The Three "Only" Things
Tapping the Power of Dreams, Coincidence & Imagination
By Robert Moss
New World Library Copyright © 2007 Robert Moss
All rights reserved.
DREAMING IS WAKING UP
Let's try it again: How often have you said, "It's only a dream"?
You may have said this to yourself when you wanted to forget about something that troubled you during the night, wishing that issue away.
Maybe you said it wistfully, surfacing from a dream in which you were enjoying beauty and pleasure that seemed unattainable in ordinary life.
As we rush or stumble into the business of the day, it's easy for us to leave our dreams behind. A door slams shut in the mind, and the dreams are gone. It's poor strategy in life to let that happen. Here's why:
Dreams are not on our case, they are on our side.
They open vistas of possibility that take us beyond our everyday self-limiting beliefs and behaviors. Before we dismiss our dream lover, our dream home, or our dream job as unattainable — "only a dream" — we want to examine carefully whether there are clues in the dream that could help us to manifest that juicy vision.
Our dreams also show us things we may prefer not to think about — which is a major reason why many of us slam that door shut on our dreams and try to keep it closed. Those things may include future life problems, or parts of ourselves we tend to ignore or repress, or the larger values and issues involved in a situation we are approaching from a limited point of view.
We may prefer not to think about these matters, but if they are in our dreams, it is because our wiser Self is telling us we need to think about them. When our dreams show us future problems, they are also offering tools to avoid or contain those problems — if we will only heed the messages and take appropriate action. When our dreams reveal aspects of ourselves we tend to deny, they invite us to reclaim the energy we waste in denial and to integrate and work with all the aspects of our energy. When dreams reflect the bigger issues involved in a current situation, they offer us an inner compass and a corrective to decisions driven by ego or other people's expectations.
When we see things in night dreams we don't like, we need to pay careful attention, because we are being shown elements in our life situation that require understanding and action. The scarier the dream, the more urgent the need to receive its message and figure out what needs to be done.
When you know that, and act accordingly, you'll find your dreams can help you get through the toughest things life throws at you. You'll discover your dreams can help you save your job or your relationship — or move to a better one. They can help you to avoid illness, and the car accident that is otherwise waiting to happen next Tuesday. They can save your life, both your physical life and your life's meaning. To be alive as humans, we need purpose, just as we need food and air and sex. Dreams help us remember our life's purpose and live our larger story.
* * *
In street talk, when we say, "in your dreams," we are being even more dismissive than when we say "only a dream." Tu rêves, on a Paris street, means it can't happen; you're deluding yourself. A guy who tries to pick up an Israeli girl on the beach might be told, "You're dreaming in Spain."
Students of Eastern philosophy often quote the teaching that dreaming is a state of Maya, or illusion (though in Eastern philosophy, waking life is an even more illusory state).
We dismiss dreams, yet the word dream has magic. We use it to describe experiences that are hugely important, things that stir the soul and can change the world. I have a dream. Martin Luther King may or may not have been inspired by a night dream; by his own earliest account, the numinous moment came when he was leaning over a kitchen sink in the middle of the night, close to despair, and felt the presence of a greater power blessing him and propelling him forward. We all know what he meant. The phrase still sends shivers of recognition through us.
Hollywood is the "dream factory," and the word has long been the most popular in the vocabulary of the advertising business. We are lured by the prospect of acquiring our dream car, our dream appliance, our dream vacation, and our dreamboat (maybe through an online dating service).
So in our usage as well as our understanding, the word dream is very slippery. It's illusion or nonsense and it's the heart's desire, the secret wish of the soul, a vision for the world.
* * *
There's something creepy in the root cellar of the English word dream.
When it first appears in Old English, the word dream means joy, revelry, or merriment. It can also mean music, or mirthful noise — the kind of merry din you might get if a bunch of medieval topers are downing too many jugs of mead. Other words, ones that look odd to the modern eye (swefn, maeting) are used in Old English to mean "dream" in the sense of a vision or an experience during sleep. The word dream does not assume those meanings — in general usage — until Chaucer's time. The linguists aren't sure how the shift came about.
Most scholars believe that the word dream in the English language today is not the same word as the Old English dream, even though the words are spelled the same; the general view is that dream, in the sense of a vision or a sleep event, is an import from Old Norse (draumr) or Old German (Traum). So we need to go tracking in the northlands to find what is hidden in the word dream. When we do, we find that dream has some tricky relations in the north. One of them is draugmas, which means "deception" or "illusion." Another of them — draugr — is a ghost, a haunting, or a visitation by the dead. The word Traum, contrary to appearances, is not related to trauma (which comes from the Greek word for "wound"), but a dream of the draugr might indeed be traumatic.
