I know – I have way too much time on my hands if I have time to waste thinking about what goes on in our heads while we sleep. Still, I am in a rather unique position to do so, and motivated by one particular dream that I have so often it has become a welcome friend. I’ve blogged about this friend before – the “Superman” dream where I fly, have perfect health, and no disability. Between that and my reading of spiritual self-help guides like Joseph Campbell, I think I’m getting some insight.
First, let me be the first to tell you that there is no “mystical” component to dreams. The fact of dreaming something does not mean that the event is likely to happen. It is my considered opinion – at this time, at least – that dreams are ONLY useful for getting to know ourselves better. What makes us tick, so to speak.
With that in mind, let me tell you what a dream really is. There are three types of dreams: wishes, fears, and solutions. Solutions are VERY rare. Most dreams are our subconscious mind trying to express our deepest fears or wishes in ways that we can relate to. Take my “Superman” dream – in the first 16 years of my life, I was a fairly normal kid. I played outside, got sprained ankles and bruises. I gathered some unhealthy and unwanted negative attention because I did not fit in with my peers – my spiritual leanings were much stronger and more focused than theirs. I’d venture to guess they still are. However, just before I turned 18, I had my first real, personal, brush with mortality, in the form of the bone tumor in my left leg. I was on active duty in the US Army, and progressing through a development regimen that was contracted to culminate in Special Forces training. On the day of the surgery, I went from being as close to an ideal man as I could hope to be, to being someone who would never again be physically exceptional in any way. I’ve struggled long and hard with that, and still do. This is expressed by the frequent dream of being Superman – it is my innermost greatest dream to reclaim what was lost in the surgery suite that day.
Let me share something from Joseph Campbell’s book “The Power of Myth”. This book is a running transcript of an interview between Bill Moyers and Joseph Campbell, and I wholeheartedly recommend reading it – again if you’ve read it before. I’m on my 4th reading.
Moyers: A man once told me that he didn’t remember dreaming until he retired. Suddenly, having no place to focus his energy, he began to dream, and dream, and dream. Do you think that we tend to overlook the significance of dreaming in our modern society?
Campbell: Ever since Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams was published, there has been a recognition of the importance of dreams. But even before that there were dream interpretations. People had superstitious notions about dreams – for example, “Something is going to happen because I dreamed it is going to happen.”
Moyers: Why is myth different from a dream?
Campbell: Oh, because a dream is a personal experience of that deep, dark ground that is the support of our conscious lives, and a myth is the society’s dream. The myth is the public dream and the dream is the private myth. If your private myth, your dream, happens to coincide with that of the society, you are in good accord with your group. If it isn’t, you’ve got an adventure in the dark forest ahead of you.
Moyers: So if my private dreams are in accord with the public mythology, I’m more likely to live healthily in that society. But if my private dreams are out of step with the public –
Campbell: — you’ll be in trouble. If you’re forced to live in that system, you’ll be a neurotic.
Moyers: But aren’t many visionaries and even leaders close to the edge of neuroticism?
Campbell: Yes, they are.
Moyers: How do you explain that?
Campbell: They’ve moved out of the society that would have protected them, and into the dark forest, into the world of fire, of original experience. Original experience has not been interpreted for you, and so you’ve to work out your life for yourself. Either you can take it or you can’t. You don’t have to go far off the interpreted path to find yourself in very difficult situations. The courage to face the trials and to bring a whole new body of possibilities into the field of interpreted experience for other people to experience —- that is the hero’s deed.
I’m not trying to say that I’m some sort of hero, just because I’m out of step with mainstream society. Nor am I saying that I should be a leader. But, mainstream society is not built out of leaders and heroes – it is built out of sheep. Followers. People who prefer conformity to adventure because it is safe.
Incidentally, that is why Hollywood makes hundreds of millions of dollars for mass producing epic adventure stories on film. It gives the sheep the experience of adventure without the risk or the societal estrangement. For sheep, it is the perfect escape.