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Posts Tagged ‘lucid dreaming’

millais somnambulistDon’t worry, I know there’s nothing more boring than listening to an account of someone else’s dreams. Our own dreams interest us of course, but then I think they’re meant to. Me? I take them as the surface of a sea of unconscious currents upon which the vessel of my ego floats. It’s a temperamental vessel, at times leaky, and it has a tendency to become unstable in stormy weather, skittering all over the place, lacks ballast perhaps, or sufficient steerage. Reading ones’ dreams then is like listening to the shipping forecast – you know when to venture far out into calm water, and when to put back into safe harbour.

Or maybe not. Dreams are funny things.

We seem to get by well enough if we pay them no attention. Indeed to analyse them sometimes only confuses us, and we’re taught by the materialists to forget them anyway, even though materialists have no more idea than you or I what dreams are, exactly, or if they’re important,… or not.

If we pay them no heed, we forget them on waking, perhaps even lending the impression to some they do not dream at all. But everyone dreams, every night, if we remember or not. Dreams can be embarrassing, frightening, or simply puzzling. They can have us waking with feelings of foreboding, or regret, or a deep bliss, or even with the cryptic understanding of the answer to a question we’ve not asked yet.

I suspect anything that affects our emotions should be taken seriously, because emotions influence our physical well-being too. Thus an awareness of one’s dream life can lend insight and depth to one’s waking reality. We must take care though not to allow the ego to get wound up when the dream turns its back on us, when it becomes inscrutable to analysis.

Sometimes dreams are subtly nuanced, contain no obvious nuggets of meaning, as if in our dream life we sometimes simply tread water. Sometimes there is meaning aplenty, messages we can take back with us into the waking world. And these messages will speak to our emotions, speak of balance.

To remember our dreams, we simply ask it of that inner part of ourselves before we sleep, and eventually, we rediscover the trick of keeping hold of them, otherwise they leak away on waking. But even then there is a strangeness to these kept dreams. My journal is filled with accounts of dreams I no longer remember, as if even once firmly recounted and committed to print, there is a sell by date on them, and when we read them back, perhaps a year later, it is like reading the dream of a stranger.

Not all dreams are like that, and perhaps the ones that aren’t are the ones of most importance to us, even though we do not know why.

Freud talks of dreams as wish fulfilment, and its true I have experienced many a fulfilment in the dreaming that was denied me in waking life – whether this be compensatory or not I do not know, but also what is denied in life, I spend a deal of time chasing fruitlessly in dreams as well, so the dream also mirrors, or caricatures waking reality oftentimes to a cruel degree.

On waking the ego then writhes in agony, or rails in frustration at its inability to shake some sense out of the dream world. And sometimes the ego can break in. Just as we can teach ourselves to hold on to our dreams, we can also arm ourselves with the keys to the kingdom and drop the ego into the dream world. Then we are no longer passive as the dream unfolds around us. We are conscious, as if awake in the dream.

This called lucid dreaming.

It’s relatively rare phenomenon, but commonly enough reported, though I have mixed feelings about it. It’s not a thing I’m able to indulge in, nor am I advised is it wise, like trying to see the bottom of a pool of crystal water while splashing about in it. Ego assumes dominion, like it does over everything else, bending all to its will, flying about, having sex with strangers, or worse: sex with people you would never dare proposition in waking life, and all are suddenly putty in your hands, or rather in your mind, your thoughts manifested in apparent form. Oh, the ego can have a ball all right, but then the dream itself becomes shy, loses meaning, serves not its natural purpose.

That said, I know the techniques, and sometimes ask the keeper of dreams to grant me lucidity, “if it would help”. But I have yet to be trusted, and perhaps just as well.

Jung shows us the dream as an expression of the unconscious, sometimes personal, sometimes collective. He teaches us to recognise the subtle players of the dreamscape and the masks they wear – anima, shadow, trickster, peur, senex. From a study of their manifestation in the dream over time we can chart the development of our personal myth, our very own hero’s journey to wholeness.

