The Lure of the Dream
'Dreaming is a nightly dip, a skinny dip, into the pool of images and feelings.'
Perchance to Dream
Picture this dream scene in monochrome gray.
Massive boulders edge this portion of the beach. I see a Neanderthal man motionless in a squat, his eyes fixed on a configuration in the sand of five straight, parallel lines extending into the distance. Small iron balls lie in the gullies between the lines.
I'm there too, thinking all this has nothing to do with me. I feel alone, far from home and anxious about being among people who don't look like me. I am afraid of the primitive human. In my hurry to get away, I walk diagonally across his design. It occurs to me that I am ruining the field by tracking across it, and I worry I'll be punished.
I awoke feeling bewildered. In my daytime life, I'd just begun writing this book, and I'd gone to sleep wondering what my dreamlife would have to say about it. But this? I'd expected something more contemporary and more colorful. Maybe some advice about the book. Yet this brief, puzzling scene was what I got. It was my dream, conjured out of my own body and soul, experiences, beliefs and unconscious depths. And I had no idea what it meant.
And so it goes with dreamers. We awake with a puzzle, much like fairy-tale characters begin a journey with a dilemma and find their way through a more-than-ordinary world to a resolution. The expedition changes them just as being with a dream alters the dreamer. It's the journey, the joining with the story that creates new life in the fairy-tale characters and in the dreamers.
Meaning emerges from the encounter. Say you have a dream about picking strawberries. Don't ask what strawberries stand for. At least not yet. First, in your imagination rejoin the dream. Notice how the ripe red strawberries are tucked under leaves in the cool morning. Touch the sturdy leaves and enjoy the scent that rises as you push the leaves aside. Pick a strawberry, look into its pocky red face, taste it. Notice your reaction. What are you feeling and thinking? The dream leads you to the strawberry, and the berry engages all your senses. Meaning comes out of that encounter. That intimate contact, that time spent with night and daydreams, enriches and enlarges our humanity.
You and I are descendants of a 140-million-year-old family of dreamers. Though we now understand the physiology of dreams, we, like our ancestors, are confounded, entertained, frightened and inspired by these images of sleep. Dreams offer entrée to a realm beyond the rational, a nonmaterial reality or spirituality. They feed the human hunger for mystery, adventure, amazement and guidance.
The usual rules of time and space do not apply. Dreams reveal the timelessness at our core. I can be dreaming of a contemporary scene and suddenly I am looking at myself as a fifteen-year-old sitting in my bedroom with that familiar light coming in the windows and family sounds rising from downstairs. Past, present and future mingle, and even the boundary of death yields so that we meet lost loved ones and others who have not yet arrived in waking life. Time is an idea we live in, and dreams give us the opportunity to escape time. The fluidity of dreams shows us the essential undividedness of existence.
Dreams suspend physics, and we fly and travel great distances with less effort than it takes to walk in waking time. The customary rules of ethics and manners lose their authority and dreams move beyond political correctness, censorship, custom and taboo. Aspects of ourselves emerge that are disallowed in daylight. We are rude without remorse, seductive, impish and irresponsible. We can lose control with no lasting consequence, get perspective on our daytime selves, our habits, assumptions and fears. Anything is possible and we can't know what will happen next. It's like watching home movies shot in secret and projected on the screen at the back of our eyelids. Over the course of a lifetime, dreams fill in the gaps in our understanding of who we are. They are our nightly storytellers.
Dreams come as gifts, as learnings, as gossip. They can entice like an amusement park on a warm summer night or draw us into deep-sea terrors. In dreams we seem to live other lives; we find companionship and sometimes magic. They offer us mystical experiences, jokes, surprises and warnings. Dreams draw us, too, because they bring answers and sometimes salvation.
We're enticed by our unlearned ability to turn out new plots several times a night, plots no one else can produce. As with those first teeth, early crayon drawings and grade school compositions, we are proud of the dream products some part of us creates. Look what I did! This is me!
