April 9, 2009

Book review: Robert Moss, “The Secret History of Dreaming” via Michael Sandrock.

Robert Moss, “The Secret History of Dreaming” 

review via Michael Sandrock

April 16 at the Boulder Bookstore. The free event starts at 7:30 p.m.

Late in 1979, John Lennon was disturbed by a dream in which he was he was approached by a “chubby, bespectacled stranger” while out eating with his wife, Yoko Ono. In his dream, the police told Lennon that the agitated stranger had a handgun with him.

Then early in 1980, Lennon had another dream, in which he reads his own obituary and learns that he had been charged in his own death – which had taken place near Central Park’s Dakota apartments. Later that year, Lennon was indeed killed near the Dakota by a “chubby, bespectacled stranger.”

This is one of many strange stories of coincidence and insight that dream expert Robert Moss brings together in “The Secret History of Dreaming” (New World Library), a new book that brings together the history of dreaming and the vast potential available to those who pay attention to their dreams. Moss shows us how some people are even able to enter into and influence their dreams.

Why bother with our dreams? Because, according to Moss, dreaming and the creative use of imagination might just contain clues that can save us from the troubles we find ourselves in. “Dreaming is vital to the human story, central to our survival and evolution, to creative endeavors in every field, and quite simply, to getting us through,” he writes.

Moss is a native of Australia, who was first influenced by the Aboriginal concept of a dreamtime. The former journalist has been writing about dreams and giving seminars for years, and his expertise shows. In “The Secret History of Dreaming” Moss provides concrete examples of the importance of dreaming in famous lives, drawn from a variety of fields. Some are well-known, such as August Kekule, the German chemist who discovered the structure of the benzene ring by dreaming of a snake biting its tail.

One of the most intriguing, and less well-known, stories, is “The Beautiful Dream Spy of Madrid.” This would be Lucrecia de Leon,  whose hundreds of dreams were recorded by Spanish Inquisitors starting in 1587. It was said that her dreams could predict the future. She was visited every night by what she told the her Inquisitors was an “ordinary man,” who turned out to be anything but ordinary.

“Lucrecia was a genuine vidente, or seer, and her main ways of knowing what was going on – across time and behind closed doors – was to dream her way in,” Moss writes.

Moss gives stories of many others in history whose dreams were central to their lives, among them Mark Twain, Winston Churchill, Harriet Tubman, Carl Jung and physicist Wolfgang Pauli.

If you are one of those who does not travel in your dreams, you can still tap into the power of your imagination through mental rehearsal, a kind of attentive dreaming. This is what basketball great Bill Russell did in making himself into a champion. Russell’s eureka moment came while sitting on the bench during a game as part of a touring prep all-star team. As Moss explains it:  “When he (Russell) closed his eyes, he found he could not only visualize the game move by move but also insert himself into the action as if he were the key player.”

From then on, Russell practiced this mental rehearsal, as if he were watching himself as the star of a movie, seeing himself as “a dancing shadow” and making all the correct defensive moves.

“The Secret History of Dreaming“ is full of such anecdotes, as well as ways we can use dreams to better our own lives. According to Moss, it would behoove all of us to pay attention to our dreams, because, as he writes,  “…over the whole course and range of history, dreaming has helped humans to get by and get through the challenges of life.” This book shows us how to do it.

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