33rd Annual International Dream Conference (IASD)
Rolduc Abbey, Kerkrade, The Netherlands
24th -28th June 2016
This is the text of my talk June 27th, 2016:
Click here for the MP3 soundtrack 56 MB
Visionary Dreams and the Great Challenge of Our Time
In this talk I would like to take the Dream out of the context of psychology and neuroscience and place it in the context of the Cosmos. So I ask you to turn your attention to the Cosmos and this beautiful image of the Pleiades. I want to place the visionary dream in this cosmic context because, in ancient cultures, this is where it belonged. Six great civilizations: those of Egypt, Vedic India, Mesopotamia, South and Central America and China — valued visionary dreams as revelations from the divine ground of the Cosmos, as a source of divine guidance and as a door leading to divine encounters. All built extraordinary temples aligned to specific stars and constellations. All sought the guidance transmitted to specially trained visionary dreamers. I think our culture needs urgently to rediscover what these civilizations knew millennia ago — that our lives participate in a universe that is alive, intelligent and the ground of our own consciousness.
2. Image of Grail
I think you may agree that we live in a critically dangerous time. Our political leaders see their role only in terms of the need for more power and economic profit, forgetting that “Without vision the people perish.” Where today are the visionary dreams? Not the dreams relating to our personal experience but to the guidance coming to us from the deeper ground of the Cosmos, the Cosmos that is the source of all abundance — the true Holy Grail. With no vision or visionary dreams to guide us, our world culture has become disconnected from this deeper ground, ignorant of the hidden laws that govern it and the need to harmonise our lives and our societies with them. We live in a radically unbalanced society which is showing increasing signs of dysfunction. The neglect of our inner life and the need for connection with this deeper ground has led to the situation where, as in the Grail legend, the landscape of the soul is in the grip of a terrible drought. Few people understand the language of the soul or even recognise its existence. Few can read the images of their dreams that are like hieroglyphs whose key has been lost. Consequently, however technically brilliant it may be, our culture is ailing and wounded, like the Old King in the story of the Grail Quest.
3. Blake picture
This is the Time of Awakening reflected in this painting by William Blake, the great English visionary who paid close attention to his dreams. What are we awakening to? We are awakening to awareness that we are cosmic beings whose origin and destination is in the stars and to the fact that our lives in this material world are woven into a tapestry whose threads connect us not only with each other at the deepest level but with the unseen ground of Life. Beyond our present time-bound sight a limitless field of Consciousness interacts with our own, asking to be recognized by us, embraced by us. It may be that the Soul of the Cosmos has waited aeons for us to reach the point in our evolution where more than a handful of individuals could awaken to relationship with the ground that animates and supports the whole of our existence. We face a choice between continuing in the patterns of the past which may lead to our extinction or living and acting from a radically different understanding of life and of ourselves — and, I should add, of God.
What is the great challenge of our time? It is to offer a new cosmology to our children: a new story. It is to move to a higher level of consciousness, recognizing that we are part of a Sacred Cosmic Order and that we are inseparably connected to the world around us and the wider universe. It is to offer a new image of man – man not only exploring the Cosmos but man in conscious relationship and communion with it. The current story is that material reality is the only reality and that consciousness begins and ends with the physical brain. We are alone in a randomly created universe that is without meaning or purpose. When we die, that is the end of us. Fortunately, this story is fading and a new one is being born.
4. Robin’s Cosmos Painting
As this painting by my husband illustrates, something is manifesting from the deeper ground of the Cosmos. Something is stirring in the depths of our collective psyche, calling us to remember our true nature as inhabitants of the Cosmos and our true spiritual role as guardians of this extraordinary planet.
5. The New Story
The New Story is that the whole universe is a Unified Field. An invisible Field of Energy is the foundation and source of the material world. We live within a Cosmic Web of Life which underlies and connects all galaxies, all life forms in the universe and on our planet. Every atom of life interacts with every other atom. None of us is truly separate from others or from any aspect of life.
6. The New Cosmology
Through the emerging science of Unified Physics a new cosmology is being born; a new vision of our profound relationship with an intelligent, living and interconnected universe. This new science shows us that matter cannot be separated from spirit. We are part of an immense Field of Consciousness which sustains not only our world, but the entire cosmos.
