PERSONAL NOTE: Apparently it is interview season at TimeGoesBy. There are the ongoing Skype chats with my former husband, Alex; the recent print interview with Debbie Reslock at Next Avenue; and today, an audio interview with Jana Panarites of Agewyz. Scroll to the bottom of this post for our interview.
It has been many years since I last remembered a dream. Sometimes there are fragments when I wake but they float away before I can grab hold of them.
That's probably just as well because in a lifetime, the single pleasant dream I recall is flying around my bedroom having a marvelous time swooping and dipping, rising again and seeing the room from a whole new angle. It was a load of fun and that happened in about 1960 when I was 19 or 20.
All the other dreams I remember are anxiety- or fear-ridden, like the one that began when I was about six years old. A huge bear was chasing me. I ran into a room, slammed the door shut believing I had avoided him but turned around to see that the bear was still there.
I ran out of the room, found an elevator, punched a button and when I turned around again, there was the bear. And so on.
That dream, which repeated now and then for several years, finally stopped but I have never forgotten it or the fear it induced. Apparently being chased by a bear is a common dream and at least one dream interpreter says this:
”To dream that a bear is chasing you and you are running away in fear, this means you are avoiding a big issue in your life, and it is time to deal with it.”
I don't have any truck with dream interpretation to begin with an it feels like a stretch to apply an adult psychological concept to a first-grader.
This and a few other dreams impressive enough to not forget came to mind while reading an Aeon essay about how dreams change throughout our lifetimes. I hoped part of it would be a good discussion of how elders' dreams are similar or different from younger people's but there was only this:
”Older adults tend to dream more about creative works, legacies and enduring concerns, while the dreams of dying people are filled with numbers of supernatural agents, other-worldly settings and images of reunions with a loved one who has died.”
Nevertheless, the rest of the piece, written by Patrick McNamara, an associate professor of neurology and psychiatry at the Boston University School of Medicine and a professor at Northcentral University, dropped some fascinating information on me:
”...amputees very often dream themselves intact,” he writes. “They might not experience the loss of their limb in dreams even years after the amputation, and even if the physical handicap was congenital.
“Similarly, dreams of the congenitally deaf-mute or those of the congenitally paraplegic cannot be distinguished from those of non-handicapped subjects. It is as if the dream has access to the whole dreamer who is a different person from the individual anchored in waking consciousness.
“Dream reports from deaf-mute individuals involve them talking and hearing normally. Patients with varying degrees of paraplegia report themselves flying, running, walking and swimming. The dream is accessing somebody different from the waking individual who is having the dream.”
And on a historical note, this:
”Dreams differ...dramatically across historical epochs. The dreams of the ancient Greeks and Romans, and indeed the dreams of most peoples of the ancient world, were viewed as direct portals into the spirit world and the realm of the ancestors and gods.
“Ancient peoples (and traditional peoples even today) often experienced dreams as the place to conduct a transaction with a spirit being who could significantly help or hinder you in your daily affairs.”
I probably could have used a good spirit guide for this dream that, even after 25 years or so, I remember in detail:
I was a contestant on a television game show. The host and I were on one side of a stage facing the live audience and cameras. A wall divided the stage in half and on the other side of it stood two men, I was told, with hand guns poised and if I got the next question wrong, they would come around the wall and shoot me.
It was a yes-or-no question and although I don't remember what it was, I do recall pondering that I had a 50/50 chance of dying in the next minute or so and no way to change the odds.
The only chance I had, I told myself, was that this was a dream. It didn't feel like a dream, I didn't believe it was a dream, but I had nothing to lose if I tried to awaken myself.
And I did, breathing heavily, scared to death – so to speak – and I sat in bed that night with the light on for a good, long time.
Professor McNamara concludes in part:
”The huge variety of dream states suggests that dreaming is just as important as waking life for biologic fitness, and very likely has multiple generative mechanisms and functions. For example, dreaming about scary threats likely helps us to avoid those threats during the daytime...”
You can be sure I will never appear on a TV game show.There may not be much in McNamara's story about dreams in old age but there is a lot more information about the purposes of dreams which you can read here. Plus, there are several more pieces on the topic of dreams at his website.
Have your dreams changed as you have grown older?
A couple of weeks ago, I spent about an hour on the phone with Jana Panarites. She is the founder of Agewyz Media Group, created in 2014 to raise awareness in the media about the plight of caregivers in the US and to promote healthy aging across the generations.
The Agewyz Podcast, Agewyz Media’s main property, explains Jana, is an online radio program distributed weekly on multiple platforms including iTunes, Stitcher and Google Play Music, in addition to the nationally syndicated Speak Up Talk Radio Network.
I had a fine ol' time with Jana that day. Here is the interview or, you can listen to it on her website which, in any case, is worth a visit.