September 2003

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Dreams - The Wings of the Soul

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Volume 2, Number 9

Opinions presented in Metamorphosis are those of their respective authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of others associated with the newsletter.

 

Dreams - The Wings of the Soul

by Lisa Coates (BlueDove)

 

Dreams have long fascinated us. Although they are part of us, they reside in the furthermost, deepest recesses of our Selves - remaining faintly elusive to our awake minds. The wondrous awe that dreams inspire within us tantalizes our curiosity, like a misty apparition that’s forever changing form just beyond our grasp.

The possibilities are seemingly endless as to what our sleeping minds may conjure. We may surround ourselves with scenery more beautiful than ever envisioned by the awakened eye. We may explore worlds unimagined before, or experience manifestations so real to our dreaming “senses” that they linger onward into our morning rising with an intense vividness we cannot shake.



The Dream by Henri Rousseau, The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Complex scenarios entwine us in their webs. And somehow, magically, we all have this hidden potential within us to be the creative writers of countless plots. In dreams we so meld into the supernatural essence of ourselves that, devoid of earthly limitations, we may soar wingless through the sky or perform feats of strength far beyond the reality of our physical forms. As Hungarian poet János Arany put it, “In dreams and in love there are no impossibilities.”

But, why? Why do we dream and why does dreaming feel like real life, only different? These questions have intrigued people from ancient diviners through modern biologists. Poets and philosophers, religious thinkers and icons of astrophysics, psychologists and anthropologists - and anyone who ever had a dream - has probably pondered these points. Some, including inventor Thomas Edison and physicist Albert Einstein, built their science on the basis of visions in the night. Others, including the prophet Muhammad, produced sacred scriptures based on dreams.

The more common dreams tend to lend themselves to the more earthly and evolutionary explanations. Dreams of falling, many believe, are related to the subconscious collective memory of the primordial fear experienced by prehistoric humans, for whom survival was a daily challenge. Falling or jerking sensations during the earliest stages of sleep, then, may be an inborn defense to arouse the dreamer to awaken from a state in which he would become vulnerable to predators. Others offer a biological hypothesis that these phenomena, called “hypnic jerks,” occur when the muscles suddenly ease their tension and the brain interprets the rush of relaxation as feeling like falling, causing a person to momentarily clench his muscles to catch himself. Those dreams, they say, don’t occur during REM sleep and aren’t really dreams at all, just sleepy thoughts, sensations and reflex.

Yet, how may we so easily explain dreams of flying? Where does that experience come from? And how can it feel so real to us? The euphoric feeling of blissful freedom? The textural detail of the faraway ground? Could this be a pure sensation that we so intensely desire to feel, that it is sprung from the originality of our minds? Or could it be a pre-life memory that our soul carries through with us into this lifetime, subconsciously into our dreams?



A Dream of a Girl Before Sunrise by Karl Brulloff
The Pushkin Museum, Moscow.

And how may we explain the dreams that bring to us knowledge previously unknown? Psychic insights? Spirit-visits from the deceased? These dream themes are so common to humanity that if we ourselves haven’t experienced such dreams, we probably know of someone close to us who has.

We cannot dismiss the wondrous genius of the dreaming mind. Some of the most original thinkers of history were inspired by their dreams. Edison’s inventions and ideas were so greatly inspired by his dreams that he incorporated a sleeping ritual to incite the process. 

If he became perplexed with an idea he was brainstorming, he would lay metal plates down near the armchair where he napped. In each of his hands he would hold marbles, and as he fell asleep, thinking of whatever he needed insight on, one by one the marbles would fall, striking the metal plates and rousing him from slumber. He would then arise and write down what had come to him in his dreams.

Einstein was also a prolific dreamer. In his later years the much-acclaimed genius summoned the courage to admit to his conservative scientific peers that his Theory of Relativity was inspired from an amazing dream he dreamt during his adolescence. At that time in his life, he was doing very badly in school and his parents encouraged him to become a plumber, fearful of his possible future as a financial burden.

In the dream, young Albert was riding down a hill on a sled. As the sled accelerated faster and faster, it approached the speed of light and the stars above him began to distort, changing patterns and colors. He was dazzled by the beauty of their transformation and awoke with an intense desire to investigate what the dream could mean. He said, “In many ways my entire scientific career was an extended meditation on that dream.”

The collective reality of humanity was altered by one man’s dream!

It is no wonder that it is a very ancient belief that dreams are the realm of the soul, where the innermost divinity of our beings may freely commune with the wondrous dimensions that lie beyond the concrete and limited reality of our conscious selves.

From the earliest recorded dreams of Mesopotamia and Egypt, a religious link is evident, as dreams were believed to be messages received from the gods and goddesses the people worshipped. Among those worshipped was Serapis, the Egyptian God of Dreams. In the ancient Egyptian temples of Serapis there resided professional dream interpreters, known as “the learned men of the magic library,” who interpreted the dreams sent to them. Most often, the dreams were written down, and the writing was placed on a mummy’s mouth or in the mouth of a dead cat, as cats were considered sacred animals.