7. Man with torch and cosmos
For countless thousands of years, enlightened men have known this. They have studied the stars, the patterns of the constellations and the movements of the sun, moon and planets in relation to them. They knew the dimensions of the earth and that it moved around the sun millennia before this was discovered in fifteenth century Europe. They knew about the precession of the equinoxes. They were extraordinary astronomers and mathematicians and kept records spanning many thousands of years. Our human consciousness is like this tiny torch, our only means of discovering more about the life around us and our profound relationship with the universe. Part of that conscious awareness is the experience of the Dream. We know the visionary dream was highly valued in all the civilizations of which we have record. The Dream was understood to be the means by which we could align ourselves with the specific dynamics and requirements of the unfolding pattern of the Cosmos at any specific time. Nothing was more important to these early civilizations than the guidance received through the Dream on how the human community could live in harmony with the laws of the Cosmos and how it could implement those laws.
8. Diagram of three lines of connection
We have had three paths for connecting our human consciousness with Cosmic Consciousness: the path of religion, faith or belief, the path of science or knowledge gathered through observation. However, far older than either of these, is the shamanic path of visionary experience, dream and revelation. All three paths need to come together now to teach the new story of what our role on this planet could be.
9. Bridge between worlds
Visionary dreams are bridges between worlds. They are messages to us from a deeper dimension of reality. Visionary dreams could be our guides in the enormously challenging process of birthing a new civilization, free from the indescribable cruelties and power struggles which have polluted the past and still desecrate the present. In ancient cultures that I will come to later in my talk, this bridge existed. The very earliest recorded dream comes from the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh. The Old Testament tells us the story of Joseph interpreting Pharaoh’s dream of the seven fat and seven lean cattle as a warning of seven years of plenty to be followed by seven years of famine. As a result, Pharaoh put him in charge of storing large quantities of grain during the years of plenty so that Egypt did not suffer in the years of famine. In the New Testament, we have the dream warning the three Wise Men not to return to Herod after visiting Bethlehem, and Joseph’s dream of an angel warning him to flee to Egypt with Mary and Jesus — a dream which saved Jesus’ life. There is also the urgent message sent to Pontius Pilate by his wife, Claudia: “Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered terribly in a dream today because of Him.”
10. Jacob’s Dream
This is a beautiful painting of the dream that lies at the root of Judeo-Christian civilization: the famous dream of Jacob’s Ladder in Genesis 28. In his dream he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God ascending and descending it. In the dream God speaks directly to Jacob and makes a covenant with him. The dream is a key component of the prophetic tradition of Judaism which records many dreams. In the book of Job we read, “For God speaketh in a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falleth upon men. Then he openeth the ears of men and sealeth their instruction.” (Job 33:14-16)
11. Blake – Jacob’s Dream
This is William Blake’s painting of Jacob’s Dream. Blake painted this stairway with souls as well as angels ascending and descending. If Blake had lived today in our secular culture, he would undoubtedly have been classified as bi-polar and given drugs to bring his visions under control or get rid of them altogether. Fortunately for us, he was left to record his visions in peace, although people were a bit shocked when they heard that he and his wife sat naked in their garden, talking to angels.
12. Blake’s Dream Teacher
This is Blake’s drawing of the man who taught him how to paint in his dreams. A visionary like Blake acts as a bridge between two levels or dimensions of reality. A visionary, seer or shaman – the word means “one who knows” – is traditionally called to this role by an experience that weakens his or her focus on the usual concerns of life – what the Taoists call “The Ten Thousand Things”. It could be an experience of devastating loss, a psychotic episode, a powerful vision or visionary dream, or an out-of-body or near-death experience. Whatever it is, it will shatter the pattern of so-called normal life and the structures of defence we have built against the terror and disorientation of such an experience. Our culture may see this experience as a symptom of mental illness. Indigenous cultures may see it as a rite of initiation into a transcendent world: a break-through rather than a breakdown. There are many kinds, levels and degrees of visionary experience. An encounter with the numinous can be terrifying as well as exalting and inspiring.
13. Jung’s painting
Fortunately for our culture, in the last century, there was a great Dreamer, a psychiatrist called Carl Gustav Jung who reconnected us with the deeper dimension of the Soul which had been neglected for centuries. Almost single-handedly, he restored the dream to the position it held in the ancient world. His shamanic breakdown or breakthrough came during the First World War in a series of visionary dreams and experiences which he had the insight, professional experience and intelligence to recognise were coming from a deeper dimension of the psyche than the conscious mind. He recorded these visions and his commentaries on them in what became his famous Red Book that has only recently been published. He called this painting from the Red Book “The Spirit above a world of war and technology.”
