Dreams and non-violence

As a change from writing about climate change (which can get pretty depressing pretty quickly), I thought I'd report on something on a completely different tack; my recent strange dream adventures and the effect they've had on my mind. For readers who are now super-excited that I'm now going to talk about my experiences of hallucinating goblins, I'm sorry, it's not as fun as that but it is still very interesting. Here goes…

One benefit of writing full-time at home in the last few years is that I've been living a healthier life. For example, I haven't been going to the pub several times a week and I've been sleeping a lot better, which has enabled me to pay more attention to my dreams. I’ve noticed in recent years that they are not random, surreal events as many people seem to think dreams should be. Instead, I seem to have two types of dream events. The first type is where I converse with various people. In these type of dreams, I’m literally just hanging out, chatting with one or more people. These people can include people I currently know, people I’ve known in the past or people who I once knew but who are now dead. It’s a relaxing and fun experience.

The second type of dream I've been having is where I am in a contrived scenario. What's more, these scenarios seem to have been created as challenges for me, as situations in which my negative traits are highlighted and exposed. In other words, events will unfold in the dream scenario that cause my negative behaviour (e.g. indignation, anger) to come to the fore. For example, in the dream I’m in a deserted village and I’m armed. I know that someone's told me that the ‘enemy’ is in the village and they’ll kill me if they get a chance. I haven’t actually seen this enemy, never mind seen them armed, but I know that someone on my side has said they are armed and dangerous. I skulk around and see figures moving through the buildings. One of them pops his head up and looks at me. The cross-hairs of my gun settle on his forehead. I have a moment to decide and I shoot him.

After having that dream and remembering it, I thought a lot about that moment. I pictured that face staring at me as I shoot him in the head. I’d just killed someone, based on the vague recommendations of another person supposedly ‘on my side’. Eventually, I decided that I didn’t want to be a person who shot someone else simply because some other people had said that person was bad. If that person had been shooting at me, perhaps I would have felt fine shooting him, but otherwise, I never wanted to carry out such an act again.

Since that dream, I've had other dreams that I've been able to remember later. Many of them have also been dreams where my negative traits have been tested. Often, I'm been teased, or harassed. My early responses in those dreams, I'm sad to say, is that I've hit people, bashed people against walls and in one case, where someone was following me around, shouting at me, I didn't try and save them from falling off a building.

I get the feeling, during the dreams, that good helpers are constructing these dreams in order to help me improve as a person. What they want, as I experience these tailored scenarios, is for me to realise that the good thing to do is never to respond something negative with a more negative act. In other words, if someone teases me, I shouldn’t hit them. If someone hits me, I shouldn’t shoot them. Also, I must care about these people even if they are being annoying or intimidating or scary, what one might call compassion.

Many commentators have said over the years that we should all return hate with love. In these dreams, that's what I should be doing, but it's difficult. One important aspect of being in the dreams is that my behaviour is uninhibited. In other words, there’s no pressure on me to appear a certain way, to obey rules or laws, to restrict my behaviour in order to avoid punishment. In these dream scenarios, if I want to punch someone for harassing me, I can punch them. I can even tear them limb from limb if I want to. The only thing that stops me doing such violent acts is my own empathy, my own compassion. I see the look of hurt and shock on their faces and that makes me want to stop being violent. This change of attitude has to come entirely from me. Fortunately, nowadays in the dreams, I often respond to someone’s intimidation with laughter, or by offering to help, or even just hugging them but this behaviour isn’t set in stone. I can imagine myself getting violent again, depending on how things are going in my real life, which is a depressing thought.

Interestingly, this continual effort to improve, with the knowledge that one can easily slip back down into more violent, vengeful behaviour, is a part of several ancient religions. The Jains and the Orphics both believed that we, as spiritual souls, live many lives. In each life we live, our behaviour can get better or worse. Eventually, if all goes well, we reach a point where we have shed all our negative traits. Oddly enough, the game Snakes and Ladders is actually based on this Jain idea, the only difference being that in the spiritual reincarnation version, there's no random luck, it's profoundly testing and it lasts for millennia (then again, I've played Snakes & Ladders games that felt just like that).

