Some Reflections on Dreams and Their Weirdness
I recently wrote an article on the theme of philosophical idealism and realism. It was a pleasant surprise to receive a detailed response from Jack Preston King. He is one of the most spiritual and knowledgeable people I have come across on Medium. Unfortunately for his fans, he chose some time ago to stop writing here in order to concentrate on his career as a published author. This was obviously the right decision for him, and I wish him every success. It’s great that he stays in touch by continuing to read the articles of others.
In his reply he addressed three themes: the nature of idealism, the nature of dreams, and that there is no need to seek a unification of religions. Here I’ll focus on the dream material.
Jack begins by making some typical idealist, non-dualist statements:
- “The illusion that stumps almost everyone is that near-insurmountable sense of ‘his mind’, ‘my head’ ”.
- “We have formulated a question in which we and the world are two separate things. We can’t get there from here. Neither ‘I’ nor ‘the world’ are inside or outside of ‘my head’. My head is not the barrier I experience it to be”.
He then goes on to apply such ideas to dreams: “When I dream I am attending a party, ‘dream me’ is not separate from the other dream-party-goers, the dream-room we are in, or the story playing out in the dream. ‘Dream me’ is also being dreamed. He is a dream character, an inseparable element of the dream as a whole. The dream is not happening to the ‘me in the dream’. The dream as a whole is ‘happening’, and ‘dream me’ is one element therein. Waking life is no different. It just ‘feels’ different, ‘more real’, but then dreams also feel unshakably real while we’re dreaming”. He concludes: “This is the true Idealist position. Everything, including me, despite all appearances, is nothing other than consciousness in motion, just as a dream is more obviously consciousness in motion”.
He then makes further observations about the nature of dreams. He says that each dream is separate, and that we should therefore not seek “to unify all the narratives into a single dream”. This would be “a fruitless endeavor (which) violates the integrity of each dream. It misses the ‘message’ of each unique dream by seeking to blend them all into a single message. That’s not how dreams work”.
He goes on to say that each dream has its own integrity and message, that they can contradict each other (which is not a problem for him). He then makes another statement from the textbook of non-dualist idealism: “The one and only thing they all have in common is that they have arisen within the same milieu of consciousness in motion. They are products of mind at large, not our only-apparent individual minds… ‘Who or what is dreaming?’ is a better question than either ‘What does this dream mean?’ or ‘Is this dream true?’ ”.
Since I usually agree with just about everything Jack says, I always think long and hard before disagreeing with him. All I can say is that this is not how dreams appear to me.
I accept that Jack’s analysis is probably philosophically correct in an absolute sense. However, it seems to me that for practical purposes, while we live in the illusion of separation, and have to deal with it on a daily basis, a different approach is more helpful. The dream, at this level, seems to be something happening to, and for the benefit of, ‘me-in-the-dream’.
If, as Jack says, ‘who or what is dreaming?’ is the better question, then the answer is soon going to become boring, because it will always be the same for each dream, i.e. mind at large, consciousness in motion. He accepts, however, that each dream has a ‘message’. According to any normal definition of that word, a message is from some form of consciousness to another separate consciousness. If everything is merely part of the one mind-at-large, why should there be any need to send messages between the various parts?
My own experience of dreams is that they are indeed messages, messages from a wiser, ‘higher’ aspect of ourselves, which knows everything about us, where our life is meant to be heading, and so on. They may seem very difficult to understand, at least until you begin to study and understand their weird language. They are nevertheless communications, guidance from some mysterious source to our limited egos. It doesn’t matter what we call this source — soul, Higher Self, self (as in Jung) — provided that we understand its role. The knowledge that this source and the ego may both have their ultimate origin in mind-at-large doesn’t seem all that relevant.
I also don’t believe that each dream is separate, and that our dreams cannot be unified into a single narrative. Every dream that each person has is unique to them, and part of their individual life as a human. This life may be very complicated, with many twists and turns, but it is nevertheless a single, unified life with its accompanying narrative. Each dream is but one aspect of this, and I therefore find it hard to accept that dreams may contradict each other. I have no experience of this. On the contrary, the same images and motifs frequently recur in dream sequences, suggesting that themes are being repeated, therefore that the dreams are connected and part of an ongoing process.
