Long ago, when I was a clueless and penniless undergraduate collecting herbarium specimens for the Duke University Herbarium down on South Bimini Island in the Bahamas, an elderly Germany woman of rank and means whom I ran across, and hoped to practice my college German with, stiffened up and drew back when I carelessly referred to her as “du,” the word used to address an equal. “Sie!” she sternly reprimanded me, putting me quickly in my place by demanding the word used to address a superior. My mistake was to be so excited to run across my first real live German that I didn’t even notice her social rank. It turned out she owned the big luxury yacht moored at the hotel on the southern tip of the island. I stood before her in my field clothes, dirty and smelly from a long day botanizing in the forest that back then covered the whole rest of the island. The social elite take their superiority quite seriously. The rest of us quickly learn our place.
From back then until now, the gap between that woman’s class and my own has never stopped widening. Only recently have experts in various fields begun to see how disastrous the consequences have been for the economy, the society, and the environment. Historians now tell us the same happened with every previous civilization, and in each case led to its ultimate collapse. In the United States, once the shining democratic hope of the world, everybody can see now that all branches of the government are rotted out with corruption because of the unbelievable sums today’s billionaires (no longer just millionaires like back then) can bribe them with. The question before us now, perhaps not just in the United States, but everywhere, is, “Can the overwhelming majority of us who care about this planet and society actually have been rendered so absolutely powerless by those who’ve already grabbed far too much for themselves and, oblivious of consequences, are still intent on grabbing even more?”
Do we ordinary people really have no power at all to do what everyone knows is right and necessary? Strangely enough, an unexpected answer emerges from deep within the heartland of Taiwan and, of all places, from the dreams of undergraduates at a university.
Like German, the Mandarin spoken in Taiwan also retains the original two forms of the word, “You.” (“ni”) is the one used with an equal. (“nin”) is for a superior. Long ago, it was the same with English. I’m no linguist or expert in the English language, and for all I know the specific meaning of the two words in English may be the opposite of what I think, but my understanding has always been that in the King James Bible, a man addresses his friend as “You,” but prays to God as “Thou.” In a Hollywood movie about times of old in England, a muddy peasant working in the field addresses his co-worker as “You,” but uses “Thou” with the nobleman on horseback. Interestingly, the nobleman would also be addressed as “My Lord,” the same address used with God. And what might all this have to do with dreams?
Without a doubt the most ground-breaking discovery a student in the Ullman dream group class can make is that she has been confusing herself overly much with the “You,” who wakes up in the morning with a completely senseless and unintelligible dream. But the instant she makes sense of the dream in the group, she finds, to her utter amazement, something at work in the dream so much greater than this “You,” something to which she would bow down on bended knee, addressing her through the dream with grace, beauty, truth, and timeless wisdom. Then in a flash, following fast upon the heels of this first discovery, comes the startling revelation that this greater intelligence and godly enlightenment which produced the dream enabling her to understand herself in a so much more truthful way is none other than her deeper self. So there she is, the one that a moment ago she thought herself to be, in a face-to-face encounter with the one she most deeply is in actuality. How can she not know this depth in herself for the first time to be a “Thou,” rather than a “You”?
Decades ago as Montague Ullman again and again found dreamers making this marvelous discovery at the moment they made complete sense of a dream, he termed that inner entity that we all have and are, “Our incorruptible core of being.” It – not some supernatural being up in the sky or some privileged and piggish aristocrat on a horse – is the real “Thou,” the authentic item. While all this may not accord with what Freud thought about dreams, it fits perfectly what Jesus discovered in the West (“I and the Father are one”) and what the ancient Chinese sage, Lao Tzu found a half millennium before Jesus was born, “At the center of your being you already have the answer, you know.”
But we’d be foolish to blame our parasitic elite for the wrong direction in which our civilization is currently heading. The blame lies squarely on us. We slavishly pay our allegiance to the richest of the rich, the highest of the high in rank, make them our Thou, and, expecting a fat reward, fold eagerly into their base schemes, neglecting the real Thou within ourselves. The overwhelming majority of us have never even directly experienced the existence of this largest part of ourselves, even though methods were developed over the millennia in Ancient China, elsewhere in the East, and even in the West, to bring it forth in us so that its very different values, and the kinds of choices it makes and we don’t, can come increasingly into play in our lives, bettering us and the world all around.
Meditation, yoga, tai chi, kung fu, Jungian psychology, etc. – these take years to transform us and bring out the Thou in us. But the group approach to making sense of dreams that Montague Ullman perfected in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, though not quite as deep as those other arts, is quicker by far, and effective enough to turn us all away from exploiting one another and nature, and back to what’s most real, creative, authentically religious, and ethical in ourselves.
The unique feature of Ullman’s approach to dreams that differentiates it from psychology is that, instead of subjecting dreams to one or another theoretical schemes that might wrest little tidbits of analysis from them to reveal what’s wrong with us, it frees us straightaway and releases the fullness of what we all have within, which is what is most essentially right about us – the Thou. It’s by no means the only approach to dreams that does this but it is the only one that is really safe in the university setting, effectively prevents anyone from playing psychologist to another person, and is fun enough to engage, delight, instruct, and transform undergraduates.
The instant the dreamer actually stumbles upon what’s most truly authentic about herself – her inner Thou – she frees herself from the one that so many others would have her think she is. I don’t see this happening with every student. But it happens to many. Each time it does, today’s corrupt elite driving our civilization towards collapse is a tiny bit disempowered, and we all have a slightly greater chance of survival.
This may seem faint cause for optimism. To be sure, the effect any one of us can have is miniscule. But considering how very many of us there are, and how every one changed deeply by a dream goes on to affect those who come into contact with them, then it becomes apparent why I have come to the conclusion that with the spread of this kind of dream course to other universities there is a good chance this younger generation, or maybe even we ourselves, can take back the reins of our civilization in time to put in place the needed changes before it is too late.
This is an excerpt from my second book, Glimpses From Beyond the Ego – Dreams, Zen, & Nature. Because making a difference matters more than money, on Amazon I’ve made the e-book so inexpensive that college students and community groups in rural developing areas of India can afford it. As I explain in my TEDx talk on YouTube our own dreams introduce us to the part of us that is more connected to what really matters than we ourselves are. By gathering together a group of friends, colleagues, or students and starting up a Montague Ullman dream group class at the university or community dream group where we live, we can access that. More information on how to do that can be had at siivola.org