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Sleep, Dreams, and Visions—How We May Gain the Most From Them

Though sleep is one of the commonest or most matter-of-fact experiences in our lives, it is very rarely that we encounter any one in these excited days who is inclined to take the view of sleep and its spiritual benefits taken by many of the worthies of olden times, whose experiences during sleep form the topic of a considerable portion of the Biblical narrative alike in the Old and New Testaments. The well-known text, "He giveth his beloved sleep," has formed the suggestive headline of many a touching hymn, but beautiful though the sentiment in its ordinary rendering unquestionably is, by no means the full value of the original is brought out in the conventional translation. "He giveth to his beloved while they are sleeping" is a much fuller interpretation, carrying the thought as it does very much further than the familiar reading suggests. If we are wearied and in need of sleep, sleep is a precious blessing; but if our idea of it rises no higher than the ordinary conception of temporary repose or cessation of activity, we cannot take that ennobling and satisfying view of sleep which those seers and sages have ever taken to whom the spiritual world has been a vivid reality—not a phantom of hope or at best a remote ideal for the future.

Sleep, when regarded solely as a means for needed mental and physical recuperation, is looked upon by many active, enterprising people as only one step removed from actual waste of time; they consequently grudge time to sleep, and as a result bring themselves into a hypernervous condition which soon degenerates into hyperesthesia or some other perilous form of nervous excitability entirely incompatible with normal health and corresponding mental and moral vigor. Sleep must be assigned its rightful place as a means of spiritual education before we can appreciate anything of the psychic import of the tranquil words, "If he sleep he shall do well." How true that saying is, is well known to every nurse and watcher by the bedside of the sick and suffering; but though in its merely outward sense it is universally admitted, such an admission as is merely called forth by physical experience leaves all higher questions relative to sleep still decidedly in the background.

Insomnia is a disease of the mind and nerves resulting finally in complete nervous prostration and mental overthrow. To induce natural sleep anaesthetics or physical hypnotics are powerless and generally worse than nothing, as their tendency is to debilitate and depress rather than to exhilarate and sustain either the mental or physical organism.

As the word Hypnotism is now very greatly in vogue, and this term is more or less connected in popular esteem with what is technically known as artificial somnambulism it often becomes necessary to divide hypnosis under two distinct heads and seek thereby to disillusionize that large section of the public which is ever on the outlook for some new form of danger or else some novel mode of charming away disease and suffering by recourse to magic or mystery in one or other of its myriad forms. The popular belief concerning hypnotic or sleep-inducing treatment is very largely erroneous; on scarcely any subject does more general misconception prevail, and that chiefly on account of the difficulty commonly experienced on the part of the multitude to comprehend the part played by the will in the field of psychic experimentation.

The first thought which strikes the average person who hears of hypnotism is that someone has been mysteriously compelled to yield to the mental domination of someone else, and that in a manner often calculated to inspire terror in the breasts of the excitable and timid who usually form a large element in any population.

The second idea connected with hypnotism which strikes that section of the public which is willing to reason out a conclusion is that hypnotism is very likely a good substitute for chloral and other opiates, and if handled cautiously may become a great boon in nervous cases to say the least. The first position mentioned is so largely untenable that we do not think it necessary to discuss it at any length, in this volume at any rate, because it has been so well disposed of by Hudson, Flower, and other able writers whose efforts have been to dispel illusions and place the subject in its true light before the public. The second position referred to bears so closely upon normal sleep and how to induce it that it deserves more than passing notice.

Sleep need never be induced by artificial means if we are in a well-regulated mental and bodily condition, but in times of physical sickness and mental distress the kindly help of an outside person is often necessary when one is in no condition successfully to practice auto-suggestion. Sleep and fatigue are by no means so closely allied as is commonly supposed, therefore we look to see allusions to tiring out the patient by repeated monotonous suggestions give place to a superior terminology. People are not at all unscientific in the use of language when they say they are too tired to sleep, for it is an incontrovertible fact that we need to get rested before we fall asleep, otherwise we are deprived of sleep through restlessness, or if we fall asleep our dreams are apt to be even more fatiguing than prolonged wakefulness.

