Monday, April 3, 2017

In Your Dreams: For real

Accurate in detail  & intensely felt

By André Duvall

I can often recall many specific details about my dreams in the first few minutes upon awaking from them. In contrast, I have spoken with several people who say that they do not remember lots of details from their dreams, or who claim to not remember dreaming much at all. Perhaps their dreams do not cause them to awaken, and thus are forgotten entirely. I likely have many of those kinds of dreams as well, the memory of which is long lost in deep slumber earlier in the night. Yet, even though I can recall details of a dream quite well for a few precious minutes, if I do not record those details, the specifics of the dream often fall away, and I can recall only generalities later in the day.
    Thus, I am fascinated by the dreams whose precise features stick in my memory beyond a fleeting period. These are the dreams that I can recall for weeks, or occasionally, even years later, having somehow been etched into my memory without assistance from me writing down any details. These types of dreams have had an associated emotional component, which I can recall with a strength comparable to the precision of the dreams’ details. This strong emotional effect likely has a great deal to do with why these dreams remain in my memory.
    Among these few dreams (that I can strongly recall without having written them down) exist a rare subset of dreams that simultaneously exhibited the following two features: they contained a storyline that was incredibly accurate to a real-life situation I was experiencing or had previously experienced, and they caused me to awaken with an incredibly intense emotional feeling, way more intense than the average dream. I am going to share two of them here.

One of the dreams featured one of my grandmothers and me in her kitchen. This grandma and I were very close when I was a child. She lived in my hometown, and she lived in walking distance from my elementary school. On certain days, I would walk to her house after school, and I would eat a snack or dinner that either she prepared or we prepared together. My grandma died over a decade ago, and this dream occurred within the last two years.
    In this dream, Grandma was preparing a meal in the kitchen. While today I can still remember the quality of her voice, I can only remember it specifically with certain phrases. The details of what she said were one set of details that I was not able to retain, but the memory of the timbre of her voice still remains from that dream. Her demeanor and voice were just as I remember them: calming, gentle, and sweet. Even though I did not see it, I knew that she was fixing cornbread as one item among others that were not explicitly revealed to me (that’s another interesting component of some dreams: knowledge of what is happening simply by a “sense,” even if it’s not explicit in the dream, like seeing a shadowy figure but “knowing” who it is). Cornbread was something she would often fix.
    Light was beaming through the partially curtained kitchen windows, much as it often did on a weekday afternoon when I would enter her home after school. At some point, she came over and gave me a hug, and it felt just as I remember her hugs. She was a thin woman, and I could always feel her bones when she would hug me. Yet her hug also felt full of goodness toward me, even as it felt thin, because it was coming from my grandma. Immediately after the hug, I awoke, and I had the intense feeling that I had just been standing next to my grandma in real life. I was lightly crying, but the tears came from the feeling of being in the presence of someone who loved me, without any of the filters or emotional or physical setbacks of the human condition that normally mix with human interactions. It just felt like pure familiar love – I’m sure because the dream was so accurate to my memories.
    Grandma appeared in this dream as the grandma from when I was ten or twelve years old, before her memory had begun to erode noticeably, and when she was still fully capable of cooking a full meal on her own. Even though I do not know what age I was in this dream, I had the sense that I was an adult. Thus, the dream connected my childhood memories to my adult senses. Dreams often do that, it seems, combining separate times of life in unexpected ways. I was still close to Grandma as an older teenager and adult, but those years saw a steady decline in her mental and physical faculties.

Another dream occurred when I was about to make an important life decision. I was on the cusp of deciding where I would do one of my graduate school programs, and this decision would of course affect where I would be living, among many other things. Both were in places where I had not lived before. I had already applied, auditioned, and been accepted, and I had narrowed down my options to these two choices. Although the choice of school was obviously one of the major deciding factors, there were other factors involved that made this decision complex, somewhat more than other moves I have made, involving issues of people in my life and their relationship to this decision, of geography, of other hobbies and interests, and so forth.
    At the point that I had the dream, my gut had already identified the “right” decision. With most all major decisions in my life, I have attempted to do the appropriate research, and consider many advantages and disadvantages, while still consulting my gut. My final decision is a combination of many factors. At that point, the “reasoning and research” portion of my decision was almost done and was looking to be in agreement with my gut, but not quite yet. Given the auxiliary complex factors that were involved, I was under some angst until the decision was made.
    In the dream, I was on the campus of one of the candidate universities. The architecture of the buildings and the vegetation matched very closely to what I remembered when I visited the campus in real life. While I liked many things about both places (after all, they were my final choices), there were some negative feelings and experiences that had given me concern about one of the places. In the dream, I could feel those negative feelings as I was walking around the campus for which those feelings were associated. The negative feelings were amplified by the uneasiness that I had been experiencing of being in this “limbo” period of not quite having reached a final decision.

