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Is it possible for one to possess self-awareness in their dreams? How is it that the visions of some dreams present themselves in reality?
Is it possible for one to possess self-awareness in their dreams? How is it that the visions of some dreams present themselves in reality?
Concise answer

Sleep is a state in which a person gradually disconnects from the material world around them, leaving their inner senses in a heightened state of awareness. During sleep, one’s self disassociates from the various preoccupations and concerns of the material world, and instead, re-directs its attention to the realm of Malakut. Meaning, the less one’s mind is concerned with matters pertaining to this world, the stronger their connection is to the higher realms.

Often, a person’s preoccupied state of mind renders them unable to connect with the realm of Malakut. At other times, this connection may very well take place, however, this disturbed mental state disrupts one’s spiritual bond with these higher realms and alters one’s visions. In some particular circumstances, one is able to establish a strong bond with the realm of Malakut. This state renders one’s vision of reality true and unadulterated by external (and possibly worldly) influences.

Dreams are constituted of two divisions: those referred to as adhghaath al-ahlaam (dreams without meaning or purpose) and ruya al-sadiqah/salihah (dreams which are indeed a clear reflection of reality).

It should be noted that the term “Malakut” is a general reference to higher supernatural realms of existence with respective levels and characteristics. Spiritual tranquility and progress allows one to connect with these realms on different levels, which consequently results in different dreams. Therefore, if left untainted by worldly influences, each dream is a representation of a truth found in the various realms of Malakut. For example, cases of foresight, visions of future encounters, bonds established with the ‘luminous tablets’, and knowledge gained from the Lawh al-Mahfoudh.

In regards to self-awareness within dreams, it’s important to know that the nafs or “self” which exists in human beings during times of consciousness is no different than the nafs during times of sleep. The only difference being that when a person is asleep, the constraints which limit the nafs to the material world are broken – as opposed to when a person is conscious. Meaning the point of contrast between these states is as a result of activities pertaining to one’s cognitive state, not as a result of a difference pertaining to the nafs itself. Consequently, since the nafs is identical in both of states of consciousness and unconsciousness, a person has the ability to possess the same self-awareness and control over themselves in dreams that they do in when they’re awake.

Detailed Answer

In order to constructively assess this topic, we must first understand the concept of dreams from a philosophical perspective. This will naturally allow us to understand many aspects pertaining to the ruya al-sadiqah (true dreams) and the reason behind why certain dreams seem to present themselves in the material world. Afterward, based on our understanding of dreams, we will discuss the possibility of self-awareness in them.

1. What is the essence of dreams?

Sleep and dreams are issues that philosophers, sages and mystics have spoken much about, leading to this matter securing a special place for itself in different religions.

According to philosophers, sleep is a state in which one’s outer senses gradually disconnect from the material world, while the inner senses remain intact.[1]

During sleep, since the soul is free from preoccupations and engagements with the material world, its attention is re-directed to its own world. All of this is because the soul has an inner and spiritual bond with its realm of Malakut, but it is its engagement in managing the affairs of the body which hinders its awareness of this bond; this obstruction is removed in sleep.

Therefore, the more the soul is disconnected from this world and its preoccupations and the grounds are more ready, the more the soul’s connection to the realm of Malakut increases and manifests.

2. Types of Dreams

In some cases, as a result of the mind’s excessive engagement in its thoughts, there is no link with the Malakut, and in other cases, although there is a link, one’s thoughts and mindset influence it, hence its alteration and more or less ‘deformation’. It is only in special cases that this link is in a way that the soul is able to function freely and without the hindrance of extra thoughts, thus leaving its visions untouched and unaltered.[2]

The categorization of dreams is based on this very fact, as is the case in different books that have touched on the subject of dreams; they divide dreams into adhghaath al-ahlaam (vain dreams/confused dreams) and ruya saalihah/saadiqah (good/true dreams)[3]. Adhghaath al-ahlaam , which is a Quranic term, denotes dreams that are a result and creation of the imagination of the dreamer and aren't under the slightest influence of the realm of Malakut. Most dreams are of this type and hardly bear any value other than one’s normal thoughts. Just as one continuously has thoughts when awake that are influenced by what happens throughout the day, one has the same type of thoughts when asleep. Despite being relatively free from worldly engagements in this state, he isn't free from the personal thoughts that have piled up throughout the day, thus there is no connection between him and the realm of Malakut, and even if a connection does take place, the individual will not remember anything upon waking up.

