Flights of fancy

Aug 06, 2011, 02:10 IST | Aviva Dharmaraj

On Dreams and Dreaming is a compilation of essays by experts from the fields of psychoanalysis, philosophy and religion, in the attempt to explore a world of which we continue to know little

On Dreams and Dreaming is a compilation of essays by experts from the fields of psychoanalysis, philosophy and religion, in the attempt to explore a world of which we continue to know little

On Dreams and Dreaming is the outcome of a symposium held in Ontario, Canada in August 2009. It is the first volume of a series on 'Boundaries of Consciousness' that attempt to explore phenomena that psychoanalyst and writer Sudhir Kakar refers to as being on "the boundaries of consciousness". "This includes what happens after death, so-called psychic phenomena and even dreams," adds Kakar over the phone from his home in Goa.

The septuagenarian, who is a psychoanalyst and a writer, has edited the compilation of eight essays on dreaming written by experts, including a psychoanalyst, a dream scholar and a philosopher. Topics explored in the book include 'Big Dreams' or dreams that are memorable, lucid dreaming, defined as the state in which one is aware one is dreaming, and nightmares.

"There have been four theories for dreams. One is that the act of dreaming is a random activity of the brain and that they mean nothing; the second is that dreams reflect a major personal concern, which we are not conscious about, so they are messages from the sub-conscious; the third is that they are predictive of the future, and the fourth is that dreams are an aid to creativity," says Kakar.

The theory that Kakar is most invested in is the relationship between dreams and the subconscious. "One can discard the first theory, as we have enough scientific evidence to prove that it is not true." He adds, "John Lennon said that the lyrics to Yesterday came to him in a dream. But, the main question that we attempt to answer is 'how can we use our dreams to become more conscious than we really are?' Dreams expand our consciousness," he says.

Kakar is not surprised that we continue to be intrigued by the subject of dreams and their interpretation. "Any phenomena that we don't understand completely; that we don't know enough about will give rise to all kinds of hypothesis and theories, including the movies," he says, referring to the popular 2010 science fiction action film, Inception that played with the idea that a person's subconscious can be hijacked through his dreams.

"I enjoyed it. Though, it's not true," he hastens to add. He does, however, go on to say that the idea has found mention in the Yoga Shastras. "According to them, certain yogis could access a person's subconscious."
Subjects that will be explored in the continuing series include meditations on Death and Dying, and Creativity and Imagination.

Extracts from On Dreams and Dreaming

... Person is not only a body, mind or social being, but also partakes of a 'spiritual' order, which has been variously conceptualized by different cultures at various times of history as animated by gods, ancestral spirits, demonic beings or, in more sophisticated formulations, as God, Universal Spirit or simply the Sacred. Dreams, then, are communications with the soma (body), psyche (mind), polis (social) or cosmos of the dreamer.

I am aware that many mainstream psychologists and neuroscientists will view the addition of a cosmos dimension with deep suspicion since it questions a reigning scientific consensus on the nature of human consciousness as a property of the brain. The inclusion of a cosmic dimension breaks the mould by suggesting that a dream may originate outside the brain as conventionally understood.

The organization of this volume, however, demands the inclusion of cosmos as a source of the dream. This position is no longer the province of 'esoteric' traditions but is also held by some serious scholars of dream studies who proceed from an intriguing model of the mind that is at the junction of the body and the universe, much like a TV set that is also receiving signals from the cosmos and not only from the neurons firing in the brain.

Contemplating Lucid Dreaming:
East-West Views; Fariba Bigzaran

Intentionality and the East-West Paradox Often the initial intention of students of lucid dreaming is to 'do' something in their dreams. When students learn lucid dreaming as a practice of awareness, they exercise 'being' in the dream and allowing the dream to spontaneously emerge. It is having this capacity that within the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, it is required that practitioners first learn basic meditation skills. In certain traditions, a strict regimen is required to follow the teacher's lineage.

For example, in the Dudjom Tersar lineage of the Vajrayana tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, in order to learn about the complexities of the mind and teachings on Dzogchen (Great Perfection), students need to complete their preliminary practice of Ngondro (outer and inner practice), which consists of receiving transmissions from a qualified teacher , elaborate visualization meditations and postures, prostrations, taking refuge, Bodhicitta (developing the mind of awakening), mandala offering (to accumulate merit and wisdom), Vajrasattva (to purify all past negative karma), Guru Yoga (direct transmission from the Guru's mind and be familiar with the practice of Phowa [preparation for death]).

The Way Leads through Yourself to beyong Yourself: Dreaming in a Himalayan Monastery; Madhu Tandan

At the age of eighteen I was fairly confused about what I wanted to do with my life. It was then that I met my teacher, Sri Madhava Ashish, an English aircraft engineer-turned-Hindu monk. After a thirty-six-hour journey, the bus dropped me at a sleepy village in the Himalayan foothills, where the last stretch to his remote hermitage was a forty-five-minute walk up a steep mountain track.

In the evening by the light of an oil lamp, with the dark stillness of the mountains closing us, I asked him, 'What should I do with my life? What direction should I take, and how will I know?' He surprised me by saying, 'If you like, record your dreams, They will tell you what to tackle first.' 'But I don't remember my dreams,' I said.
'You will if you pay attention to them. Keep a notebook next to your bed and jot down whatever you remember in the morning.'

At that time his suggestion to record my dreams did not mean much to me. But a few months later I recalled a dream with absolute clarity because it was so frightening. I wrote to my teacher about it and his analysis stunned me. He accurately pinpointed something long buried within me that needed to be confronted. Only, I had to agree to do so.

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