One benefit of writing full-time, at home, is that I’ve been living a healthier life. For example, I haven’t been going to the pub several times a week. I’ve been eating better food. I’ve also been sleeping a lot better. This new period of calm health has had one interesting side-effect; I’ve paid more attention to my dreams.
Our scientific establishment, and our other social peers, tell us that dreams are just ‘random firings of the brain’ or ‘a form of subconscious hallucination’. In other words, they’re not real, they’re not important and you don’t have any control over them. I would certainly have agreed with this during my busy, commuting, professional career days. Like many people, I would have chatted about a particularly odd dream, laughed at its absurdity and moved on to another topic, but once I shifted to a calmer life, and focussed time and energy on the matter, I discovered that this wasn’t true at all. Dreams are not some weird brain concoction that we experience while we’re unconscious. They are important, they have meaning and they are there to help us change our entire approach to life.
Over time, and after some effort in remembering and writing down my dreams, I have discovered that they come in several forms. The first type of dream I experience is where I meet up with people. In these type of dreams, I’m literally just hanging out, chatting with one or more people. These people can include people I currently know, people I’ve known in the past or people who I once knew but who are now dead. These experiences are mostly fun and relaxing, unless I have outstanding problems with a person, such as them lying to me or other negative interaction between us. If that’s the case, I can get angry with them in the dream. In this way, these interactions are not that different from interactions in the real world. The only difference is that the environment that they occur in can be strange. They are focussed around celebrating friendship, collaborative activity but also talking through issues.
The second type of dream I’ve been having is where I am in a contrived scenario. Someone has clearly made up this scenario as a way for me to deal with my issues. They are therefore often challenges, where I must deal with my negative traits. I clearly go into these scenarios believing them to be real, and so they might seem weird when I wake up, but that’s only because I’m back in the real world. When I’m in the scenario, I think it’s reality.
Early on in my investigations into my dreams, I noticed that I was experiencing dream scenarios that challenged my tendency towards righteous indignation and a willingness to be violent to deal with threats. For example, in one dream, I was in a deserted village. I was armed. Someone told me that the ‘enemy’ was in the village and they’d kill me if they got a chance. I hadn’t actually seen this enemy, never mind seen them armed, but someone on my side had said they were armed and dangerous; that was enough to persuade me. I skulked around. I saw figures moving through the buildings. One of them popped his head up and looked at me. The cross-hairs of my gun settled on his forehead. I had a moment to decide and I shot him.
After experiencing that dream, I thought a lot about that moment. I pictured the face of that person staring at me as I shot him in the head. I’d just killed someone, based on the vague recommendations of another person supposedly ‘on my side’. It made me realise that I didn’t want to be a person who shot someone else simply because some other people had said that person was bad. If that person had been shooting at me, perhaps I would have felt fine shooting back at him, but otherwise, I never wanted to carry out such an act again.
That dream wasn’t just a sobering experience; it, and other dreams like it, had a knock-on effect. I no longer wanted to watch violence as a form of entertainment. Violence is distressing, negative and sickening. When I was younger, I happily watched action movies, zombie movies etc, and enjoyed the ones that were well-done. Now, I don’t want to. I find their scenes of violence distressing. In this way, my dreams have changed my life.
Some readers might think I’ve become a wuss or a coward for not wanting to see violence. This is a popular view. I remember, after moving away from violence, missing a game I was keen on – Star Craft. I tried to find a way to play it without the gory violence. Unfortunately, all on-line conversations about that idea were along the lines of, ‘grow up, dude.’ In other words, these commentators believed that watching gory violence was synonymous with being an adult. This doesn’t say good things about our society.
In truth, I haven’t become wimpish or cowardly as a result of not wanting to see violence. In fact, it’s the opposite; I think I am now braver than I was. I realised, after paying attention to my dream-scenarios, that my earlier willingness to be violent didn’t come from me being brave, it came from me being scared. When I thought back through those scenario dreams I’d experienced, I realised that my violent behaviour was being triggered by me feeling fear at a threat, or me feeling shame at being taunted. I then reacted to this fear and shame by being righteously violent. I was afraid of being humiliated, or being hurt, so I went on the offensive, often violently so. I realised that if I instead felt compassion for those who were teasing or taunting me, and understood that they were afraid, or foolish, or misguided, or ill, then my fear and shame went away. Once that happened, I didn’t respond to their taunts, or their threats, with violence. Instead, I responded with compassion. That sounds a lot easier than it was! To actually stop that fear-violent-retribution reaction was very difficult. I still have relapses; I know that I do because I still have scenario-dreams where these same challenges occur again, although they’re often cleverly altered so I can’t give a memorised reaction; I still end up giving my ‘real’ response. Giving up the fear-violent-retribution behaviour isn’t an on-off switch, or at least it isn’t for me. I have to keep working at it.
