The practice of dreaming on the spiritual path is a well understood tool in Vajrayana Buddhism, but less so in Christianity. This isn’t to say that there is no awareness of how dreaming can help us reach toward God, but it’s usually seen as something that happens with little involvement from the dreamer.
This distinction – active use of specific tools and techniques vs. waiting for an experience to be delivered – is similar to how Christianity has approached most of the interior practices that lead to more direct experience of the Divine. Most of the popular modern authors (Keating, Finley, and my personal favorite, Merton) who write of Christian meditation regularly dismiss the notion that mere technique can demand God’s attention. Rather, they propose that sitting in stillness, sometimes repeating a simple word such as Love, God, etc., and wait for God to show up.
There is a certain romance to this notion, at least for those who seem to be graced by such a visit. But what about those who God seems to ignore? There are usually comforting words about God’s plan and that centering or contemplative prayer is still a good thing to do, but the bottom line is that some people are chosen by God to not have such a fulfilling experience in this life.
As I discuss this with people I try to make the point that God is NEVER hiding from us. From any of His children. However, WE regularly get in OUR OWN WAY as we look to see God. The primary purpose for any practice proposed in mystical tradition is to rectify that; tricks and tools for getting out of our own way.
In the context of dream work this is both challenging and important. Most popular works available to the nascent dreamer today revolve around using dreams to have fun or as therapy to cure daytime issues or concerns. There’s nothing wrong with this – using dreams to make your life more enjoyable is a wonderful approach. But it’s only peripherally aimed at spiritual growth.
A more direct approach is to use our sleeping hours as something of a personal monastic retreat. Where we usually think of monks and nuns as special people who have chosen to withdraw from the world in order more fully engage their love of God, all of us can (indeed are forced to through our biology) to withdraw from the world for some hours every night. At this time our senses are shuttered and the fears, joys, and longings that we shield ourselves from through business confront us directly.
Most of the time we are simply at the mercy of these fears and hopes through the night. We live through our nightmares or our fantasies, waking and generally casting them both aside in the morning.
But if the author of the Book of Job is to believed, it is also a time during which God is more directly whispering in our ear, teaching us how to walk with Him. Like the cloistered monastic, who is hopefully more attuned to communion with God through a life that is withdrawn and simplified, so too can we become more attuned to such communion as our own senses have been banked and interior lights have been ignited. If we go to sleep with the specific intent of seeing by this light that burns in the heart we can begin to look for our Foundation, our God, and hear His words.
That is why we might choose to use dreams on the spiritual path. For those who find this possibility intriguing, see my article: Christian Dreaming (http://www.tantricchristianity.com/Dream_Introduction.html).