Tag Archives: interpreting dreams

Dreams of My Mother

suitcase

Photo by Jed Owen on Unsplash

I had a vivid dream the other night. I was preparing to teach a class, but I couldn’t find my notes. As the time for the class drew nearer, I got increasingly stressed that I’d lost my window to prepare.

The Interpretation of dreams

In and of itself, that dream isn’t all that unusual. I constantly have dreams that I’m taking tests I’ve not studied for, or have been cast in plays for which I haven’t learned the lines.

But in this particular dream, my notes were buried in a large suitcase filled with my late mother’s belongings. And every time I tossed out one item – her old raincoat, a set of sheets, a painting – another item would appear.

As the class I was meant to be teaching got closer and closer, more and more things from my mother’s past appeared. It got to the point where I couldn’t empty the suitcase quickly enough. I never found my notes, I missed my teaching deadline, and I had to cancel the class.

Avoiding Sadness

I’m a big believer that bad dreams can be good for you. So I knew that this dream was trying to tell me something. After my mother passed away in June, I went back home to the States and emptied her apartment. But why was I dreaming about that now?

When I described the dream to my husband, he said, “It’s obvious. You’ve been working really hard lately. And you’re using work to stave off sadness about your mother’s death.”

He had a point. No sooner had I managed to achieve a modicum of balance in my work-life this summer, a tsunami of work hit in early September that has yet to abate. I’ve long used busyness as a tool for staving off all sorts of negative feelings and anxieties, so why not sadness over my mother’s passing?

You can’t box grief

But I think there’s something else going on in this dream as well. As we edge towards the six month mark of my mother’s death, I’ve begun to worry: Will I forget her? A lot of this has to do with the fact that – because of the pandemic – we’ve still not managed to have a proper memorial service to celebrate her life.

Back in June when she died, my siblings and I optimistically thought we might manage a service by Christmas. Then, Easter. But with the latest news reports around vaccines, I’m now thinking it will realistically be next summer, earliest.

And because of this delay, I’ve found myself wondering lately if maybe we shouldn’t opt for an online memorial service, as so many others have done. I raised this with one of my brothers the other day, who instantly killed the idea. He’d like to do it in person. And in talking it through with him, I realized that I would too.

What I came to realize was that planning the Zoom funeral was my way of ensuring that I didn’t forget her. But as my dream reminds me: I don’t need a funeral to remember my mother. She’s already here. Pictures of her are strewn across my house. I wear her jewelry and read her books. And if I ever get so busy that I stop processing those reminders, she will come back to me in my dreams, to remind me that she’s still here.

So perhaps the dream was a reminder that you can’t box grief. You can try to set it aside, but it will always pop back up – Mary Poppins like.

Thank Goodness.

This post originally appeared on Sixty and Me.

Why Bad Dreams Are Good For You

dreaming

dreamingI’ve long been an active dreamer. My dreams are lengthy, plot-driven and very detailed. I nearly always remember them when I wake up.

Nor are they particularly pleasant. From the proverbial math test that you haven’t studied for –  to the play you’re in where you don’t know your lines – I regularly experience some of the most common dreams in adulthood.

I’ve always accepted my troubling dreams as a sign that I am…troubled. Not massively so. But for those of us who lack the benefit of a “quiet mind,” I think it’s inevitable that the thoughts and feelings swirling around inside of us during the day are going to need some sort of outlet at night.

Lately, however, I’ve been re-assessing whether the fact that I have disturbing dreams might actually be a sign that I’m on a journey towards happiness.

What Are Dreams?

There are different theories on what dreams mean and how to interpret them. For Freud and others in the psychoanalytic tradition, dreams were a form of wish fulfillment. Even some scholars who don’t fully buy into Freud believe that dreams serve as a way of processing repressed thoughts and feelings (sexual and otherwise) that live in our unconscious.

Other researchers interpret dreams as a form of problem-solving. From this perspective, the brain responds to potential future danger by running – and responding to – a bunch of different scenarios while we sleep, just to keep us alert.

Still others believe that dreams help us process emotions by encoding and constructing memories of them. What we see and experience in our dreams might not necessarily be real, but the stories we construct in our help us to emotions attached to these experiences certainly are.

Being Lost in Your Dreams

In my case, the dreams I’ve had over the past few years very closely track some of my major anxieties – and personal evolution – during that time.

For a long time, I had dreams about trying to get somewhere. This sometimes took the form of an elevator, where I’d push a button to go to a certain floor and then the elevator would fly off in many directions, never landing at my destination. That dream has also, at times, taken the form of me driving or walking somewhere without a map. I try desperately to figure out where I need to get to but am increasingly worried about being late.

I feel like this is a fairly straightforward metaphor for the journey of professional reinvention I’ve been on, one that has intensified in the last year or so. It’s a dream about uncertainty…and movement.

Dreams About Parties

In the last few months, however, the “being lost” dreams have really faded. In their place have come a series of dreams about attending parties with other people: family, friends, strangers. In these parties, I can always see the fun going on in another room, but something blocks me from taking part.

If you google “dreams about parties” you’ll find interpretations range from social anxiety to needing to let your hair down to partying too much.

For me, it’s simpler than that: I’m on a path towards personal and professional fulfillment, but I’m still not entirely sure that I’m permitted to enjoy it. So the dream is very clearly reminding me that despite all the work I’ve done to construct a new narrative for myself, there’s still a bit of fear and possibly even ambivalence about seizing a life that is better suited to who I am.

Why Struggle is Good For You

I’m OK with that idea – that even as I feel ever closer to being at peace with myself – that I may continue to struggle for a good while longer in life. In this, I’m 100% with self-help guru Mark Manson, who argues in his new book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck ,that a certain amount of pain and darkness is the necessary and inevitable price of self-discovery and self-acceptance.

So I embrace my dreams. They tire me out. But they also remind me that I’m alive.

Image: Dreaming by Eflon via Flickr