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Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The spiritist interpretation of dreams

"The dream" by Pierre-Cécile Puvis de Chavannes, 1883Source: Wikipedia.
"Poor human beings! how little do you know of the commonest phenomena of your life! You
fancy yourselves to be very learned, and you are puzzled by the most ordinary things. To
questions that any child might ask, 'What do we do when we are asleep?' 'What are dreams?'
you are incapable of replying." (1)

“One day it will have to be officially admitted 
that what we have christened reality is 
an even greater illusion than the world of dreams.” ― Salvador Dali

We sleep a considerable portion of our lives, more precisely, about one-third of our incarnate lives. What happens in this state? It is easy to understand the need for sleep - so natural that we hardly question its importance - however, how do we justify dreams? What does the understanding of the dual nature of the human being, allowed by the Spiritist knowledge, help us to understand the mechanism of dreaming? 

The dream experience is quite different from the ordinary experiences of the waking state. The latter admits "witnesses", who share these experiences publicly. If I travel with my family to a tourist destination, the experiences I had there are the same my relatives had. In dreams, however, this does not apply. Thus, if I dream about going to a distant place with my relatives, they will not confirm the same experience if I question them about their dreams. In principle, the whole experience of dreaming is private, that is, lived only in the "first person", by myself exclusively. Such a striking difference makes dreams to be considered mental experiences par excellence, that is, experiences created solely by the dreamer's mind. 

Another distinguishing feature of dreams (I have already experienced this myself) is the apparent lack of causal connection among events within a dream. What happens at a particular moment - even though the apparent cause is declared in the dream - is not related causally to the following dream action. I remember a dream when I parked a car in a certain place. After other facts in the dream, when I return to get the car, it was no longer there or, at least, I could not remember where I had left the car in the dream... But I also remember dreams in which I was aware I was dreaming and could also keep the details of previous dreams connected to the last one I was having. In these cases, I was just finishing an adventure of a few nights before (someone told me in the dream): a situation best described as a "lucid dream".

The dream as a mnemonic synthesis of past experiences of the soul during sleep.
Dreams are the remembrance of what your spirit has seen during sleep, but you must remark that you do not always dream, because you do not always remember what you have seen, or all that you have seen. Your dreams do not always reflect the action of your soul in its full development; for they are often only the reflex of the confusion that accompanies your departure or your return, mingled with the vague remembrance of what you have done, or of what has occupied your thoughts, in your waking state. (1)
As already described in Question #402 in The Spirit's Book (1), dreams do not reduce themselves simply to the state of the soul freed from the body. If this were so, the experience, although private, should be consistent, in other words, dreams would be indistinguishable from "out-of-the-body" experiences. Dreams may be described rather as a kind of mnemonic synthesis of what occurs during sleep which is meaningful to the spirit; a re-construction or assembly, greatly affected by memories of past experiences, of what is important to the mind during sleep. Although the mechanism is fully unknown, this synthesis or composite is constructed from almost everything relevant to the individual at the moment of awakening: desires, fears, the reinterpreted experience of the previous day, memories of the present and past lives, and even past experiences the spirit has had recently, that is, the very memories of other dreams.

For me, the immense majority of people (including myself) cannot perfectly retain, through the "prism of the brain", the memories acquired by the senses of the soul during the dreaming state. The events of the dream are therefore recreated from a "bank of memories", almost entirely based on previous experiences of the waking state. It is like creating a new movie using a sequence of edited scenes from old films. In this "editing" process, the memory bank is accessed and its symbols, scenes or poses are used to "synthesize" a memory of the actual experience. Thus, after waking up, most recollected sequences are often erratic or does not fit into a rational or logic arrangement.

For example, imagine that I, in spirit state, was in contact with other people during sleep. When I awake, the remembrance process will most likely substitute the personality whom I have been in contact with by other people I recognize in the vigil state: sometimes a friend I know later was indeed awakened, or another person whom I have long forgotten and so on. It is even possible that the dream is filled out with an image of a discarnate relative. And so we usually wake up with the impression of having been in contact with that dead relative, but in fact, that was not true. It was rather a recreation because in no way my physical brain is able to sustain faithfully the images of my actual experience as a spirit in the dream. Only the script is more or less similar. The mnemonic assembly is necessary to give a meaning of those experiences lived in the dream to my consciousness in the awakened state. We should remember that the experiences of the dream do not reach the soul through the common pathways of the material senses (the nervous system). Therefore, they are reinterpreted when they finally reach the brain when we awake.

So, those were not the ones I have been in contact with when I dreamed about my deceased mother, father or any other relative? Not necessarily. A somewhat different situation occurs in the already mentioned lucid dreams, which are a category of rare and peculiar dreams. In them, the dreamer knows he/she is dreaming or is having the experience. In the dreams I had with my deceased mother, I had a distinct impression that she came to visit me. Amazingly, the dream environment was the bed I was lying - somehow I know it - and the dream finished when I woke up in tears. These particular dreams differ greatly from the immense majority of banal, meaningless dreams we have often because they are full of meaning to us.

The idea of dreams as a process of re-creation of experience of the soul during sleep by assembling preexisting memories allows us to explain the so-called "premonitory dreams". In fact, these can also be recreated from previous images, but they deal with future events based on the experience of the soul in the Beyond regarding these facts. Trying to interpret them may be a frustrating practice because they only make sense to the dreamer who preserves their real meaning unconsciously. Moreover, premonition dreamers might not be competent in conveying or communicating the true meaning in time, which is a source of countless confusions.

