July 2, 2008

Dreams as Spiritual Practice

I Just wrote this essay as a contribution to a project being conducted by an on-line dream group I belong to. I thought it was worthy of space on this blog.

The majority of mankind's current problems can be attributed to a drastic restriction of the race's consciousness to a narrow band of phenomena that can be perceived by our physical receptor senses. This trend in human priorities is generally known as materialism. Various esoteric schools have differing explanations for how and why this veiling of the face of Isis came about (some saying that it was a necessary stage of development in order to make us more fully manifested on the physical plane), but they generally agree that cultural evidence shows there was a time mankind was, as a whole, more sensitive to vibrations from other planes of being, and communicated with these planes of being.

Materialism as a "philosophy" (if one may grace such a narrow-minded view with such a lofty designation) is completely bankrupt: it is impossible to find one's way through life with no guide other than one's perceptions of the material world, and the conclusions of the physical brain. Actually, going about life in this manner inevitably leads to error. There is vastly more to the Universe than the material, and there is vastly more to Mind than the brain.

For the purposes of this essay, a good definition of spirituality would be: the desire to escape the prison of materiality and to expand consciousness to an awareness of realities beyond the material.

In this day and age of unfettered eclecticism and prolific syncretism, people driven by their spirituality to search for means to transcend the material world have access to a bewildering volume of resources from myriad cultures and historical eras. There are countless trail heads for paths up the mountain to the one unifying peak: meditation (comprising a plethora meditation methods), ritual, herbs and potions (including outright drugs), alchemy, sex, dance... you name it! (And any eclectic/syncretic combination thereof!)

The practice of devoting oneself to dreams, and especially what evolved in the late 20th century under the rubric of "dreamwork", is undoubtedly a means of expanding consciousness beyond the material. Although it would be disputed by the most intransigent of academic scientists, it does not take too many months of dreamwork -- especially if one's work involves other people -- before one has experiences that lead one to suspect dreams are not solely dependent on the physical brain. There are things that happen in dreams that strongly suggest (some would go so far as to say PROVE) they are transpersonal, transdimensional, and involve communication between the self and other beings or states of mind beyond the physical body. These experiences are characterized by an unexpected transgression of the assumed laws of nature one has absorbed from the society we live in. For instance, time is demonstrated not to be what we thought when we see an event in a dream before we experience it in physical reality. Or space gets bent when we see something happening in a dream that is taking place somewhere else in the world. Or the nature of personal reality and individuality is challenged by perceiving knowledge that someone else knows, but has not told you.

So it is not hard to argue that increasing one's awareness of dreams is a path to breaking out of the material fetters our milieu tends to bind us with. But the bigger question is: HOW does one pursue dreams as a spiritual practice?

One conclusion I've come to is that the discipline of keeping the dream journal is the single most important aspect of dreamwork. It is the sine qua non (Latin for: without which there is not) of dreamwork. If you don't keep the journal, dreamwork can't happen. It's what practicing katas is to karate; playing scales is to musicianship; drawing sketch studies is to painting. If you don't write them down, you don't remember them, and if you don't remember them, there's no material to work with. Keeping the journal is already an act of "spiritual anarchy" in and of itself. You are declaring that you are willing to put time and energy into something which has no physical reality, and is unrelated to the usual mania of acquiring possessions that dominates the motivations of most people in the materialist world.

But there's another aspect to this. The act of keeping the journal is what rebuilds the bridge. This loss of awareness of noumena outside the realm of the ordinary conscious mind (the aforementioned falling of the veil) is why we are such strangers to our unconscious minds. It takes practice to rebuild that bridge. As most people know now: we dream every night, most people just don't remember it. With practice, we learn how to coax those memories into the bright light of day. And along with that ability to remember dreams comes an ability to pay attention to the subtler things that are always going on at various levels of one's mind.

The subconscious mind is the gate to greater reality. The word dream is a very broad catch-all term that encompasses all the experiences we have from the time we put our head on the pillow and close our eyes until we get out of bed the next morning. Once we pay attention to these experiences we realize that they are not all of the same nature. Some can be accurately described as psychic experiences, visions, astral projections, readings of the akashic records, and other types of internal experiences that have been documented in esoteric teachings, religious texts, and other literature, as far back as our records reach.

