Dreaming

alligators bdA recent article in the New York Times discusses new research by Dr. J. Allan Hobson, a sleep researcher at Harvard, which argues that the main function of REM sleep (when most dreaming occurs) is physiological and not psychological.  The brain is likened to a machine that uses what we might experience as dreams to warm up its circuits and get ready for the sensory and emotional inputs of waking life.  (For the NY Times article see: http://tiny.cc/msv41).

Hobson says that, “dreams are tuning the mind for conscious awareness.”  In my admittedly less scientific view, it would be the mind that is tuning the brain for conscious awareness.

Despite the advances made in a more quantum understanding of matter and energy, Newtonian-influenced scientists just keep chugging along chopping every molecule, behavior and moment (i.e. chopping up time itself) into smaller and smaller meaningless pieces.  Saying that the brain and body are a machine is like saying that love is only the drive of procreation and continuance of the species—it is if you say so, but that gets us the world of global warming, faster machines, greater alienation and potential destruction.

The philosopher Leo Strauss suggests that the only way out of the stuckness of the modern situation is to, “voluntarily choose life-giving delusion instead of deadly truth, that one fabricate a myth.”  The very suggestion that dreams are just the random firing of the machines engine to warm it up is to entirely miss the point of asking, “who is going to drive that machine, and where the hell are they going?” 

Dreams are one of the few ways that people who have not been supported to think imaginatively might discover their own myths.  Hobson suggests that people remember so few of their dreams because they are unimportant; if people realized that they are important they might pay more attention and then remember more of them.

I’ve seen this work with many clients:  get a dream journal and place it by your bed.  This action cues the unconscious that you’re ready to take an interest.  Be patient, within weeks or maybe months a dream will come.  Write it down, even just a fragment; contemplate what it could be telling you (rather than consulting ready interpretations in encyclopedias of symbolism).  Dreams create and make use of our own personal symbolism at the personal level—they are often archetypal, but the archetypes will take up residence in the images you associate with power, shadow, desire, wisdom, wholeness, etc.; at the collective level the occasional “big dream” may connect us to the workings of a more universal consciousness as well.

David Lewis-Williams, in his book “The Mind in The Cave” argues, rather convincingly, that human beings evolved to the point of true imagination and symbolic representation at the same time that cave art begins.  While Hobson likens any and all dreaming to the activity of mammals who exhibit REM, Lewis-Williams more artfully distinguishes between Neanderthal level consciousness and Homo sapiens, which turns out to be all the difference between tool-making and simple imitation of others (as with Neanderthal) and the beginning of myth, art and true culture (with us Homo sapiens).

When Picasso walked into a cave in Altimira Spain and looked at the art he said, “We’ve learned nothing in 30,000 years.”  I think the same can possibly be said about dream interpretation, but can almost certainly be said about dream fabrication.  We have the genetically same brain as our ancestors who dreamed, visioned and painted on the cave walls.

In dreams we pass through a veil of consciousness, the art on a cave wall demarcates a symbolic representation of that consciousness—a veil through which the shaman/artist passed.

I say all this because parenting is an art.  Living is an art.  Evolving our spirits and learning to wake up and love in our highest potential is an art.  Studying a car engine will give you little insight into the heart of a human who happens to drive a car; the brain really needs to be better understood as an energetic field more than as a machine.  While non-logical to assert, it seems to me plausible that the mind created the brain; that some sort of collective consciousness beyond the reach of our tools of perception created the illusory dream that we call “reality,” and this just might include creating our brains which are poorly equipped to understand the mystery that gave rise to them.

When someone is dreaming but realizes that they are dreaming it is called “lucid dreaming.”  Hobson has created this state in the lab, and found that the dreamer then has REM activity and at the same time forebrain activity (not usually associated with dreaming).  He uses this fact to conclude that dreams are just equipment revving, but I think it could also be argued that while mammals dream, only Homo sapiens has the developed forebrain that allows for myth, art and culture. 

I once had a lucid dream in which I was at a party with friends and family where a friend who’d passed away was washing dishes in the kitchen.  Realizing that Larry was dead, I turned to my younger son and said, “this is a dream—we can fly!”  We started to fly all around the party, having a grand old time until we flew into a room where an unrecognized woman stood looking dour.  I excitedly said to her, “This is a dream, you can fly,” and hoisted her up and tossed her flying… only she crashed right to the ground and I woke up, laughing.  The mythic mind flies, the material-bound mind crashes to the floor; I know that I contain both minds, but fear the rationalist who denies their mythic mind calls forth the destruction of their much vaunted material world.

I’m not against science, in many ways it is very useful and interesting.  But I am equally for myth, dreams and the power of mind and consciousness over brain, machine and a world turned into nothing but objects and mechanistic hollow relationships.  Science cuts and chops while myth flies and expands.  Behaviorism can get children to behave, but only myth, poetry, dreams and love can get them to shine, not to mention allow us to actually perceive their sacred spirits (something Newtonian science cannot find with a knife or a microscope and therefore can’t possibly “believe” in).

It is precisely the melding of dream-state and transcendent functioning that may represent our best bet at enhanced, non-machine-like, heightened consciousness human functioning; for example, extremely experienced, perhaps “enlightened,” monks show lots of activity in the forebrain while depressed people often show only darkness there—the depression of a life without spirit, resonance and real connection.

Interestingly, David Lewis-Williams suggests that the emergence of the gene for Bi-polar disorder comes at the same time in the historical record as cave art, which itself is evidence of a sort of shamanic ability to pierce the veil of consciousness and travel on journeys inner, outer or something altogether different and non-spatial.

What I’d like to suggest in this blog is that we pay more, not less, attention to our dreams.  Any parent who cares to share a dream that they suspect relates to parenting can post it as a comment here, or email me separately.  One the one hand I will do my best to contemplate whatever it could be bringing the dreamer in the way of help and understanding to do better as a parent, and to evolve with their deeper Self—with the caveat that I hold no claim to “know” what a dream means, only to join in a mutual process of curiosity.  Beyond this, if any significant flow of dreams get shared, or common themes begin to show up, we can see if the virtual group of this endeavor might be getting some clues about how we might all better address the honor and challenge of taking better care of all our collective children. 

Sweet dreams & Namaste, Bruce

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One Response to “Dreaming”

  1. BigLittleWolf Says:

    Love this. Yes.

    I once had a lucid dream in which I was at a party with friends and family where a friend who’d passed away was washing dishes in the kitchen. Realizing that Larry was dead, I turned to my younger son and said, “this is a dream—we can fly!” We started to fly all around the party, having a grand old time until we flew into a room where an unrecognized woman stood looking dour. I excitedly said to her, “This is a dream, you can fly,” and hoisted her up and tossed her flying… only she crashed right to the ground and I woke up, laughing. The mythic mind flies, the material-bound mind crashes to the floor; I know that I contain both minds, but fear the rationalist who denies their mythic mind calls forth the destruction of their much vaunted material world.

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