I was in the middle of a guided tour of New York City with Charlie Brown this morning, when everything turned for the worse. We had just finished riding through Midtown Manhattan on our blue, ten-speed bikes when we decided to take a side trip along the banks of the Hudson River.
The river bank gave off a bad vibe as we pedalled further and further, so Charlie insisted we go back. That’s when the situation became much, much worse. We became lost in a back alley, somewhere. Maybe it was Brooklyn or the Bronx; neither of us were very familiar with New York. We couldn’t tell, for sure.
The scene was from the late 1800s or early 1900s. Dusk was approaching and we just wanted to get back home. Instead, some religious fanatics, armed with torches and pitchforks, emerged from the shadows and began chasing us down mysterious pathways. Charlie Brown screamed. Then, I awakened. For some reason, I was laughing in a state of pure mirth.
It was the first memorable dream I’d had in weeks. I suppose it’s the closest thing to a nightmare that I’ve experienced since maybe a few years ago. It’s not that the dream was especially scary; the preposterous scenario is what made it a really great dream/nightmare.
I’ve long been a little envious of people who can remember most of their dreams. Whenever, I do recall a vivid dream, I feel a bit vindicated.
When I was a four and five-year-old boy, mom used to ask what I dreamed about during the night. It was the time of my childhood that I had at least two or three dreams each and every night. They were usually light-hearted scenes that couldn’t be interpreted as special.
There was a recurring mild nightmare that always began with me playfully rolling down a hill sideways, pretending to be a rolling pin. Each, and every time I ended up falling off of a precipice. As I flew towards my impending doom, I’d abruptly awaken. Sometimes, but not always, I’d find myself sprawled out on the floor.
It’s a primordial urge to analyze our dreams. Perhaps we’re curious about the odd consequences and setting of the dreams. We remember certain scenarios along with the people, animals, and other features as the dream plays out in the head. We want to believe that such peculiarities simply must have some sort of deeper psychological or spiritual meaning.
Regarding this latest nightmarish dream, I wondered why the setting happened to be New York City. How and why did the modern timeframe morph into a scene from before I was born? Why was my partner Charlie Brown? Why did we decide to take a ride along the river on a quiet bicycle path? What is the significance of the rabid religionists? How did we end up in such a hostile neighborhood?
Is there a deeper meaning to the New York City dream, or is it just a rehashing and reformatting of troubling current events regarding the menace of religious fanaticism here and abroad? Because the hostile mob was of the Frankensteinian torches and pitchforks variety, the fanatics were Christian, not Islamist. That interpretation intuitively “feels” right to me.
The journey to the hostile neighborhood might represent the transition of my native USA from a relatively friendly, familiar place into the new United States that is engulfed in a culture war that threatens to end as a theocractic tyranny.
Maybe the trip from modern to the past symbolizes my dislike of nostalgic dystopias and how some people yearn for a past that never really was. Does my choice of Charlie Brown as a fellow traveller mean that I’ve been feeling put upon, lately? Am I saying that both of us are nerds?
Maybe the dream was just a way of entertaining myself. After all, I did wake up in a laughing fit. Actually, a dream is really just random mental activity, a blend of mainly images and emotions. Neurologists say that most of our aggressive dreams happen during our REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep cycle. The less threatening, peaceful dreams tend to occur during the non-REM cycles of sleep.
Many researchers postulate that active, involved dreams, like my New York City dream, happen in REM sleep because our brains generate about 5-times more electricity than during our wakeful hours. Sleep researchers have discovered that REM sleep coincides with increased breathing rates, heart rates, and blood pressure. The hypothesis is that the combination of these physiological factors somehow cause increased visual activity in the brain.
I used to believe that dreams have some sort of psychic significance. That is, I was of the school that dreams can reveal past lives or prophesy the future. I used to write down the outlines of dreams or give them a title in order to recall them. In my personal experience, I determined that my “psychic” dreams were more the result of an over-active imagination, coincidence, and confirmation bias.
Personally, I don’t think dreams are some sort of gateway to “advanced awareness” or anything otherworldly. They seem more like a reconfiguration of current desires and fears. Dreams seem to be a part of the mental processing of our waking experiences and a sorting out of memories. Because it’s been shown that memories are “stored” in various parts of the brain, some memories are reactivated at the same time as others. This mixture of events from different brain areas helps create bizarre situations that appear to be supernatural in origin.
Although people have been fascinated by dreams ever since the days of antiquity, actual, scientific research into dreams is still in its infancy. One might compare dreams to video playback. An electronics engineer is able to explain the intricacies of the circuits and components of your computer or television screen, also how video cameras are designed and function. None of the explanations spoils our enjoyment of the visual and audible product of a movie studio.
I want to know how come I dream and I want to enjoy more dreams. I’m just not very eager to have Charlie Brown conduct tours of New York City.