Dream Gates

Dream Gates

Smellie’s school of dreams

posted by Robert Moss

- Wiliam Smellie National GalleryHe was the first editor of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and his racy style and talent for aphorisms made it an immediate popular success. He was a friend of the poet Robert Burns, who described him as “that old Veteran in Genius, Wit and Bawdry.”

Scientist, writer, master printer, natural philosopher, encyclopedist, bon vivant, William Smellie (1740-1795) was a man of many parts with very definite ideas about dreams. He was a Scot who wanted to rescue the study of dreams from the “dark theological horror” of the Calvinist imagination that had taken hold of many of his countryman.

Smellie (wonderful name!) insisted that dreams are neither escapist fantasies nor wiles of the devil, but a mirror in which we see the true shape of our desires. We may deceive ourselves, but dreams do not lie. In his article on dreams in the first edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, he declared that “the imaginary transactions of the dreamer always bear some relation to his particular character in the world, his habits of action, and the circumstances of his life.” Therefore, “a person whose habits of life are virtuous does not in his dreams plunge into a series of crimes; nor are the vicious reformed when they pass into this imaginary world.”

Smellie took this argument further in The Philosophy of Natural History:

The vice which is most frequently and luxuriously indulged in our dreams, may safely be esteemed our predominant passion. Though motives of interest, decency, and the opinions of our friends, may have restrained us from actual gratification, and created a delusive belief that we are no longer subject to its solicitations; yet, if the imaginary gratification constitutes an agreeable dream…we may freely conclude..that those motives which deter from actual indulgence are not the genuine motives which virtue inspires…We should reflect that, during sleep, the mind is more ingenuous, less inclined to palliate its real motives, less influenced by public opinion, and in general, more open and candid, than when the sense are awake.

Let’s notice that this philosophy of dreams implies that we are responsible for our actions in dreams, just as in waking life. We should compare our behavior in dreams to our behavior in regular life and use the dream mirror to correct our performance.

 

Image: Portrait of William Smellie by George Watson in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery

Walking Your Dreams

posted by Robert Moss

- BabickaJanice likes to walk dreams, as you or I might walk the dog. Sometimes she walks her own dreams. As a teacher of Active Dreaming who plays guide for others, she often walks other people’s dreams, like one of those professional dog-walkers you see with half a dozen canines of all sizes on a fistful of leashes. As she strolls around, she finds that fresh insights come to her easily and naturally. Sometimes an incident gives her a second opinion on a dream. This might be the sigh of the wind in the trees, or the flight of a bird, or a snatch of overheard conversation.

I love this approach, which has something in common with Jung’s preferred mode of “circumambulation” in approaching the meaning of a dream. Jung felt that he came closer to the heart of a dream when he wandered around it, looking at it from different angles, rather than trying to mount a direct assault on its inner keep.

So walking a dream can be just what the phrase suggests. Janice – a shrewd and stylish New Yorker who worked in sales for many years – adds a further twist to her dream walking. “I like to wear my dreams the day after,” she says. This might mean dressing in the style or dominant color of a dream or carrying accessories that evoke something of the dream.

Let’s review some other options for walking our dreams.

Make a dream amulet
One of the most ancient is to create or obtain an object that can serve as a dream amulet, holding and focusing the energy and guidance of a powerful dream.

Research assignments
Research is often an action required by a dream. Dreams can prompt us to do detailed research on content, ranging from an obscure word to the natural habits of an animal that appeared or a way of fixing a fuse box. This can go far beyond simply clarifying the initial information. Dream clues can put us on the trail of very important discoveries, ranging from our connection to a spiritual tradition that is calling us, to a new book idea, to what’s going on behind closed doors in Washington.

Jung said that his dreams spurred all his important study. “All day long I have exciting ideas and thoughts. But I take up in my work only those to which my dreams direct me.” My own studies are similarly guided, but I would expand the word “dreams” to include waking experiences of meaningful coincidence when we feel we are receiving a secret handshake or a nudge or a wink from the universe.

Feed your dream animals
When you dream of a certain animal, you want to research its natural habits and habitat to understand its relevance to you and the way you relate to the natural path of your energies. This means doing something better than just consulting some guide to animal totems; it means studying it in the way of a naturalist, in nature if possible – perhaps on the way to feeding and nourishing it in your body, and in the way you use that body.

