Explaining Dreams to an Alien


I'm sitting in therapist Gayle Delaney's Marin County office about to begin a session of Delaney's innovative "interview" method of dream interpretation, which I told you about in my last dispatch.

"Remember," she says, "I'm an alien from another planet, and I know nothing about people or life on this planet. So my questions might seem very basic, but they'll force you to examine the details of your dream in very specific detail."

The Dream Described

I offer a friendly Earth hello and begin to tell her my dream: I'm flying down a snowy ski slope on a toboggan that somehow rides on steel tracks buried in the snow. About halfway down the slope, the toboggan jumps the tracks and begins to fall apart, sending me headlong into a nearby snow bank. I brush myself off and go back to the toboggan, which has broken apart into long wooden planks. I gather up the planks and begin to trudge back up the mountain. It's tough going, carrying those clumsy planks, and I have to dodge other toboggans dashing down the hill.

Delaney nods as I finish. Her first question, from the alien point of view: "What's a toboggan?"

"It's a flat thing you sit on and ride down the hill when it snows."

"Why do people do that?" she asks.

"It's fun, it's exciting," I reply.

She nods. "Tell me about snow."

We go on like that for a while, with Delaney asking one simple question after another — What's a ski slope?, How does it feel to be cold? — your basic Rain Man line of inquiry. But time and again, the conversation returns to the moment my toboggan comes unglued, and I am trudging up the ski slope with an unwieldy bundle of planks in my arms.

"Why can't you just leave the planks behind?" she asks.

"I don't know," I answer, "it doesn't seem to be an option."

Explaining Dreams to an Alien: Breaking Down Dreams

A Dream's Meaning Becomes Clearer

"During the time you had this dream," she asks, shedding the alien stance, "was there anything going on in your life that might be pertinent?"

"Nothing special," I said. "There was some trouble with work, but I don't think it's connected."

"Tell me about it," Delaney said.

I explained that I'd been doing a difficult story for a magazine I hadn't worked with before. Things were going smoothly until my editor was fired in midstream. The editor who took over seemed to regard the story as a hassle she didn't need. She wouldn't return my phone calls, and when I did manage to reach her, our conversations were edgy and brief. She couldn't answer my questions; she seemed annoyed I was calling at all.

"How did that make you feel?"

"They were disorganized and unprofessional," I said, "I felt like the story was falling apart, and all my hard work would be wasted."

"Like a speeding toboggan falling apart halfway down the slope?"

I saw it all in a flash. "Exactly," I laughed. "The loose planks of the toboggan represent my story — I'm trying to hold it together, and that's why I can't just leave the planks behind. And the other toboggans represent the people at the magazine, whose lack of cooperation (they'd sooner run me down than stop and help me) were putting me in a position to fail."

Deciphering Dreams

Well, well, well. Another day, another dream mystery unraveled. But having decoded the dream, how does it do me good? Well, if I had understood the dream's message while working on that story, I might have bailed out of the — leaving the shattered toboggan behind — which, in retrospect, would have saved me a long go-round of frustration and grating uncertainty that, unfortunately, continues still.

I guess I could have made the decision to bail based on my conscious feelings — the vibes couldn't have been much worse — but somehow, it was easy to ignore those feelings and press on, hoping things would just work out. The dream, I guess, knew better and was trying to warn me I was wrong.

Explaining Dreams to an Alien: A Closer Look at Dreams

And that, says Delaney, is the problem-solving genius of dreams at work: Undistracted by the trivial pressures of waking life, they view our lives more wisely and simply than our daylight minds ever could. If we learn to understand our dreams, she says, they'll give us sound, honest answers based on the wisdom within and lead to a trusting, helpful partnership between the dreaming and the waking minds.

The good news, says Delaney, is that anyone can learn to tap the problem-solving powers of their dreams. In her best-selling books Living Your Dreams and Breakthrough Dreaming, Delaney outlines her interview method of dream interpretation and also explains her system of "dream incubation," by which you can literally shape your dreams to work on any issues that concern you.

"The insights you get from your dreams can improve your work life, your friendships, your marriage, your self-image," she says. "Or maybe you just need some creative ideas about redecorating the bedroom. Nobody says every dream has to be mystical and profound. Just remember," she says, "your mind is working hard when you sleep, why not learn to use it?"

Another Lucid Dream

I've left balmy Northern California and returned to my home base here in the frosty East, where I'm praying for a Lucid Dream set on any tropical island that will have me.

Speaking of which, I had my second lucid dream the day after flying back from the West Coast. This time, I was in a miniature race car, flashing at warp speed through the streets of San Francisco. It was "Bullitt" at the speed of thought, and I swear, it was a full- blown, belly-fluttering, roller-coaster rush. It was so much fun, in fact, I remember giggling like a kid.

So, I have no doubt about the "real" sensations of lucid dreaming. But in this second lucid dream, as in the first, I felt no total sense of control. More precisely, I seemed to have control over only what the dream would allow.

For example, I was able to race my mini-hot rod at will across the Golden Gate Bridge, up and down the sheer slopes of Telegraph Hill, and through the narrow alleys of Chinatown. But when I pulled over in front of a North Beach coffeehouse, where I spotted lovely Kim Basinger waiting for a bus, things began to crumble:

Me: "Hey, Toots, need a lift? I'm traveling at the speed of thought."

Ms. Basinger, gazing dubiously at my go-cart: "Dream on, Bub, you aren't that lucid."

Okay, it didn't really happen that way, but the point is, even in lucid dreams, you can't always get what you want. Or maybe I just need more practice.