The Dreaming World
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If we can know the future through our dreams because time is not linear in the dream world, then this implies that in some sense our dreams are reaching through the portal from the non-linear temporal world of the dream into ours to inform us with a perspective not generally available to us here. How else could we “remember” a future that has not happened in a world where linear time does hold court – where what can be remembered is by definition considered to be the past? Could we take another step and postulate that the dream world – and the characters in it, who have an independent existence of their own – have some investment in us getting the message that comes with taking a “remembered” future seriously?
In his pioneering book, Dream Tending: Awakening to the Healing Power of Dreams, Stephen Aizenstat tells the story of a client of his, a lawyer in his early 40s, who had a recurring nightmare about an abandoned, wind-swept ghost town with a town square dominated by a decrepit cathedral. In his dream, the eerie silence of the scene was always broken by an old woman wailing in despair. After years of exhaustive and exhausting therapy, trying to get to the root of this dream from an interpretive perspective, Aizenstat invited this man to enter more deeply into the landscape of his dream and explore it in more nuanced detail.
Suddenly, this man had an epiphany. He recognized this village as one in Mexico where his now dead grandmother used to live. He had visited this village long ago as a child, but had not thought about it since. With Aizenstat’s encouragement, the man was inspired to heed a call that had been tugging at the periphery of his consciousness for several years – to re-visit this village of his childhood. When he got there, he discovered that the village was scheduled to be bulldozed in order to make way for a resort development.
He suddenly knew what the dream was asking him to do. It was not just about him, after all, but a call for help from the village – somehow reaching through the dream portal with great urgency, like a child tugging insistently at the sleeve of a parent, to seek his help. In the months that followed, this lawyer used his skills on behalf of the endangered village to prevent the possible impending future – the ghost town scenario – his recurring dream was warning him about.
From this and countless other experiences of the dream world like it, Aizenstat has concluded that the world itself – and everything in it – is dreaming. The corollary to this perspective is that everything is alive; everything has a soul; everything partakes of the living intelligence that animates this world. This might seem strange to modern sensibilities weaned on a scientific worldview, but at one time – back in the day when the imaginal world of Sufi philosophers, Greek heroes and indigenous shamans was considered real – the world soul, the anima mundi, was an everyday fact of life. Although it has been neglected in recent memory, the anima mundi is still very much alive, calling to us, waiting patiently for us to listen, to hear, and to feel its compelling wisdom pulsing through our bloodstream with every beat of our heart.
Even now, we can reach out and touch it, have a conversation with it, and get to know it as surely as we could a friend. If we are open to the experience, we can become aware of the anima mundi – the soul of this world – reaching out to us, through the synchronicities that make certain moments seem important; through the poetry of a sunset, the terrifying power of a thunderstorm, or the magic of an butterfly emerging from a cocoon; through our most compelling dreams, and through anything to which we pay extraordinary attention.
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