Spirituality and Dream Revision

March 22, 2013

Self-awareness — our sense of who we are — is one of our most prized possessions.  Our well-developed sense of self may historically have led human beings to create and embrace the major world religions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism.  The first three of these are monotheistic, with a self-aware, non-material God. The last two, Hinduism and Buddhism, do not recognize a God per se, but include a concept of the One, “Brahman”, of which each individual self, “Atman”, is a separate element, like a drop of water.  Prayer in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam involves communion with God or God’s agent.  Mindful meditation in Hinduism and Buddhism can lead toward a sense of oneness with all beings, the extreme of which is referred to as “nirvana” (Sanskrit), “satori” (Japanese), or “enlightenment” (English).

PTSD is so devastating to people because it threatens their sense of who they are, their self-awareness.  During the actual trauma they may have felt powerless, helpless, hopeless.  Over time, and in the absence of effective treatment, they developed PTSD, which often presents itself in the form of “learned helplessness”.

Dream revision is designed to be empowering.  How can we empower someone who feels powerless?  For people with a spiritual belief system, this can involve turning to one’s God or a representative (perhaps an angel) for Jews, Christians, or Moslems, or engaging in mindful meditation in the “present moment” (to achieve connectedness) for Hindus or Buddhists.

In dream revision it is quite appropriate to call for assistance from an angel or a named agent of one’s deity (the Virgin Mary, standing in for Jesus; Kuan Yin, standing in for the Buddha).  Mindfulness meditation can be helpful for PTSD sufferers by holding them in the present moment rather than dwelling on the past.  Reconnecting with one’s spiritual life, in whatever form, can be crucial in restoring one’s sense of self.

People without a religious affiliation or practice can call for secular protectors in revising their nightmares.  Soldiers can call for military reinforcements (i.e., more soldiers).  Crime victims can call for police officers.  Victims of natural disasters (earthquakes, fires, floods, windstorms) can call for ambulances, fire fighters, rescue boats, giant cranes, helicopters.

Perhaps the key element here is to recognize that the person with PTSD may have difficulty recovering through their own efforts alone.  They may need help of some kind, not only from a health professional, but perhaps from a dream rescuer as well.  Restoring one’s sense of self seems to be a communal process.  We build our sense of self in a social world, and we may need to restore it in a social world. Positive social emotions like respect, gratitude, pride, joy, hope, admiration, and love are important in the process of recovering from PTSD.