It’s a popular cliché that listening to (or reading about) other people’s dreams is boring. Really, really boring. Henry James said, “Tell a dream, lose a reader.” In all honesty, there’s some truth in this. Have you ever listened—or tried to listen—to a six-year-old recounting the plot of her favorite movie? When dreams are told without context, and without a sense of what the listener needs in order to follow the story… well, yes, they can be pretty monotonous.
Dreams definitely can have a “you-had-to-be-there” quality. Even the best storyteller might have difficulty conveying the indescribable experiences that occurred in a dream where sensory impressions were nuanced and intense, events seemed to overlap in timeless patterns, things kept changing into other things, and there was just a whole lot happening endlessly. As the little kid telling a movie plot (or a dream) might say: and then the man ate all the pizza … and then the dog was a horse… and then they ran over the fields… and then it was the next day… oh, and I forgot, the pizza wasn’t real, it was a big cookie kind of made of toast…
There are ways of telling dreams so that people will be engaged and even entertained. When I’m just telling a dream as an example, or to make a point, or to get a laugh (in a blog post, in a workshop, or casually with friends), I leave out everything that isn’t directly related to the topic at hand, and I try to choose a dream with images that are funny or vivid, a storyline that can be summarized simply, and scenes that are relatively easy to describe and imagine.
Nevertheless, even though I’m pretty experienced at both telling and hearing dreams, I can sometimes sound like the little kid recounting the relentless saga—especially when I’m trying to share all the significant details because I’m going to be working on the dream with others.
The bottom line is that sharing any complex experience that has profoundly affected you will be difficult. The context and background may be unfamiliar to your listeners, and lots of details are needed to convey the richness of the experience and its implications. So it’s best not to even bring it up unless everyone present is prepared to get past their own impatience, and give you and your experience—or dream—their full attention.
Okay, but here’s my heated defense of dreaming and dream-telling: Dreams are not boring at all! In themselves, they are often magnificently subtle, brilliantly “on target” with their insights, full of stunning surprises, hilarious plot twists, creative genius, rich sensuality, cunning irony, dazzling landscapes… Well, you see I’m biased in favor of dreams! It is definitely worthwhile to pay attention to them and share them, even though, as I’ve acknowledged, someone else’s dream can be very difficult to follow. Continue reading