Dreams: Peaceful Rest or a Time for Our Souls to Take Flight?
There is no better feeling than climbing into a warm, cozy bed after a hard day's work. A blissful night spent recovering from the real world is something that our bodies require in order for us to function. What happens next is usually uneventful. Usually, not always.
It's been said that if you have a restless night it's because you are active in someone else's dream. It is also a commonly held belief that one cannot dream of someone they have never seen in the waking world. In other words, our minds are not able to conjure up people and bring them to life in our dreams.
The concept of astral travel is as old as time itself. The theory behind it is that our souls have the ability to leave our bodies as we sleep, traveling freely throughout the universe and beyond. When the time for adventure comes to an end, our essence returns to its vessel. We wake up not realizing that we spent the night exploring inner and outer space.
The memories of what we experience on our journeys are wiped clean as we begin our day. On rare occasions, however, flashes of what occurred during our astral travels remain trapped in our conscious minds. It is in this space, where the two worlds accidently intertwine, that the following story takes place.
A Shared Nightmare
When I was a junior in high school, my favorite class was humanities. The teacher was a bohemian sort of fellow who behaved more like a student than an instructor. He was regularly late for class due to his penchant for falling asleep during his lunch break. His easy going manner made him a favorite among students and teacher alike.
Humanities class was a new adventure every day. Sometimes, we would spend days listening to a Kansas or Pink Floyd album followed by in depth discussions of the lyrical content. We would then do a complete turnabout and spend weeks reading Henry David Thoreau's Walden Pond, even though most of us couldn't make heads or tails out of it.
When our teacher was feeling particularly adventurous, he would suggest games for us to play. "Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board" and the "Trust Experiment" were two of his favorites. In the latter, we would take turns standing in the middle of a circle of our peers. We would then free ourselves of our fears and inhibitions as we fell backwards into the arms of our classmates. We had to trust, of course, that they would catch us which they invariably did.
Several of the students asked our instructor if we could experiment with a Ouija board, but he refused. He told us that he couldn't be held responsible for what we might invite into our classroom from the other side. It was the one thing that was off limits, even for our unconventional teacher.
One day, he brought up the subject of dreams and their meanings. As we took turns sharing stories of our most bizarre dream experiences, our teacher told us of a nightmare he had once had that he had never forgotten.
He said that, in his dream, he had been chasing a young woman through a forest. He had felt like himself in every way, but the body he was inhabiting had not been his own. Instead, he had transformed into a wolf.
He remembered that he had relentlessly pursued the terrified girl. Throughout the whole ordeal, he had been aware that he was growling and snarling as he raced fast on her heels. Our teacher said that he could see the steam from his own breath as he bore down upon the girl.
When he was almost upon his victim, she stopped running. Suddenly empowered, the young woman turned and looked him dead in the eye. He couldn't say how much time passed as the predator and would-be prey remained locked in each other's gaze.
He does recall that all of his hostility and desire to attack the girl faded away and, rather than tearing her apart, he returned to his human form. The next thing he knew, he was lying in his bed.
The dream had been so real for him that he had awakened drenched in sweat. He was also breathless, as though he had just completed a marathon. He remembered every last detail of the nightmare, including the aroma of pine needles and earth that he had carried with him from the forest.
He went on to tell us that, even though the dream had been upsetting, he had tried not to read too much into it. Eventually, he put it out of his mind and gave it little thought. That is, until the next school year started and he stepped into his classroom to meet the new group of students he would be teaching.
There, seated in the front row, was the girl from his dream. He was aware that she was new, not only to his class, but to the school itself. Even so, he recognized her immediately. During their encounter in the nightmare, he had stared into her eyes for a long time.
Standing in the classroom that day, he found himself looking into the exact same eyes he had seen that night in the forest. He carried on with class as though nothing had happened, but he was shaken by the sight of the girl.
That would have been strange enough in and of itself, but it was what followed that makes this story incredible. As the dismissal bell rang and the other students filed out into the hallway, the girl approached the teacher at his desk. She then proceeded to relate to him a dream that she had experienced a few months earlier.
She told him that, in the dream, she was being chased through a forest by some sort of beast. The creature had appeared out of nowhere and pursued her through the woods. She had looked desperately for a place to hide, to no avail. The thing that was after her was only a few breaths behind her. She could still remember the growling sound that it made as it grew closer to her.
As she braced for the attack that she knew was coming, she suddenly felt a calm strength envelop her. Instead of continuing to run, she came to an abrupt halt. The girl then turned to face the thing that she knew wanted to do her harm.
No longer afraid, she stared deep into the eyes of the monster that stood before her. It was neither man nor wolf, but something in between. As she continued to bore into it with her eyes, the beast transformed into a man before disappearing into thin air.
The girl said that, when she woke up, she was panting and her body had ached all over. The dream had seemed more real to her than any she had experienced in the past. The girl then went on to apologize to the teacher for what she was about to say.
The new student informed him that she had recognized his face the moment she entered the classroom. It had been he, she explained who had chased her through the forest in the nightmare. She would never forget those eyes.
Just as she had memorized his face, hers was etched into his subconscious as well. As he told the story, our teacher was still at a loss as to how he and this girl, whom he had never met before, had done the impossible. The two of them had managed, somehow, to come to life in each other's dreams.
In the end, dreams serve an invaluable purpose. They allow us to let go of anxiety that we may not even know we have. Sometimes, our dreams are just our mind's way of venting. If they do their job, we wake up feeling a little better about our situation.
Dreams can also be ridiculous and funny. I've woken up on several occasions laughing hysterically at something that occurred in a dream. Sometimes, I don't even remember what was so funny. Still, there are worse things than beginning the day with a laugh.
What happens to some of us when we drift into the far reaches of our minds isn't always pleasant. For victims of sleep paralysis, nights are filled with a terror that most of us cannot imagine. The torment they endure in their quest for sleep can drive them to the brink of madness. Theirs is a world where witches, demons and entities bent on destruction live and breathe. The terror which follows is as real to them as anything in their waking world.
Whether our dreams are harmless folly or a time for our inner selves to explore the universe is up for debate. After all, anything is possible. Just ask two strangers, a humanities teacher and a student, who shared a moment in that mysterious place which lies somewhere between the light of day and the darkest of nightmares.