The Better Dream App
By Ron Glaser
I am asleep and dreaming the same dream I had as a ten-year old kid, where I am swimming just a little bit off the shore on New Jersey’s Sandy Hook beach. In the dream, I know I am not a strong swimmer so I swim parallel to the beach to try to keep myself from being knocked down too hard by the waves. Despite swimming cautiously, I feel myself being pulled further away from the shore and towards the ocean by a sudden undertow. Where a minute ago, I was able to stand up with the water reaching only to my chest, now when I put my feet down they do not touch bottom, and I start to worry. I move my hands and legs in the direction of the beach, but I can see and feel I am not making progress. Keep calm I tell myself; just tread water and let the next wave push you closer to shore. But the next wave doesn’t push me, it pulls me further out. My arms and legs are already tired from trying to move towards shore and I am quickly becoming out of breath. I tell myself not to panic, but my worry has already moved up a quick notch - I am in trouble. I try waving my hands above my head in a feeble attempt to draw attention to myself, but no one seems to notice, or they just think I am playing. Now I am scared. I swallow water and think I am going to drown soon. I am gasping for air and thrashing my arms wildly when I feel a huge arm grab the side of my stomach, lift and pull me upward in one powerful movement. Breathing hard and shaking side to side I wake up.
I am twenty-eight years old and this dream, which I first had that summer in 1982, has resurfaced, excuse the pun, after two decades. It actually came back to me about six months ago, and ever since it has repeated itself at least two or three times a week, including last night. The dream always ends okay. I am saved. But I have to live through the fear and panic before I get to the end. I wake up breathing heavy and exhausted from this dream.
I have been trying to figure out what this dream means since I started having it again. By my own analysis, my career is going okay, my health is fine, I have a good social network, and my girlfriend and I are getting along well enough that we have started talking about moving in together. Everything seems to be clicking but this repetitive dream is telling me something different. I am smart enough to know that dreams can represent unconscious issues. Am I in some difficulty that I am not truly aware of? Have I been “dragged” somewhere or into something without knowing it? Am I facing any danger? Or is there a simpler explanation? Maybe I saw an article or something in the news a few months back and it jostled my memory of that day at Sandy Hook. But why would I start having that dream again now?
The dream is getting so frequent and bothersome that I contemplate going to see a psychotherapist. After checking my health insurance policy, I decide that it will be too expensive. Even if it were affordable, I would have to find the time to take off from work and that could be a little difficult. But I want to figure out what this dream means so I can deal with it.
I check some of the books on Amazon about dream interpretation and read a few sample pages that are available for free. The stuff I read ranges from hyper technical to total bullshit. Does dreaming about pink flowers really indicate that the dreamer wants to try on women’s clothing? Really? It doesn’t seem to me that reading about dream interpretation is going to help me figure out what’s going on with my own dream.
Then I start thinking that there is another way to approach this. Maybe I am looking at things the wrong way. Instead of figuring out what the dream means, why don’t I try to change it? I read some articles about how you can direct your dreams and change the outcome. All you need to do is right before you go to bed tell yourself what you will do when the dream recurs. So I tell myself that if I find myself swimming in the ocean, I will make sure I am on a raft and just paddle to shore. Before I go to sleep the next three nights, I repeat this over and over. The first two nights I can’t recall any dreams. The third night I have my swimming-in-the-ocean dream. It is the same dream as always. There is no raft and I almost drown before being rescued. I conclude that talking to yourself before going to bed is baloney.
Searching on line has given me another idea because it dawns on me that there might be some kind of self-help application software that would help. So I look for apps next. I find lots of apps on sleeping, most of which offer either soothing music or sounds to help you sleep, or relaxation techniques. These apps sound like they can really help people fall asleep and some of the reviews say they work. These apps are getting closer to what I am looking for, but not exactly.
Then I come across one whose description is spot on: “Better Dream.” The description says you download the application to your iPad, enter a few keywords about a dream, and then choose how much you want to make it better. This sounds interesting. In addition to the app, you need to order a “sensor cable” that plugs into the iPad and that has a headband, like a soft sweatband, with little metal circles that senses brain waves. There are no reviews of this app, but it sounds like a reasonably cheap investment to make, so I order it.
