If dream imagery were just the memory of eyeball sight, we'd all be having
dreams that were reruns of the day. Some people, sometimes, do indeed dream
literal repeats. For most of us, most of the time, when the dream reflects
daily life, it is a variation on what we recall of the original event.
How many times have you seen butterflies, bees and helicopters in the air?
As an observer from afar, you can view the jets streaking by in an air
show. Or you can watch birds circling overhead, and wonder. So will your
dreams. I believe dreams of flying objects should be included in the study
of flight. But I do realize that when most folks talk about flying dreams,
they're not talking about observation. Rather, they're talking about a
Nowadays, people actually do fly. They take engage in air jobs and air
sports like sail planes and helium-filled balloons. Robert Monroe, who
often floated in his out-of-body experiences, built model planes as a boy,
learned to fly airplanes in high school and also became a glider pilot.
Hang-gliding pilots at Kitty Hawk (the site of the Wright Brother's first
airplane ride) told dreamworker Robert Van de Castle that they regularly
dreamt of flying, but without the glider present. Airplane pilots on the
Internet newsgroup alt. dreams talk about dream flying under power lines,
trees, or high tension wires. I had a literal flying dream, myself.
Mountain Airport Landing, 9/27/83
I land the airplane short on the runway, then turn the motor off. Bailey
(my instructor) jumps out, runs across to the gas pumps. He goes behind
them to get a man, then comes over to me. He's in the next seat with the
check list. Upside down it looks like an evaluation form. He needs my
signature; I sign.
A woman is narrating this scene. She says, "I can see we have landed in
Coalinga." The narrator says we could go left to Fresno, then circle around
and come back. I can see the mountains to the left. Their tops are green,
rather than snow-covered, but the narrator says, "It's cooler up here."
I take off flying again, banking to the right. To the left is fog; I can't
see the valley floor. I continue to the right, circling.
This dream is pretty much how it happened. With my instructor, I flew our
Piper Tomahawk over the town of Coalinga (but didn't land) and went on to
the Sierra Nevada foothills (where I did). I was surprised when Bailey
gassed up the plane, since a full tank could have taken us there and back.
I also piloted the plane home. The narration is probably a replay of my
thoughts that day.
You might consider flying as a pilot to be unusual, but how many more of us
fly as passengers? The activities of hobbies and vocations will impact our
dreams, but so do travel plans. When we can take trips on airplanes, we
become aware of the sights, sounds and feelings of flight.
A dreamwork colleague who is prone to symbolic interpretation once asked
me, "If I had a dream of looking down a long hall at an open window, what
kinds of concrete things might be said about it without lapsing back into
I replied, "That you live in a house with a long hall and open window (or
did or may). That you already have or will visit such a literal place in
waking life. Or that you watch too many old "Superman" reruns!" In the
original TV series, a long hallway and open window were located at Clark
Kent's work site, the "Daily Planet." As Superman, he often used that
location for a launching pad to the outdoors.
Flying dreams have been classified as "bizarre" because they are considered
not to be memories of literal life. Most flying dreams are not vehicular.
And there's nobody flying around in physical reality sans airplane like
Superman, right? Wrong. Physical reality includes MTV. We have legitimate
"bizarre" memories of all the creative imagery of printed material and
electronic art. We can also participate in activities that simulate flying,
like amusement park and virtual reality rides.
When you seek the source of your flying dreams, don't forget the media!
Video games, TV and movies can be evocative of flight, especially, the
wide-screen IMAX types or the small screen wrap-around versions. They put
us in the pilot's seat. There are plenty of scenes produced from a
first-hand position, including all those sports where the camera is
attached to the flyer or the flyer's vehicle. The passing scenery in a
dream could be a bit of digital data drawn from memory files. My flying
dream below was lifted from an audio-video source. Much of it plagiarized
the first big-screen Superman movie.
