Often, when I first awake in the morning and my mind has not yet snapped into full consciousness, I sense there are images there. Sometimes I can capture them in my awaking self, but only if I remember not to open my eyes first.
Once I have opened my eyes, it feels like being at a movie theater and watching the previews, but backward and jumbled. I am certain that I don’t dream in black and white, but in vivid color. If my waking self is disturbed in any way, I am disappointed. I know that I’ve lost most or all of something that was uniquely mine, something of myself that I cannot quite recapture. There is no going back to it.
If I wake up before I open my eyes, I can pull together bits of a crazy patchwork of thoughts. Those images seep into the mind of my waking self before I open my eyes, but I find that if I speak out loud, or someone within earshot speaks, most of the dream that I know I was having vanishes — tarnished by the reality of my “awake” self. The slightest distraction of any sound whatsoever will likely ruin my chances of recall.
Many years ago, I took a workshop in dream therapy. Its result has continued to help me greatly throughout my life. We were instructed to keep a notebook and pen at our bedside table, to quiet our minds and to “invite” our dreams to come to us as we sleep. Upon waking, we were instructed to immediately reach for the pen and record any dream, or any part of a dream, even if only a snippet.
Perhaps we recall a color or feel an emotion (fear, joy, dread, excitement). Maybe we are in a house or on a road. Might we feel some threat? Are we climbing up or down a mountain? Are we searching for a person we wish would come into our life? Everything in our dreams is a symbol.
The workshop made me more aware of myself, more able to begin to find myself in my dreams and to better interpret them as only I could — for in our dreams, experts tell us, we ourselves play all of the parts.
Lately, perhaps because I am retired, and there is less action going on in my life, I am disappointed if I wake with no dream to entertain me. “What’s this?” I ask myself, feeling cheated. I love to recall my dreams, when I can “catch” one. Can’t my mind dig up something to entertain me with, perhaps the menu of food served at an annual banquet honoring me for some past good deed? I must have done something that deserves consideration over the past 72 years that has yet to be appreciated or at least acknowledged in my current dreams.
I glanced over at my husband, interrupting him with his nose in a book. “Hey, honey! Had any interesting dreams lately that you don’t mind sharing with the whole city”?
“Yeah, last night I dreamed that all five of our white parakeets had red blood dripping from their feathers.” To clarify: Our elegant pair of lovely albino birds has succeeded in hatching three of the seven eggs that mom had laid. The last of the three identical babies had emerged from their birthing house in accordance with their birth order — having each been born three days apart from one another — and appeared as large and fully feathered as their proud and attentive parents, but for a slightly shorter tail feather.
“Oh?” I replied.
“You know, just like the blood constantly dripping down my arms and legs every time I bump into something” (an unwelcome result of a new cancer drug he’s being treated with). The bird family has become a welcome distraction for him during the day, but the cancer situation must always be lurking in his subconscious, no matter what he does during his waking hours.
If I did dream last night, I awoke with nothing but a stiff neck resulting from falling asleep with my head pushing into two very firm throw pillows. When I went to uncover the parakeet cage, only the eldest had succeeded in climbing up on a high perch with her parents, all chattering nonstop. The other two were fast asleep, still nestled together in the birthing box.
Back to bed with my coffee, I found my husband nestled in the fluffy comforter. So far, the day was treating “the nesters” to gentle oblivion. And then, I had my coffee.
Gloucester resident Susan S. Emerson is a regular Times columnist.