Dreams offer balance to lives that have become skewed. We live in an extraordinarily rational, clock-driven, materialistic era. The relentless sweep of Western values shapes our days and our definitions of success and security. The practical trumps the fanciful, productivity bests creativity. We are encouraged to follow outer rather than inner cues. Even religion in its current fundamentalist incarnation favors literal interpretation of the Bible rather than the individual's unique relationship with the Divine as the source of salvation. It's no wonder that we as a people are overweight, tired, depressed and anxious. Daily demands on our rational selves exhaust us and leave us dry, with no time for soul, no time to taste the deeper meanings of things. The juiciness of life is unavailable and so is concocted artificially by use of substances, consumerism and entertainment.
Fortunately, no one has found a way to colonize, proselytize or advertise in dreams. Falling into bed at the end of busy days, we can escape the linear and the logical for an inner world that is vast, instinctive and unplumbable. What is rejected by the daytime world reigns in the dream world. The impossible and the unknowable, riots of spontaneous images, the expression of deeper experience—all refresh the psyche and immerse us in the vitality of imagination. Those who work with their dreams in the daylight can reenter them and experience the almost physical sensation of shifting into imaginal and intuitive discourse. That state is like being 'in the zone,' where anything is possible. The logical mind rests and the whole physical body relaxes as the imaginative is given room to speak.
Simple superstition also lures the dreamer—if I dream of water, this will happen; if I dream of birds in flight, it means that will occur. Dreams offer contact with something bigger than we are. We want amazing things to happen to us. We want to be thrilled and moved, entertained and sometimes frightened. Dreams can do all that.
For some, the lure of the dreams is the exploration, the constant discovery and development these nighttime lives enable.
All dreamers hope for the revelation that will make everything clear, foretell the future and engage the magic realms. Dreaming takes us out to the edge with the visionaries. Dreams enlarge consciousness by bringing new ideas, viewpoints, wishes, fears and behaviors into awareness or by presenting familiar themes in a new light. They open a new conversation, move information from unconsciousness into consciousness and contribute to ongoing personality development. Dreams are a reminder that development never stops. There is always more to become.
In my dreams, it's all about me. At the same time, their themes connect me with all humanity. Dreams tap the underlying blueprint of human possibility and tell the most basic story of who we are. They reveal the generic us as males, females, parents, children, heroes, mystics and lovers. Dreams fascinate because they are the insubstantial parallel to the visible world. Characters, situations, places and themes live and develop there. Events in the dream world affect and even direct waking life. All by itself, that is reason enough to pay attention to them. They are a peephole into the processes unfolding within us, that organic forward motion of our beings, which is larger than the daytime ego and all its doings. Dream work offers the opportunity to join the ego's wisdom to instinctive energies.
The most tantalizing lure and the most frustrating aspect of dreams is their mystery. The dreamer comes to the breakfast table full of the most amazing dream experience. With great animation, he tells the story and finishes with 'I wonder what it means.' There is a moment of silence, the excitement fades into discomfort and frustration, and the conversation shifts to oatmeal and coffee. Their mystery and our not knowing is the doorway to dreams. We can enjoy their company and their humanizing warmth only if we're willing to tolerate that first wave of bewilderment. C. G. Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist and dream pioneer, began work with every client's dream by admitting that he had no idea what the dream meant. And there, too, our work begins.
Not knowing creates a psychological tension in us. The brain strains toward clarity and closure and will create an answer rather than remain in limbo. That urge to conclude can create the form of a face in the leaves of a tree or answer a problem before having adequate information. The discomfort of not knowing can also motivate. 'I don't know what this dream means' becomes the sound of the mind's gears shifting from realistic to imaginative mode. We can learn to tolerate not knowing and to remind our busy, lightning-fast brains that there are other ways to arrive at knowing besides deductive reasoning.
Humans have been curious about their dreams for as long as they have dreamed. Robert L. Van de Castle, PhD, writer, dream researcher and dreamer, offers a sweeping study of dreaming in Our Dreaming Mind. As he points out, primitive humans may have dreamed the figures found on cave walls. The earliest written dreams come from 3000 BCE Assyria and second-century CE Babylonia. They were gathered by Artemedorus, a...