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The Qur’an: On Consciousness and Perception

The exploration of consciousness and perception is something that fascinates me, and is something I search for within all spiritual texts that I read. During my reading of the Qur’an, I came across some interesting passages concerning consciousness and perception that are worth sharing and contemplating.

The first passage addresses the myth of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. After eating the fruit, they become conscious of their physical state of being.

But Satan whispered to Adam, saying, ‘Adam, shall I show you the tree of immortality and power that never decays?’ and they both ate from it. They became conscious of their nakedness and began to cover themselves with leaves from the garden.

(p. 201)

There are a couple things I find interesting about this passage. First, there is a connection established between “immortality and power” and human consciousness. It is consciousness that makes us divine beings. Also, there is an implication that consciousness is immortal, that it lives on after our bodies cease to exist. This is a concept in which I firmly believe. The other thing that intrigued me about this passage is the subtle difference between the Judeo-Christian version of the story: in this version, Eve does not tempt Adam to eat the fruit. In fact, it almost seems like a reversal, that Adam gave in to Satan’s temptation and then gave the fruit to Eve also.

So, if consciousness if immortal, what happens to it after we die?

God takes souls at the time of death and the souls of the living while they sleep. He keeps hold of those whose death He has ordained and sends the others back until their appointed time: there truly are signs in this for those who reflect.

(p. 298)

The way I interpret this, when we die, our consciousness is reunited with the divine, which is the source of our consciousness. But also, when we sleep and enter the realm of the subconscious, we also temporarily merge our consciousness with the divine. I feel that this also happens during states of altered awareness, such as during meditation or under the influence of mind-altering substances.

Then what is the role of perception in all this? We are constantly exposed to spiritual and mystical experiences, but too often we are caught up in our lives to notice when these occur. The Qur’an offers a great parable describing this.

Even if they saw a piece of heaven falling down on them, they would say, ‘Just a heap of clouds,’ so leave them, Prophet, until they face the Day when they will be thunderstruck…

(p. 346)

We are always surrounded by signs of the divine spirit manifest in our world. Often, all we need is a slight shift in our consciousness and we begin to perceive what has always been there. If we are rushing about in our cars, or distracted by our cellular devices, when we look up, all we see is a heap of clouds. But if we slow down, take some deep cleansing breaths, and then look up at the sky, we notice something we failed to see before, a bit of heaven in our plane of existence.

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Final Thoughts on “Don Quixote”

The Death of Don Quixote — Gustave Dore

The Death of Don Quixote — Gustave Dore

So I finally finished Don Quixote, and I figured I would give my overall impression and final thoughts, since I published a whole series of posts exploring specific aspects of the text (see links below).

As a whole, I liked this book a lot. It was funny yet thought-provoking. It’s pretty much an easy read (although quite long) and the story holds up well today, since it deals with some universal truths about humanity.

I really related to both Sancho and Don Quixote as characters, because they are essentially outcasts, as well as archetypes of creative and passionate people. And like most creative and romantic outcasts, they are picked on, ridiculed, and taunted by people who are more popular, richer, and “smarter” than they are. But in spite of all the abuse, the two remain steadfast in their ideals and follow their passions until the end. This is something I admire greatly.

It is a person’s dreams, imagination, and aspirations that make life meaningful and worth living. When deprived of these, we lose our will to live and we begin the process of dying. This is what happened to Don Quixote when he was defeated and had to relinquish living as a knight-errant.

But for all this, Don Quixote could not shake off his sadness. His friends called in the doctor, who felt his pulse and was not very well satisfied with it, and said that in any case it would be well for him to attend to the health of his soul, as that of his body was in a bad way. Don Quixote heard this calmly; but not so the housekeeper, his niece, and his squire, who fell weeping bitterly, as if they had him lying dead before them. The doctor’s opinion was that melancholy and depression were bringing him to his end.

(p. 1124)

The only way that feels right in bringing this blog series to a close is to share the epitaph for Don Quixote’s tomb:

A doughty gentleman lies here;
A stranger all his life to fear;
Nor in his death could Death prevail,
In that last hour, to make him quail.

He for the world but little cared;
And at his feats the world was scared;
A crazy man his life he passed,
But in his senses died at last.


For those of you who are interested, here are the links to my previous posts on the book:

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Thoughts on “Don Quixote” – Part 6: The Symbolism of the Cave

donquixote_cave

On a hero’s journey, the hero often goes through a symbolic exploration of the subconscious mind. This can be represented by the hero going into water, the underworld, or a cave. For this reason, I was not surprised when Don Quixote entered a cave and explored the abyss within, emerging with an expanded consciousness.

Before undertaking a daunting task, heroes will summon strength from an outside source. Before entering the cave, Don Quixote calls upon Dulcinea for protection and guidance upon his journey into the underworld.

