Excerpt from Chapter Three: Dreams & Destiny
The primary imagination I hold to be the living power and prime agent of all human perception, and as a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I AM.
A God who cannot be imagined does manifest Himself in visible symbols, and the visible symbols are real manifestations of God, and to grasp them one must have imagination.
Part One: Light in the Darkness
Dreams, Sufis say, speaking of "true dreams" (ar-ru'yâ as-sâliha), are symbolic messages which arise from the knowledge hidden in the center of being. In the wilderness of unknowing through which the seeker travels, these encoded messages give a forecast and a foretaste of things to come. They are often the only indication which points in the direction the seeker needs to proceed. Not all dreams are "true dreams"; most dreams are spun, Sufis say, by the needs of the lower self, or by the mind churning the events of the day. Such dreams are usually confused and fragmented, and are characteristically called "dreams in confusion" (adghâth al-ahlâm). But occasionally there appears a dream, or a series of dreams, which bears the hallmark of a true knowledge, a knowledge which, though concealed from mind and sense perception, responds directly and instructively to the true needs of the dreamer's soul. Such dreams often have an aura of numinosity which doesn't require interpretation. Their meaning looms clear on the inner horizon. They have a feeling quality which touches the dreamer and awakens in him dormant emotions, perceptions, a new insight into the direction his life is taking. The dreamer, if he is sincere in his quest for truth and meaning, will listen, understand, and respond to the inner taskmaster who reveals himself in the dream, and who knows him better than he knows himself.
Ibn al-'Arabî, the 13th-century Andalusian mystic, whose formulations of mystical knowledge have left a lasting impression on the Sufi tradition, describes the paradoxical nature of that hidden knowledge to which, "until it is unveiled instant by instant," consciousness has no access. He writes:
God deposited within man knowledge of all things, then prevented him from perceiving what He had deposited within him. This is one of the divine mysteries which reason denies and considers totally impossible. The nearness of this mystery to those ignorant of it is like God's nearness to His servant, as mentioned in His words, "We are nearer to him than you, but you do not see" (56:85) and His words, "We are nearer to him than the jugular vein" (50:16). In spite of this nearness, the person does not perceive and does not know. No one knows what is within himself until it is unveiled to him instant by instant.(3)
Modern depth psychology too is based on the premise that an aspect of the human psyche is buried so deep that it cannot be considered part of consciousness, yet does surface in various guises, most predominantly in dreams. Jung, a modern explorer of the knowledge hidden in the unconscious, describes it as having, paradoxically, its own "consciousness." "Certain dreams, visions, and mystical experiences," he writes, "... suggest the existence of a consciousness in the unconscious."(4) The knowledge compressed in the unconscious exceeds by far the knowledge available to consciousness. "Today we know for certain," Jung writes, "that the unconscious has contents which would bring an immeasurable increase of knowledge if they could only be made conscious."(5) One of the characteristics of analytical psychology is the understanding that the unconscious has both a continuous and a purposive existence: "The unconscious perceives, has purposes and intuitions, feels and thinks as does the conscious mind."(6)Jung describes the unconscious as "a multiple consciousness" with its own luminosity.(7) The ego-consciousness, according to Jung, is surrounded by a multitude of "luminosities" (scintillae, luminous particles) which sometimes emerge as images, dreams, and "visual phantasies." The alchemists of past times, he says, called these luminosities "seeds of light broadcast in the chaos" or "the seed plot of a world to come."(8) And Gerhard Adler, in one of the finest elaborations on Jung's ideas, explains:
The totality of these scintillae (sparks, luminous particles) produce a 'light' which becomes visible to the observing conscious mind as a consciousness in the unconscious. Thus, when one analyzes dreams... one finds frequently a process of 'realization' taking place in the unconscious which is full of inner consistency, coherence, and intelligence. This I have called ... "the logos of the unconscious."(9)
This "inner consistency, coherence, and intelligence" is that which knows in spite of outer unknowing, is that which, in spite of outer chaos, is a master architect of meaning. When it unmasks itself in a dream, it often becomes the seeker's only confirmation and support, especially in periods of anguish, loss of direction, and despair. Yet in order to become realized in life, it demands of the dreamer attentiveness and trust. To trust the message inherent in the dream means to be prepared to go through the inner and outer changes which it heralds.
