How often have you heard people ask "Will I die if I
die in my dream?" or "All dreams are in black and white." Or
"A dream of hours takes place in a few seconds."?
These might be viewed as dream memes.
A "meme," is an idea that works in a mind the same way a gene or
virus works in the body. These infectious ideas or viral memes can jump from
mind to mind, much as viruses leap from body to body. While the theories
involving memes and the cultural transmissions they effect are complex [see
Dream Memes, Richard Wilkerson, Electric Dreams 7(1) 2000] the notion of an
infectious idea is very easy to grasp and something we might explore in notions
of dreams and dreaming.
I would like to call on the Electric Dreams community to look through some of
the dream memes you have heard and send them in. I will add a couple each month
myself. Also, we might start to speculate on why these particular memes are so
virulent and continue across generations of dreamers.
Dream Meme: All Dreams are in Black and White
This surely must be one of the first questions we pondered as kids and debated
about. In a way its very confusing how this ideas is so popular. One only has to
observe one's own dreams for awhile. Perhaps children have learned to be very
careful about what inner realities they can share.
There is no experimental proof I have seen of this, but researchers agree
that most dreams are in color. However, because the dream fades so quickly after
we awake, our memories of the dream are often recalled in gray tones. Studies
show that those who are in tune with color in waking life tend to remember more
color in dreams as well. It has also been noticed that those of us who grew up
with black & white TV have more black and white dreams.
When I was a kid, I heard someone talking about black & white vs color
dreams. I felt bad because I recalled most of my dreams in b&w. That night I
dreamt of thousands of iridescence lizards running along by my room. I was
really delighted and tried to collect as many a possible, commenting the whole
time about the color. This dream indicates satisfactorily to me that there is
color *in* the dream and its not just added afterwards, since I was commenting
on the colors in the dream itself.
Try the following exercise: During the day, notice at least once an hour the
color of something, anything. My guess is that you will start recalling more
dreams in your sleep.
Dreamworkers will often use black and white dreams to explore whether this
situation is black and white in the metaphorical sense of "You feel this is
a black and white situation?" Used in this way, it allows us to explore
that we perhaps are feeling a loss of options or the situation is very clear.
What are some other approaches to black and white dreams?
Dream Meme: Sickness in a dream means you are about to
Dreams were used in the ancient dream sanctuaries to heal a variety of
illnesses, but sank into disuse in the Dark Ages. Psychoanalysis revived the
dream to address psychological and emotional illnesses. Contemporary dreamwork
furthers the work of psychology, including the realm of the spiritual and human
potential. Can dreams be fully revived to the status of healing the body of
illness and wounds as in ancient Greece?
Research has confirmed that illnesses can sometimes be found in dreams before
the symptoms actually appear. However, the hard science of dream prognosis is
new. With the advent of MRI brain scans, this research is beginning to show
Vasily Kasatkin, a psychiatrist at the Leningrad Neurosurgical Institute,
studied the content of dreams over a forty year period. His finding corroborate
the American content analysis studies of Calvin Hall and go further. Calvin Hall
found that the recalled surface of dreams tend to reflect the general life
condition of the dreamer. When one is ill, there tend to be ill dreams,
nightmares, struggle and often violence. Kasatkin's findings further found that
these violent dreams often precede an illness.
How to avoid running to the family physician every time we have an
uncomfortable dream becomes a problem for the dream watcher who scans for
illness. Kasatkin has some observations that may help. The first is that these
dreams are often longer than regular distress dreams.
Patricia Garfield has been a pioneer in this field of prognostic dreaming as
well and collected the accounts of thousands of dreamers in her research. Dr.
Garfield suggests a simple measure as a way to distinguish regular distress
dreams from those we might wish to further explore. If it really hurts, it may
indicate a problem. If it is just scary, it may be better taken as symbolic or
Garfield suggest using the metaphor to locate the troubled area. If you have
objects or other people in a dream that are broken or damaged, an analogy can be
made. Thus a broken refrigerator my have something to do with the stomach, or an
acquaintance who you think of as a headache may indicate trouble with your head.
Note that these metaphors are used in conjunction with real pain being
experienced in the dream, not simple the occurrence of a friend or refrigerator
in a dream.
