Friday, September 29, 2006

On Dreams Part 3 of 3

Now that I have given a background to dreams, I would like to share what I feel is the significance of dreams. Dreams are spiritual. Freud was right when he said that the repressed unconscious escapes during dreams. In our dreams we see that there is another level to the world that we cannot experience with our five senses. Dreams tell us that we experience the world with our hearts as well.

First I will begin with a dream that I had 2 weeks ago. In this dream I was counting the days that a certain person had been alive. A wolf then came and I had to jump onto the roof. The rest of the dream I could not remember. Interestingly, the day before this dream I had been feeling slightly guilty that I had not bought this person a gift for his birthday. For me, it seemed like the dream was telling me that I was being chased by guilt (the wolf). So as a result of this dream I bought my friend a present and no longer had to be bothered by the guilt.

This was not a life-changing dream. But it was the first dream that I had ever spent time to interpret. I was pretty surprised to find that dreams could actually be useful for improving my life. Since then I have had other dreams that during the dream felt absolutely bizarre but when I spent some time interpreting them actually seemed to have some meaning behind them. For years I had never taken much notice of my dreams but now I see that there is great purpose to them.

So I challenge you to start writing a dream journal. When you wake up from a dream write down everything you can remember about the dream. Just keep a pen and paper next to your bed and before you do anything write down your dream. At first it may be difficult to remember your dream but over time you will get better and better at it. You may even gain the ability to control what happens in your dreams. I also encourage you to think about what the elements of the dream might mean. The best person to interpret your dream is typically you (though not always) because where your mind wanders as you think about your dream is perhaps the best indicator of what each element means.

Sweet dreams.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

On Dreams Part 2

There are two parts to this blog. I will first continue with my evaluation of Freud's book On Dreams and hopefully this will add extra insight into the nature of our dreams. And then I will look at what modern science has told us about dreams.

To review: Freud posited that dreams are essentially wish fulfillments, though they are often disguised. The reasons why dreams are often so obscure are multiple. First, the brain must convert ideas into situations and images. Second, the brain must condense these scenes for the sake of brevity. And now we will continue on to the other forms of distortion that I did not cover in the previous blog.

Freud hypothesized that dreams contain wishes that are typically repressed but, because the agency that keeps unconscious memories down is impaired during sleep - these thoughts creep to the surface. However, the repressing agent is impaired but not completely down and so the dreams are altered by some sort of a mechanism that is trying to protect us from our repressed wishes. The first is displacement: taking ideas and creating a metaphor to convey them. The second is intentional distortion, the dream thoughts are distorted by the brain for the purpose of protecting us from our repressed thoughts. I do not give much credence at all to this last mechanism.

So why do we dream? Freud says that dreams are meant to allow us to sleep, because with so many denied wishes during the day we need some incentive to sleep. And secondly, dreams act as a guardian of sleep: keeping us asleep when we need to be and awakening us when we need to awake.

But what does modern science tell us about dreams? First of all, dreams occur during REM sleep where the eyes move rapidly back and forth and the body is temporarily paralyzed from moving. Secondly, researchhas shown that one purpose of dreams is to consolidate memories. People perform better on memory tasks after they have had a night full of dreams. It appears that memories are cataloged during sleep so that retrieval of them is facilitated. (This is why 8-9 hours of sleep is so important before a test, because most dreams occur in the last hours of our sleep cycle)

For Freud that means his hypothesis of dreaming for wish fulfillment is probably wrong. Also his posited repression control mechanism: no evidence for that. But he brings to light several key elements of dreams: multiple ideas are represented in one object, ideas are turned into pictures, and ideas are changed into metaphors.

So, even though dreams may simply be a byproduct of a psychological process of storing memories, what we dream and how we store the memory is still interesting. Phew! I was worried that dream interpretation was all a bunch of honky tonk for a second there. I wish I could write more but I'm already beginning to ramble on. But don't worry, there will be a part 3 that will look at the spiritual side of dreaming.

Some links:
Dreams on Wikipedia
Dream control

On Dreams Part 1

First off, I edited this post after my original post for the purpose of structuring this series differently so you might need to read it again if you read it prior to this but otherwise enjoy...

I'm reading On Dreams by Sigmund Freud as a result of a recent personal interest in dreams. Freud argues that dreams are a form of wish fulfillment, our desires are achieved in our dreams. Using anecdotal evidence Freud makes the point that in children's dreams these wishes are obvious but the dreams of adults have become more complex and need to be analyzed in order to be understood for how the wish is present. What I appreciate most about Freud's theory is that he took seriously how the mind produces dreams and creates a means of dream interpretations that essentially reverses the process.

First of all, Freud differentiated between the manifest content of the dream and the latent content of the dream. The manifest content was the actual dream. The latent content was the ideas and thoughts that were eventually transformed into the dream. The mind transformed the latent content into the manifest content. Freud hypothesized that the reason the mind transformed dreams into less obvious content was first of all due to the constraint of dreams being typically situational. So the brain needs to transform ideas into a dramatic scene.

