Dreams and stories

• February 22nd, 2014 • Posted in All posts, Story-telling

A story written in a dream is one thing, but of course dreams themselves are stories, protypical stories that everyone weaves for themselves in the night, whether or not they think of themselves as story tellers.

Like good stories dreams are constructed of disparate elements and have many layers, bringing things together that in the ‘real’ world may not seem close, but which are connected in some way at the level of meaning.  And in dreams, as in stories, things of the mind may transformed into tangible objects out there in the world.   Once I spent a day walking in woods with a friend, during which I pretended to carefree, though all the time a big secret was burdening my mind.  As I sank into sleep that night I found myself back in the woods, and saw a brontosaurus tiptoeing delicately through the trees: the abstract ideas of bigness and secrecy succinctly captured in concrete form.

Of course, like stories, dreams often come from places which we are not consciously aware of.   Freud saw them as rising from the unconscious, and being manifestations of our forbidden desires.    I only partly buy that.   Yes they can be manifestations of desires, but in my experience dreams can also be wiser and less driven than my waking self.  Sometimes in dreams, what seem alluring temptations when I’m awake, are revealed to be drab and tawdry.  And often dreams make things clear to me that I find confusing or overwhelming in waking life.  That tiptoing brontosaurus was not a symbol of desire, but a succinct summing up of what, in essence, that day had been.

I think in waking life, time and literal space can overly dominate our thinking.  We see things stretched out across time, scattered across space, and imagine that this matrix – this grid – defines their true relationship.   But I think there’s a level of the mind that isn’t fooled by this.   It works in an entirely different kind of space, that you might call the space of likeness.   (After all, even in waking life we use the language of literal space to describe relations of likeness and difference.)

All the while, as parts of our brain beaver away at understanding causal connections within the matrix of space and time, other parts of our brain are weaving this entirely different kind of space constructed of metaphors, similes and associations.  It’s a space that disregards proximity, category, causality and scale, and it’s a big source of invention, intuition and lateral thinking.  Dreams are the purest manifestation of that alternative space, but all good stories dip into it too.  So useful is dreaming, in so many ways, that we’ve found a way of doing it in waking life.

Leave a comment: