Thursday, February 21, 2008

A Peck of Pickled Plums

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.


Chris ( said...

I'm in the skeptic camp so far as precognitive dreaming goes. We remember, and attach meaning to, those dreams which "foretold" future events while forgetting the vast majority of which did not. It's statistically no difference from chance occurance. The fact that so many precognitive dreams involve mundane or everyday events (yes, even death and sickness) only serves to heighten the likelihood that our dreams will "foretell" a future event. If you'd dreamed of an Aegis destroyer sinking a fishing ship by accident then I might be willing to reconsider my position..

As far as Japanese dreaming goes, I've always been fascinated by the subject of kanashibari (sleep paralysis with a strong sense of someone or something, often malevolent, in the room with you). It seems to be quite common in Asian and African cultures, but I had never come across it in the West. My wife gets it from time to time, and it seems genuinely terrifying.

Chris said...

The mind and it's abilities are barely understood. The C.I.A did studies about remote viewing and the results were interesting enough to keep the study going for quite a few years.

Some people can do amazing things but...their abilities to reproduce results on demand and consistently is the problem.

heng said...

I've not had any of those recurring dreams either. Couldn't it be a solely american thing?

Something that's played out so often in the media that it gets imprinted in peoples' minds and dreams?

Shari said...

Chris: I do see what you mean. However, I remember most of my dreams full-stop. However, you must admit that the glass breaking/black cup experience was very specific and not the sort of thing with random memory, especially since it happened the next day. I've never dreamed about breaking things before, let alone that cup.

I don't think we can see things which aren't related to us. The vast majority of people don't have access to lives other than their own. There's no reason they should.

At any rate, I accept your skepticism as as valid as my theories. I don't assert that I know anything for sure, just that I believe certain things.

I've heard of sleep paralysis before and actually studied it a bit. It does occur in the west but tends to manifest itself as alien abduction scenarios whereas it comes out as a spirit (often an old woman) sitting on someone's chest in many cases in Japan.

I've heard that we're all actually paralyzed while we sleep but some people tend to be in a state where their minds are conscious (or semi-conscious) whereas their bodies haven't gotten the signal from their brains to wake up. It's all pretty terrifying to consider though and I'm gratified that it doesn't happen to me!

Chris: I've heard of remote viewing experiences before, though I haven't actually checked the studies. The main thing I feel is that it is important to remove the "hocus pocus" aspects from such things and try to view it from a point of view which is theoretical rather than metaphysical. I know that sounds like an odd combination, but I believe most studies are constructed around the idea of disproving any sort of extra-sensory capabilities.

The main problem is the studies are structured around a simplistic notion and structure. That is, such abilities or experiences occur on demand with one type of stimuli. If the researcher holds a card with a shape on it, the person should be able to tell what is on it.

What if such abilities only manifest when multiple conditions are met? What if A (the person wanting to know) and B (the thing to be known) only manifest when C (unknown factor) is present and interacting with D (unknown factor). The juxtaposition of factors could be very complex. This possibility is never considered. No one ever studies the conditions under which such things tend to occur or not because the bottom line is that it's not taken seriously and is only about disproving as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Heng: It certainly is possible, or it could be that it's about shared cultural anxieties. Japanese people are used to being nude in front of (same gender) strangers. Westerners are not. We're much more hung up about our bodies. The test one may have to do with feelings of not being prepared that don't translate to cultures where people have standardized tests which they can specifically study for. The ambiguous and subjective elements for gaining entry into school or jobs in the U.S. may influence the test-taking dream.

Thanks to all for the very interesting comments!

CMUwriter said...

Wait, why are Japanese people used to being nude in front of strangers? The only time I usually have recurring dreams is when I am sick, and since I happen to have a pretty nasty cold right now, I had the dream last night. It is very strange, and I have had it since I was a child. I am sitting at a small cafe table next to a river, one that has concrete sides like in europe, and I am eating something, there is someone sitting across me, but I never get a good look to see who it is. As I am sitting there, everything will suddenly get filled with vines. They twist around everything, then as soon as they fill up the dream (I am looking at myself sitting at the table usually ) they disappear. This happens over and over, and to be honest it isn't that bad of a dream. It isn't a nightmare by any standards, and it has been useful. Whenever I have the dream I can be quite sure that I am about to get sick, or am sick with a cold or fever.

Shari said...

cmuwriter: The Japanese are used to being nude in front of same-sex strangers because of onsen, and to a much lesser extent these days, public baths. They also have more cultural aspects (sumo, summer festivals) that have men running around in what are essentially loincloths and it's considered entirely appropriate. Though they aren't flagrant or immodest, they're more comfortable with the human body and all its flaws.

You may have other recurring dreams, but not remember them. Most people don't remember their dreams, particularly if they sleep in complete 90-minute cycles. It's likely that you remember a dream when you're sick because there is some disruption in how deeply or well you're sleeping and your sleep states are different.

I have quite a few recurring dreams. Some started recently, but others have been going on for decades. I have also been capable of lucid dreaming on occasion (in which you can redirect the events of the dream willfully - this isn't my imagination - it's been scientifically proven possible) and waking myself up from nightmares when I realize it's a dream, though I'm not as good at either of these as I once was.

I also studied dream interpretation in college, but have now concluded that no second party can interpret another person's dreams.

Many thanks for your comment!

Shelby said...

I've always been aware of my own eerie, unusual precognitive abilitie but it wasn't until last year that I really started paying attention to them on a serious note.