Chinese tradition has long considered dreams to be the product of the dreamer’s spiritual soul (hun), as distinct from the material soul (p’o). In this Chinese perception, the hun separates itself from the sleeping body for nighttime excursions to the land of the dead, where it can communicate with the souls of the dead and then return to the body with the dream memories of the visits. If the hun fails to return to the sleeping body before physical awakening, deadly consequences may ensue, which is why alarm clocks are approached with apprehension in many areas of China.

The spiritual significance of dreams is evident in the world’s most popular doctrines of religion. In the Bible, many of the events surrounding the birth and early years of Christ were announced in dreams. Jesus’ conception and also the instruction to name him Jesus came to Joseph in a dream. Christian history includes many references of direct inspiration and instruction to saints occurring in their dreams. Even the events surrounding Jesus’ death were influenced by a dream. Pilate’s wife, disturbed by a dream of the “just man,” Jesus, urged her husband to set him free, yet to no avail.



Jacob’s Dream - Raphael painted biblical scenes, like this one
of the patriarch Jacob dreaming, on the walls of the Vatican.

Perhaps even more amazing is the effect of dreams on the Quran, the sacred book of Islam. Muhammad’s divine mission came to him in a dream. In that dream he was guided by the Angel Gabriel through the seven celestial spheres of heaven. There he met Abraham, Joseph and Jesus, who declared him to be the greatest of all the prophets. Muhammad was presented with three full cups: one of wine, one of milk and one of honey. When he chose the cup of milk, Angel Gabriel congratulated him, and then they traveled through heaven to the throne of God. Much of the Quran was then revealed to Muhammad in dreams he dreamt over a period of several years.

Influential psychologist Carl Jung, describing such dreams of spiritual awakening and divine bliss, used the term “numinosity,” a word akin to luminosity, in that the latter comes from the Latin lumen, for light, and the former comes from Latin numen, for deity. Numinous dreams, Jung said, are the ones that “leave us feeling inspired or blessed, as if we have truly been in the presence of God.”

Could entire religions, therefore, have come into being through feelings of numinosity or through the true presence of God to a sleeping soul? So great is the unspoken faith in the magic of dreams that the plausibility that God may actually speak to one in a dream is accepted without much controversy. Perhaps it is the personal experience of our own dreams that make most of us aware that there is much more to the sleeping mind than mere entertainment or data processing. Our own dream experiences confirm to us the sacred impact on our souls within that realm.

Yet, are we dreaming the dream or is the dream dreaming us?

“Dreams are real while they are happening. Can we say any more about life?” wrote psychologist Havelock Ellis, offering another fascinating aspect to ponder about one’s dreams. Could waking life be the long dream - an intermediate excursion on a night’s sleep of an eternal Soul?

The French philosopher Blaise Pascal infused clarity into the abstraction of this concept, writing that “because our dreams are all different, and varied, what we see in them affects us much less than what we see when awake, owing to the continuity of the latter, though that is not so constant and equable as never to change: but it does so less abruptly, except in some remarkable cases, as when travelling, and then we say, ‘Methinks I am dreaming’; for life is a dream, a little more regular than other dreams.”

He believed that because our lives are so regular to us, whereas dreams are so varied, the illusion is created that our lives cannot be the dream; regularity of daily “life” being the deciding factor that grounds us into perceiving it as the ever-present reality.

But numerous cultures cherish a belief that we are simultaneously beings who dream and beings who are dreamt. The Australian Aboriginal people believe that the present is the manifestation of a “dream-time” of the past; therefore, the past and present exist simultaneously as dreams that are continually unfolding from each other.

In Hinduism, the unreality of this world is referred to as maya, and mythologically maya is represented by the image of the Hindu deity Vishnu who dreams the dream that is this world.

To the Native American Indian Yuma tribe, dreams are the basis of all religion, tradition and shamanic power. They are believed to begin before birth, and are therefore considered more real than the waking life.

The English novelist Gerald Bullet wrote quite eloquently of a similar feeling: “In my childhood I conceived the notion that we live, each one of us, a double life … Sleeping and waking I supposed to be not two processes but two aspects of the same process. To fall asleep ‘here’ is to wake ‘there.’ My head sinks gratefully into the pillow, and the world dissolves; and at that very moment, on another plane or planet, I rub my waking eyes and begin a new day, resuming, without thought or sense of strangeness, the life in which my sleep - my waking life here - has been a quiescent interval.”

So astounding it is to think that nightly we close our eyes and - without effort or seeking - we may drift away from the mundane routine of our daily lives into fantastic visions that could remain in our memories for a lifetime and perhaps even further, beyond our wildest imaginings. So moved and inspired we may be that we yearn to create a life that is lived as purely and as freely as our dreams - desiring to carry with us the immense magic that is attainable in dream’s realms, where unexplainable knowings flow forth to us from a pure, endless stream.

As our bodies lay motionless, we are transported effortlessly to the most inner and outer dimensions of our beings. And so, it seems, where time and reality end, is where we begin.

References and Inspirations:

The Secret Language of Dreams by David Fontana
Our Dreaming Mind by Robert L. Van De Castle, Ph.D.
The Dream Encyclopedia by James R. Lewis
Dreams That Come True by David Ryback, Ph.D., with Letitia Sweitzer