Jung’s understanding of the significant role of the visionary dream is carried in these words: “Everywhere, at all times, in all cultures and races of which we have record, when the greatest meaning, the highest value of life that man called gods or God needed renewal and increase, the process of renewal began through a dream...” (MC par.488) We are in such a time now. He also said, “The world hangs on a single thread and that thread is the psyche of man.”
14. Door picture Magritte
Jung said that “The dream is a hidden door in the innermost and most secret recesses of the soul, opening onto that cosmic night which was soul long before there was any ego-consciousness, and which will remain soul no matter how far our ego-consciousness extends.”
He said that his early dreams determined the whole course of his life, giving him the sense of a destiny that had to be fulfilled. “I had to do what God wanted, not what I wanted,” he wrote later. Jung’s courage and tenacity in exploring this transpersonal dimension of consciousness sums up his lifelong determination to devote himself, as he put it, to the scientific exploration of the soul — to listen to its voice, decipher its language and its imagery, become receptive to its attempts to communicate with the conscious mind. Like many titans of innovative thought who are ahead of their time, he has been contemptuously dismissed as a mystic, and to a large extent, ignored, notably by members of his own profession of psychiatry. But Jung revived, extended and deepened the concept of soul and the importance of the dream for all of us, rescuing them from the obscurity and neglect into which they had fallen for centuries. In his writings and his practice, soul becomes not something that belongs to us but something in whose greater life we participate. And the dream carries a message from that greater life to us living in this dimension of reality.
15. Moonscape with causeway
In the dream, we enter a lunar landscape where the focus on the daylight world is dimmed, where sleep takes us into landscapes that seem as real as those of the visible world, yet are real in a different way. In ancient civilizations, it was recognised by shamans that there are many levels or dimensions to reality and that close attention to dreams and techniques of incubation, could bring us into alignment with those dimensions. Otherwise, they are closed to us.
Jung realized that the problems of our time are rooted not only in the iron grip that scientific rationalism has on our culture, but in the loss of a living myth and the loss of connection with the soul. It falls to us to develop insight and wisdom by cultivating a relationship with it. Ignorance of the tremendous power of the hidden energies which lie beyond the fragile conscious mind, risks our being taken over by them, falling into madness and the dissolution of our humanity — something we can increasingly see happening today.
16. Woman in Sea
In dreams we enter the subtle Soul world, once named the great Sea of Being, the Sea of the Soul. We encounter a different kind of language; a symbolic language we may struggle to understand because, unlike the Senoi people of Malaysia, we are not taught from childhood to pay attention to our dreams. We may have dreams that can change the course of our lives; dreams that tell us of our imminent transition to another world or dreams of someone dear to us who has entered that world and can still communicate with us through the dream. I have just read a deeply moving book called Death the Last God where a mother desperately grieving after losing her adult son, was able to communicate with him and he with her through her dreams. This brought her an enormously expanded understanding of the experience of death and what lies beyond it.
17. Green Field of Wheat
I would like to share with you a visionary dream I had about forty years ago which changed the course of my life and led me to understand what we need to do to bring into being a world in which our children can survive and thrive. Everything I have understood in the 40 years since that dream is contained in my book, The Dream of the Cosmos.
I dream that I come round the side of a huge dolmen, like the ones at Stonehenge. I enter a different reality, a desert landscape lit by the brilliant radiance of the full moon. The landscape is transformed from a desert into field after field of shimmering green wheat. The moonlight is so bright that it is like daylight and the wheat is the colour of an emerald. I float over this emerald sea for many miles, my bare feet skimming its surface until I come to the brow of a hill and hesitate, wondering if I should go further. I decide to go on and come down into a valley which is about a mile wide. Suddenly I find that there are two gigantic men standing on either side of the valley. They have a huge net stretched across it and are drawing me into the presence of something tremendously powerful and numinous. I lie flat on my back on the ground, caught like a fish in the net. I look up, half in terror, half in awe.
18. Goddess Picture with swirling vortex in abdomen
I see the figure of a woman filling the entire space between earth and sky. She is naked and very beautiful; not young, but ageless. In the centre of her abdomen is an immense revolving wheel. Awestruck, I gaze up at her; then down at my own body, which is exactly like hers, only tiny in comparison with it. I too have a wheel but mine is not centred. It is on the left. She does not speak but indicates that I am to centre my wheel, like hers. That was her message to me. This picture is the nearest I could find to the cosmic woman of my dream.