There are temperaments which require very little sleep comparatively, while others require a great deal; but something of a misapprehension usually comes in when such a statement is unqualified, especially when Napoleon and other noted characters are cited as examples of requiring very little.

Quality rather than quantity of sleep is the more important consideration, and as quality where sleep is concerned refers to depth or profundity of repose we may safely conclude that Napoleon I., and the other extraordinary characters who did whatever they did with great thoroughness, slept actually more in four hours than average people do in eight.

Length of time passed in slumber is largely unimportant, though the Masonic division of time into three equal parts daily is fairly reasonable. It is a safe general rule to recommend eight hours steady work at one's regular occupation, eight hours' sleep, and eight hours for eating, dressing, and recreation. But however excellent general rules may be, and however well adapted they may prove to a large percentage of the human family, we are sure to find some natures to which they do not prove congenial. A safe attitude to affirm is one that succeeds in steering clear of bigotry on the one hand and indifferentism on the other; one, in a word, which embodies the following widely-accepted maxims:—In things essential, unity; in things doubtful, liberty; in all things, charity. To lay down hard and fast rules for all to follow in any spiritual direction works even less desirably than when that mistaken course is pursued in simply physical directions, consequently the instructions given by Oriental Swamis and Asiatic teachers in America and England cannot be followed very particularly by the bulk of any Western population. The Oriental is usually a person of much greater leisure than falls to the lot of the average Occidental, therefore the rules for retiring and resting easily obeyed in Asia are extremely difficult to observe in Europe or America. To rise at 4 A. M., and retire at 8 p. m, is regarded as ideal by some professors of hygiene who desire to have as much sleep before midnight as after.

Were we all farmers living in rural districts we might conform to that regulation quite conveniently and do a good day's work every day and thrive upon it; but seeing that among us are those who are night editors, night clerks, and others who cannot possibly observe such a law, it is not wise to hold it up as one of the necessary aids to spiritual development,—a question in which we are all interested regardless of our occupations.

Similar remarks apply equally to stated times for retirement for the purpose of meditation. It is not feasible that all should observe 1 2 m. or 9 p. M. or any other stated time appointed by certain fraternities or societies, because business and domestic engagements often make such an act impracticable. The theory we uphold is not open to any such objection, because every one sleeps at some time, and our counsel is to take your last waking moments, whenever they occur, as the special time you devote to meditation, for by so doing you strike the right chord which will go on reverberating the whole time you are asleep.

Du Maurier's "Peter Ibbetson" is in some respects a masterly production, immeasurably superior to the somewhat questionable "Trilby," which far exceeded it in popular recognition. In "Peter Ibbetson," the author shows how sleep can be employed for the most perfect telepathic communion between two devoted friends whom a relentless fate had cruelly separated on the eternal plane. For nearly thirty years a man in prison and a woman traveling at will in some of the most beautiful parts of the world were consciously united and even after one had dropped the mortal frame tidings came to the other from beyond the Styx. In such a narrative as that a suggestion is made even to the most casual reader in strict accordance with the noble lines, "Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage."

We can never be quite sure what our exterior circumstances may be; we cannot quite guarantee that untoward conditions shall never hold our bodies captive, but we can learn to apply in more senses than one the memorable words, "He is a free man whom the truth makes free, and all are slaves beside." Imagine the bliss of realizing that no matter what our outward fate may be, eight hours out of every twenty-four are entirely our own to do exactly as we please with, go where we like and associate with whom we choose.

Fantastic though such an idea may seem at first to many, the very fascination of its possibility is such that whoever begins, however vaguely, to grasp the thought of its practicality is sure to take some steps to test its certainty.

The Bible is very positive in its delineations of great dreamers and interpreters of dreams. The two Josephs were in every sense great men possessed of unusual force of character, and both Testaments tell us of what use their dreams were to themselves and others. Time and space necessarily vanish when we consider problems of world-wide application. Egypt and Palestine are no more favored climes than ngland
and America. The days of old were no more conducive to spiritual unfoldment than are the passing hours through which we are now traveling. We can be Joseph-like and learn to sleep and dream as did the Joseph of whom we have often read in ancient story. One of the best phases of modern thought is that which annihilates distance and period and confronts us with mental and moral states instead. To be a
"just" man, like unto Joseph, is to be ever on the alert for heavenly guidance, especially in times of difficulty and danger, v/hen outward aids are vain and exterior intellect has proved totally inadequate to meet a pressing need. Three times was the gospel Joseph, we are told, specially warned of God in a dream through the agency of an angel. This "angel" may have been his own higher self or an outside ministrant, but in either case the angel was revealed to the super-conscious state of the sleeper.