And then we have Hillman who likens the dream more to the underworld of classical learning, its archetypes, like Jungs, proxies of the gods. And Hillman, rather than emphasise the importance of analysis and understanding the meaning of the dream, speaks more of submitting ourselves to the experience of it, to ask not what does this dream symbol represent, for then we lose the dream. Remembered dreams are thus less messages from the unconscious as memories of preparations for death and permanent residence in that place.

Or not, maybe.

Sweet dreams.

 

 

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Vogeler - DreamsAs we age we undergo a process of emotional development. Obviously we do not possess the same outlook in our middle years as we did when we were children, but what is it that drives us to change? Is it merely that we come to inhabit a progressively older body? Is it the experience of life itself that changes us, or is it that are we subject to influences from the unconscious mind that would have us seek those experiences out as a medium for change?

Life can provide any number of varied environments enabling us to grow in all manner of positive directions, but it can just as easily arrest our development if experience of life is at odds with our aspirations. So where does the aspiration, the imperative, the drive come from? Abusive relationships, personal misfortune, global upheaval, even financial ruin, all present challenges to health and well being, subverting a life’s path and running it onto the rocks. Yet in spite of misfortune some people suffer no injury beyond the initial trauma, while others are maimed for life. To avoid lasting scars appears to require an agile frame of mind and a deep intuitive sense of one’s abiding value in the face of all rational evidence to the contrary. Where does such strength, such resilience come from?

With bad experiences, what usually happens is we push the memories out of range of our emotional radar and get on with things as best we can. We are all good at this, at removing from conscious awareness those things that are most painful to us, and anyway we cannot always react to hurt in the way we would like, and in which our instincts are urging us – like punching the other guy on the nose. In the course of life, there is a lot we simply have to swallow, but the unconscious never forgets a slight. It remembers everything.

It even knows what I was doing at half past three on Wednesday afternoon, December 28th 1978. I can no longer consciously recall this moment of course – it is lost to my every day awareness but well documented cases of spontaneous and total recall suggest the memory of this moment still exists, somewhere, and if, during that moment, I was experiencing an emotional upset that was never healed, my unconscious will offer it back. And it will keep offering it back, until I deal with it.

It does this through the dreaming process, using a symbolic language in which the objects, the people, the situations we encounter in the dream world are emotionally charged in ways reflective of our life experience, including the things we’d rather not acknowledge. And the dream is saying, here, look, take this back this and then we can move on. But if we have fallen foul of a culture that devalues the dreaming process, if we never take notice of our dreams, the process of “dealing with it” can be a problem. And stuff mounts up. Some of us incubate hidden, forgotten traumas, combine them, allow them to breed, then hatch them into inexplicable and stupendously debilitating neuroses. At such times as these it seems our unconscious is overrun with demons out to do us harm. We might feel that to go poking around in there is the very last thing we should be doing, but paying attention to our dreams helps defuse things. It puts the unconscious mind in a better mood for dealing with us, if it realises we are receptive.

We all dream, every night, though some people dispute this, claiming never to have dreamed at all. But the thing with dreams is they play out in a part of the mind that bypasses the way we normally acquire memory. If we want to remember our dreams we have to make a conscious effort to do so. We have to remind ourselves, when we lay down to sleep, we would like to remember our dreams. Then, on waking, in the first seconds of awareness, we have a fleeting opportunity to drink the dream down whole, sufficient at least to recall it well enough to record it later on. But even then we must make haste, or the memory will fade to nothing like an imperfectly processed photograph. Reading my dream journal now, accounts of many dreams I had years ago are like reading the fantasies of a complete stranger.

So we have our dream. What now? Well, the best we can do is sit down and ponder upon it. What might it be showing us? What emotions does it provoke? It does not matter if we cannot understand the dream. It seems to be the conversation with the unconscious that’s the important thing. If we fail in the first dreams, to understand what it’s showing us, it will try other ways of illustrating the same thing, until we finally get it.

