Thursday, 14 November 2013

Dreams, Visions and the Thought of the Heart


"Each of us carries within himself an Image of his own world, his imago mundi, and projects it into a more or less coherent universe, which becomes the stage on which his destiny is played out." - Henry Corbin

I have long been interested in dreaming since a psychic told me over a decade ago that my ancestors wished me to take more notice of my dreams. Since then I have studied various traditions, including theurgy (practised in the Near East by the ancient Egyptians as well as Greeks, particularly during the Hellenistic era), active imagination (practised by the likes of Carl Jung and taken to a more practical level by people such as Edward Steinbrecher) and done a brief course or two in shamanism.

What I have realised is that, at the base of virtually all traditions, lies the visionary experience, one that utilises the creative imagination and which involves some sort of meditation/visualisation technique but ultimately, demands an active and participatory relationship and interplay between you and what many people refer to as the sub-conscious. In the words of Joseph Joubert,  "Imagination is the eye of the soul."

Some people try to short circuit this process with drugs while others seem to like the theatre and indeed, status, of being considered a member of an initiated circle. To dress these things up in cultural baggage to me can be quite divisive and ultimately leads people to believe in elitist notions that they need to join some special club, employ certain rites and rituals or use some sort of guru or middle man to put them in touch with or develop a gift that essentially, every one of us has, and in fact tap into most nights (even if we don't always remember) and which anyone, with a little practice, can potentially master.

While traditional meditation techniques can certainly help you to develop mental self discipline and sometimes even extra sensory perception, it can sometimes distance you from your own inner world because it is all about detachment from feeling and desire, and it does not always have the vibrancy, texture and excitement of the internal dream landscape in which you are personally implicated and where you have a deep personal relationship with every element.

Henry Corbin, the French scholar of early Arabic Platonism, who was also an Eranos regular and contemporary of Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell, was, however, convinced, that the only way to experience the divine was via the intensely personal symbols and language of your own creative imagination. Immersing yourself in this dream-like world, he believed, would ultimately lead to an encounter with your own inner source of wisdom, or what he called the 'Angel of the Face', which many may equate with Jung's concept of the Self, or indeed, the spiritual notion of the Soul or Higher Self . For him, the way to the divine was via the 'thought of the heart'  - an intensely personal experience that embraced feeling and comprised the language and symbols of your subconscious but which often, paradoxically, would open you up to a relationship with spirit (an experience referred to by Corbin scholar, Tom Cheetham, as the 'world turned inside out'.) James Hillman, in deference to Corbin, and very much in keeping with the beliefs of the ancient Egyptians, described this 'thought of the heart' as the 'thought of images', stating that 'the heart is the seat of imagination', and that 'imagination is the authentic voice of the heart.'

In fact, according to Corbin scholar, Tom Cheetham, Corbin, perhaps rather fittingly for an Aries, was very much against the idea of getting too attached to any one belief system, philosophy or tradition because it can lead to what he calls 'idolatry' and 'fundamentalism.'
In his new book on Corbin, All the world an icon: Henry Corbin and the angelic function of beings (2012), he writes that:
“Henry Corbin was a partisan of the freedom of the Imagination and an implacable enemy of fundamentalism and totalitarianisms of all kinds. He stands as a champion of the individual human spirit against the power of social institutions of every sort—religious, political, academic. His work provides us with an example of how we might live the Mosaic prohibition against idolatry. Every time we find a new truth, cling to a new fashion, believe in a new idea, a new savior—whether in science, in art, in politics, in the life of the mind, or in religion—we erect a new idol. Corbin’s entire metaphysics denies us the false security of putting faith in anything fixed and immobile. The Imagination never stops.” (p. 15)
So, imagine my surprise when I came across this little beauty, A Field Guide to Dreaming - Mastering the art of Oneironautics, a rather charmingingly presented, yet practical guide to the art of lucid dreaming by Dylan Tuccillo, Jared Zeisel and Thomas Peisel, three writers, filmmakers and lucid dreamers from New York. Published by Workman Press and featuring gorgeous illustrations by Mahendra Singh, it aims to demystify a process that has long formed the central tenet of many esoteric practices, including shamanism, but has roots that date back to the ancient Egyptians and Greeks, who practised dream incubation at Plutoniums, just like the one I featured in my previous post, and beyond.

