The Grammar of Dreams

I often have strange, bizarre dreams, as I’m sure most of us have. But I’m also persuaded dreaming has an implicit grammar, and that “grammar” — and not logic — is the most appropriate way to reflect on the structure of our dreaming.

And perhaps not just our dreaming, but of our experience of ourselves and our reality more generally. Grammar rules over speech as an ecology of species and forms and of their mutual interactions and transformations  — verbs, nouns, words, names, pronouns, participles, enumeration, declensions, adverbs, persons, infinitives, prefix and suffix, definite and indefinite articles, morphemes, phonemes, etc. Dreams, likewise, have their own grammar — an implicit ecology of species and forms — in terms of images and symbols.

That is what Freud and Jung attempted to discover in their own dreams and in the dreaming of others — an implicit grammar of dreams — even if they didn’t explicitly suggest that term (or, at least, not that I recall).

I muse that there may be probable worlds where other beings communicate using nothing but a syntax of feelings and a grammar of images (which probable world would surely be telepathic).  To a linguistically structured mentality such as ours, however, this would appear to be total chaos and confusion. Perhaps we would not even recognise it as communication or as evidence of intelligence at all?  Such a probable world would be, in all likelihood, highly artistic.

If our dreams often appear mad to us, perhaps it is only because we don’t have insight into their grammar, or understand why the dreaming self or inner ego selects certain elements of our daily experience that our outer ego may have dismissed or overlooked as irrelevant or insignificant. Experience is the food of the dreaming self.

What is accomplished by grammar? The word “grammar” itself (as mentioned earlier) is connected to words for magic or spell-casting. It is quite understandable. Grammatical speech is magical. Without grammar, the noises we make with our mouths would not be much different from the grunting, roaring, bellowing, squealing, mewling, whimpering, crying, chirping, twittering of our fellow creatures. Grammar, by imparting order, discipline, structure, articulacy, and coherence to the mere noises of our mouths, generates meaning by lending pattern and structure to noise. The “creative forces” are grammatical. In the beginning was the Logos (“the Word”) may well mean grammar, or that represented in-and-as grammar — that which summons order from the chaos, or which noise suffers to have imposed upon it (or perhaps, indeed, is ecstatically redeemed by it). 

I detect something also of a grammar to my dreams. There is, for example, a number of recurring themes and elements. A “department store” is one such recurring element. This “department store” seems to be my dreaming self’s understanding of contemporary commercial or market society — a society of buying and selling.  This dream department store is always full of kitsch or, when not full of kitsch, the shelves are barren save for a few useless items. In one dream, there is nothing but eyeglasses and pens on the shelves. At another time, there is nothing but stacks of pillows and bedding. In another, there is only the gaudiest of clothing, all hounds-tooth pattern, all sharply reduced in price. I often find myself having to pass through this department store on my way elsewhere at some point in my dream, served by surly or morose help who are themselves crying for help. The “help” needing help. Such is the irony of my department store dream.

The recurrence of the number “4” is another dominant theme, yet one which is represented in the oddest of ways. In one dream, it may occur as a piece of green plywood affixed with swivel casters at each corner. In another dream, it occurs as a pulley, such as one finds as part of the belt drive mechanism on a car motor. This pulley has four holes through it, and inside the wheel is an urchin or imp driving the wheel and shouting out an apparently meaningless number “3036” (shouldn’t that be “360”?). I do, in fact, work with such pulleys on occasion, but it never occurred to me in my waking period to acknowledge them as an incarnation of the cosmic wheel and the fourfold. Yet for my dreaming self, all experience, even the most overlooked, which seems the most banal or trivial, is food and sustenance.

So it was yesterday that a casual remark by a friend about the hyper-sanitary whiteness — the anti-biotic, laboratory-like interiors of modern homes — becomes the theme for an extensive and involved dream about white buildings (almost all of which I’ve forgotten). I have no inkling whatsoever why my dreaming self finds this so engaging.

