The Urban Dharma Newsletter - July, 2010
In This Issue: Inception the Movie
1. Movie review: 'Inception’ – LA Times
2. Inception the Movie. – www.buddhism.sgforums.com
3. BRAHMA, PHYSICS AND INCEPTION - Posted by soaham g. and ameya b.
4. Movie Review: Inception, Magic Realism and Dzogchen Buddhism
5. 'Inception': 9 Surprising Sleep Facts From the Movie – Matthew Edlund MD
6. The 12-Step Buddhist: Why Do We Have Drinking Dreams? – Darren Littlejohn
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This newsletter is all about the movie “inception”… You might want to see the movie before you read the newsletter… It’s a good one ;-)
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Warning: Spoilers included. Please watch the movie “Inception” first.
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1. Movie review: 'Inception’ – LA Times
Christopher Nolan's mind-bending, intelligent, exciting and disturbing sci-fi extravaganza, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, blends the best of traditional and modern filmmaking. July 16, 2010|By Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times Movie Critic
Dreaming is life's great solitary adventure. Whatever pleasures or terrors the dream state provides, we experience them alone or not at all.
But what if other people could literally invade our dreams, what if a technology existed that enabled interlopers to create and manipulate sleeping life with the goal of stealing our secret thoughts, or more unsettling still, implanting ideas in the deepest of subconscious states and making us believe they're our own?
Ads by Google
Welcome to the world of "Inception," written and directed by the masterful Christopher Nolan, a tremendously exciting science-fiction thriller that's as disturbing as it sounds. This is a popular entertainment with a knockout punch so intense and unnerving it'll have you worrying if it's safe to close your eyes at night.
Having come up with the idea when he was 16, Nolan wrote the first draft of "Inception" eight years ago and in the interim his great success with "Batman Begins" and "The Dark Knight," not to mention the earlier "Memento," put him in a position to cast Leonardo DiCaprio and six other Oscar-nominated actors and spend a reported $160 million in a most daring way.
For "Inception" is not only about the dream state, it often plays on screen in a dreamlike way, which means that it has the gift of being easier to follow than to explain. Specifics of the plot can be difficult to pin down, especially at first, and guessing moment to moment what will be happening next, or even if the characters are in a dream or in reality, is not always possible. But even while literal understanding can remain tantilizingly out of reach, you always intuitively understand what is going on and why.
Helping in that understanding, and one of the film's most satisfying aspects, are its roots in old-fashioned genre entertainment, albeit genre amped up to warp speed. Besides its science-fiction theme, "Inception" also has strong film noir ties, easily recognizable elements like the femme fatale, doomed love and the protagonist's fateful decision to take on "one last job."
That would be DiCaprio's Dom Cobb, a thief who specializes in what's called extraction, in taking secrets from the subconscious. Aided by Arthur (a fine Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the trusted associate who is a whiz at the mechanics involved, Cobb is introduced in the middle of a dream involving Saito ( Ken Watanabe), a wealthy Japanese businessman.
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2. Inception the Movie. – www.buddhism.sgforums.com
~ Buddhism: Wisdom Bliss ~ Buddhism: Wisdom Bliss ~ http://buddhism.sgforums.com/
Warning: Spoilers included. Please watch the movie first. This is the best movie I've watched for a very long time - on par or better than The Matrix.
I like the part of Inception where they talked about how an idea when planted very deeply (similar to what Thusness said - it has to be planted very deeply) into the subconscious will keep manifesting itself in the conscious life.
This is precisely the importance of the Buddhist teaching of the 8th Consciousness. It applies to karma and habitual tendencies. Even the enlightened beings can't escape this (unless they have reached Arhantship and thus freed from samsaric cycles) - they have to plant the seed of anatta and emptiness so that when they are reborn in next life, the seed will grow and manifest easily. Also, when the seed is deeply penetrated, so deep that it replaces all the dualistic/inherent tendencies lying deep into our subconscious, it will persist throughout all three states of waking, dreaming, and deep sleep. That means one will experience no-self and emptiness in all three states.
