I Study My Dreams and Make Life Decisions Based on Them

Like a best friend who always has my back, my dreams have even been known to get all up in my face when I’m dating an unworthy man.
Publish date:
July 31, 2013
dreams, the science of sleep, lucid dreams, sleep paralysis

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I trust my dreams implicitly. Most mornings, I wake up remembering a lot of what I dreamt the night before and the dream runs on repeat in my mind throughout the day. It’s sort of like waking up with your favorite song in your head and hearing it all day long, or, alternatively, being stuck in cerebral hell with “Call Me Maybe” on repeat. Depends on the dream.

When I was seven, I had recurring flying dreams and was convinced I could actually fly. Holding an open umbrella, I jumped off the tallest part of my elementary school playground one day, Mary Poppins style. The crash landing, broken umbrella and torn up knee proved that maybe I couldn’t fly in the real world, but the experience didn’t make my dreams any less real to me.

Flying in dreams might seem like the most fun you can have while getting your REM on, but they got old pretty fast because I was stuck flying around my family’s house. What’s the point of being able to fly if you’re confined to the cramped hallways of a duplex? I bumped into walls, hit my head on the ceiling, and couldn’t extend my arms to their full wingspan for fear they’d get caught in doorways.

In real life, my metaphorical wingspan was being equally challenged. My family had recently moved to Calgary from Toronto, and I was the nerdy new kid in a new school. I desperately missed my Toronto friends and family, was made fun of for my asthma and big frog eyes, and had a hard time making friends. Not knowing how to face these new girl challenges, I became silenced by my shyness.

Since I wasn’t making much progress on the friend front, I took solace in schoolwork, books and movies. I read a book on #42, the late, great Jackie Robinson, and as I wrote a book report on him, his story became a game changer for me.

If Jackie Robinson could hold his head high and stride to the plate while pitchers callously threw balls at his head, entire stadiums booed him and his own teammates heckled him, surely I could get over my fear and muster up the strength to talk to my second grade classmates.

With Mr. Robinson’s inspiration, not only did I start getting over my shyness and making friends, but I also began to fly outside in my dreams.

Freedom, born of a choice I had made in my waking life, had manifested into fun, fearless flying adventures in dreamland.

In similar ways, dreams have always provided me with a mirror to my inner life. They’ve forced me to examine and deal with choices I’ve made or aspects of my life that I’ve neglected or overlooked.

Like a best friend who always has my back, my dreams have been known to get all up in my face when I’m dating an unworthy man. It happens more than I’d like to admit. What the dreams reveal isn’t always pretty, but they are usually on point.

There was the time I had a nightmare about being locked in a house with my dog while the man I was dating lit it on fire and left us to burn. I broke up with him the next morning. Not only was he a cocaine and lying addict who had borrowed money from me that he would never pay back, but I later found out that he also had a serious girlfriend he forgot to tell me about. Oops.

Similarly, a few months ago, I had a strange dream while sleeping next to Ted, a man I was sort of dating who is into Buddhism and Chinese medicine and who sold magic tea from his mom’s basement… He was good in bed, OK?

We’d hook up whenever I was in town but that last time, I had a terrible nightmare about a girl he had dated who died 10 years ago. Her ghost was there and she was not happy. I woke up in a cold sweat, feeling like I shouldn’t be there.

He had filled my trip itinerary with all sorts of plans for us, but he ended up not following through on any of them. In fact, the night I had that dream was the last time I saw him. I was a bit let down, but I understood because of my dream, and it was OK. I knew that his demons -- or angels -- were too much for him to handle.

Obviously, I’m not the first person to be fascinated by and hold stock in my dreams. Sigmund Freud, phallic fellow that he was, thought that dreams held the answers to our repressed sexual desires. According to Freud, in dreams, all cylindrical objects represent the penis, while enclosed objects with openings represent the vagina.

Rather than repressed longings, Freud’s contemporary Carl Jung believed that dreams allowed us to reflect on and solve our problems.

I’m more Jung that Freud when it comes to my dream thinking, because I’m too much of a prude to go to the penis vagina place in all of my dreams. I’ve also had dreams that go beyond either dream master’s thinking. These quasi-spiritual mind movies remain unexplained by reason, and are only understood by intuition.

I’m very far from psychic but my dreams might be -- at least a little. I had a nightmare about a girl I knew from elementary school trying to sabotage my life last year, and it left me so shaken that I immediately unfriended her on Facebook when I woke up. A few days later, I found out that she, a girl I hadn’t even seen in over five years, had been trash talking me around my hometown. The unconscious world of my dreams knew this before my waking brain did.