“O mistress of my actions and movements, illustrious and peerless Dulcinea del Toboso, if so be the prayers and supplications of this fortunate lover can reach thy ears, by thy incomparable beauty I entreat thee to listen to them, for they but ask thee not to refuse my favour and protection now that I stand in need of them. I am about to precipitate, to sink, to plunge myself into the abyss that is here before me, only to let the world know that while thou dost favour me there is no impossibility I will not attempt and accomplish.”

(p. 716)

After Don Quixote reemerges from the cave, he relates his experience to his companions. The visions he describes are consistent with altered states of consciousness. He actually describes how he slipped into a state of reverie prior to the shift in awareness that brought on the mystical visions.

“… and as I was thus deep in thought and perplexity, suddenly and without provocation a profound sleep fell upon me, and when I least expected it, I know not how, I awoke and found myself in the midst of the most beautiful, delightful meadow that nature could produce or the most lively human imagination conceive. I opened my eyes, I rubbed them, and found I was not asleep but thoroughly awake. Nevertheless, I felt my head and breast to satisfy myself whether it was I myself who was there or some empty delusive phantom; but touch, feeling, the collected thoughts that passed through my mind, all convinced me that I was the same then and there that I am this moment. Next there presented itself to my sight a stately royal palace or castle, with walls that seemed built of clear transparent crystal; and through two great doors that opened wide therein, I saw coming forth and advancing toward me a venerable old man, clad in a long gown of mulberry-coloured serge that trailed upon the ground.”

(pp. 719 – 720)

The old man that Don Quixote encountered was Montesinos, but I could not help but seeing him as a Merlin figure. In fact, Merlin is mentioned later in the chapter as having prophesized the arrival of Don Quixote (p. 723). And the castle being made of crystal corresponds to the crystal cave of the Merlin mythology.

The last thing I want to discuss is the distortion of time associated with altered states of consciousness.

“I cannot understand, Senor Don Quixote,” remarked the cousin here, “how it is that your worship, in such a short space of time as you have been below there, could have seen so many things, and said and answered so much.”

“How long is it since I went down?” asked Don Quixote.

“Little better than an hour,” replied Sancho.

“That cannot be,” returned Don Quixote, “because night overtook me while I was there, and day came, and it was night again and day again three times; so that, by my reckoning, I have been three days in those remote regions beyond our ken.”

“My master must be right,” replied Sancho, “for as everything that has happened to him is by enchantment, maybe what seems to us an hour would seem three days and nights there.”

(p. 725)

In addition to the distortion of time, there is some number mysticism woven in here. We have three days existing within one hour, or three comprising the one. I cannot help but wonder if this is a reference to the trinity forming the godhead (father, son, holy ghost), or the mind/body/spirit trinity within a human being. Additionally, it could be symbolic of the triple goddess (maiden, mother, crone). Regardless, we have a situation where the hero travels to the underworld, encounters a mystical being, experiences time distortion, and is presented with the number three as being connected to the mystical experience.

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Thoughts on “Don Quixote” – Part 5: A Sonnet on Sancho Panza

sanchopanzastatue

The worthy Sancho Panza here you see;
A great soul once was in that body small,
Nor was there squire upon this earthly ball
So plain and simple, or of guile so free.
Within an ace of being Count was he,
And would have been but for the spite and gall
Of this vile age, mean and illiberal,
That cannot even let a donkey be.
For mounted on an ass (excuse the word),
By Rocinante’s side this gentle squire
Was wont his wandering master to attend.
Delusive hopes that lure the common herd
With promise of ease, the heart’s desire,
In shadows, dreams, and smoke ye always end.

(p. 538)

I find this sonnet, which appears near the end of Volume 1 of the text, both sad and sweet. On one hand, there is something so admirable about Sancho. He is a faithful and steadfast friend, who is always seeking to do the right thing. But alas, Sancho, for all his kindness, has one human flaw—the desire for comfort and ease.

As is often the case, seeking quick and easy comfort can lead you down the road that culminates in broken dreams, ashes, and sadness. The idea of comfort, for too many people, is nothing but the smoke of a pipe dream. And this is the case with Sancho. And sadly, as I look around me, I see so many people who share Sancho’s flaw. They think that following this leader or that idea will bring quick happiness and contentment. “If this person is elected, then all my problems will vanish and I will enjoy the American Dream.” But that is all it is; a dream.

There is a lot we can learn from Sancho Panza. It is important to be truthful, to be a good friend, to be trustworthy, and to follow our dreams; but we should also be careful not to pursue shadows or let our dreams lead us down roads that take us nowhere. There needs to be a balance between dreams and reality, between hope and striving. If we are not willing to do the hard work, then our dreams will never become realities.

