I did find are worth special attention.  The close parallels between the Trump dreams and the SDDb baselines on so many categories of content casts into sharp relief the areas where the Trump dreams had unusual variations from the baselines.

The Trump dreams had a very high frequency of references to male characters, which makes sense given that the Trump is present in all of them.  But these 199 dreams also have an unusually low frequency of references to female characters, which is more striking.  Compared to the baselines, the dreams of Trump also have remarkably high frequencies of references to the act of speaking, to the perceptual sense of touch, and to the cultural domain of money and work.  

For the males, their dreams of Trump had unusually high friendliness, low physical aggression, and low references to weapons.  For the females, their dreams of Trump had unusually high physical aggression and sexuality.

To summarize these findings, it seems that when Trump appears as a character in people’s dreams, he does not disrupt the whole process; people continue dreaming more or less the way they typically do.  But he does have a tangible and measurable impact on certain aspects of those dreams.  A dream about Donald Trump typically involves fewer women and more talking, touching, and references to money and work.  Men seem to become pacified around Trump in their dreams, while women seem to become more instinctually primed.  

199 Dreams of Donald Trump by Kelly BulkeleyI can provide the spreadsheet with the detailed results to anyone who requests it, and I will go into more detail about these and other politically-related dreams at the upcoming conference of the International Association for the Study of Dreams, to be held June 20-24 in Anaheim, California.  I am giving a presentation on dreams in relation to current U.S. politics, and the analysis of this set of 199 Trump dreams will be featured in the presentation.  

The dream reports are currently available in the SDDb for further study and exploration.  I have selected twenty-three reports to include in this post, all of which came post-election, as a way of illustrating the personal experiences behind the statistical comparisons I’ve been discussing so far.  Each report includes the age, gender, country/state of residence, and political ideology of the dreamer, along with their SDDb participant ID codes.  The dreamer’s associations to the dream follow the report, responding to my question about what they thought the dream might mean, and whether it altered their view of the new president.  I made up the titles with an eye towards highlighting what I think are the most interesting themes.

 

He Put a Ring on My Finger

A female, 32, from Iowa, moderate – Td107

I dreampt I was in his house, a really large one. There were threats that he was going to be assassinated all around and I was crying. He was acting like everything was okay and he had a lot of security. Everyone was dressed casual, and I think his family was there too. Suddenly the dream shifted and everyone was saying he was dead. I couldn’t stop crying, and as I was about to go he stood in front of me and told me I was worried for nothing, he was smiling and totally confident. This part is weird and embarrassing. …He then proposed to me and put a ring on my finger! I grabbed him and was sobbing into his chest while he was rubbing my back. I have NO idea why I dreampt it lol. That’s what prompted me to search if anyone else has dreams of him. 🙂

Idk, I voted for him..and I think he’s great! It doesn’t change my opinion of him at all, it made me feel a little closer to him perhaps…which is weird to say.

 

I Could Mess With Trump If I Wanted to

A female, 14, from Louisiana, liberal – Td123

I was is a car, one with black leather material. The car has three rows of seats and Donald Trump and my brother resided in the middle set and I sat in the back row. I sat behind Trump and he reclined is chair to touch my knees. I give him a dirty look and received the same back but he soon put his chair back. Then, not immediately after, almost like some time had past, Trump asked me to get something from the seat next to me that was him and he reclined his chair and I gave his item to him and the very slightest bit of our fingers brushed past each other and I was disgusted so much that I quivered. My brother gave me a dirty look and Trump put his seat back on. I realized that I could mess with Trump if I wanted to and texted my friend and asked “Should I shout I’M GAY!” And my dream ended at that.

Perhaps the dream means how I feel scared about what could happen to my friends that are not all white men.

 

He Gives Me a Necklace to Wear for Our Wedding

A female, 63, from New York, progressive – Td124

I’m getting married! I am preparing for my upcoming wedding. My fiance, Donald Trump, has given me a necklace to wear for our wedding. The necklace has a large oval moonstone set into a square platinum setting surrounded by diamonds, on a small link platinum chain. I am not sure I want to wear this necklace. I have another necklace given to me by my last partner, John. It is a gorgeous platinum necklace set with baguette (rectangular shape) emeralds, and diamond pave (tiny diamonds). It is a series of ¼” links and has an elaborate clasp as a focal point; it’s more dimensional with the same design. While deciding which necklace I will wear my ex-husband, Peter shows up. We go to the local nursery with a container with two plants in it; we own together. One of the plants has died. The man at the nursery says the problem is the two plants need different environments – one needs sun and lots of water, the other less water, and no bright sunlight.

While writing the dream down, I had a big ah-ha about why my ex-husband and I did not get along. This dream made me take a look at my disowned shadow showing up as Trump. I’m still processing it. The jewelry to me represents some accomplishments in my life which point to speaking up (necklace around throat). Integrating Donald will probably help that too, but at this moment I have a difficult time with admitting I am that too, but dreams don’t lie. LOL!

 

I Note That He Is Circumcised

A female, 69, from Colorado, liberal – Td125

I’m in a bathtub with Donald Trump. He tells me to wash my hair. Melania sits on the toilet with the cover down and tries to make nice. He’s not being sexual with me. Maybe I’m not attractive enough for him to notice. I tell Melania he’s my father. I know no good will come of this. I note that he is circumcised because I know people will ask. Why won’t he let me take a shower? I need to rinse my hair. There’s not much water. Should I pull the white shower curtain? I decide not to. It’s no use. He cannot win, I think to myself, trying to make it so.

Trump has invaded my private space, yet is not as aggressive or fearful as he seems in waking life . I don’t want him there but he’s more of a bumbler than a threat.

 

Working Very Closely With Him

A female, 53, from Mississippi, conservative – Td127

It was very good dream.Donald hired me to work very closely with him full time and most of what my job consisted of was entertainment. It seemed like many people were flocking around him at something like a resort/? Donald seemed to be so appreciative of my opinion 24/7. It was a very vivid dream and people were a little jealous of me and/or confused about the situation.

Yes my dream did change my perspective of Donald in a better way. He seems very kind and giving.

 

A Soft Kiss on the Lips

A male, 67, from Virginia, progressive – Td133

I am a trump supporter.. maybe more didnt want the alternative the night before the election he came to me in a dream and kissed me on the lips…his lips were very soft. i felt very close to him. I’m not overtly attracted to him in a sexual way

it engendered a feeling of paternal trust

 

I Am His Disgruntled Spouse

A female, 50, from Georgia, liberal – Td141

I dreamt I was in the White House as First Lady and he was my husband. Even in my dream I was disgusted by his presence and felt compelled to do everything in my power to keep him from becoming our President. I was a disgruntled spouse who was complaining about everything he was doing. Every time I looked at him I loathed being with him! We were getting ready to go to a show and he kept trying to convince me it was going to be ok? ?Strangely I had the upper hand and he was pretty much agreeing to everything I said and actually trying to be extra nice to me. Very vivid in my mind-Everything was pale pink like the drapes, and layers underneath were white with hints of old shimmering. Even the furniture was upholstered in sand pink and gold thread, the wood works had gold shimmery accents to it! He wore a black suit, with a white shirt and red tie. I was dressed in a white suit with gold shimmer..