Five days later I receive the cable and that night decide to try the app. I put my iPad on my night table and hook up the cable to it. The program asks you to insert words to describe the dream you want to change, so I put in “swimming, waves, ocean, panic,” etc. The app gives you four buttons for improving your dream, labeled 25%, 50%, 75%, and 100%. The greater the percentage you select, the more your dream changes for the better. There is also a “Revert” button, if you want to go back to your original dream. Simple enough.
I click the 25% button, put the headband around my head, and fall asleep in about twenty minutes. I am dreaming and once again find myself swimming in the ocean. It is like my recurring dream, but it isn’t exactly because this time the ocean is calm and there is no undertow. After a few minutes of swimming, I feel myself getting tired and starting to feel scared, but before panic sets in, once again a strong arm comes to save me. I wake up. Hmmm. Maybe it is a coincidence but the dream I had was not as bad as in the past. The ocean was not too rough and although I was getting tired, I was not drowning.
The next night I go through the same procedure and this time I choose the 50% button. I wonder what a 50% change will be. I will find out soon. When I fall asleep I begin dreaming and sure enough I am in the ocean. I am no longer a kid. I am a teenager and a fairly strong swimmer. The ocean has some decent-sized waves and I am swimming pretty far from shore. I feel an undertow begin to take me further out than where I feel comfortable but I am smart. I tell myself to breathe easy and start floating on my back to conserve energy. When I feel ready, I turn over and start swimming parallel to shore and as I do so, the waves push me further and further towards the beach until I can stand. I wake up.
Wow! That was a different dream. I could have been in a tough predicament but I was stronger and smarter than I have been in my other dreams. I did not need someone to come save me. The app changed my original dream.
The next night I decide to skip the 75% button and go right to the 100% button. I click it, arrange the cable on my head and fall asleep. I start dreaming that I am at a lake standing on the shore with a friend, as we get ready to load a boat with our fishing gear. Just then, I hear a woman’s scream and see that about 50 yards away, a canoe has tipped over and the woman is struggling in the water. She can’t reach the canoe. I react quickly, stripping off my shoes, shirt, and shorts in seconds and dive in. I am a strong swimmer and I take long strokes with forceful kicks that get me to the woman in less than a minute. I grab around her waist and swim her to the canoe. She and I both grab hold of the side and catch our breaths. After a few minutes, my friend pulls up in our boat and the woman and I climb on board. She is half crying, clinging onto me. The woman says I saved her life and I am a hero. My chest swells and then I wake up.
Whoa! What a great dream! I feel good and energized! What an app!
The feeling doesn’t last long, as I started wondering what lake I was in. Who was the woman, a stranger, or someone I know? During the day I obsess about the dream. It was definitely different than my original dream but all the unknown questions are bothering me, so much so that I can’t concentrate on my work. That night I do not use the iPad and as soon as I fall asleep, I begin having the dream with me saving the woman at the lake, just like the last dream. I wake up having saved the woman but I do not feel as energized or satisfied like the first time I had the dream. There are too many unanswered questions.
Two nights later, I have the same dream. It is really starting to bother me and I feel unsettled. I can’t even remember having ever swam in a lake! Where was this? Who was she? Is this how it is going to be; every time I wake up being bothered about the dream’s meaning? I am really no better off than I was with the original dream I had!
I decide to try the Better Dream app one more time to see if I can improve the woman-in-the-lake dream. I put the iPad on the night table, open up the software application, and adjust the headband and sensors around my head. Then I type in the keywords for this dream: “lake, woman, canoe, save” and move my finger to the 25% button.
As I am about to click that button I am having second thoughts. The Better Dream app has given me a new dream, a different one, but I don’t think it’s really better than my ocean dream. At least my original dream does not have many unanswered questions. I am just a kid being pulled away by an undertow in the waves and someone helps me and pulls me to shore. That’s not too unusual for a kid swimming in the ocean.
In this new dream, I am an adult saving a woman I don’t know in a lake I never swam in. That’s really been bothering me. So looking at both dreams, I realize the first one really isn’t that bad. Maybe a little uncomfortable, but being saved is not the worst thing that can ever happen to you. Certainly not in a dream!
My finger has been hovering over the 25% button. The last thing I do before I close my eyes is slide my finger over to the “Revert” button. Then I click.
WbtR member Ron Glaser is a retired government employee turned creative writer.