I dream a lot, or rather I remember many of them, on average about three a week; sometimes in great detail, other times merely as fragments. In 1991 I began keeping a dream journal written from notes dictated as soon as I awoke; the journal is not used for any form of analysis, it merely serves as a record, and some of the influences are obvious.
My dreams are on the whole extremely vivid, without exception in colour and stereophonic sound (I only learned recently that some people dream in black-and-white, which must be strange), sometimes there is a sense of smell, and always a full tactile sense, and whilst I've had what might be called lucid dreams where my dream-self knows she is in a dream, I've also had her dreaming of another dream-self and then waking up (sometimes when her dream-self is killed), so my real self experiences a false awakening. Sometimes this can spill over into real life, and only a few months ago I awoke one morning from a dream of a hooded figure directly in front of me, emanating an aura of evil which left me with an intense feeling of dread, but when I opened my eyes the shape was still there, and moving slightly! I admit I felt a moment's panic, but then I opened my eyes properly and saw to my amusement that it was my own wrist and hand on the pillow beside my face, slightly in shadow and slightly out of focus even though I'm short-sighted, with my curled fingers representing the hood of the otherwise invisible character.
So, what do I think dreams are? My personal theory, which is not entirely unique, is that it is the memory's way of breaking down experiences into component parts, cross-referencing them to previous experiences, and doing so over and over again until the simplest, minimal image or other sensory experience is encountered — a type of recursive fragmentation. That's why, unless people have been trained, they have difficulty in remembering things in a linear fashion — it's always by association. I think this also accounts for the shifting point of view — the memories are personal to begin with and seen from the viewpoint of a dream-self representing the real self, then as they become more fragmented and compartmentalised they are seen objectively, as if by an observer, though both of these can and do occur together, resulting in a dichotomy which may be confusing and even frightening if it isn't accepted and enjoyed. Also, because dream-images are valid memories in their own right, they can be incorporated into other dreams, and fleeting images remain in the back of one's mind for weeks or months afterwards.
As a child I suffered from terrible nightmares that always took place soon after I'd gone to sleep, and always assumed the same form: I'd be falling down a never-ending tunnel composed of what seemed to be very dark, almost black clouds, and I would be utterly paralysed by a heavy emotion, unable even to cry out and certainly not able to move my limbs (my dream-self's limbs, that is). As I grew, these terrors receded and were slowly replaced by dreams of flying; at first I would be walking and then take a long, slow jump, and within a few months I could change my direction in mid-jump. From there I developed a skill similar to those found in many comic stories and could fly like them (though without any inside-out clothing or cloak which would only have acted as drogue chute), and did so for many years, evolving to a state where I could control every aspect of my flight - I even managed to perfect loop-the-loops, though this took a couple of years, for at the beginning I suffered from vertigo (as I do a little in real life) at the top and lost control, then when I'd mastered that became afraid of not pulling up in time and hitting the ground, but that never happened. This slowly changed into its present form where I simply drift (sometimes with control, other times not), and all I need to do is bend forward into the slightest breeze and it lifts me up, though as these are dreams I actually fly into the wind rather than being pushed back by it, as should happen. At the same time as these dreams of flying, I'd dream of running effortlessly, either through streets or along a shore, but it was neither a flight from something nor pursuit of an unattainable goal: I simply ran tirelessly because I could, and was exhilarated by it, and as I moved faster and faster it was so natural to lean forward and reach down to push at the ground with my hands, eventually running on all-fours, initially alternating limbs (in a fluid motion, not the ungainly lurching that would result from a human attempting such a thing), then using front and back legs in pairs to achieve tremendous speed, like a cheetah.
During the past decade or so, there has been a strange devolution of the flying, passing through a long stage where I could make very long slow and low jumps as I almost drifted to my destination, yet still I could change direction in mid-flight if I wanted, to the current situation where I am entirely earth-bound and have to drag myself along. My body apparently has no legs, and neither is my torso in contact with the ground, so the only way I'm able to progress is to reach out my arms and claw at the edges of paving stones or cobbles or anything my fingertips can grasp, all of which requires tremendous effort and concentration.
