Dreams are an important key to the mysteries of our mental life. We spend about a third of our lives sleeping and dreaming. A third of our existence is an altered state of consciousness. We cycle back and forth between the different worlds of dream and waking. Humans are metaphysical amphibians.What’s going on here?
We underrate the dream portion of our existence. Dreams have shaped my life and taught me important things. When I was a young philosophy teacher, I began to dream of paintings (pretty good it seemed). I’d wake up, surprised and grateful, for what seemed like a great show. Then it occurred to me that “I” was the painter of all my dream paintings. I had half given it up, but I started to paint again; I have never dreamed of a painting since. Dreams taught me that I needed to keep painting, a way of staying in touch with my soul. (If curious, check out (paintingthepsyche.com.)
Dreams kept surprising me, and threw my idea of time into disarray. Precognition, for example, when I had three accurate dreams of the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan in 1981—before the actual event. Dreams have twice afforded me reason to believe in life after death. (Twice I’ve been attacked by obnoxious ghosts—very interesting!) I have levitated in dreams, soared like a bird into the blue sky; I have met a great Being of Light in a dream as I lugged a boat up a mountain. I received a life-transforming lesson on music and the art of living from Hubert Laws, the great jazz flutist. In a dream he told me that all I needed was a small breath. Then he said, “It’s there.” I blew a note on my dream-flute, and a big sound spread out like a giant wave in all directions.
The dream state is often connected with paranormal events. Joseph of Copertino’s ecstatic levitations are a major challenge to physics.[i] How is levitation possible? Joseph would say: Love God in heaven and fly! According to physicist Hal Putoff, Einstein proved levitation was possible by showing that space and time are not absolutes. Physical space can be bent, is malleable, i.e, by change of mass. But how Joseph or Saint Teresa of Avila in a state if ecstasy bend physical space and suspend gravity—in short, levitate—that remains a mystery.
The dream state may offer a clue. We have experiences in our dreams that we can recall. We can say they occur in dream space. For example, I have experienced flying in my dream space. Where am I? Nowhere on Earth. Real? It felt more vividly real than anything in normal waking life. But what about Joseph’s and St. Teresa’s levitations?
Nobody is astonished by flying dreams. Joseph dreaming that he levitates is acceptable to established science. But how do we explain his public, apparently physical levitations? Suppose that people who witnessed Joseph levitate were actually viewing his dream that he was levitating. That would be possible if we assume that when Joseph went into ecstasy his dream space and the physical space of his witnesses blend into one complex space, in which the properties of both spaces were retained. Joseph, we can say, achieved a certain inner mental state (ecstasy) that caused the transient compaction of dream space and physical space.
Physicist Bernard Carr has developed a theory of hyperspace that integrates mind and matter and accounts for our higher mental life, mystical and paranormal.[ii] What got me thinking was Carr’s notion that two distinct dimensions of space and their distinct properties could be compacted into one new dimension, in which the properties of each are retained. Joseph thus behaves as if in a dream before the waking eyes of astonished spectators. The explanation I’m suggesting implies the possibility of the welding together of dream space and waking physical space
There are, in fact, states of mind in which we seem simultaneously awake and dreaming: lucid dreaming, hypnagogia, and somnambulism. The internal boundary between waking and dream space is by no means absolute. I can be awake watching a movie after dinner and slide in an instant into seeing dream images or blanking out.
The philosophers C. D. Broad and H.H.Price have suggested that our dream life continues below the threshold of awareness during our waking hours. If so, not only do we periodically slip in and out of our waking and dreaming worlds in cycles during sleep, but we may also find ourselves in both worlds at the same time. The moment we dip below the threshold of ordinary wakefulness, the scene can radically change.
If in fact, as Broad, Price, and Carr suggest, our conscious mental life occupies a space in some sense adjacent to dream space, we are asking how we might breach the barrier and induce compaction of the two spaces, which would allow levitation to manifest in physical space.
Ecstasy or possession displace the everyday personality. It seems that in this state of mind—where normal consciousness is swept aside—the possessed person begins to talk in languages never learned, and the ecstatic rises dreamlike into the air unhinged from gravity. The drastic change of consciousness releases the transcendent influx—be it levitation, xenoglossy, or whatever.
Our normal personalities are the enemies of our higher selves. But friendship is possible. Starting a conversation with our dream self might bear fruit. Take from science and religion what we can; then find our own path to ecstasy and creative self-oblivion.