This also explains why if you keep chanting, one day you will continue chanting even in dreams. It's already placed in the 'safe house' so to speak, and I like how they use the 'safe house' or 'store house' as an analogy in the movie - precisely what the 8th consciousness is called. (I'm referring of course, to Cobb's wife Mal, who Cobb placed the totem into the safe house so that Mal keeps thinking that the world is unreal even when she wakes up because the totem keeps spinning in her subconscious mind - as an imprinted idea)
Also, what they said about dreams is very true - in dreams, the people/things you see are a symbolic manifestation of your subconscious psyche (this part our moderator Simpo is an expert on and is able to gather information from dreams very well - though I don't think he can steal your subconscious unless you tell him about your dream contents icon_wink.gif), and you only know you are dreaming when you wake up on hindsight (well unless you are lucid dreaming).
p.s. I wonder if people have came to the conclusion that actually the whole movie is a dream from beginning to end (Mal: "Do you think you’re living in reality? Being chased around by anonymous corporations all the time?")
update: just found comments online -
A truly excellent piece Devin... Like one of the other posters I have never been to this site before and found it a wonderful piece of synchronicity to have come across it only days after my first viewing of Inception. I will be going back for a second and maybe third viewing, but as of now I am pretty convinced by the “it’s all a dream” argument. I found (as some others did) that Mal’s asking Dom whether he really believes he is being pursued across the globe (and similar urgings for him to “wake up” that come from Michael Caine’s character) are like rational voices trying desperately to intrude into a paranoid schizophrenic’s delusional mind-set. The whole escape from the failed extraction, including the approaching rioters (a flood of uncontrollable feelings to be evaded?) and walls that felt like they were closing in (a classic panic attack?) seem to me to fit that interpretation. Though I am also impressed by your analysis of the movie as a representation of Nolan’s process of directing a film, it is of less interest to me than a possibly even wider frame – that what Nolan is addressing (with or without full awareness) is the nature of consciousness and the construction of reality itself. Key to this interpretation is your point about the meaningfulness of the catharsis that Fischer undergoes in the fortress – that “despite the fact that his father is not there, despite the fact that the pinwheel was never by his father's bedside, the emotions that Fischer experiences are 100 percent genuine”. It made me remember a favorite line from one of a series of books of “channeled” wisdom from the 1970’s, in which “Seth”, the channeled entity, said of human experience: “It’s not real, but it does matter”. The idea that he was presenting was that our experiences in this life, though not real in any concrete sense, are an educational process of great importance. Hindu reincarnational beliefs take a similar tack, and the Buddhist view that “all is Maya” – i.e. illusion – are another part of the same map. In fact, they say that you can only “get off the wheel of reincarnation” when you fully “wake up” from Maya. So for now I will consider this film another meditation on that theme; and ponder how “breaking up is hard to do” (Dom and Mal) is related to “waking up is hard to do”. P.S.: Speaking of paranoid schizophrenia, was that the Cabal corporation that Dom failed and was being hunted by?
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3. BRAHMA, PHYSICS AND INCEPTION - Posted by soaham g. and ameya b.
SPOILER ALERT! Do NOT read this piece until you have watched the film “Inception”.
What is Existence? It is the domain of our senses which persists independently without them. Our knowledge of existence requires 'senses' but existence itself is independent of our senses.
Philosophers throughout time have questioned 'existence' and have elaborated and discussed it. Interestingly, this is one of those topics in philosophy which have branched out into several sub-topics and has effectively made its stand in all those disciplines. Metaphysics, Ontology, Religion, Epistemology, Materialism, Supernaturalism and Mathematics all have important references to the concept of 'existence' and define and work with it in their own ways.
There are lot of interesting theories on existence. David Hume for instance argued that if existence of something adds to our notion of that thing, we are adding nothing to the thing. Then Materialism believes that whatever exists in the universe- life or not life, is composed of matter. Supernaturalism counters this by saying there is 'something more' than just matter.
Aristotle, Descartes, Antoine Arnauld and even modern age European philosophers gave various theories based on existence. Buddhism in India under Nagarjuna saw a great extension in the concepts of existence under the school of Mahayana Buddhism.
But much before all of this existed the concept of Brahma....
‘Brahma’ is the Sanskrit word for the creative principle of the universe. The term ‘Brahma’ is coined from the word ‘brihi’ which means to expand (clearly they knew since then itself that the universe is expanding).
