Dreams and beyond an indefinable, mysterious power that pervades everything.
Here, it is believed, the distance between heaven and earth shrinks, the veil between the two worlds becomes so thin, one is actually able to perceive something of heaven itself, receiving a glimpse of the glory of God.
Sensing the deep spirituality of these sites, ancient Celts built many of their places of worship here, or simply marked them with stones, and later Christians also built churches, monasteries and cemeteries here. Visiting these sites even today, one can lose all track of time and space, feeling deep inside that one is on holy ground.
Yaqui Indian Shaman Don Juan Matus, with whom Carlos Castaneda apprenticed, spoke about how most people are unaware as to why they stop to rest at certain places in the environment, but they do so because these are places of power that hold a more conscious focus of energy.
It is not surprising that thin places, where we step from one plane to another, are most often associated with wild or remote landscapes unfamiliar territory where our usual modes of control do not work, where instead, the unknown actually becomes our means of discovery. Many religious traditions have stories of their teachers and saints experiencing intense life-changing encounters with God in the midst of nature.
M K Gandhi, in a spiritual message to the world, spoke of an indefinable, mysterious power that pervades everything. “…I feel it, though I do not see it. It is this unseen power that makes itself felt and yet defies all proof, because it is so unlike all that I perceive through my senses. It transcends the senses.”
Some people notice thin places. Others do not. The thing to understand about thin places is that whether they are ‘marked’ or not, it requires a kind of reflective and receptive capacity to discern them.
Another factor is that some respond to a particular thin place; the same location leaves others cold. You know that you are in ‘your’ thin place when you feel the boundaries of time and space disappear. There is no yesterday, today or tomorrow; only eternity.
Having experienced the blessings of a thin place, you return to your life refreshed and renewed, graced with a new awareness of similar places in everyday life. The glimpses of glory in those sacred landscapes should also enable us to experience the divinity all around us. A verse from the Gnostic text, the Gospel of Thomas, has Jesus saying: ”The kingdom of God is spread upon the earth, and men see it not.”
Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk and inspirational writer observed: “Life is this simple. We are living in a world that is absolutely transparent, and God is shining through us all the time… If we abandon ourselves to God, forget ourselves, we see it… But, of course, for most of us, myself included, it is hard to see these thin places, much less travel through them.”
In fact, it is beautifully said that these thin places are simply ‘the way Home’. One of the precious gifts of realisation of eternal time and space is that when you cannot physically go back to these places, you can return repeatedly to them in your memory and imagination.
Take some time off to think about and remember the thin places in your own life. Recall a place that refreshes your spirit and opens out to the threshold of the sacred, and return to this place in your imagination and once again, wherever you are, experience God’s loving presence.
Our world is filled with dreams. In One Thousand and One Nights, poor Aladdin finds a magic oil lamp and has three wishes come true. The wooden puppet Pinocchio dreamt of becoming a real boy, which he eventually did. Indiana Jones finds his treasure and Crocodile Dundee his true love. The list is long.
Dreams are like engines pushing us forward. We dream of good health, love, a new home, the ideal job, a holiday, losing weight or getting rich — anything we think will make us happy. Usually our dreams change dramatically as life goes on. That’s what happened to me, too.
As a child
As a child, I dreamt of a pet. I wanted the newt I saw flashing in the brook, or the grasshopper I heard chirping in the grass. I caught little fish with a net and put them in a bucket. On hearing me trying to figure out how to catch wild mice at our summer cottage, my grandparents decided to get me real pet mice to look after. But we returned home holding an empty instant coffee jar, in which we had built a small terrarium from moss for my baby frog. And even him I had to set free the next day.
I eventually got a cat; then an aquarium, then two rabbits, followed by a dog. Surely that should suffice for one girl, but no. This time I wanted a horse. Roman philosopher Seneca wrote: “It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, that is poor.” Times have changed since Seneca. It is good to dream, because without dreams our lives would be dull and dead. When dreams come true, it brings you joy and happiness.
As a teenager
As a teenager, I dreamt of becoming an artist. My uncle talked me out of it: yet my dream simmered within me, only to pop out every once in a while. It took me years to realise that even now as an editor, I am often making art.
