In the Beginning was the Dream
(video contribution for Dream Your World Conference October 25th - 29th, 2017
offered to an audience of children and young women aged 8-28 — a movement aiming to bring dreaming tools to girls and young women, to create empowered young dreamers who will envision and manifest positive change in their lives and world).
Why do we need to pay attention to our dreams? Because they connect our mind with our soul. Dreams can guide us when we need help and warn us when we are taking the wrong path in life. Yet very few people are aware that dreams are of great value and significance. Were you brought up to remember and write down your dreams, to talk about them with your parents, teachers or friends, and to wonder what they might mean?
As we grow up, we face many demands such as passing exams, learning to use the new digital technology and gaining the qualifications needed to find our feet in the world. Because of all this pressure to succeed, as well as trying to keep up with friends on social media, inner soul needs may be neglected. This is particularly the case in schools where there is no time or space for connecting with the imagination through poetry, drama, painting, craftwork and listening to each other’s dreams. Despite the advances in science and technology we live in a fog of ignorance as to who we are and what the deeper purpose of our lives might be on this wonderful blue planet.
We may have been told that our material universe is the only one that exists and what we call our consciousness or our mind begins and ends with the physical brain. We may have been told that when we die that is the end of us. Fortunately this story is fading and a new one is being born. The new one tells us that in our deepest essence we are connected to everything in the universe. We are part of a universe that is alive, intelligent and the source of our ability to think, to feel, to imagine and to wonder. We could say we are cosmic beings having a human experience on this planet. We have had many, many lives here. When we die we simply unzip our skin-suits and move on in a soul body to other dimensions of the universe that are not yet recognized by science but have been visited and explored for thousands of years. Do you like the idea of stepping out of your skin-suit and travelling in your soul-body to these other dimensions? (1)
Where do dreams come from? This is a question people have asked for thousands of years. Generally speaking, they come from a part of ourselves that we have lost touch with, something that used to be called the Soul. The soul has a personal aspect relating to what we’ve experienced in our lives. But it also has a wider, deeper aspect which carries the memories of all life experience on this planet – the experience of everything we call Nature. Our own individual soul is part of this greater Soul life which speaks to us in dreams. Its wisdom can guide and help us as it did in this dream of a dyslexic twelve-year-old girl who was deeply distressed by her difficulties at school and unsure of her path in life:
I am with a little old man with a long white beard who takes me up to the attic of a house. It is empty except for twelve trunks. We look into each of the trunks and they are all empty until we come to the last. In this one there is nothing except a tiny black horse with a jewelled saddle and bridle, studded with rubies, emeralds, sapphires and diamonds. The horse is alive. The old man hands it to me.
Unsurprisingly, this little girl became fascinated by horses, became an event rider and a highly respected riding teacher. This dream was helping her to find her path in life. Someone who was older and wiser than she was appeared in her dreams when she most needed help.
Imagine there are three levels to what we call Reality, like three circles, one on top of the other with a line connecting them. The first and lowest circle is the physical or material level that is most familiar to us, that we interact with every day. It’s the environment we grow up in, go to school, make friends, discover what really interests us and find our feet in the world. This level takes almost all our attention throughout our lives.
Then there is a second circle or level of reality – an invisible one – that was recognized thousands of years ago by all ancient civilizations. This is the Soul level. Creative ideas and dreams come from this level. Do you remember the experience Einstein had of travelling on a sun-beam to the edge of the universe, an experience that led him to formulate the Theory of Relativity? Like his
waking dream experience there are visionary dreams that can change the course of our lives if we pay attention to them.
The third and highest circle or level of reality has always been called Spirit although it has been given different names like the Divine Ground or God. People in ancient cultures found divine guidance coming to them from this level through the Dream. They recognized that the Dream was a channel of communication between themselves and this highest level of reality.
One could say that in the beginning was the Dream. All ancient civilizations gave the highest value to the Dream. The Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Greeks, the Hebrews, the people of Africa valued visionary dreams as messages and even instructions coming to them from the Divine Ground of Spirit. The American Indians, the Inca people of South America and the Mayans of Central America and, further to the East, the Indians, Tibetans and Chinese honoured the Dream for the same reason. A modern Tibetan Lama says “There is nothing more real than the Dream; most Tibetans consider dreams to be a source of the most profound spiritual knowledge and guidance for everyday life.”
