"One must recognize the great potential that dream holds for the spiritual journey."
Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche
Many spiritual traditions recognize the importance of dreams for the spiritual path. In the dream state our consciousness becomes more permeable for deeper layers of our consciousness, for our true Self, which speaks to us in dream images and symbols. Dreams show us our own blockages and mental concepts, which restrain our unfoldment. Dreams also have a great healing potential, because they make us aware of what we really need.
"One must recognize the great potential that dream holds for the spiritual journey", says the Buddhist Bön-master Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche. "Normally the dream is thought to be 'unreal', as opposed to 'real' waking life. But there is nothing more real than dream. This statement only makes sense once it is understood that normal waking life is as unreal as dream, and in exactly the same way." ¹
Not only in dreams, also in the waking state we create our own world in our thoughts. Certainly, there are the inputs of our sense organs. But it is our experience and our prejudices which determine how we process and interpret those inputs. Working with our dreams can help us to recognize those mental concepts and to discover new possibilities. Eventually our dreams become clearer, and this also improves our everyday consciousness. ²
This is the way how we can free ourselves. The fetters have only existed in our thoughts. As the Sufi master Vilayat Inayat Khan puts it, "Oh, man, if you only knew that you're free. It's your ignorance of your freedom that is your captivity." ³
The Significance of Dreams in Retreats
Within the Sufi Order International it is especially Nigel Hamilton, leader of the Sufi Centre London and director of the Centre for Counselling & Psychotherapy Education, who has dealt with the potential of dreams. In his PhD thesis⁴ he showed that there is a close connection between our dreams and the planes of consciousness⁵, in which we are dwelling at a certain moment. This has to do with the moving of our subtle energy through the chakras, and it is especially obvious during a retreat, where the dreamers are protected from the influences of the outer world, with strong focus on their inner life. But in everyday life we too move through certain development stages, which are reflected in our dreams.
With the help of dreams it is possible to guide the retreatants cautiously and precisely. The dreams show, which resources are needed at a certain time. And they offer powerful and effective images for meditation.
The Waking Dream Process
For working with dreams outside the retreat setting Hamilton has developed the so called waking dream process. Here the client relives the dream experience with help of a guide, but this time consciously. An important part of this process is to pay attention to resonances of the dream events within the body. This promotes the authenticity of the dreamwork and helps to "ground" the client. Hamilton: "In working with dreams through the body, we are working with the whole person - body, mind, soul, and spirit." ⁶
The dreams help us to become more conscious of what's going on inside us. We learn to witness our emotions, our deepest wounds and blockages, and in witnessing them without judgement, we allow the energy to balance itself. In this way, the dreams can trigger and instigate a deep inner process of healing and spiritual awakening.
Further information about spiritual dreamwork in general and to the waking dream process (with video examples) you can find on the website of the Dream Research Institute and in Hamilton's book "Awakening Through Dreams. The Journey Through The Inner Landscape".⁶
¹) Wangyal, Tenzin, The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep, ed. by Mark Dahlby, Delhi 2004, p. 23.
²) Hazrat Inayat Khan sees a clear connection between spiritual development and the ability to be conscious of dreams and their meaning (see for example in: HIK, Spiritual Liberty, Geneva 1979, p. 29).
At a certain point some dreamers also begin to become "lucid" in their dreams, which means they are aware of dreaming during the dream. And this enables them to go into a dialogue with the dream, and to influence the dream. You can find more about the potential of lucid dreams and the interconnection between lucid awareness in dreams and spiritual progress in Robert Waggoner's book "Lucid Dreaming. Gateway to the Inner Self, San Francisco 2009.
³) These words were often quoted by Pir Vilayat. The version here is from a conversation with Jeffrey Mishlove. Source: www.intuition.org/txt/khan.htm.
⁴) Hamilton, Nigel, The Role of Dreams In The Study Of Human Transformation, PhD Thesis DeMontfort University 2006.
⁵) Hamilton speaks of six planes or levels of consciousness – the gross mental plane (the worldly self), the subtle mental plane (the creative self), the third plane (the loving self), the fourth plane (the wise self), the fifth plane (the sacred self), the sith plane (the pure self). Beyond this is the state of transcendence which is called Hahut by the Sufis.
⁶) Hamilton, Nigel, Awakening Through Dreams. The Journey Through The Inner Landscape, Karnac Books, London 2014, p. 189.