    At some point on this campus, I saw and spoke with one of the professors who would have been one of my main professors in my program, had I chosen this university. I do not remember what we said, but after speaking with the professor, I turned to the east, which in the dream was clearly away from the sun (it was afternoon, and the sun was midway down the sky), and started walking into an open space. This open space was almost like a courtyard, with concrete paths, but without walls, set within a large, mowed grassy area. Even though I was headed east, my view in the dream was to my left (to the north). Then, almost instantly, as I passed the middle point, my view turned toward the east, and I saw buildings of the second candidate university. Once again, the architecture was accurate, as was the vegetation, both of which contrasted with the first campus.
    The transition was smooth and seemed seamless. Yes, it was somewhat of a surprise to me in the dream to travel hundreds of miles with a few steps, yet it also seemed completely natural. This is another aspect of dreams that fascinates me: how I can move from one location to another in the dream in ways that seem to make logical and physical sense. It was as though the two universities were connected by this horizontal plane along which the courtyard lay.
    Upon reaching the second campus, I was immediately filled with feelings of excitement and hope. I looked up to a building with windows that went up three or four stories. In the second- or third-story window, I could see the profile of the person who would become my primary professor in my graduate studies at this school (one of the “mix-ups” in the dream was that this building was similar to the university library, and not to the building where the professor’s office actually was; the building also had arches that did not exist in real life). The professor looked over at me and gave me a smile. The positive feelings about the campus and the idea of going there continued. The dream ended shortly after that.
    In music school, you ideally develop very close relationships with your professors; you are studying a creative art, and there is a lot in the way of emotion in addition to factual knowledge that is explored when studying music. I think that principle was understood and present in this dream. When I awoke from the dream, I was greeted with a strong emotional feeling. I didn’t make my decision based on the dream, but I found it fascinating how the dream was paralleling my gut feelings as well as the results of my “reasoning and research.” Having now finished my program at this university and having no regrets that I chose it in real life, I enjoy thinking back on this dream from time to time.

Another thought, among many, that I have pondered concerning my dreaming is that the passage of time in a dream seems quite elusive to gauge. Is the actual length of the dream anywhere close to what I feel I am experiencing? Somewhat recently, I set an alarm to take a nap of about 30 minutes. I remember waking up from the nap after about 20 minutes, looking at the clock, and deciding to fall back asleep; a few minutes elapsed before I actually fell sleep again. When my alarm awoke me at the 30-minute mark, I had been in the middle of a dream that seemed to have lasted much longer than the time available (I could not possibly have been dreaming for more than 8 minutes), given the story that had been playing out.
    Below is a list of some of the features of dreams that were illustrated in the dreams above.

  • Dreams that stay etched in the memory for an extended period after they occur
  • Rare dreams that accurately match your memories to a high degree
  • Knowledge of what is happening or who is present in a dream, even if it’s not explicitly stated or seen in the dream
  • Crossovers of time and space (meeting someone from childhood with the mindset of an adult)
  • Linked spaces that are not physically connected in the real world
  • Passage of time in the dream versus real time asleep

Copyright © 2017 by André Duvall


  1. Excellent commentary Andre. I too have vivid dreams, often of people and places familiar to me, but just as often they are of the kind you describe as something you "know" more than actually that place or person. Some other aspects of my dreams are either recurring dreams on widely separate nights or what seem to be recurring sequences in the same dream. I am never sure if the sequences actually recur or only seem to. It is as if I am doing different "takes" in a movie and change the action or viewpoint. For example I see someone firing some type of artillery piece, then I am firing it, then I am seeing where the shells are striking. FYI I have never fired such a weapon, no idea why I would dream about it!

    1. Roger, I have continuation, or serial, dreams too! I think that subsequent ones are more "sequel" to what has gone before (like episodes of series) than re-takes of a previous dream. Note that "In Your Dreams" is an "open" column, to which anyone may contribute. (That is, you are welcome to write at greater length and depth about your own dreams and dreaming.) This link (from a title of perhaps our first dream article, by Bob Boldt) will (I hope) call up all such columns published to this point:

  2. Outstanding. What a creative fellow Bob is why am I not surprised?