Regarding another type of dream, where someone is almost awake but unable to move, and afflicted by a heavy sensation bearing down on them, I also experience those, usually the hypnopompic (awaking from sleep) type. However, despite as much (if not more) exposure to the modern icons of 'greys' and flying saucers (which were actually described by Kenneth Arnold as flying like saucers as if they were skimming over a lake, for his drawings were of crescent-shaped craft), my liking of programmes such as the early X-Files (despite its overwhelming anti-science attitude) and my own fantasy life which manifests itself by writing stories of other parallel worlds, my personal experiences are always in the form of 'heavy'/oppressive emotion rather than feelings of external physical movement (and usually occur when I'm slightly too warm in bed).
I have often awoken almost sobbing, my throat constricted, and occasionally there have been tears due to the intensity of emotion, but the accompanying images are usually of either or both my parents (both died a few years ago within eighteen months of one another) and the loss I still feel for them (for a fraction of a second I've believed so much that they were still alive, had gone away for a time only to return, that the grief I felt upon realising they were dead still hit me with a tremendous force), or of myself being in unidentified locations containing exaggerated elements which in isolation can be traced directly to my own life experiences, and there is no time limit to these elements — they may be from as little as three days ago or as long as thirty years ago. Sometimes they are even based on other dreams or things which I have described (whether vaguely or in great detail) in my own stories: in other words I'm remembering something that has never happened (sound familiar?). Despite this rich fantasy element in my life, I know I can't be hypnotised simply because I don't believe in it — it's nothing more than a role-playing game, especially when so-called entertainment has people behaving like furniture or animals.
Lastly, the current theory for the ever-increasing number of people who claim to have been abducted by UFOs is based on varying forms of sleep-paralysis and hallucination, and the imagined incidents being based on expected stereotypes which of course have their origin in popular culture. Studies (which naturally only appear in the specialist 'sceptical' media such as Skeptical Inquirer published by CSICOP) have shown that these are not new phenomena, for what are now UFOs and aliens were once, even before World-War One, airships and strange-looking foreigners, and before that, incubi and succubi or angels and the light of heaven: each culture and time created their own myths based on available technology with a little imagination added to spice things up and make it threatening. What was once demonic possession and speaking in tongues is now wrapped up in pseudo-scientific jargon as Multiple Personality Disorder, with 'alter' personalities coming to the fore during hypnosis (another example of one dubious technique being used to supposedly rationalise another); unfortunately, more than one parapsychologist has had patients taking on attributes of 'alters' from other patients, which only demonstrates the power of suggestion and the tricks of parapsychology.
As a parting shot, let me say that, as the poster says "I want to believe", and I do, but in what? I believe that, just as humanity dragged itself out of the last dark-ages, we will survive the coming dark-ages: a time of increasing religious fanaticism and mass mis-information, for though we are far more knowledgeable than our predecessors of a few thousand years ago, I doubt we are any more intelligent (the 'guests' and equally over-weight emotionally crippled audiences on, for example, Ricki Lake's 'expose your soul' sob-shows are a fine example), and just as easily mis-led by half-truths and outright lies made by those who want to further their own political agendas or simply massage their ego. I accept that statistically there are more than likely alien cultures on other planets in our galaxy and beyond who have reached a technology equal to or exceeding our own, but that has nothing to do with thinking they have visited us in the past and are continuing to do so now, and if on a purely statistical basis 10% of people claim to have been abducted (as is the case in some parts of America) then why haven't the neighbours noticed? Oops, there goes another one! I believe Humanity as a race, a concept, will survive by ingenuity and where necessary adaptation (even if in extreme cases as described in James Blish's The Seedling Stars), and reach the stars. Why? Because I believe in life, and the life we have, no matter it seems so short to us, has only the meaning we give it — if you feel it is empty, meaningless, and without purpose, then it will be, and no amount of wishing for a better 'after-life' will change that.