Most of the time, I don’t have the sort of dreams that make the slightest bit of sense or relate to anything going on in my life at the time. But last night, I dreamed about one of my dogs. It was like I walked into a room, and all of my dogs jumped down off the bed to greet me, and when they did, I saw he had been lying behind them, hidden in the covers. I whispered hoarsely, “Hey, big bear (one of his dozens of nicknames), where have you been? Come here, buddy.” He laid his ears back like he did when he was happy, mouth wide in a dog-smile, wagging and starting to get up. Then I was suddenly awake in the dark, heart jackhammering in my chest, breath hitching in my throat, eyes brimming with tears.

What is it about dreams that make them feel so much more real than any other kind of abstract thought? How do they connect so much more strongly with emotions? I’ve thought about him countless times since he died, but there’s always been a slight awareness of the difference between memories and immediate experience that acts as a barrier, keeping me from feeling completely overwhelmed with sensations. As upsetting as it can be to spend time reflecting, I’m always aware that I am reflecting; it never resonates as if I’m literally seeing him in front of me again. I’ve thought about him enough since then that I can usually cover all that ground again without getting too upset, but this still haunts me and leaves me with that gut-punched feeling all over again.
Dreams cast such a shadow over your mind in a way that conscious thought doesn’t. It’s even stranger, given how fragmented and surreal they often are. What’s going on in the brain when we’re asleep that accounts for the difference? What is it exactly that consciousness does to keep all those intense emotions under a tight lid when we’re awake? I’ve never read much of anything about it before, so I’m just wondering.