Electric Dreams

Dream Memes: Persistence Dreaming Viruses

Richard Catlett Wilkerson 

meme: Black and White Dreams
meme: Sickness in Dreams

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  Wilkerson, Richard Catlett (2000 February). Dream Memes: Persistence Dreaming Viruses. Electric Dreams 7(2). Retrieved July 14, 2000 from Electric Dreams on the World Wide Web: http://www.dreamgate.com/electric-dreams  

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 get sick

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 reproducible results.

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 metaphorical.

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 research.

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 friend, Ptomemaus.

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 her.

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.

o Conclusion

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 Library.

Garfield, Patricia (1991). The Healing Power of Dreams. New York: Simon & Schuster.

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