Have you ever kept a dream journal? I don’t mean the sort of journal where you scribble details about things you hope to achieve in life. I mean a journal in which you record the dreams you remember from your sleep.
I was introduced to the dream journal idea when I was about 10-years-old and my teacher had said that, if we wrote down our dreams each morning for about a week, we’d start to remember them better. It wasn’t really an assignment, per say. It was more like a suggestion. But I took hold of the idea and carried it to fruition.
Dreams have always fascinated me for as long as I can remember. In fact, when I was around 5 or 6 years old, I had dreamed I was crying and woke up crying. However, the me in my dream looked a lot like the characters from the Little Miss children’s books and I couldn’t remember why I was sad.
Later, I would have the occasional nightmare. They didn’t happen very often, but when they did, it was difficult to go back to sleep. The intriguing thing about my scary dreams was that I’d developed a sort of self-awareness in them before things got terribly bad. So my dream-self was able to say directly to my sleeping-self wake up! it’s just a dream! And I would awaken before any dinosaurs ate me or sinister-looking grown-ups abducted me.
Most of the time, though, sleep was (and still is) wonderful. As a child, I’d spend my last waking moments fantasizing about the adventures I’d longed to partake in while I dreamt. Now, as an adult, I awake and wonder what all those bizarre things I’d dreamt the night before were trying to tell me.
I confess I put too much stake in my dreams to brush them off as meaningless rubbish left over from the day before. They may not necessarily be prophetic, but the they do convey to me bits of who I am and how I inwardly feel about people and places (at least that’s what I’d like to think).
In my dream life, I’ve often felt a distinctive duality between my spiritual life and my emotional life. Those two parts of me regularly overlap in my waking-life so it’s really not surprising to have a variation of them in my dreams as well.
Recently, in the magazine publication Brain World, there was a feature article on “The Science of Sleep and Dreams.” Inside the feature, author Mridu Khullar Relph wrote:
“What goes on inside your brain when you’re dreaming? Well, as it happens, no one really seems to know exactly…
The scientific theories come down to the following: Your dreams are expressing repressed childhood longings; they’re sorting through the garbage of your day-to-day existence; or, finally – the one scientists are most recently exploring – they’re just random brain pulses and have very little significance whatsoever to your life choices as a whole.”
I have been on a significant journey of self-discovery lately. It has manifested from my intensive effort to transcribe my old journals and make them more accessible to myself and those with whom I wish to share these intimate thoughts of mine.
In the process, I realized that my dreams were among the most prominent, recurring themes throughout my personal writing. By dreams, I mean descriptions of things my mind remembers from my sleep. Of course, there is quite a fair share of the other kind of dreams as well (meaning my hopes and aspirations). But I’ll write about those some other time.
Taking advantage of some of the great technological features included in Microsoft Word, I conducted a “search” for all occurrences of the word “dream” starting with entries from 2002 all the way up to the present (with a few gaps because I haven’t transcribed everything yet). After isolating entries about the dreams of my sleeping-life in a separate document, I began to analyze each one with the perspective I have now (a much more distant and foreign perspective) of that time period with the memories of the events and emotions surrounding my younger self.
Context – The Mozart Journal
In a journal I dub “The Mozart Journal” (because it was purchased in Salzburg and features a small picture of Mozart and then a snippet of his music notation. Mozart is not a key figure in my writings) are the entries recorded between August 2002 and February 2003. It’s probably the most intriguing period of my life for me to analyze because it well-describes the internal frustrations, joys, hopes, and fears I carried with me during the trials and tribulations of studying abroad and living alone in France.
I have made multiple correlations between these dreams and the last journal entry which marks the day I abandoned my studio apartment and, in a heightened manic state, set out on a spiritual quest of sorts culminating in an involuntary hospitalization far from the city where I’d been studying.
I had no idea that I was a danger to myself. In November of 2002, I began a dream journal. A month prior, I’d been secretly suicidal following the death of my grandmother and the agonizingly painful loneliness the loss perpetuated. I actually did slit my wrists in the solitude of my room, but the blood spilt from those superficial cuts went away. So I hid my pain as best I could.
In November, I vowed to change and began to nourish a faith in God – a faith that may have precipitated both my salvation and my downfall both at the same time. Nevertheless, the unmitigated faith I clung so desperately to in those days was the closest thing I felt I had to friendship and love.
