Dreams and the Dreamer
“Perchance to dream,” he said, and then drifted on those words as if trying to bridge the gap between the two worlds. But what is a dream save the mind adrift upon its own currents, guided at times by faceless gestures and wordless musings of unknown origins. Waking and dream consciousness seem so far apart yet all that separates the two is the state of our mind.
When we fall asleep the conscious mind is mostly silenced, and it’s a good thing. Our mind is comprised of energy and does not get tired in the same way our bodies do. Nonetheless, it too needs a break, and it is from reacting to the constant stream of experiences AND integrating them. It handles massive amounts of information and integrates many hundreds of thousands of thoughts every day. When we say to ourselves, as I am sure most of do on occasion, “I am still trying to get my head around this.” we are acknowledging that we are consciously struggling with integrating the experience we had.
This integration process continues all the time as thoughts influence each other, and manifest new relationships between them. This continues when we drift off into dreamland. To many the dream state is a lost time. It is one where we are simultaneously the writer, director, camera crew, actor and first person observer. Yet, almost as if unable to decide which role to take, we take none save the last and merely experience what we do. We even react to what we experience yet the story rolls on and we continue on, and invariably despite our efforts we are unable to affect what we do or what happens.
The interesting thing is that even though we are not really conscious in any way resembling how we are when awake, we can be. Of course our degree of conscious awareness can vary dramatically though it is rarely as sharply defined as waking consciousness. Dreams are a mystery and despite all the books that have been written on the topic there is no complete guide to dreaming or to the meaning of them.
Dreams are the stuff of mind and as such they are mostly personal and difficult to interpret with any accuracy. They are personal because are mind is ours alone and their meaning is dependent on our thoughts, beliefs and the symbolism we have accepted or inherited. By the later I refer to archetypes that we share in common. For instance, in the western world a white dove symbolizes peace and if we have white doves in our dreams it is not unlikely that they have something to do with peace or perhaps an end to conflict. We may not know what the conflict is, though what is going on in our dream at the time may suggest what this is in relation to.
The mind continues to integrate experiences as we sleep so when we dream it is not necessarily the case that what we dream has any significant meaning whatsoever. We do not know if what is going on in the dream is telling us something about ourselves or not. Perhaps it is an answer to an ongoing issue in our life or is it just the interplay of thoughts we have and so is simply part of scenery?
As an example...
I started to have nightmares when I was around nine or ten. The form of the nightmares varied though certain scenarios repeated themselves. In one I was be in a house, of sorts, though it was really an odd merger of a house, apartment, building, deck and indoor courtyard. Some of the rooms had no walls, and there were people engaged in various activities some quite odd such as people barbecuing in an office, or a surfer in the kitchen. I’d be walking and talking to someone, who would be a different person every few steps and a tiger would enter from one of the many corridors. It would look at me than attack some people, look at me again and then attack some more and with each moment it got closer, its eyes, mouth and teeth bigger. I would begin to run but found I had no legs and could not get out of its path. It bore down on me with a fury and I would turn my back to it. Just as it was about to strike I’d awaken in a sweat, my heart pounding in my chest and sometimes I would cry out in the process.
At other times I’d be walking along and would get the feeling I was being stalked. Furtive glances back did not reveal my stalker but I could feel it. I’d pick up my pace and continue on the path I was on for a bit then as if trying to fool my pursuer I’d get off the path and start to jog through a tangle of trees and under brush. The feeling would intensify and I’d start to run until I found myself on a narrow walking path with a short hand rail that cut across the face of a cliff. I could not see the top nor bottom but knew that it was a long ways to the bottom.
I’d get part ways along this path, enough to be committed to it, before whatever chased me was also on the path. I even remember thinking that I was dreaming and I should be able to end it but try as I might I could not affect what was happening. I would speed up and could feel the path shake under my feet until not only could I not see up or down but the beginning and the end of the path were gone as well. I continued to run but seemed to unable to make any headway. Sometimes my pursuer was that tiger, at other times a cloaked figure. Again, just before being attacked I’d wake up as I did in the other dream.