But paying attention to and recording dreams does not yet constitute a spiritual practice. To be able to call it that, one has to make a commitment to act on the experiences one records. You cross a line from intellectualizer, dabbler and dilettante to spiritual practitioner once you act with will and courage, and actually base an action you take in the physical waking world on something you experienced in a dream. And it does take courage at first. After all: this is the kind of thing the materialists call insanity! "You did it because of WHAT? Something you dreamed? Are you nuts?" There is something downright magical in allowing this knowledge, this energy from another dimension to manifest in your physical world. It's like lightning striking. And sometimes the effects can be just that dramatic, or they can be simply deeply gratifying. And that’s everything one could expect from a spiritual discipline.


Attila Borcsa said...

Theo, I enjoyed reading your post. Your Socratic style definitely gives it a touch!

From the definition you gave here to spirituality, in this context, dreamwork can be truly considered part of it. If we consider that spirituality is the "desire", as you say, then its true. I would argue a little on the state of consciousness of 'dreaming' representing a higher form of consciousness, as you might suggest (that just might be my misinterpretation). But working on this raw material of dreams has - at least - therapeutical value. On the other hand I would not go so much against materialism in terms of esoteric approaches. Including it into a wider view, it gives a very helpful realism, as opposed to spirituality with heads in the clouds.

So, again, this was an excellent article!

anthromama said...

"unfettered eclecticism and prolific syncretism"...that hits home.

And I like the image of lightning in relation to manifesting things from dreams.

Theo Huffman said...

Anthromama: I thought that phrase pretty much cleverly caught the contemporary spiritual scene in a nutshell. Sometimes I amuse even myself ;-)

Attila: No, I would not say that dreaming necessarily is a higher state of consciousness, but it is an important gateway to those higher states.

Your remark "But working on this raw material of dreams has - at least - therapeutical value." actually ruffles my feathers. Why is it assumed that we all need therapy? I wasn't even aware that I was ill. Why do we need to see things through a pathological filter. Why can't we assume that we are all healthy and just the way we are supposed to be at this stage of our evolution, and that we have essential tasks to fulfill and adeventures to go through? I'm not lying on any analyst's couch when I'm doing my dreamwork. I'm an explorer prospecting the unknown precincts of my consciousness.

And as regards your comment "On the other hand I would not go so much against materialism in terms of esoteric approaches." I could not disagree more. Materialism is a viewpoint that nothing exists outside the realm of the physical senses. This is nothing less than a debilitating lie that is crippling our society. I don't deny the existence of the physical world. I don't argue against the essential necessity of working and living in the physical world. You should note that what I identified as the defining act which turns dreams and dreamwork into spiritual practice is committing oneself to using dreams as inspiration for acting in the waking/physical world. Until you do that, you indeed only have your head in the clouds.

Attila Borcsa said...

I did not mean to ruffle your feathers :) Actually that is just semantics as I don't disagree here. When I wrote about the "at least" therapeutical value, that was meant to be a little ironical. My accent was on "at least". So, I agree it is way more.

On the other hand ;) why should we assume that we are all healthy? Now my accent is on "all". On the more serious side, I am a non believer when it comes to "the way we are supposed to be at this stage of our evolution". Besides the fact that we might be ill and nevertheless "the way we are supposed to be" in illness. Maybe it is semantics again here, but I don't see any linearity (even more, I believe there is none) in "evolution". There may be identifiable tasks, it might be adventurous, but I slightly disagree with 'we have' in "we have essential tasks to fulfill..."

Again, this doesn't mean that I disagree much here, as I like your "Pansophia" very much, its just debating. Cheers!

Theo Huffman said...


You're right. I don't really think there's anything substantial we disagree about. And my use of the the words "we have" didn't necessarily mean that all the tasks to be performed are collective and identical.

I do appreciate that you like my blog. I don't mind a little "Socratic" discussion.