We dream for the survival of our species.
– Montague Ullman, Pioneer in Dream Research
For many years, I have had apocalyptic dreams: terrifying visions of flood, fire, war and destruction on a global scale. In the past, I often held these dreams with deep reverence but shaky uncertainty as to ‘what to do with them.’ When explored, however, apocalyptic dreams often reveal insights into how we can solve problems in our communities and personal lives.
If you’ve ever had an apocalyptic dream, you may have experienced it as a Big Dream in that it had heightened visual, emotional and numinous qualities, but also a possible collective warning, setting the dream apart from other dreams.
Here’s a dream of mine that is particularly haunting:
One for One
It was the end of days. We were asking: What is there to be done? The answer came from an Ape Man and his actions were so simple. You take something from the earth and then you give it back – One for One. I see him demonstrating this by planting seeds wherever he went, pouring water into the soil. This is how we will save the earth.
But it is too late and war has begun. I find myself near the Poles: the only last place to survive. Nuclear war has hit home and there is desperation by those who have been poisoned. Green skinned, wraithlike beings wandering for scraps and shelter from the poisonous skies. I am among them but I am not visibly poisoned though I wonder how much toxic air I have breathed in. People are angry that I have gone outside the shelter. I come back inside and wonder about the Ape Man, the concept of One for One, and how simple it could all be.
Apocalyptic dreams such as this are often disturbing, leaving the dreamer with a thick residue of confusion, fear and hopelessness. The sense of doom and despair can be isolating and foster questions like, is this a precognitive dream? If so, should I warn people? Will they think I’m crazy? And finally, why would I have such a dream?
The beauty of dream exploration, though, is that it can help illuminate a confusing or scary dream, turning fear into hope, and despair into renewed life direction.
Global Revelations from My Apocalyptic Dream
Upon waking from my dream, I immediately thought of the book Ishmael by Daniel Quinn and felt an urge to read it again. Luckily, I found it wedged between two books and spent a quiet afternoon absorbed in this gripping novel about the Philosopher King in a gorilla body named Ishmael.
In the story, Ishmael uses the Socratic Method to telepathically teach his pupil about our human story of the Takers (so-called ‘civilized’ world or those of the Agricultural or Neolithic Revolution) and the Leavers (everyone else or indigenous peoples). Ishmael believes the “Takers” narrative will be our undoing.
The life affirming Leavers’ story is: ‘the gods made man for the world, the same way they made salmon and sparrows for the world.
But the premise of the Takers’ story is more destructive: ‘The world belongs to man…” In the last 10,000 years, we humans have been breaking the laws of nature, deeming ourselves as gods or gods ‘chosen ones’ by deciding who lives or dies. We’ve done this by taking the land and killing anything or anyone who gets in our way, not only with impunity but as our right to do.
Waking Life Dream Integration
After my dream I had a series of synchronistic events including random people asking me if I read Ishmael! These themes were also popping up everywhere in the news and I became engaged in spirited conversations with people about it, sparking new alliances and revolutionary ideas.
What struck me the most about this apocalyptic dream was that it was not necessarily a prediction of how the world would end but rather a wake-up call about how the “taker story” concept needs to die.
By receiving this insight and then taking action from my own dream, I was able to understand my dream in a whole new way. I knew that our collective story matters and that dreams woven into our personal and cultural narratives can be used as a moral compass in which to live and assure our survival.
From Perishing to Prospering
Throughout history, apocalyptic dreams have helped communities recognize imminent danger so they were able to thrive instead of perish.
One striking example of this is written in anthropologist and explorer, Knud Rasmussen’s book, Across Arctic America. He speaks of an Inuit medicine man who saved his tribe from starvation by dreaming of a land of abundance to the far north. Those who believed were saved, those who didn’t, perished.
Another example is the famous precognitive dreams of World War I by Carl G. Jung that were so terrifying he thought he was having a psychotic breakdown. “I realized that a frightful catastrophe was in progress. I saw mighty yellow waves, the floating rubble of civilization, and the drowned bodies of uncounted thousands. Then the whole sea turned to blood.”
Although these visions alarmed him, from them came the most creative, prolific and ground-breaking concepts that have literally changed the world: Jungian Psychology.
How to Explore Apocalyptic Dreams
If you’ve had an apocalyptic dream, the first thing to do is take care of yourself. Scientific studies have shown that when we dream the brain utilizes the exact same processes and systems as in the waking state.
In other words, what we experience in a dream is very real. You can imagine dreaming of the ‘end of days’ can be quite stressful so be sure to self sooth like taking a bath or hike. That way you can be in a better state to sit with the dream and receive whatever messages or insights it may hold for you. And then act on those insights.
Here are some ways we can use the dream as a catalyst for change and evolution:
- Share the Dream Gather some friends and form a dream group to share dreams. This could be any group that has a pressing social/spiritual/environmental issue that needs to be addressed (i.e. women’s issues, racism, education) and in any organization or facility like schools, hospitals, companies, etc… NOTE: Dreams are sacred and sharing dreams takes an innate sensitivity. Protocols for dream sharing can be found at the International Association for the Study of Dreams website. (http://www.asdreams.org/idxaboutus.htm)
- Dream Activism It isn’t surprising that many inventions, scientific discoveries, composition both musically and literally have been discovered creatively in dreams. So why not move the dream into solving current issues in a holistic way? By grounding the dream we are creating community by bridging social and environmental activism with spirituality. Like author and dream activist, Jean Campbell’s The World Dreams Peace Bridge projects (http://www.worlddreamspeacebridge.org/aidforchildren.htm).
Although it’s tempting to want to get over these apocalyptic dreams, a healthier way is to become bigger than they are by recognizing that their underlying message may be pointing us toward our most creative selves, if we only have the courage to take that leap.