Dreams are real while they last, Can we say more of life?
— Havelock Ellis
Since ancient times, dreams have been regarded as a source of inspiration, mystery, and messages. They have been interpreted in many different ways by different cultures. From shamans to prophets to modern Western psychologists, dreams have been regarded as the way to intuitive knowledge, a key to the unlocking of unconscious forces and hidden potential. However they are interpreted, dreams are a nightly miracle in which a whole universe appears populated with people, places, and creatures that seem solid, independent, and “real.” People think I’m kidding around when I say I used to study in my sleep, but it’s true. I used to take heavy workloads in school. 20-24 credits per semester, plus being married and the primary caregiver to young child didn’t leave me much time, so even my sleep was put to use.
According to one Nobel Prize-winning biologist, dreams are nothing more than hallucinations produced as the brain flushes out neuro-chemical waste. I couldn’t disagree more.
There many forceful arguments against that last assertion. Take the life of Harriet Tubman, for example. After escaping slavery in 1849, she went back to organize the Underground Railroad and personally led over 300 slaves to freedom. What few history books choose to document is the fact that Tubman often relied on her dreams to provide specific information about where to find safe houses, helpers, and passages through dangerous territory. Robert Moss tells the whole story in his book, Dreaming True.
There are countless examples of dreams working to change our waking reality in deeply transformative ways. The chemist Friedrich August Kekule von Stradonitz solved a scientific mystery with the help of a dream. In 1865, after numerous unsuccessful attempts to find the precise structure of the benzene ring, he had a dream of a snake biting its own tail. With this vivid image in his mind when he awoke he finally guessed the solution that had eluded him. What if the six carbon atoms of benzene formed a closed ring — the shape formed by the snake — and not a mere chain, as he previously believed? The resulting research that came after this “Aha!” moment revolutionized the field of organic chemistry.
Otto Loewi struggled for 17 long years to prove his hunch that the transmission of nerve impulses traveled chemically and not electrically as was the prevailing theory of the time. In 1920 he had a dream that revealed how to design an experiment to determine whether his hypothesis was correct. The experiment succeeded resulting in his winning the Nobel Prize.
Dante Alighieri finished his masterpiece, The Divine Comedy, before he died in 1321. But when his sons tried to assemble the manuscript for publication, they realized parts of it were missing. After many days of searching they had given up hope. Then the spirit of Dante appeared in one his son’s dreams and showed him a hiding place in his old bedroom wall. Upon awakening, the son went to the place indicated in the dream and found the lost papers.
The great golfer, Jack Nicklaus, had more major tournament wins than any golfer in history. Of course, skill and practice were the keys to his success, but once he tapped into a different source. In 1973, he was mired in one of the worst slumps of his career. He was at a loss for an answer. Then one night he had a dream in which he experimented with a new grip. When he went to the golf course that morning, he tried the dream’s idea. It worked and his slump soon ended.
I perceive dreaming as a gateway to what I call intuitive knowledge. It’s precognitive knowing, knowledge before cognition. It’s something Western science has rarely explored because it goes counter to our cultural assumptions about knowledge.
One night, according to my ex-wife, I awoke from sleep and talked to her extensively about a synopsis for a novel I was considering. She told me that I spoke at length and in detail for about forty-five minutes. She also told me that the premise for the novel blew her away — in her words, she was utterly shocked by the breadth and range of my thinking on this novel.
The next morning, she was very excited and asked me when I would start working on the novel, had I begun to write anything? Could she read any rough drafts? I looked at her as if she had grown a third eye. I had no clue as to what she was talking about. She thought I was teasing her, but the fact is that I have no recollection of that conversation. Of course, she didn’t take any fuckin notes, so there goes any aspirations I had about being the next Stephen King…
Like my dream, most altered states of consciousness slip away, as one returns to ordinary thinking. What happens is that the peak experience is rationalized, intellectualized, or, as in my case, forgotten, but the question still nags “How did that happen?” followed by the wish of, “How can I return to it?”
There are countless stories of non-dual awareness but they all have a common element and that is they are usually accompanied by a deep attentional state or a state of complete absorption. I believe this is where training for intuitive knowledge can begin. Modern science now begrudgingly acknowledges that meditative states have positive side affects that range from the physical (lowering blood pressure, and ameliorating stressed-induced diseases) to the psychological (increased focused, lowered depression, increased states of happiness).
I once rocked myself to sleep in the throes of a deep and powerful heartbreak. Actually, I had spent a whole weekend so devastated that I could barely climb out of bed. All I wanted to do was curl up in a fetal position.
Then one night during that weekend, I had a dream that would change my life completely…
I rarely ever remember my dreams and maybe this is a good thing, considering the fuck kinda shit dwells in my subconscious. However, there was one unforgotten dream that had a profound impact on my life. In fact, after that dream I was never the same person. The dream changed me forever. And, get this, I don’t even remember its details.
