Feeling groggy and hung-over one morning recently -- though I had not had a drink for days, nor consumed sugar or refined carbs -- I remarked to my husband, 'My nightlife is awful'.
In reply, he asked, 'What nightlife do you have?'
Fair question. Last time he checked I had been home at night, at least in our bed during the small hours of the morning. But perhaps what he hadn't considered was my continuous restlessness -- for minutes, sometimes hours -- prompting me to stumble into our living room, lounge on the sofa and stare into the night, often at the River Thames, the sky, and so on, before falling into a fitful sleep at best.
True enough, I am not out partying, but still, like everyone, I have a nightlife. It's just that most of us don't refer to night slumber as 'nightlife'. I do and I'll tell you why.
There is so much to life in sleep; not only is it important to having a healthy waking life, but sleep is also the place where dreams are made. As elusive as they may be, dreams are the subconscious mind's way of getting through to us, often resolving conflict, offering great ideas, and connecting with the human spirit, if you will.
Having recently lost my mother, this is tremendously important to me: being in touch with my inner self and dreaming of her. Make no mistake about it, I am not suggesting that I can access the dead in my dreams, nor that I believe anyone can or should try. I learned my lesson the hard way on this one, even if I did so in the name of work.
A few years ago while doing research for my novel, The Blindsided Prophet, which uses the concept of lucid dreaming, I decided to have a go at conscious awareness during my dreams. At least once during the experiment I managed to conjure up a group of dead poets, Shakespeare amongst them, and interact with the figures, who I rather enjoyed meeting. But some nights later, it all went rather wrong.
In the form of a vivid, tumultuous nightmare, the poets tried to break into my home. They were meeting on my balcony and in uproarious fashion became angry that I dared not attend the meeting. Thank goodness I managed to wake up out of that one!
Still, I maintain that dreaming can be key to waking life, particularly during times of grief, trouble or illness. According to Jimmy Henderson, in his book How to Interpret Dreams, the subconscious cannot differentiate accurately between a real and an imagined experience. No wonder the aforementioned nightmare seemed so real.
Thankfully, good dreams can seem real, too. Once, after having nodules removed from his throat and going against the doctor's advice to avoid throat lozenges, my father found himself in the clutches of a pain-ridden, erratic sleep. In this state he dreamt of my grandmother coming to him and suggesting that he gargle with sweet milk and honey -- which he had never heard of -- so he could get some rest. Immediately, he arose, woke my mother, who made the concoction for him, and after following the advice, off to sleep he went.
In any case, however, dreams are not accurate representations or even literal interpretations, but symbolic and 'therefore metaphorical, representing a set of more complex issues and ideas, similar to an analogy,' according to Henderson.
When unravelling the metaphors, often we can learn plenty about our inner self. Thus, after my mother died, I longed to dream of her, but it took weeks to happen, even if I am a prolific dreamer with excellent recall.
However, not everyone remembers dreams. But most times I remember vividly. In my dream about my mother, for example, I saw her and a crowd of people dressed in white streaming into Mars Chocolate (formerly M&M Mars), where she worked for 25 years. When she went to work, she would disappear into a plant where only associates were allowed, behind grand double doors. There, they wore white uniforms interestingly enough.
Anyhow, a distance away, I made my way forward, jostling and calling out to her, but she kept going and went into the building. I rushed in, somewhat out of breath, and asked if anyone had seen her. I was sure she was there. Could they let her know her daughter was out front?
Immediately, she came out of a side door, her old self entirely. What I remember most was her beautiful smile and glistening eyes. I threw my arms around her neck and told her how good it was that she was back at work, that she was walking, no longer sick. She looked at me quizzically and let me know that she didn't remember being sick at all. She was fine and well. Then she went through those double doors never to return; yet I felt uplifted.
Now, I am sure there are many interpretations of my dream, but the one that counts the most is mine. I met with my mother so to speak, established that she was at peace, and having done so, found joy deep within.
Although my subconscious mind conjured it all up for me, I can't help thinking that prayer and faith both had something to do with it. So what is the key to dreaming well? Whereas varying theories exist about dreams, from Sigmund Freud to Carl Jung, most researchers agree that dreaming is a form of unconscious thinking that helps us process thoughts and emotions.
If only we could exercise some control over those thoughts and emotions, too, we just might dream up a good nightlife. Sleep time will tell.