Sunday, December 1, 2013

Who is the dreamer?



We travel, in this world and in others, in the direction of our interests and desires, and we see what is around us through our personal lens.
    Swedenborg, one of the great astral travelers, observed that this determines our experience of the afterlife. He wrote in Heaven and Hell about how the light of heaven was a consuming and terrible fire to those who wanted to go somewhere else.
    This is highly relevant to how we understand what goes on in our dreams. The famous American psychic Edgar Cayce suggested that we need to discern whether a certain dream reflects the needs or wishes of the body, the mind or the spirit.
    Our dreams are often excursions, in which we travel beyond the physical body in a subtle vehicle, guided by whatever part of the self is in control.

    Let's turn to another of the world's great astral travelers, the Persian mystic philosopher Shahabuddin Suhrawardi, whose followers called him Shaykh al-Ishraq, the Leader of Illumination. He distinguished different levels of dreaming – with corresponding degrees of importance and reliability – according to which aspect of the self is the prime experiencer.
     Clear dreams or “free revelation” [kashf] are experiences of soul [ruh] traveling beyond the body, or having clear communication with a visitor. The territory visited may be a separate reality or a situation in the future. “With the eye of the free soul, by the imagination, a person contemplates in dreams the state of things which is yet in the hidden.”
     In this condition, the dreamer can have accurate foreknowledge of future events, and true clairvoyance. “After separation from the body, the soul knows even of the small things heard and seen of this world.” In clear dreams, the dreamer becomes a remote viewer.
     This is a practice that can be developed in waking states of altered consciousness, or mukashafa. The Prophet Muhammad scouted out the progress of a caravan en route to Mecca in this way. The Caliph Umar, from afar, scouted an ambush that had been laid for his general Sariya (and sent his general a telepathic warning that was received).
     The second of Suhrawardi's categories is symbolic dreams or “fancied revelations”. These he defines as dreams in which the lower self [nafs] is dominant. Clear vision is cloaked by the “fancy garments” of appetite and desire. Landscapes traveled in such dreams are “the stages of lust.” Interpretation is required to separate a message from the fancy dress.
     Suhrawardi's lowest category is dreams of  “pure fancy”. These unfold when “sensual thoughts” take over completely and higher consciousness [ruh] is “veiled from considering the hidden world.”

Then there are the dreams in which we seem to join or rejoin another personality, in another body, in a different reality or a very different version of our present world. I have just been reading the travel reports of a prolific dreamer who has found herself entering the perspective, the life experience and seemingly the bodies of different animals, including a small terrier dog and a very large polar bear.
     These experiences seem to me entirely plausible, and possibly quite similar to the dreaming of many of our ancestors, and of indigenous people who remain rooted in the old ways. This dreamer loves animals and lives close to the natural world, so it seems likely that the animal-lover in her, and the part of her that not only identifies with animals but is willing to learn from them, takes charge during these adventures. Typically, she retains dual awareness, of her human self with its current life situation and memories, and of the animal self she joins.
 
Here's a question to ask when you come back from a dream excursion: who was the dreamer?

Translations of Suhrawardi are from H. Wilberforce (ed. and trans.) A Dervish Textbook ('Awariful-Ma'arif) London: Octagon Press, 1990. For more on Suhrawardi, see The Secret History of Dreaming.

Photo:  Beyo─člu mirrors (c) Robert Moss

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