All this dream musing wouldn't be significant if it wasn't for the fact that it's changed my real-world behaviour. Nowadays, I can’t watch violent acts; I don’t want to see them at all. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad if we were still in the 1950's, but this is the new millennium and most mass entertainment in the Western World includes acts of violence. I can no longer watch Game of Thrones (or pretty much anything made by HBO). It’s now really difficult for me to find any television programme or film made for adults that doesn’t include some acts of violence. Even many family films nowadays are peppered with violence, albeit at a lower level of intensity. For example, I recently watched ‘How to train your dragon’, which is a great movie, but it still pained me to see Hiccup’s Dad punch a dragon in the first fight scene. Most computer games are also out the window. I’d like to play Blizzard’s Star Craft 2 but it’s too violent. What's worse, I really want to see the new Star Wars movie this Christmas but it's a doggone certainty that it won't be like ‘The Snowman’. I guess I’ll just have to close my eyes at specific points during the movie and hope they do a lot more hugging and jokes than in The Empire Strikes Back.

It’s all a bit weird. I do feel, at a deep level, very happy that I don’t want to see violence, but at the same time I feel like a bit of a dork. Hopefully, the dork feeling will pass. Part of coming to terms with this new-found pacifism has been me wondering what I’d do in time of war. I think if my country was invaded, then I’d want to join a Resistance and blow up railway lines and bridges and make it impossible for the invaders to function, at least until I got shot. That sounds noble and brave. With regard to invading other countries, I'm not so sure. After carrying out a lot of research, I have become deeply suspicious as to exactly why our governments persuaded us to do this on many occasions, so it’s probably 'Resistance Fighter' only for now. Funnily enough, I used to think that being a pacifist meant that you didn’t mind seeing violence, you just didn’t want to kill anyone. Instead, I’m now in the situation where the very sight of violence distresses me but my moral arguments about taking up arms haven’t changed at all. Weird.

Death and fighting aside, another interesting question is… are these dreams actually real, or just something my mind made up? Am I concocting these moral scenarios in my head while I sleep because I have a feeling, deep down, that I should become a pacifist, or am I actually experiencing another realm where good individuals are playing out scenes with me to help me change from being an aggressive dick to being a goody-two-shoes?’ Perhaps it doesn’t really matter, perhaps the only important thing is that the dreams are helping me, but it’s an interesting question nevertheless.

According to mainstream science, all dreams are fantasy creations because nothing outside of reality is real. Then again, according to them, my mind isn’t real either; it's just some baseless side-effect of physical activity. But, according to Descartes, the only thing I can be sure of is that I am a thinking mind. Hmm; clearly, someone’s wrong about something.

Niels Bohr, the famous quantum physicist, concluded that reality wasn't something separate to or more tangible than us, something that existed outside of us. Instead, it could only be accurately described as an experience we were having as conscious observers.

'Physics is to be regarded not so much as the study of something a priori given, but rather as the development of methods of ordering and surveying human experience.'

Like many of the quantum physicists, Bohr realised that quantum physics showed them that reality is far more ephemeral than the Objective, Material, Classical Newtonian Universe idea they’d grown up with. Instead, the new experiments and theories showed them that reality was a magical, ghostly, subjective and exotic construction that they couldn’t be sure even existed between observations. Now that’s ephemeral!

If the Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum physics is right and reality is a construction that only exists during observation by minds (for more on that idea, read the Influence Idea) then reality would not much different from dreams that were created with the help of 'others'. The only difference between reality and a collaborative dream would be that reality exists on a bigger scale, is a lot clearer, is created by many,many minds and lasts longer. Apart from that, the two experiences are essentially the same. If that's correct, then someone saying that reality should be regarded as real, whereas dreams are pure fantasy, would be like someone saying that BBC1 on a TV set is real, because lots of people watch it and it gets a good signal, but Channel 5 doesn’t truly exist, because few people watch it and the signal is lousy.

I have the sneaking suspicion that our minds are the unchanging, primary element and waking reality, sleeping reality and other realities are simply different channels available to us to perceive. We can 'switch channels' while still existing in our bodies, thanks to changes in the levels of neurotransmitter chemicals in our brains. For more info on that, read ‘The Tryptamine Key’.

Consciousness, quantum physics, helper dreams, it's all fascinating stuff! Unfortunately, it doesn’t change the fact that I can now no longer watch ‘Game of Thrones’, or play ‘Star Craft 2’, or watch Bruce Campbell as Ash take out demonic monsters and zombies in Evil Dead and all its spawned creations. Shit. Fortunately, there are still television programmes and movies that are violence-free. Hooray!

Anyone tried ‘The Sasquatch Dumpling Gang’?