This visionary dream was an initiation into an utterly different perception of reality. What did I learn? I learned that dreams have a cosmic dimension. I learned that this Cosmic Woman represented the feminine aspect of deity that was banished by the three patriarchal religions. The dream led me to the Jewish mystical tradition of Kabbalah where I found the image of the union of the two primal archetypal principles, with all creation emanating from their ecstatic union. Centring my wheel taught me to become more conscious, more aware of the devastation we have inflicted on the Earth by forgetting what shamanic cultures have never forgotten: that the Earth is part of a Sacred Cosmic Order. Ultimately this dream would lead me to author and co-author several books that defined the history and significance of the Divine Feminine. I gradually realised that only when nature, matter, soul and body – the four aspects of the Feminine – are recognized as the manifestation or theophany of spirit will we be able to heal our dangerously unbalanced and unenlightened culture. If we can accomplish this enormous task, we will enter a new era. That dream led me to the work of discovering what historical factors led to the dissociation of nature from spirit. It led me to the recognition that an invisible Field is the foundation of the material world, a Field to which I gave the name of Cosmic Soul. It taught me to dedicate my life to the service of the planet and beyond that, the Cosmos. It led me to the realisation that the soul is immortal and that the belief that the death of the physical brain is the end of consciousness is tragically misleading.
19. Picture of tunnel
At death we pass through something like this tunnel or worm-hole into another dimension of reality. Shamans have travelled through this kind of tunnel for at least 50,000 years. Some have journeyed to other planetary systems and have encountered there the more advanced beings that inhabit them and received teaching from them. I wish cosmologists would talk to the shamans who know about these experiences. A book written by a Peruvian shaman with whom I have recently completed a nine-month course describes encounters with these galactic messengers from other planets. The role of these visitors that he calls “The Shining Ones” is to awaken us to cosmic consciousness and our true role as channels of light and love. The book is called Lessons in Courage (don Oscar Miro-Quesada).
20. Picture of Cosmos
Over many centuries, we have come to regard ourselves as separate from nature and the Cosmos and, in our ignorance of what has been known in older civilizations for millennia, to believe that we are the only creatures in the universe who have consciousness. What emerges from the ancient records of visionary experience is that what we call our mind, our consciousness, is embedded in a limitless Field of energy which has many different levels or dimensions with different vibratory frequencies. These interpenetrate and interact with each other and with our world. Those who have passed into another dimension can't communicate with us because the vibratory frequencies between their world and ours are different.
21. Picture Comet
In the second part of my talk I am going to look at the role of the visionary dream in ancient cultures and where this may have originated. But first I need to look at the story of the Great Flood. Only in the last decade has geological evidence emerged, presented in a recent book by Graham Hancock called Magicians of the Gods, that the Earth was hit by multiple fragments of a disintegrating giant comet that entered the solar system from deep space around 12,800 years ago (10,800 BC). The impacts of at least 8 of these fragments, up to a mile wide and approaching the Earth at more than 60,000 miles an hour, generated colossal amounts of heat which instantly liquidised millions of square kilometres of ice, destabilising the Earth's crust and causing the global deluge that is remembered in accounts of “The Great Flood” from many different parts of the world. The largest of these fragments plunged into the huge ice-sheets which at that time covered Canada and part of North America, immediately melting them and causing catastrophic floods which devastated all life in North America, putting an end to what is called the Clovis Culture there. Another fragment hit the northern European ice-cap. These impacts also set in motion a freezing “Dark Age” of a thousand or so years known as the Younger Dryas Period which affected much of the world. Little in the way of food could grow. People, animals and plants struggled to survive. Nothing of this nature is known to have impacted the Earth since the extinction of the dinosaurs caused by an asteroid hitting the Gulf of Mexico 65 million years ago.
22. Comet 2
There was apparently a second series of impacts caused by the return of the same fragmenting comet around 11,600 years ago (9,600 BC) that were equally devastating and caused further cataclysmic flooding. This time, the comet fragments apparently fell into the oceans, causing gigantic tsunamis and the submergence of vast areas of land in different parts of the world, including the area which once surrounded what is now Indonesia and Malaysia. This second catastrophe also affected a huge area in the western hemisphere, devastating the whole of Europe and North America and extending as far east as the Caspian Sea, including in its reach Turkey and Syria in the eastern Mediterranean. No wonder we have inherited from that area the story of the Fall of Man and our expulsion from a Garden of Eden. We can perhaps now see this myth in a totally new light. It has taken us 10,000 years to recover from these two global cataclysms and, as Plato put it, “to begin again like children with no memory of what went before.” It is hardly surprising that fear is held deep in our unconscious memory.