I did not have these dreams all that frequently, perhaps every few months or so but when I had them the result was invariably the same. I tried to figure out what I felt was stalking me, what I was afraid of and so on, but an answer eluded me. They continued though at a slower pace until I went through a time of significant growth work both personally and spiritually. My awareness was growing, I was getting to know myself and then one night, for the first time in a long time, it returned. I was walking through a forest when that all too familiar feeling of being stalked returned. I started to run and then thought, no, “I am not running any more, I don’t need to ... and I am done with this”. With that thought I consciously ceased running and took stock of my surroundings. Up ahead, just a little ways off was a clearing and in that clearing there was what appeared to be a wharf in every way save there was no water or boats. It was at night so it was also deserted and dimly lit. With unhurried steps and the occasional glance back I quietly made my way there.
I headed up one of the boat launch ramps to the deck area and paused to look around. There was no place to hide as none of the buildings had doors. I then thought that rather than continue to try to stay ahead I should find a spot where I could see who or what it was that was after me and they could not see me. The lack of doors was not a deterrent, as wasn't scared and knew I was dreaming. I imagined lifting up a couple of the loose wall boards, ducking inside and letting them down after. That's exactly what I proceeded to do.
There was a peak hole conveniently placed so I could see whatever was coming. It turned out to be a person though I could not see their face clearly and though I could feel their intent to get me the thought occurred to that I needed to end this. With that thought I found myself facing a person and a big one at that. I calmly found a can of lighter fluid in my hand and issue a warning. When the faceless person advanced up to me I poured the fluid all over them and with a thought lit them on fire.
They did not scream as it was not a person, it was a fear, something I created. But it did create a rumbling noise and the ground shook for a moment before it and the flames vanished into thin air. I stood there for a moment feeling a sense of relief and also calmness that is hard to describe before wandering off to see what was on the other side of the wharf.
That was more than twenty five years ago and I have never had one since. I conquered it by facing some of my own fears in my daily life and I woke up feeling fabulous. I had also come to completely accept certain spiritual truths such as how we are all connected and that our consciousness is eternal and so on hence there was nothing to fear. These thoughts helped give me a sense that whatever happens does and I will deal with it as best I can. The result was freedom of mind and spirit and an end to my nightmares and I learned that my stalker was me. I pursued myself into precarious positions where there were no alternatives but to face the inevitable. I was running from myself, my gifts and what bothered me rather than face them for many reasons including not knowing how. What I did not know or realize until then is that the nameless terrors in my dreams were not chasing me, I was running from them.
There is no definitive answer to this question, though anything we dream about has some inherent meaning to or “information” about us in it. The reason is that there is always something we can learn from our dreams, though how important it is varies dramatically for our dreams are the result of our own thoughts, mostly our non-conscious ones. Further, our minds are able to continue to integrate our days experiences and do some clean up and most of the thoughts involved are not ones we are consciously aware of. This is an important point as it means that our dreams give us a direct window into the hidden parts of our mind although it tends to be a confusing one.
So there is a benefit to trying to remember and even unravel our dreams. We all have many dreams a night though we remember very few if any of them. Certainly those that illicit strong positive or negative reactions in us are more likely to be remembered; however, even this is no guarantee. I have known people who had what they believed were terrible nightmares yet upon waking cannot remember or know what it was that scared them. My own experiences support this as well.
If and when we decide we want to start to explore our dreams we need to be able to remember them. There are some things we can do to facilitate this and plenty of resources on the web, but a short list of key points would be as follows:
- Focus on your intent to remember your dreams as you prepare to go to bed and when you are laying back to fall asleep.
- Meditating when you are lying down to clear your mind of other thoughts can help reinforce one’s intent.
- Do not go bed under the influence of alcohol as this inhibits our being able to remember our dreams
- Keep a note pad by the bed and use it whenever you get up, be it in the middle of the night or in the morning.
