The Knowledge of Dreams

It appears like birth.

A vaulted passageway in Belize.

I’ve been lost in a dreamscape all day. Sometimes, our subconscious dredges up dream images that won’t let us go. These are the dreams we need to write down before we forget the details because our inner compass is, in the guise of sleep, attempting to guide us. The way our subconscious minds pull up relevant images is no less than amazing; it’s as though we’re divided beings with our knowledge split into what is useful for our waking hours, and then everything else. A lifetime–however long that lifetime has been at any point on the time line–brings in copious quantities of information. If all that knowledge were available in our conscious minds all the time, would we be crazy?

Last night, I dreamed that I was ready to embark on my first engineering project. I had it in mind to build a waterworks in my backyard. Backyard is a convenient term because I don’t actually have one. Rather, my house is surrounded by a plot of land. So this waterworks could be as large as I wanted it to be. At first, I considered using the shells of old hot tubs, but decided it would be more pleasant to use smooth, flat river rocks. In the end, I created what appeared to be elaborate Roman baths. When I showed my handiwork to my husband, he asked me where the water would outflow. It was then that I showed him what was at the base of the stone walls: four cantilever arches. I proceeded to describe to him, in detail, how I had built the cantilever arches.

Next, my dream mind worried about how to keep water in. I plugged up the arches as a stopgap measure, but knew I would need to find a permanent way to dam them up when I wanted the water in the baths. I had, throughout my dream, watched myself swimming peacefully in the cool, sky-colored bathwater. Being submerged was the point of the baths. I didn’t exactly solve this central problem in my dream. Of more importance to me, when I woke, was how my subconscious mind knew how to build cantilever arches and why I would build them at the base of Roman baths.

If somebody had asked me the day before, while going about my conscious tasks, to build a cantilever arch, I wouldn’t have had a clue how to begin. I would have attempted to determine, by understanding the meaning of cantilever, what such an arch is. Then I would have sneaked over to Google to find out more. As it turns out, a cantilever arch is one that has been corbeled on the sides. It’s not considered a true arch because not all the stress becomes compressed. Therefore, it isn’t self-sustaining, but relies on thick walls and an abutment for support. This was exactly how they were done in my dream. In fact, the walls of the baths were magically much thicker than they’d been a moment before my husband had asked me about outflow.

This type of arch was used frequently in ancient architecture; however, the Romans typically used “true” arches, and would have almost certainly used “true” arches in aqueducts. The Romans were, in fact, known for their use of arches. My dream arches didn’t appear as Roman. Rather, they did, indeed, have the distinct look of ancient corbeled arches, made from stone, and narrowing at the top. So what does it all mean? It means my sleeping mind knows things my conscious mind doesn’t; it means my subconscious is looking to an ancient framework for guidance–first to the ancient Romans, and then to even more ancient civilizations, as indicated by corbeled arches found in Egyptian pyramids and Mayan structures.

At times, I wish I could fall asleep and dream all the time, just so I can mine my brain to find whatever it is I know that I don’t know. Sadly, forcing these types of dream revelations is impossible for me. I have a peculiarly bad track record of directing my dreams. My subconscious mind is, apparently, stubborn. On the other hand, writing can operate on the same level as dreams, and often more consciously. It often brings to the fore subconscious symbols that resonate both with the reader and the writer. This is probably a good place to stop because I’m guest-blogging at Kat Heckenbach’s next week, and the subject is story symbolism.



  1. It’s ironic you write this today because I too was lost in a dreamscape after a troubled journey down Acheron that bypassed Lethe altogether.

    1. Did you really travel down Acheron in your dream? I’d be sort of irritated w/ my subconscious for being so smart w/ me in the midst of pain.

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