Cosmo Romance Dreams

Cosmo Romance Dreams by Kelly BulkeleyA couple of years ago a reporter from Cosmopolitan magazine sent me a list of dream types she had gathered from other women in her office.  I can’t remember if an article ever appeared, but I thought the dreams were interesting as expressions of the concerns many women feel about their romantic relationships.  Here is the intro I gave to the reporter, the dream types, and my comments. (Note: I just found a copy of the article.  It appeared in the December 2010 issue, p. 112, under the rather lurid title “What Your Freaky Love Dreams Mean.”)

 

Many of these dreams seem to have a distressing, negative tone, so let me say that in general I look at “bad” dreams and nightmares as valuable opportunities for insight and growth.  Such dreams usually revolve around the most emotionally important and challenging issues of our lives.  They focus on our difficulties precisely in order to give us a deeper understanding of what’s going on and what we might do about it.

 

1) You’re back with an ex.
*Is there a different interpretation depending on whether the ex you dreamt about was a nice guy who you had a good relationship with vs. a bad guy who didn’t treat you well?
Dreaming about one’s past romantic partners never ends.  He may be gone from your waking life, but, for better or worse, he’ll linger in your dreams forever.  These kinds of dreams do NOT automatically mean you want to get back together with him.  Rather, they reflect the complex and long-lasting impact any serious relationship makes on your unconscious mind. The details of the dream are important: I would want to know, in what situations does your ex appear?  What kind of emotional energy does he bring into the dream scenario?  If he’s a “good” ex, perhaps the dream suggests there’s still a way in which his presence is a helpful force in your waking life.  If he’s a “bad” ex, maybe it reflects a sense of still being trapped in the relationship, or possibly threatened by something symbolized by his kind of personality.

2) Your partner betrays you in some way (like cheating, lying, or revealing something personal about you to everyone).
This is the price of a committed relationship: a vulnerability to betrayal.  No matter how strong a relationship may appear in waking life, both people inevitably suffer some degree of insecurity, both conscious and unconscious, about their partner’s being unfaithful.  This insecurity naturally comes out in dreams that vividly portray how badly you would feel if your partner violated your trust and fidelity.  It’s possible the dreams are clues to an actual problem in the relationship (again, the details matter), but usually such anxiety dreams are reminders of our exposure to extreme emotional pain whenever we form a romantic bond with someone else.
3) You blow it with your man (whether by having a one-night stand, saying something cruel to him, etc.).
Monogamy doesn’t come easily.  We all have within us complex and conflicting feelings about our romantic partners.  It’s important to acknowledge and accept those feelings when they arise in dreams, even if we don’t necessarily act on them.  That said, if someone were having these dreams frequently, I’d certainly wonder about the quality of their waking relationship.
4) You’re engaged, and there’s something off about your ring—the stone is missing or so small you can’t see it, it’s ugly, etc.

An engagement ring is an ancient emblem of love and commitment, a very public announcement of two people’s plans for a future life together.  This makes it an excellent dream symbol for a person’s feelings about the impending marriage.  Because the focus in these dreams is usually on the appearance of the ring, I’d want to ask if there’s a concern about the appearance vs. the substance of the relationship.

5) Something weird happens during your wedding (like you can’t see the groom’s face).

A wedding is one of the most momentous rituals of human society, a true rite of passage that forever binds two people’s lives into one.  The awesome magnitude of this life change is often reflected in distressing dreams of wedding day disaster.  A Buddhist perspective might be helpful here: In that tradition’s view, a dream of wedding catastrophe could be a good dream because it shows your old way of life is dying and a new and better way of life is being born.  The weirdness reflects the shifting of your reality from the past to the future.  In the case of the groom’s missing face, it might be that his appearance and personality are not the primary focus here; what’s ultimately important is the power of the vows you’re making with him.