- Do not rush to awaken in the morning. Try to stay in that semi-lucid state for as long as possible as coming suddenly into full consciousness brings in an avalanche of thoughts. These thoughts generally “drown out” our dream memories.
- When you are writing about your dreams or trying to remember them do not push to try to remember nor focus too hard. It is best to just stay relaxed and “semi-lucid”.
- Don’t be afraid of your dreams as they cannot hurt you. Fear of them will make it harder to remember them, the result being that we will lose the opportunity to gain insights into our own mind or life.
As with all things we do need to be deliberate with our intention and maintain our curiosity which reduces our fear. We must also want to remember them, not just in our thoughts, try to make it an act of will, which comes from within and not our mind. Yes, dreams are often like some surreal or chaotic movie and at times almost cartoonish. This is due to the fact that our minds do not think in terms of physical reality, hence things that would be impossible to do normally happen frequently, and it does not it integrate thoughts in a linear fashion nor one at a time. A multitude of thoughts are integrated simultaneously.
I will not delve into dream analysis because there is no definitive way to do this, nor a guide or rule book one can use to explain them. Dreams are highly personal and the best way to start analyzing them is to write down as much as we can remember, including what you felt about them, without thinking too much (if at all possible). By reviewing their dreams and considering using what one knows about themselves and their experience patterns will start to emerge, meanings will start to congeal out of the ether and you will find yourself discovering new insights. Our inner self or spirit can also trigger dreams though these tend to take a different form, such as pre-cognitive dreams or where we are presented with situations that we can learn or take direction from. By keeping a record of our dreams, especially how we “felt” during our dreams, we may be able to learn how to recognize these types of dreams when we have them. Should we be able to do this we would find ourselves the recipient of a wonderful gift.
Our dreams are greatly influenced by any thought or group of related thoughts that are prominent in our minds at either the conscious or non-conscious level when we go to sleep or which have persisted for a long time. They could be experiences we had during the day or recent events or our thoughts about something in particular. We can also establish a thought about what we want to dream about consciously.
To establish a thought such as “I want to remember my dreams” or “I want to meet someone in my dreams" we need to make this thought the dominant one. We focus our attention on this though using what is referred to as the Law of Limitation. One attains focus not by focusing on the thought itself; one does so by letting go of all other thoughts, that is we attain focus by limiting our attention. It is a simple law to state, but not so simple to apply, especially when we have a lot going on below the conscious level.
There are also a number of things one can do consciously while dreaming, though it can take both effort and practice to do them. Among the acts one can do during sleep are those such as lucid dreaming, or being aware one is dreaming,, steer our dreams themselves, set up future actions or do a form of astral travelling and so on.
Some wonder how this is possible when one is not conscious. The answer lies in the nature of what we are and that of our existence. I will digress briefly....
The soul/Divine Spark/spirit that incarnates is a pure consciousness, one that in becoming incarnate cloaks itself in the various layers of energy that exist between where it “dwells” and the physical plane. Our mind is made out of energies from some of these layers or planes, but it is not us. As I have mentioned before, mind is what is manifested by the relationship between a “soul” and its experiences on what are generically referred to as the lower planes. Our mind is not us any more than a car is the driver. Further, the energies “we” become cloaked in operate much like that of a cloaking shield you might see in a sci-fi movie. In this case it cloaks our “true self” and so, for the most part, we cannot see what we truly are and don’t realize our mind is not us. Nonetheless, our awareness is easily capable of all these things I mention and more.
Now, there is always a gap between our conscious and non-conscious mind, and our mind is always active, even when we are fast asleep and are not conscious of it. Further, there is a threshold of conscious thoughts one must have in order for the mind to be in a waking state. These two may seem unrelated but they are not. The first gap is due to our lack of focused attention and to a lesser extent our beliefs. The second, interestingly enough, is a direct by-product of our beliefs.
For instance, the more our mind allows intuitive thoughts to surface, the more we see ourselves as connected to everything, the more we try to perceive and work with energy and the more we realize that we are not our mind the more the gap lessens, the threshold drops and our awareness grows. This also means that if we do not do these things the threshold will increase (to a limit of course). A common consequence of when we have a mind that is not “inquiring”, shall we say, is a tendency to doze off when trying to meditate or when, for example, sitting back on the couch relaxing.