I was just so disturbed by it it mortified me that we were even in the same dream! He seemed absolutely puzzled about his every move, almost apologetic about everything he said and I had a dog that was sleeping in my bed and I remember being very mean and saying I’ll just take the dog with me you can stay here in the White House and be president. It was a room with large glass panels all over and I felt like I had no privacy and then I pushed him out and locked the doors. He said, “at least give me the dog! Please be ready, I’ll see you down stairs.”

 

I’m His Girlfriend and Melania Is Super Jealous

A female, 26, from Nebraska, libertarian – Td155

I’ve been having basically the same dreams about Donald since before he was even president. It’s always where I’m like his girlfriend lol. Melania is always super jealous of me and everyone don’t get why he chose me. But I’m always super for it! He’s always very nice and treats me like a princess. It isn’t so real and I can like feel him lol there’s so many details I can’t even tell them all. It’s like it’s real life. Always me and him together like in a relationship. Very good dreams

Well. I have always been a fan of trump. Like his number on every fan lol. And his sons wife followed me on Instagram and we’ve talked online about her horse and dogs. And she personally thanked me for going up to vote for him. I love that family

 

He Accepts Me As I Am

A female, 54, from California, conservative – Td176

I was supposed to be at a formal presentation but, I was dressed in shorts and a tank top. I was standing in front of a beautiful building but, was anxious about going in due to my attire. As I stood there, President Trump comes over like we’ve known each other forever, takes my hand ever so gently and he sort of waves his individual fingers against mine. He then looked right at me and said “Don’t worry about how you are dressed, you have the same right to be here as everyone else.” That’s it. It made me feel good. Accepted.

I have been scared to death about the direction of this beautiful country. Too many agendas will only lead to chaos. I feel like the dream Trump was telling me that things will be OK and that all people eventually will be treated with courtesy and respect.

 

I’m His Child, and Powerless to Stop His Plans

A female, 49, from West Virginia, liberal – Td180

I was at a cocktail party at a swanky mansion, and Trump walked in, and had a different wife, blonde, and a different child, I guess that was me, although I felt like myself. He wanted u us to go see his property down by the river, so we got in the car and the blonde drive us around till we came upon a big Greek revival type building, sort of looked like mausoleum actually, and he said it was an apartment building he had bought and did I like it? I said yes, it was beautiful, and then several young women came bounding out, wearing bikinis and talking about what they had made for dinner. We almost hit the off kilter gate backing out of the driveway. Then I woke up. Earlier in the dream, I was being chased in my car by one of his security officers, and I sped up to get away and lost control of my car and went down a wooded cliff in the dark and thought I was going to die. I landed safely in a bunch of bushes, at the house that became the other dream.

I felt powerless to stop his plans, like a robot, or a slave. Even acting like I was a relative or a child made me feel annoyed because I am my own person wanting nothing to do with him. I don’t agree with him at all in real life but in my dreams he was like you will do it my way and be impressed or I will chase chase you off a cliff.

 

A Neighbor in NYC

A male, 50, from New York, progressive – Td158

I was walking down an avenue in Midtown Manhattan and I saw Trump walking alone. He didn’t have any protection or staff flanking him. He was wearing black sweat pants and a sweatshirt and he looked a bit forlorn. As he passed me I said, “Good afternoon, Mr. President.” He didn’t react. I think someone behind me said hello to him as well. I remember thinking why isn’t he wearing his usual suit? In real life, I have seen him in my neighborhood twice before. His daughter lives around the corner from me on 59th and Park and I have seen her frequently over the years since she was a youngster.

The dream did not increase any negative feelings re trump

 

An Honored Guest in the Great White Plaza

A male, 35, from Colorado, conservative – Td153

There I was with my good friend Eric. We were way up high on some kind of structure and seemed to be boarding a ride or a craft of some kind. Eric was steering the craft at first to show me how to do it. Then it was my turn. I took over the craft and started to bring it down to the ground below. It seemed like some kind of helicopter but very small as it only fit me and Eric side by side. When we landed I jumped off and Eric stayed on taking the craft back up. The moment I turn around I notice that I am now in an all white setting. The walls were white with columns leading to curved arches and they stretched around an enormous square plaza that had what looked like a white woven carpet for a floor. I then noticed that I was being guided around this area by Donald Trump, who seemed to be treating me as an honored guest. He showed me around and introduced me to people. We seemed to be talking candidly but I cannot recall what about. After we left the great white plaza Donald guided me through what seemed to be a naval vessel. We kept going up until we reached a compartment that appeared to be multi-functional. Donald left me at a table with close to a dozen people, all who had communication devices in their ears. They were testing these devices and one of the devices had a distorted sound. Everyone there seemed to know me as they looked to me to figure out what was wrong with the device. I spoke into the microphone and made a few comments and then woke up.

I am not sure what the dream means, but after waking from it I certainly felts interested in the meaning. The feeling I had while in the dream was excitement and admiration as it seemed that I was being treated with great honor and respect in what seemed like a setting full of very important people.

 

Something 14.5 Inches Exactly

A female, 29, from US, moderate – Td188

I wasn’t going to share this but here it goes… I was at some political/social event and happened to meet President Trump. He said that he wanted to show me something that was 14.5 inches exactly. He then began pulling down his pants and said, “See, I told you it’s huge.” In reality it (his penis) was not. This is making me want to throw up typing this and I do not know why I had this dream. In reality I would never want to see that! LOL However, I specifically remember seeing the number 14.5, so that could mean something. I don’t recall ever seeing anything that connects to the number 14.5 in relation to Trump or in my life.

I think this dream is hinting at exaggeration of some kind. Maybe making something out to be bigger than it actually is or expecting too much of a certain situation. I’m not really sure what triggered me to have this dream.

 

I Cannot Bring Myself to Say the Words

A female, 55, from California, moderate – Td194

In my dream, my 7/8th grade students are to be heading out on a field trip. I am standing in the parking lot waiting for the drivers to file out. Donald Trump has his driver-side door open standing between it and the car gesticulating to the bystanders. I want him to get in the car and drive my students to the destination. However, I cannot bring myself to say the words, “President Trump” in order to get his attention and tell him to get in the car and drive it. Instead, I call out, “The car needs to be moving; we need to get to our destination.” Nothing happens. Trump keeps talking and waving his hands and is standing wedged between the open black car door. I try again. I yell out, “Get in the car and get it moving; the students need to get to their field trip.” He doesn’t stop talking. I turn to someone standing next to me and I ask them, “Could you walk over to him and tell him he needs to drive the car – I can’t get his attention, and I just can’t bear to call out the name ‘President Trump.'” I woke up and my dream was so real I am still bothered by it.

As far as what triggered it, well I have been watching lots of youtube videos regarding Trump, so that could have triggered it.

 

A Game of Him Trying to “Win” Me Over

A female, 22, from Georgia, moderate – Td195

He was coming to an event and he was driving through a body of water. The water would part and people would walk through then a wave would come and then it would part and his limo drove through. We were in a huge colosseum listening to him talk. Then there was an after party and he came up to me wanting my number- I am not a Trump fan and I expressed that. It then turned into a game of him trying to “win” me over. My old boyfriend was there, he is a Trump supporter, and Trump told him he wasn’t interested in talking. This went on the entire night until I left the party.