According to the authors, who are self taught 'oneironauts' (Greek for dream navigators), the tips and guidelines found in the book have been developed as a result of their 'own experiences with a decade of lucid dreaming as well as the real life experiences of many other lucid dreamers, writers and scientists.'

As well as a writing style that is refreshingly straight-forward, almost conspiratorial, without being in any way patronising or trying to dress up the technique in mystical clothing, the book is also not content light. A quick scan through the notes section at the back quickly attests that the authors have certainly doing some reading on the subject. The book also touches on some of the many traditions that have employed this ancient practice, along with the work of several pioneers in the field such as Carl Jung, as well as mentioning more recent scientific research work, all without being too academic or detracting from its main purpose : guiding the interested reader through the practical steps of how to become a lucid dreamer.

In a nutshell, this book will teach you how to reconnect with your dream life, cultivate the practice of lucid dreaming and then show you the possibilities once you're lucid, which are surprisingly vast. Once you realise the link between dreaming, active imagination, creativity, psychological healing and even visionary experiences, you will begin to see the possibilities that cultivating a participatory relationship with your dream life can open up.

Where Corbin diverged from Jung was his conviction that, rather than having universal meaning, this language of dreams and symbols is unique to each individual. The authors of this field guide, seem to concur, writing on page 78 that:

Many of us see dreams as puzzles, little riddles to be solved. We buy dream dictionaries to understand their meaning. Well, it's time to throw away your dream dictionary; it'll do more good in the local landfill. The fact is the dream belongs to the dreamer. Dreams are very personal, intimate things. An apple to us is not an apple to you. An apple to us five years ago is different from our present-day association with an apple. We believe that you and you alone are the final authority on what your dreams mean. 

They also emphasise the importance of intention, saying that cultivating a clear, specific and passionate desire is key to enabling the process of lucid dreaming in the first place. Many of us have come across this concept via books that focus on the 'power of attraction,' and I have found that any divination driven a by question that has the power of strong emotion behind it, often proves to produce exceptionally radical and clear responses. But really what else is this other than what we were talking about earlier - the notion of adding heart to provide added 'juice' to our thoughts and visualisations?

So, rather than taking hundreds of courses that dress this technique up in all sorts of rituals and rites, or distance yourself even more from the wisdom of your heart and what is rather disparagingly referred to as the "subconscious", why not just absorb the pointers from this distilled, and extremely simple and user-friendly book, written by people not trying to flog you a religion/cult/belief/therapy course and then just give it a try?

As well as a lot of helpful advice and suggestions, the book is also peppered with interesting extracts from other people's dream journals and experiences, along with snippets of information about related rituals, research and traditions, making it a fascinating and informative read that is still easy to dip in and out of because of the way it is laid out. A summary at the end of each chapter, plenty of bullet points and sub-headings make it easy to follow  - perfect if, like me, you read last thing at night and don't want to over-tax your brain or wake yourself up too much whilst still absorbing the little nuggets dished out on every page.

I liked the fact that the authors never tried to patronise me, made suggestions based on personal opinion and experience rather than universal, categorical statements and were modest enough to link their findings and material to wider humanistic and religious traditions and scientific research without having to make heavy assertions of 'faith'.

I also loved the fun illustrations and trippy bullet points (which look like bees one minute and little faces the next), as well as the pithy quotations at the beginning of each chapter.

Although it suggests several possible uses of this technique in both work and therapeutic situations, it is not a cure-all for every psychological ill, nor does it set itself up to be. It does, however, offer some helpful advice for those who suffer from nightmares in chapter 15, or who may be seeking healing, possibly as a result of grief or loss in chapter 16.

All in all, a little gem of a book and one I would really recommend, especially to first-timers new to the field. Available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble now.
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