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Have you seen The Matrix, the movie about awakening from a dream world? Do you think our dreams allow us to escape the matrix of this world?
The Baha’i teachings say that the dream world actually allows the human spirit to soar to loftier heights and possess a deeper understanding:
…in the state of sleep, [the spirit] sees without eyes, it hears without ears, it speaks without a tongue, it runs without feet… How often it happens that the spirit has a dream in the realm of sleep whose purport comes to be exactly materialized two years hence! Likewise, how often it happens that in the world of dreams the spirit solves a problem that it could not solve in the realm of wakefulness.
Awake, the eye sees only a short distance, but in the realm of dreams one who is in the East may see the West… For the spirit has two modes of travel: without means, or spiritual travel, and with means, or material travel—as birds that can fly, or as being carried in a vehicle.
While asleep, this physical body is as dead: It neither sees, nor hears, nor feels, and it has neither consciousness nor perception—its powers are suspended. Yet the spirit is not only alive and enduring but also exerts a greater influence, soars to loftier heights, and possesses a deeper understanding. – Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, newly revised edition, pp. 261-262.
When Abdu’l-Baha says “how often it happens that in the world of dreams the spirit solves a problem that it could not solve in the realm of wakefulness,” it recalls Albert Einstein’s experience discovering his theory of relativity—easily the most important scientific discovery of the past century.
When he was young, Einstein dreamed that he was sledding down a steep mountainside, going faster and faster. As his sled accelerated to an incredible speed in the dream, he looked up and saw that the appearance of the stars had changed. When he woke up, Einstein meditated on his dream. His deep curiosity about it inspired him to go back and study the mathematics he had skipped during college—which took eight years.
After his study concluded, Einstein became a physicist. Then, after many more years of contemplation and research regarding a general theory of relativity, the solution came to Einstein in another dream, much better informed than the first. He said his second dream functioned “like a giant die making an indelible impress, a huge map of the universe outlined itself in one clear vision.” – Einstein: A Life, Denis Brian, p. 159.
In the same way, uncounted numbers of new discoveries, scientific breakthroughs and artistic achievements have arrived in dreams. The inventor of the Periodic Table of the Elements, Dmitri Mendeleyev, said “I saw in a dream a table where all the elements fell into place as required. Awakening, I immediately wrote it down on a piece of paper.”
Many, many artists—songwriters, musicians, playwrights, painters, sculptors, novelists, and lots of others—first experience their creative works in dreams. Sleep can facilitate insight, leading us to the verge of artistic creation. Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein, for example, was conceived in a dream she had while she stayed at the poet Lord Byron’s villa—on a dark and stormy night.
Perhaps, then, some of our dreams—and the déjà vu experiences they cause—give us a glitch in the material matrix of the physical world, normally so bound by time and matter. Perhaps, the Baha’i teachings say, our dreams can help guide us to new insights, new paths of reasoning, new ways of seeing the truth. But do they always?
The mind and thought of man at times discovers certain truths, and this thought and discovery produce definite results and benefits. Such thoughts have a solid foundation. But many things come to mind that are like the waves of the sea of delusion; they bear no fruit and produce no result. In the world of sleep, too, one may have a dream which exactly comes true, while on another occasion one will have a dream which has absolutely no result. – Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, newly revised edition, p. 293.
So—how do you tell the difference between an inspirational, prophetic dream and a wave “of the sea of delusion?” How can we become more lucid dreamers, and learn to more fully understand the language of our dreams?
We’ll explore those important questions in the next essay in this series.