Dream scenarios, by giving us challenges while we sleep, enables us to improve when we’re not facing these challenges during our waking day. I’m not a soldier at war. This is a good thing, in many ways, but it means my intrinsic behaviour isn’t being challenged while I’m awake. By comparison, in those scenario-dreams, it is. What’s more, the fact that I respond in an uninhibited way in those dreams is crucially important. There’s no pressure on me to behave in a certain way when I’m there. There’s no pressure for me to obey rules or laws, to restrict my behaviour in order to avoid punishment. In those dream scenarios, if I want to punch someone for harassing me, I can punch them. I can even tear them limb from limb if I want to. The only thing that stops me doing such violent acts is myself. My own empathy, my own compassion must be present for me to not do such things. That means they can test me properly. It is good that I can be tested in that way. When some of us end up in a situation where we can act with impunity, we often don’t do well. The Stanford Prison Experiment showed this to be true, which I discuss in my twelve famous psychology experiments article.
The scenario dreams I’ve experienced have also made me think about how we operate morally, in the real world, how we make our moral decisions. It’s led to an idea I call the ‘net-effect’.
Net vs gross
Our laws tend towards justice and retribution. This approach might keep us in order, at least to some extent, but it isn’t compassionate. Religion fills that morality gap for many people, but it is also often focussed on justice and retribution; it then codifies this approach into fixed laws. Once again, we are then told to obey these laws. If we do, we are rewarded, or at least not punished. The problem with this approach is that these laws are rigid, simplistic and we’re simply following orders. Instead, what if we thought about actions in terms of their net effect?
Here’s an example of ‘net effect’ in action. What if someone kills your brother? One reaction would be for you to take revenge; to go out and kill that person but what is the net effect of your decision to take revenge? Before you took revenge, there was one murderous person running around; the murderer. Once you go out to commit revenge, there are two murderous people running around; the murderer and you. This is a worse net effect. You might justify your decision morally but this is just an idea in your own head. The net effect is clearly worse. A positive net effect is would have been if you went out to find the murderer, stop him murdering again and do your best to heal his murderous, sick, mental state. This would have been a positive net effect.
We can apply the net effect approach to small things in life, as well as large ones. For example, when you get off the bus, do you thank the driver? You don’t need to. There’s no law making you do it. The bus driver is employed to drive you around. By rights, there’s no need, but what is the net effect? The net effect is positive; the driver was thanked. Other people on the bus heard a positive comment.
We can therefore see that a net effect approach works with major events but also with seemingly minor events. It’s worth noting, though, that these seemingly minor are actually very important, as they take place many times every day. There are ten-thousand of these for every murder or serious crime. Their net effect is therefore as large as the events that make up dramas and films. This would explain why many people who suffer near-death experiences say that the experience made them realise the importance of our small, everyday actions, not just the big, dramatic ones. I’d like to explore this idea further. If I do, I’ll put a link here.
Shedding the load
At this point in this article, it probably makes sense to wonder if all this is just my own personal fantasies, or interpretations of random noise. What do other people think of dreams? Have others talked about dreams being social-meets, therapy and created scenarios for personal development? Fortunately, it seems that others have come to similar conclusions. Chuck Coburn, a building-contractor, poker-playing psychic, said this about dreams on page 153 of his book Reality is an Illusion:
Dreams can be many things. They can be informational, containing a taste of ordinary, everyday issues missed in the hectic conscious living of our lives. They can provide insights into problems or concerns, following the incubation of an idea before sleep. They may serve as an emotional outlet, allowing the dreamer to test problem-solving scenarios, thereby avoiding having to take risks in the waking world. Dreams can provide inspirations for creativity such as ideas for stories, songs, or even inventions. Finally, dreams can be a gateway to the spiritual, psychic or astral level.
It looks as if I’m not the only one who’s concluded that dreams serve multiple, important purposes. Their weirdness makes it easy for us to think of them as just random fantasies but, at least in some cases, they’re not.
Here’s another example. A friend of mine told me about a dream she had in which she was walking along a ditch, by an empty road, in the middle of a line of people. The whole line was trudging along in the ditch. She laughed at the absurdity of it. I thought about the dream and said, ‘why were you walking along in the ditch? Why didn’t you get out of the ditch and walk along the side of the road?’ She didn’t like this question, dismissed the whole matter and moved on to another topic. Her reluctance to even answer the question shows the importance of her dream. The dream scenario was challenging her instinctive behaviour. Even though there was a perfectly good road next to her, she continued to walk along in the ditch because the people with her were doing the same.