A Lucid Dreaming Cautionary Tale: Graham Joyce’s “Dreamside”

A Lucid Dreaming Cautionary Tale: Graham Joyce's "Dreamside" by Kelly BulkeleyLater this month (3-23) I’m joining British novelist Graham Joyce at the Rubin Museum in New York City to discuss “Are Dreams Pure Fantasy?” as part of the museum’s “Brainwave” lecture series on dreams.  I’ve just read Joyce’s first novel, Dreamside, and it’s a hauntingly beautiful tale, both frightening and inspiring.  It raises vital questions about the perils and potentials of lucid dreaming.

Written in 1991, the novel accurately conveys the naïve excitement many people felt at that time about early psychological research on consciousness in dreaming.  The story concerns four college students who sign up for a study on the induction of lucid dreams.  The students form an unlikely team, each driven by very different motives.  Ella, a mercurial, sexually alluring spiritual seeker, will do and say anything to achieve transcendence. Lee, the central character, is a stolid, rather conventional guy painfully captivated by Ella’s erotic energy.  Brad, a medical student, has the most advanced innate skills at lucid dreaming, but he’s a cynical, drunken lout who can only express his sexual desires in the crudest of ways.  Honora, from Ireland, is the quietest and most innocent of the group.  Of them all, she is the most sincere in her desire to learn about dreaming.

Their guide from waking reality into Dreamside is Professor Burns, an elderly psychologist with a hobbyist’s interest in parapsychology and an ornery disregard for other people’s feelings.  Initially the lucid dream induction seminar is just a sham, as the Professor is in fact conducting a study of small group dynamics.  But when the students begin succeeding in their efforts—when they learn how to become aware in dreams, interact with each other, and perform various experiments to test their Dreamside abilities—Prof. Burns becomes excited, too, and pushes them further and further.

Without revealing any other plot developments, it may simply be said that everyone involved reaches a point where they deeply regret their blind rush into alien realms of psychic experience.

The moral of the story is not that lucid dreaming is bad.  Nor is it that Prof. Burns might have benefited from the input of a human subjects committee, though that’s undoubtedly true.  It’s rather that we need to ask the right questions about lucid dreaming.  The characters in Dreamside are so intent on figuring out how to induce lucid dreaming that they never ask themselves why they want to do so in the first place.  The “how” question is relatively easy, but if you haven’t reflected carefully on the “why” question you may find yourself woefully unprepared for what you encounter.

This is the same message that Hindu and Buddhist sages have taught for centuries: it is indeed possible to learn lucid dreaming techniques, but those techniques are best practiced within a context of spiritual training, guidance, and self-reflection.  The college students in Dreamside have grown up in the morally impoverished world of Thatcher-era Britain, and they have few cultural resources to help them make sense of their experiences.   Perhaps the greatest achievement of Joyce’s novel is that it provides what its characters lack—a wise and healthily cautious understanding of human dreaming potential.

Patterns in Jewish Dreaming

Patterns in Jewish Dreaming by Kelly BulkeleyAs a follow-up to the previous post about religious and non-religious people’s dreams, I’ve looked more carefully at the responses of people who identified themselves as Jewish.  This is a much smaller group in my data set, with 131 participants (82 male, 49 female).  I’m more confident talking about the sleep and dream patterns of protestants (1130 people), catholics (575) and “other/nones” (1078).  But I don’t know of any other study of Jewish dreaming that includes even 131 participants, so it’s worth taking a look.

Compared to the others, Jewish people reported about the same amount and quality of sleep, somewhat lower dream recall but somewhat higher nightmare recall.  Jewish people were most likely to talk with family or friends about their dreams, a finding that may indicate the influence of cultural and religious beliefs. 

The survey included eight yes-no questions about “typical dreams,” asking “have you ever dreamed of:” falling, flying, being chased or attacked, sexuality, being in a situation exactly like waking life, being visited by someone who is dead, being aware of dreaming, and being able to control the dream. 

 Jewish participants had by far the lowest frequency of falling dreams.  They reported the lowest frequeny of dreams of flying, chasing, being in a situation like waking life, and dream awareness.   They were in the middle with the other groups on visitations from the dead, sexuality and dream control.

Based on this small sample it appearss that contemporary American Jews are relatively open in talking about their dreams with other people, but their personal dream lives tend to be moderate.