I did not consider myself to be clinically depressed at the time. In fact, considering my circumstances, I thought my tears to be extremely normal. I mean, within a mere three months, I’d experienced the loss of a loved one, the chill of loneliness and isolation, and, after the theft of my wallet, my first close brush with genuine hunger. In fact, even now it’s hard not to justify feeling sad and lonely in those conditions.
Extracts from dream journaling:
November – December 2002
November 15, 2002
One of the aspirations you have when trying to learn a new language: that one day you will know it so well that you’ll be dreaming in it. This, of course, was a happy dream. Poung was a student from Vietnam in my French as a Foreign Language class. He spoke a little English, but, as always, I made a point to insist on speaking French with him.
Last night I dreamed all in French. I don’t remember everything. I know that I spoke a lot with Poung and, walking back from the tramway, I had to go down a steep stairway and cross a little stream which I’d hoped I wouldn’t fall into, but I did anyway. I was covered in dirt and water, humiliated but not physically hurt.
November 16, 2002
It’s not often I have prophetic dreams, but this one I can look back on and definitely say my subconscious was trying to hint at something.
Two dreams stayed sketched in my mind. In one of them, I came home early and, not surprisingly, everything had changed and all my friends and family were surprised to see me. I explained to them I couldn’t finish in Montpellier. It had become too hard.
I went to Flagstaff in my running clothes and stopped by my old room to visit Melanie (an old friend and former roommate). She showed me how everything had been remodeled, but how everything was much nicer too. She had many friends visiting her and many cats as well. I, myself, had Kisses (former family cat) along with me. But as I looked around at the changes and thought about how in France, I’d longed for home, I realized at last I should have finished my stay in France because I missed so much the language and the culture and there was much I still hadn’t learned.
November 23, 2002
Here my mind is carrying in it this fear of losing the language I’d worked so hard to learn: French. I’d heard, and even met, several Americans who used to be fluent in French, but lost their ability to speak it when they were in the States and no longer used it.
This time I went to England for a while and then came home. When I came home, I longed to speak French again! My sister and I went to some sort of social event where there were a few French guys, but, aside from being cute and speaking French, they weren’t that interesting. I, however, was happy to speak the language I liked so much.
I went home for a bit, talked with friends and family, but, as it was only for a holiday, I kept emphasizing how I’m going back to France. I think all this is due to the fact that I talked to my family yesterday and I fear so much as of late that I will lose the language when I go home. Going home is a reality I will have to face, but not yet.
December 4, 2002
This is the last time I write about dreams in this particular journal. There are no more until I return to the United States in 2003. I have changed the names of key figures in this particular entry, but I think this dream illustrates, in no uncertain terms, my painful lack of connections with other human beings. I could do without romance, but a lack of friends seriously crippled me. I kept pictures of those friends and family who were most significant to me back then and posted them along the wall so I’d always think of them. At the same time, there was an inner conflict trying to convince myself that being away from my friends was the best thing for me and, moreover, the best thing for them.
I went to Strasbourg at last and saw my friends. However, Alfred merely greeted me, asked how I was doing, and then left. There were two other girls whom I didn’t know who were there, also richly desiring his attention and he preferred to give it to them, not me. Charlotte, too, was busy, but I can’t remember why. Guillaume never showed up. I shrugged my shoulders and hung out with Ashley and the other NAU girls.
All of them were sad because they were already going home (referring to the study abroad students who’d only come for 1 semester). So we stood around in a circle with other foreign students who were going home and shared stories. At last, Ashley was trying to remember a song she said I’d taught her, but I didn’t remember teaching her. I did know the song (it was a Judds song) and I tried to sing what I could remember, looking around for Alfred because I desperately wanted him to hear the words and understand. The song was Love Can Build a Bridge.
Soon everyone went their own ways and I found myself with an older woman who was pushing a stroller and walking with a bit of a limp. She said in French, “C’est dommage qu’après avoir fait une voyage si longue Alfred a choisi de ne pas passer ses temps avec toi.”
I smiled and said that life is just like that I guess. She went on to say that Guillaume never came because there was some sort of fight between him and Alfred.
We ended up walking and talking for a long time until we arrived at some ancient ruins in the Egyptian desert. I paused for a moment because I suddenly realized we’d been speaking English together. I expressed my concern, my fears of forgetting the language, and we proceeded to speak in French.
I dreamed much more that night. In fact, I was haunted by strange dreams all night. This one, however, was the most worthy of being written.
To be continued….