Learn from the Senoi, the dream-people of Malaysia


Dreams were very important in the life of the Senoi. This people lived in the mountains of Malaysia. They had a society free of crime and mental illness.

In the morning the entire family, discussed their dreams. This might sound a bit boring, but how boring was your last nightmare?
When they became teen-agers the Senoi did not have nightmares anymore. All their dreams were positive. They achieved this by means of a very original system, that I will explain in a minute.

The Senoi lived in long community houses, constructed of bamboo, rattan and thatch, and held away from the ground on poles. They grew among other things rice, bananas, bread-fruit trees and pumpkins. They were mainly vegetarians, but fish and certain forest animals were also on the menu.
That the Senoi did not suffer of neurosis or psychoses sounds unbelievable. But it is well researched and the results confirm this. The way they handle their dreams seems to be the key to this.

The rules that the Senoi had when it came to their dreams were the following:
If there is danger in your dream, you should confront and conquer it. When for instance a child had dreamed that a tiger attacked him, his parents would tell him that such dream-tigers could not hurt him. They encouraged him to attack the tiger himself the next time. And if he wasn't strong enough, he could call a 'dream-friend' to help him.
If the danger was fire he should put it out with water. When the child fell from a mountain, he would be able to land softly or fly etc. See for this also Redreaming.
Besides this the child was encouraged to have as much pleasure as possible in the dream. "Try to fly and discover all sorts of things, and always let your dream end positive". Even if the dreamer died, he could be reborn in a better and stronger body. My daughter thinks this part is especially "cool".

The most positive ending was if the dreamer got or found a dream-gift . When they were awake the Senoi spent a lot of time creating dream-gifts or something that they had seen in their dreams. This could become a painting, woodcarving, or for instance a piece of music.
In western society such dream-gifts are also mentioned. The sewing machine was invented with the aid of a dream by Elias Howe.
Robert Louis Stevenson -a writer- even had a complete dream-tribe, which provided him with ideas. His best-known works are 'Treasure Island' and 'Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde'.
Several compositions by Wagner, Mozart and Beethoven were dream-inspired. As well as a couple of songs by Sting (The Dream of the Blue Turtles). And Albert Einstein owes his theory of relativity partly to a dream.

Finally it was important to make as many friends as possible in the dream. This is logical when you realize that every dream character is a part of your own mind ( you are the one who has dreamed them).
Hostile characters were also 'conquered' by becoming their friend. If the character would still be aggressive, the dreamer should attack him. He could call in the help of a dream-friend that would help him defeat the aggressor. This could be some powerful figure in the Senoi community. In our society this can be some strong superhero, the ghostbusters, movie actor, parent or a pet). After defeating the hostile character or making him a friend he must give a gift to the dreamer as a token of good will.

You can also use this system by day to change dreams that you have already had: this is called Redreaming. It is meant for children and adults. If your child has had a nightmare, it is a good idea to read books or show movies with "friendly nightmare figures". Books with friendly monsters, alligators, ghosts etc. Because I could not find such lists on the Internet I have created a books and movies category.

The rather idyllic society of the Senoi was regrettably almost entirely destroyed during World War II, after they shared their dream system with Westerners. Nowadays there are still Senoi, but many will not talk about their dreams anymore. Some even deny that they have had such a dream system. The last time they shared their method they were almost destroyed, so I can't blame them.


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