The Cardinal Feature of Dreams & Creativity

So I had a dream last night, similar to so many others I’ve had over the past 20 years.  A familiar pair of folks again bubbling to the surface of my subconscious, familiar reminders of loss and longing.  These family members that has been gone for so many years can re-appear with such present life in the wee hours of the morning.  With all the processing I’ve done in my daily life over the past two decades it amazes me that this pair can be so vividly alive and present in my subconscious, still a haunting of sorts.

The-body-that-keeps-score-coverIn the midst of the record heat of our summer in Oregon I finished the amazing book, The Body Keeps the Score, Brain Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma, by Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk.  This researched, smart, and healing book filled me with awe and hope.  Exhaustively thorough with data and story Dr. Van der Kolk breaks down how trauma is processed and stored, but moreover points to helpful methods of redeeming and reconciling the broken pieces of those traumatic events.

One methodology that has proved helpful is EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing), which mimics the rapid eye movement that we all go through when we are in REM and dreaming.  Dr. Van Der Kolk points out that our unconscious is often working through our day-to-day lives in our dreaming, making connections and working to resolve problems.  The process EMDR with a therapist mimics that dreaming process in ones waking life.

When reading the book I pulled out my sketchbook and wrote down in my turquoise micron pen these passages that caught my eye, “Today we know that both deep sleep and REM sleep play an important role in how memories change over time.  The sleeping brain reshapes memory by increasing the imprint of emotionally relevant information while helping irrelevant material fade away.  In a series of elegant studies Stickgold and his colleagues showed that the sleeping brain can even make sense out of information whose relevance is unclear while we are awake and integrate it into the larger memory system.”

Perhaps I always felt like I had to be totally aware of what is going on in my head in order to figure something out.  I find it very hopeful in the bigger scheme of things to think that my soul and mind are making connections and sense of things even when I am in my deepest state of rest.  There is something quite wonderful about that.  Irrelevant information is worn away, while what is worth remembering becomes more sturdy and durable.

The book also points out that since dreaming is about activating distant associations, this could explain why dreams are so bizarre.  Aha! So that explains the bathroom that was also an elevator in my dream last night.  This bathroomevator also had two large stuffed wingback chairs in it, a fireplace, and seemed more like a very small 19th century parlor.

Dr. Van der Kolk also writes, “Stickgold, Hobson and their colleagues thus discovered that dreams help force new relationships between apparently unrelated memories seeing novel connections is the cardinal feature of creativity; as we’ve seen it is also essential to healing.” 

Novel connection is what creativity is about and it is also essential to healing.  Can I get an “Amen” to that?  Maybe that is what I and many others artists connect the threads of different fabrics to weave something that points to a bigger and better whole, a place where things make even more sense because we see really how connected it all is.  A recent mixed media work I created could reveal that a Lion and what it means connects to what roses mean, to what it is to be in front a microphone etc.., all in the hopes of a revelation, an “Aha” moment, or perhaps even the crazy notion of healing.


“Sorry” 5″x7″ gouache, watercolor, micron pen, and collage on paper. 8/17


I guess I can take this all with me back to my own dream last night can’t I, as I talk with family members gone as if time has never passed in an Edwardian elevator bathroom?  The intuitive part of me is working on a resolution and perhaps bringing them back (now in the dream one has a full head of dark hair, the other wrecks a monstrous vehicle but comes out unscathed), in hopes of further growth and movement.

Can I hold onto the hope that this creative collision, association, connection, and reminder perhaps is simply to salve and make right past pain? In the connective fibers of dreams and art can healing happen?  I believe my friend Bessel would say so.

(Text from book taken from pages 262 & 263.)

About abiggerworldyet

Visual Artist Brother Sojourner College Professor Christ follower
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