Unlocking our Dreams
Nadia found herself in the digs she lived in last year. Her digsmate had cooked lasagna, while adding soil and a placard of black spider eggs to its ingredients. Soon after the lasagna had cooked, the mother spider made itself apparent — its size truly surprising them. However, the spider and its placard of eggs were no longer at her digs, but rather living at her old house in her hometown. Then, transported back to her digs, she observed her digsmate, who had not realised what he had cooked, and some of her friends devouring the egg-infected, soil-laced lasagna. Nadia’s dream ended. “It felt weird eating breakfast this morning,” she said.
Nadia is one of the many people reporting a dream life that features more absurdity and detail than before lockdown. Jane Teresa Anderson, a dream analyst, dream therapist, author and mentor explains this phenomenon. “More sleep is not only more time to dream, but 60 to 90 per cent of our dreams occur in the last two hours of an eight-hour sleep. So people who normally sleep six hours and then suddenly are having eight hours of sleep are actually experiencing far more dreams,” Ms Anderson wrote in an email to me. She also attributed the recent vividness or emotional quality of our dreams to the sudden shift in routine or circumstance and our increased ability to remember them to the tendency of intense, emotional dreams to wake us and activate our memory.
Some dreams were reported to have involved aspects of the respondents’ waking life. Story lines from the books, TV series and movies they had read or watched recently informed the narrative of their dreams. “I have had more than one dream about being June from The Handmaid’s Tale and faced with plotting the escape from the Red Center with Moira,” respondent Lisa Marie recalled. Familiar places, although often viewed from shifting time periods or perspectives, are also reported to have inspired the settings in respondents’ dreams. Cailyb, a student studying in the Eastern Cape, commented on this. “I’ve been having very vivid dreams as well! Strange and surrealistic takes on life in Grahamstown, in the old haunts or the digs,” she said. For some people, this surrealism resided in eerier dreams. Tristan revealed his fear of falling asleep, while Imma, who before lockdown experienced few nightmares, spoke of how she had been subjected to moments of isolation in her dreams as she struggled to recognise familiar places and walked through empty cities.
Days ago, I jolted awake. My heart was pounding as a wave of panic washed over me. In recalling this, I was prompted to ask Ms Anderson about the common emotions manifesting in people’s dreams during lockdown. She revealed the prevalence of feelings of disgust, of helplessness (particularly in relation to contracting Covid-19), of fear surrounding change, of being stifled, suffocated or out of control and of feeling vulnerable. Cailyb attested to this and wrote, “The most vivid of my dreams definitely made me think about vulnerability and being open towards others.” Christie-Li , another respondent, wrote about her feelings of increased helplessness. “I’m stuck inside doing a limited amount of things whilst being rather stressed about everything going on,” she expressed. “My dreams often play out my realistic fears.” Additionally, Ms Anderson wrote about the manifestation of loss and grief in people’s dreams as their subconscious minds work to process both past losses and fears of loss.
During our conversation, Ms Anderson pointed to the relationship between the emotional expression of our dreams and our ability to remember them. “When dreams involve fear and stress,” she wrote, “the brain and glands actually release fear and stress hormones into your blood, so you experience actual physiological fear and stress (raised heart rate, goose bumps, fight-or-flight). This physiological response can wake you up from a scary dream. The sudden awakening, combined with fear and stress, results in remembering the dream.”
This corporeal response roused Laura from her dream. Upon waking, Laura reached for her journal to articulate her thoughts and ease her panic. As a dream therapist, Ms Anderson encourages this self-reflective process. She believes that, with more profound observation and analysis, a person can understand their fears better and gain insight into their unconscious feelings and responses. “Dreams process our experiences to update our mindset and, in doing this, they also aim to equip us with solutions to problems,” Ms Anderson wrote. Some of the respondents’ dreams have made them reflect on aspects of their lives: Feelings of fear, growth and change within their relationships, identity-related anxieties and impressions of past traumas.
While such ruminations can be challenging, this time can be viewed as creating space to observe and engage with our deeper feelings and experiences. For Ms Anderson, the ability to seek a greater consciousness of one’s dreams has the ability to help the world. “The more people choose to do this, the more we can evolve as a community and reimagine both our individual and collective potential futures post lockdown,” she concluded. And for respondent Thandi, this sentiment could not be truer; Thandi noted themes of light, growth, service and hope in the face of destruction, as being prominent in her lockdown dreams. “I think this is a really difficult time, but it’s also led to incredible acts of selfless service and unity,” she wrote. As Thandi reflected on the feelings circulating in her subconscious, she described their conscious manifestations too: “I’ve been putting my energies into helping people and into focusing on ways in which I can contribute to society in a way that supports the forces of integration, rather than being distracted by the forces of disintegration.”
Even as the lockdown restrictions change and our sleep schedules shorten, this time has shifted or cultivated our awareness. As we observe the experiences that unfold in our nighttime slumbers, we begin to traverse the layers of our subconscious and take note of the mark lockdown has made on our minds.
Marcella: As Marcella looked around the red stone basement, she realised she was in purgatory. She had died and landed in a room, with about a dozen people, each lying on their own sleeping bag. Over the next while — days, weeks, she wasn’t sure — Marcella and her new acquaintances were required to engage in various tests. As part of a challenge, Marcella and a purgatory peer were faced with two enormous capybaras and tasked to fight them. The rules of the tests were simple. “If we survived we were reincarnated,” Marcella said. “If we failed, we started in the red basement all over again.” However, it appeared that reincarnated life was not particularly pleasant either; death not only seemed inevitable but served as an inescapable gateway to experiencing purgatory again.
Tristan: Tristan found himself in the midst of conversation with three old school friends. As the conversation continued, he realised that all three of these friends had passed away. Tristan paused the conversation, taking a moment to process his realisation. “You guys have all passed away?” he asked. His friends answered, “Yeah, sorry bud, we have,” their tones remaining calm as they spoke. Tristan’s dream shifted to a state of lucidity and, after recognising the parallels to his waking life, he began to discern his experience as being part of a dream. “Cheers guys, I’ll see you when it’s my time,” Tristan said, as he parted from the three friends.
Maddy : Every night, aliens — the planet’s newly inhabited creatures — stalked the streets of the world. They would invade houses, creeping into people’s bedrooms. If they found someone, they would kill them instantly. Petrified by this phenomenon, Maddy hid in the filling of her mattress. Every day, she would instruct someone to make her bed — a precaution to protect her hidden self. “When I woke up, my bed was in a state,” Maddy recalled.
Jamie (in pink and black) and her friend (in orange and black), wore matching leather outfits as they flew through the sky. They were superheroes, but ‘low key’, Jamie emphasised. Soon, they were standing on the verge of a tall cliff. The rock face overlooked a bay of water and they noticed just how beautiful the water appeared beneath them. “I can fly, right?” Jamie asked, as she began to doubt the feeling of moments before. As Jamie leaped into the air, her body began to sink; she was falling not flying. While the ocean cushioned her fall, its depths did not offer the same comfort its pristine surface had suggested and, as Jamie tumbled into the water, sea monsters began to surround her. In the midst of this action, actor Robbie Amell dived into the water and rescued Jamie from the ocean’s menacing monsters.
Jamie’s Dream, Illustration hand drawn by Nonkosi Matrose