"I don't dream [very often]." Many have used this phrase, and most are wrong in doing so. The vast majority of people enter into the signature REM sleep which twists fantasies in front of the mind's eye - however, the nuerophysiology of this sleep state deactivates the short-term memory, rendering the imagery unlikely to be remembered unless A) one wakes up in the middle or B) the subject matter has more to do with the long term memory storage, thus creating associative patterns with an anchor.
In my case, I have a non-specific (meaning the medical profession is currently unable to diagnose the cause for) sleep disorder, causing multiple waking episodes during the night - a couple dozen, in fact. Consciousness is not well formed in these instances, such that I do not remember them and did not know about them until they were on the readout in front of me (though I've long felt the resultant crippling fatigue). This disturbs my REM, fracturing it into brief spikes scattered across the night. Without contiguance, it's exceptionally rare for me to catch anything from this alternate realm of imagination.
This is the reason why, when I do catch something, it becomes very meaningful for me as a sign of both normalcy and perhaps a poignant glimpse into my own nature.
One of the dream themes I've encountered is attempting to rank in a beautiful dojo of deadly arts. Imperial Chinese construction with Japanese themes, the dojo is a combination of interior and exterior settings - the most memorable of which is a stone courtyard with large vibrant-red pillars supporting a translucent sun-roof over the open walls. Surrounded with beautifully tended garden landscape the setting belies the intention - that I am there to die, or by preventing that demise aspire to new heights.
Coming to this place has meant the vanquishing of many an opponent in lower ranks and less extreme circumstances. It is now, in facing an advocate of the O-Sensei Sama (generically, meaning "The Master", not the actual O-Sensei Sama of Howard O. Davis of Kishindo with which I am acquainted in waking-space), that I am to prove whether I have truly owned and embodied the wisdom and strength of the art or be destroyed - or at least broken and sent away from the grown-up table, to rebuild myself and try again. I do not believe I have ever faced the mythical master of the place - it doesn't feel like it, at any rate, and that's enough for me to call it fact in this pretense.
Still "a" Master though, and the combat is dreadfully fierce. The subconscious, which has been a more keen and uninhibited observer of physicality than myself, aids the conjuring of this ultra-real and yet impossible choreography. The feel of bone against bone, the minor yield of toned muscle under blows, and the intense production of adrenaline to move ever faster and more powerfully, are all beautifully and viscerally presented in the lucid experience.
The battle has never concluded. Or at least, the war has not - many battles have been waged. I have dreamed in this wise several times over the last half-dozen years that I can recall.
The meaning to me is easily apparent: I fear that I am potentially weak in both my convictions and my personal or professional skills, or that my best effort may be appraised as weakness by others. To overcome this insecurity I apply (a perhaps unhealthy) vigilance to excel so that even if I am still just winging it, I'm the best at doing so and can stand vindicated having conquered the challenge. The hidden master driving this event is most likely myself.
However, 2 nights ago: the end of the first day of my vacation after an unpleasant string of near all-nighters at work, the context of the dream changed. It was not in the beautiful dojo, but more mundane but unrecognizable circumstance. The setting's conflict was no longer an honorable battle to prove personal self worth, but a literal and direct challenge of my worthiness as an individual - a question of, "Do you deserve to be here?" The Master presenting the challenge was not the typical distant figure veiled in mystery, but a real individual with whom I now work directly - an adversary, but not a master of any principles to which I subscribe. I did not attack (which has always been at least a nice back-and-forth in the typical scenario). I was instead being presented challenges to overcome.
In one, I was told to slay a ferocious beast - cat-like, probably a panther of sorts but light in color. I was given directly as a resource a half-skeletonized carcass (which also appeared catlike, and was blue). Which was, for some reason, still alive though a portion of the pelvic structure was exposed and looked sun-bleached. This was delivered to me in an open-topped cardboard box, covered in an lacy (large, open holes in the design) small white throw-blanket. My first order was to dispatch the miserable creature to put it out of its misery - I drew my sword (Japanese katana, single edged and slightly curved blade), and holding it point-outstretched with the blade up found a good insertion point between the ribs and lightly slid the blade into the body to destroy lungs and heart. Gruesome, but merciful in the dream. Probably in real life, too.
The target beast came and attacked the carcass after I stood back. I probed for an attack, still holding the blade in an up-turned thrust position, but could not feel comfortable with any of the vectors I could manage, so turned to a downward cut. Almost a chop, really - I wouldn't get close enough for a traditional draw-cut (the maneuver which leverages the curve and from which the legendary cutting power of the katana emanates), so only the very outer length of the blade was used. The animal was also low to the surface (this was, I believe, taking place on a bed at this point for some odd reason) so I didn't have much follow-through. This led to an only slightly injured and subsequently frightened and very angry large animal with many pointy bits.
I should mention here that throughout this I am completely un-armored.
I had not withdrawn from my initial cut, and so leaned deeply on the sword and began to saw. The cat was crouched onto its left shoulder, ears flattenend and mouth wide in fighting flight. It could not bring its right forepaw around for batting attack before the cut began to find purchase and blood flowed freely out as the wound widened and neck began to separate. During this last portion I either transposed feeling with the animal (which really did contain no sentience) or became aware of its physical sensations in an extra sensory fashion, because I felt that vibrant unfettered life drain darkly away into a cold black fog of unfeeling - and then gone.
I turned away from the scene and proceeded about the area. There are a few other informational encounters as I do so, though I do not now remember what they revealed. I simply remember talking with others, and occasionally wondering what the next battle with the actual adversary was going to be like, remembering the honorable encounters from dreams (reality, here) past. I met with my wife, and was speaking with her when her eyes reacted to something behind me and she began to make a sound (which I for some reason associate with an "O" or "oo" sound, even though it was not quite uttered). At this same time my surreal senses became aware of this Adversary descending on me (through the air) with his similar sword drawn and held vertically in front of his body in a descending slice. This would cleave me cleanly in half if not countered.
I drew my sword from my back over the right shoulder and spun to hold it also vertically in front of me, though higher - the base of the blade at collarbone height - and slightly angled back toward me in a defensive posture. While doing this I spun to face him, all in the smallest fraction of an instant.
In the physical world, I had been sleeping turned mostly faced down, and during the dream here awoke spinning counter-clockwise onto my back whilst bringing my hands down in front in the same high-on-guard defensive position. This was just before the moment of impact between the blades.
I lay there facing the ceiling with my heart pounding from the sudden endocrine surge, thinking equal parts about the dream which had led to the reaction, how cool the reaction itself was (for a somewhat pasty and currently very out-of-shape Software Development Director to still have some ninja-esque reflexes), and noting that I had never been awoken in such fashion. I've had a few little foot-jerks or something here and there to stop me from stumbling - basically other purely reflexive actions - but nothing out of a combat setting. I was a little geeked out thinking about the underlying neuroscience and psychology, and feeling pretty cool about my bad/wicked (derivative of jazz "bad" = "cool") performance.
The new meaning is also apparent. Though my adversary inhabits a position I respect, I do not maintain trust for him directly and see the requested challenges as a compromise of my personally important virtues despite being able to fulfill them.
This is something I've noticed about dreams: they'll tell me what I feel, but not what to do about it. This offers good feminine-style commiseration and validation, but none of the masculine-style immediate "plan of action." I feel a confirmation of previously vague and unexpressed emotion, but I have no idea what to do about it.
It's something I'll have to ponder on the remainder of my vacation.