When we think of dreaming, we typically think of being in a different place – another state of consciousness, a dream world or dreamscape – certainly not in Kansas anymore. In reality, however, it only looks like we’re not in Kansas. Dreaming is more about a different way of perceiving – about seeing with dream eyes.
Extensive research confirms what we all have long known: that our perceptual processes are markedly enhanced during dreaming. We can, for example, simultaneously see what lies directly before us and behind us as well as the room we’re in and the building housing it. Our sense of self, that is, how we see ourselves, can also morph wildly in our dreams. Viewed through dream eyes, I can be me, or a part of me watching me, or someone else entirely.
In contrast, ordinary waking life is framed by waking eyes that see through a highly focused, detail-oriented, and, at times, myopic lens of intention. Experiences, events, and things in waking life are deemed interesting or meaningful only when they align with our intentions. Our waking eyes typically fail to even notice things that do not appear within the frame of our intentions.
R.D. Laing described the limitation of waking eyesight in a short, poignant poem:
The range of what we think and do
Is limited by what we fail to notice
And because we fail to notice that we fail to notice
There is little we can do to change
Until we notice how failing to notice
Shapes our thoughts and deeds.
Likewise, Arthur Schopenhauer said, “Every person takes the limits of their own field of vision for the limits of the world.” Seeing only with our waking eyes results in loss of peripheral vision. If the devil is in the detail, the angel is in the bigger picture.
What archetypal psychologists call the waking dream is about seeing through our dream eyes by day. Dream eyesight is informed less by focused intention and more by expanded receptivity. Dream eyes rely on a wide-angle lens to restore compromised peripheral vision. Our pupils, the literal apertures of our eyesight, naturally dilate when we gaze with strong interest, attraction, excitement, or love. As implied in the term belladonna, such a wide opening of the windows of our soul is associated with being and seeing beautifully.
Like 3D glasses that can dramatically transform a film, dream eyes reveal the special effects behind ordinary life. By providing ready access to what Carl Jung called the symbolic view of life, dream eyes reveal the world behind the world ― a numinous order behind all things. In doing so, dream eyesight opens us to the experience of art, poetry, dance and music. It is how lovers and children see.
But dream eyesight is not just about sweetness and light. In revealing the dream by day, it also reveals its dark features. Like the night dream, the waking dream can be bad, challenging, and even nightmarish at times. Witnessing the dark features of our dream lives by day, however, offers us an opportunity to reframe them in a greater light.
Dream eyesight can spontaneously occur when we are in various liminal states, such as falling asleep, waking up, or under the influence of substances. Or when we are immersed in creative endeavors, peak athletic experiences or deep spiritual practices. We can also exercise and strengthen our ability to use dream eyes by day in a number of ways.
We must begin by safeguarding our use of dream eyes in and around our nighttime dreaming. Dream loss is a silent but very serious epidemic in our world. As a result of poor sleep, excessive use of alcohol and commonly prescribed REM-suppressive medications, millions of us are unknowingly damaging our dream lives.
When we do recall our dreams, we must refrain from the most common fatal error of dreamwork ― scrutinizing our night dreams with waking world eyes. Rather than just experiencing the dream on its own mysterious terms, most of us reflexively translate it into the language of waking life. Viewing our dreams with waking eyes is tantamount to looking at a glorious night sky through dark sunglasses.
We can directly exercise our dream eyes during waking by simply pretending that waking life is a dream. Obviously, we don’t want to do this in situations that require our full attention. Dream eyes are not much good at things like driving, reading, or balancing one’s checkbook. We can, however, exercise dream eyes in many situations like casual conversations, nature walks, or play with friends, kids and pets.
Consider joining a dream circle or dream support group where dream eyesight is appreciated and dreams are not reflexively translated into waking world terms. Such groups value the mystery of dreams over their utility. Although they may be curious about the implications a dream might have for waking life, they emphasize the experience of the dream over its meaning.
One of the most effective ways of exercising dream eyesight is to keep a waking dream journal. Begin by reviewing and reconsidering your day’s events and experiences with dream eyes. And then write about your day as if it were a dream. Doing so will encourage you to increasingly view ordinary daily life as a dream.
Practicing the use of dream eyes by day can also increase the probability of lucid dreaming by night. Because dream eyesight is about intentionally choosing the way we would like to view things, it can heighten our awareness of similar choice points during our night dreams. We might find ourselves spontaneously choosing to view a night dream with dream eyes, sparking the realization that we are already dreaming.
The practice of viewing daily life through dream eyes helps us heal the most common bifurcation of our consciousness – it helps restore a sense of continuity between the night dream and waking life. Ultimately, it reminds us of one of the simplest and most important universal spiritual truths ― that waking life itself is but a dream.