Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Letters Through the Mist

From me (sent last night) to N. B., a Professor of Psychology at a University
Dear Ms. N. B.,

I hope you’ll remember me. I’m the fella that owns the [...]. We’ve corresponded a couple of times before. I have a question about a point of psychology if you don’t mind. The reason I’m curious about it is simply because I’ve not heard of anyone else doing this. What I’m going to tell you will probably sound stranger to you than it feels for me, because it seems perfectly normal and natural at the time it’s happening. But perhaps there’s nothing normal about it. Fortunately it only happens when I’m asleep. Since we’re all completely insane a third of our lives, I won’t worry too much about it unless it effects my waking life.

I often dream of whole lifetimes. Several in fact. In one I’m married to a blonde lady whose name I can never recall, and we have two young boys. In another I’m married to a brunette, and we have a boy and a girl. In another I’m a teenager again and I have different parents and several brothers. (In waking life I have only one older sister.) In another, I live in a small town I’ve never been to in waking life, but I know everybody and everything that goes on there—the entire history of the town. In still another I have a second sister who is younger named Cathy. She’s around 12 to 14 years of age. I’m in my late teens, and my older sister is about 25. She and I really like Cathy. Cathy has long brown hair, is cute, bright, and just a pleasure to be around. And there are one or two more similar dream worlds also.

The thing is, when I’m in these dream worlds, I have memories that go back for as many years as I’ve been alive in them. My sister Cathy for instance: I could tell you the hospital she was born in, what all her teacher’s names were since Kindergarten. Her favorite foods, all kinds of little anecdotes about her life growing up. I apparently revisit these worlds all the time. Of course, upon waking I can remember very little of them. Often I do remember names. In one world I have a best friend named Nathar. In another I have a teenage daughter named Desarda. I met God in a dream once (not a regular recurring dream world though), and he introduced me to a friend of his from before our world began by the name of Agott. I wake-up even knowing how to spell these strange names as though they’re very familiar to me.

These are not like past lives at all. They’re more like concurrent lives, as though I’m living in them all at once and can move to and from any of them in a moment and pick up right where I left off.

I did once, however, dream of being in the distant past (something I almost never do). I found myself at Oxford a few hundred years ago. I was in either two libraries, or two sections one library. All of the books were in wooden sheathes and chained to the shelves. In one of them there was a large circular table in the middle and you would actually take a book from the shelves and drag it, chain and all, to the table where you had to stand to read it. In the other, there were isles with wooden booths. These were set-up similar to the way booths are at fast food restaurants with benches facing each other and tables between them. [Edited to say that the benches were actually turned away from each other.] You would sit down at a booth close to the book you wanted to read and pull the book down from the shelf still attached to its chain. But at least you could sit. I found what appeared to be a front desk with a short little man working there who I guessed was the librarian and asked him why all the books were chained up like that. He looked at me as though I were an idiot and said, “Because they’re very valuable of course.” [Edited to say that, before the Gutenberg printing press, books were hand copied, so they were rare and expensive.]

This dream occurred in the late 90s. I was already online back then, so I searched around a bit and found the email of a man who repaired old books. I wrote and asked him if he had ever heard of books being chained to wooden sheathes before. He said yes and sent me a picture attachment of the Hereford Chained Library at Oxford. I’ll attach that same photo here for you. The library with booths in this photo is exactly the one I was in during my dream. I had never heard of chained libraries before that dream. Nor did I have any inkling that Oxford happens to have the second largest collection of chained libraries in the world today. I’ve never been to England and have no connection with the university.

I also had an acquaintance who was a neurosurgeon. He died several years ago, but before he died I had mentioned this dream to him once. He and his wife liked to travel a lot. He told me that he had been to Oxford and saw another library there with a round table and chained books just like the other one in my dream. I’ve searched for a photo of it, but have so far never found one.

While I don’t have hallucinations, nor anything particularly strange that happens to me when I’m awake, there are times when I’m sitting here at my computer chair exhausted and will be right on the cusp of sleep. When that happens, I will sometimes have a sort of visionary experience of one of those recurring dream worlds that lasts only a split second. I must confess that I went through a period more than ten years ago where I had bouts of ASP (awareness during sleep paralysis) that lasted about a year. Those generally led to out of body experiences, though they seldom lasted more than 15-seconds. Those almost never happen anymore, and I don’t feel they’re at all related to my dream worlds.

What say you doc? Am I wired weird? Have you ever heard of anyone else living entire lifetimes during sleep? If you know of any books on the subject, I’d love to read them.

Thanks for reading,

C. S.
I got the following letter back from her today:

Dear C. S.,

How wonderful to hear from you—and of course I remember you! [Etc....]

Let me start by saying that I'm not a clinical psychologist (personally I think many people these days, and many clinical psychologists, tend to be diagnosis-happy), but I am very interested in dreams, and actually teach a whole unit on dreams in my intro. course. So I was fascinated to hear about your elaborate dreamworlds that include whole lifetimes. I hadn't heard of experiences like this, but when I got your message last night I started looking, and quickly ran across this article that cites a number of references:

I haven't checked out all the references, but perhaps you'll find something of interest. It looks as if the author is more interested in the perception of the passage of time in dreams than in other possible ways of explaining these experiences—but it might at least be a place to start, and a chance to see that you're not alone in having these extraordinary dreams. To me it sounds like a rare gift and a sign of a highly developed imagination—using that word in the sense George MacDonald had in mind (not in the way most people these days seem to understand it, to mean something invented or unreal).

Your comment that these dream lives are more like concurrent lives than like past lives is very interesting too, because I tend to think that if we're talking about an experience of the spiritual world, there is really no past or future it's all now, and we could be living many concurrent lives that we're not aware of in our time and space-bound everyday reality. . . I like this quote from P. L. Travers (author of the Mary Poppins books, who also loved George MacDonald's stories):

“There are worlds beyond worlds and times beyond times, all of them true, all of them real, and all of them (as children know) penetrating each other.”

So, who knows? maybe you've found a way to access some of those worlds beyond worlds. . . Of course, many (maybe even most) psychologists these days are die-hard materialists, and would try to come up with some other explanation—but to me it's not scientific (one of their favorite terms) to rule out something just because you can't see or measure it.

And how wonderful that you've also had that clairvoyant dream about the "chained libraries"—and later learned that they actually existed (I love the picture)! Your story reminded me immediately of the psychologist C. G. Jung (considered "too mystical" by many modern psychologists), who started having dreams with strange symbols and words that he'd never seen before. . .and later discovered the same images and phrases in some medieval manuscripts about alchemy! And of P. L. Travers' mentor, the mystical Irish poet A. E. (George Russell), who heard the name "Aeon" in a vision. . . and soon afterward just happened to pass by a desk in a library where he saw the name in book someone had left open, and discovered that it was the Gnostic name for the first created being. . . .

Anyway, my guess is that such visionaries may also have had the kinds of elaborate dreams you've experienced. I don't know offhand of any books about such dreams, but when I go up to the office a little later I'll check a couple of things I have there and let you know if I find something (I stayed at the house this morning to finish grading exams). But the short answer is that you're certainly not the only person who has such elaborate dreams, although it does seem like a rare gift. I do hope you enjoy them! I'll keep an eye out and let you know if I run across something that might be of interest. And thanks for sharing your fascinating experiences!


N. B.