I have no idea what triggered the dream. I did not run into my ex and I try to avoid Trump news.

 

Married to the President with a Baby Carrot Penis

A female, 54, from Florida, moderate – Td197

I dreamt I was married to Donald Trump and he wore pajamas that look like his regular clothes and his penis was a baby carrot. He also sent me to Victoria’s Secret to buy my inauguration dress with a black American Express card that said president of the United States of America. I told him Victoria secret didn’t carry plus size clothes and he said they do now. I went to Victoria’s Secret and they do not carry plus size clothes and they said they would get them I had my own American Express card that said Mrs. president of the United States of America and paid for peoples dinner at the mall where the Victoria’s Secret’s was with my black American Express card. I also dreamt of the inauguration in the White House inside was kind of tacky and dirty. The funniest part was Barbara Bush was sleeping in a cot in the hallway and blue pajamas with her pearls on her neck. And as I walk down the hallway all the other first ladies are sleeping on cots in the hallway

I’m pretty sure that I manifested trumps hatred of fat women and the tackiness of his wife’s clothing. I’m also pretty sure that the baby carrot penis had to do with eating some before bed and having a diverticulitis attack in real life. It’s also the first time I have proof that o dream in color! The carrot was orange

 

From participants living in countries outside the US:

Everyone Is Blindly Praising Him

A male, 17, from Denmark – Td140

I dreamt that I was in a high school class and donald trump was also attending this class, it was an older version of him and he had a lot more wrinkles and his skin was more orange, he seemed like he was disgusted of everyone in that class and started criticizing us and telling us what to do but indeed everyone was blind about it and started praising him and saying the famous sentence: make America great again. AWKWARD

I think it really reflects the reality of things, in a more concrete way and that a lot of people are blind about the bad deeds of Donald trump.

 

Trapped at School by a Gunman

A female, 18, from Canada, liberal – Td184

I was watching a movie in what seemed like an elementary school classroom. It was brightly lit, and someone was handing out fruit leather to us in our desks. When I left the classroom, I found myself in a stairwell as all the doors mechanically snapped shut. I somehow knew that there was a man with a gun in the building, and that I was trapped in that particular flight of stairs. I also knew that Melania Trump was a few flights above me, also locked in. Somehow I sensed that the gunman was Trump, but he didn’t know that Melania was trapped in the stairwell along with the rest of us. I should mention that the stairwells were sparsely populated, with only about 3 people locked in each flight of stairs. I woke up before anything more could happen.

I am firmly liberal (democratic to Americans), and staunchly oppose Trump’s policies. Since he has been inaugurated I have felt extremely uneasy, and it grows with each day. It’s possible that this dream was an expression of that anxiety, or perhaps it foreshadows the destruction of the school system under Trump? Haha not sure.

 

Does He Have Manipulative Superpowers?

A male, 31, from Malta, progressive – Td172

Donald Trump was my Flatmate, which in my dream was more of a background information, because the dream setting was some private party of his somewhere else. Everything was super luxurious, sunny, nice snacks, and he was really nice to me, showing me around and being attentive. In my dream I knew that I actually am against Donald Trump, but for some reason meeting him in person I actually liked him. I was wondering if he had manipulative superpowers of some sort, because it didn’t make any sense that I got along with him so well. I met his family, all were very nice too. I kept my resentments against them hidden and took part in conversations. I had the feeling I saw the human sides in them, everyone thinking they are actually doing the right thing, being good people, but getting it all wrong because they live in this super rich bubble, disconnected from the real world. Later more people joined the party, even an old friend of mine. We got a bit drunk and at one point I told him that Trump is actually sharing a flat with me at the moment and we both laughed at the absurdity of it.

I was surprised to see how quickly I somehow changed side, just by being invited to a party of his, apparently lulled in by the luxury of it all (I actually don’t even like luxury very much). There was this nagging feeling in the back of my head that it is wrong to be nice to them, but it felt extremely difficult to take a position in that setting (or even remember what my position really was).

 

Sleeping With Him

Female, 15, from Ireland, moderate – Td131

I had to sleep with Donald trump. There were no beds left to sleep in so i had to sleep with Donald.

Maybe because i thought about donald trump a lot and I’m still okay with Donald.

 

He Was Very Sweet

A female, 21, from the Philippines, moderate – Td112

It was a very long dream, and Donald Trump was only a part of it. I remember he was courting me, he was very sweet to me, and wanted to have an affair with me. I knew we had so much age gap, and that I am not suited to be his wife, so I just laughed but I was flattered that he was being that way to me. I dont want to have an affair with him though. Lol

I dont know what it means, and I didnt even think of him the night before. But that dream made me ponder that he has a soft but impulsive side to him.

 

Trapped in a Marriage With a Narcissist

A female, 26, from New Zealand, liberal – Td181

I was married to Trump and we were at some kind of social gathering. I was sitting next to an old school friend, talking to her, when I heard a verbal attack outside and saw that a group of African people were fighting with Trump. They appeared to be insulted by what he was saying and then they left and Trump came back inside. He sat down next to me and I asked him whether it had been taken out of context or had he said something insulting? He answered that it had been insulting but that he didn’t care. I was mortified that I could be married to someone like this and I angrily expressed my feelings, and then I said something like “Donnie, Sean, whatever your name is!” (Sean is the name of my partner – who is nothing like Trump!) – I then left and spoke to my old school friend and described how trapped I felt. It then changed to another aspect of this gathering… Melania Trump was there and she was ordering me drinks, and then she was standing on the bar table and dancing. I remember eating lots of cake.

Thoughts of narcissism may have triggered it – my mother in law is a narcissist (has tried to ruin my relationship with her son) and I’m reading a book titled ‘the narcissist next door’ published in 2014, it talks about Trump in its beginning pages (before he became president!) and describing him as a kind of poster boy narcissist (which I think he is) and he is using fear to divide and conquer. It’s very sad.

 

His Head Looks Like Crumbly Rubber With a Bad Toupee

A male, 63, from Thailand, moderate – Td151

I’m on Trump Island. It’s supposed to be a big luxury celebrity deal, a kind of trip to fantasy island, but it’s just a rough, flat, windswept space surrounded by gray sea with some decrepit buildings on it. People in long overcoats are moving around with no sense of direction, and there’s a feeling of something going on, something important but unclear. Trump is in a kind of lounger next to me, and he’s really anxious and upset that it isn’t going well. He’s on the verge of tears. His head looks like it’s made of crumbly rubber, with a bad toupee, but I know it’s really him. He’s started clinging to me, and crying. I’m embarrassed to be there, but I try to comfort him. Later I’m crying out “Donny! Donny!” because they’re asking me for a ticket I don’t have.

The dream means I’m seeing too damn much Trump on the internet. I’ve never dreamt about a world leader before. I still hate the fucker. Slightly more, if anything, for wasting my valuable dream time.

 

Note: this essay first appeared in the Huffington Post on April 26, 2017.

 

The Dreams of a Religious Cult Member

The Dreams of a Religious Cult Member by Kelly Bulkeley

A new study of a long-term dream journal from a woman who belonged for many years to a physically and spiritually abusive religious cult.

