Wednesday, January 4, 2012

I and Thou: Dream Characters and Other People

Still reading Robert Waggoner's book on lucid dreaming (see previous post) and am delighting in the chapter: "Independent Agents and the Voice of the Unconscious" in which he poses some intriguing ideas:

"Taught to believe and expect that the entire dream exists as our imagined projection, that we dream it into being, many lucid dreamers naturally resist any notion of not completely creating and controlling the dream. Yet, these conversations suggest a new level of inherent complexity in dreaming. With experience, lucid dreamers come to realize that the dream space contains various types of dream figures, behaving with varying degrees of awareness." p.58

What, who, where are the characters in our dreams? Are they aspects of our own waking personalities that need attention and integration? Of course, but Waggoner raises the possibility of autonomy in some dream characters. A key indicator of a character's autonomy or "otherness" is when he experiences in lucid dream adventures characters who resist his intentions, give him unexpected information or profess independent viewpoints. Are dream characters projections of our own personalities, created by our dreaming minds to instruct our waking egos? Or are they, as in our waking experience, independent beings, separate from us and capable of choice, as we are?

A little mind blowing, perhaps, but how valuable a consideration. What's wonderful about the dream world is anything is possible. It doesn't have to be one way or the other; it can be both, or entirely different than expected, so dreaming offers a model for expanded consciousness and creativity in the waking world.

In ancient alchemical teachings, inner and outer realities mirror each other, as above, so below. I find this is very true with dreaming. What I learn in the dreaming, can usually come in handy in waking reality. Reflecting on waking experience, how much of what I know about other people is my own projection based on my own needs, much as I might assume the shadow figures and animus gents in my dreams are? The negative things I see about people and the people I put on a pedestal, if they were dream figures, how would I see them? Why would they be in my dream?

Considering the autonomy of dream figures in my dreams heightens my sense of my own autonomy and that of others, those I like and those I don't, in waking life. I'm more mindful of my waking projections and also more eager to look at my dreams for that spark of independence in people I encounter. Perhaps these are other dreamers sharing my dream locale or people who lived in another time or on another dimension?

One of my favorite authors, Ursula LeGuin, writes about outer space as a metaphor for inner space. In her view, inner space is the real frontier for exploration, available through the vast unconscious to all of us. Dreams help me understand myself better, and they help me understand others. In my dreams there are scenarios, like when I find myself in traffic on a highway or when I'm riding on a train or bus. that say to me, "We are multitudes, but we're all in this together." I take that feeling into my waking relationships.

The idea that dream figures may in some cases be autonomous just as I assume people in waking life are creates another dimension of exploration every time I cross the threshold of sleep. At the same time, realizing that even in waking life, people I meet reflect for me some aspect of myself, especially when they elicit strong emotional reaction, helps me interact more mindfully with everyone, keeping a check on my projections and truly honoring each individual and his or her unique life journey.


  1. You write beautifully about complex, human stuff! There are some dreams I have where I know the people in them live lives quite separate from me.

  2. Thank you, Trish. A fascinating question for me is how do I know this is a separate person in my dream? Waggoner seems to think you can only tell if you're lucid in a dream and can question the character; I think non-lucid dream character's autonomy becomes clear to me once I consider their actions, communications and emotions consciously in waking. What do you think?