Kasatkin observed that the part of the body in distress is often portrayed
literally, though not necessary happening to oneself. In one case translated by
Van de Castle, a doctor saw a patient in a dream being mugged in the street. The
patient's kidney was lying detached from the body. It turned out that the doctor
himself had a seriously infected kidney.
The work of these two researchers has been reflected in many other sample
cases reported by other researchers, but has not been fully studied in any kind
of laboratory condition. New studies are finding parts of these theories true.
Mark Solms investigates the world of brain disorders. For several years he
has investigated and compared dream reports with neurological information.
Lately, this has included MRI brain scans. Though his conclusions offer little
specific advice, they do indicate that general types of dreaming anomalies occur
in tandem with specific problems with the brain and the area warrants further
Health related dreams may be different in men and women. Robert Smith studied
about 100 patients at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine and
looked for "Death Scores" and "Separation Scenes." Death
scores had references to graveyards, funerals, wills and physical body failures.
Separation had to do with social disruptions i relationship. For men who came in
the hospital, it was the death score dreams that indicated a deterioration in
health. But for women, it was separation dreams. Just a caution. These studies
were done with patients who were all already identified as cardiac problem
patients. Just having a death dream or separation dream is no indication in
itself of problems. Jung noted, for example, that patients who did die suddenly
rarely had dreams about it, as if the dream maker wasn't particularly concerned
by such events.
Robert Haskell, a cognitive psychologist, offers a viewpoint on dreams &
health that may be helpful. He feels that dreams offer us a "cognitive
monitoring system." His research into dreams and health include hundreds of
studies in psychotherapy as well as somatic medicine. He found that dreams do
seem to reflect internal somatic conditions, often predicting them and even
more, are a good way to explore how the patient is coping with these conditions.
o Dream and Health Practices
There are many case histories of people using dreams to find cures. One of
the most historically famous being a dream of Alexander the Great, who dreamt of
a dragon with a plant in his mouth. He send soldiers out to find the plant,
which was located where the dream indicated and it cured Alexander's sick
Locating healing cures in dreams is usually the providence of Shamans,
specially trained individuals who travel in various states of ecstasy to find
cures for their community. But modern dreamers often find cures as well. Van de
Castle relates a story of a woman who had been on antibiotics after an operation
and was suffering from a chronic vaginal yeast infections. Failing traditional
treatment, she tried the advice of a friend and took folic acid. She had a dream
with two parts, one of moving bowls of acid around her kitchen and another of
her kitten gobbling up brown yeast and strawberries. She stopped taking the
folic acid and tried the yeast tablets, which produced remarkable results for
Patricia Garfield has also documented many dreams that have healed people. In
one case a woman had suffered for years with severe migraine headaches. In a
dream she was taking care of an old woman. The dreamer wanted to leave to take
care of her own family, but decided to stay and help the old woman. The old
woman finally died. The old woman's husband and son came to visit the dreamer
and indicated they would help the woman with her headaches as she had been so
kind to the old woman. They laid their hands on the dreamer and when she awoke,
she stopped having headaches. This was a condition that had lasted for nearly 40
years and was spontaneously relieved by a dream.
It is interesting to note that many of the spontaneous healing dreams involve
a person or animal that touches or interacts with the dreamer's body in the
dream, much like the ancient Asklepion dream sanctuary practices. However, there
is little evidence outside of anecdotes that is available. What does seem clear
is that dreams can pick up clues from the body and do so often long before the
dreamer is consciously aware of them.
While much research is still needed, it seems clear that persistent and
painful dreams about the body are worth exploring, if not for their predictive
value, then for the opportunity they offer in exploring our own experience of
our life condition. Attention to dreams brings a wide variety of benefits,
ranging from insight and understanding to healing and wholeness. They are a gift
that naturally occurs every night and need only a little attention to be one of
our best friends in our journey of heath.
o Recommended Readings on dreams and illness
Achterberg, Jeanne (1985). Imagery in Healing. New York, NY: New Science
Garfield, Patricia (1991). The Healing Power of Dreams. New York: Simon &
Jung, C. G. (1964). _Man and His Symbols_. New York, NY: Doubleday.
Taylor, Jeremy (1992). _Where People Fly and Water Runs Uphill: Using Dreams
to tap the Wisdom of the Unconscious._ New York, NY: Warner Books, Inc.
Van De Castle, R. L. (1994). Our Dreaming Mind. New York: Ballantine Books