23. Picture of Sacsayhuaman
An advanced civilization existing in a large land mass existed prior to these global catastrophes, a civilization with a profound knowledge of astronomy and the technology to construct colossal stone structures like this one at Sacsayhuaman near Cuzco in Peru. Almost all evidence of this civilization vanished with the Flood. Yet some individuals, like Noah in the famous Biblical story of the Ark, were forewarned and travelled in ships to places that were beyond the reach of the surging waters. Landing in Egypt, Mexico and Peru as well as reaching Turkey, Lebanon and Mesopotamia, they taught people how to recreate the template of a drowned civilization. Mentioned in many different accounts of the Great Flood, these voyagers were described as Sages, Magicians, Teachers, gods — “The Shining Ones”. Some were said to have come from the sky or from other planets. These taught the lost skills of civilization and the technological skills of temple building to the traumatised remnants of humanity in different areas of the world, as Isis and Osiris were said to have done in Egypt. I suggest as an intuitive hypothesis – since I can offer no proof – that the superhuman technology of temple building and the practices relating to incubation and the visionary dream were taught by these Sages who came from the highly advanced civilization that existed prior to these two horrific catastrophes.
24. detail of Sacsayhuaman
Here is a detail of this megalithic structure at Sacsayhuaman that long predates the time of the Inca. Its gigantic stones are so tightly placed together that a razor blade cannot be inserted between them. Hancock has concluded that, like the Sphinx in Egypt, they were built by the pre-Flood civilization, a civilization that existed long before Egypt, before Vedic India, before Mesopotamia but may have sowed the seeds of its insights and its astounding skills in all of them.
25. Temple of Chichen-Itza Yucatan
Mayan legends say that Great Men came from the East to Yucatan and taught them how to build the stepped temples that were mirrors of cosmic perfection. This is the temple of Chichen-Itza in Yucatan. Other legends from the Inca in Peru say that these Teachers or gods came from star systems like the Pleiades. Wherever they came from, they were consummate astronomers and architects as well as mariners. This stone temple, like the pyramids of Egypt, and the formidable remains of giant temple complexes in Mexico (Tenochtitlan) and Bolivia (Tiahuanaco) was built to align with a specific constellation like Orion. (A Canadian schoolboy has recently discovered the relationship between this constellation and other still undiscovered Mayan temples in Yucatan). Thus what was Below was built to accord with what was Above. Visionary dreams as well as astronomical calculations were noted for thousands of years in the Mayan and the Incan civilizations, as well as in Mesopotamia where we also find the stepped pyramid temple or ziggurat. A long-buried pre-Flood temple in Java has recently been discovered and is being excavated (see Hancock).
26. The Sphinx
It may be difficult for our secular society to comprehend that ancient societies received the laws that governed their cultures through the Dream, that they may have even received the design of their great spiritual structures through the Dream. The plateau of Giza itself, where the three pyramids and the Sphinx are located, was regarded as the gateway to the world of the Dream, like an umbilical cord connecting the human world with the divine one. Because dreams were held in such high value in Egypt, we have inscriptions that have endured to this day. There is a giant stela standing between the paws of the Sphinx dating to the 14th century BC. The words carved on it say that “a great magical power has existed in this place from the beginning of all time and it extended over the whole region.” The stela also tells the story of a young prince who was out hunting and fell asleep in the shade provided by the Sphinx’s head. The Sphinx spoke to him in a dream like a father to his son, telling him he would become Pharaoh if he removed the huge amount of sand covering it. This he did and in due course he became the Thutmose 1V.