Russian Rocket, 12/6/84
A Russian rocket aimed for New York goes off-course to California. The
Russians don't want it to explode; it's errant. I fly to it, plan to change
the digital program. I'm afraid it might explode if I take off the
covering. I get a Russian scientist, tell him, "It's going to be windy" to
prepare him. We teleport to the rocket in flight. He uses a screwdriver to
open and change the program. The rocket flies out over the Pacific. I
follow. I want to mark the place it falls in case it doesn't explode. I
don't want it (a dud) in the ocean. I stay at a distance so there will be
enough time to avoid the blast by teleporting away (I imagine a blast).
Then I think it would be better if it goes into outer space. Can I change
Past, Present and Future
Whether physical or virtual, dreams respond to images across the span of
time. Here's some possibilities.
- Residue of the past - Your dream is a rerun of elements from the Peter Pan movie you saw on TV last night. Or your dream harkens back to that hot air balloon trip you took on your honeymoon in the Napa Valley. One dreamer whose husband was a pilot dreamt she saw him take off in a small jet airplane.
- Reflection of current experience - You fall asleep on a plane; subliminally you still feel the vibrations of the engine or are otherwise semi-aware of your surroundings. Weary Charles Lindbergh did this during his solo flight across the Atlantic. Instead of actually piloting the "Spirit of Saint Louis;" he dreamt that he was flying the plane.
- Anticipatory of what you will or might do - You fall asleep worrying about tripping on that loose stair in the basement, so you have a falling dream. Or the dream is a practice run for the Disneyland "Star Wars" ride you look forward to taking tomorrow, so you fly. While I was planning an airplane trip from California to the East Coast, I dreamt of flying over Lake Tahoe. I knew the airline used that route.
Ask yourself: What happened yesterday? What happens in my environment as I
sleep? What's going to happen today or tomorrow? How do the images of
physical and virtual reality impact my dreams?
There's another literal rendition of daily life...from a source that hardly
any interpretation schema takes into account. But it definitely impacts our
dreams. Some incubation methods depend on it.
Whenever we play "act as if" or "let's pretend" games in our heads and use
pictures to boot, the dream can reflect those inner visual events. Many
worry dreams are cases in which the dream reflects an imagination that
worked overtime during the day. How many of us picture a story while we
read it? Or picture a story when someone tells it? Or picture a person when
we have no visual of them while we communicate in print, by e-mail or when
using the phone? All of this can be visual source material for our dreams.
Let's say before you go to sleep, you watch a bird, you read a book and
that provokes you to imagine yourself flying. The flying dream is probably
residue, not of what you saw with your waking eyes, but of what you
visualized with your imagination.
If we picture ourselves flying while awake, and that image transfers to
dreams, it may seem bizarre to the outside observer of our dream report.
But not to us! For instance, "Willie" and "Steve" are characters in a
fantasy that I've been imagining, off and on, since I was 13 years old.
I've repeatedly conjured up their images over a long span of time. Those
imaginary pictures are available for dream production.
Flying With Willie And Steve, 8/17/84
As I drift into sleep, I imagine my recurring dream character Willie
sitting on the edge of the bed, talking with me. I suggest to her that we
go flying together. Imagery and sensation blurs and there is a sudden
shift. All at once I am dreaming, and I know it.
Finally! Willie and I are flying, side by side, strong and free. My arms
are outstretched in front of me. My scuba diving mask is on, to see better
and to keep out the bugs. I can feel the wind rushing by, lashing wisps of
hair against my forehead, whispering past my ears. I grin from sheer
exhilaration. I'm flying! I'm flying! I turn my head to the left to look at
Willie; she grins back.
Above there is only sky. Beneath us, brilliant white clouds float in the
air like cream whipped into two different layers on a cake. The homespun
weave of Terra Firma peeks through both, tempting me. "Oh, how beautiful!"
I exclaim. Then I call out to Willie, "Let's go down!" We bank and dive
toward the Earth, swooping, soaring, screaming down the wind. Beneath the
clouds, the landscape is vague but looks like a city. Fine lines form
complex networks as well as simpler circles and rectangles.
A Cessna joins us in the air. The male pilot is a friend of ours. Steve has
come to take pictures of us and to accompany us to the end of our flight.
We follow him, in a game of tag, banking and turning as he does. Now we are
all flying side by side; Steve's to my right. I wonder that we can keep up
with him. Using my psychic sense, I get the impression that we are
traveling at 110 miles per hour.
