"How many of you can tell the future?"
A participant on a tour through Ford's Theater in Washington recently told me that the tour guide addressed that question to 700 middle school students, and then went on to tell them about Abraham Lincoln. Days before he was shot, he had a dream in which he was wandering around the White House which seemed disturbed and unsettled. He went into a room in which a coffin was lying, and asked a guard that was there what was going on. The guard said, "The president has been assassinated." Furthermore, on numerous occasions throughout the Civil War, Lincoln had dreams about imminent battles in which he foretold their outcomes.
Yet Lincoln's attendance at the theater was very tenuous the night he was shot. He'd invited a number of friends to go with him and his wife, and everyone was declining. Lincoln was about to call of their theater date until once couple accepted to go with them.
For Lincoln or for any one of us to have such a vividly accurate dream, however, suggests a question: How is reality ordered in such a way that it is perceivable before it happens, yet so tenuous that it might be changed? In some manner it must be already formed, already pressed into a mold that expresses the subtle character of it and dreams somehow open us to that field of being. Thus, studying the shape of our dreams, we have a window into the causes we are setting up, immersed in or subject to.
Obviously many dreams are not good predictors of the future. We see them tell us the reverse of what happens, often because they depict our desires or our fears. In these cases, to obtain the lesson from the dream requires that we balance out whatever distortion we carry habitually.
A remarkable example of a large number of people doing this with tremendously positive effects in their society are the Senoi tribes of Malaysia. This is described mainly in the research of Kilton Stewart and reported by Patricia Garfield in her book "Creative Dreaming." The Senoi live in tribes in the deep jungle and every morning inquire of each person, youngest to oldest, "What did you dream last night?" Everyone has an answer. Everyone dreams and remembers their dreams.
Like western society adults, the children start off with their dreams expressing fears in nightmares. Elders instruct them, however, that they must face in the dream anything they are afraid of and conquer it, and then gain from it a gift. They are to enjoy and increase the pleasures they encounter in the dream state, believing that people can't get too much pleasure there, and then bring something back from the dream that is productive and positive for them or their society.
By the time they are adolescents, they typically have ceased to have fearful situations in their dreams and their inner life matches the expectations of their society. They face bravely and overcome or convert to an ally anything that seems evil, threatening or dangerous. They learn to enjoy flying dreams and to fly consciously; to understand others' motives and cooperate with good and resist the bad; to draw clues from their dream world on how to manage their relationships, tools, daily tasks and even major life decisions like moving the tribe from one place to another. Researchers spending long periods of time with them unanimously report that they are extraordinarily psychologically balanced. A hospital worker who had known the Senoi for twelve years through an outpatient clinic had never known of an aggressive act by any of them. To achieve this was clearly an incredible achievement since they were surrounded on all sides by warlike tribes who nonetheless feared them for their perceived magical powers.
For anyone pursuing self-transformation at the deeper level, the Senoi example offers encouragement to continue into unknown realms. They demonstrate that by daily attention, one can work out in the subtlest, safest venue the imbalances of desire and fear that can hinder their lives; can learn to dream consciously and intend positive results; can draw guidance for their outer life from the wisdom spoken to them while asleep and from taking as clues their perceptions of others' attitudes toward them.
The Senoi would have had no trouble interpreting Abraham Lincoln's dream. They would have said, "Clearly there is great danger for the president. Perhaps this is a time for extreme caution and discovery of where danger lies." Who knows how a single bodyguard might have changed American history?
John Jensen is a member of the clergy of ECKANKAR, the religion of the Light and Sound of God.