first sight one may think that the subject of dreams
is altogether a contingent one; this activity appears
in general to be of very little importance compared
with that of our waking state.
we examine the question more closely we come to see
that it is not at all like that.
start with, let us remember that more than a third of
our existence is passed in sleep and, consequently,
the time devoted to physical sleep well deserve our
say physical sleep, because it would be wrong to believe
that our whole being sleeps when our body is in slumber.
result of some experiments conducted with all rigour
of scientific method was published about twenty years
ago in a book entitled "Sleep and Dreams."
doctors who conducted the experiments have been led
to conclusion that the activity of the mind never ceases,
so the say; and it is this activity that is translated
with more or less confusion in our brain into what we
call dreams. Thus, whether we are conscious of it or
not, we are always dreaming.
is certainly possible to suppress totally this activity
and have complete sleep, without dreams; but to plunge
our mind into a repose analogous to that of our physical
body, it is necessary to attain a perfect mastery over
the mental being which is not an easy matter.
the majority of cases, this activity even becomes all
the more considerable when, on account of the sleep
of the body, the internal faculties are no longer concentrated
upon and used by the physical life.
is sometimes said, it is in sleep that man discovers
his real nature. It often happens, in fact, that the
sensational being which during the day is subject to
the control of the active will reacts all the more violently
during the night when this restraint no longer makes
the desires that have been repressed without being dissolved,and
this dissociation can only be arrived at after numerous
analyses demanding a comprehensive rectitude of a high
order,try to seek satisfaction when the will is
as desires are veritable dynamic centres of formation,
they tend to organise in and around us an assemblage
of circumstances most favourable to their satisfaction.
is destroyed in a few hours of the night the fruit of
many efforts made by our conscious thought during the
is one of the principal causes of the resistance which
our will to progress often encounters in ourselves,
of difficulties which at times appear insurmountable
and which we are unable to explain, so integral does
our goodwill seem to us.
should therefore learn to recongnise our dreams and,
above all, to distinguish between them, for they vary
greatly in their nature and quality. Often in the same
night we may have several dreams which belong to different
categories, depending on the depth of our sleep.
everyone has, in regard to his dreams, a more favourable
moment in the night in which his activity is more fecund,
more intellectual and the mental circumstances in which
he moves are more interesting.
great majority of dreams have no other value than of
a purely mechanical and uncontrolled activity of the
physical brain certain of whose cells persists in functioning
during sleep as a generating apparatus for sensible
impressions and images which confirm to imprints received
dreams are almost always determined by purely physical
circumstances, the state of health, digestion, position
on the bed, etc.
a bit of self-observation and some precautions, one
can easily avoid this class of dreams, as useless as
they are fatiguing, by removing their physical causes.
are some other dreams also which are only vain expressions
of the erratic activity of certain mental faculties,
associating by chance encounter, ideas, talk, memories.
dreams have more importance, for these erratic activities
reveal to us the disorder that reigns in our mental
being once it is no longer subjected to the control
of our will; and it proves to us that this being is
not yet organised and graded in us and that it is not
ripe for autonomous life.
I would speak to you of some dreams which are almost
similar to these in form but are more important in their
consequences as they arise from the revenge of our inner
being freed for a moment from the constraint that we
impose on it. These dreams often allow us to perceive
some of the tendencies, tastes, impulses and desires
of which we would not otherwise be conscious so long
as our will to realise our ideal held them down, hidden
in some obscure recess of our being.
will easily understand that, rather than let them thus
remain unknown, it is better to draw them out boldly
and courageously into the light of day and oblige them
definitively to leave us.
us then observe our dreams with attention, they are
often helpful instructors, able to render us effective
aid on the road towards the conquest over ourselves.
knows himself well who does not know his free activities
of the night and no man can call himself his own master
if he is not perfectly conscious and master of the multifarious
actions which he performs during his physical sleep.
dreams are not merely clever indicators of our weaknesses
or malicious destroyers of our daily effort at progress.
If there are dreams which we have to combat and transform,
there are others, on the contrary, which we should cultivate
as precious auxiliaries for our work on ourselves and
is no doubt that from many points of view our subconscient
has greater knowledge than our habitual consciousness.
has not had the experience of a problem metaphysical,
moral or practical vainly faced in the evening, the
solution of which then impossible to find, appears clear
and precise in the morning when we wake? The mental
research continued during sleep and the internal faculties,
free from all material preoccupations, were able to
concentrate solely on the subject that interested them.
often, the work itself remains unconscious, only the
result is perceived.
But at times, thanks to a dream, one participates in
the full mental activity in its minutest details. Only,
the cerebral transcription of this activity is often
so childish that, usually, one pays no attention to
this viewpoint, it is interesting to note that there
is almost always a considerable divergence between what
our mental activity actually is and the way in which
we perceive is, and especially the way in which we remain
conscious of it. In its own sphere, this activity determines
what vibrations are to be transmitted by repercussion
up to the cellular system of our cerebral organ, but
in our sleepy brain the subtle vibrations from the suprasensible
domain can only affect a very limited number of cells;
the inertia of most of the organic supports of cerebral
phenomena reduces the number of their active elements,
impoverishes the mental synthesis and makes it unfit
to reproduce the activity of the internal states other
than by images, oftenest very vague and inappropriate.
make this disproportion clearer to you, I may give you
an example out of many that have come to my knowledge.
a writer was engaged on a half-drafted chapter which
he could not finish. His mind, particularly interested
in the work, continued it during the night and by dint
of revolving again and again the ideas constituting
the various paragraphs perceived that these ideas were
not expressed in the most rational order and that the
paragraphs had to be rearranged.
