Analyze This

Not a month goes by that I don’t hear from at least one friend or relative who says: “I had the weirdest dream last night; listen to this …” People call me to tell me their dreams because I am, seriously, the queen of amateur dream analysis.

pilar-gerasimo

That’s probably because I have such oddball and vivid dreams myself. They’re the kind with multiple acts and scenes, precise scripts, and involved story lines. While my dreams are filled with puzzling (and often colorful) imagery, I usually find the core messages of the characters and stories to be surprisingly straightforward, at least when seen through a wide lens.

My dreams help me process daily worries and desires, but they also help me position my personal struggles in archetypal contexts and — I know this sounds strange — to understand them in a less personal way. What I mean is that when I see all these mysterious aspects of my personality manifesting and then slinking or striding or even duking it out in my dreams, I am often able to see something in them that’s bigger than myself. I am able to relate to them better than when I consider them just through the filter of my own contemporary events and relationships.

Dreams help me see past the distractions of my immediate concerns to understand why this dilemma or that anxiety, this petty little insecurity or that overarching obsession is representative not just of my state, but of an inherently human state. And that helps me put my own stuff into perspective.

I enjoy listening to and analyzing other people’s dreams for the same reason. Many times, what I see in them is that our sleeping dreams (with a little “d”) help us navigate the territory toward our waking Dreams (with a big “D”). They sort of map out what stands between us and our fondest hopes and longings — and sometimes they even give us a shove. Isn’t it often the case that people recognize they are in a dead-end job or soul-blunting relationship (or otherwise not living fully) only after having a dream so intense they couldn’t shake it?

Our dreams also connect us to the most ancient and fundamental parts of us. So even if we don’t sing and tell creation stories around the fire pit anymore, our dreams still carry the thread of that collective unconscious, that awareness of being connected to something bigger, something mythic. Feeling the pull of that thread reminds us, occasionally, that we’ve all got a lot more going on than meets the eye. But sometimes we have to close our eyes and shut down our busybody brains to get a peek at it.

Dreams tell us about our potential, our destiny, our heroic capacities and our fatal flaws. They tell us that our lives want something of us, something that perhaps the waking parts of us haven’t been showing up for — but could, if we were just willing to pay our big-D Dreams more attention.

In The Hero With a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell writes: “In the absence of an effective general mythology, each of us has his private, unrecognized, rudimentary, yet secretly potent pantheon of dream. The latest incarnation of Oedipus, the continued romance of Beauty and the Beast, stand this afternoon on the corner of Forty-second Street and Fifth Avenue, waiting for the traffic light to change.”

This issue of Experience Life is about what happens when the light turns green. It’s about the choices and experiments and explorations that our imaginations put at our disposal. It’s about first considering, and then living, the possibilities that get us most excited, most terrified, most alive.

Winter is the season of dreaming. I hope yours produces as least a few dreams you are excited to share, and a few Dreams you are willing to actively pursue. And if you do dream any real doozies, check out “Looking Into Your Night Life” for advice on getting them down on paper.

Pilar Gerasimo is the founding editor of Experience Life.

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