Some initial conclusions from Draumar’s first dream collection phase during the first quarantine period in spring 2020.*
Although it has been several months since the outbreak of the virus internationally, there is still a generalised sense of unpreparedness, which creates high levels of social and individual anxiety, confusion and suspicion.
This is evident in the variety of ways in which national governments react in order to control the contagion, to citizens’ reactions to the constant renewal of security measures and, interestingly, to our nightly dreaming activity, as we have seen in the collection we have done so far.
Collections such as ours have begun to flourish around the world, with perhaps the most famous study of which was carried out by Deirdre Barrett, assistant professor at Harvard University and editor-in-chief of the journal Dreaming, which launched a survey through a questionnaire on dreams during the period of COVID-19 in the week of March 22. Other initiatives followed later, by teams of scientists of different specialties from the United States, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, Finland and Italy.
As Deirdre Barrett pointed out, the fact that the virus is invisible is what enables it to take many forms, which manifest themselves in a particular way in the world of our dreams. A very common feature in most dreams that we have so far collected is a generalized perception of disruption and shock, caused by an event that occurs so suddenly and causes a rupture in our normality, as it finds us unprepared and unequipped.
Some initial conclusions from our research
The first phase of Draumar’s dream collection during the quarantine period involved ‘dreamers’ aged 18-74 years – mostly between 23 and 46 years old – the vast majority of them women. As the survey participants write, during the quarantine period they often saw intense dreams, more adventurous and vivid, with plot, location and story they had never seen before, “all highly absurd.”
“Now my dreams have turned into a “soup-like” status, someone writes characteristically.
When asked if there are any images or sensations/feelings that come back in to their dreams at this time, the predominant emotions are anguish, rejection, fear, anxiety, stress, confinement and drowning, whilst returning as main characters in the dreams are old loved ones, such as grandparents, parents, former friends, pets, stressful situations from the past and old houses.
We collected a few dreams which we list here below. As you will see, common patterns that emerge are: missing one’s appointment, the train, the flight (dream 1); having forgotten to dress appropriately or wear something that makes one stand out visually or look strange (dream1, 3, 5); suddenly realising that one’s simple and everyday habits/behaviours are completely inappropriate or have drastically changed (dream 1, 6); to lose one’s orientation (dream 3); the familiar to become unfamiliar, what was safe to become unsafe, something out of place (dream 4,8); feelings of suspicion and lack of trust, doubt about what is true and what is not (dream 4); the need to hide and the feeling that one’s regularity or physical characteristic can be perceived as a social threat and thus need to be contained, punished, disciplined, controlled (dream 5, 7).
I'm in a big capital city, dark and grayish, and I'm wearing my big gray jacket, which covers me almost completely like a sleeping bag. I'm running somewhere on public transport, from here to there, like some kind of trip in a hurry to catch up. I reach an underground train platform. That's where they stop me and check my passport, I look for it, they take it away from me, something's wrong, some weird keys show up (well, have I done something illegal and they need to check me up very well?). Suddenly, I realize that I have been touching everywhere with my hands and that I have been in very close contact with people and I panic that I am in danger from the corona virus! Panicked, I search for an antiseptic but I don't have one. I'm thinking of going to wash my hands in a toilet. Those who have stopped me won't let me. I miss the train.
It's evening and I'm walking through a city that doesn't exactly remind me of some familiar/specific landscape. At one point, a building intrigues me. I walk in, and I see people sitting silently in groups without talking, like in a bar, but there is very low light and absolute stillness prevails, as if time is frozen. I head to the back of the room, I get to the toilets, there are some people who speak low and nod to me to go to the toilet. I discover a hatch with a doorman in one of the toilets. He opens it to me and I go down to an underground decadent live music club, similar to Boulgaris’ "Everything is a road", everybody there is a mess, but again there is this feeling that time has stopped and somehow there is a sense of repeat and deja vu.
I'm with my daughter, but she's not a teenager, she's about 3-4 years old, her friend is with us too, and in my dream she also is at that age, and with us we have a friend's dog, but without a leash. I want to go to the Botanic Gardens to do a yoga class. We all start walking that way together. I feel anxious for the kids and for trying not to lose the dog. At some point we enter a narrow street and a crowd of people comes towards us. In my dream I remember that we are in the midst of a pandemic and we must avoid overcrowding. Panicked, I pick up the kids and the dog and try to turn in the opposite direction to get out of this narrow road. We arrive, at some point, at the studio where the yoga class will take place and it's my family home. We go in and the class room is my office at the magazine where I work. I start dressing up for yoga and I realize I'm not wearing a bra, I start looking through the office stuff for bras, I find one and I lose it. I find more and more and they keep disappearing in front of me. A girl comes in for the class and she wears a mask. She says she will be attending the whole class wearing the mask. I'm really nervous because I haven't thought about it. I leave the yoga studio-family house-office again with a young daughter, the little friend and the dog and get confused in the street. We are lost. I don't know which way we're going to get home. We're in an empty area outside a car yard. The dog gets away in the yard between the cars. I've turned on the GPS on my phone at the same time, and I'm trying to find my way home. The girls are scared and grumbling. Someone shows up from the car yard and helps me, brings me back the dog and tries to explain to me how I can get from there to Petralona. I feel happiness and gratitude that this man appeared before me. Somehow I regain control and my strength. And we're again on our way.
