presented to the
Annual Conference of the International Association for the Study of Dreams
July 12, 2008
were once divine. In early Greek and Biblical times, mortals received inspiration,
guidance and healing from the divine in their dreams. Before
the philosophical and religious establishment became the exclusive voice of
the divine, gods and their emissaries intervened nocturnally in the lives of
mortals. Those Greeks seeking healing would go to
sacred sites of the demigod Asclepius and incubate a dream and wait for a sign
from the god that a healing dream was imminent, then retire to the dormitory
to be visited by the god or his assistants in dream. At
like Plato before him, wanted to rescue dreams from the caprices of the divine
and give them a mortal rationale, like the enlightened scientist that he was.
Uncomfortable with the irrational divine, Freud gave dreams a human determinism
and a personal unconscious source, later called the id, the mysterious “it”
that took on the primitive and mythological aspects of the divine, even appropriating
the Greek tragedy, seen often at
Jung, unlike his mentor Freud, was more comfortable with the mystical, but found the Eastern concept of the Self more acceptable than the Western divinity and gave it the status of Freud’s id or “it.” Just as dreams were the unconscious desires of the id to Freud, they were the Self’s unconscious compensations to the ego’s unbalanced conscious position to Jung. In both cases, dreams are interventions from sources once considered divine.
The Greek tragic hero had the communal chorus for human reflexion and Jung’s conscious ego had the collective unconscious of shared humanity for compensation. Freud’s was a single-person psychology like his science was Newtonian isolated particle physics, while Jung learned from Wolfgang Pauli and quantum theory that no particle is isolated but goes back and forth from the communal mist of potential. Some quantum physicists associate the infinite mist of potential with the divine.
Freud and Jung worked one on one with the dreamer, interpreting the dream, while dream-sharing groups return the isolated ego to the communal that the Greek chorus provided the tragic hero. In a group, the dream is not interpreted but resonated to by the listeners as the Greek chorus did long ago. Montague Ullman has compared dream-sharing groups with the quantum mist of potential interacting with the isolated dreamer.
Greek dream incubation was part of the shamanic tradition that included Tibetan dream yoga, a practice to prepare for the sleep of death, and indigenous dream practices around the world. The quantum mist of potential has been compared to the dreamtime of indigenous cultures, the spirit world from which waking reality is manifest like a particle from the quantum mist.
And what is dream incubation that brings divine intervention to shamanic practitioners like the ancient Greeks? It is a combination of two spiritual practices -- prayer and meditation. Prayer asks for divine intervention and meditation is the receiving state. Prayer requires intention and meditation requires attention, two additional disciplines that involve energy management. First, intention focuses the energy of the request and attention is an attunement to the divine in a receptive mode. Shamanic practices, like Greek tragedy, are communal activities. The divine is summoned ultimately for the good of the group, and the two energy applications, intention and attention, are enhanced by group participation to recreate the mist of infinite potential out of which the manifest emerges from the divine. That’s why the Greeks would gather at sacred sites and participate in performance and incubation communally. The energy at the sacred sites either from the god or from the timeless practices of intention and attention enhanced practices as did the ritual.
Fortunately, my first dream incubation had all of the necessary elements and I learned by experience before studying the techniques. During the third annual conference that I attended of the Association for the Study of Dreams, there was a shamanic dream-incubation ceremony. At the previous two conferences, I had been drawn to the shamanic sessions to heal a low-grade prostate cancer and wanted to continue. The dream association is a group of therapists, researchers, teachers and practitioners that provides the communal energy of both intention and attention required for dream incubation.
At the evening ceremony, we chose quartz crystals from the sacred stones and feathers in the center of our circle. I associated crystals with superficial New Age practices and, as we danced to the drum around the circle, having our crystals blessed, I was skeptical, but, like at the previous two conferences, I suspended my disbelief. I maintained my determination as we sat down for the guided visualization in which we wound up at an underground spring to ask our crystal a question to be answered in our dreams that night. We were told that the energy of our crystal would enhance our intent, and out of nowhere came my question, “How can I be faithful?” Then I repeated it slowly, “How can I be faith-full?” Full of faith.
in my dormitory room, I held my crystal in my left hand, the receiving hand,
as instructed and asked the question three times before holding it under my
pillow and closing my eyes. With such intention,
my attention didn’t last long as I was immediately bombarded by hypnagogic
images and words as soon as my eyes were closed. Where
were the words coming from? I wondered in my liminal state.
First, I heard “take the
The year before at the conference, I had my first healing dream of going back to college and retrieving my red Triumph Spitfire with old gas, which concerned me. Now I’m told by whomever that to be faith-full I must be a filling station, providing gas for myself and others. I thought of stations of the cross; filling stations are service stations. Recovery programs and spiritual disciplines emphasize selfless service to be faith-full.