We can forget those dream dictionaries. What they fail to point out is that the dream is a personal thing and that, for example, a rabbit in my dream might mean something entirely different in yours. You can forget also asking advice from others because they may react to your symbols differently. Thus, slowly, respectfully, and with an attitude of genuine enquiry, we approach the unconscious, preferably on bended knee.

I worry about self-help dream techniques that sound more assertive, like a battering down of a door into unconsciousness in order to plunder its contents, in an effort to turn us into mega-star celebrities with millions in the bank, and perfect teeth. The lesson of a century of psychoanalysis tells us we are only a small part of who we think we are, that we are not entirely in charge. We can be part of the solution to the mystery of our lives, which involves being a good listener and a willing partner in the adventure, or we can remain for ever a part of the problem.

I suppose the bottom line is we do not need to be ill to take an interest in our personal development, in the rounding out and the maturation of our soul. True there are grown men and women as emotionally well developed as four year olds, or for that matter wildebeest, and for whom all talk of the dreaming process will sound ridiculous. But for those who seek meaning beyond the normal watering and rutting of the species, the dream is nature’s own gift to aid us on the path to a greater self awareness.

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drreamIn the biological sciences, dreams don’t amount to much. Bizarre and useless, we’re advised there is no meaning to be extracted from them. We dream of a rabbit, look it up in a dream dictionary, and learn the rabbit means we’ll have good luck. Hmm – seems superficial at best.

But wait!

What if we dream we’re naked among people we know – family, friends colleagues? Depending on which book we look this one up in, it can be interpreted as meaning we are afraid of showing others our true selves. In this case then, the dream appears symbolic of personal unconscious complexes, and that’s meaningful in that it reveals to us aspects of our selves in a potentially helpful way, prompting further questions like: what parts of myself do I not want others to see, and why not?

Maybe there’s more to dreams after all?

In fact dream interpretation has been an important part of psychoanalysis for over a century. Sadly though, for the layman, dreaming still languishes in the realm of simplistic dream dictionaries. Serious literature is more elusive,… but infinitely more enlightening.

We all dream, every night. It’s just remembering our dreams that’s the problem. But it’s actually not that difficult and consists merely of making a mental note as we lay down to sleep that we will try to remember our dreams. And in time, we remember them. And the more dreams we remember, the more richly we are rewarded with our dreams – the first foggy, disjointed fragments maturing into vivid dream canvasses resplendent in allegorical meaning and which leave us tingling all day in their numinous afterglow.

By interpreting my dreams I sought a new direction in life. The experience was wholly positive, but not in the way I expected. Most dreams remained inscrutable; life was unchanged; I did the same things, the same job, faced the same problems. However in retrospect, I realised the dreams had guided me towards the centre of a newly reconstructed self, one in which the same elements were present, but had been rearranged.

I had gained a different perspective.

Dreams, it seems, serve a potentially transformative function of the psyche, if we can only bring ourselves to take them seriously.

And now?

I admit I’m out of the habit of recalling dreams. My journal is rarely updated and what few dreams I spontaneously hold onto these days have lost their depth and their power. But I’ve been wondering if the time has come to make an effort to uncover my dreams again, or even to crank it up a bit,…

…and go flying in them!

In all my dreaming, I have simply let the dreams wash over me, so that like most dreamers, I do not know I am dreaming, when I dream. But dreaming can be taken further; we can train ourselves to dream lucidly.

In lucid dreams we are no longer passive observers of the dream, but self determining participants, capable of critical reasoning and intelligent engagement. We can shape our environment, talk to dream characters, and we can get about by flying. How cool is that?

Lucid dreaming requires a more advanced skillset, one I don’t possess, but one I’m led to believe can be acquired easily. The question is, should I make the effort?

The fictional characters in my current work-in-progress are adept at lucid dreaming. The dream space allows them a more flexible stage on which to explore the nature of their being, and I find the philosophical implications irresistible. But if one writes of Australia, how authentic can one be if one has never been there?

