I’d like to take this opportunity to orient dreamers and dream tenders alike to some of the “Starting Places and Radical Givens” of Dream-Centered Living. As orientations that you will hopefully find helpful, I intend to offer a series of these Starting Places and Radical Givens over the next several months.
Today I want to begin by inviting us to shift our attention from the contents of dreams to the activity of dreaming itself by introducing a well-known alchemical engraving from the 16th Century, entitled “The First Stage of the Great Work.” Featured in Heinrich Kunrath’s most famous work on alchemy, Amphitheatre of Eternal Wisdom, the engraving depicts what Kunrath asserts is the necessary and important interplay between alchemy, magic, and the cabala. Kunrath, who referred to himself as a “doctor of both medicines and faithful loves of Theosophy,” maintained that it is only when alchemy, magic, and the cabala are practiced together that they reveal their secrets to the practitioner.
For those interested in learning more about Heinrich Kunrath and his Amphitheatre of Eternal Wisdom, I highly recommend this very engaging and informative webinar by Dr. Peter Forshaw.
But for our purposes, let us now move our attention towards the back of the engraving, to the rear of what Kunrath refers to as his oratorium laboratorium, “the place of prayer and work.” If we move far enough into this place of prayer and work–and it helps to make our way through the engraving slowly, as though we’re in a dream-scape, hearing into it–so . . . if we move far enough into the place of prayer and work, what we find is a bed, and a bed chamber, and, engraved above this, the phrase dormiens vigila, “be vigilant while sleeping.” Heinrich Kunrath believed that he received dream revelations, messages from the angels of God, while he slept.
But if, as the Sufis suggest, we imagine that we are never fully awake except when we die, this means that throughout our lives we are only ever awakening–whether we are awakening into the waking-dream of the day world or awakening into the lit-up dream of the nighttime, sleeping world. But now I want to suggest that what the Dreamtime is trying to teach us, night after night, generously and creatively, by constantly making up new things to give us is how to be dreamers. If only we endeavored to pay less attention to the contents of dreams and ever more attention to the activity of dreaming–to dreaming itself, and to the action of dreams–that is, to what dreams are doing. We do not, for example, behave preferentially, in a split-off sort of way, toward the contents of dreams while dreaming–yet this is something that we engage in afterwards, mostly without questioning why we do this. As we learn to pay less attention to the contents of dreams, however, we develop capacities for paying attention to the experience of dreaming itself. With patience and practice over time, we begin to notice something extraordinarily unique–namely, the “touching” quality of light in dreams.
Where is this light generated? From whence does it come?
Take a moment to notice, if you will, that like nightscapes depicted on film, the dark in our dreams must be lit up in order for us to see anything at all. However, if we slow down (and we have to slow way down to work with dreams in order to be able to notice anything at all), we can begin to notice the main difference in the experience of the dark depicted on film, let’s say, in a cinema, and the lit-up experience of the dark in our dreams. The lit-up dark we experience on the screen in the cinema has a rather distinct “over there” quality-as if the happening on film is somehow separate from us. While dreaming, on the other hand, the lit-up darkness IS the happening. It only takes on an “over there” quality, similar to that of the cinema experience, when we endeavor to remember our dreams, that is, after the initial dreaming experience. While dreaming, however, dreamers are in no way separate from the immediacy of the lit-up experience itself. In other words, dreaming and the dreamer and the dream itself are experienced together, all at once. It may take some devoted practice to notice this. But if we begin to pay attention to the phenomenon of dreaming while dreaming we can quickly notice, that is, begin awakening into the experience of, being touched into being by the light of dreams.
Now, it’s not that the contents are not important, they are, but not in the ways that we generally tend to imagine. It seems that contents are important because they carry the action of dreaming, because without them we could not “see” the light of dreaming nor experience being touched into being by this light. Dreaming, it turns out, is the activity of light, and what it reveals to us is that we are beings of light. Again, we tend to lose the sense of being touched into being by the light of dreaming upon waking, when we try to recall the contents of the dream, but I want to invite us to begin tracking dreaming activity by developing capacities for noticing the light of dreams through the dream’s contents and I’d further like to invite dreamers and other dream tenders to share with me what they notice.
As always, thank you for your time and interest in Dream-Centered Living,