Ever Changing Dreams

I am intrigued by dreams. One reason is that dreaming is a universal phenomenon. My frustration is that I almost never remember what I dreamt about. Another reason is I wonder why we dream in the first place. 
According to an article from the Cleveland Clinic, “the prevailing theory is that dreaming helps you consolidate and analyze memories (like skills and habits) and likely serves as a ‘rehearsal’ for various situations and challenges that one faces during the daytime.” (“Why Do We Dream?” Aug. 18, 2022)
But what is the psychological purpose of dreaming? The article continues, “one study suggests that dreams stem more from your imagination (the memories, abstract thoughts and wishes pumped up from deep within your brain) than from perception (the vivid sensory experiences you collect in your forebrain).” Therefore, even when we are asleep, our brain continues to process the experiences and emotions from the previous day. In effect, the brain uses this valuable down time to problem solve, navigate emotions and recuperate. 
Of note, this week’s Torah portion, Mikeitz, focuses upon dreams and Judaism’s most famous dreamer, Joseph. He was not only experienced in remembering his own dreams, but in interpreting the dreams of others. When he was a youth, he dreamed of being more powerful and authoritative than his siblings and even his father. This caused his brothers to hate him, sell him into slavery and create a cover story that he had been attacked and killed by wild animals.
Transported to Egypt, Joseph ultimately finds himself imprisoned. But even in this setting, he successfully interprets the dreams of Pharaoh’s officials and Pharaoh himself. This enables a two-fold result: Not only is Egypt able to prepare for a famine that will afflict the land, but Joseph rises to second in command under Pharaoh, in charge of food collection and distribution.
In this way, Joseph’s childhood dreams became a reality. And at the same time, through his taking action, he was able to interpret other people’s dreams to ensure the safety and security of an empire.
But as a result, I wonder how Joseph’s dreams for his future changed? Though now in a position of power, he lived far from home, completely separated from his father and family. Joseph responded by starting a new family. He married Asenath, an Egyptian, and they had two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. What dreams did he now have as a father? What dreams did he have for his children?
As all of us go through life and navigate both celebrations and tragedies, joys and pains, our dreams, hopes and expectations change. Most of this happens beyond our control. And like our brains dreaming at night, we are left to problem solve, navigate our intense emotions and recuperate. 
In this process, how often do we remain passive, hoping that everything will work out? How often do we choose to be active and take tangible steps to live life to the fullest and recover from the random challenges that we face? 
Speaking candidly, let me talk about the “American Dream.” From when I was a little kid, I was taught by parents, teachers and  politicians that with hard work, discipline and dedication, I would inevitably be more successful financially than the older generation. This came to feel like my birthright.
Not so fast. Forces, events and decisions beyond my control prevented this dream from coming true. But that being said, I am not asking for pity or sympathy. Millions of Americans can say the same thing. 
Through the years, I have responded by recalibrating my dreams, hopes and expectations for me and for my children. We have all persevered, and I am proud of how my family has responded to forces beyond our control to build a meaningful and hope-filled life.
I imagine that for all of us, some of our dreams may have been fulfilled, but some of our dreams had to be revamped if not even discarded. We never know with certainty what we will experience in the future. One way to navigate is not only to keep dreaming, but to keep working to fulfill our dreams, however much they may change.


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