27. Isis giving Ankh to Seti 1
Isis was Egypt’s most important goddess whose worship lasted for more than 4,000 years and spread far into Europe. Here, she is shown offering the ankh – the emblem of immortal life – to the Pharaoh Seti 1 who built a temple at Abydos where this exquisite painting is found. The great star Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, located to the left of Orion, was called “The Queen of Heaven” and was worshipped as the star form of Isis. The throne on which she is seated and which in other paintings she wears on her head represents her connection to Sirius or Sothis as it was called by the Egyptians, the divine cosmic source of her power. The Sphinx was believed to be the place on earth that acted as a receptor of energy from that star and was most resonant with it. In Egypt what were known as the initiations of the goddess Isis were given to those priests and priestesses who were selected by the goddess through their significant dreams. Sometimes the dream itself might constitute the initiation. Incubation, or spending the night in a place of utter stillness, such as the interior chamber of a temple or pyramid, was widely practised in Egypt for thousands of years and may, as I have suggested, have originated in the pre-Flood civilization.
28. Pattern burnt into wall of temple
This exquisite hexagonal pattern of the Flower of Life burnt into the wall of this same temple of Seti 1 at Abydos has recently been found to reflect the harmonic pattern of the fundamental geometric structure of matter. Did those who created this diagram know this? Did they leave it as a message to us who might one day understand its meaning?
29. Maat in winged form
The goddess Maat, who wears the feather of justice on her head is, after Isis and Hathor, the most significant of the Egyptian goddesses, best known for the feather that was placed in the scales of justice to balance the heart of the deceased man or woman. If the scales balanced, it meant that they had lived their lives in harmony with the Cosmic Order. Maat represented the divine order of the universe that was reflected in the laws given to human society through the Dream. Maat was also connected to the star Sirius as the divine origin or “Giver of the Laws”. I cannot over-emphasise the importance given to Sirius or Sothis in the ancient world as the pre-eminent star that was believed to influence the unfolding of life on this planet. Egypt had a Sothic calendar of 1,460 years as well as a solar and lunar one.
There is one book I would recommend to those who would like to know more about the importance of the Dream and how it has contributed to some of the insights I have included in this talk. It is called Avision: the Way of the Dream by Anthony Lunt. It is the record of the path of initiation followed by him and his wife in their current life in England into the ancient way of the Dream as it was practiced in the temples of Egypt four thousand years ago and as they themselves had lived it in another life there where they had deeply loved one another. The word ‘avision’ is now obsolete but originally meant “advice received through a dream or vision.”
31. Picture of Aesclepius and dreamer
In the Greek world, there were at least 300 temples of healing dedicated to Aesclepius, the Greek god of healing, where the main diagnostic tool was the Dream. People travelled great distances to be healed in these sanctuaries. This is a sculpture showing Aesclepius preparing a woman to receive a healing dream. Sometimes the dream itself brought healing, or even an encounter with the god who bestowed healing on the dreamer. In other cases the healing interpretation of the dream was given by the priests. As one man described it, in words that leap out vividly from a forgotten past: “One listened and heard things, sometimes in a dream, sometimes in waking life. One’s hair stood on end; one cried and felt happy; one’s heart swelled out, but not with vainglory. What human being could put this experience into words?”
Egypt had an enormous influence on the early Greek philosophers and it is no doubt from there that they derived the practice of incubation. The Platonic academy in Athens, founded in the fifth century BC, lasted for a thousand years. It was perhaps here that the study of dreams was most completely developed and disseminated over the entire Greek world. When the Platonic Academy was closed down by the Emperor Justinian in the sixth century AD, the Persian king invited its greatest teachers to move to Persia and teach in a university there, situated near the modern city of Basra. They would have taken their Dream practices with them. In the Academy it was taught that sleep, in separating the soul from the life of the senses, enabled the dreamer to awake to the inner life and open his inner “eye”. (see Europe’s Debt to Persia by Minou Reeves)
Parmenides, who was born in the city of Elia in southern Italy in the early fifth century BC, was one of the greatest of the pre-Socratic philosophers, and the teacher of Plato. We know that like other early philosophers, he practiced the rites of incubation and withdrew into a place of absolute darkness and silence to receive the visionary dream. The Dream was his guide through life and also the means by which he healed others. Parmenides was a law-giver who received the laws given to his society from his dreams. Only a few fragments of his teaching survive. But he did leave a poem, an extraordinary poem written in the incantory metre of the great epic poems of the past, “poetry created under divine inspiration, revealing, as the poem itself says, what humans on their own can never see or know.” The poem describes a journey that took him, as he says, “as far as longing can reach.” Seated in a chariot drawn by mares and guided by young women, he passed through immense bronze gates turning on oiled hinges, gates that stretched between earth and sky and opened onto the road that led directly into the Realm of the Goddess. The Goddess, he says, “welcomed me kindly and took my right hand in hers,” giving him a message that he was to take back to the world of mortals. Parmenides and the great chain of named shaman-healers who succeeded him for the next 500 years entered what they called the immortal realm and were instructed by the beings they encountered there. We know that another pre-Socratic philosopher, the Cretan Epimenides, one of the great law-givers of Crete, also received the laws for his society through the Dream. It is said that he had the power to heal the populations of entire cities through the instructions received in the Dream. Because of what they learned in their dreams, these men were called ‘wise’. (see Peter Kingsley, In the Dark Places of Wisdom)
33. Taoist painting
Now I want to turn to China and the Taoist sages and dreamers of that ancient civilization. The Taoists never separated nature from spirit, consciously preserving the knowledge that although it manifests as a duality, life is One. They understood that the boundless energy they called Chi flows through everything that exists. Through the flow of that energy, everything is connected to everything else. There have been Taoists in China for over 4000 years of recorded history and undoubtedly long before that. The emperors of the Shang Dynasty some 3500 years ago had in their court men who were experienced in the divination of dreams. Their role was to hold human society in harmony with the Tao and the will of Heaven so that what took place Below was in accord with what was Above.