Nonsense, you say? Read on…
Several years ago, my life was imploding. Everything that I had worked towards, or valued, seemed to be unraveling before my eyes. My marriage was on the rocks. Actually, it was barely breathing, it was waiting for someone to mercifully shoot it. I was in my senior year of my undergraduate studies and I was so burnt out that I couldn’t retain any more information. A straight A student, my grades were plummeting and I was having a hard time finding meaning in it all. To complicate matters, due to my past and continuing sanctions, I couldn’t get a job to save my life.
It was a strange time, looking back, because though I realized things were coming to a head on many fronts, it seemed as if I were just floating around there for a bit. As if it were all happening, and I was there witnessing all of this, but unable to do anything about it.
I divorced, barely escaped my senior year, and eventually had to leave graduate school for a job and that’s where it all started. I was working for an East Harlem non-profit as a life skills trainer where I met this young woman. A co-worker, she was half my age, and I really didn’t think she was interested, but eventually she let her feelings known. Actually, what she said was, “Don’t you ever get it?” during dinner once. Yes, I’m dense and sometimes I often don’t “get it.”
Anyway, we began dating and at first, my attraction to her was minimal. I mean, she was pretty, intelligent, and we shared many common interests. We spent a lot of time going to museums, discussing poetry, reading books together, taking walks, etc. Still, I never felt any overwhelming feelings of attraction.
Well, one thing led to another and she let on that her feelings for me were more than casual. I think the “L” word was mentioned somewhere in there, and though there were red flags and alarms screaming all over the place (too complicated to discuss here), I allowed myself to entertain the possibility that the feelings were mutual. This woman was 25 years old to my 45. And while, yes, age is only a number, the fact was that my priorities and frames of reference were much different from hers. As a result, eventually she “fell out” of love and I was stuck. I had talked myself into love! We split and I was taking it pretty bad. Looking back, I realize now that what I had was an obsession, not love. I mean, I didn’t do anything overly stupid like stalk her, or act out on my compulsions, but I was definitely in a lot of pain.
So, there I was, it was a cold, rainy Friday night and I go home, just wanting to lay down and pull the covers over my head and sleep forever. And that’s when The Dream happens…
I’m in bed in deep pain and I sleep. Maybe it wasn’t just this relationship, but the accumulation of everything that had happened over the previous year: the divorce, the stress of higher education, not being with my son everyday — I felt like I was in a boxing match and losing big time. I went to sleep shrouded in a deep, intense sorrow… and I dream.
I don’t remember the specifics of the dream, the content, but the feelings are what I remember. In the dream, there is a woman in my life, I don’t know or remember exactly what she looks like. I remember her eyes and her smile. The important part is that in the dream this woman loved me in a way I had never experienced in my life. The love was so palpable that it filled me with joy, in the process washing away my sorrows as if they were merely dirt.
There’s this very real feeling of being loved so completely that it seems as if my very being is transformed on a cellular level. The dream woman knows everything about me: from my most insightful thoughts to the most pornographic. She knows it all: the good and the bad, everything, and yet she still loves me wholly, without condition. In the dream, I remember hearing her voice because all I remember is that she was walking laughing with some of my friends — she was walking to meet with me. But there’s this real sense that she loves me and I am filled with a total, untainted, unconditional love, and I’m ecstatic.
And then I wake up…
But here’s the most important part: the feeling in the dream? It’s still there. I’m filled with this incredible sense of being loved that seems to come from the very heart of my being. It’s not an over-the-top “gee-I’m-so-happy” type feeling, but rather a calm presence at my center, washing away my fears and doubts. It’s as if the woman in my dream connected me to the very essence of love itself.
Lucid dreaming is dreaming yet being conscious of dreaming. In lucid dreaming we can become free to confront our fears, fulfill our desires, or seek our highest goals, knowing we are the creators, not the victims, of our experiences. The question that preoccupies me is if it’s possible to refine this lucidity and extend it to “dreamless sleep” or waking states, or both. Obviously from my personal perspective the answer is an unqualified yes. However recent research also confirms my intuitive grasp.
I never tried to analyze this dream, but without thinking about it in words, a part of me sensed that the woman in my dream wasn’t someone else, but an aspect of myself. I didn’t come to this realization by thinking about it; I sensed it in my body.
Since that day, yes, I have experienced sadness, anger, disappointment — the full catastrophe of life — but nothing, not even death and loss, has ever taken away the dream’s gift: this invincible joy at the core of my being. It seems that my dream didn’t just result in a temporary altered state of consciousness, but helped propel into a more permanent stage consciousness; an unfolding of consciousness that redefined my “reality.”
Perhaps, I was at the right place in my life. Perhaps the dream was pointing me to a road I needed to travel or push toward a journey I had already begun to undertake, I can’t be sure. I do know it was pointing me to the opening of my heart because the more I open, the stronger this presence in my life becomes. When I close, I lose contact; when I open, the contact becomes stronger. It’s not about “me.” It’s about the dissolving of the fake wall that separates “me” from you.
My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…