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Spiritual Life In Dreams
Dreams have always been connected with the spiritual side of human experience, even though today many spiritual leaders disagree with consideration of dreams. Because dreams put the dreamer in touch with the source of their own internal wisdom and certainty, some conflict has existed between authoritative priesthood and public dreaming. A lay person finding their own approach to God in a dream might question the authority of the priests. No doubt people frequently made up dreams about God in order to be listened to. Nevertheless, despite such opposition, the Bible still states that Matthew dreamt of an angel appearing to him; Joseph was warned by God in a dream to move Jesus; Peter was inspired and instructed by his dream of the unclean animals.
The modern scientific approach has placed large question marks against the concept of the human spirit – an eternal aspect to human life. Study of the brain’s functions and biochemical activities have led to a sense of human personality being wholly a series of biological and biochemical events. The results of this in the relationship between doctor and patient, psychiatrist and client, sometimes results in a communication of human personality being of little consequence. It may not be put into words, but the intimation is that if one is depressed, it is a biochemical situation or a brain malfunction. If one is withdrawn or autistic, it is not that there is a vital centre of personality which has for some reason chosen to avoid contact, but that a biochemical or physiological situation is the cause. It’s nothing personal – take this pill to change the biochemistry, because you are not really a person.
Of course we have to accept that human personality must sometimes face the tragedy of biochemical malfunction – but we also need to accept that biochemical and physiological process can be changed by human will and courage, and particularly by the transformative influence of the spiritual dimension of experience. See Steiner
What is the human spirit?
In attempting to find what the human spirit is by looking at dreams, the simplest definition is that when a dream enables us to go beyond the limitations of our personal memories, our learning, our body and our sense of what life is, it opens our spiritual life to us. The most profound of these experiences usually involve a sense of existing throughout all time – that at ones core exists a level of being that has always been, and is beyond the changes of life and death. Certainly one of the sources of the spiritual is that we have a sense of something, or an experience, that shows us a very different view of our life and the objective world than we usually arrive at through our sense impressions or our inherited cultural views. Common experiences of the spiritual are as follows:-
- Tragedies in our life are suddenly seen from a much more inclusive view, or one’s personal situation is seen as a part of a continuing and cosmic process. This dignifies and integrates our life into a greater whole, and removes the sense of tragedy.
- The spiritual might also be felt as experiencing our own wholeness. This meeting might be an encounter with Christ, or a holy being.
- We experience ourselves as part of one great life, existing throughout time and space. We then see the variety of living creatures and inanimate matter are all manifestations of that one life. The oneness behind multiplicity is experienced as self existent.
- A great experience arises in us of the essential part of us streaming back throughout all time. Our personal life connects with all that has existed and all that will exist.
- A realisation of oneself as being more than one’s thoughts, emotions and body sensations. This direct experience of being is called illumination and cannot be described as it is outside of the thinking process and its definitions.
In my dream I had got hold of a book of photographs of Japan. It was printed in the thirties or earlier and was externally worn and dog-eared. I opened the book to look at the pictures. They were all black and white. The first one was spread over the two open pages. It was of a beach, taken from a hillside. The day was cloudy but bright. One could almost feel or see the breeze blowing because there was a sense of movement. The beach was slightly curved, bay like, with the hill rising from near the edge of the sea. Here and there trees were growing, not big. On the beach the rollers were breaking, quite big surf. A large rocky shelf ran into the sea from the beach, and this caused the breakers to roll up and around at one point, turning back toward the sea again. In the middle of this, quite small in the photo was the figure of a man sitting in the lotus position facing the land. As I looked the still picture was full of movement as if I had stepped into it. Waves were breaking around and slightly over the man, but he sat at peace, undistracted, in Zen meditation. It was so simple, so beautiful. I realised I had read somewhere of the man who sat amidst the waves. Anthony.
Anthony explored the dream and knew himself as the man on the beach. He then experienced a connection with the great ocean of life. This was not making him turn away from everyday life – shown as facing the land. It gave Anthony an experience of a radiance within him existing beyond effort – just being. Whenever he relaxed he experienced this gentle radiance bathing him. This removed from him a great sense of struggle that had dogged him all his life. He also felt his life was meaningful, and part of a great wonder. He was filled with a radiance from within.