Even in such ordinary affairs as concerts, lectures and other public entertainments, the experience to be gained during sleep is altogether outside the limits of general belief.

Whenever people go to sleep in public places they are apt to be thought inattentive or else extremely tired, whereas, in many instances known to the writer, highly sensitive people (but in excellent health) have gone sound asleep at the very point of their greatest interest in what was going on, and during sleep have dreamed out grander music and heard far more instructive discourses and far profounder than any which were being given at the time to the outward ears of the waking audience.

We, of course, do not mean to imply that all we have to do is to go to sleep during the progress of public exercises in order to get interior enlightenment; such a conclusion would be erroneous in the extreme, for unless you are in a receptive condition you receive no ennobling influx, nor do you see any glorious visions or hear any wise discourse because you are oblivious to the outer world around you. We must center our thoughts on a special subject in a particularly definite way before we are in a state to receive special illumination; therefore, intense interest in the theme being discussed or in the music performed is clearly a desideratum.

On one occasion the writer had agreed to report a very important sermon delivered by a celebrated preacher on a topic of great interest to the entire community, and attended the church with notebook and pencil prepared to take copious notes in the exact words of the speaker or as nearly that as possible. What was the writer's surprise may well be imagined, when sleep instantly overtook him after he had taken down the text, and the sermon had just ended when he awoke feeling extremely mortified and considerably embarrassed. The sequel, however, was most satisfactory, for the substance of the entire discourse soon welled up from the depths of inner consciousness, and the epitome furnished to the newspapers was pronounced by many, who had kept wide awake during its delivery, an unusually good abstract of the discourse.

The sub-self ox suggestive mind, as some people call our inner self, acts like a phonograph and treasures up by means of psychic cylinders whatever impressions are made upon us when we are peacefully asleep. Like all other faculties, the faculty of dreaming true, as Du Maurier has styled it, needs cultivation in most people, though in many children and also in adults who are of sedate temperament and live much alone, it asserts itself largely without any special invitation.

The reason why the ancient Orient has bequeathed to us so rich a legacy of narratives of portentous dreams while the West during recent centuries has been rather barren of such histories, is because the mode of life of the Eastern races is quieter than that of Western peoples, and in olden times the stress of material existence was not usually so great as it is today. Could the records of mediaeval monasteries be revealed we should find therein a mass of evidence in favor of psychical experiences beside which the records of modern Psychical Research Societies would pale into utter insignificance; and even were we to go no further afield than the Scotch Highlands we could easily collect an enormous amount of well authenticated testimony of the undoubted reality of such visions as the one which furnishes the theme for the popular Scotch song, "The Campbells are Coming," and many others in similar strain.

The Scotch Covenanters and many other austere companies of people, not excepting the Puritans and Pilgrims of New England, have borne witness to the reality of "special teachings" during sleep, and though their harsher types of theology are giving way to milder and sweeter religious views today, their arguments in favor of their interior experiences are far too strong to be refuted. The higher word vision which after all is only sight, goes beyond in its significance the more ordinary term Dreams, though in teachers' Bibles and in many commentaries on the Bible text the two words are employed as very nearly synonymous.

There are three clearly separable kinds of dreams: First, the commonplace dream which is never definite, and when at its worst becomes nightmare. Secondly, the dream to which we instinctively attach some significance because it leaves a decided impression upon us after waking. Thirdly, the prophetic dream, which borders very closely on the seer's vision. The commonplace dream is simply the result of ordinary thinking; therefore, what we feel ourselves to be going through with during sleep differs in no sense widely from the pursuits of mind and body in which we are commonly engaged during the day. Distressing dreams would never afflict us were we to keep ourselves free from confusion and worry while awake, but as it seems too much to expect just yet that people should abstain entirely from worry—so
deep has the worrying habit become ingrained—it is surely not unreasonable to propose the following simple exercise just before retiring (or just after) as a preventive of any disagreeable
dreams which might otherwise encumber sleep.