The gap between or conscious and non-conscious mind gets bigger when we allow ourselves to become immersed in the physicality of life. That is to say that when we focus mostly on a narrow spectrum of what we can perceive and experience our mind follows suit. This is typical of those who are control oriented as their minds will reflect this. The inevitable result is that the conscious mind tends to only remain active when we are doing something at the physical level.
“The first few times you meditate, you may encounter the second challenge, that of falling asleep or dozing off shortly after you start. This has less to do with existing programming and more to do with one not having created the thought forms needed to maintain conscious awareness. Do not chastise yourself for it; continue to meditate. By doing so you will build new thought forms “to stand on” and reduce the barriers the old ones created. Use your imagination to conceive of a world of energy and not things; try to imagine it in your mind’s eye. The more separate one feels from the world around them the harder it is to let go of that of that same feeling of separation.” (1)
Just as a point of note for those who have a strongly control oriented. This can lead to one having difficulty in meditating, as I mentioned, because such minds can be hard to quieten. It can also lead to insomnia for the same reason, namely there is a seemingly endless stream of thoughts that will not stop. We may not even be able to identify all or even most of the thoughts but they are there. That is why breathing and visualization exercises can be helpful distracting the mind and turning it away from that steam so that we can fall asleep. Of course we can also overcome this by working on addressing our challenges
Letting go of our strong conscious focus on the physical is one of the act that helps us to become more conscious when dreaming. Placing too much of a focus on doing and what comes next or about our past acts as an inhibitor. We must also want to be more conscious when dreaming, as our non-conscious mind takes its cues from our conscious mind. If we don’t care about something it won’t either. This act (my use of the word act rather than thought is deliberately), one of changing our mental focus, trains our minds to not have such a strong hold over our thoughts, which in turn permits us to be more conscious and aware at all times. This will extend to when we are sleeping. It is not necessary that we believe it is 100% fact that we can be more conscious when we are sleeping, only that it is possible. If we cannot do these things now, and don’t believe we can then we are unlikely to be able to do them now and our efforts will to do so be slowed considerably.
I realize that many do not recognize or perhaps consider that what we believe affects our perception as this is not the case at the physical level. For example, most do not see energy because their minds do not allow it yet virtually all would find it exceedingly difficult to say to ourselves something such as “I do not believe that car exists” and have the car we are looking at suddenly vanish from our sight.
People focus nearly all of their conscious awareness on the physical aspects of their existence, and five senses come fully developed with the exception of those born with birth defects. This is not the case with the non-rational aspects of our awareness (those beyond the physical plane); these aspects need to be developed unless one is born with them elevated to one degree or another. This should be quite obvious given that most people are not often aware of the thoughts of others, though a small and growing number are.
Being told that one can exert varying degrees of conscious control even when asleep often leads people to ask “Why can’t I do this?” or perhaps “How can I do this?” The answers to both of these questions are related, as should be obvious, in that the answer to the first essentially tell us what we need to learn to answer the second.
The short answer to the first question is that one has not allowed, enabling or trained themselves so that their mind is capable of sustaining conscious awareness even the number of conscious thoughts is low (the threshold I referred to earlier) as occurs the brain is not as active as in during meditation or sleeping. While many believe that the non-conscious mind is beyond our control or direction, it is not. It is not direct control, in that we are not conscious of the details of how our mind integrates our thoughts about our experiences (though we can be more aware of even this); however, it is guided or trained by our conscious mind.
There is one fundamental question one also needs to consider before one even asks either of these two questions. That question is “Does what we dream matter at all?” Are our dreams the musings of an idle mind and as such are random and without meaning or are they are reflection of something more about or for us? I think that most would be inclined to think that dreams are a reflection of something within our mind and that the mystery surrounding them is what about us is reflected by them and why. There are no pat or set answers to the “what and why” I refer to for both are unique to and dependent upon the dreamer.
