When I was a child, I was sleeping over at my grandmother's house and had been relegated to the sofa for lack of any other space to sleep in. My grandfather, who was bedridden, was set up in an adjacent room. As I slept, I had a dream in which a vicious raccoon-like animal was growling at me and considering attacking me. I woke up and continued to hear the "growling" sound. This noise was the hum of a clunky and old-fashioned humidifier being used in my grandfather's room and it had insinuated itself into my dream.
Last night, I did a lesson with a student about sleep which included the topic of dreams and particular types of dreams including those where ambient stimuli insert themselves into the dream as a part of it. She told me that she had had a dream where a phone was ringing, but she couldn't reach it to answer it and, when she awoke, the phone was actually ringing (within arm's reach). We also talked about sleepwalking and, though she never had such an experience, she had a friend who had and she told me his story.
When her friend was a child, he adored Japanese pickled plums (umeboshi). His mother only allowed him to have two of them at dinner, but he wanted more. During the night, he went to the kitchen and consumed the entire contents of a jar of pickled plums from the refrigerator and had no recollection of having done so the next morning. However, his mother, upon opening the fridge, discovered a jar with nothing but brine in it and her son was incredibly thirsty and his mouth was stained red. It turns out the jar contained about 50 pickled plums and he got so sick from the salt in them that he had to go to the hospital. From that day forth, his mother let him eat as many umeboshi as he liked at meals to try and forestall any sleep-induced wanderings to fulfill a craving.
After she told this story, I asked if she had any recurring dreams. Interestingly, she said she did not. I mentioned to her that it's common in the U.S. for people to dream that they have to take a test for a class they didn't know they'd signed up for and hadn't taken any of the classes for. I told her that it's also common for people to dream they are in front of a crowd and either need to go to the bathroom (but can't because of the audience) or aren't wearing any clothes. She told me that she never had any of these sorts of dreams and that she wasn't aware of any shared dreaming experiences among Japanese folks. Mind you, this was just one student, so I can't say she is representative in any way, but I found this lack of similar and recurring dreams interesting.
The student then volunteered that, while she didn't have the types of dreams I mentioned, she did sometimes dream of mundane experiences before they happened. For instance, she mentioned that she dreamed of playing with her friends in the yard in front of a school, but she had never been to that school or seen that play area. Awhile later, she passed an entrance test and entered a school where she found herself playing on the lawn just as she'd dreamed.
On more than one occasion, I've had the same sort of dream which was a premonition of something relatively unimportant. About a month ago, I had a very striking and memorable one where I dreamed that I had broken a black coffee cup (which we only have one of) and the next day, I broke a clear water glass (I hit it on the side of a dinner plate in the dish drainer as I was attempting to add it to the drainer) while the black coffee cup was the only thing that remained to be washed in the sink. This was very striking because the dream was slightly inaccurate yet the elements were similar enough to carry a heavy implication of prognostication with a slight misalignment.
I don't know if either my student or I are having premonitions. Since I don't believe in time except as a necessary and illusory construct in this reality, I tend to think that this is not so much telling the future as having moments where we can see through the walls that block off our access to seeing all that has happened, is happening or will happen. If you think of your life as a movie that exists in its entirety as a completed work, but has to be experienced from beginning to end by watching it through time, you can sort of get the idea of what I mean. The fact that you don't know what happens later in the movie until you get to that point doesn't mean that portion doesn't exist. It just means you can't access it yet because you are forced to experience it in a linear fashion.
When I hear about premonitions and past lives, I always think that it's not so much about remembering or prognosticating, but more about accessing, like skipping ahead or behind to other chapters on the DVD, but not being aware that you can do it or quite knowing that that's what is being done. I think people do this more in dreaming than at other times because that's the only time their minds aren't completely occupied by the realities of daily life.