Tuesday, November 9, 2010

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream...

Normally I don't dream very often. If I do, I don't remember it at all. Once every several months I'll wake up recalling a dream. Yet for the past two nights in a row I've experienced a plethora of dreams all night long which I recall much of in the morning. These have been quite varied, from strange bedfellows to odd happenings and yes, even a few frighteningly ghost-themed ones. In fact, dreaming seems to be an Aussie connection of mine. Four years ago, I visited a university campus in my dreams (and hopefully I'll see if the exact place does exist in December) to find my friend Joel. Almost a year later, I had a dream of Joel visiting me to tell me about a visit to the United States. It was only after telling him about it I learned that at the time I was sleeping he was discussing a summer stay in the states working as a camp counselor.

There are many different theories of dreams and possible meanings behind them. Some appear to look into the past, others foretell of future events. And some are so bizarre they can only be chalked up to the mind dumping out a ton of random thoughts and images in a heap of insanity. Psychologists have tried to explain the meanings behind symbols found within dreams. Famed psychologist Carl Jung and French sociologist Émile Durkheim even theorized that some dreams (and creative thought) could be the result of tapping into some "collective unconsciousness" shared by all of humanity. But for Australian Aborigines there was something more sacred behind it.

What the native peoples of Australia refer to as "Dreamtime" isn't solely a sleep state of being. It encompasses a range of beliefs and experiences from the creation of the world ("The Dreaming") to future events. To them, the past, present, and future coexist. Time is eternal; its layers all happening simultaneously. They believe we can all access this time both through real experiences and dreams or waking visions. To experience a dream about a visiting ancestor was an opportunity to learn something they wanted to pass along to us. All dreams were a profound and meaningful experience.

To better understand why dreams were so revered, it's important to understand what Aborigines believe about the time when we sleep. During the night when we rest, they feel that our souls leave the body (what we would call an out of body experience or OBE) and enter the Dreamtime. Here we mingle with all time, past and future, and encounters can range from communications with the dead to the prophetic. According to Aboriginal beliefs an eternal part of every person existed before being born and continued to exist after the death of their physical body.

This made their view of death slightly different from ours. There was a period of mourning for the loss of a tribal member during which they would inflict wounds on themselves with clubs, shells, and rocks. At which time the wounds healed the mourning period would reach an end. The spirit of the deceased would go to "sky camp" but the dead could return, either through a real-life encounter or dream, to cause harm or warn of danger. While they held views similar to what we consider to be ghosts, these experiences were often quite different. That's not to say that ghost stories aren't part of their culture. There most certainly are tales of spirits and haunted places where few would dare to enter.

Ghostly encounters are believed by many in modern times to be mere hallucinations and dreams mistaken for reality. Yet the line between real vision and dreamed illusion remains difficult to discern. Is everything we dream pure fiction and coincidence? The millennia-old culture of the Aboriginals didn't think so. While we may never agree on the origins of precognitive thought, past life memories, and strange encounters with ghostly phenomena the mind is capable of some remarkable things. For all we know our everyday experiences are the dreams. Who can say what we might wake up to discover.

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