The tales of lucid dreamers have been like Siren voices for a while now urging me to make the push and become a lucid dreamer myself. But a wise old friend cautions me that to enter on this path is also to risk losing oneself inside one’s own head, becoming mired in a different kind of mud – one of self-generated and entirely hedonistic dream-content – none of which means anything.

Lucid dreamers talk of directly engaging with the unconscious, rather than being passively subjected to its whims, as in ordinary dreams. They talk of strange, paranormal things too, like precognitive dreams, healing in dreams, and even of meeting the dreaming selves of other people. But while such things fascinate and feed my hunger for interesting fictional scenarios, to actually bluster in and interrogate one’s own unconscious, seems an immodest thing to do. My wise old friend reminds me that when we travel the liminal zones bordering the Faery lands, we are always better going quietly, and on tiptoe.

I do need to move on from where I’m at. I sense a stagnation in my ways and in my thoughts. So, I have blown the dust from my dream journal, and made a few fresh entries, but the dreams I seek are strictly of the ordinary kind. I’m sure lucid dreaming can be a wild party, but I’m also thinking it’s better to wait for an invitation than to use one’s cleverness and egotistical wit to gatecrash a gathering where nobody’s quite sure what’s going on. Notwithstanding the extraordinary exploits of my fictional characters, to dream lucidly is perhaps to risk dragging the expectations of the real world into the realm of the Faery, to inform it, to shape it, and ultimately I fear, as with any other environment we seek to exploit for our own aims, to irreparably corrupt it.

So, while I may continue to appear, on occasion, naked and embarrassed in my dreams, my dreams at least are seeing me as I truly am, rather than how I would prefer myself to be seen. I think they prefer me that way.

And who am I to argue?

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“Hey, You a dreamer?”

“Yeah.”

“Haven’t seen too many of you around lately. Things have been tough lately for dreamers. They say dreaming’s dead; no one does it anymore. It’s not dead, it’s just that it’s been forgotten. Removed from our language. Nobody teaches it, so nobody knows it exists. Dreamers are banished to obscurity. I’m trying to change all that, and I hope you are too. By dreaming, everyday. Dreaming with our hands and dreaming with our minds. Our planet is facing the greatest problems it’s ever faced, ever. So whatever you do, don’t be bored. This is absolutely the most exciting time we could have possibly hoped to be alive. Things have just started.”

I’ve been listening to these words for weeks now. They’re embedded into an eclectic mix on a podcast from an internet radio station I discovered some years ago, and whose combination of trance and ambient chill-out I more or less listen to exclusively these days*. Anyway. I did some detective work, took the phrase: They say dreaming’s dead; no one does it anymore, fed it into the Google box and out popped references to the Kleptones who worked the reading I’ve been listening to into their 2006 concept album, 24 hours, but there were also references to the original dialogue which was lifted from a film called Waking Life (2001) by Richard Linklater.

I don’t know what I was doing in 2001, but this film passed completely under my radar, and I’m sorry it’s taken me over a decade to catch up with it. You’ll find clips on You Tube, but I wanted the whole experience so I ordered it from Amazon for the princely sum of £4.00 (including postage), and I watched it last night.

I found it mesmerising, but also puzzling that it should surface now because it deals with a lot of stuff that’s running around in my head at the moment, and which I’m trying to get a firmer handle on in order to make way in my own inner life. It resonates because I’m dreamer. I dream with my mind and with my hands. Dreams are great liberators, but they can puzzle or enlighten in equal measure. They can also be disturbing if we’re not ready for what they have to say, and they can make us ill, if we repeatedly ignore their warnings.

The film uses the phenomenon of lucid dreaming as a vehicle for exploring the nature of reality – a lucid dream being  the kind of dream where you wake up in your dream, and become lucid. Lucid dreams are a rare and startling faculty of the human psyche. The dream world, normally vague and passively experienced, is suddenly focussed by the conscious ego into a tangible alternate reality, one in which you can interact with the dream-scape, and change it. You can engage with the characters in your dream, ask their advice, respond to them, make love to them. A lucid dream can be a life-changing experience.

