Julie A. Swanson

Purer and Purer Streams…

Tag: dreams

Are We Responsible for our Dreams?

This is a question I began asking myself a few years ago when I started going through a spell of terrible nightmares. They were so violent, evil, and disturbing–sick really–and I’m a quiet, peaceful person who’s never been violent or suffered physical violence. Pretty much a boring goody-two-shoes in many people’s eyes, I’m sure. I’d never experienced or even thought of many of the things I suddenly found myself dreaming about. And the dreams I’d had my whole life prior to this were largely pleasant, funny things, with a few sad ones about family members dying thrown in there, or with me being angry with someone who irritated me in real life. I had flying dreams and hilarious ones that made me crack up. I’d wake up laughing and then crack up again in the retelling of them hours later. I’ve always shared my dreams over breakfast with whoever I’ve ever lived with; that’s how entertaining and amazingly creative I found them. So it didn’t seem like these sick nightmares could be coming from me, any part of me–my brain, my subconscious, my mind, my spirit, soul, heart… whatever it could possibly be. I was embarrassed of the things I dreamt about, horrified by them. I felt guilty for having them, ashamed.  I didn’t want to take any sort of ownership for them. It felt like, and I wanted to believe, that they were coming from outside of me (although that idea was scary, too!). I would think, Can I really be held responsible for these bizarre images bombarding me at night? 

Although the things that happened in my dreams, the creatures that appeared in them, the places, the violence, although all those things seemed totally foreign to me, I did, however, realize that I felt a sense of ownership for the emotions the dream left me with. If the dream was an awful one of hiding something, like a body I’d murdered and buried and that police dogs were now sniffing around, I felt like I could somehow relate to that sense of guilt and hiding, the fear of being found out. I couldn’t put my finger on where that would ever have come from in real life, in my past or present, but I had this odd feeling of ownership for the feelings. If it was a dream in which I felt great shame, I’d be like, wow, that was bizarre and over-the-top, but I know that shame somehow, from somewhere else, some other time. Or if I was storming around in a rage in a dream, using vicious words I’d never use and doing things to people that I’d never do, I would have a feeling of having felt rage like that before. Where I had no idea, but it felt like my rage, not some alien dream weaver’s. If the violence was being done to me or another person I was watchng in the dream, the fear I felt, well, it was something I knew as mine and not a foreign thing, even though all the imagery in the dream may have been very foreign to me.

It was suggested by some people who are close to me and very religious, that perhaps my dreams were evil, from the Devil, and that I ought to pray to be spared them.  Yikes. But by this time I’d already been doing a lot of reading and studying on dreams and dreamwork, and I was seeing things in my dreams, seeing that the dreams were exaggerated metaphors for things, and that the dreams were actually trying to wake me up to things, show me things. They were pounding me over the head, trying to get through to me, and now that I knew that, and was looking at them as helpful guides rather than things to be afraid of, I could begin to ‘listen’ to them, to look more closely at them and what they were trying to point out. I began to appreciate them, even the violent sick ones. Sometimes the worst ones were almost comical in retrospect, after I was done crying or thinking that my heart was going to explode with how fast it was pounding. In the light of day, I could  see how funny it was really, the great lengths my unconscious or subconscious (or soul or spirit or Self or God or the Holy Spirit or Being or whatever you want to call it) went to to try to get through to me. I could almost imagine my unconscious plotting after I didn’t get the message of the previous night’s dream: OK, I thought that would work, but I’m going to have to try something really extreme here to get her attention. She is so dense! I’ve been hitting her with the same type of dream over and over, using slightly different symbols and people to try to get through to her. Hmm, maybe this symbol will work, because I know that one will be really emotionally charged for her. But do I really have to do that to her in her dream before she sees what I’m trying to show her? And so he’d/she’d cook up something really  gory or so dramatically sad, thinking surely I’d get the message now. Or the images would just be so comical, so ridiculous, trying so hard to wake me up with humor. Yes, I began to see that my dreams were doing what they could to point things out to me, to make me conscious of things, to shake me ‘awake’ with laughter or tears or a jolt of adrenaline.

