Sunday, December 11, 2011


     When I was about six years old, I had my first flying dream. In the dream, I was wearing a red Swiss dot scarf and my plaid Catholic school uniform, and when I climbed on top of a log, which served as a car stop in my school's parking lot, I began to levitate. It was wonderful. I just sort of hovered vertically, with my arms slightly spread to the side, feeling very content, and no one seemed to notice that I was in up in the air. Over the years, I've re-experienced the dream, but the way in which I fly has become much more complex. My flying now involves a running start, and I have to gather momentum before becoming airborne. It's no longer a passive thing. I start running as fast as I can in a straight line, and once I reach maximum speed, I'm able to lift off. There is also a wind requirement. If I haven't achieved enough momentum or the wind isn't right, the initial upward thrust is shaky, and I end up back on the ground. If the conditions are favorable, I gradually ascend, until I'm soaring over trees and houses with my arms straight in front of me, and it is exhilarating. I'm aware that people now notice me when I'm flying, but don't seem to perceive it as something peculiar. It's less than a super-power, it's just something I can do.
     Not everyone experiences flying dreams. Those who do usually find them pleasant and liberating: they are thought to symbolize a strong will, a sense of freedom, personal empowerment, or an expansion of one's consciousness. According to both psychologists and psychics, they fall under the category of lucid dreams, in which a person becomes aware of the fact he or she is dreaming, and can actually manipulate the dream's structure or have an out-of-body experience. The act of flying tends to feel natural and intuitive to the dreamer, even though as humans, we're not capable of flight. People report different types of dream-flying: Superman style, pedaling, flapping, swimming, and vertical levitation, with each carrying its own significance. Historically, psychologists have differed widely in their interpretation of flying dreams. Sigmund Freud felt they represented sexual release, Carl Jung thought they signified a desire to overcome a limitation, and Alfred Adler believed they indicated a desire for superiority or domination. Ancient mystic cultures and religions, such as Native Americans, the Babylonians, Hindus, and Tibetan Buddhists, associate dreams of flying with astral projection, or a light body which is capable of leaving our bodies while we sleep (or meditate), and is part of the pathway to enlightenment. Likewise, Edgar Cayce, an American psychic and dream interpreter, considered flying dreams to be forms of astral projection, in addition to signaling the onset of lucidity.
     One of the rarest and most beautiful sights in the operating room is the patient who quietly emerges from anesthesia with both arms slowly rising overhead, as if he or she is flying. I've personally witnessed this only three or four times, and it is always dramatic and fascinating. These patients wake up peacefully, almost as if they are having some sort of religious experience. Dreaming under anesthesia, a poorly understood phenomenon, is a source of great controversy among experts in my field. It typically occurs in two forms, near-miss awareness and recovery dreaming, both of which have been demonstrated to occur under relatively deep levels of anesthesia. Near-miss awareness dreams are similar to sleep paralysis, and fortunately, are quite rare. Recovery dreaming, which is more common and tends to occur during emergence from an anesthetic, is usually reported as a pleasant experience. This type of dreaming is thought to result from the resolution of drug-induced hypnosis with a concomitant entry into physiologic sleep. Even today, the mechanisms of our anesthetics continue to be elucidated, and we still don't know exactly how anesthesia "works." Those of us who administer anesthesia endeavor fervently to prevent these dream-like states from occurring at all. Even so, it's still intriguing to wonder if my "flying" patients are dreaming, and if so, whether they are experiencing some sort of spiritual revelation, an answer to a prayer, or the incredible sense of freedom that comes with transcendence.

Dreaming During Anesthesia and Anesthetic Depth in Elective Surgery Patients: A Prospective Cohort Study
Flying Dreams  I
Flying Dreams II
Meaning of Flying Dreams
The Portable Dream Dictionary
A Buddhist Approach to Dreams 


  1. This is right down my alley, as you know! I tend to be Jungian in my basic way of seeing or experiencing flying dreams and very much love Edgar Cayce. Adler intrigues me as his theory is always that everything in life or dreams is about getting control. I don't think this is it, but perhaps a part of our primitive nature cannot escape some aspect of this. I personally experience astral projection (this is similar to a lucid dream or a flying dream, but there is a starkness and a consciousness that is so sharp, it is third eye seeing in the most intense way. Rather than flying, it is more a sensation of being pulled along as if by some invisible magnet. And you KNOW you are awake, but even more so, you know you are truly somewhere else, as you see everything extremely clearly. Upon waking, you may still have your eyes closed, but may be only an inch or so away from the ceiling. The sharpest details of the ceiling become obvious. This is a strange but wonderful experience. I recently ordered Eldon Taylor's cd on astral projection as I'd like to explore it even more. Bit by bit! But these flying dreams (I've also had them since childhood and am intrigued by the multiple meanings and purposes they give us, but more so by the feeling in the pure experience of it). Thanks for a wonderful post about a fascinating subject. I wish SOMEONE (maybe Dr. Kris Mazur?) would write about what does happen to people during anesthesia and accounts of what people are able to say after surgery about what they experienced, or what nurses and doctors witness.

  2. i am fascinated by the concept of chakras, and intend to learn much more about them, especially the third eye. a related topic, which i will explore in a later post, concerns patient POD (premonition of death) in the pre-operative period. this is a well documented phenomenon with which most anesthesiologists and surgeons have had some experience.