Below, the countryside is now a jungle of greens and browns. The campanile
of Stanford University pokes out of the trees like a beacon for our
journey. This surprises me. I thought we were on our way to Willie's alma
mater, U. C. Berkeley.
Willie gestures that we land. When we do, I look around in wonder. The
scene reminds me of the ruins along the Appian Way in Rome.
The dream can also mirror perceptions in other altered states. If, the day
before, you were in a trance state, had a waking out-of-body experience,
did remote viewing or went on a shamanic journey, the dream can respond to
those inner events. A dream is not the same as these states of
consciousness, but it may be an extension or translation of them. For
example, it is possible to dream about being in trance, or to dream about
doing remote viewing, without actually doing it again.
Don't forget the most common altered state of all. Your dreams! You can
dream of a person, place or thing that you do not know in waking life and
have not imagined, but which was pictured in the dream state. The source of
visual material for your current dream event could come from a past night,
from earlier in the same night or even from a former scene of your current
Ask yourself: What pictures from imagination or altered states might be
reflected in my dream?
Most of published cases of extra-sensory perception are those that respond
to material reality. If clairvoyance is operative, you might shift your
perception to physical location you've never visited. Through precognition,
you can reach ahead of time to dream of an airline disaster yet to happen.
Nevertheless, psi can hone in on the virtual and imaginal, too. The virtual
world would be accessed via psychometry if you were to dream of a picture
or newspaper article hidden in the envelope you held in your hand. You can
tune into someone's imagination via dream telepathy. And tap into someone
else's visual dream when you do mutual dreaming.
Some flights occur amid abstract patterns and variants of light that are
the result of the brain's activities. This entopic imagery is visual
phenomena arising within the optic system itself. It includes flashes of
light, floaters, and phosphenes, which are seen as the result of physical
stimulation such as pressing against the eye. The diffraction of light on
the blood vessels of the retina can produce an image of black lacework
against a red background, for instance.
But the phenomena most often incorporated into altered states are what
Heinrich Kluver called "form constants." These are spontaneous patterns of
cortical activity, rotations, reflections and translations that appear as
geometric images in motion. They can be seen most clearly during
hypnogogia, when passing from the waking state to sleep. They include grids
(grating, chessboards, lattices, filigrees), cobwebs, spirals, tunnels,
curves, spots and kaleidoscopic effects.
Most visual imagery is formed from memories of waking sight. Some flashes
or patterns of light may be induced by the brain itself. In either case,
folks with congenital blindness do not dream of visual imagery, although
their dreams will include other elements (thought, emotion, sensation or
feeling in sleep). The production of dream inner pictures requires that the
dreamer have the perceptual equipment, the brain and body, to form visual
pictures in the waking state.
In addition, personality plays a part. Mathematicians, engineers and people
in other cognitive vocations may not be in the habit of picturing their
ideas. Rather, they might think in terms of numbers or abstract concepts.
Without waking practice, their ability to form pictures during sleep is
limited. Again, their dreams will include other elements. It's also
possible for the average dreamer to occasionally have their usual
visualization replaced by other sorts of mental activity.
To "recall a dream" most often refers to remembrance of visual imagery.
It's important to keep in mind that, at times, there might not be much
visual imagery to remember!
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- Kappes, Steve. "Mathematicians view unstable activity in brain to better understand circuitry of visual cortex," The University of Chicago Chronicle, 20(5) (April 21, 2001).
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- Monroe, Robert A. Journeys Out of the Body, (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1977).
- "Paul Bressloff" Home page:
- Psychic Voyages. Ed. Time-Life. (Time-Life Books, Alexandria, VA. 1987).
- Revonsuo, Antti and Christina Salmuvalli. "A Content Analysis of Bizarre Elements in Dreams," Dreaming, 5(3), 169-187.
- Siegel, Ronald K. Fire in the Brain: Clinical Tales of Hallucination. (New York: Penguin Books, 1992).
- Thurston, Linda. "Entopic Imagery in People and Their Art," M.A. thesis, Gallatin Division of New York University (4/15/91).
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