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The last time I had a vivid experience of déjà vu, I wondered—what’s the purpose of this strange phenomenon? What can I actually do with it?
Here’s what happened: Ten years ago, I had a lucid, powerful dream that seemed to be set sometime in the future. I dreamed about a beautiful place in forested mountains, replete with rivers and lakes surrounded by tall pine trees, and I saw a wooden house in that forest. At the time I lived in the middle of highly-urbanized Los Angeles—a long way from any forested mountains or alpine lakes. (We did have rivers—of cars on the freeway.) But my dream stuck with me, like highly-detailed, vivid dreams will often do, and even recurred a few times. I came to think of those dreams as nice and hopefully predictive foreshadowings of someplace I might go on vacation one day, maybe.
But four years ago, I moved to that exact place.
When my wife and I first drove into the town where we now live, in the thickly-forested foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Northern California, I immediately recognized what I’d seen in those dreams. Although I had never visited the town before or even seen pictures of it, I somehow knew it. Each road, each building and each mountaintop seemed instantly familiar. When I turned a corner, I already knew what would be around that corner. When we found the house we live in now, I immediately recognized it, too, every detail already firmly imprinted in my mind. It was the exact house I’d seen in my dreams. Whoa.
But what’s the point, I wondered? Whether my dreams showed me a future vision of where I would live or not, they certainly didn’t direct me to this place, I figured. Or did they?
As I thought about it some more, I knew, suddenly, that somewhere in the strangeness of the past and present colliding, I had chanced upon something profound. Since that first instance of déjà vu ten years ago, I obviously took steps, whether consciously or subconsciously, that led me here. What, I immediately wondered, did the Baha’i teachings have to say about all this?
I found my answer in Baha’u’llah’s writings—but I’m still trying to understand that answer:
Know thou of a truth that the worlds of God are countless in their number, and infinite in their range. None can reckon or comprehend them except God, the All-Knowing, the All-Wise. Consider thy state when asleep. Verily, I say, this phenomenon is the most mysterious of the signs of God amongst men, were they to ponder it in their hearts. Behold how the thing which thou hast seen in thy dream is, after a considerable lapse of time, fully realized. Had the world in which thou didst find thyself in thy dream been identical with the world in which thou livest, it would have been necessary for the event occurring in that dream to have transpired in this world at the very moment of its occurrence. Were it so, you yourself would have borne witness unto it. This being not the case, however, it must necessarily follow that the world in which thou livest is different and apart from that which thou hast experienced in thy dream. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 151.
Does Baha’u’llah, in this passage from his mystical writings, mean to say that we have access to an alternate world in our dreams? Do our dreams transcend time, perhaps, going beyond earthbound notions of past and future?
In the next part of this same passage, Baha’u’llah seems to imply that we each contain hidden realms that truly do transcend time and space—that the world of dreams, “wrapped up within thee,” encompasses “the innermost reality of this world:”
This latter world hath neither beginning nor end. It would be true if thou wert to contend that this same world is, as decreed by the All-Glorious and Almighty God, within thy proper self and is wrapped up within thee. It would equally be true to maintain that thy spirit, having transcended the limitations of sleep and having stripped itself of all earthly attachment, hath, by the act of God, been made to traverse a realm which lieth hidden in the innermost reality of this world. Verily I say, the creation of God embraceth worlds besides this world, and creatures apart from these creatures. In each of these worlds He hath ordained things which none can search except Himself, the All-Searching, the All-Wise. Do thou meditate on that which We have revealed unto thee, that thou mayest discover the purpose of God, thy Lord, and the Lord of all worlds. In these words the mysteries of Divine Wisdom have been treasured. – Ibid.
Baha’is believe that every human being has a soul. That eternal soul, the Baha’i teachings say, allows us to seek a reality beyond this temporary and temporal world, to dream of the world to come:
…we must endeavor through the assistance and grace of God and by the exercise of our ideal power of intellect to attain all lofty virtues, that we may witness the effulgence of the Sun of Reality, reflect the spirit of the Kingdom, behold the manifest evidences of the reality of Divinity, comprehend irrefutable proofs of the immortality of the soul, live in conscious at-one-ment with the eternal world and become quickened and awake with the life and love of God. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 328.