The word dream will not stay pinned down, like a big beautiful blue Morpho butterfly that just will not consent to be put under glass.
Many of us, if asked to come up with just one definition for dream, would probably talk about images or impressions that appear during sleep. In some European languages the words for "sleep" and "dream" are identical, as in the Latin somnium, from which is derived the older French word for dream, songe.
Yet for many ancient and indigenous cultures, dreaming is not fundamentally about sleeping; it is about waking up — that is, awakening to a larger truth and a larger reality than are accessible to ordinary consciousness.
This is clear in the language of ancient Egypt, which knew a lot about dreaming. The Egyptian word for dream is rswt. It literally means "awakening," and in hieroglyphics it often appears followed by a determinative depicted as an open eye.
This makes sense when we reflect that in much of waking life, we can find ourselves in the condition of sleepwalkers, driven by schedules and other people's agendas, too busy or too stressed or too "out of it" to remember what it's all about. The Renaissance physician and alchemist Paracelsus put it like this: "That which the dream shows is the shadow of such wisdom as exists in man, even if during his waking state he may know nothing about it.... We do not know it because we are fooling away our time with outward and perishing things, and are asleep in regard to that which is real within ourselves."
For many ancient and indigenous cultures, the dream world is as real — even more real — than everyday waking life. "The dream world is the real world," say the Seneca Iroquois Indians. For most human cultures, across most of history, dreams are of vital importance for two key reasons: they offer a place of encounter between humans and the more-than-human, and they may be prophetic, revealing events that lie in the future.
Both functions of dreaming are possible — in the understanding of our oldest psychology — because in dreams we travel outside the laws of Newtonian physics, and because in dreams, we can receive visitations. This understanding is reflected in the vocabulary of cultures that place a high valuation on dreams.
For example, among the Makiritare, a tribal people of Venezuela, the word for dream is adekato, which means a journey of the soul. "When we dream, the spirit goes on walkabout," says a wise woman of the Kukatja, an Aboriginal people of Australia's Western Desert. Among the Australian Aborigines, personal dreams may be expeditions into the Dreamtime, the place of creation.
Other gifts and powers of dreaming play hide-and-seek in the vocabularies of other peoples. For the Irish, an aisling may be a dream, a vision, a poem, or all three. In Hebrew, to dream (halam) may also be to bring yourself good health. Among the Iroquois Indians, to dream (kateraswas) is to bring yourself good luck, and a dreamer (atetshents) is also a shaman, a healer, and a physician.
* * *
My favorite definitions of dream do not come from dictionaries or cross-cultural analysis. They come — fresh and spontaneous, as new as tomorrow and as ancient as the antlered sorcerer on the wall of a cave near Lascaux — from people everywhere who are tuned into their dreams and honor them.
At a talk at a bookstore in Austin, Texas, I began by asking whether anyone in the audience would care to define the word dream. To my surprise, at least thirty hands went up. The first four definitions of a dream offered by the Austin crowd convey a vivid sense of the gifts and possibilities of dreaming:
1. A dream is a beginning.
2. A dream is an adventure.
3. A dream is a message from a wiser self.
4. A dream is a mission.
The NINE POWERS of DREAMING
A dream can be an adventure playground, a jungle gym, a night school (and a flight school), a garden of heavenly delights, a place of encounter with the more-than-human, a portal into the multiverse. A dream is a place, as the Egyptians understood very well. It may be a place of beauty or terror. It can be a place of healing, initiation, higher education, and outrageous fun.
If we are losing our dreams, we are closing off worlds of possibility, entertainment, and learning.
Of all the gifts of dreams, for me the most important are the nine powers of dreaming we'll now unfold.
1. We solve problems in our sleep.
2. Dreams coach us for future challenges and opportunities.
3. Dreams hold up a magic mirror to our actions and behavior.
4. Dreams show us what we need to do to stay well.
5. Dreams are a secret laboratory.
6. Dreams are a creative studio.
7. Dreams help us to mend our divided selves.
8. Dreaming is a key to better relationships.
9. Dreams recall us to our larger purpose.
1. WE SOLVE PROBLEMS IN OUR SLEEP
John Steinbeck observed, "It is a common experience that a problem difficult at night is resolved in the morning after the committee of sleep has worked on it." We may or may not have any recollection of our "committee of sleep" in the morning — we may not even have the slightest recall of a dream — but all of us have had the experience of going to bed with an issue on our mind and finding we had the answer in the morning.