Earlier this year a dream research colleague, G. William Domhoff, told me about a new series of dreams available from a person willing to participate in a new experiment with “blind analysis.”  Blind analysis involves bracketing out all personal information about a dreamer and focusing only on the patterns of word usage frequency in the dreams.  These patterns become the basis for making inferences about the dreamer’s waking life concerns, relationships, and activities, which the dreamer is then able to confirm or disconfirm.  I like this method because it provides a very rigorous way of testing and refining my hypotheses about dreaming-waking connections.

According to Domhoff, the dreams came from a woman who is an “ex-cultist” and who has been keeping a regular dream journal for more than 30 years.  This immediately catapulted the project to the front of my research queue.  Here was a rare opportunity to study the dreams of someone from what sounded like an extremely unusual religious background.  What might a blind analysis of the dreams of such a person reveal?

The Dreams of a Religious Cult Member by Kelly Bulkeley

The following is an initial progress report on what I’ve found so far.  A more detailed discussion will be part of a talk I will give in June at the annual conference of the International Association for the Study of Dreams in Anaheim, California.

To make the analysis more manageable we asked “Beverly” (a pseudonym) to provide four subsets of her dreams, one each for the years 1986, 1996, 2006, and 2016.  Apparently she has recorded a total of more than 6,000 dreams recorded over this whole time period, which works out to an average recall rate of about four dreams a week for 30 years.  Quite a prolific dreamer!  And quite an amazing personal document for her to reflect on the long and winding course of her life.

We uploaded the four sets of dreams into the Sleep and Dream Database and I used the SDDb’s 2.0 word search template to analyze each set.  The 2.0 template has 40 categories of word usage organized into 8 classes: Perception, Emotion, Cognition, Characters, Social Interactions, Elements, Movement, and Culture.  After creating a large spreadsheet with all the word search results, I compared the frequencies in Beverly’s dreams with the frequencies of the SDDb baselines—a large, high-quality set of dreams from many sources that I use as a standard of “normal” frequencies of dream content (presented in chapter 6 of my book Big Dreams).  I also looked at variations between the four sets of Beverly’s dreams, noting any frequencies that seemed markedly higher or lower than others in the same category.

A special challenge with Beverly’s dreams is their relatively short length.  The 940 total dreams across the four sets have an average length of 54 words, with a median of 43 (meaning half the reports are more, and half are less, than 43 words in length).  I typically use this method with much longer dreams, so I went into the analysis with even more caution than usual.

As it turned out, and as I will describe in more detail at the IASD conference in June, the short length of Beverly’s dreams did not impede the process.  On the contrary, this has been one of the most successful experiments of blind analysis I’ve done to date.

After I calculated Beverly’s word usage frequencies and made my baseline comparisons, I formulated a total of 26 inferences about her waking life.  To be clear, at this point I only knew three details about Beverly’s personal life: she was a woman, an avid dream journaler, and an ex-cultist.  Other than that, I was “blind” to her waking life circumstances and personality.

Of the 26 inferences I sent to her, Beverly confirmed 23 as accurate.  These included predictions about her personality, relationships, financial concerns, physical health, and cultural interests.

The three inferences she did not affirm are interesting, and may help me further refine the blind analysis process.  I’ve found in past experiments that I often learn more from mistaken inferences than from successful ones.

In the 1986 set of dreams there are five dream reports that use the word “earthquake”; none of the other sets of dreams use this word, which prompted my inference that in 1986 Beverly was “impacted by an earthquake.”  This was her response: “This must be symbolic of what I went through with the group in 1986. That was the year they hit bottom, including the murder.”

The Dreams of a Religious Cult Member by Kelly Bulkeley

This aspect of meaning was not really part of my inference, so I don’t count it as a successful one, but it does shed light on the possible use of a natural disaster like an earthquake as a recurrent symbol for strong emotional concerns that feel profoundly disruptive and foundation-threatening.

The 1996 set of dreams had remarkably low frequencies of perception words, which struck me as significant.  My inference suggested that during this time the dreamer was “less perceptually stimulated.”  Beverly responded, Not sure what this means, but I was smoking tons of pot that year.”  Maybe that’s the connection, or maybe it’s something else. I didn’t phrase the inference very precisely, which made it hard for her to definitively confirm or disconfirm it.

The 2006 set of dreams had the highest frequency of animal references, which led me to infer that during this time period Beverly was “more concerned about animals (especially birds, cats, and dogs.).”  She replied, “Possibly. I had pet birds and was very attached to Rocky, my parents’ big orange tabby.”  I’m inclined to take this answer as a confirmation of my inference, since 1) she specifically mentions birds and a cat, and 2) she describes the kind of behaviors and feelings that I would generally include in defining the phrase “concerned about animals.”

The Dreams of a Religious Cult Member by Kelly Bulkeley

What about the references to religion in Beverly’s dreams?  This whole series is an amazing chronicle of a lifelong spiritual journey.  Even if I had not known Beverly was an ex-cultist, I would have made it the top headline of my inferences that this dreamer had an extremely strong interest in religion in the early parts of her life.  It turns out that Beverly was deeply involved with a Hare Krishna group in the 1980’s, a group that took a very dark turn into abuse, violence, and murder, as she mentioned.  Her dreams track the course of her involvement with the group and her final escape from it, which has opened her life to a variety of new creative possibilities, also reflected in her dreams in remarkably accurate detail.

The Dreams of a Religious Cult Member by Kelly Bulkeley

At the IASD conference I will talk more about the religious dimensions of her dreams, along with her social relationships and her “big dreams” (i.e., what she considers the most memorable dreams of her whole life).  I will then compare these results with those I’ve found in studying three other long-term dream journals—from Brianna, Jordan, and Jasmine (all pseudonyms, all in the SDDb).  My hope is to use this conference talk, and the feedback I receive from my colleagues, as a springboard for a deeper exploration of Beverly’s dream series.  Her journal is an incredibly valuable resource for the scientific study of religiously significant patterns in dreaming.

Note: This post was first published in Psychology Today on April 20, 2017.

Dreams and Shakespeare: Henry IV Part I

Dreams and Shakespeare: Henry IV Part I by Kelly Bulkeley

Sleep is both a gentle source of earthly pleasure and a stressful battlefield of military violence in Shakespeare’s stirring portrait of a young Prince.

The play opens with Henry IV, the 15th century English King, planning his military strategy against various enemies who are threatening rebellion.  One of the rebel leaders is Henry “Hotspur” Percy, the Earl of Northumberland’s valiant son whose battlefield exploits have become legendary.  As the King reflects on Hotspur’s noble deeds, he cannot ignore the painful contrast with his own unruly, disobedient son, Prince Henry or “Hal,” who wastes his time in “riot and dishonor” with a lowlife gang of drunkards, thieves, and scoundrels.  The King’s first mention of his child is a wish to be rid of him:

O that it could be proved

That some night-tripping fairy had exchanged

In cradle clothes our children where they lay,

And called mine Percy, and his Plantagenet!