Personally, I don’t dream lucidly, but I do record my ordinary third person dreams, and sift the imagery in a Jungian way for clues as to how I might improve my outlook on life. There’s been enough strangeness in my ordinary dreams – false awakenings, and the occasional bizarre occurence of frustratingly banal precognition – for them to be at least suggestive of the existence of an imaginal plane outside of time, one we might actually inhabit all the time, without our knowing. And that’s without getting into lucid dreaming.

Anyway.

For anyone who’s ever asked questions about the nature of dreams and reality, you’ll find them all in this quirky little movie – the questions, not the answers. But in this field, you don’t need answers. Just asking the right questions can change the way you see the world. I thought the film was a beautifully crafted discussion piece, a gem of art-house animated movie-making –  thought provoking, astonishing, and – well – dream-like.

Without spoiling anything, the main character in the film arrives in a town that’s familiar to him, but which has also taken on certain odd qualities. The characters he meets seem intensely hung up on existential matters – from college professors to ordinary people in the street – they all have something to impart to him regarding the nature of reality. At intervals, he wakes up and realises he’s been dreaming all of this. But these are false awakenings – the kind where you think you’ve woken up and gone through your normal routine to start your day, only to find yourself waking up again, that you’d simply dreamed waking up. Each successive false awaking, plunges our character deeper into the dream. By now he knows he’s dreaming, realises he’s fully lucid and able to participate in the dream world. He wonders if in fact he’s dead, wonders how he can escape and finally wake up,…

Dreams feature a lot in my stories, either as a means of passing on a vital insight to one of the protagonists, or more full on, as a means of slipping out of one reality and entering another. In the past there’s been a tendency in fiction to rely on some form of technology to do this for us, to open the doors to other worlds – fantastic machines to make all things possible. But lately I sense things are changing, that our collective love affair with technology is coming to an end and what we’re heading for is a period of collective navel gazing in order to work out what it is we want from our lives. This might take some time. Indeed, it’s a process that can take a life-time, but I think it’s also healthy. It’s when we deny the objective reality of our dream life that the trouble starts. You don’t need fantastic machines to be at the cutting edge of reality, all you need is a working knowledge of the one thing we were all born with. Our mind.

Dreaming isn’t dead. It’s just that nobody teaches any more, so nobody knows that it exists.

There are still plenty of technologists out there of course, pushing the boundaries of what’s possible, and to some extent, in my day-job, I’m one of them, but they’ve also got a lot of people these days looking over their shoulders, scrutinising what they’re doing – and not everyone’s happy with what they see. Technology is a tool and like all tools it can work wonders. It has the potential for doing a lot of good, but it can also be destructive, and are we wise to trust in it as much as we do when, in our technologically sophisticated world, there are still people dying for want of a clean drink of water? There’s no point being technologically sophisticated when we’re also morally and spiritually bankrupt.

We have to recognise technology for what it is, and that if we don’t also use our brains, it can be worse than useless. The brain – or rather the mind – has to be the starting point. It’s where we came from, and where we all ultimately return – or if the premise of the film “Waking Life” is to be believed, it’s somewhere we never actually leave. But whatever the truth of it, I think that in order to fully realise our potential, we have to look at what the mind can offer us, what doorways it can open up, if only to make us all better people. And we can do that by dreaming.

“Dreaming with our hands and dreaming with our minds. Our planet is facing the greatest problems it’s ever faced, ever. So whatever you do, don’t be bored. This is absolutely the most exciting time we could have possibly hoped to be alive.”

Maybe things have just started.

I hope so.

Goodnight all.

(I think I’ll watch it again)

* Frisky Radio

** The picture accompanying this post is by the German artist Heinrich Vogeler (1872-1942)

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