Too many of us have lost touch with our dreams. It's no exaggeration to state that our society is suffering a severe and protracted dream drought.
From the viewpoint of many spiritual
traditions, this is a very serious condition. It's through dreams, say the
Navajo, that humans keep in touch with the spirit realm. If you have lost your
dreams, say the Iroquois, you've lost part of your soul. "It is an age-old
fact," declared the great psychologist C.G.Jung in his last major essay,
"that God speaks chiefly through dreams and visions."
There are three main reasons
for the dream drought in many modern lives:
1. Bad habits.
The rhythms and routines of a typical urban life
simply don't support dream recall. Too often, we are jolted awake by alarm
clocks - or bed mates, or kids who need to get to school - and stumble out into
the world, fueled with caffeine, to try to get through our rounds of deadlines
and obligations. In many situations, we have nothing that supports and rewards
the habit of taking time to collect our dreams. Most of us also lack a practice
for creating a safe space where we can share our dreams, receive helpful
feedback, and be supported in devising creative action to embody the guidance
and energy of our dreams. If we don't do something with our dreams, we will not dream well.
2. Fear and regret.
We run away from our dreams because we think they
might be telling us something we don't want to hear - about the dark side of
ourselves, or trouble or illness ahead. We slam the door and say "it's
only a dream." This is a poor strategy. Issues we leave unresolved in the
night are likely to come round and bite us in the rear end in the everyday
Alternatively, we dream of
something wonderful - of joy and delight with Mr or Ms Right, of a dream home,
a dream job, a world of peace and beauty. But when we wake up we tell ourselves
there's no one like Mr Right in our life, or we don't have the looks or the
money or the ability to manifest what we enjoyed in our dreams. So we kiss off
the dreams, telling ourselves they are "only" dreams. Again, this is
a foolish reflex. If we can dream it, we may just be able to do it.
3. Artificial sleep cycles.
Very often our concept of a good night's sleep is
at odds with our dreams. Many of us believe - supported by any number of sleep
doctors and pharmaceutical companies - that we need to spend seven or eight
hours each night in uninterrupted sleep. This idea would have amazed our
ancestors. Before the advent of artificial lighting (gas and then electricity)
most humans experienced "segmented sleep" divided into at least two
distinct cycles, a "first sleep" and a "second sleep" as
they used to be called in England.
Experiments by a team led by Dr
Thomas Wehr for the National Institutes of Mental Health suggest that, deprived
of artificial lighting, people revert to the ancient sleep plan, with an
interval of several hours between the two sleeps.One of the most interesting
findings of Wehr's research was that during this interval subjects typically
register elevated levels of prolactin, a pituitary hormone that helps hens to
brood peacefully on their eggs for prolonged periods, and assists humans to lay
eggs of a different kind, but putting them into a benign altered state of
consciousness not unlike meditation. Sleep historian A.Roger Ekirch says
flatly, "Consolidated sleep, as we experience it today, is
The French had a charming word
for the liminal state between two sleeps: dorveille,
which literally means wake-sleep. Among indigenous and early peoples, it's a
time when you might stir and share dreams with whoever is available. It's a
highly creative state, so much so that in my Secret History of Dreaming I have called it the "solution state", based
on the many scientific discoveries, and other breakthoughs, have come in this
zone. While we are primed or medicated to give ourselves just one longish sleep
period,we are limiting our chances of recalling and sharing dreams, and
depriving ourselves of easy access to the fertile field of hypnagogia - the
images that come and the connections that are made - between sleep and waking.