This book is a Get Out of Jail Free card and a passport back into the playground.

The aim of this book is to set you free. But free from what? Free from neurosis. Free from the feeling that you have to obey authority. Free from emotional intimidation. Free from addiction. Free from inhibition.

The key to happiness, mental health and being the most that we can be is absolute and unconditional self-acceptance. The paradox is that many of our problems are caused by trying to improve ourselves, censor our thinking, make up for past misdeeds and struggling with our negative feelings whether of depression or aggression.

But if we consider ourselves in our entirety in this very moment, we know these things :

1. Anything we have done is in the past and cannot be changed, thus it is pointless to do anything else but accept it. No regrets or guilt.

2. While our actions can harm others, our thoughts and emotions, in and of themselves, never can. So we should accept them and allow them to be and go where they will. While emotions sometimes drive actions, those who completely accept their emotions and allow themselves to feel them fully, have more choice over how they act in the light of them.

Self-criticism never made anyone a better person. Anyone who does a “good deed” under pressure from their conscience or to gain the approval of others takes out the frustration involved in some other way. The basis for loving behaviour towards others is the ability to love ourselves. And loving ourselves unconditionally, means loving ourselves exactly as we are at this moment.

This might seem to be complacency, but in fact the natural activity of the individual is healthy growth, and what holds us back from it is fighting with those things we can’t change and the free thought and emotional experience which is the very substance of that growth.

How to Be Free is available as a free ebook from Smashwords, iBooks in some countries, Kobo and Barnes & Noble

It is also available in paperback from Lulu or Amazon for $10 US, plus postage.

The ebook version currently has received 611 ***** out of ***** ratings on U.S. iBooks.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

BOOK REVIEW : Big Dreams : The Science of Dreaming & The Origins of Religion by Kelly Bulkeley

Can dreams have a meaning and purpose beyond that of our brains taking the garbage out each night? In this book, Kelly Bulkeley makes the case that the content of dreams is a worthy subject for scientific study. It is not necessarily easy to study something so personal and subjective, but with a combination of EEGs and fMRIs etc., which can give us insight into which parts of the brain are active during particular kinds of dreams, and dream databases, which gather descriptions of dreams from a wide range of individuals and organise them so they can be searched by keywords, it is possible to obtain some objective data to analyse.

As the title suggests, Bulkley’s ultimate aim is to look at the relationship between dreaming and religion, but, because both of these topics may be viewed as questionable areas for scientific study, he takes his time and works his way up to them progressively, beginning with an account of the role that sleep plays in the lives of animals generally and humans specifically. (We learn that dolphins sleep with one half of their brain at a time - one eye always open for possible dangers, and that bottle nose dolphin mothers and calfs remain awake and in visual contact for over two months straight after the calf’s birth.)

The outline of the book follows the example of Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica in that each chapter begins with a question followed by a brief account of an answer to that question which runs counter to that which Bulkeley will be making in the chapter itself. He then makes his detailed counter-argument and ends with a brief summary explaining why he thinks his answer is the more valid one.

A key idea which is introduced in the second section of the book, in which Bulkeley moves on to the topic of dreams themselves, is that dreaming is a form of play. In play we experiment freely with ideas and forms of behaviour in a safe environment. He explains that patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder have a tendency to experience rigidly repetitious nightmares reliving their trauma and that the process of recovery can be charted in the freeing up of the dream process. We can see in this a reflection of waking culture in which creativity and health arise from the ability to improvise rather than be restricted by fixed stereotypical forms of thought or expression.

After setting the scene with the first two sections of the book which deal with the topics of sleep and dreams generally, he moves on to his main subject - “big dreams.” The term comes from Carl Jung. A “big dream” is one which is very memorable and leaves a significant emotional reaction after waking. These dreams are relatively rare, so to study them is a “black swan” approach. The argument here is similar to that of William James when, in The Varieties of Religious Experience, he argued that the best way to increase our understanding of religious experiences was to examine the more extraordinary examples in which defining qualities were exaggerated and thus could be more easily observed.