In the Mathnawî Rûmî tells a story about "childhood friends." In this story, Joseph, who is now a formidable and mighty prince in Egypt, second only to King Pharaoh, reunites with a childhood friend, a friend from his remote days in the land of Canaan. It was there, in his youth, that dreams of an august destiny were revealed to him. Naïve and immature, yet already skilled in the arcane art of dream interpreting, Joseph disclosed his dreams to his siblings and thus incurred their envy and hate. In their plot to kill him they threw him into a pit, but he was rescued, sold to a caravan of Arab merchants on their way to Egypt, and bought there by a minister to King Pharaoh. There, after many tribulations, events turned in his favor. He was the only man in Egypt who could interpret some perturbing dreams the King had had. His understanding of the King's dreams saved Egypt and its neighboring lands from a long and devastating famine.
Now, Rûmî tells us, when Joseph is the de facto ruler of Egypt, a childhood friend comes to visit him. This friend used to be "a pillow friend," a friend with whom one shares the most intimate secrets, as adolescents do, whispering softly to each other into the night (which is Rûmî's way of alluding to the intimacy with the Friend). In their intimate, tête-à-tête reunion, the friend asks Joseph:
.."What was it like when you realized
your brothers were jealous and what they planned to do?"
"I felt like a lion with a chain around its neck.
Not degraded by the chain, and not complaining,
but just waiting for my power to be recognized."
"How about down in the well, and in prison?
How was it then?"
"Like the moon when it's getting
smaller, yet knowing the fullness to come.
Like a seed pearl ground in the mortar for medicine,
that knows it will now be the light in a human eye.
Like a wheat grain that breaks open in the ground,
then grows, then gets harvested, then crushed in the mill
for flour, then baked, then crushed again between teeth
to become a person's deepest understanding.
Lost in Love, like the songs the planters sing
the night after they sow the seed."(10)
In these endearing, down-to-earth images Rûmî describes the inner certitude and strength which sustained Joseph even in the bottom of the pit, because of his unfailing trust in the dream-visions which predicted his destiny. Because of his trust and certitude he could endure patiently the vicissitudes of his life until that turn of events in which his destiny unfolded. Thus dreams of destiny, when understood with Joseph's attitude and intuition, become a hint from a veiled master-plan yet to unfold, the "seed plot of a world to come"; and secretly they are celebrated—"like the songs the planters sing the night after they sow the seed." To him who knows the language of dreams, destiny—which is encapsuled as seeds in the dark luminosity of the depths - shines bright as the full moon in the darkness of night.
This is the end of Part One from Chapter 3: "Dreams & Destiny"
Notes from Chapter 3 Excerpt:
(1) Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Biographica Literaria or Biographical Sketches of My Literary Life and Opinions, ed. G. Watson, p. 176 (with thanks to Jeni Couzyn for this quotation).
(2) Thomas Merton, The Mystic Life, a series of talks on Sufism given at Gethsemani Monastery, unpublished; quoted in Terry Graham, "Sufism: the 'Strange Subject'. Thomas Merton's Views on Sufism" in SUFI, issue no. 30, Summer 1996, p. 39.
(3) Al-Futûhât al-makkîyya, II, 684.4, quoted in William Chittick, The Sufi Path of Knowledge, p. 154 (emphasis SS).
(4) Carl G. Jung, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, Collected Works vol. 9i, p. 283, para. 506.
(5) Jung, The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche, Collected Works vol. 8, p. 348, para. 673.
(6) Jung, The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche, p. 349, para. 673.
(7) Jung, The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche, p. 190, para. 388.
(8) Jung, The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche, p. 190, para. 388.
(9) Gerhard Adler, Dynamics of the Self, pp. 34ff.
(10) Rûmî, Mathnawî, I, 3157-3168, in Coleman Barks (versions), Delicious Laughter, pp. 94-5. Note Joseph's words to his brothers, according to the Qur'ân, when they reunite in Egypt: "This is the interpretation of my old dream. God has fulfilled it" (12:101).
Adler, Gerhard. Dynamics of the Self. London: Coventure, 1979.
Chittick, William C. The Sufi Path of Knowledge. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989.
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. Biographia Literaria or Biographical Sketches of My Literary Life and Opinions. Ed. G. Watson. London and New York: J. M. Dent & Sons and E. P. Dutton & Co., 1960.
Jung, Carl G. Collected Works 8, The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche. Trans. R. F. Hull. London and Henley: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1969. — . Collected Works 9i, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious. Trans. R. F. Hull. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1968.
Rûmî, Delicious Laughter: Rambunctious Teaching Stories from the Mathnawî. Versions Coleman Barks. Athens, GA: Maypop Books, 1990.