Sean Moncrieff: ‘Your dreams could be meaningless. Or not’
My nocturnal ramblings range from the bizarre – the Netflix in the Dolomites – to the downright spooky
On occasions it’s like your mind has been hijacked. Or as soon as you go to sleep, your mind slips out of your brain and takes magic mushrooms. Photograph: Getty Images
It sounds like one of those questions that should have already been settled, but it’s still not clear why humans dream. It could be our minds processing the day’s events or receiving messages from the collective unconscious or it could be an exploration of some buried neurosis. It could be about sex. It usually is.
Or it could be meaningless, the cerebral version of static electricity that generates random internal visions. They appear intriguing but in fact have the significance of a shopping list. Less significance: when you’re shopping you can get biscuits.
I’m not here to argue for or against any of these theories, as I change my mind about it a lot. It depends on my recent experience. I don’t remember a lot of my dreams, even though we apparently dream every night. I have had a few when I realised I was dreaming. But this occurred only after an intense period of spiritual and mental training.
Okay: I was hungover.
What’s fascinating about dreams is that sometimes it seems like there is content there that demands consideration. Sometimes the dream takes the recognisable jigsaw pieces of your life and rearranges them; and it being a dream, they fit together. But on other occasions it’s like your mind has been hijacked. Or as soon as you go to sleep, your mind slips out of your brain and takes magic mushrooms.
For instance, I had a dream about Netflix. Not the multi-billion dollar streaming empire, but the ethnic minority who live in the Dolomite Mountains. In the dream, I read, or someone told me, that the Netflix are a European people whose traditional homeland was seized by the Italians and because of forced Italianification, their language and culture has gone into steep decline. Their numbers have also shrunk: there are only 65,000 of them left, mostly living in poverty in the more remote parts of the Dolomites.
Yet no one has heard of them, even though billions around the world have heard of Netflix. A proud, hardy people have suffered the indignity of being confused with a TV channel. There was talk of some sort of political campaign, or a court case. And so vivid and detailed was it all that when I woke up I actually googled Netflix, Dolomites.
Someone else’s dream
I watch Netflix occasionally. But I hadn’t thought about it that day. I hadn’t thought about obscure parts of Europe. It felt like someone else’s dream: probably a millennial who listens to podcasts and espouses a lot of causes on Twitter.
But on other occasions, a dream can be downright spooky: it can feel like a message. Another example, though I should explain first that my niece recently had a baby. (In real life, I mean.) In the dream this had happened too, though some months had passed. And she had bounced back from the physical stresses of pregnancy and childbirth with impressive vigour. She had taken up running, and soon after had become a marathon runner, and one with real prospects. So in this dream my family were gathered together to watch her race on TV: we all felt she had a chance of winning.
One more detail from the Real World: my late father adored my niece, his granddaughter, and would have been ecstatic to meet her new baby.
So back in the dream I’m in the hallway hanging up some coats. The race has already begun, and in walks my father. He’s very tanned and slim and for some reason he’s wearing a baseball cap. I go to tell him what’s happened so far, but he shushes me quiet: he wants to see it all himself. So I place my hand on his arm, in a gesture of apology and affection. And in my dream I think, it’s great that he’s here, for all of this.