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“Ulalume” by Edgar Allan Poe

Illustration by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Illustration by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Then my heart it grew ashen and sober
As the leaves that were crisped and sere —
As the leaves that were withering and sere,
And I cried — “It was surely October
On this very night of last year
That I journeyed — I journeyed down here —
That I brought a dread burden down here —
On this night of all nights in the year,
Ah, what demon has tempted me here?
Well I know, now, this dim lake of Auber —
This misty mid region of Weir —
Well I know, now, this dank tarn of Auber,
This ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.”

(excerpt from poem)

This is a fairly long poem, and I debated whether to include the entire text here. I decided to include some excerpts and a link to the entire text. Click here to read the poem on the Edgar Allan Poe Society website.

This is a poem about being haunted by the loss of a loved one, not unlike “Annabel Lee” or “The Raven.” It is set in October and incorporates seasonal metaphors symbolizing death, such as withering leaves, ashen skies, and cypress trees. But for me, the most intriguing aspect of this dark poem is the exploration of the subconscious mind.

The protagonist describes travelling with his Psyche, or Soul, through the boreal regions of the north.

Here once, through an alley Titanic,
Of cypress, I roamed with my Soul —
Of cypress, with Psyche, my Soul.
These were days when my heart was volcanic
As the scoriac rivers that roll —
As the lavas that restlessly roll
Their sulphurous currents down Yaanek
In the ultimate climes of the pole —
That groan as they roll down Mount Yaanek
In the realms of the boreal pole.

As I read this, I envision the frozen northlands, the Aurora Borealis, and vast expanses of wilderness coated with ice and frost. These represent the speaker’s subconscious mind, where memories and dreams lie frozen in an area that is difficult to reach. He enters this realm with his Psyche, the part of his consciousness connected with the realm of dreams, imagination, and memory. There is also an active volcano, which symbolizes fiery and painful passion and emotion surging up to the surface from deep within. It’s an incredibly powerful image and captures the deep sorrow that the protagonist feels.

While in the deepest recesses of the subconscious, Poe describes the appearance of the goddess Astarte.

At the end of our path a liquescent
And nebulous lustre was born,
Out of which a miraculous crescent
Arose with a duplicate horn —
Astarte’s bediamonded crescent
Distinct with its duplicate horn.

Astarte is a goddess of fertility and sexuality, often associated with Venus. I interpret this as the protagonist envisioning the soul of his departed love having merged and become a part of the divine feminine. It’s an interesting idea, that male souls emanate and return to the masculine aspect of the godhead, while the female souls emanate and return to the feminine aspect of the divine. It is almost like a dualistic version of Plotinus’s theory of divine emanation. I suspect this is something I will be meditating on for a while.

Overall, this is a beautifully crafted and evocative poem that works on many levels for me. While I don’t think it’s as popular as some of Poe’s other poems, I feel it is as good if not better.

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“The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall” by Edgar Allan Poe

HansPfaall

This is a cool short story by Poe that I would place in the science fiction genre. It’s the story of a man who decides to travel to the moon by means of hot air balloon. The bulk of the story is written as an epistle, a letter from Pfaall that was delivered to the city leaders in Rotterdam. But the genius of this story is that Poe also incorporates a satirical critique of the intellectual bourgeoisie as well as some great symbolism regarding the subconscious mind.

The first and most obvious clue that Poe is poking fun at the bourgeoisie is the names of the characters; for example, burgomaster Mynheer Superbus Von Underduk and Professor Rubadub. And then, at the beginning of his letter, Pfaall compares his trade of mending bellows (which are used to blow hot air in a forge) with the “hot air” emitted by the self-important politicians and business-persons of that time.

It is well known to most of my fellow-citizens, that for a period of forty years I continued to occupy the little square brick building, at the head of an alley called Sauerkraut, in which I resided until my disappearance. My ancestors have also resided therein time out of mind—they, as well as myself, steadily following the lucrative profession of mending of bellows;

There are many passages where Poe incorporates writing that comes across as very scientific. I cannot attest to the accuracy of the information, but it is presented in a very methodical and technical manner which aids the reader in suspending belief.

The gas to be formed from these latter materials is a gas never yet generated by any other person than myself—or at least never applied to this purpose. I can only venture to say here, that it is a constituent of azote, so long considered irreducible, and that its density is about 37.4 times less than that of hydrogen. It is tasteless, but not odorless; burns, when pure, with a greenish flame; and is instantaneously fatal to animal life.

For me, the most interesting aspect of this story is the symbolism depicting a shift in consciousness. The moon is a symbol of dreams, the imagination, lunacy, and so forth. So after Pfaall initially takes off, he experiences an abrupt shift in his consciousness.

I gasped convulsively for breath—a shudder resembling a fit of the ague agitated every nerve and muscle in my frame—I felt my eyes starting from their sockets—a horrible nausea overwhelmed me—and at length I lost all consciousness in a swoon.

