Dreams have gone out of vogue. Aboriginal dream time gave stories to every aspect of existence in our universe. The skillful exploration of dreams in psychotherapy rooms has frequently led to profound breakthroughs in an individual's awareness. Even the day dreaming of watching clouds has been known to heat up an incubating idea enough to change the course of a life.
Some people still do these things, of course. But the value we place on dreams in the larger culture has dramatically diminished. When was the last time you chatted in other than a superficial manner with a friend about a dream you had? What significance, if any, do governments give to the dreams and prophecies of indigenous peoples and their shamans? How would Dr. King’s amazing “I have a dream” speech from 1963 be received today?
In Freud’s time, dreams were reverently referred to as the “royal road to the unconscious”. Their mysterious, symbolic and archetypal qualities were seen as evidence enough of their power, granting them a credibility in the wider society that is seldom seen today. Where did that credibility go?
It went the way of all quietly powerful dimensions of the unconscious realm: underneath the steamroller of the Frontier meta-narrative. This narrative has become the default operational frame for how the world is to be seen, thrusting its ideas in front of our faces in order to justify unbridled economic growth, extreme individualism, incessant productivity, and the importance of competitive success at all costs: a life on the run that spurns anything of a reflective nature. Whether this is an indication of the meta-narrative's enduring power or the last gasp of a tyrannical idea remains to be seen. Recent surveys - encouragingly - give weight to the latter idea
But put aside for a moment the future prospects of the Frontier meta-narrative. In fact, put aside the impact on the environment resulting from our full throttled embrace of this narrative, and the role it has played in furthering the wealth divide between 1% and the 99%. Those important consequences have been described and explored extensively in recent times.
Think instead of the purely human consequences of having this story invisibily shape our daily actions. What good is all our productivity if it quickens the human spirit’s plunge into nihilism? How valuable is our five star vacation when we take it on a cruise ship piloted by a captain willing to bail himself out and then lie about it when something goes wrong? How many tantrums do we need to watch from multi-million dollar athletes to understand the perspective they have lost?
Dreaming links us to our imagination, and to each other. Dr. King stimulated both in his speech and in his life, unleashing an unpredictable way of creative expression, bravery, ethical clarity and a sense that spiritual life was not a side show but rather central to the enrichment of the world. How would you like it if these things were the center of the news day instead of what we're currently seeing? Dr. King’s contemporary Ralph Ellison understood this difference well in his Pulitzer Prize winning novel Invisible Man:
“It’s ‘winner take nothing’ that is the great truth of our or of any country. Life is to be lived, not controlled; and humanity is to won by continuing to play in the face of certain defeat. Our fate is to become one, and yet many....”
The embrace of diversity, the invitation to live fully, and the centrality of our own humanity are worthy things not just to remember as we reflect on Dr. King’s life. They are, potentially, the products of daring to dream of an existence that would lead us and those around us to a sweet and enduring sense of fulfillment and community.