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Dreaming - A Crosscultural Perspective
I took the course Dreams and Visions at UofT. This is what I've learned.
Dreaming - A Crosscultural Perspective
by Danilo Olbina
We will look at Ancient Greek theories of dreams, Ancient Hindu Dream Yoga, Buddhist perspectives on dreams, Psychoanalytic Methods of dream interpretation, the Surrealists, Muslim Dream Interpretation, the shamanic techniques, the Australian Aborigines and New Age astral projection as to shed light on the true potential of every human being and the role of dreaming in evolution. We can train ourselves to remember up to 7 dreams per night. Dreaming is a very powerful act of perception that helps the neurons realign and access deeper layers of awareness. Every dream reflects our fears and desires, which appear as phantasma, or hallucination during dreamwork. In dreams our thoughts are transformed and condensed in the visual form. It is within our power to make reality dreamlike by living a disciplined life dedicated improving the quality of awareness.
Ancient Greeks had both a sophisticated and varied perspective of dreams. Homer left a legacy of myth through the power of dreams, a land inhabited by dreampeople. His gate of broken ivory (toothache) and gate of polished horn (falatio) are one characteristic of whether dreams are to become true or not. Artimidorus examined Dream Beliefs of a wide variety of people and composed a dictionary (Oneiracritia) so highly regarded by Muslim Dream Interpreters who rediscovered it in the Middle Ages. Arthimidorus could be called the first Anthropologist, since he examined the beliefs of many people in regards to dreams. Aristotle realized that what we do to the body while it is sleeping affects what is dreamt. Aristotle was naturalistic in his approach and skeptic of divinely inspired dreams and visions. Among the Ancient Greeks there were both natural and supernatural beliefs attached to dreaming.
The Hindus had a more mystical approach to dreams then the Greeks. If we are to believe the Doctrine of Illusion, as propounded by the Rishis, each and everyone of us could be but a character in somebody else's dream. The Yogis realized that what the mind thinks of it becomes. Fuelled by our desire, we transverse the myriad of existences, all of which seem like a dream. Then finally we remember. Krishna speaks to Arjuna "Many lives we both had, O Arjuna! Only I remember them all and you don't" (Bhagavad Gita). The understanding of dreams is brought to perfection in the Tibetan Dream Yoga. It would take an essay to describe the methods and benefits of Buddhist Yoga of Dreams, so I will keep it at the basic message. Confront danger and seek out pleasure, transform the images into their opposites and clear light, make offerings to the heroes and dakinis. Again we find both the natural and supernatural aspect of dreams.
The Psychoanalysts tend to be suspicious of the supernatural and their view of religion tends to be skeptical. There is good insight to be seen in the research of the Freudians, Jungians and Surrealists. Freud argued that every dream is a wish fulfilling dream and that it reflects memories of our lives. Jung, influenced by the esoteric traditions of the East, maintained a belief that might be called Homeric. His theory of the Collective Unconscious and his aim of individuation regard dreams highly. The surrealist brought it to a whole new level. Equating the Unconscious with God they focused on accessing the hidden creative potential of the psyche. Their ultimate goal is the merging of dreaming and everyday reality into a Surreality. Looking at a painting of Dali or Miro will show the beauty of letting the unconscious take over and do some creative work. Supernatural effects through natural means is a way of putting it.
The Muslims have always regarded dreams as important and valuable. Mohamed's revalations started in the form of dreams. The Muslims categorize dreams threefold: dreams reflecting our daily concerns, dreams sent by witches and evil spirits and divinely inspired dreams. Mohamed seems to have grasped the true power of dreaming in the Night Journey. As we will see in the part on shamanic dreaming, if a person has energy, s/he can transport into a world in which there are only the moon and Venus in the Night Sky. Mohamed indeed must have been a powerful shaman.
Shamans shoot their spirit through the forehead, they breathe it in through the eyes and weigh it with the heart. Their souls adopt the forms of animals, rainbows and demons in their business of recovering soul fragments and neutralizing unwanted spirits. Shamans have used psychoactive plants to induce a state of ecstasy (literally "outside the self") and enter the world where the dead and the dreaming dwell. The Yage, the Yopo, the Mushroom the Hashish have all been used to induce a state between waking and dreaming. The belief that there is a state between this life and the other and also between sleep and dreaming is common to both Buddhist (Bardo) and Muslim (Barzakh) beliefs, but in shamanism it is deliberately used to cure and hex. The experience of dreaming of someone who has died has lead to the belief in the immortality of the soul. The Aborigines believe in a sacred space and time they call the Dreaming or Dreamtime. It is the place the ancestors dwell. They acknowledge the supernatural power of Dreaming and their beliefs are based on Dreaming. Dreaming is not having dreams, it is entering a magical reality where the mind manifests what is needed. We could learn from the wisdom of primitive (although I prefer the term "elder") cultures in the quest for harmony, peace and sustainability.
We should adopt neither a negative nor positive view of dreams and dreaming, nor should we limit ourselves to either natural or supernatural explanations of dreaming. Science has brought valuable insights into the field of dreaming. For example, we know that Rapid Eye Movement (REM) occurs in intervals and that if we set the watch to ring every two hours, our chances of remembering dreams is much higher. Whether the content of dreams can be influenced though witchcraft is beyond the scope of this essay, but eating healthy, exercising and being useful will help in having good sleep and sweet dreams. Whether supernatural experiences can be induced through dreams is debatable, but the fact remains that cultures in which dreaming is regarded highly tend to have a lower rate of mental illness.