Apply navigational guidance from dreams
The action a dream requires may be to carry and apply its navigational guidance. It’s my impression that the dream self is forever traveling ahead of the waking, scouting the roads we have not yet taken. By studying closely where our dream self has traveled into the possible future, we can decide whether we want to follow in its tracks, or take a different way. We may see a future event we cannot change but can handle better – and help others to handle better – because we remember and apply what showed up on or dream radar.

Create from dreams
Many dreams invite us to create from them and with them, through our favorite media and also through media with which we may be less familiar or less confident. Write, sculpt, draw, dance, paint, move with the dream, and if you have friends or family who’ll play, turn it into performance or theater. Some dreams want to explode into paint on canvas. Others flow effortlessly into poetry. Some make us pick up our feet and move or dance. Some get us down on the floor with crayons or cutting up old magazines with scissors for a collage. Some dreams want to be baked or stirred.

 

ActiveDreaming2_cvr.indd

Text adapted from Active Dreaming: Journeying beyond Self-Limitation to a Life of Wild Freedom by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.

 

 

“Path in Grandmother’s Valley” photo (c) Robert Moss

William James and the psychic dreamer on the bridge

posted by Robert Moss

- Shaker bridge Enfield NHBertha Huse, a teenage mill girl, goes out for a walk in the cool morning mist of a New Hampshire fall. This is her habit, but her family worries when she does not return for breakfast and does not show up for work. A few hours later, a full-scale search is in progress. She likes to walk a Shaker bridge across Lake Mascoma, and it is feared she may have fallen into the water and drowned. The mill owner sends for a diver. There is no sign of Bertha above or below water.

In another New Hampshire village, five miles away, Nellie Titus has been following reports of the search and grieves for the family. A couple of nights later, she screams in her sleep and her husband shakes her awake. She rebukes him for waking her before she had seen where the missing girl was. She tells him firmly that he must never interrupt her sleep, whatever she seems to be doing.

A reputation for dreaming true runs in Nellie’s family. Her grandmother had the gift. It is not  clear whether Nellie is dreaming of the missing girl or dreaming as her. On another night, she makes it her focused intention to solve the mystery. She emerges from the new dream complaining that she is “oh so cold.” It seems she has joined the girl in the lake, in the place of her drowned body. Nellie is certain she knows exactly where the body is located.

She persuades her husband to get out the buggy and drive to the Shaker bridge. She makes him stop half-way across, gets out and to the edge. She points down at the dark water around the bridge supports. “She is there.”

They go to George Whitney, the manager of the mill where Bertha work, and insist he should get a diver to search again, under the bridge. Whitney is a decent master, but he is also a man of reason and science – these are the 1890s, after all! But the village has been stricken by Bertha’s disappearance, and he agrees to give it a try. The diver, a wiry, skeptical Irishman named Brian Sullivan, is reluctant to go down. But when Nellie gives an exact account of where the body is located, jammed in the structure of the bridge, with a leg protruding, it is agreed that one dive will be made, at the place she points out.

That is exactly where Bertha’s body is found. It was invisible to the diver, as he groped underwater. Almost certainly, he would have missed it, except that he had received exact directions from a psychic dreamer in contact with the spirit, or at least the situation, of the dead girl.

The case attracted tremendous public interest, and led William James, the towering pioneer of both psychology and psychic research in the United States, to lead a full investigation. James’ wrote a report, based on extensive interviews, in 1898 for the American Society of Psychical Research, titled “A Case of Clairvoyance”.* Sullivan, the diver, said that he was far less scared of a cadaver in the water than of the psychic “woman on the bridge” who knew just where the body was to be found. William James used his  the case of Nellie Titus in his campaign to link science to spirit, and build a body of evidence to crack open the closed minds of those he called “orthodoxers”. He declared that the case of the woman on the bridge was “a decidedly solid document in favor of the admission of a supernormal faculty of seership.”

 

Shaker bridge, Enfield N.H., 1908. Public domain.

 

What science tells us – and does not tell us – about dreams

posted by Robert Moss

- Dali sleepWhat does science have to tell us about dreaming?