Another persistent theme of my dreams is my being in a city I call my “spiritual Vancouver” (which is somewhat akin to William Blake’s “spiritual London”). I recognise it as Vancouver even though no part of its physical form ever corresponds to the actual city of Vancouver as I know it from my sense experience. It is the form of Vancouver as perceived by my inner self — a city of the imagination rather than of actual geography. Yet, I recognise it as Vancouver, and I seem to know my way around this “spiritual Vancouver”. It’s complex layout is always the same in my dreams, and my dreaming self knows its way around this “spiritual Vancouver”.  Why Vancouver? I’ve no idea except that I have strongly ambivalent feelings about the city, finding it both beautiful and yet also a desolate, congested, soulless mechanism. Blake’s “spiritual London” has this same character. His “spiritual London” was something he was thoroughly and completely familiar with. Even if his physical London only vaguely resembled his “spiritual London”, it was this perceived spiritual London that was, for Blake, the most real and the truer form of London.

That is, I believe, the secret of William Blake. He is a lucid dreamer. His inner awareness and his outward consciousness are not in disagreement or in conflict and contradiction, and he can, indeed, perceive the rising sun as a jubilant heavenly host celebrating the victory of life, light, and creation over death, darkness and the Void. There is no dissonance between Blake’s imagination and his thinking or between his sensual grammar and the grammar of his dreaming and of his inner self. They are unified. In Blake, perhaps more than anyone else, the grammar of the Imagination is made completely explicit. There is, for Blake, no “unconscious” as such — nothing which is sound asleep despite resting “in beams of light”

Once that is acknowledged, it is fairly easy to understand what he means when he ends his “Auguries of Innocence” with the words,

We are led to believe a lie
When we see not thro’ the eye,
Which was born in a night to perish in a night,
When the soul slept in beams of light.

God appears, and God is light,
To those poor souls who dwell in night;
But does a human form display
To those who dwell in realms of day.

For Blake, “the true man” and the true reality springs forth from the grammar of the Imagination, from the dreaming self become lucidly awake, when “Man’s perceptions are not bound by organs of perception; he perceives more than sense (tho’ ever so acute) can discover.”  His “fourfold vision” is the grammar of the Imagination.



14 responses to “The Grammar of Dreams”

  1. abdulmonem says :

    It is strange, last night, I was reading on a blog called the dream studies portal, in which he ask to enhance our dream life, to dream more and to wake up to a new life. He was surveying a report written by three researchers, under the title,, dreaming and insight.. what i did not like about the blog is its commercial tone and about the report its physical tone.
    I am also a dreamer, considering dreaming another major tool in our perception and insight, introducing us to understand the spiritual world prior to our departure, that is why I feel this shift from the physical world to the spiritual world you mentioned is indicative in this respect. In this context I remember a story about Mohammad who used to ask his followers after the morning prayer, who has a dream let us hear it and start to discuss it with the group to decipher its message both for the benefit of the dreamer and the group. This is for me is indicative of the very importance of dreaming in our life, after all the life of Joseph is built on a dream. Many years ago i dreamt that I have fallen in a deep well, only to find myself afterward flying in the sky . This is to me a message that I will fall in the trap of the material world then I shift to the spiritual world and that what actually happen. Another dream that come true is that I dreamt seeing a coin written on its back the world kingdom is red hot after being burned in fire indicating the fall of the kingdom, a thing which happened in what called the July revolution of 1958 in which the young king and his family murdered ruthlessly.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Many years ago i dreamt that I have fallen in a deep well, only to find myself afterward flying in the sky .

      That’s an interesting dream scenario.

    • Scott Preston says :

      I think my dreaming self is a bit of a comic and likes to clown. I recently dreamed that I was on Mars (perhaps stimulated by these reports on the suicidal Mars One project). On my dream Mars, which was not very populated, there was this same “department store” still selling hounds-tooth clothing (apparently very utile and quite fashionable on Mars), only there were no customers. It was the stuff of comedy.

      I once woke up during the night absolutely howling with laughter. It scared the cat. It was the most side-splitting laughter I have ever known. If anything ever approached “the laughter of the gods” or what is called “Olympian laughter”, that was it.