So, yes, I believe we are responsible for our dreams, amazingly enough. Maybe not exactly us-all-by-ourselves, but something that’s intimately tied to or enmeshed with us is, something which we are both a part of and at the same time is a part of us. Yes, illness can cause us to dream, and drugs, but I’m not talking about that (and even if I were, I’m not sure all morphine-induced dreams/hallucinations in the dying or whatever can be disregarded as nonsense; what if the morphine just opens us up to that part of us, to the unconscious and its metaphor). We may not be aware of the part of ourselves that creates dreams, but it’s there in us trying to help us. I can see that now. Sometimes it’s just plain confusing and seems like nonsense, sometimes it takes weeks or months or years to know what a dream was about, sometimes you never figure it out, and even when you glean something from a dream, there might still be parts you don’t get. But I don’t think dreams are simply the random firings of a brain at rest as some do. I don’t think my evil dreams are from the Devil–far from it. I think dreams are gifts to us from that divine life energy that is in each of us, and that sometimes they are from the divine life energy outside of us as well (but which we’re still a part of), in others and everything. Whether you call it your Self, your subconscious, the unconscious, soul, spirit, Holy Spirit, God, Being, Life, Now, Consciousness, the Collective Unconscious…, it is a friendly, loving thing trying to help you and using extreme measures and going to great lengths to get through to you (I don’t think getting through to your brain, your mind, is its ultimate goal either; it aims for your heart where you really need to get things if it’s going to do any good, and your brain can’t always understand or put words to these special knowings).

This guiding, dream-making part of you might succeed in one night, or over weeks, or it could take years. It’s persistant. It will not give up on you, on us. Dreams are fascinating, amazing, powerful, clever. The more I work with mine and read and hear about others who study and do dreamwork, the more I am in awe of them. And I feel lucky that I can remember so many of mine, that they bother to ‘wake me up.’

I am quite thankful for even my nightmares now.


Let the Dreamer Dream

Below is a poem I wrote a long time ago when I was in high school and aiming to be the very best female basketball player in the world (and I knew that if anybody knew that, they’d think I was crazy or at least cocky). Although I kept quiet about it and never let on just how high my sights were set, I was getting definite vibes from my mom and others that this obsession of mine was not good, not valuable, a waste of my time/energy when I could and should be spending it doing other things because a.) I didn’t have it in me to reach my pie-in-the-sky goal, and b.) even if I did, it wasn’t worth what I was putting into it.

When I got my own place in college, I wrote this poem in the closest thing to calligraphy I could do, framed it, and hung it in my bedroom. Friends who’ve seen it over the years have asked for copies of it. Several have had it done up in calligraphy themselves and now have it hanging in their offices or homes. So even though it’s not the greatest poetry, I know it resonates with like-minded people and it’s always meant a lot to me (it’s the only thing I’ve ever gone through the trouble of having copyrighted on my own).

This poem is for the Don Quixote in us all, the Leonardo Da Vinci, the Orville and Wilbur Wright, the Neil Armstrong, the Alexander Graham Bell, the Thomas Edison, the Martin Luther King, the Billie Jean King… and for all those kids out there, big and small, dreaming ‘impossible’ dreams. Whether or not they succeed in the world’s eyes.

Please… let the dreamer dream.
His plight is not as it may seem.
Laugh at his dreams, call them insane
      —wasted time, efforts in vane—
But he believes, unlike you,
And by believing, he will do.
To say, “One day I will fly,”
To go after a goal so high,
                              A man is exceptional in mind and heart,
                              Set from all other men apart,
                              Naïve and sadly mistaken,
                              Ignorant of the task undertaken.
Who can say which a man is?
The right to judge is solely his.
Better a fool left running about
Than a genius discouraged by doubt.
To save time and tears is kind intent
But the result will not be as you meant;
No, he’ll hold even tighter to it out of spite.
Criticism that’s undeserved and wrong
Sings an even sadder song.
For dreams are the things
                              that pull him from bed
And fuel his efforts
                              the day ahead.
Crushed and empty, his dreams taken,
Why should he ever what to awaken?
Please… let the dreamer dream.
His plight is not as it may seem.
Better to let him try, if only to fall,
Than not allow him to dream at all.
For success lies not in the prize
So much as in the exercise.
More important than any honor earned
Is the experience gained and the lesson learned.
While broken dreams die hard and sad,
Regret hurts twice as long and twice as bad.
One is the pain of growing,
The other, the pain of never knowing,
                           of never having tried,
                          of never being satisfied.
                                 ~Julie Polakowski

Flying Dreams

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 Read the rest of this entry »

Once a Puer Always a Puer?

Do you know where this is?

[…continued from the last post’s topic…]

Puer, yes, that was me. I never wanted to grow up. I dreaded it. I convinced myself I wouldn’t, couldn’t. It wasn’t that I wanted to cling to the safety of home and parents, it wasn’t so much that I was afraid of change (I am); it was that I truly believed my body was physically incapable of the transformation from a straight-lined boyish build to what I saw as the disgusting curves of a woman. I saw them as something that would make me weak and vulnerable, something that would make men treat me as a doormat, look at me as a piece of meat, and forget I was a person who was just as important and had just as much to me as they did. I thought it would kill me and clung to the belief that I would never ever develop like all the other girls did and were. The fact that I was a latebloomer reinforced that. I clung Read the rest of this entry »