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Lions Roar : July 2014
When the Censor Goes to Sleep Novelist Amy Tan & Deirdre Barrett, author of The New Science of Dreaming Deirdre Barrett: Every part of your brain is doing something during dreaming, but some parts are ramped up and some damped down. The area that says, “No, that’s not the way to do it” is much quieter, and the one generating 3-D visual images is much more active. So we’re less likely to censor ourselves, which is why some scientific breakthroughs have been made in dreams. They almost always involve a scientist stuck on something because the conventional approach to the problem happens to be wrong. The most famous example is Kekulé figuring out the structure of benzene when it was believed that all molecules were in a straight line. He knew the atoms in benzene and was trying to figure out some straight line with side chains. In a dream, he saw the atoms dancing and they formed snake-like lines. Then one of the snakes took its tail in its mouth, and he realized that benzene was a closed-ring structure. His mind went there faster in a dream because the prefrontal wasn’t tell- ing him as loudly, “No, no, molecules have to be straight lines.” Almost all scientific breakthroughs made in dreams have that quality of thinking outside the box. Amy Tan: I had a series of dreams when I was in my twenties and a roommate of mine had been murdered. He’d come to me at night and give lessons. One had to do with self-esteem. He took me to this magical place full of flying elephants and camels and said, “Do you want to fly like these animals?” I said, “I’m not dead. I can’t do that.” He said I could rent wings at this little stand. They cost twenty-five cents, a real bargain. So I rented a pair. I was flying and it was great. But then I thought, wait a minute, twenty-five-cent wings? And then I was plunging. I was going to die! I thought: But I was flying a second ago... And then I was flying again. I did this a number of times before I realized it was my belief that I could fly that enabled me to. Now, I don’t believe that while I’m awake and jump off buildings. But what was created was a sense of my own determination in life. I knew I had to stop thinking that I couldn’t do things. I had to just try. F-bombs and Other Sounds Video artist Bill Viola & Buddhist teacher Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche Bill Viola: I had five works in an exhibition. They were in a con- tinuous series of rooms, and each piece had sound. Setting up, we had to figure out how we could get people to walk through all five rooms, opening the doors, without sound coming out. We hired an acoustic engineer, and he designed a beautiful system. All he did was make a little notch in the edge of each door so it was at an angle. He said opposites cancel, so to completely isolate rooms acoustically you just need the tiniest bit of mate- rial on opposite doors. He also said that if he took any room and put the right acoustic material around, he could guarantee that you’d want to leave within five minutes. You’d walk in, sit down, and have a nice conversation, but you’d have the feeling that you didn’t want to be there. Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche: If by using sound you can make a person leave a room, it makes sense that there are sounds that can make you more awake. Sound, especially music and chant- ing, brings our consciousness to a different state, right on the spot. It doesn’t have to be a mantra or sacred word. It can be anything, even The Rolling Stones. The Hindu teacher Baba Muktananda was giving a talk about mantras. One student raised his hand and said, “If you say, ‘I’m hungry’ 100,000 times, you’ll still be hungry. So how does man- tra work?” Then the guru used the F word. He said, shut the “F” up and sit down. So the student sat down and the guru contin- ued his discussion about mantra. Then the student raised his hand again and the teacher ignored him. Suddenly the student shouted, “How can you use the F word?” See? The power of sound! It’s just a little sound, but the F word makes you so angry. It changes your mind. Sound is translated into concepts. Then our concepts become so power- ful that we start believing in something that isn’t really true. We always talk about religious persons as having blind faith, but we—as ordinary persons—sometimes have stronger blind faith than religious people. We have blind faith in our concepts and in the things parents, teachers, the government, and CNN are telling us. PHOTOSBYMICHAELPALMA SHAMBHALA SUN JULy 2014 33