Freud believed that another way dreams are formed is through a process of condensation. Each element of the dream represents two or more ideas that have been condensed. For example, the morphing of two people into one person within our dreams results because our dreams are trying to represent more than one person. Freud would argue that dreams are typically, though not always, tremendously complex. The process of condensation allows for greater amounts of content to be portrayed in a single dream.

Freud is right in saying that dreams are complex and often condensed but, in my opinion, I believe he is wrong in saying that all dreams are wish fulfillment. Nightmares are perhaps the best counter-evidence for this. I believe that dreams are creations of inner conflict. This conflict can be wishes that have gone unfulfilled but they can also be conflicts over guilt, anger, fear, and sadness. In other words, dreams can heighten (and not just repair, as Freud would argue) our dissatisfaction over our wishes not being fulfilled. Perhaps our dreams highlight these conflicts so that we can seek out resolution in our waking hours.

In Part 2 I will continue to expand on Freud's theory.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Feeling Gracefull

I'm sitting here typing this as a free-form monologue. I have an idea of what I want to say but have not really thought it out. I guess I should start by saying that I'm questioning where I am with the whole "grace of God" thing.

I've been pretty fortunate to find a community lately where I can practice confession and receive the grace of the community. In fact, if you would look at my life you might even think: "he may not be perfect but he sure is trying to be." I have never been so disciplined in my life. I read my Bible in the morning and in the evening. I call people to be encouraged and they encourage me. I am even trying to discover the hidden sins in my life through journaling. Think I'm boasting? Well it would be strange to boast about needing outside help just to be normal.

I guess what I'm trying to say is I worry if I'm denying myself the grace of God. Occassionally I feel burdened by my lifestyle but typically I enjoy it. I have been on a downward slope all my life. And for the first time in my life I am confident that I am on the way up. It was tragic to feel myself wasting away and so a guy who found it nearly unbearable to do any type of work has begun to live a disciplined life. Simply amazing.

I don't know. Honestly I don't. I don't know if I'm simply burdening myself and one day I will snap. It doesn't feel like it. But sometimes I forget to read my Bible or I intentionally ignore people who would build my soul, and afterwards I feel like crap. Guilty and ashamed. Does that make me a slave to legalism? I sure hope not. But I know I'm leaning towards it. I want to learn to love. I want to learn to love others and myself. Sure I am obsessed with myself but I want to learn to love myself.

I wish I could be more forgiving. I think that is true love. "[Love] keeps no record of wrongs." (1 Corinthians 13:5. How am I to live with the knowledge that I am wrong? I don't really know. Do I meditate on Christ's death? Do I remember that God loves us while we are sinners?

Should I simply live with my shortcomings and put Christ's salvation in the stead of everything else? Should I give up trying to be a better man? I cannot. It is the knowledge of just how wrong I am that drives me back to being spiritually disciplined. I tried for so long to "accept God's grace" (i.e. not do anything except try to feel God loving me) and yet nothing came of it.

But of course I am not completely cleared of all wrong. I am wrong when I brutalize myself with guilt over my mistakes. I wish I could laugh at myself more. Not condescendingly, just laughing at my own silliness. That is freedom. Instead I insult myself. I heap up guilt onto myself so that I will feel bad about being bad. But God promises grace. God builds humility through failure. But shame is a false humility.

Then I am wrong when I shut myself off from God and others when I feel any guilt. I'm so full of myself that I want to appear perfect. I wish I could turn my shortcomings into ways where I can connect with God. For I know I need Him in those moments. Our failures ought to drive us into the arms of God and our fellows. We ought to see our need for them and reach out for help.

With all the times I've failed, I should be humbler than Mother Teresa. Instead I feel more shame than John Mark Karr.

True humility is clarity and serenity on who we are combined with the willingness to receive help in becoming more. For God loves us in our weaknesses. The experience of that is what I call feeling gracefull.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Heart and Mind

The heart and mind are often presented as diametrically opposed. We either act out of our heart, impulsively, or out of our mind, rationally. At least that was what I was taught. I have always thought that I had to either act out of my heart, and risk doing something foolish but enjoy life more, or act out of my head, and risk losing my zeal for life but be able to play it safe. But is this the way that it has to be?

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind." (Luke 10:27) All heart and all mind. Isn't that the way it should be? Shouldn't we passionately follow our dreams in a logical and well-planned manner?

I believe that most people think that following your heart means doing something impulsive and perhaps even dumb. If that is the case then heart and mind really are opposites. But if following your heart actually means bringing all emotions into your life, then rationality is by no means excluded. In fact, mindful consideration of God's truth can actually produce a variety of emotional expressions, such as joy over salvation, sorrow over sin, laughter over our lives, and resoluteness about our desires.

I am thankful that the gospel once again proves to be greater than anything imaginable: that we are encouraged to be fully human in our pursuit of God.