When I was a teenager, I once dreamt about my aunt who had died five years earlier. She was sitting in the passenger seat of an old car that slowly drove by our house. She smiled and waved at me and I waved back. When I told my mom about it the next morning, she looked at the calendar and realized it was the fifth anniversary of her sister’s death.

“Wow,” she said. “It makes sense that she would be in the passenger seat. She never learned to drive.”

It’s actually really comforting to see dead relatives in my dreams. Dante, my late grandfather who was known for his stoic silence, visits me in dreams sometimes. Perhaps to make up for his lack of loquaciousness while alive, he acts as my dream advisor, counseling me on life problems while we sit at a picnic bench in a park. I don’t always remember what was discussed, but the dreams leave me feeling loved and supported by a grandfather who died when I was just a little girl.

When we were 13, my friend Sara bought me a Dreamer’s Dictionary for my birthday. It became my bedside bible, a formidable self-help book that let me understand my nighttime adventures and sort through my feelings and issues. These days, you can Google dream meanings, but I still find it soothing to be able to look them up in a book.

The moon has influence over our dreams, too. I find when the moon is new, full, or close to either, its lunar juju juice makes my dreams stranger, more vivid and easier to recall. Have you noticed this?

While I put a lot of stock in my dreams, I won’t stand for bad ones. If I’m ever having a run of nightmares, I light some sage and say a few words to escort out any bad vibes that may have crept into my room. Have I mentioned I’m superstitious to a ridiculous degree? Whatever. I believe it works, and so it does, for me.

If you want to get more in tune with your dreams, but don’t typically remember them, you should think about keeping a dream journal that you write in as soon as you wake up. From there, you can start interpreting them. Keep an eye out for recurring themes, people and moods.

Also, before going to bed, think about things you’d like to dream about. If you’re really into remembering your dreams, and don’t mind disturbing your golden slumbers, set an alarm to go off about four hours after you fall asleep. This should wake you up during a REM sleep cycle, which is when you dream the most, so you’ll be able to recall what you were dreaming about. The more you do this, the better you’ll get at naturally remembering your dreams.

You haven’t had a truly intense dream experience, however, until you’ve had a lucid dream. These only started happening for me about a year ago. Lucid dreams are pretty regular for me now, and I think they might be a side effect of the antidepressants I started taking last year.

If dreaming is your unconscious mind’s movie, a lucid dream makes you the auteur, in full and complete control of its direction. It can be confusing because you’re like, am I dreaming, or am I awake? I’m probably dreaming because there are slices of pizza growing from that tree over there. Pepperoni? I want cheese. Wow, look they’re cheese now! I am definitely going to dream eat all of them.

The best part about lucid dreams is you have all the power. Once, I dreamt I was at someone’s wedding wearing an awkward, dumpy gray dress that I didn’t want to get up and dance in. I "Bewitched" that shit (that is a dated reference for wiggling one’s nose, witch like, and making magic happen), and my dress transformed into a hot red number that I busted some major dream moves in.

Having that sort of power over your dreams is a thrill, but sometimes things can go very wrong. In my experience, this has happened when I’m ready for the dream to be over, so I command myself to wake up, but instead of actually waking up, I wake up in the dream thinking it’s real life. It’s dream entrapment.

The worst is when I can’t move my body because I’m still sleeping and the dream turns into a nightmare of the "Vanilla Sky" variety as strange, existential ponderings pollute my brain.

Not being able to move, or talk, while dreaming when you desperately want to is called sleep paralysis. Oftentimes, sleep paralysis dreams are dark and seemingly inescapable, which can be both terrifying and exhausting.

Despite this, lucid dreaming is generally groovy. You can will yourself to fly! Or run around in fields of daisies, or do whatever else seems cool in dreamland.

Here’s a fun and helpful video on lucid dreaming and how to do it:

I think we all have the capacity to connect to something more in our dreams. Our defenses our down, we’re relaxed, and we’re able to confront the grit that we might normally try to avoid while awake.

If you don’t remember your nightly dreams, or don’t want to, take some time to daydream. I do it all the time. Getting caught in a reverie of your own creation can be a blissfully enjoyable and healing experience.

Do you guys think this is a bunch of hogwash? Do you remember your dreams and trust them? Do you lucid dream? Tell me!