Then came the only dream of the night when I drifted off to sleep after the onslaught of hypnagogic answers to my question. In it, I am on a low dock on the beach with a wet, naked woman pressed against my back. I can feel her belly in the small of my back and feel her breasts higher up my back. She feels wonderful, but I wonder if I’m being faithful. At the convention two years before, before I got the prostate cancer diagnosis, I attended my first shamanic journeying session and dreamed that a large black man pursued me and dragged me down to the beach towards the sea. I realized that if I resisted him I would be anally raped in the sand. Now the sea was rewarding me with a healing image, a wet mermaid pressed against my lower back, near my precarious prostate, where the black man had threatened to violate me two years before. I must have been faithful, because my faith was being rewarded.
Where do those words come from? James Grotstein, in his incredible book Who Is the Dreamer Who Dreams the Dream?, implies that there is an “ineffable subject of the unconscious” who is, in fact, divine. Grotstein offers both a dreamer who dreams and a dreamer who understands -- the ineffable subject and the manifest, personal audience, like the hero and chorus in Greek tragedy.
Freud’s id, the source of primitive desire, possesses the “phylogenic heritage” of mankind, much like Jung’s collective unconscious. Part of our phylogenic heritage is, of course, everything divine, from nature and spirit to a monotheistic God. Jung’s Self is one of the archetypes of the collective unconscious. Both Freud’s id and Jung’s Self, as we mentioned earlier, are possible sources of the words I heard in response to my question “How can I be faith-full?”
The British pediatrician, D.W. Winnicott, observed the play of his young patients and proposed transitional phenomena like play such as creativity and religion, that magical area between what he called the me and the not-me which is neither created nor discovered but emerges like a dream. Winnicott’s not-me could be like Freud’s id and Jung’s Self at play with the ego in transitional space and dream.
Like children’s play, dreams can be curative and instructive, but they are play -- dreamplay. Play can be serious; life and death can be the stakes, but it’s only play, only a dream. Children confront the trauma of otherness and duality in play. Birth can be painful, separation from the divine, a loss of completeness. Play seeks to heal the separation, to reconcile the split and the loss. It is a dance with the divine, which has become alien, utilizing both the concrete and the imaginal and the overlap between the two, the transitional space. There, ego and id or Self, me and not-me, play “on the seashore of endless worlds,” to quote Winnicott and Tagore.
The separation from divinity has resulted in an emphasis on individualism versus the shared myth, ritual and community of the earlier cultures. Individualism has heightened the trauma of otherness and duality and the resulting narcissism and addiction to fill the “God-shaped hole.” While the traditional myths and rituals have faded, dreamplay with the divine remains as a cure for the traumatic separation from the whole.
Freud considered dreams fulfillment of infantile unconscious wishes, which is what play is all about. And, in emerging from the unconscious, the ego finds the id primitive and alien and must heal the split between consciousness and the unconscious with dreamplay. In a similar process, the conscious ego finds Jung’s archetypes of the collective unconscious, including the Self, alien and overwhelming. Jung’s individuation is a transitional phenomenon achieved through play between the ego and the Self, the me and not-me of Winnicott.
So who is the dreamer who dreams the dream? As Grotstein asks -- the id, the Self, the not-me, the divine? I incubated the question to see if the dreamer would identify him/her/itself and got this dream in reply. I am on a bus with my wife and others. Beside me is my office laptop computer. I am sitting up front looking out of the windshield as we descend rapidly, causing me concern. I get out at the stop at the bottom of the descent and leave my wife and laptop behind, but get concerned again, run out into the street recklessly and try to get the bus driver to stop for me, but he regards me impassively and drives on.
So who is the dreamer? Myself, the dream ego? My wife, my feminine counterpart or anima? The bus driver, the pilot of the dream of my married and working reality? The dream ego has an infantile wish to escape his marital and work responsibilities in the descent of the second half of life. It could be his dream. His wife and anima wants to keep the karmic couple together, the yin and yang, and wants the dream ego to feel the pain and consequences of separation. The divine bus driver knows the marital and working reality is only a dream and will not let the dreamer back on board once he has awakened. The driver is indifferent to the loss of reality, the descent, the impermanence of the waking of reality. It’s only a dream.
If the divine is indifferent, why does it bother to answer my questions? The indifference is to my dream, not my awakening. The divine is concerned with awakening; the dream is only a vehicle, a bus. Only play.
world religions are about awakening. Christ awakened,
and the name Buddha means “the awakened one.”
But what is it to be awake? What is beyond
the dream? I incubated that question also and got only one word in
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