Then I would have his Harry, and he mine. (I.i.88-92)

In many cultures around the world, including early modern England, people have been terrified by the evil spirits that strike infants in their sleep.  To protect their children, parents have used prayers, rituals, amulets, and holy artifacts to ward off the malevolent beings who attack newborns during the dark of night.  In this context, it would be shocking for a parent to actively wish that a “night-tripping fairy” would come to steal his true child.  By so wishing, the King reveals the cruel extremity of his detachment from young Henry.

The next scene introduces Prince Hal’s scurrilous but intimate group of friends, led by Sir John Falstaff, a man of grand humor and bottomless appetites.  Hal’s first words make this clear: “Thou art so fat-witted, with drinking of old sack and unbuttoning thee after supper and sleeping upon benches after noon” (I.ii.2-4).  Here is a neat list of Falstaff’s chief vices, which include a gluttonous desire for sleep.  Falstaff enjoys sleeping for the same reason he enjoys drinking and whoring—they feel good.  But he denies the Prince’s moral condemnation of his chosen way of life, now and in the future:

“When thou art King, let not us that are squires of the night’s body be called thieves of the day’s beauty. Let us be Diana’s foresters, gentlemen of the shade, minions of the moon; and let men say we be men of good government, being governed as the sea is, by our noble and chaste mistress the moon, under whose countenance we steal.” (I.ii.23-30)

Dreams and Shakespeare: Henry IV Part I by Kelly Bulkeley

Even though Falstaff is speaking in prose, his words have a roguish poetry.  He casts himself as a member of a mystical lunar guild; he breaks the laws of the daytime not because he is a base criminal, but because he is a true and faithful servant of the “mistress the moon.”

Hal knows that Falstaff is no such thing, but he also knows the fun of hanging around with Falstaff is listening to him spin out absurd stories and fanciful lies.  Even more fun is playing a trick on Falstaff to provoke his boundless capacity for creative falsehoods.  Such an opportunity arises when Poins, a renowned highway robber, arrives and tells them of an excellent opportunity for profitable thievery.  A group of rich pilgrims will be traveling on a nearby road in the pre-dawn darkness, and it would be easy to ambush them and separate them from their valuables.  Poins declares, “We may do it as secure as sleep” (I.ii.132-133).

This analogy emphasizes the simplicity of the plan.  Just as it’s easy to go to sleep, it will be easy to rob the pilgrims.  Falstaff accepts this metaphorical reasoning, given how quickly and comfortably he can fall sleep (more on this in a moment).  Yet the analogy has another layer of meaning that Falstaff does not recognize, of sleep as a descent into a world of darkness and disorientation with strange reversals of identity and startling discoveries of truth and deception.  Falstaff doesn’t know it, but Poins soon confides to Hal that the real plan is to trick Falstaff during the robbery.  To be “as secure as sleep” will turn out to be not very secure at all.

Dreams and Shakespeare: Henry IV Part I by Kelly Bulkeley

What ensues is one of the greatest scenes in literature as Hal and the other “minions of the moon” banter with Falstaff while he tells his thrilling, heroic, and completely fictional account of what happened during the robbery.  The Prince shares the old rogue’s giddy joy in his fanciful flights of imagination.  Despite their radical differences in age and station, they have this creative pleasure in common.  Their playful battles of wit generate an exuberant vitality that enlivens them both.

The jesting abruptly ends when the Sheriff arrives to inquire about the robbery.  Everyone scatters and hides while the Prince must resume his royal identity and assure the Sheriff the pilgrims will be repaid for what they have lost.  After the Sheriff has left, Hal tells Peto to find that “oily rascal.” A moment later Peto calls out, “Falstaff! Fast asleep behind the arras, and/Snorting like a horse” (II.iv.535-536).  The comedy of Peto’s discovery turns on Falstaff’s blithe lack of concern for anything but his own immediate bodily pleasure.  While the Sheriff is in that very room looking to arrest him for a capital crime, Sir John lays down in a dark place and slips into a deep, beastly slumber.  Unburdened by guilt or shame, having no ambition beyond the next bottle of sack, he is not even perturbed by Hal’s recent, ominous words about a future banishment (“I do, I will.”).  Falstaff enjoys sleep as one of the many sumptuous courses in the great feast of life, and he lets nothing distract him from consuming his fill.

At the other end of the spectrum, the relentlessly aggressive Hotspur treats sleep as another battlefield where enemies can be attacked, fought, and conquered.  In Hotspur’s opening scene he rages against the King for refusing to help his kinsman Mortimer and commanding no further discussion of it.  Hotspur imagines a nocturnal assault on the arrogant monarch:

He said he would not ransom Mortimer,

Forbade my tongue to speak of Mortimer,

But I will find him when he lies asleep,

And in his ear I’ll hollo ‘Mortimer.’” (I.iii.235-236)

Dreams and Shakespeare: Henry IV Part I by Kelly Bulkeley

He may threaten to attack the King during sleep, but it’s Hotspur himself who has the most troubled slumber of anyone in the play.  His wife, Lady Kate, asks him why he is so agitated and disturbed: “Tell me, sweet lord, what is’t that takes from thee/Thy stomach, pleasure, and thy golden sleep?” (II.iii.41-42)  In contrast to Falstaff, Hotspur has lost all of his normal physical appetites.  Lady Kate goes on to describe in sorrowful detail the frightening spectacle of her husband’s sleeping body:

In thy faint slumbers I by thee have watched,

And heard thee murmur tales of iron wars,

Speak terms of manage to thy bounding steed,

Cry ‘Courage! to the field!’ And thou has talked

Of sallies and retires, of trenches, tents,

Of palisades, frontiers, parapets,

Of basilisks, of cannon, culverin,

Of prisoners’ ransom, and of soldiers slain,

And all the currents of a heady fight.

Thy spirit within thee hath been so at war,

And thus hath so bestirred thee in thy sleep,

That beads of sweat have stood upon thy brow

Like bubbles in a late-disturbed stream,

And in thy face strange motions have appeared,

Such as we see when men restrain their breath

On some great sudden hest. O what portents are these?

Some heavy business hath my lord in hand,

And I must know it, else he loves me not. (II.iii.48-66)

Dreams and Shakespeare: Henry IV Part I by Kelly Bulkeley

Lady Kate’s account opens a window into the war-obsessed, hyper-militarized mind of Hotspur.  Fighting is all he thinks about, day and night, in waking and sleeping.  Her description of his physical reactions have aspects of both sleep paralysis and night terrors, which are often triggered by frightening or unsettling situations in waking life.  His behavior may even reflect the repetitive nightmares symptomatic of post-traumatic stress disorder; his wartime experiences would have given him plenty of raw material.  But Lady Kate is trying to emphasize how frightening it is for her to watch her beloved endure such unconscious torments—he’s sweating, he can’t breathe, he’s in obvious distress.  Her plea for him to tell her what’s wrong is a plea for him to recognize the painful impact of his nocturnal suffering on her.

