Friday, January 28, 2011

Dream Journal: A recurring dream

Last night, I had one of these recurring dreams that I have from time to time. I notice that I tend to have them more when I am going through periods of transition. I'm not going to talk now about what this transition is that I'm going through right now; I believe in telling things in the right place, at the right time. I'll just focus on relating the dream (or at least as much of it as I can remember) for now.

Before I actually relate the dream, I need to tell you a couple of things about my life in order for the dream to make sense to you. I don't usually talk very much about this part of my life (you'll soon see why), but you really need a few facts to make sense of my dream. So here goes. Between the ages of 17 to 18, I went to this very nice and prestigious junior college in Singapore ( I was born and grew up in Singapore). I suppose this would be the equivalent of the last two years of high school in the United States. The thing is, one who attends such a junior college is expected to, at the very least, make it to college. In fact, many people who graduate from this junior college end up getting very prestigious scholarships to attend top universities around the world (Harvard, Stanford, Oxford, you name it). Due to certain emotional and psychological issues that I was struggling with at the time, I only did just barely well enough to make it to the local university, which was deemed to be very disgraceful in that kind of environment.

In such an intensely competitive academic environment, it wasn't good enough that one gets good grades. One was also expected to have a stellar record of participation in extra-curricular activities. Some people fulfill this expectation by being on the track team or the debate team, or the drama society. Others sing in the choir. But serving in the Students' Council (I suppose they call it Student Government in this country) is widely regarded to be the most prestigious extra-curricular activity. The kids who were in Student Council were widely regarded to be the cool kids who always knew what they were doing, who could somehow get stellar grades while (1) partying like crazy, (2) spending ridiculous amounts of time working on Student Council projects.

By some fluke, I actually got into the Students' Council. Well, actually, it's probably not entirely fair to call it a fluke: I do have a pretty good speaking voice, and what was considered to be some fairly impressive public speaking skills; as far as I'm concerned, this basically consists of having the ability to walk up to a big group of people, open my mouth, and say what's on my mind (more or less) without quaking. Which, to most young people in this country, is no big deal. But I don't think I'm generalizing by too much when I say that to most Asians, being brought up in relatively socially conservative environments, having such a skill is kind of... unusual. How did I acquire such a skill? Long story (for another post). For now, I'll just continue with the present story.

So, coming back to the present story: I originally had no intention to run for the Student Council, but one day, the out-going president of the student council came to our class, and gave a big pep talk about how it is so important to serve one's school, and all that bull. Of course, I was young, impressionable and gullible enough to believe and get fired up by all that. So I put my name on the ballot, told a few friends I was running, and did very little (actually, almost no) campaigning. The only thing that helped me to win was my ability to think and speak on my feet. During election day, there was a Q&A session for all the candidates; I was able to put this ability to good(?) use, did what I thought was a very decent job of answering in complete sentences whatever questions were fired at me. And, lo and behold, I got elected. At least, I can't think of any other reason why people would care to vote for me.

The next year and a half in junior college was sheer hell. Unlike my fellow student councillors, I had neither the ability nor the interest to get good grades while partying and socializing a lot and spending ridiculous amounts of time on Student Council projects. But being the young, impressionable person that I was, I tried to go along with things anyway. So I partied and socialized quite a bit, neglected schoolwork, and partied and socialized some more, which led me to neglect my work even more. My grades suffered, which caused me much distress, which caused me to not put a lot of effort into student council projects. Which led my fellow councillors to see me as a slacker with an attitude problem. The worst thing was, I was unwilling to get out of the situation by quitting the student council, because I had this weird sense of moral/professional obligation: I felt that since I had been elected to serve my fellow students, I had to stick it out to the bitter end somehow. Which was, of course, bull. And which only contributed to the downward spiral that I was in. Eventually, my parents decided that some "intervention" was in order, and they made me quit anyway. I had just enough time to get my academic act together, and did just barely well enough to make it into the university.

Wow, that's a lot to be saying just to set you up to understand what my dream was about, isn't it? So, as I was saying, this was such a terrible part of my younger life, that I still have nightmares about it. Last night's dream was one such nightmare. So in the dream, I was kind of back in junior college. I say "kind of", because in this dream, the reality of my present waking life and the past had somehow been jumbled and mixed together. In the dream, I was physically my present self. I knew that I have a PhD and am a college philosophy professor. But somehow, I needed to go back to that junior college and retake some classes (why? I don't know. But dreams are strange like that...) So I was back in junior college, retaking those classes. And somehow, somebody had put me on the ballot for the upcoming Student Council election without my knowledge. Oh no, not that same thing all over again, I thought to myself. And then, it was election day, and I found myself sitting in the main plaza of the college with this girl whom I used to work pretty closely with on Student Council projects. We were sitting there waiting for the election results to come up on this big jumbotron screen. And there it was: I had been elected again. A few friends came over to congratulate and chat with me. I found myself worrying about how I was going to fit my studies and my morning ashtanga practice into the crazy schedule of Student Council activities. I can't remember what happened after that. But I do remember having this terrible feeling of free-floating anxiety/depression just before I woke up ("what the hell's the use of having a PhD and teaching philosophy at a university if I still have to go back and take courses at that stupid junior college?!"). And then, thankfully, I woke up.

Gosh... I'm so glad I do yoga, and have my morning practice to look forward to.             


  1. Wow! I totally empathize with your anxiety. I was in the Students' Council too (how gullible were we??), but because I wasn't in a top JC, I bet the pressure wasn't anywhere close to what you faced. It sounds like you went through a nervous breakdown of sorts by trying to live up to the prevailing social expectations of a 'well-rounded student', and to not only achieve *all* the goals that were set in front of you, but to exceed them. Perhaps this recurring dream is your subconscious' way of helping you to get over it? At least now you can wake up and go 'it's just a bad dream' :)

  2. @savasanaaddict, Greetings, fellow former student councillor :-) I like to think you are right that "this recurring dream is [my] subconscious' way of helping you to get over it." That part of my life is like a psychological/emotional black hole; it feels like I just kept putting things out, and whatever I put out just kind of got sucked into this big void.

  3. I have a recurring dream of waking up in cold sweat finding out there's an exam that day that I forgot to study for, or an assignment due that I had not finished yet. It's strange how these things still haunt us after they don't really matter any more eh?

    Perhaps one day we'll be able to have these dreams again, but remain chill *while we're still dreaming*.

  4. Yyogini, I have had those dreams too. The general feeling I get from these dreams is the same as my recurring dream in this post: There's always a sense that something needs to be done urgently, and an anxiety that arises from not having/not being able to do them.

    Yes, it would be very nice to be able to have these dreams and be chill at the same time :-)