A Dream about Dreaming

In July of 1978 I was theorizing about the mind and dreams. I decided that if Freudians tend to have Freudian dreams and Jungians tend to have Jungian ones, I might as well subscribe to a theory that sees dreams as self-interpreting patterns of thought.

That night, before going to bed, I wrote, "Need dream theory dream. Wake up and write it here." I didn't have one that night, but the next night I tried again. I awoke after a couple of hours and wrote the following:

The Dream

I am in the library, working on / shuffling some papers. I get up to leave. Some of the books are for children--there are children in my way and an adult is directing me around them.

Then I overhear the librarian talking on the phone to another library worker, saying very nasty things about C- (an ex- girlfriend of mine). I wonder why everyone hates her so. The librarian leaves a message for C- which will make her nervous (for her job). The librarian tells the other person this on the phone instead of just walking around the corner to do it.

She is mad at C- for not arranging a stack of books, and then she becomes even madder at her for not doing another stack of books. C- was somewhere else being lazy.

I consider calling C- so that the librarian can overhear me and telling her that the librarian's threat is a bluff, but I don't. I also consider waiting until it is less obvious (apparently unrelated to her phone call) and telling the librarian off and storming out, but I don't.


Most of this interpretation was made immediately upon awakening, as the dream itself symbolically suggests doing, so these are correlations that seemed appropriate when the dream-thoughts were still fresh in my mind. As I woke up and began to unravel the threads of meaning woven throughout the dream, I began laughing, with tears rolling down my cheeks at my ever-growing amazement at the abilities of the sleeping mind.

This dream embodied a theory concerning the best way of interpreting itself. It made deliberate attempts to prevent me from ignoring it, used symbols which were already part of my personal mythology, and encouraged me to interpret it while its meanings were still fresh. It frequently used portions of the dream which had already been interpreted as instructions for how to interpret the remainder of the dream. The emphasis on directing one's thoughts and avoiding repression, and the insistence that each piece of the dream has meaning, forced me to remember and reconstruct the thoughts which the dream embodied.

The dream encouraged me to work back and forth between dream and interpretation while not fully awake: to use the memory of underlying thoughts to interpret pieces of the dream, and to use pieces of the interpretation to help remember new dream fragments. I call this back-and-forth process the "dream-play" (as opposed to Freud's dream-work).

Interestingly, this was not a lucid dream (i.e., I was not aware I was dreaming). The dream raises a number of questions such as, does the mind necessarily understand the process of dreaming just because it is dreaming about dreaming? Many of the thoughts expressed in the dream were thoughts I'd had in mind on the preceding day, so perhaps this was some kind of elaborate day residue.

But it seems possible that I continued to theorize on the nature of dreams as I slept, and that the elements of my conjecture acted themselves out in the virtual reality space where dreams live.

Dreaming is the dreamer eavesdropping on the dreamed. Dreams are a way of overhearing the free play of ideas as the mind explores the altered state of sleep. Dream symbols are neither message nor disguise, and yet they are both.


(Also see Near-Lucid Dreams and False Awakenings — Humorous Commentaries on the Human Condition.)