This passage offers the closest approximation of a full dream report available in the play.  Dreams are mentioned elsewhere twice in turns of phrase (“that thou dreamst not of,” II.i.69-70; “before not dreamt of,” IV.i.78) meant to emphasize something that’s vitally important yet beyond normal reckoning.  Hotspur at one point says he hates foolish talk about “the dreamer Merlin and his prophecies” (III.i.161).  Besides that, the only other reference to dreaming is indirect, in the pre-battle scene where the rebel lords take leave of their ladies.  Mortimer’s wife, who can only speak Welsh, invites her husband to enjoy a final, private reverie together:

She bids you on the wanton rushes lay you down

And rest your gentle head upon her lap,

And she will sing the song that pleaseth you

And on your eyelid crown the god of sleep,

Charming your blood with pleasing heaviness,

Making such difference ‘twixt wake and sleep

As is the difference betwixt day and night

The hour before the heavenly-harnessed team

Begins his golden progress in the east (III.i.230-239)

Dreams and Shakespeare: Henry IV Part I by Kelly Bulkeley

This is a beautiful image of sensual slumber, and one of the most poignant moments in the play.  A woman who cannot speak her husband’s language offers to ease him into a lyrical space of soothing comfort, away from the sharp edges of waking reality.  Indeed, I wonder if she is subtly helping him incubate a dream to guide him in the coming battle. The liminal state she is trying to evoke, just before dawn when sleep is about to yield to waking, is in fact the time when the human brain typically enters its peak phase of REM sleep, generating the highest frequency of remembered dreams.

What about Prince Henry?  How will he sleep and dream?  We do not know yet.  He is still unformed, his identity still in the process of becoming.  He has two more plays to go.  Will he learn from Falstaff and the “gentlemen of the shade” to sleep easily and well, or will he fall prey like Hotspur to the wrenching, inescapable violence of a militarized dreamscape?

####

 

Contemporary performances:

Dreams and Shakespeare: Henry IV Part I by Kelly Bulkeley

Last week I saw a powerful production of Henry IV Part I at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, with Daniel Jose Molina as the young Prince, G. Valmont Thomas as Falstaff, and Alejandra Escalante as Hotspur.  The scenes with Molina and Thomas were magical; at several points in their comedic jousting I had tears of laughter running down my cheeks.  The intimate space of the Thomas Theater enabled both actors to draw the audience into their merry band of criminal conspirators, making everyone feel a part of their antics, adventures, and jests.  I truly lost track of time during the riotous fourth scene of Act II.  When the Sheriff suddenly arrived it felt like a harsh and unwanted intrusion into our fun times, like an alarm clock jarring us out of a good dream. A buzz-kill, in other words.

The casting of Escalante as Hotspur gave a fresh look at Shakespeare’s classic portrait of a young warrior, inflamed with a righteous rage for vengeance.  Escalante’s intense performance decoupled Hotspur’s aggression from gender, which is perhaps another way of saying her performance humanized this aspect of Hotspur’s character. I found the effect especially strong in the scene where Lady Kate (played by Nemuna Ceesay) described Hotspur’s frightening behaviors in sleep.  Escalante and Ceesay had a vibrant and mutual romantic rapport that seemed to subtly change these lines from a shameful revelation of cowardly fear into an honest admission of the burden of fighting to uphold one’s ideals.  Instead of driving them apart, this deeply emotional exchange brought them closer together.

 

Note: this essay first appeared in the Huffington Post on April 18, 2017.

Dreaming and Theater: A Dynamic Connection

Dreaming and Theater: A Dynamic Connection by Kelly BulkeleyIn August of 1991 I joined a group of dream researchers from the U.S. and Western Europe on a journey to Golitsyno, a conference center just outside Moscow in the former Soviet Union, where we planned to meet several Soviet researchers for a gathering organized by Jungian analyst Robert Bosnak.  Just hours after our plane landed in Moscow on August 19, the airport was suddenly shut down by the Red Army; a military coup against the Soviet president, Mikhail Gorbachev, had begun.  All communications with the outside world were cut off.  Our only source of information was the state television, which offered nothing of substance and simply told everyone to stay calm. Alas, we didn’t.  As heavy tanks and armored personnel carriers rumbled through the streets, our jet-lagged brains struggled to process a surreal mix of fear, disorientation, and uncertainty about where this violent rebellion might lead.

But we had come to Golitsyno to talk about dreams, so that’s what we did, as reality itself took on a strangely dream-like quality.  Amid the various lectures and panel discussions, the most memorable session by far was a workshop on dream theater.  One person shared a dream, the rest of us chose a role to play based on an element from the dream–e.g., a character, object, setting, or emotion–and then we all performed the dream as a group, with the dreamer as the audience.  The process brought out incredible moments of insight, collaboration, creativity, and much-needed comic relief.  We were connecting with each other in a way none of the other conference sessions had allowed.  The attendees spoke a dozen different languages, so every verbal exchange involved a slow and laborious system of translation.  But here in the dream theater, we could act and react to each other immediately, spontaneously, right in the moment.  We found the best way to make sense of a world teetering on the brink of chaos was to play with each other’s dreams.

Dreaming and Theater: A Dynamic Connection by Kelly Bulkeley

Among the many vivid impressions from Golitsyno, this workshop gave me a deep and lasting curiosity about the oneiric dimensions of live dramatic performance.  Plays are collective dreams. That has been my hypothesis ever since.  A live theatrical show provides a magical space where people can dream together, where shared imaginal experiences can be created, enjoyed, explored, and amplified.  

Dreaming and Theater: A Dynamic Connection by Kelly Bulkeley

It turns out this hypothesis has a long history in the psychology of dreaming.  When Carl Jung (1875-1961) taught classes on dream analysis to graduate students at the University of Zurich in the late 1930’s, he told them to start the interpretation of a dream by treating it as the personal theater of the dreamer.  Many dreams have a “dramatic structure” that directly parallels the structure of a theatrical play.  Jung showed his students how to identify four elements commonly found in stage dramas: 1) the locale, where the dream is set and who is present as a character; 2) the exposition, what kind of problem motivates the characters and launches the plot; 3) the peripeteia, how the plot unfolds and changes over time; and 4) the lysis, how the plot ends, with or without a clear resolution.  Analyzing a dream in these terms does not automatically produce a definitive, unambiguous answer.  That was never Jung’s goal.  Rather, his theatrically inspired approach was aimed at opening up new vistas for interpretative inquiry, highlighting potentials for creative growth while making sure the meanings stay grounded in the dreamer’s lived experience.

Dreaming and Theater: A Dynamic Connection by Kelly Bulkeley

The Gestalt psychologist Frederick Perls (1893-1970) took Jung’s approach a step further.  In his workshops and seminars Perls taught his students to reimagine dreaming as a theater of their own minds: “Every part, every situation in a dream is a creation of the dreamer… Every aspect of it is a part of the dreamer, but a part that to some extent is disowned and projected onto other objects.”  Perls emphasized the value of dreams in helping us become more aware of the alienated parts of our psyche, with the goal of eventually embracing those detached elements in a greater whole: “Dreamwork is the royal road to integration.”  By “dreamwork,” Perls meant a process of live psychodrama very similar to what we practiced in Golitsyno.  He asked for the dreamer to narrate his or her experience in the present tense, like a story happening right now, because “we want to bring the dream back to life.”  He gave the dreamer the title of “stage director” for an impromptu dramatic recreation of the dream, with various members of the group serving as characters, settings, and props.  Perls encouraged the performers to engage in spontaneous dialogues, the better to highlight unconscious projections and alienated parts of the psyche.