It is believed in Hindu mythology that Brahma created the initial ‘beings’ entirely through the power of his mind. These mind-born sons of Brahma are called Brahma-rishis. The responsibility of conferring ‘consciousness’ onto those who are capable and worthy is of these Brahma-rishis...that is how life is growing.
Another very interesting theory in the Hindu mythology is that of the concept of time. According to the texts it is believed that time is slower for Brahma than for his beings in the universe. The lifetime of Brahma is the lifespan of the universe. When Brahma dies, the universe would die. Life of Brahma is said to be 100 years, which is equivalent to 311,040,000,000,000 years in the universe. This is called the Maha-Kalpa.
Also Hindu mythology quite regularly mentions a term called ‘Maya’. It is a complex term revolving around the concept of illusion. While illusion we understand is entirely false, ‘Maya’ is not. ‘Maya’ is neither true nor false. All that is material is ‘Maya’ and hence with respect to us it is true, but with respect to the ultimate truth (Brahman*), it is untrue.
*Not to be confused with Brahmins…duh :)
In the last 100 years or so, in physics, a lot has been studied under the concept of Space-Time. Einstein suggested that Time is an integral part of Space and that the universe should be studied in the form of a Space-Time continuum. Here is when Time was considered to be the ‘fourth dimension’. Feynman conceptualized time in a rather unique way. He believed that time could possibly have more than one direction. He suggested that while what we experience is a normal timeline (horizontal) and there exists another timeline that is vertical and he called them imaginary.
That is, the events we are experiencing in our space are in the timeline we are living in. Also, in the other perpendicular timeline we may not exist or perhaps be experiencing something entirely different. This piece of idea gave birth to the ‘Many Worlds Theory’ and now it is accepted in cosmology.
Einstein did not know about this during his time though. But even he believed that an individual may be experiencing his past and future simultaneously. If you dig a little deeper you might very well say that the terms past and future may be just illusive and there is a possibility of simultaneous presents instead.
An interesting excerpt from the best-seller A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking-
...This might suggest that the so-called imaginary time is really the real time, and that what we call real time is just a figment of our imaginations. In real time, the universe has a beginning and an end at singularities that form a boundary to space-time and at which the laws of science break down. But in imaginary time, there are no singularities or boundaries. So maybe what we call imaginary time is really more basic, and what we call real is just an idea that we invent to help us describe what we think the universe is like.
The above paragraphs will certainly throw us into thought and probably create tremendous confusion too. That is because, first, we try to weave all the above facts into a meaningful output and second, we try to conclude something out of that output. There is where we go wrong. All of the theories/facts/ideas we mentioned above are NOT to be weaved together and form a new idea or concept…not at all…Rather, the above theories/facts/ideas are subtle hints discovered by painstaking research of great men and sages who could dare to think beyond the mind-maze of their part of the universe and perceive their own space externally, thereby studying its dynamics. Their discoveries are our hints to find the ultimate truth and unravel the mystery which is so complex that all of it seems like an illusion or may be it really is an illusion-who knows.
This illusive existence was portrayed in the form of the ‘dreams’ in Christopher Nolan’s recently released masterpiece, Inception. The ‘dreams inside the dreams’ gave a hint to the ‘Many Worlds Theory’ -that the same person experiences different occurrences simultaneously.
Also what is further interesting is that in the film, as one moves into a deeper layer of the dream (dream within dream is the second layer; the film went up to four, perhaps even more), the ‘speed’ of time changed. The deeper you are, the slower the time would move for you. This is highly in coherence with the concept of Brahma’s timescale mentioned before in this article. Not only does time has more than one type, time also operates in various speeds. Unthinkable!
In the film, it was said that the architect of the dream can make changes to the world he creates. Any other person can access the dream through his subconscious. All other entities are projections formed of the subconscious. This is entirely analogous to the fact that Brahma (the architect) constructed the universe (the dream world) and produced beings called his mind-sons (the subconscious participant). The mind-sons on the other hand confer the consciousness to the worthy (the subconscious produces the ‘projections’). So what are we? Mere projections? The answer may not be really clear, but may not be a NO either.
A very important element of this film was the ‘totem’. For Cobb it was a spinning top. For Ariadne it was a chess piece. A ‘totem’ tells if you are in a dream or in reality. If you are in the dream, the ‘totem’ would behave in a way which is different from the real world. For instance, the spinning top would never stop spinning in the dream world, but in the real world we all know it does.
