Dream On

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If I were to tell you that dreaming could likely be the single most productive task you’ve done in your life, would you believe me? And I don’t mean having a life long dream that we care to achieve, but dreams that occur on most nights while we sleep and try to restore our energy to ensure that we are ready and fit for all the activities we don’t intend to do the following day. I wouldn’t believe me. I mean imagine yawning, sleeping, dreaming, checking social media messages, snatching the blanket back, dreaming, sleepwalking, dreaming, and finally waking (or not) becoming the logistical mantra for a successful life. It sounds too good to be true.

The first science fiction novel by Mary Shelley, the concept of the theory of relativity by Albert Einstein, the structure of the Atom by Niels Bohr, the composition of the famous hit ‘Yesterday’ by Paul McCartney and The Beatles, the structure of the periodic table by Dmitri Mendeleev, Dr. Frederick Banting’s discovery of the use of insulin for diabetic patients, a few of Srinivas Ramanujan’s mathematical theories, as well as my theory of procrastination, all find their roots in vivid dreams. An argument can be made that a majority of these discoveries are scientific and educational in nature, and if these people decided to not doze off while working, we would have a lot less to study in our schools and colleges. Nevertheless, these discoveries are groundbreaking, to say the least. Take my theory of procrastination for instance. If I had not decided to sleep and dream aimlessly and endlessly, how would this theory ever have come into existence? In fact, I am willing to wager that the impact of the theory of procrastination has been on many more people than the impacts by Google, the Avengers movie franchise, and even sliced bread.

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It’s fair to assume that we all spend a third of our day sleeping, and therefore a third of our life asleep too (except the few spots when we endure ‘all-nighters’ to read comic books on exam nights, to watch our sports team take a beating in a different time zone, to transfer items from the refrigerator into our tummy, which we apparently term as a midnight snack as opposed to a midnight banquet, and even getting thrown out of bars). This is a significant portion of our lives, and studies show that the average person spends about a quarter of their sleep time dreaming. Two hours of dreaming a night? We must have hit that ten thousand hour mark many times over. Now I’m not sure how the eminent people sans one mentioned in the previous paragraph managed to discipline their minds enough to engage in meaningful, structured, and creative dreams. I, for some reason experience dreams that I cannot even begin to explain. They range from ‘shame shame puppy shame’, and falling from the sky (gravity has already been discovered so it’s pointless), to storylines changing faster than the speed of light, ‘pee-pee’ dreams and being on a sports team with pizza slices and muffins (I don’t know what this is even meant to signify, except that I need to stop gorging on them). Or maybe I just haven’t bothered to remember a dream that may have actually offered some guidance and enlightenment.

My point here is that we all have issues and challenges that we are in a constant tussle with. While these challenges exhaust us and put us to sleep, our unconscious mind continues to try and solve them well into the night. Based on several studies by experts, there are numerous areas that our dreams help us in. Here are some.

  1. We have emotional trials that we constantly deal with. While we may not be able to understand or relate our emotional duress to their causes during our conscious hours, our brains are highly capable of joining the dots and forming connections, without our annoying waking interference while we sleep. This allows us to find some answers and obtain emotional balance to a degree. We potentially have a chance of healing over time. We have a free therapist in our head and we don’t even need to be awake as she speaks.
  2. Dreaming helps us reflect on our actual lives on a daily basis. Our unconscious mind helps replay situations, our actions in those situations, and alternate courses of action that may have been apter under the circumstances. This offers perspective and learning for future situations. This is our automatic problem-solving kit.
  3. Often dreams can lead to premonitions of threats and other occurrences in our lives. It gets us battle-ready (or ready to flee).
  4. Creativity can be at its highest in our dreams. Pioneering discoveries and creations born in people’s dreams are a testimony that the deliberations by our mind as our body rests lead to revolutions. It’s probably happened to every single one of us as well. A business idea, an idea for a new advertising campaign, a movie theme, a poem, or even the idea to write about dreams may have occurred in a dream, without our conscious knowledge. So pay attention boys and girls, for your dreams may lead to solutions for first world problems like finding enough storage for the consequences of our compulsive shopping habits, fat burning desserts, self making beds, getting every single one of our connections to like our social media posts, phone charging trouser pockets, and even a spouse proof television remote.
  5. Dreams also act as a sorting mechanism for all the information we absorb during our waking hours. It would be highly improbable for us to retain all the information we encounter in our lives and our dreams help decide what to keep and what to discard.

Research continues to find more benefits of dreaming and if we care to pay attention to them and remember them, we may become mentally and emotionally healthier, and experience boundless creativity. There are several ways to remember our dreams and brain coach Jim Kwik recommends simple steps like making a conscious choice to remember our dreams, writing them down immediately when we wake up, keeping our eyes closed as we wake up and reflect on our dreams, tell ourselves daily that we will remember our dreams, and manage our sleep well to ensure a dreamy nightcap.

The benefits of paying attention to the small little stories in our head as we do what we love most are astounding. It truly is ‘lights out’.

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The Wandering Wondering Mind – Part 2

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In the preceding part, I have written about the dreadful thoughts and images that plague our minds and drive peace and harmony out of our lives. And more often than not, all our efforts to block these disturbances out are in vain. We may be able to distract ourselves temporarily but the death rattle continues to play in the background before resurfacing in full force. We need answers that we don’t get easily and may never find. We go into panic mode, hyperventilate and even think we’re going crazy because we have lost complete control of our minds and the situations it constructs.

