Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Dream CatchersA file photo of Malaysian highlands. The way the Senoi people of the Malaysian highlands view dreams has been of great interest to many dreamers worldwide for decades. (Shutterstock*)A file photo of Malaysian highlands. The way the Senoi people of the Malaysian highlands view dreams has been of great interest to many dreamers worldwide for decades. (Shutterstock)

Sometimes when we dream we are frightfully vulnerable to what we suspect will be a dreadful encounter with an unknown force that means to do us ill, a malicious something that threatens our well-being. Sometimes, when we dream we seem to be aware that what we are experiencing is happening in a dream, and sometimes we can will ourselves to awaken, to rescue ourselves from what we dread and anticipate will be happening in the next frames of that dream.

Are those dreams? Or are they nightmares?

There is a primitive tribe -- perhaps not so primitive in their philosophy, and one we could learn from -- living in Malaysia, an aboriginal population called the Senoi whom anthropologists have visited over a period of a century, to become familiar with the strange but seemingly beneficial culture of dream management that they have successfully manipulated, training their minds to be aware that they are capable of steering their dreams in a direction that will be useful to them.
"Neurosis and psychosis as we know them are reported to be nonexistent among the Senoi. ... Western therapists find this statement hard to believe, yet it is documented by researchers who spent considerable time directly observing the Senoi. The Senoi show remarkable emotional maturity."
Patricia Garfield, psychologist (1970s)
A fast disappearing way of life.
A fast disappearing way of life.
"There may be some benefit to sharing dreams, just as there may be benefit to sharing any intimate thoughts in a supporting group."William Domhoff, author of The Mystique of Dreams
Researchers and writers visiting Malaysia to research its isolated aboriginal population in the 1930s and 1970s brought back knowledge they had gleaned of the Senoi dream system which they believed represented the culture's key to peace and clarity of vision. Most reports that were published as a result of parsing the social interplay and reliance on dream manipulation to forge calm and serenity agree that dream management provided a means to confront daytime problems.

Most were agreed that the Senoi represented emotionally mature, reserved people, ascribing their self-control and propensity to swiftly solve pending conflicts, to their culture of dream control. Patricia Garfield, a psychologist who spent time with them found the Senoi to represent a society free of mental illness and violence. In 1934 Kilton Stewart lived among the Senoi for several months and he reported that the Senoi solve many of their daytime problems by first addressing them in dreams.

Both Stewart and Garfield wrote that each morning the Senoi speak to their children about the dreams the children had experienced the night before, for the purpose of training their children in the manner in which the Senoi handle dreaming. Children are taught to be friendly to others in their dreams, including the befriending of perceived hostile forces. Alternately to convince those with whom they do make friends to help them defeat those hostile to them.

Dreams could also provide pleasant sensations such as flying through the air, along with other pleasures that might be involved with lucid dreaming (lucid dreaming occurs when the dreamer is aware of being within a dream). In dreams gifts could be exchanged. Paintings, woodcarvings, bits of music could be given and exchanged, to make the dreams more pleasant, and ensure that friends were made in the process.

How events taking place in a dream can transform into reality was made manifest to the researchers convinced they had correctly interpreted what the Senoi were doing, in training themselves to be optimistic and positive, with the same attributes overlapping into real life. But then, the very idea of a real life experience and a dream experience seemed to be part of the social culture that held the view that the body is possessed of more than one soul.

The main soul lives inside the forehead, the other in the pupil of the eye. The soul that resides in the eye is capable of leaving the body during a trance or sleeping hours. It is this soul that takes part in the dream scenarios. If an individual experienced a dream where a conflict occurred with another community member, the dreamer might tell that person what had happened and offer reparation if he had caused offence; the dream event shaping the real-life event.

As a kind of knock-off transferal of the dreamwork of the Malaysian aboriginals to the present time and Western culture, some therapists in the 1990s thought to aid their patients who had recurring nightmares by persuading them to imagine different, more palatable endings to the dreams that haunted them. Their patients could reinforce those happy endings by imagining them continually during their waking hours.

At the present time, the Senoi appear to deny having or ever imagining a culture with a dream system, as written of by Stewart and Garfield. Anthropologists seem to be in general agreement that the Senoi have become cautious about speaking of their cultural heritage to outsiders; they have chosen not to reveal their ancient cultural-social heritage of dream management leading to social harmony.

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