If you have been annoyed or worried over anything during the day and find it difficult to perform an evictive mental act, you have always the good counsel to fall back upon—concentrate your whole attention upon some pleasing, helpful suggestion made to you either by reading, contemplating a beautiful object, uplifting conversation with a congenial friend, or simply by direct inward determination to rivet mental gaze upon a solitary selected ideal. If you are sufficiently at home in the abstract, you need have no concrete symbol in your thought; for in that case such a word as hope, faith, peace, success, or any other you may elect will suffice. If, however, you can not realize the abstract and feel the need of something concrete, you can employ subjectively whatever it would be useful to introduce objectively. Here comes in the good of a high degree of development of the
visualizing faculty, the successful visualizer being one who can at any time summon at will just that sort of image he would like to have externally within his range of vision.

We cannot always be in beautiful places or surrounded with objects exactly suited to our tastes, therefore if we are not adepts or experts at mental picturing, we are often sadly disturbed by surrounding inelegancies and incongruities, and when we go to sleep dwelling upon sordid or distasteful circumstances, we are extremely apt to dream of whatever they naturally lead up to. Fix your mental eye on some object which gives you pleasure, especially on one which affords instruction and embodies a high ideal. Let this be your last thought at night; fall asleep thinking of it and your dreams will soon cease to be unpleasant. As food and creature comforts generally have something to do with
mental states as well as with physical conditions, do not go to bed hungry, but if you feel the need of something to eat, take any light refreshment which is most palatable and which experience has proved to be in every way agreeable. The temperature of the sleeping room, the coverlets of the couch, and all other accessories of a night's repose should be attended to with reasonable forethought; but as so much is always being written on this, the purely external side of hygienic science, we feel called upon to devote a preponderance of thought to those internal exercises which far outweigh in importance and influence all superficial aspects of sanitary law.

The Bible informs us that the prophets were usually called of God during sleep, and we can well understand what the ancient writers must have meant to convey by this expression when we take careful note of our own highest experiences. The day is usually occupied with exacting duties, the fulfillment of which keeps the attention fixed on things without. Night brings respite from these engagements and thus allows freedom to the spirit to answer to a celestial call.

It must be remembered that the term "Angel of the Lord" is an elastic one and legitimately covers a great deal of territory. Angel only signifies messenger, thus anyone or anything employed in ministration may be included in the collective noun angels. Whatever or whoever may have been the speaker and the voice which the Samuel type of child heard in the silence of the night, it is clearly something which is capable of endowing him with more than ordinary knowledge and enabling him to predict coming events with accuracy.

At this point in our discussion of dreams and visions we are surely confronted with one of the most perplexing of problems to the general mind. Foreordination seems clearly revealed in foresight, for it is argued that unless our future is mapped out for us it cannot be foreseen; therefore if prevision be possible, predestination must be regarded as a truth. Such at first sight seems unanswerable, but on closer examination we find a weak point in the chain of reasoning, and especially do we discover a false note in the prevailing idea of what foreordination means. In the realm of vision to which we may be intromitted during sleep, we may discern the operation of causes already set in motion which are working toward inevitable effects which, though certain, cannot possibly be discerned in the outward region of effects which they have not yet visited.

The seer (one who sees into things, through them, and below their surface) is one who has more opportunity by far for calculating coming events on the mundane plane than the best reasoner could possibly enjoy were he confined to the realm of material observation. Suppose you are traveling through the fields and by means of clairvoyance you are capable of beholding buried grain so that you can actually see the sprouting wheat, barley, oats or corn beneath the surface of the soil; you are certainly in position to declare that certain varieties of harvest will make their appearance on plots of ground which you can indicate. In like manner if you are able to pierce the veil of outer sense and see what has already taken place in the subjective or causative world, you can play the part of prophet quite successfully without importing into your work any miraculous or alleged supernatural claim. Even the word supernormal is unnecessary, for we are presumptuous in the extreme when we dare to affix limits to the normal and pronounce definitely upon what lies beyond its realm. Coming events cast their shadows on a lower or outer plane of action when they are actually traveling toward ultimation from a more interior plane where they have previously occurred; thus "coming" is not a misnomer.