The dream theater method my colleagues and I learned in Golitsyno was not as directive and goal-driven as Perls’ approach, which focused on the therapeutic effects of provoking confrontations and reconciliations among the various elements of the dream.  Our practice was more open-ended, exploratory, and self-guided; it was not therapy, although it felt deeply therapeutic for many of us.

In his 1984 book Film and the Dream Screen, the literary critic Robert Eberwein used psychoanalytic language to account for the dream-like qualities of watching a movie.  Drawing on Freud’s theory that dreams reveal our earliest childhood memories of total fusion with reality, before there were boundaries between self and other, Eberwein claimed:

“Our experience of film permits us to return to the state of perceptual unity that we first participated in as infants and that we can know as dreamers. The ‘sleep’ in our experience of film, that is, will be seen to return us to the primal sense of unity with our dreams. As a result, we are able to watch and feel a sense of involvement in the images on the screen, the distinction between res cogitans (the mind) and res extensa (external reality) having dissolved as we enter into the oneiric world of film.”   

I don’t entirely agree with his views of early child development (humans are relational beings from the start), but I do believe Eberwein’s approach is helpful in highlighting a powerful dimension of dreaming energy that becomes activated when watching a movie.  Indeed, I believe this argument can be made even more strongly in relation to attending a live theatrical performance, where the visceral immediacy of the drama comes closer than any other art form to invoking the startling beauty and electric intensity of an actual dream.  In a play, the audience and actors share an imaginal space they create and hold together.  Within this space, a story emerges that grows and takes a unique shape according to their dynamic interactions during the performance–the live presence of the actors intensifying the emotional responses of the audience, and the live presence of the audience stimulating the creative talents of the actors.  The best plays are like the best dreams: surprising, decentering, mind-expanding, awe-inspiring, emotionally exhausting, and acutely memorable.  They are unreal, yet realer than real; retreats into fantasy that catapult us into fresh engagement with the world.

Dreaming and Theater: A Dynamic Connection by Kelly Bulkeley

Last year I joined the board of directors of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon, where some of the greatest theater on the planet is being created and performed.  From February to November, eleven plays (usually 4-5 by Shakespeare, one big musical, and the rest original commissions for OSF) are presented in three interconnected theaters.  The 2017 season performances began a few weeks ago, and just recently the 2018 season was announced, with favorable attention to OSF’s passionate commitment to presenting plays, both classic and new, that reflect the full range and diversity of the world in which we live today.  I’m very excited to do what I can to support the members of this amazing artistic community as they weave dreams and cast dramaturgical spells that transport audiences into imaginative spheres of beauty, wonder, and fiercely relevant insight.

 

Notes:

I wrote more about the Golitsyno experiences in a chapter titled “Dreaming in Russia, August 1991,” in my 1999 book Visions of the Night (SUNY Press).  My roommate at the conference center, Michael Dupre, wrote about his experiences in a 1992 article titled “Russia. Dreaming. Liberation.” (Dreaming 2(2): 123-134).

The Jung quotes come from the 2010 book Children’s Dreams (Princeton University Press).

The Perls quotes come from the 1970 book Gestalt Therapy Now (Harper).

In a future post I will write in more detail about the work of Robert Bosnak, who organized the “Dreaming in Russia” conference and who has done extensive work connecting dreams and theater, and Janet Sonenberg, who wrote the 2003 book Dreamwork for Actors and who has worked with Bosnak in theatrical contexts.

This essay first appeared in the Huffington Post on April 4, 2017, and has been slightly revised.

Dreams and Shakespeare: Julius Caesar

Dreams and Shakespeare: Julius Caesar by Kelly BulkeleyProphetic dreams of doom go unheeded in Shakespeare’s tragedy about violent political strife among the greatest leaders of ancient Rome.

In Julius Caesar, strange dreams and nightmares join with other frightening portents to besiege the people of Rome from all sides.  Terrible storms, weird avian behavior, and a haunting Soothsayer add to the pervasive sense of inescapable doom pressing down on the city.  The very foundations of the world, both political and cosmic, are cracking apart.  Forces of chaos have been set loose within the empire.  And yet, not a single one of Rome’s political leaders has the visionary capacity to recognize the signs of danger. For their failures to heed these warnings, they pay with their lives.

The great Caesar himself sets the tone in an early scene, when the Soothsayer gives him an unmistakable warning: “Beware the Ides of March.”  Caesar is the first character to make the grievous mistake of dismissing as trivial something that turns out to be a vital truth.  For the supreme leader of the Roman empire, the reason for rejecting the Soothsayer boils down to one word: he is a dreamer.  To be a dreamer, then, is to have nothing of significance to say to the ruling authority.  But as the play later reveals, it is the dreamer who had the most significant message of all for the ruler.  This complex polarity of dreaming and political power recurs throughout this play, and in many of Shakespeare’s other plays as well.

Though named after Caesar, the play focuses more attention on Brutus, the popular Roman senator who faces an awful moral choice: Should he stay loyal to his long-time friend and comrade-in-arms, who has shown no evidence of tyrannical tendencies?  Or should he defend the city and people he loves from the imminent threat of a dictator seizing total control of their government?  The agony of making a decision has disrupted his sleep, to the point where nightmarish feelings and images begin seeping into his waking mind, threatening his mental balance.

His sleep-deprived condition makes Brutus easy prey for the deception of Cassius, who fabricates the letter from the people of Rome urging Brutus to take charge of the rebellion against Caesar.  Brutus muses over the line about needing to “awake.”  What he really needs is to sleep, yet the letter urges him (metaphorically) to do the opposite. By taking the letter at its face value, Brutus compounds his mistake—accepting something as true that is in fact the opposite.

The most powerful prophetic dream in Julius Caesar is also the one that receives the most egregiously mistaken interpretation.  The dream occurs to Calphurnia, Caesar’s wife, one of the only female characters in the play.  She does not narrate the dream herself; her husband tells it for her.  He relates that she cried out three times in her sleep about his murder, then woke up and told him about a dream of a statue with blood pouring out from all sides.  This is almost exactly what happens to Caesar later that day, and at first he accepts the dream’s warning and plans on protecting himself at home rather than going out.

But Decius has been sent by the conspirators for the exact reason of luring Caesar out of his palace and escorting him to the Senate, when they will lie in wait, knives at the ready.  Calphurnia’s dream poses a direct obstacle to their plan, so Decius must quickly devise an alternative reading of the dream, one that calms Caesar’s fears and persuades him to lower his guard.  Using a combination of fawning flattery and rank misogyny, Decius leads Caesar away from the dream’s true meaning and toward a false interpretation that actually facilitates the fatal fulfillment of the prophecy.

