Blog: Spirit Speaks
by Liora Leah

The Nature of Dreams and the Dream of Nature

Eliot Cowan, author of "Plant Spirit Medicine", writes of the nature of time and of dreams, and how within the dream of nature we find healing.

Date:   5/23/2006 3:26:44 PM   ( 15 y ) ... viewed 2434 times

Research reveals matter to be empty space with a few tiny particles in it. The particles are energy phenomena. There is no "stuff" in the universe; it is all made out of energy.

As quantum physics explores the nature of energy, some fascinating qualities come to light. For example, in observing a "particle," it is impossible to determine both its momentum and its location at the same time because the very act of observing a characteristic causes it to leap out of the probable state and become actual. All other characteristics are still merely probabilities at that moment. To put this another way, energy has certain tendencies. The moment we look for one of those tendencies, it manifests itself, while all other tendencies remain latent...One might say that energy knows when it is being watched and it behaves to fulfill our expectations. Energy responds to us. It is conscious.

According to modern physics, although our world appears real and solid, it is actually an insubstantial realm whose features shift according to the psyche of the person observing it...we (describe) dream worlds the same way.

...The dream of waking life appears to be longer lived, or at least more repetitive than our nighttime dreams. In actuality, though, all dreams are timeless. When I was an anthropology student I read the account of an ethnographer who had spent considerable time among Australian aborigines. He had heard stories of the tracking skills of one particular hunter; the stories were so incredible that he was certain they were fraudulent. When he finally met the tracker, he challenged him to follow the trail of a long trek he had made with another aborigine years before. He was certain this was impossible and that no trail could remain after such a long time. The tracker was happy to take up the challenge, though, and the moment he was shown the starting point, he took off at a trot and ran the whole course of the journey without even pausing to examine the spoor. The anthropologist was humbled and apologetic. He asked the aborigine how he had accomplished this feat. "It was easy," the tracker replied. "I just went back to the time you made the journey and I ran alongside you."

...(This anecdote serves) to illustrate that dreams--including the dream of waking life--exist outside the flow of time...Another interesting characteristic of dreams is that they are permeable and they overlap. One dream interpenetrates another, and a dreamer can move freely among his own dreams and those of others.

...Most forms of shamanic healing use the timelessness and porousness of dreams to enable the shaman to make his diagnosis. In soul restoration, for example, I teach practitioners to enter the dream of the patient's life and find past traumatic experiences that caused a part of the soul to dissociate. We then track down the dissociated part and re-integrate it into the life of the soul. Our patients are astonished to find that we can track long-ago, faraway events in their private lives, but this is easy for us; like the Australian Aborigine, we simply enter the dream of their life and run the course alongside them.

Modern science and ancient wisdom concur, then, in describing our world as a dream--a tissue of appearances made of energy and consciousness.

I am convinced that the universe is a very complicated dream. In order to create it and keep it going, God the Dreamer dreams a multitude of lesser dreamers. Each of these lesser dreamers, or gods, is in charge of dreaming up one part of the world. For example, the stone god has a long dream that brings stones into being, and when the rain god dreams of showers, the rains fall. Their dreams overlap, and the stones get wet.

Human beings are like gods--we ourselves are dreamers. As time goes on we live more and more within our dreams and less and less within the dream of nature. This is hard to see...Nevertheless, it is very important that we come to know the difference between the human dream and the dream of nature, or else we will never understand medicine.

One of the fundaments of modern life is the dream of time as a mechanical procession of discreet uniform units. In this dream, seconds click by in single file from an unknowable future through a fleeting present into the jaws of an irretrievable past. Virtually all humankind has agreed on this view, making possible a regimentation of human effort that was unthinkable before hours, minutes and seconds were dreamed up. Clock time makes factories possible.

By contrast, Australian aborigines traditionally live not by clock time, but by what is called the "dreamtime". The dreamtime is a timeless mythic realm in which the Ancestors sing into existence every feature of the natural world. For those who live by the dreamtime, the world is sacred and inviolable. Not a single pebble must be disturbed from its place. The people of the dreamtime will never produce a laptop computer, but they will never produce ecological crisis either.

The Western dream of time is dualistic in that it divides the web of existence into two irreconcilable parts: the present, which is real, and the non-present, which is not real. According to this scheme, the Aboriginal tracker's feat is impossible and absurd since an event cannot occur simultaneously in the past and the present. I give thanks to that Australian and his anthropologist friend for gently suggesting where the absurdity truly lies.

Dualism is the proto-dream underlying clock time and all our modern dreaming. Dualism might be defined as the illusion that there are two discreet principles in the universe: self and other. Dualism implies isolation, conflict and a continuous struggle of opposing forces. For this reason, actions based on dualistic vision are simplistic, aggressive and destructive. For example, a farmer dreams that his livestock is part of "self" and predators are "other." Immediately there is conflict, and the conflict suggests a simple, aggressive solution: destroy the predators. This is precisely the solution humanity has adopted over the past few thousand years. Since dualism is blind to complexity, we have failed to notice that in destroying predators we have disrupted the ecosystem in such a way as to impoverish productive lands and turn them into deserts (For an in-depth look at this process, see Alan Savory's profound and fascination book, "Holistic Resource Management", Island Press, 1988). The dualistic dream engenders an endless procession of conflict, aggression and destruction as each "solution" creates new problems to be attacked. One who lives in the dream of dualism lives in a battlefield...

In the Dreamer's dream of nature there is no duality, no separation into self and other, no conflict, aggression or destruction. In the dream of nature, when a predator kills and eats an animal, it is not "us" against "them". In nature all are "us." A slow, sick or injured animal is provided to predators for the benefit of all. The health of the herd is maintained as the predator feeds its family. The dream of nature is a complex web of mutuality in which each part supports the other.

This is the most important difference between the dream of man and the dream of nature: nature dreams of unity and bliss, while man dreams of isolation and violence. Humans need unity and bliss to maintain their health of spirit. The dualistic dream starves the spirit and give rise to the gamut of illnesses of body and soul. The job of medicine, then, is to nourish the spirit by bringing people into the source of well-being--the dream of nature.

Nature is dreamed by the gods. The gods are dreamed by God. To commune with nature is to commune with the divine, so healing is truly a religious rite with healer as priest.

---Eliot Cowan, from "Plant Spirit Medicine, The Healing Power of Plants", Swan-Raven & Company, Columbus, NC,1995

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