At some point, my dream almost became a restrictive and consuming obsession. History knows countless artists who have felt misunderstood or robbed of the recognition they felt they deserved.
This is probably what happened to Albert Einstein, the originator of relativity, who desperately and unsuccessfully tried to prove till the end of his life that quantum mechanics was incomplete as a theory to describe physical reality — and tried to come up with a better theory.
Einstein particularly criticised the probability element in quantum mechanics, because this revealed the inability of the theory to describe individual natural phenomena. The debates between physicists Niels Bohr and Einstein have entered history, as has Einstein’s famous quip, “God does not play dice”. Einstein did his best to develop various thought experiments to prove quantum mechanics as a contradictory theory, but Bohr always managed to find a flaw in Einstein’s logic. One of the greatest scientists of our time died discontent; he never achieved his dream.
Looking for love
In my twenties I dreamt of love. What we think in our youth to be love usually turns out to be clinginess, our own wishful thinking or selfishness. When I dreamt about love back then, I was always the object of love, the recipient — but as I grew older the real substance of love turned out to be the very opposite.
In those days I still had lot of dreams, so if one of them fell through, I could shift my focus to the next. In addition to a loving relationship, I also dreamt of better income, travelling and a new car. In other words, I did what everyone else did: we all try to make sure we are happy by keeping several dreams alive at once — or at least in sequence. This is what Greek philosopher Epictetus taught us to do: “Neither should a ship rely on one small anchor, nor should life rest on a single hope.” By investing in multiple dreams we aim to avoid the despair we will inevitably feel when our dreams do not come true.
A normal life
Dreams need not be about getting something new or about material things. Many who have suffered adversity, as well as those living in the lap of luxury, may simply dream of a normal life.
Dreams involve other logical problems, too. “How on earth is it going to work out, if everybody dreams of being the best or the first and no-one dreams of being second or third,” asks the Finnish philosopher
Reality is not just about success and realised dreams; it is also about discomfort and, at times, sadness.
We cannot evade life by hiding behind our dreams.
Some dreams never come true, although we have been led to believe that as long as we hold on to them, achieving them is closer than we might think. Countless people have lost everything and have ruined their lives chasing an unrealistic dream….
In my middle age, I started dreaming about the right attitude. The same that John Lennon relates in his classic song, Imagine. I realised that at best, dreams are not our own.
At their best, dreams would be impersonal and their achievements would benefit many people, instead of just an individual. Mohandas, or Mahatma Gandhi, was hardly thinking about his personal reputation, glory or happiness when he defended the less privileged or opposed violence. And Jesus Christ said all his deeds were from heaven, not of himself.
Today, I dream of freedom. I mean freedom from the mind’s typical way of reacting to certain impulses by sending our emotions and mental associations spinning. I dream of freedom to find mental harmony.
I dream of freedom to maintain my inner calm no matter how drastically the circumstances around me change. Then I could walk truly free amidst the noise and commotion.
A curious paradox
My dream does, admittedly, involve a paradox: if I want it to come true, I should give up dreaming. That is what the early mystic and philosophers meant when they warned that dreams stop us from making it to our goal — although we usually think our dreams guide us to it.
We cannot control our lives; no matter how hard we try. That’s why we would be better off not clinging to or relying on dreams, unless we want to be stuck in a cage formed by them — and be afraid of losing what we hoped for. Wayne Dyer says that genuine freedom can come only by dreaming without hope, by being willing to lose everything. Yes, everything — even our dreams.
(Courtesy: Via Helsinki magazine, Finavia, Mediafocus, Helsinki)
Dreamcatchers! We fondly recall events that never happened
Can you enter a person’s dream? In Inception, actor Leonardo di Caprio, who plays an industrial spy, steals secrets when his victims are asleep by penetrating their dreams. The dream snatcher can even sow the seed of inception for an idea.
While the movie’s fiction, it may be grounded in fact. The New Scientist reports, “In the movie, the dream-snatchers use a drug called somnacin and a dream machine to upload a scenario into someone’s sleeping mind. This fictional dream machine is called a Portable Automated Somnacin IntraVenous device. A device does already exist that can effectively read someone’s mind. A functional MRI scanner takes snapshots of brain activity, and then the software recreates images of what the subject was looking at. The researchers say it has the potential one day to be able to record someone’s dream.” It reveals that dreams occur in both rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep, and non-REM sleep.
