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Raphaele Dechirante

There are many kinds of dreaming, some of which step across the boundaries of the paranormal. Flying dreams are surprisingly common and thought to reflect strong psychological urges. Some overlap with out-of-the-body experience. Then there is the dream where the sleeper recognises that he is dreaming and takes conscious control of the imagery that unfolds - the results are near magical. Further, there is the false awakening, a related state in which the dreamer experiences waking up, having breakfast and going to work, all in full detail, only to find himself back asleep - the whole thing has, in fact, been a very vivid dream that matched reality in extraordinary depth.

Indeed, we now seem to be facing the possibility that what we call a dream is but one point on a spectrum of consciousness which includes several other states with very strange properties indeed. The quest to understand the nature of consciousness may well be the most progressive science of the century.

Unusual dream states have been recorded throughout history. Most religious texts, including the Bible, rely heavily on visionary dreams as the starting point of prophecy and mystical experience. Names such as 'nirvana' and 'reverie' illustrate that most cultures have had a concept of altered states of consciousness. In such a condition, communion with other dimensions has been considered very possible. Even lucid dreams were well described in Roman times.

At first, there was a strong belief that an actual conduit opened up when the conscious mind was closed off: in the dream state one literally stepped into other worlds and met their inhabitants. The legacy of this centuries-old belief is found in the concept of the 'astral plane', on which consciousness enters a higher sphere and is able to exist temporarily alongside entities who do not need physical embodiment. A similar idea is found in most religions, from the christian heaven to the afterlife of spiritualism, and this is the basis of many phenomena such as channeling and mediumship.

Much has been learnt about dream symbolism - way beyond what is contained in those simplistic manuals telling us how to interpret our dreams. There is no doubt that there is a wonderful creative potential in the sleeping mind, ranging f rom the ability to pun, to the powerful way in which it can express problems with vivid imagery.

As an example of punning, taking the following dream of being in a flood, desperately looking for a boat and escaping on the back of an old piano. This typically silly dream takes on new meaning when you study how a dream symbolises information. We might here suspect that the dreamer's mind, seeking a boat, thought of the shipping line 'P and O' and created the 'piano' in response!

This instance produces little more than a wry smile, but similar abilities to create powerful images and solve meaningful problems within dreams have led to very positive things.

Robert Louis Stevenson is just one of many authors who used this method, piecing together the plot for 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde' from a series of dream images. Indeed, he reported that his books often 'wrote themselves' inside dreams.

More explicitly, the chemist Friedrich Kebule, baffled after weeks of trying to figure out the structure of the benzene molecule, had his problem solved by a dream. His mind had presumably worked out the answer already and wanted to tell him so in a powerful fashion, so it produced a dream of coiled snakes eating one another's tails. On waking, Kebule quickly recognised this as a beautiful, graphic rendition of the mathematical symmetry that he sought. Other scientific progress has had a similar genesis. Leonardo da Vinci explained that many of his amazing works came about this way. The brilliant mathematician, Alan Tur ing, created the world's first working computer after seeing it's design in a dream.

Even more dramatic is the possibility that in this state of consciousness, time and space may be bypassed. A dream instance here would be: Dreaming of a large bird flying toward you, heading from the light into the darkness - and you awake in horror. Some time later, you are told about the death of someone, and you recall that the time of death would be at the same time as the dream. The deceased lived in the city of Phoenix, named after a large mythical bird. Of course, the real question is how did the mind have access to this knowledge from thousands of miles away at the moment the event took place. Did the dreamer bypass space, or see ahead through time to the moment when conscious knowledge of the dream was gained? Both possibilities exist.

Everyone who has woken from a nightmare knows the shock it can impose on the system. Many people change plans, even at considerable expense, as a result of dreams which were probably nothing more than that. But so awesome can the sense of reality be that some people do not feel inclined to take chances.

It is difficult to strike a reasonable balance here. Dreams are messages from the subconscious, but it would be wrong to co nclude that they are always (indeed, some would say ever) messages from the future. Most of the time they will be random, inconsequential, perhaps, cautionary or in response to your fears, but they will not reflect a coming reality.

The best way to deal with your dream life is to become more familiar with it. Nightmares are powerful because they bash their way through your conscious defences in a desperate escape bid. They may be the only dream of which you will become consciously aware for many weeks. If you train yourself to recall a higher proportion of the several hours of dream images that you will experience each night, any one particular dream will become diluted in such a broad context.

It is not difficult to recall more of your dreams. Simply fix on one image as you wake, and before you move about or get out of bed, close your eyes again for a few moments and work around that image. The chances are that more details will flow out. With practice, the proportion will increase. If you wake in the night from a dream, try to do the same thing. This should help you to recall more when you eventually wake in the morning.

Just the act of mulling over dream images like this will allow some of them to enter long-term memory store. For greater retention, however, you need to write them into a 'dream diary', or, better still, record them on tape - the freeflow of speech makes it easier to continue recollection.

Observe the world of your dreams as if you were a naturalist studying strange species. Log them, classify them, seek out patterns and meanings. You will almost certainly discover that some appear paranormal - be they lucid, out-of-body, precognitive, or whatever. But it is really the structure of your dreamscape that you should be fascinated by, as this will help you to unravel personal codes that might enable you to decipher the symbolism in paranormal dreams.

All dreams depend upon your own personal beliefs and modes of thought. This is why they will be highly symbolic and individual. You must decode your own dream history in order to understand how to interpret the obscure imagery that might occur in future dreams.

