Where do we go when we sleep? This is a question I have pondered for many years and never quite found the answer to. Oh yes, I have heard many opinions, but I’m not sure which one is the truth. I have pretty much resigned myself to the idea that it is just one of the great mysteries of life.
I have a (seldom) recurring dream: I look up to the sky as if I was going to see the moon in the night sky. Instead, I see the earth. Last week when I dreamt this, I saw the earth, but it was triply eclipsed. The earth was farthest away, the moon was eclipsing the earth, but then another planet was eclipsing the moon. I could see all 3. It always feels like an amazing experience, but this time it was extraordinary.
Now, before you psychoanalyze me, let’s just imagine for a minute that I was really there in my spiritual body. Because it IS possible. What do we really know about the workings of the human soul? We know that the body turns off and rejuvenates itself while we sleep… and we know that we can pretty quickly return to consciousness if something wakes us up. But how do we know that it’s not really true that I left my body and went out into the universe and saw the earth from 2 planets away? We don’t know. A third of life is spent in sleep–more than a full-time job! Who’s to say we don’t go to another dimension and we wake up only to remember parts of it? The ancient greeks believed this. Maybe they were right!
But, since we’ll never know for sure, let’s look at my dream from some different perspectives:
From a (strictly) scientific viewpoint:
Ronald H. Bailey, scientist and author of The Role of the Brain , says that dreaming is the process of wearing the brain in, giving its 10 billion nerve cells an opportunity to consolidate the day’s learning into long-term memory and adjusting to new modes of behavior… “clearing out old programs & debugging new ones” like a computer. He says that non-dreaming sleep helps body growth but dreaming sleep creates brain growth, so it is necessary for our brains to dream. Another theory he discusses is that dreaming allows a person to go quietly and safely insane every night. The train of thought continues on to the idea that mental illness is just misplaced dreaming. (So my stubborn belief that I really was on another planet is just my memories of being insane for the night!) An interesting note from The Promise of Sleep by William Dement is that if you deprive people of REM sleep they will start to experience (in waking life) an REM cycle every 90 minutes or so and will start to hallucinate in waking life. Also notable is that uppers like caffeine as well as downers like alcohol or sleeping pills both reduce REM sleep. So you could literally be losing your mind by using these substances.
Another scientist, David Bainbridge, author of Beyond the Zonules of Zinn, says that it is a recent evolutionary acquisition of ours to dream. That’s good news, although I’m pretty sure my cat dreams–does that mean that we are evolutionarily equivalent? If so, I would not be surprised because my cat is very smart and has highly developed powers. :o) Anyway, Bainbridge says that scientists don’t know exactly what sleep is or what it’s for. He says that the part of the brain which is called the locus coeruleus (which is sky blue) has to do with communication, stress & depression. This is also the area that antidepressants are involved with, which would correlate with Bailey’s discussion on mental illness.
Overall, the only scientist I could find that had any hint of a theory close to mine was Rene Descartes who said that he found no conclusive indications by which waking life is distinct from sleep. You could turn this around to mean that you are actually awake while you are sleeping… but perhaps in a different dimension.
Moving along to psychoanalytical/psychological viewpoint:
I have found somewhat conflicting views from the different sources I read, although all were interesting for different reasons. The one I thought most interesting was Night Life by Liam Hudson, who is a professor of psychology and an artist which gives him a unique artistic perspective. He takes the view of Charles Darwin that dreams are like poetry and should be “read” as such. Hudson does not have a specific interpretation of the symbol of planets, but from this viewpoint I went on to read The Dictionary of Symbols by Dr. Juan Eduardo Cirlot, which focuses on the symbols of dreams and art. In this book I found that the planet mercury means intuition and movement, the planet venus is love, relationships and objective good, the moon is imagination, the world of forms and potential evil. So this could mean that perhaps I was standing on intuition making a decision about good & evil…
I really liked what Dr. Phyllis Koch-Sheras (author of The Dream Sourcebook) had to say about recurring dreams. She said that if a recurring dream is not a nightmare it is usually a positive archetypal visionary dream. She focuses on creating your own dream symbol library, since each individual is unique. Dr. Patricia Garfield had a somewhat similar dream to mine that she described in The Universal Dream Key. She saw the moon and said “Fly me to the moon!” and found herself being transported there. The feelings she describes in the dream are similar to the feelings in mine. She says that seeing a beautiful earth means abundant waking happiness. She said that circles are often parts of these dreams of beauty, centering wholeness. Ultimately, as Freud says “it is necessary to utilize the association of the dreamer” (who would have thought to ask the dreamer herself?)
An astronomy viewpoint:
I could see the earth, so the sun must have been shining towards it and behind the planet I was on. So I must have been on mercury, looking at Venus as the first planet I saw, eclipsing the moon, which was eclipsing the earth. I found an awesome website after much searching which shows the exact planetary positions in orbit at any given date & time. It’s amazing! Click Here!
Also, the Sky & Telescope Magazine has a section each month called “Sky at a Glance” which shows you all the planetary events happening that month, as well as a detailed moon phase calendar. Check it out! Also, the May edition has a section on Mercury, since new discoveries have been made this year. Apparently Mercury has a lot of craters. If I was there I would have either been at 800 degrees or -300 degrees fahrenheit depending on whether I was at the equator or one of the poles.
Finally, an Astrology viewpoint:
According to The Only Astrology Book You’ll Ever Need by Joanna Martine Woolfolk (a really fun book, by the way!) Mercury is the sign of intelligence and speed. Mercury is a messenger, signifying communication and mental activity. My Mercury is in Capricorn which means I am calculating & methodical (good for my job) & superb at detail. Standing on this, I look at Venus, which means love, pleasure, affection, beauty, relationships & happiness. My Venus is in Sagittarius meaning I see my love as adventurous. This is eclipsing my moon, my dark side (hidden side) which is Scorpio which means acute powers of observation, emotions & jealousy. Earth signifies practicality, stability, materialism. So, if I were to analyze my dream based on this information I would have to say:
I was standing on the perspective of analysis, looking at my love & happiness, which was eclipsing my dark side and also my practicality. That sounds like a good balance. It was a good dream.
Goodnight! Sleep tight!
p.s. All of the books I’ve mentioned are in our collection or our network of libraries. Click on the links to request an item from the catalogue.
Jesse is the bookkeeper/library assistant at the Oliver Wolcott Library and is currently humming “Tiny Dancer” by Elton John. “Blue jean baby, L.A. Lady…”