Bulkeley divides these big dreams into four kinds - aggressive, sexual, gravitational and mystical. His contention is that our ability to experience these kinds of dreams has arisen via natural selection because each of them may convey upon the dreamer a survival advantage. Aggressive nightmares in which we may have to battle against or run from frightening creatures can act as an emotional preparation for dealing with real life dangers. Sexual dreams may help to increase our breeding potential by whetting our appetite for sex and allowing us to mentally rehearse sexual activities. Gravitational dreams - such as nightmares about falling - may have helped our tree-dwelling ancestors to maintain a necessary habit of wariness about the danger of falling out of the tree at night, but they may also act as a metaphor for failure of any kind, thus encouraging wariness generally.

It is with the evolutionary advantage of mystical dreams - such as dreams of flying and visitations from people who are dead - that we get to the heart of the thesis which will feed into the examination of religion. Here the evolutionary advantage is that such dreams stimulate our capacity for hope and imagination. These kinds of dreams may have been the origin of religious beliefs in other plains of existence and the survival of the soul beyond the body, but this is not the only effect that they can have. Bulkeley gives an example of a composer who had a dream about musical composition which continued to inspire him over 25 years after he had it. Perhaps the same lack of inhibitions which allows us to have very “inappropriate” sexual dreams can also set free our creative intuition.

When he gets to the topic of religious dreams in the final section of the book, he discusses four different kinds - those involving : demonic seduction, prophetic vision, ritual healing, and contemplative practice. Here again he takes a leaf out of William James’ book and points out that we can only study what happens in the mind of the individual having a religious experience, we cannot, on the basis of such a study, say anything about the existence or non-existence of the supernatural beings with whom the individual claims to have had contact.

Bulkeley’s approach in this part of the book is not to try to assess in any particular case whether a dream or approach to dreaming had a beneficial effect, but rather to look at whether the idea that it could is credible scientifically. 

When it comes to dreams of demonic seduction he uses a similar approach to that he used with aggressive nightmares and sexual dreams generally. Just as sexual dreams can prepare us to breed successfully, dreams about demonic seduction can prepare us to be suitably wary about the dangers which may occur in the breeding process.

The essential argument with prophetic dreams is that our mind has access to a lot of information about the important things going on in our lives and the dreaming process is one in which our mind is freed up to play around with the possibilities inherent in that information, so it is possible that we might make a better prediction of what lies ahead for us during a dream than we have while awake. This may not happen very often at all, but the fact that it can and that correct predictions are remembered while incorrect ones are forgotten, could explain why we have developed a cultural belief in the existence of dream prophecy.

The concept of dream incubation is central to the discussion of ritual healing through dreams. Many cultures believe that dreams can have a healing influence and there are practices and locations which can help to bring on such healing dreams. Sleep itself is central to the health of the body and the mind, so anything which reassures the individual and thus helps them to sleep more deeply and restfully is going to help the healing process, but the other factor Bulkeley discusses is the placebo effect. There are certain kinds of physical or mental ailment which have been shown to improve significantly simply because the sufferer believed that they would. If we combine these two factors then it is possible that someone going through a process of dream incubation may experience a noticeable improvement in their health because of a reassuring belief in the process, and a feature of that experience may be hopeful dreams or dreams which give good advice (making use of information absorbed but not previously activated). Once again, he is not saying that it works, but that it could conceivably work in some instances.

In the chapter on contemplative practice the emphasis is on pointing out the link between what happens in the brain during dreaming and what happens during meditation. There is also a discussion of lucid dreaming, in which the dreamer can become aware of the fact that they are dreaming and engage in all of the forms of conscious thinking which are accessible in the waking state. Thus dreaming can be a gateway to exploring alternate states of consciousness.

And for anyone who thinks he is too much of a dreamer, Bulkeley makes the following point :

“Dreaming is not opposed to skepticism. On the contrary, dreaming gives birth to skeptical consciousness. When people awaken from a dream (particularly a big dream), they immediately face a profound metaphysical question, one that has puzzled philosophers for ages: How does the reality of the dream relate to the reality of the waking world? This question echoes throughout human life as a conceptual template for critical thought and reflection.”

No comments: