The times, they are wonky. And it’s causing many of us to do more nighttime dream weaving than usual.
Lenora Degen used to look forward to bedtime, with her laughter-filled dreams and the occasional ones where she took flight.
“I have the most entertaining dreams,” says the Colorado Springs resident. “People are doing funny things. It’s like watching a movie all night for me.”
That is, until COVID-19 entered the picture. Those fun-loving dreams have changed dramatically over the last few months into visions of sickness, either in her or her two sons. There are also all those unwanted and disliked political figures who keep popping up, when they never did before.
“I feel like I have a private area that’s my mind and these people don’t belong in there and they weasel their way in,” says Degen. “I just get sucked into that, from TV or wherever. It’s a personal affront to me.”
Degen isn’t alone. The scuttlebutt is that dreams are noticeably more outlandish than usual. Vivid, detailed, sometimes nightmarish. Take, for instance, the recently created website IDreamofCovid.com, created by two California sisters who were curious how the collective anxiety would affect dreams. The compilation of dreams comes from people around the globe, including a few from Colorado, who have finally found an audience for their nighttime dalliances.
One Denver resident reported a dream in mid-April: “It was a rural landscape, and there were eyeballs rolling across the grass and dirt. The eyeballs were much too big — the size of a car or bigger. Everyone’s focus was on running away from the eyeballs, because we all knew if one touched you, you got sick. It was just a farm of people running around without reason, trying to avoid these massive sickness eyeballs.”
Absolutely the current state of affairs has affected our dreaming life, says Kezia Vida, a natural dreamwork practitioner. She’s been doing this work for more than a decade, and has never had more hits on her website (KeziaVida.com).
“When people’s external world becomes more nightmarish, difficult or challenging, the dreams sort of follow in suit,” she says from her home in Mississippi. “There’s a reflection there.”
But are they meaningful? Or are they only fragmented products of our days, many of which are now spent reading the news and worrying about the future?
There is always meaning to be gleaned from a dream, say both Vida and Kathryn Kuisle, a Colorado Springs psychotherapist and Jungian therapist who frequently works with her clients’ dreams. But it’s up to the dreamer to do the work to find it. Even the nightmares we feel grateful to wake up from and want to forget as quickly as possible can provide growth, if we’re brave enough to sit in the fire and dig for meaning.
“We know mainstream culture tells us dreams have no meaning at all, to throw them away,” says Vida. “But what if we assume every dream is trying to heal us, transform us and help us grow? People will throw away the whole dream because they’re not remembering it all or they’ve forgotten about it. I say savor whatever you have — that is the dream. Don’t get caught into I forgot something, so it’s not worthwhile.”
Dreams aren’t out to get you or torture you, says Vida, and they don’t bring you anything that isn’t already present inside of you. You might be having intense feelings about the virus and believe that’s what’s causing your anxiety-ridden dreams, but Vida would likely ask you some different questions.
“The dream says is it really just about coronavirus? Just out of nowhere you’re having this level of reaction?” she says.
“Is that familiar in any other way? It’s easy to say it’s because of coronavirus. I say let’s go down into it. The dream is using a coronavirus scenario, but let’s assume the dream is trying to tell you something about yourself.”
The dream is often not about the virus itself. It’s only the triggering event. The dream wants to make you feel something, and is using that particular scenario because you can connect with it emotionally.
“For example, I had a dream about ‘The Walking Dead’ (TV show about a zombie apocalypse) because I’m watching it,” says Vida. “The dream used that imagery because you connect to it. It can help people get more out of the experience.”
While some are watching chaos unfold behind shuttered eyes, others are plagued by boring nighttime escapes. Their dreams are dull, dreary, mundane plods through scenarios that seem much too similar to real life, such as fixing the copier at work or going through the spreadsheets yet again. Those dreamers are left to wonder where their crazy pandemic dreams are hiding.
Scary or boring, Vida approaches both types of dreams similarly. First, she asks how the dream made the dreamer feel. Second, if that feeling is familiar?
“I say, ‘How do you feel when you’re in the office?’ They say, ‘Not great,’” she says. “I say, ‘This is how you feel all the time.’ That’s the issue. You can say that it’s boring, but if you really knew or felt it, you might want to change something. This is your life. This is it.”
Kuisle believes boring dreams are only seen as such at surface level.
“It might seem boring, but going to work, if you’re not working, is a longing for going back to some kind of normalcy,” she says. “If you’re still working, maybe you don’t want to be working.”
How to work with dreams
Kuisle and her colleagues have noticed people are remembering their dreams much better these days, perhaps due to so much down time at home and a more relaxed life pace. But those dreams, she says, are much more anxiety-filled, and the issues people were dealing with before the pandemic, such as depression and panic attacks, have only grown in intensity.
There isn’t, of course, one pat answer she gives all of her clients. She advises them to look at what the dream is trying to tell them.
“Most dreams, even though they’re scary, are about healing and hope,” says Kuisle. “If you work with a dream, there’s one part that can give a person hope or say this is a healing part or a strengthening part. We look for that as well as what attitude might be changed. If a person has an attitude of we’re all going to hell in a handbasket, if we can shift that attitude toward hope, that’s so important.”
She has each client read their dream out loud before going through to see what each part might be related to, such as what was going on in their life the day before the dream or what they associate with the car or the animal in the dream.
“The dreamer is the only one who knows what the dream is about,” says Kuisle. “Even though every so often they seem not quite understandable, we keep walking around it, understanding it. Some dreams we get nowhere with. We might have to wait. Maybe in three weeks or months we’ll have a clue.”
Many are inclined to turn to dream symbology books or websites, where meanings are given for different dream images. Vida says put them down. It’s more important to focus on how the dream made you feel. The people, places and things in your dreams are unique to the individual.
“If you grew up on a cow farm and dreamed about a cow, it’s different from a person who grew up in India and dreams about a cow,” she says. “The essence of it is so personal to you.”
She understands why people might not want to face their nightmares in the bright light of day, and would rather shove them to the back of their mind. There is growth, though, for those who dare to face those images that well up from the subconscious after nightfall.
“Dreams put us in contact with what we don’t want to be in contact with. It’s the shadow,” says Vida. “It’ll be the things that hurt or are scary. We’re in difficult times. There’s an instinct to cling to what we know and try to turn away from what I see as an opportunity of what if you took a courageous stance and faced what’s going on. Dreams help us build courage and face what we’re afraid of.”
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