However, while sceptics abound, believers back up the theory. Mystic and tarot reader Veenu Sandal believes she can cure people through their dreams, using the technique of telementation, beaming out thoughts to positively influence them. She says, “All thoughts and experiences are stored in a person’s brain. It’s like watching television. Sometimes, the person wakes up and I have to start all over again. It’s an invasion of privacy and I do it only with permission.”
Entering another’s dream can have interesting results. Recalls Veenu, “A man passed a park three days ago and saw a couple getting romantic. In his dream, I saw him embark upon an affair with a colleague.” She gets best results between 1 am and 2 am.
Healer and psychic Venugopalan, aka Maitreya, believes free will plays an important role and an individual can reject a forced scenario if he wishes, even while dreaming. Transferring thoughts into a person’s mind is about connecting, even fusing with the other’s energy. He says, “If you go deep into a person’s dream, you can program his thoughts.”
Even Goa-based healer Patrick Sanfrancesco related, during a talk, how he wove a dream about cops busting a club, after the parents complained that their son was turning a compulsive gambler. After three nights of this, the young man stayed home!
Controlling dreams isn’t a new trend. In fact, Tibetan Buddhists use dream yoga to get nearer to the Absolute, through lucid dreaming, by comparing the illusion to the transitory nature of life.
In a lucid dream, a term coined by Dutch psychiatrist Frederik van Eeden, one is aware that one is dreaming. In his Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, published in 1913, he describes his experiments with dreams. He writes, “I dreamt that I was lying in the garden before the windows of my study, and saw the eyes of my dog through the glass pane. I was lying on my chest and observing the dog very keenly. At the same time, I knew with perfect certainty that I was dreaming and lying on my back in my bed. And then I resolved to wake up slowly and carefully and observe how my sensation of lying on my chest would change into the sensation of lying on my back.”
Dream researcher and psychologist at Harvard University, Deirdre Barrett has recommended, “You can tell yourself at bedtime that you want to dream on a particular topic — that you want to be lucid in your dream, realise you’re dreaming. People who have had bad nightmares may want to script a different outcome, a kind of mastery dream to replace the nightmares.” Enjoy more power over your dreams!
Dreaming helps in remembering
Researchers have found that dreaming helps people to store memories — in fact, the rapid eye movement (REM), stage of sleep — when one dreams — is part of the memory process, the Daily Express reported.
In the study, led by Dr Sara Mednick, a leading sleep researcher at the University of California, a group of people were given a simple memory test. They were tested again after having either a nap with REM sleep, a nap without REM sleep or a period of quiet rest.
The quiet rest and non-REM sleep groups showed no improvement in the test but the REM sleep group improved by almost 40 per cent.
Dr Mednick said: “REM sleep is vital for pulling together all the information we process daily and turning it into memories to use later. This has helped us to understand more about the benefits of sleep.”
Meanwhile Harvard psychology professor Daniel Schacter claims that a good memory may help people to see their own future. “Memories support the formation in our minds of future events,” he said.
Dream Theory in Malaya’ was the name of an album released by trumpet player John Hassell — a disciple of the enigmatic singer Pandit Pran Nath — in 1981. He had taken it from an article by Kilton Stewart, an American anthropologist whose fascinating life included two visits (in 1934 and 1938) to the Senoi in what was then called Malaya. The existence of this charming, non-violent mountain tribe, Stewart reported, was centred around sharing and controlling dreams for the sake of social peace and spiritual development. Last night’s dreams were discussed at breakfast, difficulties sorted out in dream clinics and children were actively taught how to shape their dream lives.
The ideas Stewart expressed already had great appeal for the 1960s ‘human potential’ movement on the American West Coast. These ideas about dreams were used by therapists and psychologists. The Esalen Institute in Big Sur in California included dreamwork — as it came to be called — in its schedule. Dream groups formed even in Europe. And “Dream Theory in Malaya” became a seminal album, pioneering the blending of world music elements with electronica. Brian Eno was one of Hassell’s collaborators.