Bear in mind that dreams appear to occur more frequently if we are having new experiences. This is possibly because the brain has more work to do in recording these events, and so uses the function of sleeping and dreaming in 'data processing'. This means that you can actually stimulate dreaming in trying out new things, visiting different places, or watching TV news reports.

Now, to the 'astral body'.

The astral body is, in Theosophy, that body which functions in the Astral World. Like the rest of man's five bodies, it is composed of matter, relatively, however, much finer than that which composes the ordinary physical body. It is the instrument of passions, emotions, and desires, and, since it interpenetrates and extends beyond the physical body, it is the medium through which these are conveyed to the latter.

When it separates from the denser body - as it does during sleep, or by the influence of drugs, or as the result of accidents - it takes with it the capacity for feeling, and only with its return can pain or any other such phenomena be felt.

During these periods of separation, the astral body is an exact replica of the physical, and as it is extremely sensitive to thought, the apparitions of dead and dying resemble, even to the smallest detail, the physical bodies which they have lately left.

The Astral World is, of course, easily attainable to clairvoyants of even moderate powers, and the appropriate body is, therefore, clearly visible.

In accordance with theosophic teaching on the subject of thought, the latter is not the abstraction it is commonly considered to be, but built up of definite forms, the shape of w hich depends on the quality of the thought, and it also causes definite vibrations, which are seen as colours. Hence, clairvoyants are able to tell the state of a man's development from the appearance of the astral body. A nebulous appearance betokens imperfect development, while an ovoid appearance betokens a more perfect development. As the colours are indicative of the kind of thought, the variety of these in the astral body indicates the possessor's character.

Inferior thoughts beget loud colours, so that rage, for instance, will be recognised by the red appearance of the astral body, and on the contrary, higher thoughts will be recognisable by the presence of delicate colours, religious thought for instance, causing a blue colour. This teaching holds true for the bodies higher than the 'astral', but, the colouration of the astral body is much more familiar to dwellers in the physical world than is the colouration of the higher bodies, with the feelings of which they are relatively unacquainted.

There is a definite theory underlying the emotional and other functions of the astral body. The matter of which the latter is composed is not, of course, alive with an intelligent life, but it nevertheless possesses a kind of life sufficient to convey understanding of its own existence and wants. The stage of evolution of this life is that of descent, the turning point not having yet, so far as it is concerned, been reached. He who possesses the body has, on the other hand, commenced to ascend, and there is, therefore, a continual opposition of forces between him and the astral body. Hence, his astral body accentuates in him such grosser, retrograde thoughts as he may nourish since the direction of these thoughts coincides with its own direction.

If, however , he resists the opposition of his astral body, the craving of the latter gradually becomes weaker and weaker till at last it disappears altogether. And the constitution of the astral body is thereby altered, gross thoughts demanding for their medium gross astral matter, pure thoughts demanding fine astral matter.

During physical life, the various kinds of matter in the astral body are intermingled, but at physical death, the elementary life in the matter of the astral body seeks instinctively after self- preservation, and it therefore causes the matter to rearrange itself in a series of seven concentric sheaths, the densest being outside and the finest inside.

Physical vision depends on the eyes, but astral vision depends on the various kinds of astral matter being in a condition of receptiveness to different undulations. To be aware of fine matter, fine matter in the astral body is necessary, and so with the other kinds. Hence, when the rearrangement takes place, vision only of the grossest kinds of matter is possible, since only that kind is represented in the thick outer sheath of the astral body.

Under these circumstances, the new denizen of the astral sphere sees only the worst of it, and also only the worst of his fellow denizens, even though they are not in so low a state as himself. This state or not, of course external, and in accordance with the evolutionary process, the gross sheath of astral matter wears slowly away, and the main remains clothed with the six less gross sheaths. These also, with the passage of time, wear away, being resolved into their compound elements, and at last, when the final disintegration of the least gross sheath of all takes place, the individual leaves the Astral World and passes into the Mental.

This rearrangement of the astral body is now, however, inevitable, and those who have learned and know, are able, at physical death, to prevent it. In such cases, the change appears a very small one, and the so-called dead continue to live their lives and do their work much as they did in the physical body.

The Astral World, is, in theosophy, the second lowest of the seven worlds, the world of emotions, desires and passions. Into it man passes at physical death, and there he functions for periods which vary with the state of his development, the primitive savage spending a relatively short time in the Astral World, the civilised man spending relatively longer. The appropriate body is the astral, which though composed of matter as is the physical body, is nevertheless of a texture vastly finer than the latter.

Though it is in its aspect of the after-death abode that this world is of most importance and most interest, it may be said in passing that even during physical life, man - not only clairvoyants who attain it easily, but also ordinary man - may and do temporarily inhabit it. This happens during sleep, or by reason of the action of anaesthetics or drugs, or accidents, and the iterpenetrating astral body then leaves its denser physical neighbour, and taking with it the sense of pleasure and pain, lives for a short time in its own world. Further, it may, in passing, be noted that disembodied mankind are not the only inhabitants of the Astral World - many of its inhabitants are of an altogether non-human nature - devas, angels, nature-spirits, or elementals, including fairies, which are just beyond the powers of human vision.

None of the inhabitants of the Astral World are confined to any one division. They are able to move through any part of the Astral World, labouring always in their various lines of actions to assist the great evolutionary scheme.