I felt myself rushing upwards in blackness. Then a sense of release followed, like a cork coming out of a bottle and I could see. I was floating above my bed, near the ceiling of the room. Below I could see myself asleep. Terror overcame me. In hindsight I think I was afraid I was dying. Then I realised I had read about people doing this, and the terror became uncontrollable laughter, perhaps release of the awful tension moments before.
Next I was flying through space with my knees up to my chest. I was in the RAF in Germany at the time, and I could see the land underneath. It was still a light summer evening. I started to pass over the sea, and could see a few ships, but was suddenly at my home in London. I couldn’t believe what was happening, it was so real. I noticed I was in my clothes, not pyjamas. My mother was sitting knitting. My dog was asleep by the gas fire. I called excitedly to my mother. She paused but didn’t see me. I couldn’t understand this as I experienced myself as totally real with full self awareness. I shouted to her in an attempt to break through what I felt must be a barrier. She carried on knitting, but I had an immediate experience of there being two levels she operated at. There was the level of herself that was knitting but not aware of me; then there was a level her everyday waking self wasn’t in contact with. This level knew I was near her. There was a merging of consciousness and a sharing of love – a becoming ‘one’. At the same moment my dog was awoken. He ‘saw’ me and rushed to me barking and howling, as he usually did when he saw me after an absence. Then I woke in Germany, feeling as heavy as lead. I found out that my mother had been alone knitting on that evening, and the dog had unaccountable rushed to the back of the sofa howling. Tony C.
The above experience shows Tony going beyond the usual boundaries of his senses, and perhaps even of time and space.
An aspect of the human spirit demonstrated by dreams is consciousness of massive integrated experience. The unconscious mind, if its function is not clogged with a backlog of undealt with painful childhood experience and non functional premises, has a propensity to form gestalts. It takes pieces of experience and fits them together to form a whole. This is illustrated by how we form gestalts when viewing newsprint photographs, which are made up of many small dots of different shade. Our mind fits them together and sees them as a whole, giving meaning where there are only dots. When the human mind is working well, when the individual can face a wide range of emotions, from fear and pain to ecstasy, this process of forming gestalts can operate very creatively. This is because it needs conscious involvement, and if the personality is frightened of deep feeling, the uniting of deeply infantile and often disturbing experience is cut out. Yet these areas are very rich mines of information, containing our most fundamental learning experiences.
The magic of personal insight
If the process is working well, then one’s experience is gradually transformed into insights which transcend and thereby transform one’s personal life. For instance, we have witnessed our own birth in some manner, we also see many others appearing as babies. We see people ageing, dying. We see millions of events in our own life and in others. The unconscious, deeply versed in imagery, ritual and body language, out of which it creates its dreams, picks up information from music, architecture, traditional rituals, people walking in the street, the unspoken world of parental influence. The sources are massive, unbelievable. And out of it all our mind creates meaning. Like a process of placing face over face over face until a composite face is formed; a synthesis of all the faces; so the unconscious scans all this information and creates a world view – a concept, a synthesised image of life and death. The archetypes Jung talks of, are perhaps the resulting synthesis of our own experience, reaching points others have met also. If so, then Christ might be our impression of humanity as a whole. If we dare to touch such a synthesis of experience it may be searing – breathtaking. It breaks the boundaries of our present personality and concepts because it transcends. It shatters us to let the hugeness of the new vision emerge. It reaches, it sours, like an eagle flying above the single events of life. Perhaps because of this the great hawk of ancient Egypt represented the human spirit.
When our awareness does lift up above the particular thoughts and impressions, above our individual life, and flies like the hawk to have a synthesised vision, we attain a spiritual dimension, and gather wisdom in a new way. Within the one great life in which our personal existence merges like water in the ocean, is all experience, all history, all knowledge.
I thought about the dream that I had about L., the dream was that L. had a very red face when she told me that she was pregnant. But I didn’t think that I could have made her pregnant and I told her so. She then changed her mind and said, ‘OK then I’m not pregnant’.
In working on the dream I imagined becoming L. I entered into her pregnant body and felt her sexuality and understood the dream. She had offered herself to me, her sexuality and her body but I hadn’t recognised it, I didn’t see it and so she withdrew. L. wants another child and she had offered herself to me but I couldn’t give myself to her. I had never given myself before. In the dream I felt I was not responsible for her pregnancy, and that represents the denial of my own sexuality and of all that results from it.