Many spiritual writers explain that human beings live multiple lives in order to improve themselves. A big part of this improvement involves our efforts to shed fears, anger, self-righteousness and other negative feelings that have ‘stuck to us’. Some writers say that some of these negative ‘barnacles’ have come from previous lives but whatever the source, we’ve got them. This doesn’t mean we’re fundamentally bad. The writers of the Jain religion, for example, explain that we’re fundamentally a pure-light soul that has no negative traits; we’ve simply accumulated these negative traits through the many lives that we’ve lived. Once we shed these negative lumps, barnacles, baggage (whatever you prefer to call them), we can return to our original, pure-light state. The first stage in removing these negative elements that are stuck to us is to identify that they’re there. The second stage is then to experience them in a therapeutic way; this explains the dream-scenarios. The third stage is to understand their origins. Finally, we can resolve them by changing our attitude, our intrinsic behaviour. Once we do that, we are free of them, well, at least as long as we don’t stick them back on ourselves. In that way, dream-scenarios are crucially important, because they’re giving us an opportunity, every night, to deal with these problems, this baggage, and thereby become better, happier and more fulfilled. It therefore seems as if the importance of dreams, and how they connect to our spiritual improvement, has been studied for millennia.
Chuck Coburn’s description of dreams, quoted earlier, ended with the sentence, ‘Finally, dreams can be a gateway to the spiritual, psychic or astral level.’ This comment takes us into another aspect of the dream-world; can we be conscious in it?
Lucid in the Sky with Diamonds
Most of us wake up with fragmented memories of our dreams. These memories are often weird and surreal. As a result, we usually think of our dreams as a hallucination, rather than another dimension of reality. That place in which the dream took place wasn’t a reality, like the reality we experience when awake; it was an illusion. The problem with the idea that dream-worlds aren’t real and that they’re just an illusion, is that our waking reality has no grounds to be anything other than an illusion either. The film The Matrix made this point very well. This reality we all live in could be a collective, high-definition hallucination. How would we know the difference? What’s truly the difference between the real world and the dream-world? If they’re not fundamentally different, why can’t we exist in a dream world with as much conscious clarity as we do in the real world?
If you’d like to test this idea out, I recommend you doing the following.
1) Sit somewhere quietly, once a day, for ten minutes. Close your eyes and imagine being somewhere else, somewhere pleasant, someone you’ve been in your life. Try to imagine it in as much detail as possible, as if you really were there again, as if it would be around you if your opened your eyes. Imagine feeling the grass, if there’s grass there, and the sun on your face etc.
2) Roughly every hour, if you can, test out that you’re in the real world and not a spirit-realm. If you’re in a spirit realm, you can fly, so it’s worth doing. Jump in the air and see if you float. Yes, that sounds silly but do it anyway. Test that you can’t float. If you get into the habit of doing this, you’ll do it in the spirit-realm too, while you’re sleeping. You’ll then discover, in the spirit realm, that you can float, which means you know you’re in the spirit realm. This wakes you up in the spirit realm and you become conscious in it. It’s a weird but very exciting experience but keep in mind that if you get too excited, you’ll just wake up in your bed.
3) If the weird jumping test doesn’t work, try regularly looking at something on your body which isn’t perfect, like a scar or a dislocated finger. These disfigurements don’t occur in the spirit-realm so, like the jumping, if you do such a check habitually, on a regular basis, you’ll also do it in the spirit-realm. When that happens, you’ll be alerted to the fact that you are in the spirit realm. This wakes you up in the spirit realm and you become conscious in it, just as with the jumping.
These tactics do sound daft but they’re not time-consuming and you won’t look too weird doing them, so why not give them a try.
To sum up, I don’t think that dreams are just sleeping-brain concoctions. They are much more than that. They truly are other realities. This view is shared by many people, and has been investigated for millennia. We don’t have to be conscious in our dreams to gain benefits from them but as far as I can tell, much of our dreams are trying to help us improve. Paying attention our dreams and altering our approach to reality, as a result, can have its downsides. For example, I’ve almost given up on television drama and films, as there’s so few of them that aren’t violent, but I don’t miss such entertainment. This change can also have its upsides. Nowadays, larger dogs and horses keep wanting to come up to me and press themselves against me. This never happened when I was younger, when I was an ardent viewer of violent movies. All in all, I’m happy with the change.