When you hit the bed and the world dissolves into a weird hotch-potch of people known and unknown, locations visited and beyond, and you watch all of it as it dissolves back into the comfort of a bed or the discomfort of a weird posture. Dreams enchant, dreams thrill, but most importantly, dreams confuse. Over the ages, these illusions have fascinated us. While some wonder at the Gods and destiny and how our dreams might serve as pointers in life, others wonder at the science behind it all. What are those random fragments that we see and forget so quickly? Why don’t we question our dreams while dreaming? And well, what distinguishes it from reality?
Regardless of how literate we are in the real world, dreams portray us as characters that have no sense of judgement, no sense of logic. Just silent observers. Or perhaps, not quite so. Oddly enough, our sense of morality survives. Now of course, this sense of morality is subjective. Army men and doctors may be used to people dying, and may thus murder people in dreams without a hint of guilt shrouding their actions. On the contrary, a common man with high regard for morals and ethics may be wrenched back to his waking reality, sweaty and panting. So, would it be right to judge a person’s character by the dreams he has? Not quite. Even the mildest of us may have the most horrifying of dreams, for though we are equipped with our sense of morality, even in dreams, the intensity of such morality is lowered. While still awake, we force away such random thoughts of brutality, but they are still generated and lurk quietly within our darker selves. With no conscious efforts to monitor them, they flow freely when we rest our physical selves.
Resting our physical selves does not necessarily refer to zero sensory input from the five sense organs. Internal organs are equally important. Dreams like falling from the top of a building are generated due to the expansion and contraction of the lungs while the thorax is in contact with the skin, which gives the sensation of falling. Other external stimuli like bright lights that invade the closed eye, or the straightening of a raised knee also give rise to their associated dream elements.
New faces and locations are hardly ever constructed by the brain. All elements in dreams are drawn from real life, even though we may not realize it at the time. A lot of information is passively absorbed by the conscious mind, and are passed on to the subconscious mind, labelled as unimportant or irrelevant. But the information is never really lost. One important factor that distinguishes dreams from reality is that our waking life conscious thinking is carried out in terms of ideas and languages, whereas in dreams, we most often think in terms of an assembly of images. Not all of dreams are visuals, though. Some abstract elements like feelings are also available to us. But their intensity, like that of morality, is lowered.
One interesting dream phenomenon that can be mastered through rigorous practice and routine is lucid dreaming. This particular kind of dreams is one in which the dreamer is consciously aware of the fact that he is, in fact, dreaming. These dreams become as vivid as real waking life, to the point when it becomes difficult to tell them apart. The dreamer is advised to perform certain reality checks before he starts treating the dream world as a do-as-you-please world, where practically anything can be accomplished. To achieve this state of awareness in dreams, the dreamer needs to push himself into the habit of recalling his dreams in detail. This may be accomplished by documenting dreams soon after waking. The average person has poor recall of dreams, due to random scattered sequences that hardly make any sense. This is often the reason behind even the most honest of people adding extra connecting elements to their dreams when asked to recall. The brain demands cognitive connections and causality in everything – and this, dreams lack. Documenting dreams soon after waking gives an honest account of the random events and imagery, and performing this ritual daily improves recollection of dreams, as they gradually become more vivid and start making more sense. This is the gateway to lucid dreaming. Several guided meditations have been crafted for the sole reason of achieving lucid dreams in sleep.
Mysterious as dreams may be, the chances of them being messages from God or indications of destiny are getting bleaker as scientists and psychologists further explore the mysteries of the firing neurons that make us, well, human.
Written by Anisha Gupta