It was now afternoon, impressive black/blue/purple clouds covered the sun and a strong wind began to blow towards the deep. The landscape was changing fast. It was too dangerous to be at sea. We left the coffin as far as we had managed to drag it and went out to shore. The whole thing started to turn into a big room and the sea would come in and out of its two doors, one to my left and one in front. I was alone there, but that was neither unpleasant nor pleasant. It was dark, because the shutters behind me were closed, and the light was coming through the doors leading to other rooms. It may have been the house where I lived with my partner, architecturally it looked like it, but I thought about that after I woke up. Anyway, in the dream I had the feeling that this was my home. The coffin was also in the room, underwater. I had doubts about its content and I reopened it. The same smell again. I kneaded the sack, and it had the texture of a very soft thing that might not have been human, like a huge, old potato that had softened. Suddenly, I am transported with my sister to a mountainous island house in the Aegean sea with a courtyard, bougainvillea, etc. It's Sagri's house, it's a summer afternoon, and the people who have gathered there behave as if she'd never died. I learn from conversations that she's alive, in the house, and doing the honours, and that the whole coffin thing was a work of art, for which the artist aimed to stay as long as she could in a coffin under the sea. I kept having my doubts. Mostly, what worried me was the fact that I had taken a box from the coffin of a, perhaps, deceased woman, which probably belonged to me, and that gave me the fear that either, perhaps, I stole her offering from her, or, perhaps, I was burdened with a bad fate, or that someone chose a box of mine to accompany a dead woman perhaps, which seemed to me to be the most frightening thing. But none of this I could believe as a certainty, all the scenarios were open. I had this feeling of general fear that you don't know where it's going to come from, but, most importantly, I was wondering which of this was true or if it could all be true at the same time.
I was an Orthodox priest and I had a love affair with a sex worker when I was young, whom the police were now looking for. I was hiding her in my house, even though we weren't together anymore. The world looked like a huge digital chessboard, azure blue, but with streets, cobblestones, alleys, houses and shops, somewhat old. I was walking down the street in my robe with my beard flowing in the wind and I was fat and dark. An acquaintance saw me and told me to be careful because the police are looking for me now. I asked him to warn my friend to hide, and I started walking around looking for a shelter, for protection against the rain and the sun so I could pretend to be homeless for a while until it was safe to go home. I mean, after they had been inside, they had done the search and they hadn’t found anything that incriminated me. And as I was running, the robes went up and my reflection showed in the shop windows and I was thinking oh dear, like this I'm far too easily recognizable. I have to disguise myself.
I'm on the subway like it used to be - I mean without masks - we know nothing about pandemics, etc., there are a lot of people on the train, the familiar ones. We wait for the doors to open, it must have been Syntagma station, but we all knew that once the doors of the train opened, the center of Athens is underwater, as if the metro there were made underwater. And we'd just go out and go to work by swimming underwater. No equipment, no clothes, no bags, etc. As amphibians!
Many people, among them lots of children, in funeral rigidity, with tightly tied hands and feet with rope, lined up per family like a roller coaster lying on each other's belly, on the grass, just outside the airport entrance.
I saw a silver fish, alone, without a bowl or sea or water, on a white surface.
Many dreams express a sense of stillness, both physically and temporally, in running but not getting to the place you wanted, in a sense of repetition, déjà vu and again in seemingly endless waiting processes in huge queues.
The present collective anguish about one’s access or presence in public places clearly appears in the dream life of our research participants, such as in scenes where the dreamer must present the right papers, have keys or be dressed accordingly and go unnoticed. Anyone who knows Michel Foucault’s discussion of social control, which manifests itself in routines and practices where individuals participate in self-control and self-discipline, would wonder how these socio-political processes are integrated into people’s dream lives.
In addition to the work of psychoanalysis that illuminates and examines individual trauma, individual history and healing, the purpose of Draumar’s dream collection, both in Italy and Greece, is to detect the collective fantasy of these uncertain times. Even in their dreams, dreamers wonder how long this will last? How do we get out of this? What will the world be like when all this is over?
In social isolation, people may seem to be responding to these dilemmas on an individual level, but what social scientists suggest in their first analyses is that what happens to all of us is clearly social and the pandemic has many social implications.
Draumar began with the intention of recognizing the social dimensions of dreams, drawing a map of the collective fantasy emerging from this collection. In the hope that this map can serve in the times before us, to support future discussions of collective, more visionary and informed responses in connection with what is happening to all of us.
* The article was first published in the journal Systemic Thinking & Psychotherapy/Issue 17, October 2020