      The sad thing is, I don’t remember why.

    • Scott Preston says :

      The recurring “department store” meme, as mentioned, seems to be my dreaming self’s way of mocking consumerism and commercial society. The interesting question might be, is my dreaming self sharing its jokes with other dreaming selves?

  2. abdulmonem says :

    Sorry Scott, but I can not understand this wide gap between your waking life narration and your dream narrative. Knowing Scott, I think you can shed some light on this. Self-learning is very important for other to learn. Thank you Scott for such frankness.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Gap? I don’t sense a gap, really; or otherwise, what may be called a “gap” is the lacuna of memory. Sometimes my dream recall evaporates even before I get to the pen and paper.

      There are depths of the soul to which I am not permitted access. The way is barred to me and is guarded by a spectre that makes me jump out of my skin and which I sense has the power to blast me if I defy it. That spectre may well be the cherubim with the flaming sword described in Genesis, or equally “the guardian of the other world” described in Castaneda. It makes sense to me that the spectre is the same entity.

      What is on the other side of that portal is forbidden to man to know while in the human form. It is forbidden because it would require a god to bear that knowledge. I sense, though, what it is, and it has been represented in myth and legend throughout time. Rumi refers to it as that knowledge that would “shatter the glass cover on your heart”, and for which there is no fix.

      “What hurts you, blesses you.
      Darkness is your candle.
      Your boundaries are your quest.

      I can explain this, but it would break
      the glass cover on your heart,
      and there’s no fixing that.”

      I suspect it is also what Jean Gebser referred to as “the dreadful law of the earth”, (and which he let drop just as quickly without explanation). Possibly Nietzsche caught a glimpse of it, and his “overman” is simply the one who can finally bear the knowledge of it.

      • Scott Preston says :

        By the way, in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell Blake also seems to be referring to “the spectre” as well. He has intelligence from Hell that,

        “The ancient tradition that the world will be consumed in fire
        at the end of six thousand years is true. as I have heard from
        Hell. For the cherub with his flaming sword is hereby commanded to
        leave his guard at the tree of life, and when he does, the whole
        creation will be consumed, and appear infinite. and holy whereas
        it now appears finite & corrupt.”

        Accepting that this may be so — which is actually a description of the apocalyptic — it is difficult to anticipate the implications. Evidently for some, it would appear like Hell unleashed, a time of horrors and terrors, as man’s finite organs of perception are not adapted to the direct and immediate perception of the infinite. So, it would seem like death, or like being swallowed up by the Void. Rumi already anticipated that response in his poem “Green Ears”.

        • abdulmonem says :

          Thank you for the explanation , though I recognize the source of the ambiguity, I still feel that making peace with god open the door of the inner knowing to be in the middle of the universe happenings, after all the whole world is a form of truth including the dreams.
          As Rumi says, the rules of faithfulness are just the door and the doorkeeper, they keep the presence from being interrupted. This is not prediction but cash in hand. The benefit of dreams resides in its clarity and in being understandabe by the dreamer and to those who know.

  3. alex jay says :

    Coincidentally, I’ve been listening to a Sand Conference lecture on consciousness given by Hameed Ali and he made a reference to dreams in the context of “non-locality” (I think you could add “non-duality” s well, which is why we can assume an identify with another sex … or even another animal – like a fish perhaps). : )

    The part on dreams comes in around the 42nd minute mark.

    • Scott Preston says :

      That’s the first time I’ve heard Hameed Ali in person. He gave a good talk, but touched only briefly on his subject which, I suppose, is understandable. Thanks for the link.

  4. abdulmonem says :

    Thank you Alex Jay. It is interesting, from me the eye and from Him the sight, nature hear without ear and this is the way to realize non-duality. The part on dream, despite its shortness, is basic in showing it as a door to the spiritual world.I am sure Scott will hear the talk and I hope he will notice at the end of the talk he said that consciousness includes awareness.

