Episode 14: What We Can Learn from Our Pandemic Dreams (a conversation with Deirdre Barrett)

What We Can Learn from our Pandemic Dreams a conversation with Deirdre Barrett on The Dreamers' Den Podcast with Leilani Navar thedreamersden.org

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Over 9,000 pandemic dreams. That’s how many Dr. Deirdre Barrett has read so far from her worldwide survey, which she began in March 2020. These dreams are the subject of her latest book: Pandemic Dreams.

In this episode, you’ll hear about the recurring themes – from catching the virus (bugs), to homeschooling (failing math), to possible cures (musical injections), and what the world might look like post-pandemic (robots in charge?)

Dr. Barrett shares trends in the emotional tone of these pandemic dreams, as compared to dreams during “normal” times. (For one thing, there’s been an increased frequency of anxiety.) We talk about how the pandemic has affected people of different genders in different ways, and how that has affected dreams. You’ll hear me ask about trends in the dreams people have during their illnesses, sparking our curiosity about statistical incidence of Chinese Medicine symbols in this large sample of dreams. Perhaps analyzing the dream data from this perspective would reflect just how this unusual virus is affecting the body.

Dr. Barrett also collected dreams in the U.S. after 9/11, and dreams of Kuwaitis during the Iraqi Occupation. You’ll hear about how this crisis has affected dreams similarly to other big crises (imagery of natural disasters), but also differently: the recurring image of invading insects.

The pandemic dreams survey is still open (link below) and people continue to submit dreams. As the months go by, there may be the opportunity to see how dreams shift as the pandemic progresses, when a vaccine is developed, and as we go through … whatever other changes are coming up.

Maybe we’ll even better understand dreams that she’s already read. The day before we recorded this conversation, Dr. Barrett read about dogs who could sniff out asymptomatic carriers of the virus in Finland, bringing back to mind a dream submitted by Andy Sarjahani, set in a grocery store, in which his own dog pulls him away from anyone infected.

Toward the end of this episode, Dr. Barrett shares her expertise and curiosity about “problem-solving dreams.” (There’s a link below to an excellent article she wrote about problem-solving dreams in the contexts of chemistry, medicine, puzzles, and even prison escape.) Although there were some “solution dreams” in this sample, she says there were disappointingly few, considering that it was a set of 9,000 dreams.

Want to see if you can “incubate” a dream solution, or an answer to a question related to the pandemic? Stick around for the end of the episode, when Dr. Barrett gives instructions for dream incubation. She and I sincerely want to hear what you dream afterward, so please share in The Dreamers’ Den free Facebook group, or by emailing Dr. Barrett (links below).

Here are the dream incubation instructions, as shared in this episode:

  1. Condense your problem/question/topic down to one phrase or sentence. Repeat it to yourself as you’re falling asleep.
  2. Find a visual image that represents that problem/question/topic. If you can, hold that picture in your mind’s eye. If you don’t “see” in your imagination, find a photo or object that represents your problem/question/topic. Place it on your nightstand and stare at it, so that it’s the last thing you see before you fall asleep.
  3. Fall asleep saying to yourself, “Tonight I want to dream about [your problem/question/topic], tonight I want to dream about [your problem/question/topic]…”
  4. In the morning, lie still. If a dream is clear, record everything you remember (on paper, or a voice recorder, or your phone). If you don’t recall a dream immediately, stay still and notice whether you woke up with anything on your mind – perhaps a feeling, or a specific person. (If you stay with even a tiny bit of content, the dream can come flooding back. But if you jump up and turn your attention to anything else, it’s much less likely that you’ll remember it.) Then, record whatever you remember.

And then, share it with Dr. Barrett by email to: dbarrett [at] hms.harvard.edu

And, in The Dreamers’ Den free Facebook group

Learn more:

Dr. Barrett’s website: www.deirdrebarrett.com

Pandemic Dreams survey (where you can submit a dream): https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/B8S75CN

Pandemic Dreams book on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Pandemic-Dreams-Deirdre-Barrett/dp/0982869533

American Scientist article about problem-solving dreams: https://www.americanscientist.org/article/when-the-answer-comes-in-a-dream

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