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The Art of Spiritual Dreaming
by The Spiritual Traveler

What is the art of spiritual dreaming? Is the experience of spiritual dreaming distinct from dreaming, in general?

Spiritual dreaming can be defined as dreaming that has the effect of awakening the individual to his or her true nature. To ask whether spiritual dreaming is distinct from our normal dream experiences is really no different from asking whether any spiritual experience is different from all the other experiences we have in life. Life is a spiritual experience, and therefore all our experiences in life have something to teach us spiritually.

At the same time, we can distinguish between experiences in our lives that have uplifted us, or have taught us a lesson, or have jogged our memory of who and what we are, and more mundane experiences. And if we have whetted our spiritual appetites, and consider ourselves spiritual seekers, or ready for spiritual experiences, we will be hungry for those kinds of experiences�both in our waking life and in our dreams. So the art of spiritual dreaming simply reflects that hunger for spiritual experience.

Since our dream experience tends to mirror our waking experience, we have to start out with a spiritual desire, the desire to know ourselves, to know who and what we are. If we have little recall of our dreams, we have to start with a desire to remember them. If we are having dreams that are uncomfortable, that are repetitive, that are of a lower nature, we have to start with a desire for new, different, more uplifting, and more enlightening dreams. It is just the same as when we are stuck in a rut in our daily life. We need to have the desire for change before that change can occur.

I dreamed that I returned to my old high school. The high school was built in 1962, so it was brand new when I was a freshman. I was part of the first graduating class, in 1966, to have gone there all four years. It was built in what, at the time, was a very modern style, with several separate buildings laid out campus-style. There was a separate gym building, an administration building, a main classroom building, an agriculture building and so forth. The main classroom building, as I remember, was rectangular in shape, with a single central hall and the classrooms all laid out on the perimeter.

In the dream, I had arrived back at this high school after over 30 years, and as I looked around, the whole scene was bathed in intense light. The sun was so bright that I had to squint my eyes to see, and yet the light was not only dazzling, but also soothing and comforting. Another thing I noticed was that the arrangement of the classroom building had changed. The classrooms were still on the perimeter, with a large hall in the center, but now, the entrances to the classrooms were on the OUTSIDE of the building. The classrooms opened outward, to the sun, the doors were all thrown open, and the sunlight filled the classrooms. The students seemed to be happy, energetic, engaged, and appreciative of their teachers.

The bell rang, and as the classrooms started to empty out, I recognized one of the teachers. He recognized me, too. I went up to him, and he greeted me. �Hello, O�Connor,� he said. I greeted him in return, but I corrected him. �My name isn�t O�Connor.� I told him my real name, pronouncing it very carefully and distinctly. We talked a while, and reminisced. I had a number of mixed feelings during this conversation. Although I felt soothed and comforted by the light, I had the nagging feeling that I had wasted the last 30 years of my life. My life wasn�t much different from when I had graduated from high school. At least this teacher had devoted himself to service. He was close to retirement, and as the sun shone down on him, I sensed that he could look back on his life with satisfaction, knowing that he had helped so many young people along on their way in life. I couldn�t think of anything comparable that I had done with my life. So there was a note of anxiety in my feelings, despite the light that shone on everything�on the school, on the teacher, and on me.

I woke up with this dual feeling. There was a nagging feeling of anxiety about my lack of accomplishment in life, and at the same time there was an uplifting feeling from the light that had flooded the dream. I had a vague sense that I understood what the dream was telling me, but I didn�t understand completely. Particularly, I couldn�t reconcile the conflicting feelings�positive and negative�that the dream had produced in me. I brought up the subject with someone I talk to fairly regularly and tend to confide in. I told her the whole dream, just as it happened. She picked on a detail that hadn�t seemed very important to me. The teacher had called me O�Connor. What associations did the name bring up for me, she wanted to know. I told her none. �You don�t know anyone named O�Connor?� she asked. �No,� I told her. �It doesn�t remind you of anything?� she asked again. I told her no. �It�s an Irish name, that�s all,� I said. �OK,� she said. �What associations does that bring up for you?� I was about to say none, but then I checked myself. �Well, there is ONE thing,� I said, �that pops into my mind.� She wanted to hear it.

What had come into my mind was a waking experience that I had had almost twenty years before. I was living in Boston at the time, and had gone to diner for breakfast very early one Sunday morning. The place was practically deserted, but an old bum had come in and asked to sit down beside me. There were empty booths all around, but it was as if he had zoomed right in on the fact that I was a loner who resented company, and was challenging this. I allowed him to sit down, and we started talking. It was clear right away that this was no ordinary bum. He talked intelligently on every subject, but not only that, he also seemed to pick right up on all my weak spots and sensitivities. After a while, I started to suspect that I was talking a spiritual master in disguise. But I couldn�t do anything to confirm this. He was in total control of the situation. If he was acting a part, he was doing so in such a masterful way that it would have been useless for me to ask him who or what he really was.

One of the first things he asked me was about my ethnic background. Now, at that time, I was very sensitive about my ethnic background. I didn�t identify with it, and if someone asked me about it, I tried to avoid answering directly. On this occasion, I lied outright. I told the bum that my background was Irish! Now, you don�t have to know me, you just have to glance at me to know that I�m about as far from Irish as a person can be. I mean, it was ridiculous for me to say that. The bum saw right through me, and laughed. �Oh, yeah, you�re Irish all right,� he said with a nod and a wink. I felt unbelievably stupid. Eventually, after a long conversation, the bum fell asleep in a drunken stupor, or did a good imitation of it as a sign that he was through with me. I got up and went home to ponder the experience.

When I had finished telling the story, the full significance of the dream began to dawn on me. I had told the teacher my real name. I had said it slowly, clearly, and distinctly. The dream was telling me that I had recovered my identity. The insecurity that I had suffered from in the past was gone. Once I realized this, it was also clear that the dream also addressed the anxiety about my lack of achievement. I HAD achieved something over this 30-year period. I had achieved something that is called self-realization.

What is self-realization? It�s hard to define, because it has nothing to do with outer forms of achievement, or even with good works, ethics, morality, or service to others. It has only to do with your relationship to yourself. No one can tell you that you are self-realized. Only you can know that. When you achieve it, you may have the same feeling that haunted me in the dream�that in the intervening years, whether they were twenty or thirty, you were simply standing still. Even if you devoted your life to personal achievement, or if you devoted it to service to others, you may have this same feeling. But it doesn�t matter. Because at the same time, you will experience that light which represents spiritual illumination. And you will know that you are in the moment, and that nothing matters but the moment. You will know that life is a dream, that our waking experiences are no different from our dreams, and our dreams no different from our waking experiences. You will know that the art of spiritual dreaming is no different from the art of living in the moment in our waking life.

Copyright Stefan Meyer 2001.
The Spiritual Traveler