Friday, July 06, 2007

Threads of our lives in dreams...

Rebecca Cathcart writes an article on dreaming and "big dreams" (PDF here) that resonates with my own experience of having, particularly before waking, emotionally intense dreams whose story line seems to be an obvious attempt to integrate important personal issues. Some clips:
Big dreams are once again on the minds of psychologists as part of a larger trend toward studying dreams as meaningful representations of our concerns and emotions...The dreaming imagination does not just harvest images from remembered experience...It has a “poetic creativity” that connects the dots and “deforms the given,” turning scattered memories and emotions into vivid, experiential vignettes that can help us to reflect on our lives....Cultural narratives in regions like Vietnam and North and South America assign special importance to such dreams and consider them actual encounters with the spirits of lost loved ones...This notion is so widely shared by traditions all across the globe that some scholars have gone so far as to argue that religion itself actually originated in dream experience.
The article emphasizes the role of dreams in dealing with death and grief.
Grief itself is transformative. It is a process of disassembly. The bereaved must let go of the selves they were, as well as the loved ones they have lost. The dreams we have while grieving are an important part of that process...Our dreams have to do with how we internalize the people we love...You learn to look within for the loved one and the particular function that person played in your life, such as caretaking or guidance in the case of a parent. This becomes part of a function that you can provide for yourself.

Dreams that occur during rapid eye movement, or REM, cycles are the most memorable and emotionally powerful...The dreams have power because brain activity during REM is most similar to that of a waking state. The emotional responses to REM dream content, therefore, are most like the responses during waking cognition...Core body temperature rises gradually from its nadir in the middle of the night during slow-wave sleep, the least active brain state. As morning nears, subcortical brain activity tied to the circadian cycle increases. When these cycles coincide in the last and longest REM phase... the mind produces its most dramatic dreams...the four or five phases of REM in a normal night’s sleep might include similar dream content. Just as the image of a lost loved one stimulates parts of the brain associated with loss, the content of dreams early in the sleep cycle could set the tone for that night’s dream experiences. Our memories upon waking, therefore, may be our recollection of a night’s cumulative dream content.

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