My initiation into exotic dream lore many years later was triggered by music as well. I had attended the ‘Festival in the Desert’ organized by the Tuareg desert tribe in an oasis way behind Timbuktu. I was getting fed up with all the discomforts of that journey and had tried to bring forward my return to Europe. All flights were booked, so I retired to a bungalow hotel on the outskirts of the Malian capital Bamako. The following night I dreamt of two little monkeys in fantastic uniforms, who were romping about in the court of the king of the dream world. Flying up to the ceiling and dashing in all directions, they explained to me the nature of the dream world. It turned out to be far more flexible than the waking world in which I had trudged along through the desert sand and always seemed to be glued to the ground.
The walls became transparent, and I could look over into the other world where people were awake. What I saw there was strange indeed: they could only look in one direction at a time, some staring in the same direction for years on end and feeling terribly lonely because they could not see the many other beings who surrounded them. I also saw myself sitting there, staring at a dusty country in which nothing seemed to function properly. I remembered that in the waking state, a small part of me had already been aware that what I saw was not the total reality, just a fragment, a speck of dust in a multifaceted reality to which the realm of dreams also belonged.
“Simpleton!” the monkeys exclaimed. “What do you know about waking and dreaming?” They grabbed my arms and spun me around with them, and while I flew through the room, I was suddenly able to look in all directions at once. The waking world too, I noticed, was not as rigid as I had thought — it just moved far slower than the dream world. In the waking world, it took many years for a tree to reach full growth, whereas in the dream world this process could happen in the blinking of the eye. I remembered how endlessly long the trip through the desert had seemed; now I could move from one spot to the other just by thinking of it.
Next, the two monkeys showed me places where the two worlds met. The day before, I had discovered the statue of a horse in the garden behind the hotel where I had laid down to sleep. The cement was already flaking, but that was just what fascinated me about it. In the sunlight the horse was very calm. At night, I could see that it was moving and I noticed that it carried a message from the dream world. Although I couldn’t decipher it, I felt that it contained a secret. The monkeys had no word about solving the puzzle but I understood that it had been exactly the decrepit, unfinished elements that allowed me to slip over from the waking world into the land of dreams. The strange marks on the crumbling wall, faded spots, potholes on the roads filled with oily water, a crooked branch, the moss-covered stones made the transition to the other world possible. If one attempted to touch up the paint, fill the holes, straighten the branch or remove the moss, the loopholes between the realities would disappear. If, on the contrary, one looked at things as they were and only changed something when it was absolutely imperative, as the Malians seemed to do, one could not only look more deeply into things but through them into another world.
Suddenly I realized that I had looked at Mali with the wrong eyes. I had not understood that the dust blowing through the shattered windows of the bus I was travelling in was blowing back and forth between the two worlds, that the drone of the engine and the heat had put me to sleep so I could learn to discover the pictures behind the pictures. How foolish I had been to compare Mali with the country I had come from! “Look at our country the right way!” the monkeys called out as the dream began to vanish. “If you want to know the real Mali, you must ask the Malians about their dreams.”
When I told people about my discovery in Mali, they often asked me if I had learnt to control my dreams. No, I said, it was quite the opposite. The spirits choose if they want to visit you in a dream, my friends in Mali told me. Kilton Stewart, rather a romantic wanderer than a scientist, had made up the dream theory of Malaya himself, fellow anthropologists found out. They exposed the whole idea as a scam. When I told the story to the owner of the hotel where I had the dream, he burst out laughing. “No wonder!” he exclaimed. “Everyone who comes here has a dream! The whole hotel is based on a dream. It never had an architect — I dreamt it all myself. It is the home of a djinn.”
Then he explained: “You Europeans try to explain dreams as an expression of the unconscious, but for us the dream is reality. In dreams, the spirits help us find the right way. Dreams may well come from the unconscious, but for us it is the djinn who whisper something to us in dreams. And your dream was sent to you by a djinn, too!”
German musician Peter Pannke’s book “Dreamtalker” describes how he found the magic mountain, climbed the magicians’ dune and solved the riddle of the white horse.