In summary, we can divide the impressions caused by the dreams in three levels of meanings:
  1. The deep meaning, ultimately existing only for the soul, that is, as an unconscious "memory" impressed to the incarnate being, an "unfelt awareness". The sense can be recapitulated in other dreams or invoked in lucid dreams. It certainly survives physical death as the heritage of the soul experience,
  2. The fragmented vigil meaning, recreated on the base of preexisting images or memories of the vigil state, the materialized meaning for the waking being, perhaps to be forgotten with physical death,
  3. The sense conveyed to others, depending on our ability to communicate the dream experience to others in the incarnate world. This meaning can cause a very different impression, making their "interpretation" difficult, although in some anomalous case, the meaning is very clear. 
"Joseph interpreting Pharaoh’s dream" (Genesis cap 41, 14-36),
The Phillip Medhurst Picture Torah 199. Source: Wikipedia.
The importance of anomalous dreams

Presently, most of the theoretical impasse regarding the most popular conceptions of the mind is due to their exclusive reference to the events taking place with the immense majority of people. I understand the reason from a practical point of view. Statistically, it makes sense to devote research effort to what happens most of the time. By doing this, however, we sacrifice the understanding of the deeper causes in detriment of what is more frequent. Thus the anomalies that occur with only a few are swept under the rug by explanations seemingly applicable to what is general. It is reasonable to ask if the truest theory is the one fitting the majority of the facts or the one leaving no fact aside. In medicine, one does not learn anything about diseases by studying only healthy people. Therefore, anomalies should be regarded since they are a way to establish correlations and to explain the exceptions beyond the rule.

The so-called "anomalous dreams" represent precisely this situation. Unlike ordinary dreams, they resemble lucid dreams by bringing meaningful messages containing "anomalous content". An elucidating work about anomalous dreams is due to S. Krippner and L. Faith entitled "Exotic dreams: A cross-cultural study" (2). In this work, the authors identified (from a set of about 1700 dream reports), nearly 185 (or 8%) considered "exotic". Such reports were then classified according to several types: healing dreams, lucid dreams, creative dreams, dreams with out-of-body experiences, shared dreams, dreams within dreams (as I had), dreams of past lives, visitation dreams, etc.

The so-called "shared dreams" are particularly interesting. These are reports of people who experience mutual dreams or dreams whose content is partially shared among individuals. Thus, the "first person" character of dreams may be weakened (3).

In creative dreams, Krippner and Faith reported dream narratives in which people were aided in dreams to solve problems of everyday life.

In a visitation dream, a painter from Japan reported having been advised by her father, who died in World War II, to choose her paintings and even on how to use the brush. The experience was highly significative and helped to improve the painter professional performance.

According to the authors in (2), dreams about tragedies (precognitive dreams) do not always end in a fatal way. They usually manifest themselves as the announcement of diseases or vulnerable situations of people at a distance.

Finally, the authors in (2) suggest a correlation between the incidence of anomalous dreams and the cultural environment in which they occur. In fact, this correlation is expected, considering that dreams are interpreted in terms of previous mental baggage. Therefore, the greater the individual' awareness about spiritual realities, the clearer will be their representation in exotic or peculiar dreams.

As for lucid dreams, it is possible that most people have already experienced - at least once in life - this kind of dream which would be more expected in cultures which value spirituality.

Conclusions

In this note, I have listed some relevant aspects to our understanding of the genesis and unfolding of dreams. A suitable explanation of the mechanism of dreams must both explain the dynamics with the vast majority of people, and the peculiar cases occurring with specific groups as well. Such anomalous experiences may also manifest at least once in people's life.

It is not possible to understand dreams without appealing to the dual nature of the human being, a simple reality that is able to explain both the reported exceptions and everyday life dreams. What we call dreams are, in fact, memories of events taking place during sleep, memories that are reconstructed out of other perceptions of facts lived by the person in the awaken state. This explanation agrees with the idea that, in the dream state, the spirit cannot excite the body directly (that is, the brain), because it is partially detached from it. In the process of "reassembling" the experience as a meaningful narrative to the vigil state, experiences of the present life (everyday facts, known people etc) are used, just as "extraordinary" memories (e. g., of previous lives, or other dreams etc).

The random, erratic or senseless impression of most dreams is a consequence of such reassembly of memories from a bank of internal fragments. In general, the meaning of dreams only exists unconsciously for the person who experiences it. It is very difficult to interpret dreams correctly, although this might be possible exceptionally.

The understanding that dreams are memories of the spiritual life allows us to explain a great variety of accounts considered "anomalous", which are then important sources confirming the proposed mechanism behind dreams. Without proper attention to such anomalous accounts, dreams are often considered merely as "hallucinations" or "fantasies" of the brain, showing no correlation with the true and hidden reality.

In addition to dividing dreams between "ordinary" and "peculiar" types, for most people, dreams may be further subdivided into "ordinary/common" and "lucid" dreams. In the last case, the dreamer knows he/she is dreaming and, therefore, can "control" the dream in principle. Apparently, such control is subjected to training (4).

It seems evident that dreaming is an important stage in the progress of the incarnate soul. By countless repetitions, the spirit liberates itself from the physical world and recalls its disembodied life. In a certain sense, dreaming is a training process for the ultimate physical deliverance that we call death.

References

(1) Question 402, "The Spirit's Book" (A. Kardec). Translated from French by Anne Blackwell. Online version here: http://geeaknorge.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Spiritsbook.pdf (March 2019).

(2) Krippner, S., & Faith, L. (2001). "Exotic dreams: A cross-cultural study". Dreaming, 11(2), 73-82.

(3) Another work related to shared dreams is Davis, W. J., & Frank, M. (1994). "Dream sharing: A case study". The Journal of Psychology, 128 (2), 133-147.

(4) See, e. g., May E. C & LaBerge S. (1991) "Anomalous Cognition in Lucid Dreams". Science Applications International Corporation. In March 2019, this work can be downloaded here:

https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/document/cia-rdp96-00789r003100140001-2












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