On the Interpretation of Dreams.
I had a weird dream I thought I'd share. FYI this is not a review of Sigmund Freud's book.
So the only premise for this article is that I had a weird dream last night.
Yet, this dream woke me up in the middle of the night.
For those of you that know me, I'm an avid swimmer. I swim nearly everyday for about 45 minutes to an hour. It's an activity that helps me get in flow, a sport I restarted when the pandemic began, nearly 18 years later since I stopped swimming in my youth.
The dream went like this:
I was swimming in a large indoor pool. It's a deep pool about 3-metres deep. It's just like the competition pool at Kallang Stadium that I visit from time to time. It's so deep that it takes effort to dive down and touch the ground.
In my dream, the pool was entirely empty. I was swimming in the middle lane of this broad and deep pool. The water was a chilly nighttime cold and all around me were just white, empty walls. I did lap after lap of freestyle strokes, all while taking in the quietness and tranquility of the swim.
As I swam on, tiredness started to overcome me. I grew more exhausted with each stroke and it reached a point when I had to stop right in the middle of the lap.
I felt like I couldn't swim anymore. As the pool was so deep that I couldn't stand, I held on to the lane ropes just to feel like I could hang on to something.
Just as I was drifting there, a swimmer suddenly rushed by next to me. He wore a yellow swimming cap and swam by rather quickly, seemingly at full sprint. Shocked by this, I looked around - the entire pool wasn't empty anymore, but crowded with high-speed competitive swimmers.
As I continued to hold on tightly to the lane ropes while stuck in the middle of the pool, I watched as swimmer after swimmer in all sorts of coloured swimming caps swam past me - they swam in all sorts of strokes, including freestyle and butterfly.
At some points, I had to dodge as their hands whizzed and feet kicked past me. All the while, I tried to find a way to get out of the pool, but to no avail.
It was like being stuck in the middle of a busy highway, just that instead of cars, it was a whole lot of determined swimmers. Some fears began to arise:
How long was I going to stuck here? Why was everyone so fast? I need to get out of everyone's way!
As panic began to overtake me, a funny thing happened and the dream suddenly picked me up and threw me into a very distant memory of my childhood competitive swimming days.
The world around me changed, and I was back in the body of my childhood self again. This time, I was now in the pool I used to train as a child. I wasn't hanging on to the ropes anymore, but was now swimming. Yet, all around me were stiill faster swimmers. I was struggling to keep up with the rest of them.
The same fears were present - when can I get out? Why is everyone so fast. I'm too slow. I'm not... good enough.
And then I woke up.
What's the point of a dream?
The analysis of dreams is something made popular by the pioneer of psychology, Sigmund Freud. I read through his book "the interpretation of dreams" once when I was a pretentious psychology university student - frankly, it's a boring book to me and not much of it stuck.
Yet, I couldn't help but think of the meaning of this dream above. Why was it so weirdly relevant? Why did I wake up feeling affected by it?
It's so odd that my dreaming mind took an activity that I enjoyed doing in the present, and linked it up to some long ago forgotten childhood memory. It must have been, what, two decades since that memory?
What was it my mind was trying to tell me? Is there more to this?
Are dreams really the "windows to our soul"?
Well, going about this the scientific way - we dream when we are in a state of sleep called Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. It's the state of sleep when our mind is processing all our day's events, and trying to consolidate them into the shelves of our memory.
It's also a time when the region of our brain associated with emotions, the Amygdala, is in a higher state of activation than usual.
That way, our dreams are very much informed by the events in our lives.
For example, I'm sure you can recall a time when you were anxious or upset about something during the day, and a similar scenario reappears in your dream at night.
Dreams can help us to process our emotions.
Some people swear by keeping a dream journal. I personally don't. Well, I guess me writing about this can be considered "journaling", but I reckon it's just a random once off.
There are many techniques that have been used to analyse dreams. The most well-known amongst them is of course Sigmund Freud's psychoanalytic form of interpretation.
In his style, dreams represent our deepest wishes, unconscious desires and internal conflicts.
“The interpretation of dreams is the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind.” - Freud.
He would first suggest looking first at the manifest content - i.e. the meaning of the dream according to the dreamer.
Reflecting on my dream, swimming has become quite a big part of my life. I'm constantly looking to go faster and further. One day, I'd even like to take part in a long distance competition again.
Yet, deep down in me, I have fears that I'll never get there. That I'd never be good enough. That again, just like in my dream, I'd be trapped and fall behind other swimmers.
Given his fixation on repressed childhood memories, Freud would also ask me to reflect on my memories of swimming as a child.
I actually started swimming when I was just a kid. It was something I did twice a day, four to five times a week. I lived and breathed swimming.
No doubt, I enjoyed swimming as a child and many of my early friends were also swimmers. I often took part in swimming competitions, and have a shelf full of medals and trophies.
As time went by and I got into secondary school, started to lose interest, having been taken in by other interests like basketball (and girls). As my motivation of the sport fell, I likewise started to fall behind my swimming peers.
I got slower and couldn't keep up, and in some way, it affected my self-esteem as a youth.
I never really thought about that from this angle before. Interesting.
From another perspective, Freud would also look at the latent content of such dreams. These are symbolic meanings embedded in the dream.
For example, perhaps swimming represents a metaphor for my need to keep moving forward in life. I could easily relate this to my life and career goals. Yet, at times, I feel caught up in my own internal worries that "I'm not good enough" or that "I'd never get there".
The "deep pool" in my dream might also represent a feeling that I'm trying to achieve something that feels too big for me to handle. It's vast and deep, and I don't quite feel like I've able to set my feet on the ground yet.
In reality, that's true. Sometimes, I just feel like I'm floating in the middle of life.
Then there's also the Gestalt Therapy method of analysing dreams. A major technique is called the "Take the part of" technique. For example, if I "took the part of" the other swimmers swimming by me, what would they say?
"Why are you getting in my way? Get out if you can't handle it".
Well, those are indeed judgments from others that I fear.
Otherwise, if I took the part of the pool, it might say to me "You're in too deep. This is not the place for you."
Yikes, so much to think about from a silly little dream.
Yet, all in all, I still do think this:
Yes, our subconscious minds are always trying to warn and tell us about our deepest fears. It does so in many funny little ways, even dreams.
It is our mind's way of preparing us for the threatening situations we may face in our waking lives. That's why many of our dreams may seem urgent in nature, ones that are often related to an event we face currently in our reality.
In some ways, encountering scenarios like these in our sleep prepares our mind to tackle that event. We are essentially rehearsing in our sleep what we'd do in our waking life, if we were to be presented by our deepest threats.
Still, know this.
While it's helpful to understand our deepest fears and how our past affects us in the present, it's important to not get caught up in it.
This dream and what I've learnt from this dream certainly isn't going to stop me from swimming. I'm still going to chase after my dream of swimming that race.
I'm still going to pursue my other goals outside of the pool - be it this blog, setting up a free 1:1 mental wellbeing platform for people, and becoming a psychotherapist - I'm going to keep doing it all.
So really, if there's anything that I've learned from this dream, it's really only helped me to become more aware of my fears now.
But hey, I'm still going to continue on with what really matters to me.
For now, I'll just keep swimming.
Thanks for reading this weird post. I know it's random but hey, it's a blog! You have a good day now friend. Take care, Hernping.