Courageous Dreaming by Alberto Villoldo, PhD
Whether you realize it or not, we are all dreaming the world into being. What we’re engaging in is not the sleeping dream we’re familiar with, but the waking dream we craft with our eyes open. When we’re unaware that we all share the power to co-create reality with the help of the Universe itself, that power slips away from us and our dream turns into a nightmare. We begin to feel we’re the victims of an unknown and frightening creation that we’re unable to influence or change. Events seem to control us and trap us. The only way to end this dreadful reality is to awaken to the fact that it, too, is a dream, and recognize our ability to write a better story, one that the Universe will work with us to manifest. The nature of the cosmos is such that whatever dream you have about yourself and the world will become reality.
As soon as you awaken to your power to dream, you begin to flex the muscles of your courage. Then you can dream bravely: letting go of your limiting beliefs and pushing past your fears. You can begin to create truly original dreams that germinate in your soul and bear fruit in your life. Courageous dreaming allows you to create from the source, the quantum soup of the Universe where everything exists in a latent or potential state. Physicists understand that in the quantum world nothing is “real” until it is observed. The distinct packets of energy known as “quanta” (which consist of particles of matter as well as light) are neither “here” nor “there”; in a sense, they are everywhere in space-time until you or I decide to observe them. When we take note of them, we tease them out of the web of infinite possibilities and collapse them into an event that exists while we witness it. These energy “quanta” like to link up with each other once they’ve selected a particular form of manifestation. As soon as they manifest, reality becomes fixed: A particle is “here” instead of possibly everywhere.
But quantum events do not occur in the laboratory only. They also happen inside our brain, on this page, and everywhere around us. Even if they are separated by millions of miles, or by days or weeks, these quanta of energy remain intimately linked, so that if you interact with one, you affect the entire system that this energy is part of. When you access any part of the dream, the great matrix of energy, you can change reality and alter the entire dream.
Modern physics is describing what the ancient wisdomkeepers of the Americas have long known. These shamans, known as the Earthkeepers, say that we are dreaming the world into being through the very act of witnessing it. Scientists believe that we are only able to do this in the very small, subatomic world. Shamans understand that we also dream the larger world that we experience with our senses. Like the Aborigines, the Earthkeepers live in a world where the dreamtime has not been pushed into the domain of sleep like it has for us. They know that all of creation arises from, and returns to, this dreamtime.
The dreamtime, the creative matrix, does not exist in a place outside of us. Rather, it infuses all matter and energy, connecting every creature, every rock, every star, and every ray of light or bit of cosmic dust. The power to dream is the power to participate in creation itself. For the Earthkeepers, dreaming reality is not only an ability but a duty, one we must perform with grace and love so that our grandchildren will inherit a world where they can live in peace and abundance. We went into extraordinary detail to dream our universe into being. Immediately after the Big Bang, 99.99 percent of all matter and antimatter in the cosmos went on to annihilate each other. The stars and galaxies that we see around us are that minute portion of matter that remained. Had the ratio of matter to space in the Universe changed by even one-billionth of a percent, the laws of physics that permit life to emerge would not have been possible. The Big Bang had to be so finely tuned, so perfectly orchestrated and calculated, as to produce only 1 part of matter in 10 to the 50th power of stardust. This is 10 followed by 50 zeroes, no more and no less. That this occurred purely by chance is possible only if we contemplate the existence of a very large number of universes in the cosmos, where an improbable event such as the creation of our own universe would have been plausible!
What’s even more baffling is the fine tuning of the parameters of the universe that occurred, particularly here on the surface of the earth, which has maintained a perfect temperature balance between the freezing and boiling point of water for more than a billion years. The unlikeliness of these ratios that permit life to appear suggests the presence of an intelligent force. The Earthkeepers call this the Infinite Source, or Infinity.
The shamans I have studied with in the Andes and the Amazon believe that we can only access the power of this force by raising our level of consciousness. When we do so, we become aware that we’re like a drop of water in a vast, divine ocean, distinct yet immersed in something much larger than ourselves. It’s only when we experience our connection to Infinity that we’re able to dream powerfully. In fact, it’s our sense of separation from Infinity that makes us become trapped in a nightmare in the first place.
If this sounds like circular thinking, you are right. Which came first, the nightmare or the sense of separation from Infinity? The answer is that they occur simultaneously.
To end the nightmare, to reclaim our power of dreaming reality and craft a better reality, we need more than an intellectual understanding of how this process works. We need to have a visceral understanding of our dreaming power and experience it in every cell of our body. In fact, the intellectual understanding of our ability to create reality mimics but forestalls the kind of dreaming we’re capable of. If we don’t get beyond mere intellectual understanding of this concept, we’ll end up lowering the bar and creating a far less glorious and beautiful experience of the world than we’re capable of crafting. With a visceral understanding of our power to dream, we recognize that we can share this experience of Infinity right here, right now, and stop feeling disassociated and disconnected.