Starting in Spring 2007, out of nowhere, I began to think a lot about a certain name (we will say 'Haruto'). I'd never personally known anyone with this name, but became unhealthily and unusually obsessed with it and confided in a close friend that I felt it was strangely important, somehow, utterly convinced it was the name of some cute boy I liked at the time. "It's just so adorable, it's my favorite name...Haruto, Haruto, Haruto!" Every waking moment was spent running through everyone and everything I knew to figure it out: Haruto, Haruto, Haruto, who could have that name?! It was driving me crazy, how in love I was with it, how enamored and obsessed I had become.

About a month later, I got an email from my Japanese teacher asking me to meet a japanese guy studying abroad over here (there are many at my school). His name was, by 'complete coincidence', Haruto, and the moment we met there was such an unmistakable sense of familiarity and happy reunion that I have sometimes wondered if -- should past lives 'exist' -- we were separated and connected again, somehow. Long story short, we fell in love and I'm waiting to see him again in December. I do believe not only in precognitive abilities (dreaming/otherwise) but in 'fate', now, as well. (:

Shari said...

Hi, Shelby, and many thanks for your comment. I really enjoyed hearing about your experience. The story reminded me of the situation written about in "Only Love Is Real" by Dr. Brian Weiss.

I'm a strong believe in "fate" insofar as it provides opportunity (but it does not make or force the choice). That is, if there's a person you "should" meet, you'll have a chance to make a choice which will allow you to meet them, but it's not a certainty that you will meet.

Alicia said...

I enjoy your blog. It really opens a window into a different world.

I've never had recurring dreams, though I know several people who have. (I'm American.. er.. United States-ian.) I often dream of mundane events that actually occur later, though I've never been sure what to make of this.

Sleep paralysis is something that I experience regularly, sans the malevolent presence. I'm an extremely light sleeper and only need a few hours of sleep per night to get by. Often, especially when I try to nap or sleep in, my body will be 'asleep' while my mind is mostly alert. It used to terrify me, but I've gotten used to it. If I concentrate on kicking my leg out, I can snap myself out of it.

gaijinalways said...

I do have dreams, but I can't recall the kinds of dreams you're talking about, hardly think they are common, as in many people hav them. Many people actually do dream, and as previously mentioned, forget them. I think that is much more common, not just in America, but world-wide.

Shari said...

Alicia: Hi there and thanks for reading and commenting. It's okay to say you're "American", btw. It is a proper term for being from the U.S. ;-) I think I experienced very short-term sleep paralysis once, but didn't make much of it.

gaijinalways: Actually the dreams I mention are common. In fact, they are listed on Wikipedia in their section on dreams and show up in T.V. shows as common types of dreams. I've actually never had the naked in front of people dream, but others do. I have had the suddenly you have a test in a class you forgot you took one.

Anyway, you may want to read the Wikipedia page. It lists even more common dreams than I did.

Also, I'm not sure why you said, "Many people actually do dream, and as previously mentioned, forget them. I think that is much more common, not just in America, but world-wide," as I never said that people around the world do not dream and forget them. I only said that the common dreams I mentioned may not happen to people world-wide. Of course, all humans dream and most people forget most of their dreams. I never asserted otherwise.

Thanks for your comment.

heng said...

Sleep paralysis is rather common in Singapore too, as is the superstitious belief that a spirit is sitting on your chest. And that's because during sleep paralysis, many people find it extremely hard to breathe, as though there was some heavy weight on their chest. Doesn't really matter which way you're sleeping.

I've never believed in any of these and have also developed my own techniques to counter sleep paralysis. Though your entire body may be paralysed, you're ususally able to move your fingers and toes, so I usually wingle them as violently as I can. Eventually, the movement returns some kind of sense to the rest of your body and you 'wake up'.

I don't remember ever being able to control my actions in dreams. Have always wanted to but the moment I realise it's a dream, I wake up :(

badmoodmike said...

I have had plenty of dreams where I have been someplace that I have never been before, and then suddenly I find myself there in reality. It is a strange sensation to say the least.

I think it may show that time, while perceived to be linear, may not be and we're receiving interference from the future along disparate timelines. If that makes any sense. If so, clue me in, too! :)

Also, I've seen pickled plums at the megamart. What do they taste like?

gaijinalways said...

Hi Shari,

I guess you missed the 'previously' mentioned part of my sentence when I was talking about forgetting dreams. Even though I do use Wikipedia, I'm not sure I would use that as a main source for an arguement, but I certainly agree with you that there are main topic lines that seem to recur in dreams, and many of them are culturally bound. My point is more along the lines that many more dreams are forgotten than remembered.

I've previously read about dream theory, but as chris( noted, many dreams lack specific details about really unusual events to qualify them as premonitions of any events. I think it's more likley that it's a view of the subconscious mind at work, and it can be helpful for working on problems though fo some people with nightmares it may be a way for unresolved anxieties to persist beyond their waking hours.

Shari said...

Sorry that I missed part of what you said, and you're right, Wikipedia is generally not a good resource to cite. I was just too lazy to search around in other places. ;-)

Sometimes my comment responses aren't very good because I reply only early in the morning and late at night. I do try to be attentive but fog and fatigue sometimes get the better of me.

Some of the common dream themes have been covered in documentaries and there's a list of them on the Discovery Channel's page here:

Also, I've seen them portrayed in T.V. series (notably a dream-based episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer at the end of Season 4 - that one seemed to hit all the major ones). I think they wouldn't necessarily appear in popular media so frequently if they couldn't be related to by a broad base of people.

Also, I should mention that I studied psychology and wrote a major paper on dream interpretation, though, obviously, I can't reference the books I used for my research with my college library so far away. ;-)