Four Experts Try to Get Inside Readers' Heads

Sunday, October 29, 2006

A couple of weeks back, we asked readers to submit their dreams and steeled ourselves for Weirdfest 2006. Here is a sampling of the unusual and the conventional, followed by riffs from four experts with diverse backgrounds. But remember: Only a dreamer can interpret his or her dream, and the best mode for dreamwork is an in-person exchange. Use this subjective feedback as a guide, as pure entertainment or as anything in between.

When Nature Calls

I have this dream about once a week. In it, I have an urgent need to use the bathroom. The setting varies, but when I find the bathroom, it's always the worst toilet in the world (a la Ewan McGregor in "Trainspotting"). It could be a toilet or urinal, but it always overflows and is completely gross. If I try to flush, water and feces fill the room. I'm completely embarrassed and try to flee the scene. At this point, I wake up. This happens like clockwork at around 5:15 a.m. When I have the dream, I say to myself, "Oh, it's 5:15, I must need to go."

-- Mark Wheeler, Fairfax

Barrett: Dreams about looking for the bathroom are common and often related to the most literal thing you've identified -- a full bladder. But the details of this "Trainspotting" toilet suggest it may be somewhat literal. All of us have a certain amount of shame associated with toilet training; this is worse for some, and the urge to go may trigger a negative scenario. Or it may be more metaphoric -- as with the term "full of [expletive]." You might ask if anything in waking life seems "gross" in that way, or if anything has embarrassed you recently.

Jenkins: The key question is who is responsible for this. You should have a sense of whether or not this is your own mess. Perhaps outrage rather than embarrassment is more appropriate.

Welt: Freud used dreams of excretion to demonstrate that the loftiest ideas still have their foundation in the unconscious mind's account of the processes of the human body. Here you make your own "contribution" to an already horrible situation, and it makes matters worse. An attempt to deal with a terrible situation may always create anxiety, even when it represents a breakthrough that brings whatever is most feared to the surface.

Old College Re-Try?

I keep having dreams about going back to college. They started out as not being prepared for classes, projects or tests. Now, this may be commonplace for most people, but I didn't start having these dreams until I was 40. Now the dreams are about the college life, moving into dorms and living with people much younger than me. They're really disturbing, and I have them about 10 times a year.

-- Alison Good, Columbia

Barrett: Dreams about being unprepared for class or tests are common for many people decades after leaving school. It's no mystery why taking a test is the concretization of anxieties about being evaluated in our society. You might ask yourself, "What in my waking life feels 'really disturbing' in the same way?"

Shanor: How did you feel about turning 40? These are usually dreams about feeling unprepared. What was the most difficult thing about college life, and what did you learn about yourself and life during that time? How do these lessons apply each time you have the dream?

Submerging the Self

I'm observing myself from a hundred yards away, and there's a very shallow area in a river and a stone crossing. The water is two to three inches deep, with large stones that one can step on to get from one side to the other. The water is sparkling, a very delightful picture, light and bright.

I observe myself from a distance, stepping stone by stone across the river. Rather than reach the other shore, I walk toward myself. The water is getting deeper, first covering my feet, then ankles. I am no longer observing myself but am actually in the water, which is very still. I continue stepping on the stone path, water rising, until I am deep in the water. It is no longer bright but kind of like dusk. I wake up.

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