essay_actor and science enthusiast Alan Alda discussed on NPR’s Science Friday his experience at the Harvard University Sleep Lab. The idea was for the researcher to wake Alda during his REM sleep and ask him about his dreams. Alda described a dream in which he was flying over Berlin in some kind of costume. The host of Science Friday joked that perhaps Alan Alda should have seen a psychiatrist. Alda spoke of his ongoing science project with 11-year-olds in which they ask scientists questions and judged them on the clarity of their response. This year’s the question is: “What is sleep?” I’ll suggest that Alda’s students follow up with a related question: “What is a dream?” or “What does it mean to dream?” If the scientist is up on her neuro-science, she might refer to a dream as neural dumping, the act of getting rid of the excesses of the day. If she has a penchant for TS Elliot’s poetry, the scientist might be more lyrical and refer to the “burnt-out ends of smoky days.” Understandably, the student jury might penalize her for waxing poetic. Dream theory has essentially reflected the science, biases and religions of the day. We know from the Bible that dreams were often seen as predictors or omens, often embedded in mythology. Later on the Catholic Church, especially in its various Councils in the Middle Ages and early Renaissance periods, outlawed any emblems of a personalized faith, including dreams, unapproved images, and symbols of the religious experience. Freud brought science to the dream space, even though he used mythological terms to explain his psychology. He gave us the Oedipal Complex and forever put eight people in the room when we are having sex.   Yes, sadly, that includes my grandparents. Carl Jung, Freud’s student, split with his teacher over what his considered an overly sexualized interpretation of dreams. To oversimplify, Jung considered dreams a compensation for what might have been unfinished or unstated during our daylight hours. The dream is how the unconscious talks to us. The messenger is the image. For Jung, everything starts with the image, which has a meaning and a morality. Psychologist James Hillman, who is considered post-Jungian, built on Jung’s thinking about the centrality and morality of the image. The dream is not to be squandered. In his “Healing Fiction” Hillman goes farther and suggests that these dream images can heal the psyche. But he also reminds us that we should take care not to let our egos take over this delicate dance. We don’t dream and explore dreams in service to art; we do this in service to psyche or soul. The healing will come from the inside. In some respects this preamble is an invitation to silence or at least a warning that one should approach dreams gingerly and not, as Hillman might suggest, “Kill the snake in the grass” before we allow a contemplation of dream imagery to move us to healing. So here I go. I had spent a few days with my brother in State College, PA, talking about that Catholic Church and the suppression of the feminine, a theme I return to often. On coming home I had a dream that seemed to enlarge the discussion with my brother and raised some uncomfortable questions. In short, I dreamt of a nude young woman, slightly turned away from the dreamer at a 45-degree angle. She fingered her long black hair. There was a hint of her left breast. The image seemed more contemplative than erotic. This dream imagery is similar to John Singer Sargent’s “Study from Sargent - RosinaLife” from 1891, a copy of which hangs in my bedroom. However, the Sargent version seems more Mediterranean, sexualized and coquettish than the figure in the dream space. On her very white left shoulder are what seem like imperfections; scars, marks or pimples. The dreamer takes note of these and is briefly repulsed before remembering that he has his own imperfections too. He senses that this insight is a little late. The woman retreats into what looks like a mural with other women. She has lost some of her beauty and charm. To the dreamer the woman seems anatomical. The scene shifts and the dreamer is elevated on some structure being circled by a mountain lion. The man throws small objects, such as pieces of wood, at the animal to no avail. The animal continues to circle and seems to disappear into the man’s shadow and devours him. The dreamer forces himself awake. He feels like he has been eaten alive. Both of them have a lot to learn about the feminine.