The stuff of dreams

Source: By Saumitra Mohan: The Statesman

Dreams are an important component of our lives. Most of us dream of bigger and better things all the time, but these are daydreams, visualized in a mentally alert and wakeful state. We need to work hard with all our dedication and planning to realize these dreams. But here we are talking about the dreams we see during slumber. Dreams are essentially stories and images that our mind creates while we sleep.

Our dreams can occur anytime during sleep. The most vivid dreams are visualised during deep REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, when the brain is most active. We are supposed to dream, at least, four to six times per night. Our dreams are said to be affected by our sleeping positions. A study found that sleeping on the left gives us more disturbing dreams than on the right. Sleeping at an incline, on the left or with face down seems to make dreams more vivid.

According to Sigmund Freud’s Psychoanalytic Theory of Personality, people are driven by aggressive sexual instincts that are repressed from an unconscious awareness. He emphasised the importance of the unconscious mind and a primary assumption of the Freudian theory is that the unconscious mind governs our behaviour to a greater degree than what people suspect. Studies have found that our dreams are actually a reflection of our personality. The more spiritually or cerebrally evolved we are, the more uplifting are our dreams.

Dreams generally have a pattern and hint at certain things in our lives, including our suppressed desires and thoughts as Freud suggested. It is very common for an individual to actualise one’s desire in dreams. This often encourages us to try harder by reflecting on our inherent potential. Freud believed that every dream is an imaginary fulfilment of our wish or impulse and represents our unconscious desires, thoughts and motivations. Like his mentor Freud, Carl Gustav Jung also believes in the existence of the ‘unconsciouses.

According to Jung, dreams are a way of communicating and acquainting ourself with the ‘unconscious’. The recurring and repetitive dreams, according to some psychologists, point to a major incident of the past or previous lives which has been deeply imprinted on our sub-consciousness. Recurring dreams not only point to our unconscious desires, but they also allude to the sub-conscious memories of our previous lives. Dreams are reflective of our intuitive power as often they aid and assist us in solving many of life’s problems. They often point at the need to resolve certain issues sooner than later. Many scientists and scholars have been inspired by their dreams or said to have got a brainwave through one such dream. Dreams are, thus, a means to unlock our hidden potential by giving us ideas.

Many individuals are said to be endowed with supernatural powers to foresee a future event. Isn’t it very common for students to see question papers before an exam? Often our existential fears and conflicts are played in our dreams with all its ramifications thereby enabling us to take a firm and final decision about something important in our lives. Dreams are, therefore, psychologically beneficial in helping us resolve our pain and problems as done through ‘Past Life Regression Therapy’ which is increasingly becoming very popular these days.

There is no common dictionary with the same explanations for the same dreams. Different cultures have different meanings associated with dreams. Dreams are not only explained spatiotemporally, but also through their individual associations. While dreams associated with flying signify our continuing spiritual growth, the dream of being chased points to the need to face a problem instead of retreating. It has been suggested that Gods, ancestors and guardian angels send us messages through our dreams. Don’t we often receive divine courage or sudden brainwaves through dreams to move on with our life notwithstanding tough situations? Dreams, thus, have a cathartic value by sublimating our pain creatively and smoothly.

But we also have nightmares, often seen during ‘sleep paralyses’ ~ a condition in which someone realises that she is unable to move, speak or scream. This may last a few seconds or longer. It is explained as a dysfunction or malfunction of the normal REM state of sleep, brought on by sleep deprivation, life-stress or sleeping on the back. Our anxieties and depressions cause these nightmares which usually hit the mentally or spiritually weaker souls. The nightmares could be controlled by enhancing mental strength through meditation, stress management and correct sleeping postures. Sleeping with hands crossed on chest must be shunned to evade nightmares.

However, the Hindu scriptures believe that we are spiritually more connected during the state of ‘Dreamless Sleep’. As a falcon roaming in the sky becomes tired, folds its wings and heads for its nest, so does our ‘Soul’. Falling asleep, it cherishes no more desires and dreams no more dreams. In the stillness of night, when our corporal senses are fast locked in the fetters of sleep, and our elementary body rests, the ‘astral form’ becomes liberated. It then comes out of its earthly prison and travels around the visible and invisible worlds.

In the Upanishads, ‘Dreamless Sleep’ is presented as the objectless sleep without any egotistic sense of body, mind or the world. In profound, dreamless sleep we simply abandon our body, mind, ego, material world and cognate concerns. We effectively die to the ‘Self’ and the world and float free in the vastness, stillness and deeply serene contenment of ego-free awareness of the Divine Spirit.

The condition corresponds to the state of Turiya. This literally translates as ‘the fourth’ and refers to the fourth state of consciousness beyond ordinary waking, sleeping, dreaming and dreamless sleep.

Abiding at the sleep-threshold, the condition equals the temporarily dying of the physical body and becoming one with the Divine. Here one realises that the sleep threshold is not about sleep anymore, but about waking to a new dimension of universal love.

Turiya corresponds to a state of Samadhi, but it is not static; it is an entirely new way of living on the other side of the ‘now’. Not all those who achieve Turiya actualize this possibility, because many fail to see that Turiya is not really a state at all, but a mysterious gateway to another world.

In dreamless sleep, the ‘Soul’ ceases to be a knower as it ceases to have any idea of objects. The polarity of subject and object, the opposition between the knower and the known vanishes altogether. He no longer feels that he is confined to and limited by the body. But yet consciousness does not cease in the ‘Dreamless Sleep’.

Many Hindu sages believe that the more attached and obsessed we are with our desires, the more pain and privation we experience through our dreams. Hence, it is advisable to start restraining our desires by restraining our attachment to the related outcomes. The extent to which we have got over our desires and attachments are indicated by how much ‘dreamless sleep’ we experience. The same is also suggestive of our rising spiritual level. Less or zero desires calm our minds and souls when we see no dream and connect with the Supreme Being. Through regular meditation and ‘regulation, restraint and purification of our thoughts and desires’, we can change the negative or mundane patterns of our dreams.