Q: Hey, Tzivia! I’m wondering if this makes any sense to you. After years of barely being able to remember most of my dreams (either just nothing or too scrambled to recall), in the past week I’ve started having ‘normal’ memories – like I used to have – of one or two dreams a night. And as if that weren’t enough, while I usually rarely dream of people I know, these dreams are long stories about significant people in my life.
Perplexed (and Pleased) in Massachusetts
A: I once had a beautiful black cat named Nim. My vet warned me not to let her outside, and instead to make her a house cat, so she’d have a better chance at a long, safe life. If I let her outside, he cautioned, she could be hit by a car, scooped up by a bird of prey, or meet any number of unfortunate fates.
Now, at the risk of opening up a debate about the proper care of domesticated cats–when it’s dreams I want to talk about (I promise, I’ll get to those soon)–I will tell you that I decided to let her out.
She was a wild one, that cat. A stray when I found her, she never seemed completely at home–well–at home. She loved to be outdoors where she’d roam, stalk, chase, and run. Then she’d come back inside where she’d curl up in the best spot on the sofa, or of course, the bed.
I knew I was taking a chance each time I let her out. But most days, when I whistled for her to come back inside, she’d prance happily to the door. Still, a few times a year she would stay out for one, two, or even three nights at a time.
On those nights I’d worry that the vet had been right, and I’d unnecessarily subjected my cat to danger. But then she’d show up on the stoop wearing a smug expression on her face, as if she were savoring the memory of some tasty escapade.
It seems that if we want to keep dreams reliably by our side, all we can do is create the right conditions for them to come to us. Like a cat, they like their independence, they like to be handled in just the right way, and they are far too dignified to submit to being leashed.
To invite our dreams to stay we need to get to bed at a decent hour and wake up slowly so we don’t scare them away with jangling alarms or sudden bright sunlight. But sometimes, even when we do the best we can to domesticate them, our dreams slink away, mysterious as a black cat in the night.
To solve the puzzle of your newly returned dreams, look for what might have changed in your life to have whistled them back. It could be anything from diet, to sleep habits, to methods of waking up, to shifts in daytime consciousness (feeling more relaxed…or more anxious), and even hormonal fluctuations.
That’s the scientist’s approach, based on reason and observation. But as with my feral feline friend, logic doesn’t always work–especially with something as bewildering as dreams.