Secret of True Dreams | The Taste of Hidden Things: Images on the Sufi Path

A God who cannot be imagined does manifest Himself in visible symbols, and the visible symbols are real manifestations of God, and to grasp them one must have imagination.
- Thomas Merton

Dreams, Sufis say, speaking of "true dreams" (ar-ru'yâ as-sâliha), are symbolic messages which arise from the knowledge hidden in the center of being. In the wilderness of unknowing through which the seeker travels, these encoded messages give a forecast and a foretaste of things to come. They are often the only indication which points in the direction the seeker needs to proceed. Not all dreams are "true dreams"; most dreams are spun, Sufis say, by the needs of the lower self, or by the mind churning the events of the day. Such dreams are usually confused and fragmented, and are characteristically called "dreams in confusion" (adghâth al-ahlâm).

But occasionally there appears a dream, or a series of dreams, which bears the hallmark of a true knowledge, a knowledge which, though concealed from mind and sense perception, responds directly and instructively to the true needs of the dreamer's soul. Such dreams often have an aura of numinosity which doesn't require interpretation. Their meaning looms clear on the inner horizon. They have a feeling quality which touches the dreamer and awakens in him dormant emotions, perceptions, a new insight into the direction his life is taking. The dreamer, if he is sincere in his quest for truth and meaning, will listen, understand, and respond to the inner taskmaster who reveals himself in the dream, and who knows him better than he knows himself.

Ibn al-'Arabî, the 13th-century Andalusian mystic, whose formulations of mystical knowledge have left a lasting impression on the Sufi tradition, describes the paradoxical nature of that hidden knowledge to which, "until it is unveiled instant by instant," consciousness has no access. He writes:

God deposited within man knowledge of all things, then prevented him from perceiving what He had deposited within him. This is one of the divine mysteries which reason denies and considers totally impossible. The nearness of this mystery to those ignorant of it is like God's nearness to His servant, as mentioned in His words, "We are nearer to him than you, but you do not see" (56:85) and His words, "We are nearer to him than the jugular vein" (50:16). In spite of this nearness, the person does not perceive and does not know. No one knows what is within himself until it is unveiled to him instant by instant.

Modern depth psychology too is based on the premise that an aspect of the human psyche is buried so deep that it cannot be considered part of consciousness, yet does surface in various guises, most predominantly in dreams. Jung, a modern explorer of the knowledge hidden in the unconscious, describes it as having, paradoxically, its own "consciousness." "Certain dreams, visions, and mystical experiences," he writes, "... suggest the existence of a consciousness in the unconscious." The knowledge compressed in the unconscious exceeds by far the knowledge available to consciousness. "Today we know for certain," Jung writes, "that the unconscious has contents which would bring an immeasurable increase of knowledge if they could only be made conscious."

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:: excerpts from The Taste of Hidden Things : Images on the Sufi Path by Sara Sviri, PH.D.

"What makes The Taste of Hidden Things unique among contemporary books on Sufism is the way Sara Sviri brings together her solid academic scholarship in the field and her profound personal experience on the Sufi path to provide a vivid, indelible, and heartfelt description of Sufism."
- Alireza Nurbakhsh, Editor of Sufi Magazine

"This is a book of extensive historical scholarship which can enthrall those who are open to the mystical experience. Sara Sviri has the gift of conveying paradox with lucid clarity. Sufi symbolism seems to carry the deepest psychological truths and is presented here in a style which is eminently readable."
- Mollu Tuby, Jungian analyst

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