There was another group of individuals who chose to live in the inaccessible recesses of the sacred mountains, far removed from ordinary human interaction. They explored the infinite potential of the dream state and practiced the rites of incubation. Very little is known about these Taoists, even in China, because they carried out their practices in the utmost secrecy. It could be said that the aim of their existence was “to enter the forest without moving the grass; to enter the water without raising a ripple.”
The following passages are taken from a paper fortuitously sent to me by a friend as I was preparing this talk. It is called Playing with the Clouds: The Foundations of Taoist Dream Practices by a teacher called Juan Li. In it he writes:
“Their practices were aimed at developing not only the physical aspect of their being but the subtle and invisible aspects called the energy body.
Aware of this energy which animates everything the Taoists knew that the physical body we all can touch and feel is only the densest aspect of the life force, the grossest aspect of the energy spectrum.
In Taoist dream practice still practiced today one of the first things the practitioner does is to take the firm decision to remain conscious as he enters the dream state. This initial step is taken by voicing a mental command of what he intends to practice or experience during that sleep session.
The sleep command is a powerful expression of will power which is usually voiced over and over as the practitioner prepares to sleep… As he begins to enter the twilight state of drowsiness the sleep command begins to function like a beacon guiding the consciousness across the threshold of the unconscious.
However, this practice is only entered into when the meridian system is circulating properly and a degree of physical and emotional balance has been attained.
It has been known since ancient times in China that if the circulation of the life force is not balanced, the resulting imbalance manifests very clearly in the quality of one's dreams. Generally as the meridians are opened and one learns to regulate the emotions through specific energy practices, there is a reduction of ordinary dreams. In their place the luminous dreams of profound experiences begin to manifest. Dreams are more vivid, the images more powerful, carrying a sense of transcendence.
The development of the intention and the will, and the ability to sustain focus through the subtle dimensions, are all directed towards one important experience: the transition of consciousness at the moment of death from the physical to the subtle body.
Dream practice is the training ground for learning to utilize the intention, the will and consciousness in conjunction with the subtle energy body. At the moment of death there is a separation of the consciousness from the physical body into the subtle energy body; a crossing from time and space into the ocean of infinity. The dream practitioner is someone who through sustained effort has learned to swim in the ocean of infinity without becoming alarmed; someone who is consciously at home in the complete energy spectrum of the life force; someone who is no longer fixated on the physical dimension as the sole reality worth exploring.”
34. The Buddha
Turning to Buddhism, we are told that on the night before his awakening, the Buddha had a visionary dream in which he saw all his past lives pass before him in succession, giving him the awareness of the importance of his mission in his present life.
A modern Tibetan lama called Tenzi Wangyal Rinpoche says, “There is nothing more real than the dream… Most Tibetans, both lamas and people consider dreams to be the source of the most profound spiritual knowledge and guidance in everyday life.” Perhaps his holiness the Dalai Lama was warned by a dream that he should leave Tibet and flee to India after the Tibetan uprising of 1959.
I have sadly, for want of time, to leave out India and also Islam and the Sufis.