As he continues his ascent, he passes through a cloud, which represents his entering into the realm of the subconscious, where lightning symbolizes flashes of imagination and insight while he gazes deep into the hidden and mystical regions of the psyche.

At twenty minutes before seven, the balloon entered a long series of dense cloud, which put me to great trouble, by damaging my condensing apparatus, and wetting me to the skin. This was, to be sure, a singular rencontre, for I had not believed it possible that a cloud of this nature could be sustained at so great an elevation. I thought it best, however, to throw out two five-pound pieces of ballast, reserving still a weight of one hundred and sixty-five pounds. Upon so doing, I soon rose above the difficulty, and perceived immediately, that I had obtained a great increase in my rate of ascent. In a few seconds after my leaving the cloud, a flash of vivid lightning shot from one end of it to the other, and caused it to kindle up, throughout its vast extent, like a mass of ignited charcoal. This, it must be remembered, was in the broad light of day. No fancy may picture the sublimity which might have been exhibited by a similar phenomenon taking place amid the darkness of the night. Hell itself might then have found a fitting image. Even as it was, my hair stood on end, while I gazed afar down within the yawning abysses, letting imagination descend, and stalk about in the strange vaulted halls, and ruddy gulfs, and red ghastly chasms of the hideous and unfathomable fire.

While this may not be Poe’s best work, and at times it plods along rather slowly, it is certainly worth reading. There are some interesting passages and moments of brilliance which makes it worthwhile.

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Kabbalistic Symbolism in “Promethea: Book 3” by Alan Moore

Promethea_3

In this volume of the graphic novel, Sophie and Barbara (two incarnations of the goddess Promethea) proceed on a journey through alternate realms using the sephirot in the kabbalistic tree as a means to ascend the higher realms of existence. They begin by analyzing the diagram of the ten sephirot connected by the twenty-two paths. Barbara comments that the symbol resembles a game of hopscotch, which I thought was a clever analogy considering that the sephirot essentially allows one to “hop” into another realm.

Promethea_Hopscotch

The paths that the women take lead them from the lowest sephirah, Malkuth, which represent the physical world, and begin to work backwards toward the godhead. Following the reverse emanation from the divine crown, they proceed in this order:

  • Malkuth
  • Yesod
  • Hod
  • Netzach
  • Tiphereth
  • Geburah

While in each of the sephirot, they encounter symbols associated with each realm. The details are far too complex for me to elaborate on in this short post, but I will provide a couple brief examples.

When the women move from Malkuth into Yesod (Foundation), they cross the river Styx, symbolizing the transition from the conscious mind to the subconscious. It is the place where fact and fiction meet, creating the myth, which is eternal. It is associated with the moon, dreams, and imagination, all of which figure prominently in the text and the rich illustrations.

Next, they move into Hod (Splendor). This is associated with magic, mysticism, and the intellect. Here the path becomes the symbol for infinity and the women engage in a circular discussion that could go on for all eternity.

Promethea_Infinity

After exiting the loop of infinity, they continue through Hod and meet the god Hermes, who explains how language, story, and mathematics are the basis for our human reality.

Hermes:

Ha ha! Real life. Now there’s a fiction for you! What’s it made from? Memories? Impressions? A sequence of pictures, a scattering of half-recalled words… Disjointed hieroglyphic comic strips, unwinding in our recollection… Language. To perceive form… even the form or shape of your own lives… you must dress it in language. Language is the stuff of form. Mathematics, for example, is a language. Consider the forms it produces… This magic square of eight is called The Knight’s Tour. Connect its numbers in sequence and you produce the magic line of eight. Do you see? Mathematics is a language, a human invention, a fiction… and yet it creates such elegant form. It creates splendor. It creates truth.

Barbara:

So… everything’s made from language? We’re made of language? Even you?

Hermes:

Oh, especially me. How could humans perceive gods… abstract essences… without clothing them in imagery, stories, pictures… or picture-stories, for that matter.

Sophie:

Picture-stories?

Hermes:

Oh, you know: Hieroglyphics. Vase paintings. Whatever did you think I meant? Besides, what could be more appropriate than for a language-god to manifest through the original pictographic form of language?

Sophie:

Uhh… so like, what are you saying?

Hermes:

What am I saying? I’m saying some fictions might have a real god hiding beneath the surface of the page. I’m saying some fictions might be alive… that’s what I’m saying.

This only scratches the surface of the rich symbolism that is embodied in this book. Every page, every panel, contains both visual and textual symbolism and metaphor. But don’t be intimidated. While this is very complex and heady material, the story is still great and accessible, and the artwork is phenomenal. I highly encourage you to explore all the books in this series.

I will leave you with one more quote from this book, which I believe aptly sums up our reality.

“Man walks through a forest of symbols.”

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