One of the most important discoveries is that in modern urban society, few people sleep the way most humans did for all of our evolution before the introduction of artificial lighting. For hundreds of thousands of years, humans thought that what the pushers of sleep meds promise — an uninterrupted night of seven or eight hours’ sleep — was an unnatural and undesirable thing.

Experiments by a team led by Dr Thomas Wehr at the National Institutes of Mental Health in Bethesda have supplied compelling evidence of how our technology has ripped us from our natural cycle. Deprived of artificial lighting for several weeks, the typical subject evolved the following pattern: lying awake in bed for an hour or two, then four hours sleep, then 2-3 hours of “non-anxious wakefulness” followed by a second sleep before waking for the day’s activities.

One of the most exciting findings in Wehr’s study involved the endocrinology of the night watch. The interval between first sleep and second sleep is characterized by elevated levels of prolactin, a pituitary hormone best-known for helping hens to brood contentedly above their eggs for long periods. Wehr concluded that the night watch can produce benign states of altered consciousness not unlike meditation.

Wehr and his team put their subjects on the Paleolithic plan, without alternatives to electrical light such as candles or fire or oil lamps. The Paleolithic two-sleeps cycle wasn’t only a stone age phenomenon; it was characteristic of how people spent their nights until gas lighting and then electricity became widespread.

A seventeenth century Scottish legal deposition describes a weaver as “haveing gotten his first sleip and awaiking furth thairof.” Sleep historian Roger Ekirch says that “until the modern era, up to an hour or more of quiet wakefulness midway through the night interrupted the rest of most Western Europeans” – and presumably most other people – so that “consolidated sleep, such as we today experience, is unnatural.”

This may help to explain the extent to which so many of us in our urbanized society are out of nature and out of touch with dreaming. “Segmented sleep” was the norm for our ancestors until quite recently, as it remains for some indigenous peoples today. Like Virgil and Nathaniel Hawthorne, the Tiv of central Nigeria speak of “first sleep” and “second sleep”. They wake at any time during the night and will talk to anyone in the hut who is also awake – often about their dreams.

Most interesting, the intermediate state the French called dorveille was widely regarded as an excellent time to birth new ideas. In 1769, the artful London tradesman Christopher Pinchbeck advertised a device called a “Nocturnal Remembrancer”, a parchment tablet inside a box with a slit to guide the writing hand in the dark to enable “philosophers, statesmen, poets, divines and every person of genius, business or reflection” to secure the “flights and thoughts which so frequently occur in the course of a meditating, wakeful night.”

It is possible that in our modern culture, through our suppression of ancient and natural circadian cycles, we have rendered ourselves (to quote Thomas Middleton) “disanulled of our first sleep, and cheated of our dreams and fantasies.”

While our modern sleep patterns may interfere with our awareness of night dreams and our ability to share them, new technologies for imaging brain activity tell us we are dreaming at night nonetheless — maybe dreaming all night long — and that some of the brain’s behaviors during sleep dreams are curiously similar to those associated with creative flow in other states of consciousness. The new science of dreaming suggests the following:

  • Almost everyone dreams, every night — even someone who has suffered massive brain injury.
  • Humans who conform to the modern sleep pattern average six dreams (or dream sequences) every night, whether or not they remember.
  • While many researchers continue to associate dreaming with the rapid-eye movement (REM) state of sleep discovered in a Chicago laboratory in 1953, there is growing scientific evidence that dreaming — or at least some form of “mentation” — is going on all through the night.
  • The behavior of the waking brain is quite similar to that of the dreaming brain during creative states, as when jazz performers enter a riff of improvisation.
  • Dreaming plays a critical role in growing learning skills and consolidating memory. There is hard evidence, for example, that dreaming about newly learned material enhances subsequent recall of that material.

While brain science tells us important things about the quality of our reception, it no more tells us how our dreams are made than pulling apart a television monitor can show you how and where a movie produced and how it travels from a network to your screen.  A true science of dreaming requires us to gather data outside the sleep labs, inside the dreamworld itself.

Adapted from The Secret History of Dreaming by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.

 

Graphic: Salvador Dali “Sleep”

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