Research has shown that the brain reacts in similar ways when imagining something as it does when actually experiencing it. This may also be true of how the brain reacts to dreams.
Since I was a child, I’ve been able to immerse myself in stories. As I got older, I began envision them as a read them. The words were turned into a movie that played only in my own inner theater. Of course, this doesn’t always happen. Not all books are story and not all stories are well-told. I need plots and character with emotional impact and full development.
I find this continues to be true with the best audiobooks. In that case I need both a good story and a good narrator. I’ve been excited by stories that I couldn’t listen too because the narration didn’t suit the stories or their viewpoint or was simply too lacking in emphasis and emotional content.
Prior to being diagnosed with sleep-related fibromyalgia and taking medication to minimize my insomnia and keep me asleep, I was also a lucid dreamer. I could plot a story in my head as I was falling asleep and dream based on it. Of course, my dreaming mind added details and sometimes went completely offtrack. When that got too weird, I could surface briefly and reset the dream. This was disconcerting when trying to exit or redirect a nightmare, but otherwise a wonderful skill.
I seldom dream in this way and rarely remember more that hints of the dreams when I do. I miss this acutely, but my insomnia quickly returns when I attempt to discontinue the medication. Perhaps when I retire, I’ll give this another shot as adhering to someone else’s schedule will no longer be an issue. I also expect stress in my life will be much diminished. I would generally stay up until midnight or so and wake up naturally between 9-10 am.
I began thinking about this again because earlier this week, I fell asleep while listening to Willie Nelson and had a pretty scripted dream about him. It felt as if I was acknowledging his age and the fact that he would only be around a little while longer. It made me sad, but also helped me understand how much his music influenced and meant to me.
Then I realized that I can often tell when I’ve resolved a relationship or let go of attachment to a specific person. During the early years of my marriage, I often dreamed about my biggest high school crush. The dream relationship never worked out and gradually the dreams stopped. After my divorce and will into the first few years of my current relationship, I often dreamed about my former spouse. He always wanted me back, of course. Eventually the dreams switched to him just wanting sex or cheating on me with the “other woman.” Eventually, I started saying no to pretty much all of the dream scenarios and I rarely dreamed of him. When I do, I am mostly remembering experiences and places that we shared.
Throughout my life, I’ve also planned for important events. When I do too much planning or talking bout the event, I loose interest in actually experiencing it. I don’t think this is just a character flaw. I think my brain is reacting to how thoroughly I visualize everything. I feel bored or disinterested and what to move on to the next (newer) thing. I am energized by novelty and ideas, but those also have a life span. I move from idea to idea and hobby to hobby. I often explain my style as knowing something about just about everything, but not knowing everything about anything.
In the end, I live a life of the mind. The physical and emotional aspects of my life are things I have to make an effort to include. I believe this makes me even more susceptible to the idea that thinking about something feels the same as actually experiencing it.