Have you ever wondered what dogs dream about as they lay in their fluffy 40×50 beds bought at Tractor Supply on sale for $20? I’ve always assumed my dog is dreaming of chasing down some hapless little mammalian creature in the backyard. He probably envisions himself with teeth made of titanium and these Wolverine like claws that can be extended, probably from the Kevlar body armor he’s wearing. He lays in the aforementioned bed, peripatetically strolling a dream world full of tasty small mammals that easily separate into disparate parts that I later have to clean up with a HazMat suit though based on past experiences, I doubt the trouble cleaning up the kill site ever enters into his dreams. He woofs and twitches and occasionally gets so excited that he farts himself awake, often finding that I’ve long since left the room searching for a gas mask and the incense. His dreams seem to be enhancements of his day to day life, mental extensions of his actualized doggy self, owner of the domain of all his limited little doggy brain can comprehend.
I on the other hand have dreams about getting chased by nebulously evil amorphous grey creatures that very well might be the rabbits that my dog gleefully terrorizes, only in my dreams they are the ones with Kevlar body armor and oddly non-leporine characteristics like fangs and a penchant for carrying around .50 caliber machine guns on their heads. They haunt my dreams I presume to torture me for not protecting them in the back yard and having gone to Leporine Heaven, have armored up in a way only a defenseless rabbit might dream of, equipped with all manner of weapons and teeth God choose not to bestow on them originally.
I dream about the total failure of not being able to open a door because there is no knob. Or in the cases I’m lucky enough to find a knob on the door, someone has applied an industrial standard lubricant like Crisco to it, rendering me fit for frying as the fangy little gray things with the machetes and machine guns close in around me. I dream about roller coasters ascending to new, unheard-of heights with me as the only rider only to find out that the roller coaster architect seems to have a fascination with building monumental roller coasters absent descending tracks leaving me to contemplate the existential qualities of life as I plunge to the earth in the Judge Roy “You’re Damn Right You’re Going To” Scream “As You Die A Miserable Roller Coaster Related Death.” In short, I dream about my fears and failures while my dog dreams of success (at least I attribute his dreams as successes which is probably entirely related to how I view him more than any proof of the content of said dreams. For all I know, he’s dreaming about me chasing his little butt around the house with a vacuum mounted broom after I’ve discovered him face down in the litter box buffet again which he views as a kind of all you can eat smorgasbord as soon as I walk out the front door. This would explain the twitching, whining and involuntary farting.)
And of course, my experience with dreams is far from unique. Almost anyone I’ve ever talked to has dreams more closely aligned with their greatest fears than with anything resembling their successes. Is this an evolutionary benefit conferred by our ancestors after nights of dreaming about hideously large owls swooping through the night to feast on our oversized monkey brains? Or is this a societal imprint, foisted upon us by the imprimatur of a society that thrives on success and ridicules failure? What about our psyches causes dreams of shadowy rabbits with machine guns and fangs when the lights go out and the defenses go down (leaving aside the idea that maybe it’s just me)?
We talk about chasing our dreams but frankly, when the mind is left to wander unencumbered by the guard dog at the door of reality, we are the ones more often being chased in those dreams. Dreams have been prominently studied since at least 5000 BC. Freud was preoccupied and thought all dreams came from the penis. Of course, Freud thought his Cheerios came from his penis too. Johann Heinrich Fussli seems to have dropped a tab of acid and painted his dreams. The Greeks and Romans thought dreams were messages from the gods, a sure sign they’ve had the best mythology in the last thousand years or so as well as some seriously screwed up gods. Mopheus may have been the god of dreams in Greek mythology but in my extensive personal research, it seems like Loki is the one in charge of my subconscious most of the time. Hey, it’s no less feasible than God having a rooting interest in yesterday’s Broncos-Steelers game as a certain young Christian acolyte would have you to believe. As an aside, if God does have a rooting interest in the Broncos of late, my personal theory is that he’s betting the money line. He’s played it perfectly too. He gave the Broncos a little success in the middle of the season and then He caused them to run off 3 straight losses coming into the playoffs. That meant the bookies set the moneyline astronomically high, allowing God to making a killing yesterday. Don’t look for that to continue next weekend in New England since everyone knows even God doesn’t fuck with Bill Belicheck.
They say that deja vu is a memory phenomenon where one side of the brain is faster than the other in recording an event, the ultimate memory overwrite. The thought is that the mechanisms for storing long and short term memory get crossways with each other and that sense of deja vu is actually your short term memory trying to store an event that your long term memory already stuck in the buffer, causing the feeling that you’re experiencing the event for a second time. While this sounds fascinating and is certainly ripe with research opportunities, I will continue to believe I’m slightly psychic and if only I could harness that fleeting psychic power, I could use it for the ultimate good – winning lottery ticket numbers.
What is it about our fears that manifest themselves so deeply in our dreams? It has to be related to the fact that most of us actively repress our fears during the day (or attempt to kill them entirely with large doses of alcohol), delegating the unpleasant task of facing our fears to our unconscious. Our unconscious wakes up during REM and decides to deal with the fears in the only way it knows how, to magnify and amplify them into largely narrative tales involving wild leaps of plot and structure because, well, it’s a narrative and the unconscious can do what it damn well pleases when the conscious can no longer repress it.
I wonder what the dreams are like for inveterate fear facers, those random souls in civilization who look at what they fear and decide “I’ll be damned if I’m going to have another dream about going to school naked so I’ll just go to school naked and see what happens”. Do they dream of their own self-actualization over their fears or are we all repressed in some way such that no matter how much we face our fears, there are always new ones to take their place?
We watch scary movies and claim that they will haunt our dreams when in fact those things are only scary in a conscious world while the truly terrifying things are much more mundane ideas like rejection from our peers and not being able to make the house salad before Freddy Krueger’s entree arrives (that last one may be entirely personal in nature).
Those of us with plenty of fears to spare should have the most interesting dreams if for no other reason than the richness of source material. I have a fear of failure, a fear of not enough tomatoes in the salad, of roller coasters, of wolves, of being trapped and apparently of the Pope if past dreams are to be taken seriously. So you can imagine the dreams I might have riding on roller coasters with that creature from Van Helsing snarling at me that his house salad only had two tomatoes, the bars locked down while the Pope tells me I’m to be executed for not doing my homework. Truly interesting but typically they are more mundane and only involve the Pople and my inability to escape from the church because there is Crisco on the door knob.
As my dog lays in his bed chasing through the killing fields, I resolve to face a few more of my fears when I can muster the courage. In the meantime, I’ll probably have to just face the fact that Van Helsing is going to join me on a few more roller coaster rides. Good god, where is that incense?