The Weird World of Morpheus
Newcastle — There are a few crackpots out there who maintain that we don’t need sleep. Thomas Edison was one of them; claimed he never slept more than three or four hours a night. His lab assistant maliciously admitted that he often came upon the great man sprawled across the lab bench blowing z’s. Researchers have cruelly kept awake volunteers until they are nearly demented. Of course we need sleep; what nonsense.
When we sleep we dream. There are those who disclaim this, but they just don’t remember dreaming. Perhaps when really zonked we do not dream, but as the orbs begin to REM, the mind is preparing itself for the misery of consciousness. “In color?” you might ask. In 1962, in the journal, Science four worthies determined that color was present in 82.7 percent of dreams. Come, come sirs; are you certain the number wasn’t 82.6?
Happily, nobody seems to know why we dream. Man has forever wondered. The ancients invoked conversation with the Gods; those same poor Gods on whom we foist everything we don’t understand. Dreams became a pseudo-science with the advent of psychoanalysis. Freud and Jung really put that one over on us. Grab your cigar and go sleep with your mother, Sigmund. In their defense I suspect that they actually knew their theories were a crock. It was a living.
More recently, with all the medical measuring gizmos that drive up the cost of health insurance, “researchers” have furthered the scientific analysis. For example, in 1967 that same Science produced an article announcing that anxiety in dreams is correlated with the release of catecholamines. Eureka! Who cares?
My personal interest in dreams stems from the fact that I have always had them, and since at my age I sleep poorly, I now have too many. Regrettably, they are almost always unpleasant. Whatever happened to lying in the daisies with the willing, sylphlike lassie? (“Dream on!” you might say.) No, it’s far more likely that I am in the state of “a drifting boat with slow leakage, the silent listening to the undeniable clamour of the bell of the last annunciation.” This is a “repressed wish” Sigmund? I don’t think so.
My theory is that dreaming is a mopping-up process; the subconscious’ attempt to correct for the irrational vagaries of the conscious; a purgative to retain sanity. Shakespeare wrote of: "Sweet sleep that knits up the ravell'd sleeve of care." A cheerful concept, but would that not depend on how many loose ends there are? In my case apparently far too many.
Let me relate a recent dream, one of the milder sort, and you can email me your analysis. It began, best as I recall, with a female friend and I walking across campus in Madison, WI where I worked for a number of years. We were enrolling at UW, she for a course in Modern Dancing and I for Beer Tasting. This clearly indicates the different paths we follow. So far so good. The registrar not yet available, we decided to breakfast at a delicatessen in the neighborhood.
The Deli was very small; only three tables in a cramped space next the kitchen. There was an old women in a calico housedress sprawled on the floor between the tables making it difficult to move about (meaning?) I went to leave my coat on a chair to reserve one of the tables, but it was guarded by a woman in a wheelchair with a malevolent mien (meaning?), so I retreated to order. We were third in line.
A long time passed and nothing moved (frustration: a common motif). I looked behind and saw a line of patrons stretching to the door. We decided to leave, as we were soon expected in Middleton for a tennis match involving a young female acquaintance. My friend climbed into a handsome limousine and joined a procession of similar stately vehicles going to the match. I was left to walk (typically enough), and it being a fair distance I arrived after the event was completed (more frustration). The young lady had lost the match and, as instructed by the chair umpire, was mending holes in the net with green cord that contrasted with the black cord of the undamaged parts. I didn’t think to question this chore, or even the existence of holes. It was a dream, after all.
I ushered my friend to a bus station and saw her off to somewhere. As is always the case with dreams that respect neither time nor space, I was suddenly warped back to Newcastle, awakening about 4:45 to hear rain splattering the window in the darkness. I felt quite depressed, though without the frosting of anxiety that usually accompanies my awakening. I was acutely aware of being alone.
With some exceptions, I do not like being alone. Humans are herd animals, they relish companionship. It has to do with “self” vs. “others”, a subject that much troubles the Buddhist. Najarjuna writes:
And also teach “no self”
And also say “there’s nothing
Which is either self of not.”
Huh? That’s small comfort; incomprehensible actually. Do you think Freud was a Buddhist? That’s a non-sequitur. I wonder why I sent her off on that bus. Likely it was her choice.