Immediately after this debate over the proper interpretation of Calphurnia’s dream, the next scene opens with the reading of a letter by a character named Artemidorus of Cidnos, a well-regarded teacher who finds out about the assassination plot.  His letter contains a true account of the plot, and if he had succeeded in giving it to Caesar, it would have saved the ruler’s life.  But as with all the other portents of impending doom, Caesar ignored this one, too, and Artemidorus calls for the ruler’s attention in vain.  The character of Artemidorus of Cidnos may have had a historical source, but at least some of the people in Shakespeare’s audience would also have associated him with Artemidorus of Daldis, another famous Roman teacher who wrote the Oneirocritica, the most influential manual of dream interpretation for many centuries.  The Oneirocritica was well-known in Shakespeare’s time, and most of the popular dream interpretation manuals available to the public were based on the system of Artemidorus of Daldis.  Perhaps it is just a coincidence that a scene with a failure to properly interpret an important dream about Caesar is followed by a scene in which a character named Artemidorus fails to convey an important message to Caesar.  But some of the audience, and maybe Shakespeare himself, would have followed a connecting thematic thread through these scenes, and many other as well, about the dangers of missing a warning of dangers in dreaming.

The murder of Caesar sets loose a similar dynamic in the streets of Rome.  A young poet, Cinna, awakens with a dream of feasting with Caesar, and like Caesar he hesitates in setting foot out of the house that morning because of the ill omen.  But some irresistible force compels him to go forth, where he encounters a mob of people inflamed by Marc Antony’s speech against Brutus and the other assassins.  The mob confuses Cinna the poet with another man named Cinna who helped the conspiracy against Caesar.  Even though the young poet tells the angry people of their mistake, they violently attack him anyway.  The madness of the vengeful crowd dispenses with the need to distinguish truth from illusion.

In the bloody battles for power that follow Caesar’s murder, the forces of Brutus are soon pushed to the brink of defeat.  Brutus senses his time has come because the ghost of Caesar appears to him in a quasi-dream state, terrifying him with the presentiment of his own impending death.  When the ghost departs, Brutus awakens Lucius and asks if he has been dreaming and cried out; Lucius confusedly says no, and Brutus struggles to process the uncanny reality of what he has just experienced. His epistemological uncertainty signals the further dissolution of his capacity to keep his waking and sleeping states from blurring into each other.

When the end comes, Brutus welcomes it as a long-desired rest.  Only now does he clearly foresee his future.  He conscripts the last of his friends, the slumbering Strato, to awaken and help ease him into an eternal slumber.

 

Contemporary performances:

The amazing production of Julius Caesar I saw at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in February, directed by Shana Cooper, had a setting so abstract and desaturated it could have been anywhere, or everywhere. Untethered to any specific time period, it explored the dark psychological dynamics of male aggression, vanity, and ambition.  The bloody choreography of masculine violence overshadowed the fine speeches about political virtue.  By the end of the play all the physical structures on stage had been torn to pieces and cast to the ground.  Tyranny had been averted, but at the cost of chaos.

Two casting choices made this production especially powerful.  First, Brutus was played by Danforth Comins, who performed as Hamlet in last year’s OSF production of that play.  Like Hamlet, Brutus agonizes over existential questions of duty, justice, and personal loyalty, and Comins gave the character a tremendous depth of consciousness, especially during his scenes of sleepless brooding.  Second, the part of the Soothsayer was played by Brooklyn Williams, a 12-year old girl who wore a sleeveless green dress.  This was a brilliant move, jarring to audience expectations perhaps, but unforgettably effective in showing that true wisdom, and even a hint of future growth, may come from the most improbable of sources.

  

References to sleep and dreams in the play:

I.2.29

Julius Caesar waves away the Soothsayer (who has just told Caesar, “Beware the Ides of March”): “He is a dreamer. Let us leave him. Pass.”

I.2.203

Caesar says he prefers to be surrounded by agreeable men who are “fat, sleek-headed,” “such as sleep a-nights.”

II.1.4

Brutus tries to awaken his sleeping assistant Lucius, whose deep slumber he envies: “I would it were my fault to sleep so soundly.”

II.1.48, 50

Brutus opens a letter supposedly sent to him from the people of Rome, encouraging him to lead the rebellion: “Brutus, thou sleep’st. Awake, and see thyself!”  He then repeats this line to himself.

II.1.64, 68

The stress of the conspiracy against Caesar has taken its toll on Brutus: “Since Cassius first did whet me against Caesar, I have not slept.”  Brutus goes on to describe his agonized mental state as something “like a phantasma or a hideous dream.”

II.1.214

Cassius tells the other conspirators that Caesar has become more superstitious recently, a change from his previously skeptical views “of fantasy, of dreams, and ceremonies.”

II.1.248-252

Brutus finds Lucius asleep again, and praises the youth for his innocence: “Thou hast no figures nor no fantasies/Which busy care draws in the brains of men”

II.2.1-3

At night during a terrible storm, Caesar comes out of his bedroom and says “Thrice hath Calphurnia in her sleep cried out/’Help ho, they murder Caesar!’”

II.2.80-4

Caesar says he will stay home today because of the warning vision seen by his wife in her sleep: “She dreamt tonight she saw my statue,/Which, like a fountain with an hundred spouts,/Did run pure blood; and many lusty Romans/Came smiling and did bathe their hands in it.”

II.2.88-111

Decius, one of the conspirators, persuades Caesar that Calphurnia’s dream actually has a more favorable meaning: “This dream is all amiss interpreted./It was a vision fair and fortunate./Your statue spouting blood in many pipes,/In which so many smiling Romans bathed,/Signifies that from you great Rome shall suck/Reviving blood, and that great men shall press/For tinctures, stains, relics, and cognizance./This by Calphurnia’s dream is signified.”  Caesar is more pleased by the interpretation of Decius (“And this way you have well expounded it”) than by his wife’s (“How foolish do your fears seem now, Calphurnia!/I am ashamed I did yield to them”).

II.3.1

Artemidorus of Cidnos reads a letter of warning that he plans to deliver directly to Caesar.

III.3.1-4

Cinna the poet goes out in the streets despite having just had an unsettling dream: “I dreamt tonight that I did feast with Caesar;/And things unluckily charge my fantasy.”  Moments later he is attacked by a mob who mistakes him for one of the conspirators.

IV.3.286

Brutus invites his comrades to rest before the next day’s battle: “I pray you, sirs, lie in my tent and sleep.”

IV.3.318-323

After Lucius and the others fall asleep and the candle burns low, Brutus sees the ghost of Caesar: “Ha, who comes here?—/I think it is the weakness of mine eyes/That shapes this monstrous apparition./It comes upon me.—Art thou any thing?/Art thou some god, some angel, or some devil,/That mak’st my blood cold and my hair to stare?”

IV.3.333-350

Deeply startled, Brutus wakes everyone up and asks if they saw anything: “Didst thou dream, Lucius, that thou so criedst out?”

V.5.1

Facing the end, Brutus says to his weary comrades: “Come, poor remains of friends, rest on this rock.”

V.5.20-3

Brutus says he knows his “hour has come” because he has seen the ghost of Caesar “two several times by night.”

V.5.36-46

Brutus bids farewell to his friends, even one who has fallen asleep on the rock: “Strato, thou hast been all this while asleep,/Farewell to thee, too, Strato.”  By this point he welcomes death: “Night hangs upon my eyes; my bones would rest,/That have but labored to attain this hour.” A moment later, his other friends run away. Strato awakens, and holds the sword by which Brutus kills himself.

 

Updated notes:

Here’s an article by Mary Beard in The New Statesman about the unintended political consequences of the assassination of Julius Caesar.