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Dreams are the touchstones of our characters. – Thoreau
Dreams are illustrations… from the book your soul is writing about you. – Marsha Norman
We have forgotten the age-old fact that God speaks chiefly through dreams and visions. – C. G. Jung
What part of us dreams?
Neuroscientists don’t know. Hundreds of theories exist about which part of the brain actually produces dreams—but none have ever been proven. Dreams, even though they’re universal, still represent a great mystery to science. The Baha’i teachings refer to our dreams as the soul’s repository of mysteries:
Indeed, O Brother, if we ponder each created thing, we shall witness a myriad perfect wisdoms and learn a myriad new and wondrous truths. One of the created phenomena is the dream. Behold how many secrets are deposited therein, how many wisdoms treasured up, how many worlds concealed. Observe, how thou art asleep in a dwelling, and its doors are barred; on a sudden thou findest thyself in a far-off city, which thou enterest without moving thy feet or wearying thy body; without using thine eyes, thou seest; without taxing thine ears, thou hearest; without a tongue, thou speakest. And perchance when ten years are gone, thou wilt witness in the outer world the very things thou hast dreamed tonight.
Now there are many wisdoms to ponder in the dream… First, what is this world, where without eye and ear and hand and tongue a man puts all of these to use? Second, how is it that in the outer world thou seest today the effect of a dream, when thou didst vision it in the world of sleep some ten years past? Consider the difference between these two worlds and the mysteries which they conceal, that thou mayest attain to divine confirmations and heavenly discoveries and enter the regions of holiness.
God, the Exalted, hath placed these signs in men, to the end that philosophers may not deny the mysteries of the life beyond nor belittle that which hath been promised them. – Baha’u’llah, The Seven Valleys, pp. 32-33.
The Baha’i teachings suggest, too, that our souls allow us to dream:
The spirit, or human soul, is the rider; and the body is only the steed. If anything affects the steed, the rider is not affected by it. The spirit may be likened to the light within the lantern. The body is simply the outer lantern. If the lantern should break, the light is ever the same because the light could shine even without the lantern. The spirit can conduct its affairs without the body. In the world of dreams it is precisely as this light without the chimney glass. It can shine without the glass. The human soul by means of this body can perform its operations, and without the body it can, likewise, have its control. Therefore, if the body be subject to disintegration, the spirit is not affected by these changes or transformations. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 416-417.
This inner spiritual facility, often compared in the Baha’i writings to a flame or a light, powers our intellect, our senses and our awareness. In a letter to the famed Swiss scientist Auguste Forel, Abdu’l-Baha wrote:
Now concerning mental faculties, they are in truth of the inherent properties of the soul, even as the radiation of light is the essential property of the sun. The rays of the sun are renewed but the sun itself is ever the same and unchanged. Consider how the human intellect develops and weakens, and may at times come to naught, whereas the soul changeth not. For the mind to manifest itself, the human body must be whole; and a sound mind cannot be but in a sound body, whereas the soul dependeth not upon the body. It is through the power of the soul that the mind comprehendeth, imagineth and exerteth its influence, whilst the soul is a power that is free. The mind comprehendeth the abstract by the aid of the concrete, but the soul hath limitless manifestations of its own. The mind is circumscribed, the soul limitless. It is by the aid of such senses as those of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch, that the mind comprehendeth, whereas the soul is free from all agencies. The soul as thou observest, whether it be in sleep or waking, is in motion and ever active. Possibly it may, whilst in a dream, unravel an intricate problem, incapable of solution in the waking state. The mind, moreover, understandeth not whilst the senses have ceased to function, and in the embryonic stage and in early infancy the reasoning power is totally absent, whereas the soul is ever endowed with full strength. In short, the proofs are many that go to show that despite the loss of reason, the power of the soul would still continue to exist. – Abdu’l-Baha, Tablet to Auguste Forel, pp. 8-9.
“It is through the power of the soul” that the mind comprehends, imagines and exerts its influence, Abdu’l-Baha explained. In other words, the soul provides the true motive power for our intellect, our thinking abilities and our comprehension. It is the engine of existence.
Consider it this way: our souls give us life. Everything beyond the merely physical operation of our bodies comes from the animating force of the human spirit, from the spark of the soul.
That’s what makes us different from animals—we have the ability to think in the abstract, to create art, to contemplate the future, to imagine and then prove that the world orbits around the sun, to make machines that transport us around the globe. All of that human achievement, the Baha’i teachings say, comes from the power of the soul:
Spirit cannot be perceived by the material senses of the physical body, excepting as it is expressed in outward signs and works. The human body is visible, the soul is invisible. It is the soul nevertheless that directs a man’s faculties, that governs his humanity.
The soul has two main faculties. (a) As outer circumstances are communicated to the soul by the eyes, ears, and brain of a man, so does the soul communicate its desires and purposes through the brain to the hands and tongue of the physical body, thereby expressing itself. The spirit in the soul is the very essence of life. (b) The second faculty of the soul expresses itself in the world of vision, where the soul inhabited by the spirit has its being, and functions without the help of the material bodily senses. There, in the realm of vision, the soul sees without the help of the physical eye, hears without the aid of the physical ear, and travels without dependence upon physical motion. It is, therefore, clear that the spirit in the soul of man can function through the physical body by using the organs of the ordinary senses, and that it is able also to live and act without their aid in the world of vision. This proves without a doubt the superiority of the soul of man over his body, the superiority of spirit over matter. – Abdu’l-Baha,Paris Talks, p. 85.
Next: If I Have a Soul—Where is It?
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That is: when you have a nightmare, view it as useful, if unpleasant, feedback, like a poor score on a test, or bruise from a fall. It points out something in one's spiritual life that needs improvement. Am I allowing frustration to control me? Is ...a fear of failure causing me to unwittingly miss important opportunities? Perhaps my dream about a loved one who has passed on is a sign that my grief is going on too long; perhaps the one suffering in the dream is actually me, not her; perhaps healing myself of this nightmare means letting go, having faith in God's purpose for her soul, and thanking her for all that she still means to me after all this time.
Nightmares are not a sign of any sort of damnation. If spiritual dreams are lights, nightmares are merely the shadows. If prophetic visions show us reality as it is, then nightmares show us reality as it isn't: the illusions and fallacies we may sometimes fail to recognize or understand. They are part of a negative feedback system, like pain, that helps us get back on the right track -- especially if we are failing to notice the problem while awake. Certainly no one would want to have a nightmare, but if we do, there is reason to be thankful for it.
Interpret your dreams with the bravery of a poet, and see the wisdom hidden in the darkness. The true meaning is almost never what you see on the surface. As Bahá'u'lláh says, "My calamity is My providence, outwardly it is fire and vengeance, but inwardly it is light and mercy. Hasten thereunto that thou mayest become an eternal light and an immortal spirit. This is My command unto thee, do thou observe it."
(The Hidden Words / Part One: From the Arabic : Number 51)