this work was transcribed in the mind of our author
in the following dream: he was in his study, in front
of him were several armchairs which he had just brought
there and he was arranging and rearranging them till
he found the most suitable place for each of them.
the knowledge that some may have had of such inadequate
transcription we may discover the origin of the popular
belief in those keys to dreams which give such delight
to so many simple souls.
it is easy to understand that this clumsy transcription
has a special form for each man, everyone makes the
distortion in his own way. In consequence, unjustified
generalisations made from certain interpretations which
might have been quite correct for the one who applied
them to his own case, give rise only to vulgar and foolish
is as if the writer, mentioned just now, were to teach
in great secrecy to his friends and acquaintances that
every time they saw themselves rearranging chairs in
a dream, it is sign that the next day they would invert
the orders of the paragraphs of a book.
cerebral rendering of the activities of the night is
at times so much distorted that a form is given to phenomena
which is the exact opposite of the reality.
example, when one has an evil thought against somebody,
and when, left to itself this thought has its full force
during the night, one dreams that the person in question
beats him, plays him a bad turn and even wounds and
tries to kill him.
is, as a general rule, always necessary to take great
intellectual precautions in the interpretations of dreams
and above all to exhaust all possible subjective explanations
before attributing to them the value of an objective
are however cases, especially with those who have unlearnt
the habit of always turning their thoughts towards themselves,
where one is the witness of facts which are exterior
to oneself and not reflections of the personal constructions
of one's own mind. And if one knows how to translate
in intellectual language the more or less inadequate
images by which the brain reproduces these facts, one
may learn many things which the too limited physical
faculties do not permit us to perceive.
even succeed, by a special culture and training, in
acquiring and retaining the consciousness of the deeper
activities of their inner being independently of their
cerebral transcription and are able to recall and know
them in the waking state in all the plenitude of their
mass interesting statements could be made in this connection
but probably it would be better to let everyone make
his own experiments with the multifarious possibilities
within the reach of man in a field of activity he too
often leave fallow.
fields produce weeds. We do not want weeds to grow in
us, let us then cultivate the vast fields of our nights.
not think that this can affect in the least the depth
of our sleep and the efficacity of rest which is as
salutary as it is indispensable. On the contrary, there
are a number of persons who find the night more fatiguing
than the day for reasons which often escape them; they
should ascertain these reasons, then their will would
be able to start working on them and remove their effect,
that is to say, put a stop to their activities which
in these cases are almost always useless and even harmful.
our night granted us the acquisition of new knowledge,
the solution of an absorbing problem, the establishment
of contact in our inner being with some centre of life
or of light, or even the accomplishment of some useful
work, we should always get up with a feeling of vigour
is the hours wasted in doing nothing useful or good
that are the most fatiguing.
how to cultivate this field of action? how to acquire
a cognition of our activities of the night?
find the means very rapidly sketched in a page taken
out of a volume devoted to the study of our inner life.
same discipline of consciousness which enables a man
no longer to remain a stranger to his inner activities
in the waking state, also furnishes him with the means
of removing the ignorance of those, still richer, of
the diverse states of sleep.
these activities leave only rare and confused memories
finds however that at times a fortuitous circumstance,
an impression received, a word pronounced is enough
to reawaken suddenly to consciousness the whole of a
long dream of which the moment before there was no recollection.
this simple fact we may infer that our conscious activity
participates very feebly in the phenomena of the sleeping
state, as in the normal state of things they would remain
lost for ever in subconscient memory.
this domain, the practice of concentration should bear
at the same time on the special faculty of memory as
well as on participation of the consciousness in the
activities during the sleeping state.
who wishes to recover the memory of a forgotten dream
should in the first place fix his attention on such
vague impression as the dream might have left trailing
behind it and follow the indistinct traces as far as
regular exercise would let him go farther every day
towards the obscure retreat of the subconscient where
the forgotten phenomena of sleep take refuge and thus
mark out a route easy to follow between the two domains
practical remark to be made from this point of view
is that the absence of memory is very often due to the
abruptness with which the return to consciousness takes
place. (There must not be too abruptly waking.)
this moment, in fact, new activities break in into the
field of consciousness, drive out forcibly all that
is foreign to them and afterwards make more difficult
the work of concentration necessary to recall the things
thus expelled. This is facilitated, on the contrary,
whenever certain mental and even physical precautions
are observed for a peaceful transition from one state
to another. (If possible, not to make too abrupt movements
in bed before awaking.)
this special training of faculties of memory will only
be able to transform into conscious phenomena of the
waking state those alone which were already so, be it
most fleetingly, during sleep. For where there was no
consciousness, there can be no memory.
should therefore work, in the second place, to extend
the participation of consciousness to a greater number
of activities in the sleeping state.
daily habit of going with interest over the various
dreams of the night, thus transforming their vestiges
little by little into precise memories as well as that
of noting them down on waking are very helpful from
this point of view.
virtue of these habits, the mental faculties will be
induced to adapt their mechanism to the phenomena of
this order and to direct upon them their attention,
curiosity and power of analysis.
will then produce a sort of intellectualisation of dream,
achieving the double result of interspersing the conscious
activities more and more intimately in the play, hitherto
disordered, of the activities of the sleeping state
and of augmenting progressively the scope of these activities
by making them more and more rational and instructive.
would then take on the character of precise visions
and, at times, of dream revelations. Then onwards it
will be possible to acquire useful knowledge of an entire
order of important things.