I have also made an attempt to classify these turbulences into broad categories that are certainly relevant to me and hopefully something you can relate to as well. The only person in our control is ourselves and the only situations we can control are the ones that our mind creates and overemphasizes on. We must realize that anything else is beyond our control and while we hope for the best, we cannot expect things to turn out rosy

There may not be a magically effective way to calm our minds but small daily routines certainly help.

Be productive

Shutting our minds down can be infuriatingly difficult. However, if we keep ourselves busy and aligned with our short and long term goals, we’re more inclined to be creative and positive and less likely to entertain negative thoughts. We must invest our minds in activities that we are passionate about and bring us joy. It’s these things we are likely to do best and the subsequent results will have an uplifting impact of our minds

Meditate

While I still struggle with this even though I try it for only ten to fifteen minutes daily, meditating every day can have therapeutic effects on the mind and the body. I have been meditating for about seven months now and while my mind still wanders when I’m meditating and I still have my mind infuriate me, I am certainly calmer and more in control today than I was when I began. Considering that sages take decades to master the art of medication and attain enlightenment, I’m only just getting started. Having said that, the start has certainly been promising.

Use a positive chant

Telling ourselves that ‘we’re fine’, ‘life is good’ or ‘The Yankees will win the world series’ constantly will have long term positive effects on our minds and we will experience more stability within. Hearing a positively soothing voice is very effective. There is a reason to-be parents are asked to sing to and speak to their child while she is still in mummy’s tummy. We’re not very different as adults and when we don’t have an external voice that can do the sweet-talking for us, we need to do it for ourselves.

Exercise

Cardiovascular workouts and breathing routines help relieve us of stress and anxiety. Playing a sport that involves sweating (because you could very well start playing poker) or even strength training help release endorphins, which are natural pain killers that exist in our body and help reduce stress. If we engage in these activities consistently, our physical health improves as well, which is an essential collaborator to our mental state.

Write

Writing things down that bother us, allow us to clear a cluttered mind. Revisiting these thoughts at a later stage allow us to reflect upon and gain clarity on some of our confusion. Write about the things that work for you and repeat these habitually in your life. Over time these habits will allow us more mental stability.

Read

Reading books like ‘Thirteen Reasons Why’, ‘Before I Fall’, and ‘The Bell Jar’ are likely to be counterproductive, but reading motivating books like success stories and even ‘feel good’ novels help lift the mood and the mind. And you never know what evasive answers you may find on any given page.

Listen to music

If we’re frustrated or angry, listening to Megadeth or Black Sabbath may do us little good. However, we all have happy memories associated with some song or the other and listening to these during our melancholic existence can be very uplifting. The right music not only helps me form happy memories and calm my nerves but also helps me think of a positive future.

Pursue a hobby

If you have the love and the skill for something like playing a guitar, a racket sport, stand up comedy, or even making French fries, put it to use. Engaging in constructive activities that we enjoy is always a sure way to switch out negative thoughts. Not only do we have fun but we also improve our skills, and one never knows where that may lead us.

Keep a clean environment

I personally cannot stand clutter, whether it is inside my mind or in my surroundings. I tend to think better when I keep a clean environment and I strongly believe that the way we keep our surroundings is a reflection of our minds. For example, if our desk is cluttered, our room untidy, our beds unmade, it mirrors that state of our mind. Sometimes we need to jumpstart our brain into positive motion and making a concerted effort to maintain a clean and tidy environment can have that impact. Personally, I’ve noticed that I think better when I keep my environment clean.

Surround yourself with positive people

I cannot emphasize enough on how important this is. Surrounding ourselves with toxicity is a sure shot way to end up in a hole and remain in it. We love it when people lend an ear to listen to our problems, but ideally, we need to see if they offer solutions or just join us in the cribbing game and spread more negativity. Besides there are people that just seem upset with everything in life and constantly complain, demean, ignore, fight, and try to control us. Some of them could be family members and close friends who we cannot discard from our lives but we need to be aware of where we draw our lines for our own sanity. To counter these negative effects and also as a general practice we must make a conscious effort to surround ourselves with people that spread positivity, joy, and imbibe confidence in us.

Sleep well

We spend a third of our lives sleeping (some of us even spend a majority of our waking hours asleep). Sound sleep is as essential to our physical and mental health as any other form of fitness routine, dietary habits, and other good health practices. A lack of proper sleep can lead to a drop in performance, mental tiredness, anxiety, as well as other health-related problems. I have my phases of getting appropriate sleep versus not getting enough and I sense a marked difference in my mood, functioning, and mindset in each of these scenarios. If you’re struggling to get proper sleep, there are plenty of tips available online to help you sleep better.

Live in the present

A lot of our issues arise because we cannot get over the past or stop worrying about the future. We cannot alter one and cannot predict the other. All we can do is to use our failures and pain from the past to learn and grow and plan for the future. We can only do this by living in the present and using our time at hand to the best of our abilities to make our present productive.

Forgive

We hurt terribly from the actions and inactions of people, and find it difficult to forgive them for putting us through so much grief. However, we pine over these matters long after the situation has taken place, and extend our grieving with no end in sight. Yes, it does take time to heal but how are we helping ourselves by not making any effort to move on? Forgiving someone does not mean we accept the pain they have given us, but helps us heal faster. We tell ourselves that we are now in control of our situation and getting back on our feet and running is up to us.

Contribute

We need to understand that there are people in situations that are way worse than our own. Making a contribution in their lives not only adds perspective to ours but also makes us feel good about ourselves (release of dopamine – the ‘reward’ neurotransmitter). We could choose to help people in our circles or even volunteer for a good cause.

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So stop moping around and trying to solve every mystery in your life. Sometimes, we just need to focus on other matters and let bygones be bygones.