Go back to the excerpt above from Hawking's Brief History of Time -
Notice the phrase in bold. “...laws of science break down”. A spinning top stops spinning in the real world as the surface it spins on provides friction to its tip which constantly reduces its speed and by Newton’s First Law of Motion, it stops. When the top spins in your dream, or in imaginary time, it need not follow the laws of science (no singularities or boundaries, laws of science break down) and thus….never stops! (Nolan is baaap!!)
Finally, we come to the last scene now. Cobb returns home and finally meets his children. The camera then shifts focus from Cobb and his children and moves onto the top which he spun.
Before the audience can tell if the top has stopped spinning or not, the screen goes black…
We believe the spin would not stop. Cobb sees his children exactly as he had seen them years back. If what he was seeing was exactly resembling a figment of his 'memories' then he was still in a dream. Or was he?
This is the question that would linger. What exactly we chose to question is up to us. If we question whether this is a dream or not, we could be stuck in an inconclusive argument. But what if we question reality itself? Is there anything called "reality" or the world we dwell in is completely virtual?
It cannot be false as we are experiencing it. But is it really true? Again, this dilemma of whether our existence is true or false is captured in the ancient concept of Maya.
May be with his last scene, Nolan points towards this concept of Maya. The Hawking's explanation of imaginary time and Feynman's proposal of 'directed time' and Einstein's belief of simultaneous existence, the many philosophies on 'existence' and 'being' and now this masterpiece by Nolan, all speak of Maya in some form or the other....
Anti-Realists are the class of philosophers that believe that nothing exists outside the mind. They believe that all actions are in the mind. They question the very existence of the physical world. They suggest that the dynamics of the physical world are all in the mind. They say, your mind is the platform for all action in the universe, which pretty much makes Nolan say, Your Mind is the Scene of Crime.
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4. Movie Review: Inception, Magic Realism and Dzogchen Buddhism - “Kikipotamus the Hobo!”
I don’t recommend that you read too many reviews or critiques of Inception before you see it–if you plan to see it. The director himself has said that many journalists are trying too hard to turn it into a riddle to be figured out. It’s really not that. As Nolan says, it’s more of a ride to be enjoyed. Please don’t worry that you’re going to be confused by a million plot twists or anything like that. I am one of the simplest-minded movie viewers. Too many double agents in a spy flick and I’m lost, having to depend on my companion to explain things to me after the film. I did not have a bit of trouble following Inception all the way through. I cannot say the same of Nolan’s earlier film Memento, though I did enjoy that one as well. No, here everything is laid out plainly with good signposts as the movie takes us from the waking world into a dreamscape and then into a dreamscape within a dreamscape and so on. It was very clear to me which dream-level every character was on at all times.
Another caveat I would give movie goers is not to expect science fiction. I personally am not a big sci-fi fan, but I am a huge fan of magic realism. I came away from Inception thoroughly convinced that it is a work of magic realism rather than sci-fi. My suspicions were validated when I looked for articles and reviews this morning and found an interview with the director in which he names Jorge Luis Borges as “the chief spark for this flame.”
One clue that we are looking at magic realism is that the script does not attempt to explain the science behind what is going on–people entering each other’s dreams. The movie is not set in the future and we are not speculating about something that might be possible in the future. Rather, a magical component (ability to enter others’ dreams) is presented as fact without the smallest bat of an eye from a character like smart university student Ariadne when she is asked to join a team of dream crashers for a special job.
One tool of magic realism is to interweave the magical element with the common, everyday details of life so seamlessly so that our brain accepts one along with the other. Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Jorge Luis Borges are considered by many to be pioneers of the genre. One scene in the movie where Ariadne (Ellen Page) turns two large mirrors to face one another with the slightest offset of the parallel angle so that we see a series of reflections diminishing in size toward infinity struck me as a nice tip of the hat to Borges, who was obsessed with facing mirrors as well as with labyrinths–which also play a central role in Inception.
Another feature of magic realism that I encountered in Nolan’s Inception was evidenced when we left the theatre. Our world view and sense of reality had been altered, and the alteration was still with us. As Sylvain put it, “that movie messed with my head.” I didn’t realize it had also messed with mine until a few minutes later when I couldn’t get out of the bathroom stall and found myself wondering if I were dreaming.