It takes courage to taste Infinity. According to Greek mythology, the gods swiftly punished any mortal who dared to ascend Olympus and taste divine power. Yet they ultimately rewarded those who had the courage to step into their realm, such as Hercules and Psyche. Similarly, in Judeo-Christian lore, when Adam and Eve had disobeyed God and eaten of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, making us become like God, the Lord threw them out of the Garden of Eden “lest he [mankind] put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever, and become as one of us.” Despite this original sin of humanity, we are promised a chance to dwell in Heaven at the end of time, where we can be reunited with our Creator.
Once you experience dreaming, you realize that everything in your life is unfolding with perfect synchronicity. Events may not be working out the way you would like, but within the scheme of your life, things happen in superlative harmony. You miss your train on your way to work the day that terrorists strike the World Trade Center and survive, as happened to a student of mine. Or, your child tells you he has been accepted to the college of his choice the same week you get the promotion you’ve wanted. Moreover, when you experience dreaming, you discover that your problems are no longer overwhelming you or defining your life. While the difficulties in your life feel very real, you always have the choice to create a heroic story about your relationship to them instead of a disempowering tale of suffering. You’ll recognize that you can stop being a victim, or trying to fix the world all on your own, or feeling vindictive toward those who harmed you. You’ll see that your life is exactly as it should be right now, and you’ll be able to let go of all the stories that keep you feeling trapped and unhappy, and venting in your therapist’s office. You’ll begin to practice dreaming the world into being, and everything will change.
The Earthkeepers believe that the world is real, but only because you are dreaming it into being. But dreaming the world requires an act of courage. When we lack courage, we have to settle for the world that is being dreamed by our culture or by our genes. We feel we have to settle for the nightmare. To dream courageously, you must be willing to use your heart. Otherwise, your dream will stall at the level of emotions, and of thinking too much, planning too much, and worrying endlessly. Then your dream will turn into a nightmare or a mere daydream, trapping you or drifting away while you wonder, “What happened?”
I remember one of my early trips to the Amazon. I was then a young anthropologist investigating the healing practices of the shamans of the rainforest. I had decided to use myself as a subject. I explained to the jungle medicine man that, as a child, I had fled my country of birth because of a communist revolution. I had seen bloodshed in the streets, and been terrified by gunfire in the night. Since then, I had suffered from recurring nightmares in which armed men would force their way into my home and take away my loved ones. I was in my late twenties, and had been unable to enter into a lasting relationship for fear I would lose the person I loved, just like in my nightmare. During one healing ceremony, the shaman explained to me that like everyone, I can either have what I want, or the reasons why I can’t. “You are too enamored of your story,” the old man said to me. “Until you dare to dream a different dream, all you will have will be the nightmare.” That evening, he showed me how I could craft a different story for myself, one in which I had been tempered by adversity, and in which my experiences had taught me to have compassion for others who were suffering. “The first step to dream a new dream is to create a new story, in which you are not playing the part of the victim,” he explained. Then he helped me to realize that I was not only dreaming my life, but I was also dreaming the entire cosmos into being, just as it was dreaming me.
Although your mind resists it, the fact is that you have a choice between having the life you want or having the reasons you can’t have that life. You can have joy and peace, or you can have that big black bag full of all the sorrowful incidents and accidents that happened to you in your childhood or in your last relationship. You can have your wounds or you can have your glory. You can live the life of a victim, burdened by the traumas of your past, or you can live the life of a hero, but you can’t do both. If you want to feel empowered, you need to make a conscious decision to dream a sacred dream and practice courage.
Courageous dreaming happens at a state of perception that the Earthkeepers refer to as the level of hummingbird. The hummingbird is an archetype for the heroic journeyer whose purpose is to fly toward spiritual maturity. Like any traveler, you will inevitably take some wrong turns, but each time you return to the recognition that you are dreaming your reality, you will deepen your understanding of the journey and feel more committed to it. You’ll be able to embrace the ever-shifting landscape around you with equanimity and a sense of humor, and even experience grace.
Alberto Villoldo, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and psychologist who has studied and practiced the shamanic traditions of the Andes and Amazon for more than 30 years, researching and translating ancient healing modalities to make them practical, scientific, and contemporary for the Western world. Initiated by the last of the Incan shaman masters, in 1984 he founded The Four Winds Society, dedicated to bridging ancient shamanic healing practices with modern medicine and psychology. A former faculty member at San Francisco State University, he is the author of Shaman, Healer, Sage and Mending the Past and Healing the Future with Soul Retrieval.
This article is from the book Courageous Dreaming: How Shamans Dream the World into Being, by Alberto Villoldo PhD