So, while we’re on the subject of dreams, I’ll report some weird ones that I’ve been reading about recently. This first story is seriously weird.
Monica Gagliano is a somewhat controversial scientist who believes that it is possible to communicate with, and learn from, plants. She tells her story in Thus Spoke the Plant: a Remarkable Journey of Groundbreaking Scientific Discoveries and Personal Encounters with Plants¹.
At the beginning of the book, she tells this extraordinary story. She was working as an ecologist in Australia. On three consecutive nights she had striking dreams about the same hut. On the third morning she woke up “knowing that somewhere that hut, that man, and those strange songs were waiting for me. This is how Socoba, a tropical tree also known as Bellaco-caspi, quite literally, called me to the outskirts of Pucallpa”, which is in Peru.
She sets off for that destination, and there she meets in the flesh the man who had appeared to her in her dreams. He tells her that the Socoba tree “had informed him how she (the tree) had come to my dreams to call me to this place to work with her”. The tree had healing powers for humans, which it wanted to communicate with Gagliano. She was obviously a chosen one.
That is a wonderful story which combines Jack’s and my understandings. Her dreams were obviously intended as messages for her and her alone, but they didn’t necessarily arrive from a source within her; they appear to be messages from a tree on the other side of the world. Both she and the tree are not separated in mind-at-large.
I’ve been reading about some more dreams in a book called Catafalque by Peter Kingsley². In chapter 2 he says that he had “a dream that, back at the start of 2011, bluntly and very directly instructed me to stop all the things I was doing: public speaking, teaching, meetings, interviews. Plenty of other dreams had also been pointing in the same direction, but this one was infinitely more explicit”. He was somewhat hesitant about obeying, even though he was already leaning in the suggested direction, saying: “one has to be a little crazy to pay too much attention to dreams”.
He then goes on to say: “In fact even most of the Jungians I have met, who literally make dreams their business, insist that no balanced person should ever obey messages or instructions given through a dream. Instead you have to argue with them; do some good negotiating; assert your conscious wishes; give all due weight to your own position”. As a convinced Jungian, and believer in the wisdom of dreams as outlined above, I was very surprised, even shocked to read this. What was wrong with these people? Do they really not get it?
Kingsley continues: “A couple of days later the matter was taken out of my hands. Two friends, living thousands of miles apart, called me almost at the same moment after having the most vivid dreams which very plainly were meant for me. And, just as plainly, both dreams were confirming the obvious and explicit message of my dream… Three indications are something that has to be acted on straight away… I was being forced to obey and start carrying out the necessary changes”.
There was one commitment, however, that was too late to cancel, an invitation to speak at a large event. He hadn’t even wanted to accept but, just before it started, “the mystery was solved. At the last moment an old Cherokee medicine woman in her eighties came down from the hills because she had been shown there was something she needed to do”.
She was waiting for him when he arrived. She told him that “the only reason she was there was because a bear had recently walked up her driveway, during the night (I assume in a dream), to wake her and announce that her presence and voice would be needed at this particular event. It had been years, she explained, since she had spoken in public because she had been living the life of silent solitude ever since a clear dream ordered her to stop any outer activity and put all her energy into going entirely inside herself”. She exclaimed: “Of course we obey these dreams! We always obey such dreams!”.
Kingsley comments that it was refreshing to see this wise woman “responding with a whole heart to the call of life even when it disrupts all our tidy schemes and conscious plans”. I can’t help but agree.
I hope you have enjoyed this article. I have written in the past about other topics, including spirituality, metaphysics, psychology, science, Christianity, politics, and astrology. All these articles are on Medium, but the simplest way to see a guide to them is to visit my website (click here and here).
- North Atlantic Books, 2018
- Catafalque Press, 2021