On Dreams

At 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.

When we examine the question more closely we come to see that it is not at all like that.

To 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 attention.

I say physical sleep, because it would be wrong to believe that our whole being sleeps when our body is in slumber.

The result of some experiments conducted with all rigour of scientific method was published about twenty years ago in a book entitled "Sleep and Dreams."

The 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.

It 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.

In 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.

It 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 itself felt.

All 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 asleep.

And 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.

Thus is destroyed in a few hours of the night the fruit of many efforts made by our conscious thought during the day.

This 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.

We 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.

Usually 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.

The 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 from outside.

These dreams are almost always determined by purely physical circumstances, the state of health, digestion, position on the bed, etc.

With 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.

There 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.

Such 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.

Presently 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.

You 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.

Let 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.

None 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.

But 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 around us.

There is no doubt that from many points of view our subconscient has greater knowledge than our habitual consciousness.

Who 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.

Very 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 it.

From 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.

To make this disproportion clearer to you, I may give you an example out of many that have come to my knowledge.

Recently, 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.

All 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.

In 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.

But 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 superstitions.

It 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.

The 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.

For 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.

It 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 reality.

There 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.

Some 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 faculties.

A 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.

Uncultivated fields produce weeds. We do not want weeds to grow in us, let us then cultivate the vast fields of our nights.

Do 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.

If 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 and well-being.

It is the hours wasted in doing nothing useful or good that are the most fatiguing.

But how to cultivate this field of action? how to acquire a cognition of our activities of the night?

We find the means very rapidly sketched in a page taken out of a volume devoted to the study of our inner life.

The 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.

Usually these activities leave only rare and confused memories behind them.

One 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.

From 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.

In 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.

One 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 possible.

This 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 of consciousness.

One 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.)

At 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.)

Still 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.

One should therefore work, in the second place, to extend the participation of consciousness to a greater number of activities in the sleeping state.

The 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.

By 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.

It 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.

Dreams 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.

- The Mother

He is himself the dreamer and the dream. - Sri Aurobindo