This is when I entered into the house of God. At first I saw the image of a huge cathedral or church with a magnificent domed roof and I knew that I was in the house of God. I felt the utopia. I felt like I have never felt before, so very good, so excellent. I knew all things. I didn’t have to read the bible or any kind of teachings because the answers are all here in the presence of God. In this state I could ask any question and know the answer. I knew God, yet I was God because there was no separation. Neal C.
The journey inwards
As we meet our immensely varied internal contents a process of change occurs in us. What we meet within is often very dramatic, enormously powerful, yet our external change may appear small in comparison with the journey we undertook. We might have met everything from the experience of our birth; the pains and trauma of childhood; the adventure and triumph of becoming independent and surviving amongst other humans; we may have faced the void in which all sense of self disappears, and all certainties are melted by seeing all opposites as true; we will certainly have become acquainted with death in many forms; we will also know the various people we are inside. Despite this enormous breadth of experience, for the traveller the question often arises as to what one has gained from it all. Possibly the most obvious is that one can allow all manner of things to have life in consciousness and pass through. One becomes a shape shifter.
Example: I witnessed a conversation between a man and a woman, and the man says, “Religion; that’s surely a direction for failures and people who can’t really cope with facing reality.”
And the woman he is accusing of this inability to face reality says, “You poor person! Is your mind or awareness so tiny that you have never realised the forces and processes of your own body are beyond anything you understand? Can’t you see that your very existence is brought about by things so far beyond your knowledge that it is only a statement of your impoverishment to suggest religion is an expression of some sort of smallness and failure. Have you never understood that? Have you not seen that religion is not only an acknowledgement of what we fail to understand and yet depend upon, but it is also an opening to it, a willingness to relate to it? It can also be something far more even than that. It is can be an active loving relationship. And such love is an exchange, a sharing, a way of merging one with another. It is an exchange – a sharing of bodily fluids – the very substance of life. Is that something you are afraid of?”
This intense journey may also bring one to the realisation that one has always existed in a life that is wider or larger than ones conceptions. A realisation of ones existence and participation within this wider life brings with it the insight that the experience of the greater life has been gradually built in ones own being by the love and sympathetic connections one has built with others, whether human animal or plant. It is through these connections, perhaps through a love affair, through being in a helping capacity, dealing with ones own inner life, or through meeting stress together, that ones wider awareness emerges and grows.
The infinite is infinite. We experience it in an infinite number of ways. People ask if there is a personal God, or even if a god exists at all. Within the infinite all things are possible. Here is another way of experiencing the essence.
Suddenly, toward the end of working on my dream, I seemed to leap beyond anything I had ever experienced before. Instead of being someone separated from everybody else living a certain day in time, I was a river that flowed through all time. I had always existed and was involved in all history. As this happened I knew just as clearly as in ordinary life I know my name, that a life had been lived in which the ‘I’ of that person had been persecuted for their religious beliefs. In persecution some of their family had been killed, and as that person I had made a decision to never again trust people. The decision brought about the desire to live isolated from human group activity. With an amazing heightened vision I could see this influence flowing through all my present life, subtly shaping it. The things I had chosen to do or work at were all connected either as a means of trying to change that decision or as an expression of it – Tracy M.
Doing the impossible
Lastly, humans have always been faced by the impossible. To a baby, walking and not wetting its pants is impossible, but with many a fall and accident it does the impossible. It is a god in its achievement. To talk, to fly heavier than air planes, to walk on the Moon, were all impossible. Humans challenge the impossible every day. Over and over they fall back into defeat. Many lie there broken. Yet with the next moment along come youngsters with no more sense than grasshoppers, and because they don’t know what the difference is between right and left, do the impossible. Out of the infinite potential, the great unknown, they draw something new. With hope, with folly, with a wisdom they gain from who knows where, they demand MORE. And it’s a common everyday sort of miracle. Mothers do it constantly for their children – transcending themselves. Lovers go through hell and heaven for each other and flower beyond who they were. You and I grow old on it as our daily bread, yet fail to see how holy it is. And if we turn away from it, it is because it offers no certainties, gives no authority, claims no reward. It is the spiritual life of people on the street. And our dreams remember, even if we fail. For this is the body and blood of the human spirit.