How we approach examining our dreams depends on what we are seeking to learn through them. If we believe they are illusionary then one ignores them, if one sees them as a source of spiritual direction then they are to be interpreted and followed or if one sees them as a source of enlightenment then one applies different practices to explore their dreams and seek the knowledge of self “contained” within them. What path one takes is an individual choice based on one’s path or what they seek.
For most people the dream state is one in which they are not truly conscious and over which they have no control nor do they know how to interpret what they experience through them. The first step in transcending this is to reduce the gap between the conscious and non-conscious aspects of our mind. This is the gap I have spoken about already, is the same one that makes it a challenge to be in the moment, that inhibits our capabilities or the gifts of our consciousness and awareness and feeling connected to the conscious universe all around us.
I wrote about this at some length in the Awakening Our Gifts series. If we are not able to bring any of our conscious self or awareness into their dreams then, besides continuing to practice whatever technique we are using, we must examine our beliefs about the nature of our consciousness, what we are and so on. This is because our mind, which includes our beliefs, plays a significant role in our ability to do such things. If we hold beliefs such as “One cannot be conscious in a dream” or “We have no control over our dreams” and so on they will act to block our ability to do so.
“How we see ourselves is far more complex than most of us realize. We rarely see our beliefs, we get hints about them. For example, can we articulate our belief about the nature of our existence, "What am I?", when the answer to such a question has many components? If you want to answer such a question you must know what you believe and what you believe affects what we are aware of and our thoughts at every level. We are restricted by beliefs that are not “aligned” as energy follows attention hence it will follow what we believe, whether it is "true" or not. This is where conflicting beliefs become a problem as it is like being pulled in different direction by elastic bands. If you have two beliefs, A and B, and they are in conflict, the more you try to follow belief A the more belief B pulls until eventually you cannot proceed further. This can lead to confusion and the inability to make a firm decision. This is because conflicting beliefs block our awareness and if we don’t believe something we may not even be consciously aware of it.” (2)
Further, we are not as conscious of what we believe as many of the beliefs we hold were manifested during the integration process by our minds in the “background” at the non-conscious level. They also do not surface unless we spend some time thinking about and considering the thoughts we have. We need to become more aware of our limiting beliefs in order to re-evaluate and change them (3). As I mentioned, if we want to lucid dream or astral travel, for example, and have struggled to do so it is highly likely that what is blocking us is our own beliefs. This is assuming one is putting in an effort to do so. While finding and changing our beliefs can be a slow process it is essential if we are intent on getting past the limitations they impose.
One of the ways to do this is to work at it using our conscious mind. If we keep “thinking we can” and implant thoughts such as “Any beliefs I hold to the contrary are wrong and invalid” and do these things firmly and with conviction our mind will start to make adjustments to our beliefs on its own. When this happens we find ourselves noticing restrictive thoughts and can then work on changing them. Of course the more beliefs we hold related to this area the longer the process can take. Be patient with yourself, it took your lifetime to date to create the beliefs you have, changing them will not occur overnight.
For example, I am sure you there have been times in your life where you tried something brand new and unexpectedly found you could do it or were good at it right from the start. You might have said to yourself “I never knew I could do that!” and then consider that you also “Never knew you couldn’t”. By holding fewer or no restricting beliefs you were free to do it unencumbered. To do things we currently believe we cannot do means removing the limiting belief(s).
So, just what is the dream state? Well, it certainly is different from our waking conscious but not by type, rather by degree, as in degree of conscious awareness. The Buddhist text titled the Bardo Thodol, or as it is commonly known, The Tibetan Book of the Dead (4), is intended to guide one through the experiences that they will undergo after death. It contains the term “bardo” which means “intermediate state”. They see existence as a series of alternating transitional states which includes waking, sleeping, meditating, birth and death, wandering in the spirit world and reincarnating as bardos.