On the other hand, in some dreams, the soul is freer from thoughts and is able to establish a connection with the realm of Malakut. Sometimes this connection is in a way that the soul comprehends the visions, rays, teachings and realities that it has received through the channel of its thoughts and mindset. In this stage of dreaming, what is actually happening is that the imagination is under the influence of the realm of Malakut and creates different dreams through its imaginative power and reflects the realities of that realm like a mirror. This category of dreams needs interpretation, and after being interpreted by those who are aware of these ‘imaginative’ changes that take place in the mind and truly specialize in this field, these dreams will give news of real matters in this world. A good example for dreams like these would be those that Prophet Yusuf (pbuh) interpreted for his jailmates, a story that the Quran has recounted. There are also dreams that are a direct reflection of different spiritual and/or material realms and are under no influence of any thoughts at all.

3. The reason why some dreams take place

As was said before, in saadiqah dreams, the soul makes a connection with the realm of Malakut. Malakut is a general word for all of the many different levels of the metaphysical world. It is because of these many different levels that the dreams people see differ, depending on the level of completion and purity of the soul they have achieved, which gives them access to levels others may not have access to. There is no limit to the astonishing wonders that can be seen in the realm of dreams; sometimes heavenly scenes are witnessed and encounters with prophets and apostles take place; sometimes normal everyday scenes are seen that give news of something that is to take place in the future; and sometimes faces and certain individuals are seen whom the dreamer doesn’t know and is to get acquainted with in the future.

The reason for each of these calls for a separate analysis of the realm of Malakut. For instance, prophecies and predictions that take place in sleep are a result of the soul’s connection with the ‘tablets of light’ or with a level of the Lawh Mahfudh (lit. ‘the protected tablet’) which are where all occurrences are recorded, beyond time and place. Also, heavenly scenery and the like that are seen in dreams might be a reflection of the soul’s connection with the realm of Mithal.

Therefore, depending on one’s existential development, the dreamer gets connected with different levels of the unseen realms, and the different dreams that are seen can determine which of these levels the dreamer has established a connection with.

4. The possibility of self-awareness in dreams

The memory one has in sleep is essentially the same as that which one has while awake from a philosophical and irfani perspective. Also, in both of these states, the mind stems from the same source, although its scope of activity in each differs.

Therefore, this line between the memory of a person in sleep and consciousness can be removed through a higher self-awareness so that one can be aware of one’s own position even in sleep (through the same means one uses in consciousness) and have voluntary activity in that state. In other words, the soul that is present in sleep is the same one that is present when awake; the only difference is that it is free from material restraints in sleep. The difference between these two states (the state of the soul being free from material restraints and when it is attached to the material world) in most individuals originates from the great difference of comprehension they have in these two states respectively. Even so, those who are able to maintain more awareness in the state of detachment from the material world will naturally decrease this difference between the two states. The same goes for remembering dreams; those who are able to keep what they dream in their minds bear more awareness than others when it comes to dreaming.

In most cases, the mind considers the state of “awareness of dreams” as an unimportant and secondary and delusional matter and sees the material world to be the true world and that is why the person sees his soul in dreams as not important. But if the mind is simultaneously aware of the inside and outside, it is obvious that it will be totally in control and aware even in sleep and can do things almost voluntarily and have relatively much control over its thoughts and actions and desires. In this state, the border between sleep and being awake is practically removed. The opposite of such is when the individual is aware of the inner esoteric realms even while awake. It is also possible that one becomes aware of unseen matters while awake, as was the case for mystics and apostles who would have such experiences.

Therefore, if it ever happens for one that the boundaries between sleep and being awake are set aside for him, such that he is aware of his outer and inner realms, that person has achieved a special high rank of knowledge. It is on this basis that witnessing extraordinary esoteric things while awake and self-awareness in sleep are more or less of the same classification and reflect the reality that it is indeed possible for the boundary between sleep and being awake to be lifted, as the master of all mystics, Imam Ali (as) says: “If the curtains of the unseen move aside, my certainty will not increase [the seen and unseen are the same to me; I am aware of it all]”.[4]

In Islamic mysticism, the distance between the conscience and subconscience isn't accepted and is known to be the result of ignorance and low awareness of an individual, as the prophet of Islam (pbuh) says: “The people are in sleep, and when they die they awaken.”[5] Which means that they aren't present in their higher state of awareness and have dismissed it to the subconscience.

[1] Badi’ al-Zamaan Furuzaanfar, Sharh Masnavi, vol. 1, pg. 179.

[2] Adopted from Sharh Hikmat al-Ishraaq, Qutbuddin Shirazi, pg. 503, Anjomane Aasaare Mafaakhere Farhangi Publications.

[3] Seyed Jafar Sajjadi,‌ Farhange Ma’aarefe Eslami, vol. 1, pg. 231, Tehran University Publications.

[4]لَوْ کُشِفَ الْغِطَاءُ مَا ازْدَدْتُ یَقِیناً” Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwaar, vol. 40, pg. 153, Al-Wafaa’ Institute, Beirut, 1404.

[5]قَالَ النَّبِیُّ ص النَّاسُ نِیَامٌ فَإِذَا مَاتُوا انْتَبَهُوا” Ibid, vol. 50, pg. 134.

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