Bruce Holland Rogers points out in this article, magic realism tries to convey the reality of a worldview that actually exists. I can vouch for the fact that there are people (me included) who entertain the possibility that what we experience every day is a dream. Many lines of Buddhism, such as Dzogchen, teach us to view life as a dream. Allow me to bring in an excerpt from Wikipedia:
According to contemporary teacher Chögyal Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche, in Dzogchen the perceived reality is considered to be unreal. All appearances perceived during the whole life of an individual through all senses, including sounds, smells, tastes and tactile sensations in their totality are like a big dream. It is claimed that on careful examination the dream of life and regular nightly dreams are not very different, and that in their essential nature there is no difference between them.
The non-essential difference between our dreaming state and our ordinary waking experience is that the latter is more concrete and linked with our attachment; the dreaming is slightly detached.
Also according to this teaching, there is a correspondence between the states of sleep and dream and our experiences when we die. After experiences of intermediate state of bardo an individual comes out of it, a new karmic illusion is created and another existence begins. This is how transmigration happens.
One aim of dream practice is to realize during a dream that one is dreaming. One can then dream with lucidity and do all sorts of things, such as go to different places, talk to people, fly and so forth. It is also possible to do different yogic practices while dreaming (usually such yogic practices one does in waking state). In this way the yogi can have a very strong experience and with this comes understanding of the dream-like nature of daily life. This is very relevant to diminishing attachments, because they are based on strong beliefs that life’s perceptions and objects are real and, as a consequence, important. If one really understands what Buddha Shakyamuni meant when he said that everything is unreal or of the nature o fshunyata, then one can diminish attachments and tensions.
The teacher gives advice, that the realization that the life is only a big dream can help us finally liberate ourselves from the chains of emotions, attachments, and ego and then we have the possibility of ultimately becoming enlightened.
If such a view of life intrigues you or resonates with you, you would probably enjoy Inception. If you like magic realism, see Inception. If you don’t like sci-fi, don’t let that scare you away from Inception. For us, it was a very enjoyable ride.
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5. 'Inception': 9 Surprising Sleep Facts From the Movie – Matthew Edlund MD
"Am I a man dreaming I'm a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming I'm a man?" Chuang Tzu asked 2,300 years ago. In Christopher Nolan's stylish sleep thriller "Inception" he answers we're both -- butterfly and man.
Yet the science behind Inception is more surreal than the film, whose lovingly layered plot still underplays the wonderfully weird wildness of dreams. So, dream thief Mr. Cobb, what about your job is science fiction and what's science?
Is Time Altered In Our Dreams?
Does time speed up in dreams so that 10 minutes "outside" becomes an hour during the dream? Yes, but not like in the movie, where time geometrically and precisely expands with the dream's depth. We can do far more. In real dreams infinite time may occur within seconds of "outside" time.
What Kinds Of Dream States Occur In Inception?
Not much you or I might recognize. In Inception, people are immediately sedated into designer dreams that appear to be REM sleep. However, virtually all present-day sedatives suppress REM, while Inception's designer drugs also negate real REM effects.
Is Constructing Dreams Out Of One's Memories Dangerous?No, just necessary. REM sleep is a critical driver of brain development, and literally rebuilds the brain. As movie plots are constructed out of old movies, so does REM and other stages of sleep remix new information with old memories, forming a huge part of our identity. Just like in science fiction movies, we wake up each morning with different memories than the person who went to sleep.
Do The Layer After Layer Of Dreams Seen In Inception Happen In Normal People?
Yes. It is not uncommon for people to dream themselves inside another dream. In fact, sorting it out may become as complicated as understanding Inception's plot.
Can Someone Enter Into Another's Dream And Change It?
Scientifically, no. Not even close, unless you're a Tibetan dream yogi or the local shaman.
Is It Impossible To Place Content Into Someone Else's Dream?
No. This happens all the time -- consciously. Lucid dreamers do it with great relish, and I'll show you a way you can do it, too, at the end of this piece.
Can People Become Addicted To Their Dreams?
Can people become addicted to their dreams? The answer is no, athough some psychotics and a few political commentators can't tell the difference between dreams and reality.
Are The Matrix-esque Scenes Of Negating Gravity Realistic?
