Electric Dreams

Event-Clumps and Dreams

  Linda Lane Magallón 

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Magallón, Linda Lane (2004 January). Event-Clumps and Dreams. Electric Dreams 11(1).

I like to use the term "event-clumps" to remind myself that every memory is a composite. It consists of several elements, like picture, thought, emotion, sensation, instinct and intuition. I need the reminder because of the intimate relationship between memory and dream. It's all too easy to gloss over a dream when I write out the narrative and thus miss underlying clues to its meaning.

Many memories have a visual component that has become associated with a non-visual element. For instance, an episode of an attack by the neighbor's dog might encode picture and emotion together in the formula, German Shepherd = fear. I can retrieve that event-clump by seeing a new dog of the same breed, which triggers a new sensation of fear. This is a common waking occurrence.

However, the opposite is also true: I feel the same sort of fear when my boss "attacks" the quality of my work. While I'm in the midst of this highly charged employment situation, the picture of the German Shepherd doesn't register on my conscious mind. But the event-clump comes as a package, nonetheless. If I recall the work incident before I sleep or if its intensity has not yet dissipated, the event-clump that describes the fear-emotion in picture-form will be readily available material for the construction of a dream. The event-clump is one of the "bricks" that builds my world of sleep.

A memory does not have to have a visual aspect, though. When you lose a tooth, the sensation of a lump in the mouth can be encoded with anxiety. If a bit of food gets stuck in your teeth, then loosens later (whether awake or asleep), it could trigger a tooth-loss dream. The sensation alone might provoke such a dream, but such an event-clump is far more likely to become available for dream production if several of its components are repeated in the current scenario. If you eat popcorn in a darkened theater while watching a horror movie, both sensation and anxiety are felt. Same feelings, different environment, different thought context.

A dreamer I'll call Kimara recently shared a dream with me. In the dream, Kimara was walking though a maze of streets, in and out of and around buildings, passing other people along the way. Finally, she walked into another woman's apartment and became very concerned that she was in the woman's private space. As Kimara was trying to decide whether to go or stay, a man walked right
into her apartment, too.

When awake, Kimara recognized some of the buildings that had appeared in her dream. When she was younger, she lived in a war zone, although not in the line of fire. The buildings were part of an
event-clump from that period in her life. The event-clump consisted of the image of her environment plus a certain level of anxiety and fear.

But the dream was not about Kimara's childhood; it was about a current occurrence that had triggered the same sort of anxiety. Kimara is a saleswoman. She travels to various businesses to make
presentations and talk to company representatives. The offices that she visits often consist of a maze of cubicles she must circumvent in order to get to the person she will meet. So I asked her, "Where
have you been lately -  where you had to walk through halls or past cubicles to get to a woman's office - where you were nervous about intruding into her space - but where her fellow employees had no problem barging in?"

When I described her dream by stripping away past imagery and concentrating on its underlying elements, Kimara had no trouble recalling the recent daytime event that had invoked her dream. The
sensation of motion, the shape of structure, the number, type and positions of dream characters, the thoughts and feelings - these were the component parts of her office visit.

So, why didn't she just dream up a literal repeat of that visit? Because Kimara is not a video camera or a robot. She's not just a pretty face! She's a thinking, feeling, active organic being. Her waking drama wasn't our movie, it was her life. It contained all the layers of human experience, including those that would not be visible to an outside observer, who can only view the surface of her physical reality.

Kimara was nervous in an environment that she doesn't usually associate with such fear and anxiety. So the event-clump that was triggered by her feelings and sensations referred back to an environment that was far more dangerous than her current one. Small wonder. The event-clump of her childhood is so potent that she will probably continue to access it, unless the connection between image and emotion is severed and the anxiety-plus-picture is rewritten with a new formula.

If a new, more intense event comes along, that picture might replace the old buildings. Or, through cognitive therapy, Kimara might reprogram herself to associate anxiety with another picture: one that will help dissipate it. For instance, fear = a dragon. A dragon can start as a terrifying monster that morphs over time into a colorful legend that morphs into a cartoon playmate. I'm not suggesting that Kimara get rid of fear altogether. Fear serves a very usual purpose, warning us of real potential and imminent danger. I'm suggesting that Kimara practice techniques to turn down the volume to a level she can more easily handle.

Spontaneous life occurrences will program potent event-clumps and some may recur as repeating dreams for years. They are still potent, still active, if circumstances with the same feeling tones
continue to be a factor in our lives. Sometimes we can change life circumstances so that they, and the negative feelings that accompany them, become less and less frequent. Sometimes we can change the images associated with those non-visual elements, so that they are easier to cope with, or even become a source of amusement and entertainment! Kimara may not have much say about war in the larger world, but she has a lot to say about her own private space. There, she can try out new ways to face up to fear. There, she can come to appreciate the creative ways in which her inner mind paints the components that are hidden to our sight.

(Dream Flights)