Think of bardo states as a period of resting between any two periods of dissimilar activity. This applies to thoughts, breaths, death and rebirth and waking and sleeping and so on. It is an entry point that helps us realize the true nature of the mind because at such points it is quiet, relatively speaking. There are different techniques one can use to “see clearly” during each transition, they all include some portion of clearing the mind of its chatter.
Now, I mentioned that our beliefs and thoughts can limit and restrict our awareness, the below passage from “Book of the Dead” clearly speaks to this:
“Hey! Now when the meditation between dawns upon me,
I will abandon the host of distracting errors,
Focus in extreme-free experiences, without releasing or controlling,
And achieve stability in the creation and perfection stages!
Giving up business, now one-pointed in meditation,
I won’t surrender to the power of erroneous addictions!”
~ Root Verses of the Six Betweens
Buddhists and yogi’s use the term “clear light mind” (5), and by that they are referring to the subtlest level of mind. It is the aspect of self that which is actually continuing moment to moment to moment. It has the ability to understand and to know things. Our thinking mind can comprehend and know but this is literally second hand knowing and is limited unlike the “clear light mind”. When we experience the now we are using our “clear light mind”. It is also our clear light mind that we slip into just at the transition point between sleeping and waking. This is the same state we enter after we die, though unless one has cultivated it during life they are likely to be unaware of it upon passing. We cannot access this “mind” if we are preoccupied at the physical level and cling to comfortable illusion its familiarity brings.
Have you ever experienced the transition from sleeping to waking consciousness without expectations, desires, wants or needs? It is a blissful state, one where we are in the moment. It typically doesn’t last long because we find ourselves thinking of getting up and doing things for various reasons and so we quickly slip past this state. Yet it is there for us each and every time we awaken from sleep, it is a state we can remain in for a period though to do so one must have no desires or wants else they will find themselves quickly “rising to waking consciousness”.
It is a state one can attain in meditation and as one’s awareness grows we are able to access this aspect of our minds more frequently. Other times when this occurs are during déjà vu and, at moments where our mind has a “glitch” and the mind is for a moment relatively, and if you will forgive me, when we have an orgasm. At such times there are no secondary considerations, no desires to be elsewhere doing other things and we are not caught up in self image or worry or any other form of reactions.
Being more consciously aware in any of the bardo states, including dreaming, requires a mind that is relatively clear of limiting distractions, that is not controlling, is balanced and not captivated by illusionary wants and needs (the idea here being our consciousness is “immortal” but all other “things” are transitory). One needs to begin to transcend the illusion of duality, to begin to elevate their minds beyond such things. This is what I have been writing about as the principle keys to awakening our gifts and being conscious in the dream state is one of these “gifts”.
This is also what teachers like Alan Watt’s and Eckhart Tolle do through their teachings, namely they are trying to share with people ideas that if embraced can break down the mental barriers created by our beliefs. Our beliefs can inhibit us and when this occurs we are essentially fighting ourselves. Anyone who teaches in this area should not be trying to convince you of things, the goal instead is to provide you with new ideas that you can consciously consider, explore and integrate. Teaching in this way, as I previously mentioned, helps us reprogram our mind for our benefit, something that often happens without our noticing (though the results are tangible).
There are many techniques one can employ to learn to do lucid dreaming or astral travelling from meditations prior to sleep to electronic devices that help put us in the “right state” to experience them. As a result I will not go into them here, but if you have tried some and been unsuccessful then consider examining the one thing that is likely getting in your way, namely your own mind. When you do start to work on being more conscious in your dreams remember to keep your intent firmly in mind and do not take it too seriously.
I have only touched the surface of this broad topic because there is too much to cover in one piece and a lot of that is so subjective as to be of much direct benefit. Nor are there any techniques that will guarantee one having more control over their dreams or to become more aware when in them. Instead I have focused on what I believe will help you reduce the factors that will limit attempts to do these things. What we need to do is not rocket science; however, it does require firm intent and a dedication to working on the biggest inhibitor – our own minds.
The Unconscious Conscious Being by Peter Phalam
© 2013 Allan Beveridge
Last edited on May 31, 2016
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