Yes. In REM dreams, position sense gets turned off, and we can and do go anywhere in space and time -- one reason 99 percent of people fly in their dreams.
Can The Lucid Dreaming Heroes Of "Inception" Take Over The Dreams Of Others?
No. However, they can take over and control their own. In fact, director-writer Nolan has been lucid dreaming since he was 16.
What Can You Do With Your Dreams?
Plenty -- you can pre-dream. Try this:
1. Write down an old, favorite dream or experience in three to four sentences.
2. Add two sentences that remake that dream's plot you the way you want.
3. Visualize the new dream three to four times a day a minute each time.
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The 12-Step Buddhist: Why Do We Have Drinking Dreams? – Darren Littlejohn
Darren Littlejohn - Facilitator, Blogger, Author of the 12-Step Buddhist, and a recovering addict. Posted: February 3, 2010 09:09 AM
I'm clean and sober for more than 12 years. But I still have what we call "drunk dreams." Here's a recent one. Although I'm not a follower of hip hop, I dreamed that I was hanging out with the famous rapper Snoop Dogg. I waited all day for him to pull out his stash of drugs. At the end of the day he put out some big fat lines of cocaine and offered me one. I took it in like a like a dirt dog lapping up a few licks of morning dew off the desert floor. The smell was so fresh and it made me feel more alive than I'd felt in years. My heart opened. I loved my life and everyone in it at that moment. In my mind I remembered that I was an addict in recovery. But I couldn't reconcile the question that arose in my dreaming mind, "How could something that feels this good cause suffering?"
This wasn't my first drinking/using dream and it won't be the last. They're quite common for people in recovery. Yet many of us feel shame, remorse when we have them. When I woke up from this one I felt the usual confusion. But thanks to deep work in the Dharma and in the 12 Steps, I have tools to understand that this is an expression of the addict brain and mind on different levels. One such tool is something I was taught many years ago: the notion of these being part of the process of recovery.
In the treatment center in Fall 1984, our counselor told us not to be alarmed if we had dreams of drinking and/or using drugs. He referred to this necessary part of recovery as a "flushing of the psychic toilet." When I got my 30-day sobriety coin at a meeting I talked about my own drunk dreaming during the hospital stay. An old-timer shared that he'd been sober for decades and still had them too and that it was OK. What a relief! I'd worried it was because I wasn't serious about my recovery, as if these dreams revealed some secret desire to get loaded. But I really did want to stay sober, which made the dreams very confusing.
During my first decade of sobriety I always woke up from drunk dreams with a feeling of gratitude that it was just a dream. But the feelings seemed so real. From the cold droplets on the brown beer bottle fresh out of the freezer where I used to chill them up, to the life giving rush of a blast of cocaine, the experiences were totally convincing. I always feel a little doubt about the commitment to recovery when this happens. But I'm normally relieved to wake up and realize I'm really still sober.
But in 1995 I relapsed for real with almost 10 years of sobriety. But I couldn't wake up from that reality. It wasn't just a dream. It's quite shocking to dream that you've woken from a drunk dream but then discovered that it was not a dream at all.
When my Huff Po editors asked me to write about something related to sleep and recovery, I wondered how my fellow recovering people experienced dreams about using. I asked them to send me some dream descriptions by email. Here's a sample of what came through. Gender and length of sobriety precede the descriptions.
• Female, eight years: In all my drinking dreams my initial thought is to lie about it and see if I can get away with it.
• Female, 10 years: I do actually now have dreams where I have really been drinking all along. Like going to AA, but secretly drinking....for almost 10 years. They kind of mess me up in the morning.
• Male, four years: I still frequently have using dreams. They are not limited to drugs -- sex, money, and prestige are frequent motifs.
• Female, length unknown: I was riding a cart into a little small town haunted house. Upon entering the haunted house, I realized I was accompanied by others on the ride, all in AA-some I knew, some I did not. I was shunned by the ones I knew, and the ones I didn't might as well have been a part of the attractions, they seemed like ghouls. [sic] ... Maybe that is why I haven't been intertwining myself into AA? Or maybe I feel alienation because of my lack of (participation).
• Male, three years: I have a recurring dream that I smoke weed every so often and keep sweeping it under the rug as "not relapsing." In the dream I'll do it once every month or so, and keep saying I have the same sobriety date, and I'm full of guilt.