We've been doing this for as long as our kind has been on the planet. We dream in the womb, getting ready for the trauma of coming down the birth canal and of all that life will throw at us after that. As a species — and as individuals — we dream long before we utter our first word.
It's not surprising that creators and innovators often wake up in their dreams to new discoveries and inventions. This is true in every field of human endeavor, from composing great music to fixing the sidewalk.
Dreams help us to soar beyond our current limitations, whatever they are.
Working with the Committee of Sleep
Athena Lou, a dream coach and friend in Hawaii, dreamed she was flying through the air with dolphins and whales. This dream inspired her to leave a secure and well-paid job at a bank and go out on her own, into the riskier field of freelance consulting. In the dream, she reveled in a fabulous sense of freedom, and she decided she needed to claim that same sense of freedom in every part of her life. Now, as a creative consultant, she encourages businesspeople to tune into their dreams, as well as other sources of intuitive knowledge. She has noticed that, more than most people realize, smart business decisions are often guided by dreams.
For instance, an executive in an international high-tech firm dreamed of Oreo cookies flying off into space. The dream inspired her to buy a lot of stock in Nabisco, the manufacturer of Oreos — and the stock price subsequently soared. Then there was a business executive on Oahu who dreamed his company's corporate headquarters was sinking like a ship. The building was tilted at an angle, just like the Titanic. He escaped by jumping into an elevator shaft and sliding down the incline, popping out of a window on a lower story as the whole structure came crashing down. The dream led him to go on a job hunt — and he got out just before the company got into deep trouble when the local economy succumbed to a recession.
Dreaming Up Monster.com
Jeff Taylor, the creator of the wildly popular internet job search company Monster.com, was inspired by a dream. He woke at 4:30 AM from a dream in which he built an electronic bulletin board system where people could look for jobs. In the dark, he wrote down on a pad next to his bed, "The Monster Board." Nervous that if he went back to sleep he might not be able to decipher or decode what he had written, he went to a coffee shop and proceeded to sketch out a detailed plan.
Notice that Taylor was prepared for his guiding dream in two ways. First, he had already been thinking and feeling his way toward a major innovation. Second, he was ready to catch his dream — on the pad by the bed — and to act right away on its guidance.
Dreaming Bouncy Sidewalks
For two decades, Richard Valeriano's job as a Santa Monica street inspector included checking for damage to sidewalks caused by the spreading roots of the city's shade trees. Broken concrete is expensive to repair and a frequent source of injuries to pedestrians. Work crews in Santa Monica were being sent out with chain saws to cut down mature ficus trees.
One night after work Valeriano dreamed of a bouncy, flexible sidewalk that solved the problem. "In my dream, sidewalks were all bending and twisting, but there was no cracking. I woke up and said, 'Wow! Elastic sidewalks! I wonder how we can make them?'"
He did not know how to enact the dream until his health club, during remodeling, installed rubber tiles as flooring. This inspired Valeriano to look for a company willing to develop a prototype for a rubber sidewalk. The tiles were made from recycled auto tires, and the city of Santa Monica tested them by having bicyclists, Rollerbladers, and women in stiletto heels, among others, do their worst.
Five years later, rubber walkways were being tried out in sixty American cities. The rubber was saving the shade trees and pedestrians' footing. Rubber walkways were installed in April 2006 around the willow oaks on Rhode Island Avenue in Washington, DC. The kids liked the bounce — though they find it's not so easy to carve your initials or draw on the pavement in chalk.
Solve It in Your Sleep
Here's a plan for any night of the year:
Before you hit the sack, write down an intention for the night. A simple way is to fill in the blank in the following statement: "I would like guidance on...."
Make sure you are ready to record whatever comes to you — and be ready to do so whenever you happen to wake up, because the big messages often come at unsocial hours. Many great discoveries are made between 3 am and 4 am, which is also the hour (according to some surveys) when most babies are born and most people die.
If you wake up and you do not recall any dream, relax. Wiggle around in bed. Sometimes a dream comes back as you get your body into the position you were in when you were dreaming. If you still don't remember a dream, write down whatever you are thinking and feeling. You may find you have the gift of the dream — a solution or an inspiration — even if you have lost the content of the dream.
On a spring morning in 1905, Einstein woke up with a theory that revolutionized science, the Special Theory of Relativity. He had told a friend the previous day he felt he was on the verge of a huge breakthrough but was not sure what it was. In the morning, he had all of it, fresh and sparkling in his mind. There is no evidence Einstein remembered the content of his dreams from that tremendous night, but he received their gift, and it changed everything. (Continues...)
Excerpted from The Three "Only" Things by Robert Moss. Copyright © 2007 Robert Moss. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
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