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Why I keep a dream diary

“Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises, sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight, and hurt not. Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices, that if I then had waked after long sleep will make me sleep again; and then in dreaming the clouds methought would open and show riches ready to drop upon me, that when I waked I cried to dream again.”

Caliban, in The Tempest, by Shakespeare

A couple of years ago I started to keep a dream diary.

It didn’t start out as a dream diary. It was originally intended to be a diary of these mad times we are living in, and in the beginning I called it “In the Belly of the Beast”. The plan was to lay events in my own life alongside the broader current of insanity rushing by me in the wider world.

But I struck a case of writer’s block soon after I started. My own life was too dull, perhaps, and the current of events in the wider world too mad and distressing to contemplate too much. That’s how it seemed, at least. And, what with the bushfires that opened 2020 in Australia and now the appalling worldwide pandemic, things have only become stranger and more dreadful.

When the writer’s block hit me I resorted to jotting down interesting dreams I had, and soon this took over as the main strand of the diary, with only a few significant external events thrown in here and there.

I didn’t write down every dream I remembered, of course. Most of my dreams are too trivial and pointless to waste time recollecting. But at times some seemed worth jotting down, especially as some themes seemed to repeat themselves and it struck me now and then that my subconscious mind was trying to send me a message.

Messages from the subconscious

That’s what I think many dreams are: messages from my subconscious self, trying to warn me of something, or trying to help me articulate something that is troubling me in my waking life.

The earliest dreams I recollect are from my teens. Of those I’m willing to write about (you know what teenagers are like!), only a couple are what might be called “big” dreams – dreams that seem to have some sort of broad meaning or message or, alternatively, were striking or memorable in some way.

In one, I was walking with parents and others along a path that led between a huge split mountain. As we neared the mountain the earth shook, the sun turned red and the mountain’s halves moved together, closing the path. I woke worried and perplexed, and have remembered the dream ever since.

Another “big dream” involved dragons. In this dream I was running in some sand dunes at night, thrilling to the clean ocean air in my lungs and exhilarated at being alive.

As I topped a dune I looked at the sky and all the stars resolved themselves into a huge map of the world that spanned the sky. The stars took on a yellowish glow as they formed this picture. It was exciting, and added to the thrill of the night. I ran down to the dark seashore and saw a dark bulk on the waterline. As I got closer it looked like a living creature, and when I drew quite near I saw it was a dragon. I walked around it until I could see its eye. The eye was wise and compassionate and powerful, but I knew the dragon was dying. The dragon knew that I knew, and I felt a special bond between us.

Dying dragon on the shoreline

When I left the dying dragon on the shoreline I went back into the dunes to a cottage where I was staying. The night passed and I dreamed that I woke in the morning, went to the front door and looked down to see an egg on the floor of the patio. As I looked, it cracked open and a small lizard darted out, ran up the wall and looked down at me from up high.

I knew it was the next generation of dragon.

Interestingly, in 2019, two little lizards appeared on the wall outside our bedroom. They were a type known in Australia as “water dragons”, not long hatched from their eggs. I had not seen baby water dragons before. (I know they were water dragons because we watched them grow, and fed them from time to time when they visited us.) Their first appearance on the wall brought my old dream vividly back to mind. About the same time my daughter had her first child. Nor was it long after the death of my father, and also my father-in-law.

A little later in my life, in my early 20s, I had a couple of vivid dreams that I believe were messages from my subconscious mind, trying to alert me to the fact that I needed to quit trying to earn a law degree. I was struggling with my law studies and was extremely unhappy at university.

In one dream I was with my friend Steve. We were working at a zoo, and our job was to feed the animals. We drove around the zoo in a flatbed truck with joints of meat on the back. I was on the back, throwing the meat to the carnivores. At a certain point we arrived at a bare dusty enclosure and saw a mangy black dog starving in the corner. As I looked at the dog it turned its eyes to me and I felt something like a blow as I realised the dog was myself. I woke realising that some part of me was starving to death.

Dreams helped me quit a law degree

Around the time of the hungry dog dream I also dreamed that I was visiting a home in which I had once lived. I was downstairs talking to my parents (I think) when I became aware of lovely flute music coming from an upstairs room. I climbed the stairs and opened the door to the room from which the sounds of music were coming. Sitting on a narrow bed was an emaciated young girl, with a shaven head, playing this movingly sweet music. As I looked she turned her face to me. Suddenly I was aware she was my sister (I don’t have a sister). Her eyes were sad and troubled, and she seemed to be fading away, her music unheard beyond the walls of this tiny room. I woke feeling very sad and guilty at allowing her to be so neglected.

Both those dreams, I felt sure, were telling me that I needed to move away from my studies into something with more creativity, that suited my abilities more than law did.

They were helpful messages, and I did not ignore them.

So, believing that the subconscious is a deep and marvellous part of my mind, and that it speaks loudest in symbols, I am now alert for “big dreams” that have important messages for me about aspects of my life that I may have overlooked during my wakeful hours.

That’s why I started to keep a dream diary.

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