35. St. Francis
But I would like briefly to mention two visionary dreams from European civilization. After the Inquisition was established early in the fourteenth century visionary dreams begin to diminish although there were still visionaries like St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. As late as 1600 Giordano Bruno, a great visionary, was burnt at the stake in Rome because he believed that God was present in Nature. All of you may know of St. Francis but you may not know that on the night before he wrote his famous Canticle of the Sun, he had a vision of the Earth as a glowing golden globe. In this canticle, there is the recognition that the moon and the sun and the great hierarchy of the angelic and archangelic orders as well as the animals and the birds, all belong to a sacred or divine order. We have not yet taken to heart this vision of St. Francis about the sacred unity of life.
36. Vision of Dante
Many people who have read The Divine Comedy may not know that in the year 1300, before he began to write his masterpiece, Dante had a tremendous vision, the essence of which he was only able to express at the end of his life, in the very last canto of the Paradiso. This vision “left him with the overwhelming memory of light, the sense that he had been on a journey and that marvellous creatures had given him instruction.” Here, in this great lithograph by Gustave Doré, he stands with Beatrice, gazing in wonder at the vision of the Empyrean.“In its depths I saw in-gathered, and bound by Love into one volume, all things that are scattered through the universe, as if joined in such a manner that what I speak of is One simplicity of Light. I think I saw the universal form of that bond, because, in saying it, I feel my heart leap, in greater intensity of joy.”
37. American Indian
Embedded in the traditions of the Indigenous Peoples in different parts of the world is the understanding that all living things are related to all others in a web of extraordinary delicacy that extends over the whole universe. The Australian Aborigines said: “There is a Dream dreaming us.” Among the peoples of North America a man was not considered to be fully a man until he had been sent into the wilderness on a vision quest and had a significant dream which he shared with his tribe. From the dreams and prophecies of the Hopi Indians, among others, has come the urgent message to the world that we have to change our ways if we want to survive. One of them, Chief Phil Lane, has recently given this message when announcing a Course he was about to give for the Shift Network in the US:
“We have experienced a Great Spiritual Wintertime in the past 500 years. This has been a time of conquest, colonization and assimilation that has been filled with the utmost human cruelty, violence, injustice, abuse and physical and cultural genocide.
During this time we have lost our sense of connection with ourselves, each other and our Mother Earth and have forgotten our own sacredness as Sacred Beings.
But this is all changing. It has been prophesied that a Great Spiritual Springtime would emerge out of this unimaginable darkness.
We live now not in the days of the prophecies, but in the days of the fulfilment of the prophecies.
As foretold by the Elders, the Indigenous Peoples of the world are reawakening to their spiritual and cultural identities. They are demonstrating to all members of the Human Family how to walk the Fourth Way, the Beauty Way... the Path that transcends conflict to a new place of understanding, reconciliation and healing!”
38. Cosmos picture
The Consciousness of the universe communicates with us through the visionary dream. The goal of every spiritual tradition is union with this Consciousness. As Dante saw, Love is the power by which everything in the universe is bound together in a unified whole. The hidden intention of the life that lives us or perhaps the Dream that dreams us — the Dream of the Cosmos — is to bring us to the realisation that we belong to the divine ground, that we are and always were and will be part of it. When the body dies, our consciousness discovers its identity with this eternal ground. As the Bhagavad Gita tells us: “Thine own consciousness, shining, void and inseparable from the Great Body of Radiance, hath no birth, nor death, and is the immutable Light.”
Many thousands of us are awakening to what I have called the Dream of the Cosmos — the dream of an awakened humanity engaging in a new role on this planet: a role that is in harmony with the evolutionary intention of the Cosmos and is no longer driven by the quest for power, conquest and control and the appropriation of the Earth’s resources for the benefit of the few. We have the ability – admittedly against huge resistance and general unconsciousness – to change course, to bring ourselves back into alignment with the Cosmos, to stop slaughtering each other, to get rid of our weapons of mass destruction and our dangerous nuclear reactors, to look after the poor, raise the status of women and, above all, serve the Earth, rather than our own national or personal interests. It is a huge demand, yet not, I think, beyond our ability to respond.
An Eternal Consciousness participates in the material world and we are a manifestation of that Consciousness just coming to awareness that we are part of its life, that we are co-creators with it, that we are, essentially, divine beings.
So let us pay attention to our Dreams. Let us bring the Visionary Dream back into the place of honour it once held in ancient civilizations as the precious messenger between the Eternal Ground and ourselves.