Pay Attention to Your Dreams: They Can Change Your Life
Adapted from The Girl in the Yellow Poncho
“Dreaming is a state of psychosis. You know that right?” the late J. Allan Hobson, the ever-contentious professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School told me this years ago when I interviewed him for a magazine article. Widely credited as the father of modern neurological dream research, he said this as though itching for a fight. Blue eyes laughing, white hair slightly disheveled, he added, “Every night when you go to sleep, you’re loony as a coot.”
As someone who had always been obsessed with dreaming, I didn’t believe a word he said. I knew better. For years, my dreams had been my salvation, leading me out of my despair via images and metaphors that were as simple as they were profound. As a young biracial woman, growing up in an era long before that was common, I wrestled with painful questions about my identity. Dreams helped me through this morass. I recorded them in my journals and for years, they pointed the way.
In one, a shy ghost child climbed a long, spiral staircase. I tried to see more of her but she was invisible, revealing only a beige arm here, or a floating scarf there. “Can you show me more?” I asked in my dream. The question caused her to lash out with rage and indignation. “Why?” she cried. “Why does it matter so much what I look like?!”
There is much that scientists know about the dreaming mind, although much remains a mystery. Dreams speak another language, understood by a different part of ourselves. They tap into to our non-logical hearts. I interviewed anthropologists, neuroscientists, philosophers, and quantum physicists, and while they couldn’t yet explain the nature of dreaming consciousness, they were at least certain that there was such a thing.
We know that during Rapid Eye Movement (REM sleep, when most dreaming occurs), the frontal regions of the brain responsible for logical thinking and volition, go offline, while the emotional, limbic centers have a party — becoming wildly, chaotically activated.
“Why are dreams as wild and crazy as they are?” asked David Kahn, a Harvard Medical School psychiatrist, years ago. He leaned back in his chair and…