How Big a Part Do Our Dreams Play on the Christian Spiritual Journey?
How seriously do we take dreams? Do we remember them? And if we do, are any meaningful to us? We may attend dream workshops and learn how to interpret our dreams. Others may find this information in the many books that have been published on the subject. Sometimes we may have a major archetypal dream with such powerful signs that we remember the dream for years.
And in the Bible of course, dreams play a meaningful part. There are the dreams of Joseph in the Old Testament; and the dreams of Joseph husband of Mary in the New Testament. He not only came to accept that the baby Mary bore was indeed the Son of God; but he received a warning to escape to Egypt, and his decision to act on that dream saved their lives. So the Bible tells us dreams can predict the future; warn us; and show the truth to us.
In many cultures and spiritual traditions dreams are highly valued. One tradition I have personally experienced is dream yoga. What is this? Does it really exist? The answer is yes. It originated in Tibet, and is an ancient Buddhist teaching. by it one aims to unprotected to self-knowledge by mastering the art of ‘lucid dreaming’. The practice of dream yoga, we were told by our (Australian) teacher, involved ‘unlearning’ everything we had before taken for granted. One section of the course involved a stroll along a forest track – walking backwards, not forwards.
After about ten minutes of this, we were told to stop, and then asked a number of questions. Who had found it difficult to trust the leader? Who had struggled with an urge to look behind, to check they weren’t going to crash into anything? And who thought it extremely silly? This, we were assured, was the best reaction of all, as we were here to unlearn everything we had been taught to believe about the world and how to behave in it, from the moment we were born.
Then we were asked to look at a distant tree, and focus on the very topmost branch. Concentrating on those leaves, we were to imagine a identify in the centre of our foreheads, and to visualise a silver cord extending, reaching out, further and further, and finally connecting us to the leaves at the top of the tree. Then we were to walk very slowly towards it, never letting our eyes drop.
Now this may seem bizarre to Christian readers. But the value of it lay in being asked to step outside our habitual way of doing things. And when we had completed the exercise, and been asked how we felt about it, our teacher said, “This is what I want you to do every day. As you walk around, think: This is a dream. at all event you’re doing, say to yourself: I’m dreaming this.”
This, I understood, was part of his strategy to instruct us in the art of lucid dreaming. We were urged to remember that if we mastered this art – the art of knowing you’re in the middle of a dream, and then taking command of the dream at that point – if we mastered this art, ‘death will be a breeze.’ A dreamlike quality had settled upon us all. Whether he had evidence for this assertion, no one inquired. He then assured us that if we followed what he’d taught us during that session, lucid dreaming would become second character.
Maybe this sounds laughable to you; it is in itself a western reshaping of an eastern spiritual tradition. And the way it is practised in Tibet may well be different. I describe it here to open you up to the idea that sometimes we may unprotected to a new vision of the world in strange ways. In the Bible, of course, characters had their view of the world turned upside down by the direct intervention of God. Elijah was lifted out of his depression (1 Kings 19:3-16); Jacob saw a ladder come down from heaven (Genesis 28:11-19); men whose livelihood depended on the local fishing industry dropped everything, left their nets and boats and followed Jesus (Mark 1:16-20); a tax collector resolved to return all the money he had ever cheated anyone out of, increased fourfold (Luke 19:1-10); and a skeptic saw evidence of the impossible, and believed where before he had doubted (John 20:24-29).
In at all event way, it is valuable sometimes to experience the world ‘upside down and inside out’, to see things differently, to gain new ways of approaching people and life. And this is as vital for Christians as for anybody. Who knows what this may open the door to?