Tuesday, 13 February 2018

What is happening in dreams?

As I have said before, I don't think we have to, or are 'supposed to' remember dreams - at least not normally. But dream experiences affect us - they are remembered and make a difference to our behaviour.

This we can infer from those dreams that we do remember - we know that they have affected us, we know that they can alter our attitudes to people, places, events; our likes and dislikes, our apparently-spontaneous motivations...

Indeed, the effect of a dream may be most powerful when we do not recall the dream, and when therefore the influence it has can operate unchecked. Perhaps we specifically remember only those dreams that we do Not want to influence us; these dreams which we want to be able consciously to refute or resist in our awake life.

The basic experience of dreaming is that we leave the body and go somewhere else - the body remaining (pretty much) inert and insensible. Yet that place we go is accessed from-within. And that dream place is quite different in form and kind, from any place we experience in awake life.

In dreams the 'law of attraction' is seemingly at work. It seems that our emotions create the dream - it seems that our fears become manifest: we fear a tiger, then a tiger appears...

I regard this as an illusion. In reality the dreaming mind is attuned to the dream future.

This future-focus is at the cost of the dream past; which is continually dissolving behind us, slipping from our grasp. And it is the opposite of awake life - when we know the past (especially recent past) but not the future.

In a dream we live in the future; but in awake life we live in the past...

Consequently, in dreaming we lose the ability to think strategically (and make sense of the big picture) because we are thinking tactically: coping with the dream events are they arise, being aware of things that are just-about-to-happen...

(Is this the basic state of being a young child, or a paranoid psychotic with ideas of self-reference? Is it, indeed, the 'cause' of paranoia?)

So, the 'law of attraction' is Not because we 'attract' to us that which we expect; it is Not a matter of life conforming to our emotions...

Instead, it is that we know-in-advance what will happen; therefore our emotions respond to the future and prepare us for the future.

In dreams we already-know how we will choose, and what we will do. Because - for the future-orientated dream mind - we already-have chosen, we already-have done.

This is a negation of agency (free will) within the dream.

But the agency comes in the dream creation, our personal making of the dream, as we move-through the dream-world. Thus the dream comes-from-us - even though its components are given, and already-present in the dream world.

That is how we know the dream future; how we know in advance what will happen.

We comprehend our perspective on the dream world, and create-from-it our dream - by our agency - and according to what experiences we need, or would most benefit from.


  1. "Perhaps we specifically remember only those dreams that we do Not want to influence us; these dreams which we want to be able consciously to refute or resist in our awake life." Very interesting point which I hadn't thought of before.

    I find that I sometime face tests in dreams, and the tests occur at a deep level because my dream self seems to lack the artificial coverings that my awake self has. I mean the influences that make one behave in a reasonably decent way because of the presence of other people and the pressure of society. I am in a raw state, so to speak, without the veneer of civilization, and my emotional reactions are intensified.

    Consequently I have had to face wild animals and not run away or I have been in a situation where violence is the way out and I have to avoid that recourse. Sometimes I have to step into a void with complete faith that I will not fall. It can be quite harrowing but the feeling of being exposed to the reality of one’s least integrated self is interesting. Whether these are manifestations of inner fears or actual tests is a question. I think they are probably both, the one used to bring about the other.

  2. @William - I recall very similar 'testing' dreams, and I nearly always seem to fail the tests! Probably why they recur...

  3. Yes, I neglected to mention that I usually fail the tests too - though not every time!

  4. The idea of the dreamer being attuned to the dream future makes sense to me. I think for most of us, the main thing dreams help us with is to remember how powerless and/or bad we are, which is one of the most basic realizations that must happen before we can meaningful embrace a savior.

    I guess the hope would be to eventually move beyond needing to be reminded of this, and into being able to learn something more advanced. Personally, I'm not usually an active person in my dreams, more of a spectator. When I am active, I'm in some kind of subservient role, like the one where I met with Barack Obama at some event and busied myself with all kinds of flattery and ingratiation. In my dream I believed myself and really felt all the feelings of obligation and being condescended to. There have been other similar dreams and my understanding is that I need to be careful about my tendency to be servant to those who are unworthy of such loyalty.

  5. I find this a challenging post because my experience agrees broadly with you position that "the dreaming mind is attuned to the dream future". And I work on my own dreams from the position that the ones I remember are important precisely because they refute my waking attitudes which, I agree, are largely based on the past. So when you say, "Perhaps we specifically remember only those dreams that we do Not want to influence us; these dreams which we want to be able consciously to refute or resist in our awake life." you quite directly challenge my usual attitude toward dreams. Excellent! On reflection, I notice that I sometimes have dreams that I want to reject or refute. Not just in the sense that they bring up something uncomfortable, but because I feel they are warning me about something that is deeply wrong and must avoid in waking life. So I see I already know not to naively accept dreams as a kind of always correct oracle. I also have a lot of dreams about the past which take me back to periods of my life where I got things wrong and must go back and revisit the issues involved in order to go forward. (Hence they are both past and future oriented.) These dreams seem to function like the AA process where you inventory past misdeeds and then make amends to the people involved. I think of this kind of dreaming as Purgatory. Then there is another kind of dream - I would call them visionary - that I have occasionally which are apparently of a different order altogether. I would say they take place outside of time, in eternity. I recognise what you call primary thinking or direct knowing from these dreams and also from some waking experiences. I believe Meister Eckhardt was talking about this difference when he said that 'there is a place deeper than Hell, and here I will set me down.' So the road to Heaven may lead through Hell and that through Grace and the sacrifice of Jesus, hell is transformed into Purgatory to which there is an end. Finally, I think that your point that "a dream may be most powerful when we do not recall the dream, and when therefore the influence it has can operate unchecked." is critically important. Perhaps the anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing put his finger on it when he said that the operation of God's grace within us is "not even any of our business".

  6. The dreams I am most likely to remember involve key people in my life who have passed away. I had a dream where I was driving in the current time period with my grandpa in the passenger seat. We had an interesting and fulfilling conversation but I don't recall what we discussed. The strange thing (but not strange for dreams I suppose) is I never questioned how my grandpa could be with me since he passed away nearly 30 years ago.

    Just the other day I had a dream with a close lifelong friend of mine who sadly died of a brain tumor 10 years ago. In the dream we were at the workplace where we both had our first jobs as teenagers. It seemed to be taking place at that time (1983) and place except instead of entry level workers we had more elevated positions and were having wonderful, magical experiences there that influenced everyone in a positive way. This dream seemed so real it took me awhile after waking up to realize none of that actually took place.

    My question is do you think there is such a thing as visitations from the other side in dreams? I know we are heavily socialized to believe that idea is foolish and impossible but it sure seemed that way to me.

  7. @JS - Yes, I believe there i contact between the dead and the living. But I think it operates in a non-explicit way; something behind or beneath the dream content, or the way it moves (its 'drama') and the way it makes us feel.

    Your namesake Rudolf Steiner wrote very interestingly about this aspect of dreams - mixed up, as nearly always with RS, with a lot of 'nonsense' - but worth reading and filtering.

    I've been reading/ re-reading the collection 'Sleep and Dreams' over the past year or so, and find it fascinating... and annoying! - but with all caveats it is 'essential' reading because there isn't anything else like it.