Another highly important reflection is that though events like weather may often be predicted months or even years ahead there is no justification whatever for absolute fatalism on this account. The old Buddhistic proverb is a very wise one where it says: "Rain soaks through an ill-thatched roof, but through a well thatched roof it cannot penetrate." We may well decide that in a very real sense "whatever is to be, will be;" but the important question for us is—Are we prepared to meet what needs must come in such a spirit that its advent to us shall prove a blessing? Opportunities present themselves, but we must take advantage of them for it is ours to fulfill them, and if we fulfill them not we have lost them. Talents are bestowed as trusts, but upon our use, nonuse, or misuse of them depends our promotion to honor, or our discomfiture whenever a time of reckoning arrives. Days of judgment are perennial; we cannot say that any special period for judgment is appointed. "The day and the hour knoweth no man," but results are sure; and as all depends for us upon the nature of the
seed we are continually sowing and the use we are making of our opportunities, it is worse than useless to talk of "unlucky stars," "adverse fate," or aught else that shifts responsibility for conduct from our own shoulders where it rightfully belongs, by placing it in our imagination entirely beyond our own control and completely outside the range of our conscious vision.

A charming, pathetic little story appeared in Godey's Magazine for May, 1898, titled "His Life's Failure," by Frederick H. Dewey, in which the probable judgment of heaven upon many human lives is beautifully portrayed. The man, who had seemingly failed, had in reality succeeded, because he had lived the best life possible in the circumstances in which he had been placed. The author of that brief touching romance may not have presented in that particular story all the elements necessary to spiritual success, but at least one of them is graphically portrayed.

The belief that greatness can only be achieved along certain narrow or conspicuous lines is a fatal error because it cripples many a life which would otherwise be far brighter and more useful than it has yet proved to be, because it would be far more hopeful, and without hope it is impossible to make real progress. Horoscopes and other astrological inventions can be used or abused, and the same may be said of character-reading by head, face, or hand, as the case may be. There are certain things undoubtedly in store for us just as there were seven years of plenty and seven years of dearth ahead of Egypt in the time of the Joseph of the book of Genesis. Joseph no more than Pharaoh could prevent the seasons being as they were going to be, but the lower type of mind (Pharaoh's) could only dimly and allegorically foresee that future as presented to him in nightly vision, while the superior penetrativeness of the Joseph type could and did successfully read the astral hieroglyphic. Daniel alone could interpret the writing at Belshazzar's feast which all the guests could see, and so it ever goes. Signs and omens are all about us and they are intended for our service, but the true oracles are only in the keeping of those who can correctly decipher the calligraphy of Nature. To be forewarned is to be forearmed. To know that storms are coming suggests to the men in charge of stations to hoist signals and prevents many a captain 'from making rash plunges into a tempestuous ocean with whose waves a frail craft is in no condition to do battle.

Our best wisdom often consists in lying low; there are times for silence, as well as for speech; and for retirement as well as for public action. The wise are they who read and interpret signs aright, neither discarding the aid of prophecy nor so perverting belief in seership as to build up a system of blind fatalism, than which there can be nothing more disheartening or depressing. Practically everything depends upon being ready to meet a crisis when it comes; if we are prepared for emergencies our experiences are not terrible, though many around us prove utterly discomfited.

Fires break out, storms arise, earthquakes shake the ground; but to those who are fortified against calamities, what others call calamities are not such to them. Further is it true that boiler explosions, railway and steamboat collisions and many other so-called accidents are often entirely preventable. They are not foreordained, but only liable to occur; and were it not that warnings could be utilized they could not be given, for a bald prediction would not possess anything in the nature of a warning which must of necessity be precautionary.

As we grow less and less anxious about material affairs, we shall become increasingly sagacious, even in the conduct of secular business, because insight goes with foresight; the ability to look below the surface of people as well as of things must prove of incalculable benefit in all commercial as well as other undertakings.

The intuitive faculty may or may not assert itself in a prescribed manner, but whoever quietly and diligently sets to work to allow this inherent faculty to develop (and it needs no forcing) will soon come to find that what has long been regarded as the exceptional endowment of a few is the real obsession of the many.

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William Juvenal Colville

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