For those in recovery a familiar "dream theme" is that of our old friends trying to convince us to get loaded. I've had these for 25 years! Somehow we project the blame for relapsing onto old friends who convince us to use with them. For those with serious childhood trauma, we dream of flying, being someone else, having power or victory over our perpetrators or floating above the scene. The latter is common not only in dreams but in waking life with victims of serious childhood trauma. Yet others dream of aspects of addiction not related to substances, such as sex and co-dependency behaviors.
In the dreams we often have a sudden realization that we've just altered our sobriety date! This is a source of anxiety, which for me leads to nightmares with a sense of panic and disturbing imagery. Many dream that they have to keep the "relapse" a secret as they plan to continue attending meetings. Some dream that they've been using all along and that they've been "sober frauds" for years, as noted above.
Not everyone in recovery reports ongoing drunk dreams however. Several people with over 20 years failed to respond to my inquiry at all or reported that they no longer remember any dreams. In my psychology training I recall being taught that everyone dreams even if we don't remember. The REM studies are fairly definitive in this regard. But nearly everyone I've discussed this topic with has reported having drunk dreams at some point in their recovery. For some they go away and for some they don't.
Why do we have drunk dreams if we really want to stay clean and sober?
My guess is that the answer is three fold: Neurology, psychology and spirituality.
I'm not a neurologist and would welcome any professional insight into this. But I think part of it is due to the trauma that we create in our using. Our brains learn to be addicted. On an emotional level we deepen our early childhood traumas by creating situations through addiction that recycle the trauma. New neural pathways burned in to our brains during addiction won't disappear even after decades of abstinence.
In the 12-Step Buddhist Podcast Episode 11, I talk with Don Goewey, author of Mystic Cool and an expert on neuroplasticity, the brains' ability to re-grow itself. We discuss the background of "mirror neurons." Don offers some suggestions for how these play a role in the "social brain" and how new research might be beneficial in the study of addiction and recovery. He also gives a three-step method that he devised based on his work with long time friend, the famous psychologist Carl Rogers. The podcast is free and available on the12stepbuddhist.com as well as in iTunes.
From a psychological perspective, we work in recovery to understand the nature of our addiction but often split off Aspects of Self that are still with us. What is unresolved comes up in dreams. Sometimes we can't get over the guilt or low self-esteem. We can have difficulty feeling good about ourselves even with years of sobriety and may experience symptoms related to the original causes of addiction. As I outlined thoroughly in the 12-Step Buddhist, the problems leading up to active addiction are complex and varied. For this reason I always recommend therapy, 12-Step work and deep meditation practices to facilitate healing. One technique that I use in my workshops and weekly groups (gleaned from Genpo Roshi's Big Mind work) where we speak to and as these aspects. See the 12-Step Buddhist and my previous Huff Po posts for details on how this works for addicts.
On a spiritual level the process of deep meditation practice has, in my case, churned up some pretty ugly emotions. The 12 Steps, which are spiritual in nature, can also evoke feelings that the brain and unconscious mind need to soothe. We access old feelings such as rage during our meetings, therapy, meditation. Then when our cognitive guard is down at night our lower centers or traumatized brain tissue may be triggered into a drunk dream as a self-protection mechanism. After all, to the brain and body the dream is real. The physiological responses to dreams are almost identical to those of actual events.
There's much to say about techniques and practices in Buddhism that could be useful in exploring the issue of dreaming in recovery. Perhaps in a future article we'll discuss it. In the meantime, it's useful to be aware that:
• Drunk dreams are very common.
• Drunk dreams don't mean that we aren't committed to recovery.
• These dreams are a natural part of the process of processing.
• We can explore methods of meditation and therapy to use the dreams as tools for self-discovery and spiritual progress.
If you'd like to try a dream practice, I offer this from one of my teachers. Before going to sleep each night say to yourself, "I will awaken in my dream and I will know that I am dreaming." Keep a dream journal next to your bed and no matter what time you wake up, especially if it's in the middle of the night, write down all the details of your dream. If you're like me your hand might not be so steady at 0-dark-thirty, so as an alternative, use your iPhone or other voice recorder to verbally describe the dream. These recordings could be transcribed later and discussed in therapy or considered in meditation.
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