It may seem strange to us that long ago people received the laws that governed their communities as well as their ability to heal from the Dream. Today we rely on our politicians to give us our laws and our doctors to heal us. But it is obvious from the problems we have created and the many physical and mental illnesses people suffer from that something vital is missing. That something is our connection to Soul and to the guidance of the Dream. Perhaps we need to recover what these societies knew thousands of years ago and pay more attention to the Dream.
In these ancient communities it was the Dream that kept them in touch with the Law of Harmony that governed the whole universe, the Law of Harmony that Pythagoras discovered in mathematics and sacred geometry. Sometimes the Dream led them to encounters with god-like beings they called “The Shining Ones”. Sometimes they were able to travel to other dimensions and return to this one with the knowledge and insights they had gained.
For countless thousands of years, astronomers and mathematicians in these early societies studied the stars, the patterns of the constellations and the movements of the sun, the moon and the planets in relation to them. They kept exact records spanning many thousands of years. They built extraordinary temples that were aligned to constellations like the Great Bear and Orion or to the planet Venus or the bright star we call Sirius. The Dream was highly valued in all these early societies. It was understood to be the means by which we could align ourselves with the unfolding pattern in the heavens at any specific time. So they paid the closest attention to the Dream as a way of maintaining this harmonious relationship. It may even have been the Dream that gave them the design of their temples and showed them how to accomplish incredible feats of engineering like building the pyramids.
We know that some of their greatest dreamers used to go into a cave or temple room where no light penetrated. There they would pass the night or even several nights and days in absolute darkness and silence to wait for the visionary Dream to come to them. This practice was called incubation. Rites of incubation, travelling in the Spirit-world and healing were practised in sacred places all over the ancient world. For example, two thousand five hundred years ago, all over the Greek Empire, people travelled great distances to famous healing sanctuaries to be healed of their diseases with the help of the Dream.
Like the astronomer-priests of Egypt who communicated with the stars, or the Daoist sages of China and the Vedic seers of India, living in the deep solitude of mountains and forests, the shaman-seers who guided these societies were trained to enter a state of utter stillness, to listen and bring back to their community what they heard in an altered state of consciousness. Because of what they learned in their dreams, these men and women were called ‘wise’. Do you know someone in your own community you would call ‘wise’?
There are two main societies which gave the highest importance to the Dream: these early civilizations and the shamanic or indigenous societies that still exist in many parts of the world including North and South America, Mongolia, South Africa and Australia. The word ‘Shaman’ means ‘one who dreams’. For many thousands of years and even to this day, people in shamanic cultures felt their lives had meaning and value because they lived within a Sacred Order where Spirit, though invisible, was not seen as something remote or separate from Nature. Through the Dream they knew that all life was a manifestation of Spirit. They felt Spirit was present in every aspect of the world around them.
The Dream taught them that all life is sacred; that each one of us is a sacred being and that we have to care for the Earth because we are all children of Mother Earth. Everything — plants, trees, animals and birds as well as the moon, sun and stars — was alive and filled with divinity because everything was part of a living, breathing, connecting web of life. Through their dreams, they were in touch with what they called the Spirit-world, a world that included the life of the animals and plants. They were in touch with their ancestors and listened to their guidance. Shamanic cultures knew there was life beyond death and that people had many lives. They knew how to travel in the dream state to other worlds. The shamanic societies in different parts of the world knew that all living things are connected to all others by an invisible web that extends over the whole universe. In India, this web is called the Net of Indra.
This instinctive awareness of the unity and sacredness of life still lives in the depth of our soul even in our modern world which does not recognize Nature as sacred or matter as alive. Ancient shamanic wisdom is returning to us now as we face the effects of what we have done to harm the life of the planet. We cannot continue to dominate and control Nature for our own advantage. The collective soul of humanity has become disconnected from its roots and this is the reason why there is so much conflict and suffering and lack of harmony in our world. From the dreams and prophecies of the Hopi Indians, among others, has come the urgent message that we have to change our ways if we want to survive on this planet.
Among the indigenous people of North America a man was not considered to be fully a man until he had been sent into the wilderness on a vision quest and come back with a significant dream that he shared with his community.
There is one famous dream — the dream of a nine year old boy called Black Elk who belonged to the Sioux tribe in North America. This boy had seen himself standing on the central mountain of the world which he recognized as a sacred mountain peak in his own homeland.
