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The power of dreams can brighten up nights

Updated: 2023-09-07 08:28 ( China Daily )
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I've met some who say they simply don't dream. When the lids are shuttered, and alpha state arrives, they claim that they simply "check out". Mind devoid of distractions, free of frivolous fanciful figments of imagination, and their wits' whiteboard wiped clean of the previous day's disappointments and diversions — they simply sleep for eight hours or so each night.

What dreary drudgery these dreamless dolts defend. I think that not to take advantage of Nature's no-fee nightly Technicolor motion picture show, sans popcorn — feature films in which the dreamer is often the STAR of the show — is to sacrifice a gift from the subconscious that keeps on giving.

Freud would say it's an end-of-day survival mechanism by the mind to discard the day's dilemmas, and allow your head to sort out the three-ring circus which is the daily dialogue between one's id, ego and superego. The Bard also had a thing or 100 to say about nocturnal reveries. In A Midsummer Night's Dream, after Bottom and Titania's heads hit the pillow and they enter the land of Nod, all bets are definitely off on what might happen in the deep forest.

And of course, a Danish noble contemplating ending it all, famously asks, if after the deed, one can expect: "To sleep, perchance to dream." Thus, Hamlet wisely opted to take Pascal's wager and live to dream another day.

And what do the Chinese ancients have to say about dreams? (Not young waking boyhood dreams of hoping to be the next Yao Ming, of course.)

Li Yu (937-978) was the third ruler of the Southern Tang state, and also happened to be quite the wordsmith. My Idle Dreams Roam Far is a wonderful look through poetry into the mind's eye when the eyes are closed.

I love how this short piece manages to engage all the senses, save touch and taste. Eyes, ears and nose are busy behind the poet's fluttering lids.

My idle dreams roam far, to the southern land where spring is fragrant.

Wind and strings play on a boat on the river's clear surface, city full of catkins flying like light dust.

People are occupied admiring the flowers.

My idle dreams roam far, to the southern land where autumn is clear.

For a thousand li over rivers and hills, cold colors stretch far, deep in flowering reeds, a solitary boat is moored.

Beneath the bright moon, a flute plays in the tower.

And of course, Li Bai (701-762) had a thing or two to say about the otherworldly world of dreams. His Traveling to Tianmu in a Dream is a classic exposition of the surreal nature of escapist reveries.

The people of Yue speak of Tianmu; its red clouds in bright light or darkness might be seen.

Tianmu pierces the sky and stretches to the horizon, its power surpasses the Five Peaks and eclipses Chicheng Mountain. (Giving the reader a sense of the famous Wordsworthian "mind's eye" wandering above a field of daffodils.)

Because of this I wish to dream of Wu and Yue, and in one night fly over the moon in Mirror Lake. (Possibly referring to place names or desired individuals.)

The immortals line up like hemp (I won't go there, as I know you're aware that he's a wine connoisseur).

Suddenly one's spirit palpitates and one's soul shakes; startled one wakes and takes a deep breath.

There is only the pillow and mat when I am awake; gone are the mist and red clouds from before.

All earthly pleasures are like this; since ancient times, the myriad things all like water flowing east.

Why should I lower my face and bow for the influential and the rich, and take away my joyous smile?

Surely, this statesman-slash-poet understood the value of the escapist pleasures of dreams to make the earthly grind more tolerable.


A. Thomas Pasek



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