‘People hardly ever make use of the freedoms that they have: for example, freedom of thought. Instead, they demand freedom of speech as compensation.’
- Søren Kierkegaard
There are two ways into the world of dreams. The first is to walk in consciously, the second is to achieve consciousness while in it. These two modes suggest two ways of dealing with the unconscious mind: the largest part of the activity of our brain, and the seat of much that remains undiscovered about ourselves.
Those who work at night to explore the extent of these worlds, the Oneironauts, have names for these processes and practises. Mnemonic-Induced Lucid Dreaming (MILD) is the road suggested for beginners, and involves training the mind to think regularly during the day: ‘Am I dreaming?’ Practise of this questioning will form a habit that also takes place during sleep, and allows the dreamer to gain consciousness during a dream. Once ‘awake’ in this world, the dreamer may ride the wave of the dream all the way out: as long as he can maintain his composure. Lucid dreamers report that in these dreams, the degree of detail and vividness is no less than waking life. Individual blades of grass are clearly distinguishable, and the mind generates a sensory virtualisation that is no less convincing than the experience of materiality.
Wake-Induced Lucid Dreaming (WILD) is the more difficult practise of the two, but offers the possibility of a fully conscious cross-over into the dream world, on demand. The extraordinary power of mind and practise (or, in some cases, talent) needed to achieve this allows the dreamer to trick the body into thinking that the mind has gone to sleep, avoiding loss of consciousness by holding attention to the swirling patterns and spontaneous images that appear before the closed eyes.
I’ve never made it past those gates: but I’ve seen incredible things as I’ve approached them. First, blossoming checkerboards of lights and colours, then a ring of white fire that approaches my vision, closer and closer, until it envelops me, my heart pounding. I’ve been shown faces of people I’ve never met, towers that rise up into some unknown sky… or strange animals and seascapes. The spontaneous creativity of the mind in this mode has amazed me. It makes me believe that the mind wants to build, to express, and communicate.
It would be easy to think that these worlds and experiences are irrelevant: a distraction from the important stuff of working and social life, which should demand the whole of our attention. Yet to think this suggests that the unconscious mind is some ‘other’, that we can ignore, or, perhaps, an engine ‘under the hood’ that never needs to be serviced or checked. Perhaps you can go a lifetime without exploring the unconscious mind through dreams: many have. But our age is unusual in that our relative mastery of the empirical world can fool us into thinking that we have less need for spirituality, and the practises that attached themselves to religion. Yet these practises and narratives did more than we knew: they taught people to listen to their dreams, and believe in the worldview that blossoms out of the feelings of the heart. The centuries of evolution that they experienced, far from being an ‘apostasy’, fashioned them to speak the depths of human need.
I’m not getting all hazy-eyed for the past here: we’re in a stronger position today than ever, because we can see dreams in terms of a new spirituality, if you want to call it that. Call it a new psychology, if that feels better. Here are some reasons why we should listen to our unconscious mind during that 30% of our life where it has hitherto gone off wandering, alone:
1. To desire to enter the dream world is to acknowledge that we are more than our conscious mind. It is to accept that we can be more than the narratives that run along the surface of our thoughts, and those that we inherit from our culture.
2. To succeed in entering the dream world is to live a metaphor for seizing control of that which seemed out of our reach. We are reminded that we can cease to ‘sleep walk’ in life – but that every decision point is an invitation to action.
3. To explore the dream world is to find landscapes that were beyond our knowledge – to see that infinite worlds and life await, accessible to all, regardless of socioeconomic or geographical restriction.
4. To experience the dream world is to learn to enjoy and appreciate the sensory wonder of the world, and to take pleasure in the beauty that occurs between our mind and the world which has given it its form and life.
5. To wake from the dream world is to experience two awakenings in one night: to learn that life is not found in one ‘enlightenment’ event, but an eternal progression of successive vistas, which may continue until our bodies wear themselves out, and beyond.
For all who may feel that they walk along a plateau, I invite us to look over the edge of the precipice, and up into the countless galaxies of the night sky. Dreams are the wings that your mind always possessed, which will allow you, first immaterially, to soar to another vantage point: and then, emboldened, to climb down the cliff-face past the fossils of your ancestors, into the canyon where rivers flow to bring life to the valley. ‘Abundance’ is available, and more: from the plateau you may be inspired to begin to build the spaceship that will carry you or your descendants to other stars.
Wherever the conditions for survival will take us, we will travel together.