Flying Dreams

by julie swanson

Flying dreams fascinate me, and I can never seem to find enough on them. I’ve searched the library and bookstores and the internet for stuff about flying dreams. My recurring flying dreams have always been a bit of a preoccupation for me. I wrote poems and papers on them in school. I’ve done drawings and paintings. In high school I actually wore a sweater my mom found that had a wacky winged flying-man wearing goggles embroidered (or whatever that was; like the loopy stuff varsity letters are made of) across the front of it. I wrote a middle grade novel in which I vicariously lived out my fantasy of being able to fly through the main character.

I’ve had flying dreams since I was little, first remember having one at 4 or 5 (memorable because I jumped from the top of our stairs still half asleep and landed quite painfully). Flying dreams are thrilling. And they’re so real. When I wake up from one, I swear I can fly, that I really was. As a kid, I used to be so excited when I woke up but then so disappointed to realize it was over and it wasn’t real. But I still didn’t totally believe I couldn’t still do it, and I’d jump from things and try to fly. I loved everything flying: Mary Poppins, Peter Pan, The Flying Nun, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. I was obsessed by the idea of flying for years before I gave up on it. And even then I swore I might still fly someday, that I was never going to give up on it totally and say that it was impossible, that when I least expected it, I might fly. I’d be an old grandma and just suddenly up and away, or at the very least I’d get to fly when I died and became an angel. I felt like a traitor giving up on my dream of flying, like I’d become a cynical and jaded old adult who now believed in the word ‘impossible.’

Now, well, I still get excited on a windy day and spread my arms in memory of that younger self who would try to catch the wind however she could, but now I look at it a little  differently and think if it feels so real, then I’m going to say that when I’m dreaming, I really am flying–it’s just that I can only fly at night, in my dreams. I mean what is real? Dreams are real; we really have them. And I was really flying in my dream. That’s not a lie.

Most of the time, I think flying dreams must mean something good. Because most of the time they’re delightful and beautiful and there’s nothing scary about them, and how can anything that feels so good and makes you so happy not be good? I’m up there with the air brushing over me and my stomach gets that fun little lift you get in it when you’re swinging or on a roller coaster. I’m swooping and gliding and soaring, doing acrobatics in the air. Beautiful landscapes go by beneath me. I shoot through tight spaces, perch on things, I hover, I can dunk a basketball, fly all over the gym, through school hallways, malls, hotels, museums… I never crash. I’m nimble, light on my feet, it’s easy to get up in the air, effortless to fly, I can land anywhere. Sometimes I fly fairly low and it’s just like it’s my way of getting around; other people walk, but Julie flies. And as I skim over them as they move about down below on the sidewalks, people put their heads back and smile and wave up at me in casual greeting like, Hey, there’s Julie; there she goes again.

Other times, my flying dreams feel like an escape, and the dream themselves will be scary, but I always get away. People might reach up and grab my shirt or ankle, but I manage to pull away and go higher to safety, to flee and go far enough away from them that they can’t get me. Once in a while I feel like I’m tired and something’s pulling me down and I’m having a hard time keeping or gaining altitude. Sometimes there’s a chase. I’m confined in a building, flying as fast and as high as I can as someone pursues me, but almost scraping my back on the water sprinklers on the hotel ceiling, or I have to take refuge up under a big domed skylight in the center of a mall, like a trapped bird. Sometimes the dream starts out with me not flying, just walking around being normal, but then when I realize somebody has evil intent and means to harm me, it’s like I suddenly remember I can fly, and, whoosh, up and away I go, thinking, Thank God I can fly! I almost forgot about that! The instinct kicks in. That’s not to say bad things never happen to me in my dreams, that I always get away. I don’t. Sometimes I forget I can fly altogether and when I wake up breathing hard and scared to death because of whatever violence was done or terror I endured, I’ll think, Why didn’t you just fly away?! Why did you let him/her/it do that to you? You can fly–how can you forget that?! But if I’m flying to begin with in a dream, or if I suddenly remember I can, I always get away.

I’ve heard different theories on why people have flying dreams. When I was a kid of  8 or 9, someone laughed when they overheard me saying I had flying dreams and said they were a sign of sexual frustration, and that had mad me really mad because who would say that within earshot of the little kid who’d reported having them? I remember thinking, sex? How could I be sexually frustrated at this age, stupid!!! In college I had a professor who was delighted when I wrote a paper in his class about my flying dreams. He said he had them, too, and weren’t they great, that they were a good sign, that it meant you were able to transcend things, not let things get you down, you experience liberation and freedom from earthly cares. He said flying dreams were very healthy and a good sign. I liked his take on them much better. Since I’ve gotten older and have read more about them, I’ve heard another take on them; that they can show a tendency to flee, to escape, to dissociate, to sort of tune out and go ‘up in the clouds’ rather than deal with things. One website claims there’s a link between people who went through traumatic experiences as young children and flying dreams. I don’t know about that, but I always have been a spacey person who tends to get lost in the la-la-land of her thoughts, so sometimes I do think I could stand to come down to earth and have my feet more firmly planted on the ground, in the here and now.

So anyway, if you have flying dreams and have anything interesting to add about them or want to share, please do!