    • Scott Preston says :

      .I am sure Scott will hear the talk and I hope he will notice at the end of the talk he said that consciousness includes awareness.

      He did?

      I heard him say, rather, somewhat the contrary — that “individual consciousness” is distinct yet tacit or “implicit” in the greater awareness that we are. 🙂

  5. LittleBigMan says :

    Woohoo! I’m all caught up with the posts 🙂

    Some time ago, I got to read a few pages from the beginning of Jung’s “Man and His Symbols.” I took a few notes from my reading, but unfortunately forgot to record from which page the notes were coming from. Here’s one in relation to dreams:

    “The unconscious aspect of any event is revealed to us in dreams, where it happens not as a rational thought but as a symbolic image.” – Carl Jung

    Dreams are remarkable. There are those of my very close family and friends who never (or almost never) dream. I know this because I have asked them. These individuals – every single one of them – have a very strong and solid ego-consciousness. On the other hand, those of my close acquaintances who do dream occasionally, including myself, are far more receptive to discussions about beyond physicality. We are simply more accepting and aware with every cell in our bodies of the fact that the physical reality isn’t everything.

    It seems to me that dreaming of any kind, lucid or not, is a good sign in itself, and indicative of a vibrant consciousness that is trying and succeeding in transcendence.

    “I once woke up during the night absolutely howling with laughter.”

    I’ve had very few of these (three or four in my entire life), too. They are a genuine and true delight. Although, I cannot remember their contents now, but I could remember the content immediately after I woke up laughing 🙂 The other thing that I remember about these incidents of waking up while laughing is that, as I woke up, every cell in my body felt happy and laughing. What a wonderful feeling.

    A.H. Almaas is far more understandable when he talks than when he writes. I’m stuck on page 16 of his book: “Luminous Night’s Journey.” My favorite quote from the video clip is “We’re playing with experience” which is around 53rd minute mark. That quote is a very concise expression of how I understand life after reading Seth’s work. Thank you, Alex Jay, for posting the link.

    My dreams usually involve overcoming some challenge in a very hostile environment. I have unusually pleasant dreams, too, but they are few. In terms of dreaming of a store, I’ve had only one such dream (or shall I say two back-to-back dreams of the kind because I went back to the store after waking up) which actually had a clear connection to a real world event a couple of days before the dream. So, here’s some background before an account of the dream.

    Beginning in my early 20s, I began picking up energies of people and objects around me. For a very long time (many years), I dismissed the sensations as just feelings of “anxiety.” But I was just fooling myself. The energy signatures I could feel were more real and foreboding of the events to come in the physical world that I knew at the time.

    Over time, as I began to learn more about these sensations and what they were about, two things happened: 1. I learned to heed the warnings and appreciate the authenticity of energetic signatures more and more, and 2. I developed a sense of unearthly arrogance about what I was capable of in the realm that had nothing to do with the physical world. This is important, because this arrogance did not permeate into the physical world, except once, which I believe it almost cost my life. Here’s the real world event and the dreams the ensued it.

    Some two years ago I received an email from a colleague. The email seemed quite suspicious. It asked for my help about some ordinary task that even she (in her 60s) could easily take on. It is also important to mention that this woman’s husband was also employed at the organization, and she had been able to acquire that position through the influence of her husband within the organization. Because she was professionally subordinate and accountable to me and because she did not have the appropriate credentials for the job, I had been against her appointment and expressed to my superiors that the appointment was not justified. Therefore, neither she nor her husband were any fans of me.

    So, when I dropped by her office to have a look at the issue she had emailed me about, as soon as I entered her office area, I picked up an energetic signature that I did not like. I sat next to her to take a look at her computer screen, when she expressed that she had been able to “figure it out!” And Oh, by the way, “Here is a little something I have cooked for you. Enjoy!”

    She handed me a brown bag and when I looked inside of it, I saw the shiny surface of an aluminum wrap that contained some ethnic food she had prepared. This behavior was not entirely odd, because I had made it my policy to take the members of my team to lunch on a weekly basis, and she would hope that I would view this gesture as an attempt to show gratitude in some way. Except that the energetic signature attached to this gesture wasn’t very friendly.