“I was seeing,” he said, “the shape of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all things as they must live together, like one being. And I saw the sacred hoop of my people was one of many hoops that made one circle, wide as daylight and as starlight, and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children of one mother and one father.”
Black Elk knew this was the kind of ‘big’ dream that he should share with his community.
In our modern world, fairy tales may be the distant memories of dreams where forests were inhabited by animals and birds that helped us when we were lost; where spirits of tree and mountain, river and sacred spring spoke to us and revealed the secrets of healing plants and waters. These stories are the creation of a different kind of consciousness to the one we have now, one where the poetic imagination was highly cultivated and honoured and where story-tellers and dreamers held a place of honour in the community.
Because all this ancient wisdom has been nearly forgotten, it takes some time, attention and effort to treat the dream as something very important in our lives, something that can help and guide us on our path through life and even be of help to our community, our nation or the planet. In a world that has forgotten the importance and significance of the Dream they can still speak to us if we pay attention to them. They can awaken us to a different understanding of life and who we are and why we are here on this planet.
There is one very important aspect of our dreams I need to mention and that is when animals appear in them. Why do animals appear in our dreams? I believe they bring us messages from a part of our soul we know very little about. They represent our deepest instincts, the part of us that is closer to Nature and far older and wiser than we are. We have been taught to be suspicious, even afraid of our powerful instincts and feelings. But if our instincts are neglected they can erupt in violent, angry ways, hurting others as well as ourselves. Shamanic People have always communicated with the animals and welcomed them as guides. They know that the animals they see in their dreams express the deepest wisdom of nature and can warn, protect and guide us like the fox that appeared in this dream:
Not many years ago there was a great English poet called Ted Hughes who had this dream when he was at university. He had been working on an essay late into the night. Exhausted, he fell asleep. He dreamed he was sitting once again at his desk when suddenly the door of his study opened and a man with the head of a fox came in. The fox-man looked as if he had been in a fire and his skin was blackened and bleeding. He came to the table and put a blood-stained paw on the white page of Ted Hughes' essay, saying, “This is killing both of us.” Deeply shaken by this dream, Ted decided the next day to switch studies from English Literature to Anthropology. The effort to treat the literature and poetry he loved in an academic way, analysing and criticising its content had been killing his soul and even threatening his life. This example shows how dreams, if paid attention to, can actually change the course of our life.
All kinds of animals may appear in dreams. We may dream of animals which approach us in trust and friendliness, or animals that are wounded and frightened or are dangerous. A wounded animal may carry the memory of something frightening or distressing that happened to us when we were very small that is asking for our loving attention and healing.
Sometimes they are much larger than life size and you may find yourself being chased by one. If this happens, turn around and face it instead of running away. Ask it what it wants. It may turn out to be your friend rather than your enemy. It may even speak to you. This is why it is important to pay attention to the animals that appear in your dreams. You can begin to communicate with this most ancient and wise part of yourself. There are many animals that may carry special meaning for you. What animal comes into your mind as you listen to this talk? Has one appeared in your dreams recently?
To face the darkness of our inner life and discover the importance of the Dream is an act of great courage in an age which denies the existence of the soul and has come to ridicule and reject whatever does not appear “rational”. Because life holds no deep meaning for many millions of people, they may turn to drugs or alcohol or self-destructive patterns of behaviour or even to violence. They may sink into depression and despair, eventually developing a mental illness for which they will be treated with powerful drugs. All this sickness comes from the neglect of our inner life, the loss of connection with our soul.
So to end, I hope I have given you some idea of the importance of the Dream and the great value it held in ancient civilizations and shamanic societies. Get yourself a special notebook with a cover that appeals to you in which to write down your dreams. Try and avoid websites and books that tell you what your dreams mean. Trust your own soul and treat your dream life as if it were as real as your ordinary life. Little by little, your dreams will speak to you and you will begin to understand their language and their importance in your life. Be sure to write down the date and year of your dreams. Maybe find a group of friends to share them with. If you pay attention to them you may be surprised by what they will tell you and the wisdom they will bring you.
1. The expression "unzipping our skin-suits" came from a seminar series on Alchemy given by Dr. Simone Wright and used here with her permission.
Painting is "The Sleeping Gypsy" by Henri Rousseau 1844 - 2014