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Dreaming is a Spiritual Practice
by Connie Kaplan

Most of us think of "dream" as the story we remember when we wake up from sleep. It is common practice to see those "dreams" as either a night-time electrical brain activity, or a symbolic reflection of the dreamerís unconscious. In my experience, neither of these definitions is adequate nor accurate.

I want to tell you a story. Itís my story, but it may sound familiar to you if you change some details.

Fifteen years ago, I was "normal." I was a high-functioning 20th-century woman with two postgraduate degrees and a great career in television production. I was married to a wonderful man, had a lovely child, great house, perfect neighborhood for children, plenty of money, strong spiritual practice Ė all the requirements to live The American Dream.

Suddenly, I encountered a bizarre illness, which left me almost totally incapacitated. The primary symptoms were extreme fatigue and complete loss of mental agility. Within about two weeks of the first symptoms (a fever and general lethargy), I absolutely could not hold details, prioritize activities, or recognize sounds and faces. No medical diagnosis was ever reached. A doctorís kind referral to a psychiatrist was as close as I came to a medical opinion of what was wrong. I did not go to the psychiatrist. Although I didnít have the vocabulary to articulate it at the time, on some level I knew I had "mysticís disease."

For nearly eighteen months, I was essentially useless on the physical plane. I was functional a few hours a day, but mostly I slept and dreamed. During that time, teachers came in the dreamscapes and "awakened me" to the real power of dreaming. Ironically, during this illness-imposed sleep I was more active than Iíd ever been when I was awake and "healthy." It was like being in a doctoral program in a dream university, where it was impossible to take a day off or sleep through class. I often say I dreamed myself awake during those long months. I earned that post-graduate degree in dreaming, I assure you.

Does that story sound like yours or like someone you know? If so, thatís because it is really a universal story.

This kind of annihilation, I later learned, is also "normal." It is experienced to one degree or another by every individual who consciously walks a spiritual path. It may not present as physical illness in your life. It may come as a result of financial distress, the death of a loved one, divorce, under anesthesia, when your life is endangered, on a hike. It has a number of disguises. Whatever mask itís wearing, it is a part of the mysticís journey. Whether or not we realize it, it is always informed, instructed, prophesied and evoked by dreaming.

These dream teachers taught me some very interesting things about the nature of dreaming. They are radically different from the typical psychological understandings with which we Westerners have become comfortable. Let me try to explain dreaming Ė to redefine dreaming for you.

According to these angels of the dream, as I call them, when we go to sleep, we actually dissolve our personal consciousness. This is of course, very different from the idea that our dreams are personal and about us. The dream teachers showed me that the dreamscapes are not personal and private at all, but rather they are highly collective. When we sleep, we actually move out of personal consciousness and into unity consciousness.

Think about those glorious moments when you drift into blackness, losing awareness of body, mind, bed, room. You float into what I call the cosmic soup of all potential Ė the Void. This is what quantum physicists might call the vibrational realm, what the super string theorists might call the sleep string, what the Buddhists might call the No Place. Whatever you call it, it is the dimension of Truth, the arena of restoration, and the doorway to the lap of the soul. Literally, each time you go to sleep, you dissolve into the Unity Consciousness of the Soulís perspective. The level of soul is not a personal dimension. Human soul consciousness is infinitely expansive, interconnected, broad-visioned and communal. Thatís where we "go" in sleep.

There, in that divine blackness, you have an energetic experience of glorious and awesome proportion. Your physical body is regenerated, your spiritual body is restored to its essential self, and your beingness is reunited with all its magnificence. In some of the teaching dreams I saw that as our bodies fully and completely relax as we drift toward sleep, we unwind these amazing energetic filaments -- invisible fibers that come out of our bellies -- and we connect them to the cosmic order. In other words, when you sleep, you literally plug into the cosmos.

Later, your personal mind stirs and creates a story to help you remember the immensity of that energetic experience. The mind, of course, pulls from a lexicon of symbols, most of which you recognize as personal images, making the dream look like a message from your past, or at least a story about your personal path. However, itís usually not that at all. It appears that way because it has to be written in symbols youíll recognize, understand, remember. The story you remember is much more universal than you think!

I canít stress this point enough, because it is so antithetical to what we think we know about dreaming. It is profoundly important for the dreamer to recognize the non-personal nature of this dreamspace. That blackness, that Void, that nothingness, is not about you. That place is holy and whole. It is the Godhead, as Meister Eckhart would call it. It is the Ein Sof to which Kabbalists refer. It is beyond the reach of the individuated being's comprehension.

The non-linear, non-rational nature of dreaming is paradoxical. The source of the dreaming is impersonal. And yet, that source gives you a personal experience!

The dream story you remember each morning is a metaphor for the profound spiritual nature of sleep. The "meaning" of the dream story is less important than your integration of the energetic experience and your understanding of the power of the dreamscape. Meaning will make itself known as the energy of the dream unfolds in life. The dream story you remember is like a love letter from the level of soul. As a dreamer it is more important that you understand and integrate the vibration of love from which the letter comes, than that you interpret the symbols and images that you remember.

I told you the teachings were radical! My teachers actually warned me NOT to interpret my own dreams, but to join with other wise dreamers, share my dream stories with them, and let them make connections and give me information about the dreaming. I encourage you to do the same. For help, tips, suggestions, and an on-line circle of dreamers who will give you unparalleled understandings of dreaming, visit my website www.turtledreamers.com.

Dreaming is a spiritual practice. No matter how much you ignore your spiritual work, no matter what technologies you play with when youíre awake, no matter how far you stray from your "path" Ė the dreaming is always there. You have to sleep every day, and you do go into the divine soup every time you sleep. The dreaming never betrays you, it never abandons you (even if you donít remember the story, you have the dream experience.) I think itís wonderful to know that this safety net is always, absolutely there for us. Every day, you do a spiritual practice, because every day you dream. Each time you take a nap, youíve actually encountered your essential self. Isnít that great news?

Copyright © 2001 Connie Kaplan.  All Rights Reserved. 

Connie Kaplan,
a spiritual director and dream circle leader, holds an undergraduate degree in English, a Master of Arts in Radio, Television and Film Production, a second Master of Arts in psychology, and is a doctoral candidate at the innovative University of Creation Spirituality in Oakland, California.

Raised in Texas as a minister's daughter, spirituality has always been an important foundation for her life. She spent twenty-five years actively involved in traditional religion. In her mid-twenties, she began to explore other spiritual systems. However, as a career choice, she went into television production. After spending fifteen years working as a free lance script supervisor and then an associate director, she felt she had reached what every American woman might rightly call the American Dream. She was married to a wonderful man -- a television executive producer, she had a healthy, beautiful daughter, a great house in a great neighborhood, and an enjoyable career that offered plenty of options for time off to be a mom.

Then things changed. An undiagnosed illness caused her to sleep for almost two years. She wasnít in a coma, and was certainly functional for small segments of time. But she slept 15-18 hours a day.

Since the early nineties, when she returned to the "normal" world, she has devoted her life to teaching others what she learned (and continues to learn) from this sleep-evoked mystical awakening. She teaches dreaming as a spiritual practice, counsels with modern day mystics, and does what she can to nurture the birth of similar awakenings in everyone she encounters.

For more information, contact www.turtledreamers.com.


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