    I knew beyond the shadow of the doubt that the food in the bag was not poisoned, but at the same time, I could sense from picking up the energetic signature that this was an invitation to a challenge that was not of this physical realm. If this was some form of physical threat, I would do my best to avoid it. But because I could sense the threat was not physical, the unearthly arrogance I had developed won and I took the bag, while laughing on the inside saying to myself “I will beat whatever spirit she has put into this food.”

    I put the bag in the fridge for a day and the next day, Friday afternoon when I came home from work, I opened the aluminum foil and found exactly 10 golf ball sized meatballs. I knew from picking up the energetic signature that the meatballs had some sort of spell cast on them, yet I ate 6 of them, and suddenly something from within me – some knowledge that I don’t know here it came from – ordered me not to eat the last four. I obeyed. Despite my arrogance, left the other four in the wrap and threw it in the garbage can.

    I had the dreams on Sunday night. In the first dream, I found myself in a covered bazar. The walls and the architecture told me that the bazar buildings were very old. There was no one around and I began inspecting the stores for people. Very soon, I found myself in front of the large windows of a very simple store. The store was almost a perfect square of 30 x 30 square feet. Some humble rugs covered the floor. Near the center of the floor an old man and an old woman were sitting on the floor next to an empty armchair. At the very center of the room a hookah was set up and some smoke was rising from the top of it.

    I opened the store’s door and went toward the elderly couple. There was no one else around. They noticed me and invited me to sit in the armchair. I did. Then, one of them offered me to have a puff from the hookah. I did. As soon as I began exhaling the smoke, several men, in their thirties surrounded me. Two of them held my arms on the right and another two held my arms to the left, pressing my arms down on the armchair’s armrests. Simultaneous to this, another man appeared in my face and put his eyes within two or three inches of my eyes and began staring directly into my eyes.

    I was quite confident and began staring back into the man’s eyes. within about 8 to 10 seconds I noticed that with the force of his eyes he was pulling out – literally reaching into me and pulling out – a part of me and all my energy with it. I knew without the shadow of a doubt that if I allowed this to continue, I would die. So, I began resisting by trying to look away but I couldn’t look away. I realized that my salvation depended on getting out of that chair and then the store. With all my strength, I threw back all of them and threw myself against the large window of the store.

    I remember the window shattering and then I woke up.

    The dream had scared the hell out of me. As I found myself laying on my back in my bed, I knew that I had left a realm as real as the one I found myself in when I woke up. At the same time, I was angry and I wanted to go back and find the elderly couple and have a few words with them. So, I closed my eyes and willed myself back into the same dream.

    In the second dream, I was back in the same bazar again, but there was no sign of the elderly couple or their store. Instead, I found a Laundromat. From behind the store windows, I saw the rows of clean clothes that hung behind a man that was at the front behind the counter. I looked carefully and recognized him as one of the types that had attacked and held me down in the armchair. I thought maybe he can give me some answers. So, I entered the store and stood in front of the man to ask him about the elderly couple.

    Instead, without saying a word, I found him quite furious with me and before I knew it, I noticed more than a dozen men of the same type began appearing from behind the clothes that were hung on the racks. I knew right there and then that I had walked into the same trap and as the men jumped at me at once, I jumped for the door and was able to escape them as the tips of their fingers only inches away from my body.

    Again I woke up in my bed very scared and happy to be alive. I did not wish to go back again and I knew that I would not find any answers there.

    The week after my dreams, during our team’s weekly lunches, I noticed that the woman colleague who had offered me the food was sneakily scrutinizing me. I knew that she was aware that I had not eaten all the meatballs. Had I eaten them all, I would’ve probably be dead in my sleep.

    The whole incident has been great in annihilating my arrogance in the dream world. I’m a bit more cautious now 🙂

  6. alex jay says :

    I forgot to add –the lecture by Menas Kafatos (inc. in the bar on right) is worth a listen as well. Some interesting observations …

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