When visiting the UK not too long ago I found myself one late afternoon wandering the grass-covered ruins of an ancient Abbey. A strange fog had rolled in and masked many parts of the ruins making it look even more hollow and missing in walls than it otherwise would. It was on days like these that it is said things come up from the underworld and reach out for the souls that wander these halls that are no more.
This the land of the White Monks and the Black Death sings a lonely song, but during the Spring when the grass is cut it lays like a carpet across the floor of the great nave ready for the grand noble entrance of Kings and Queens once more. I could hear them walking past, the swishing of their robes, the clank of a Bishop’s Crosier striking the pace against the stone floor through the hall, and the smell of incense riding the foggy swirls descending from high in the roofless ceiling.
For one brief moment I was there, witness to what was and is no more. For one brief moment I transcended the veil of time. A coldness crawled up my back and I shook my head vigorously to dispatch the errant visions, then stood chilled and still, hearing echoes of a past I never knew, yet somehow they had followed me here and lay amongst my own memories forever more.
Not so long ago I asked the “nothing-in-particular-of-the-general-universe” (God for some of you) to help me through the funk I’d fallen into and while browsing a bookstore my attention was drawn to a shelf where a book called out to me, The13th Disciple by Deepak Chopra. “Sounds a bit preachy and just alittle too Christian for my tastes,” I thought, but found myself buying it anyway. I waded into its pages when I got home and nothing jumped out but something told me to be patient that there was some gold hiding in the pages.
As I continued to readI came across a chapter that sparked a memory, a recollection of a time spent at a retreat when a grief was resurrected and sent me hurtling down an endlessly dark hole from which I wasn’t sure I could pull myself.
I shook off the memory and continued to read when another turn of phrase triggered another memory of a void I had tripped into shortly after hearing of my father’s death. Both instances of grief propelled me into a helpless emotional abyss from which I wasn’t sure I’d escape and appalling as it may seem I wasn’t sure that I wanted to.
In both instances within moments of my plunge, and with fear consuming every cell of my being, I calmed and faced the darkness before me wondering curiously what lay at the other end and finding that I was just a little captured by the thought that there might not even be an end. What would that be like, I wondered?
Why was I visiting these pains yet again after so many years? Was it possible that I hadn’t fully dealt with either and here was another chance to reconcile, to “zero out” or bring balance to these experiences? I’d always wondered where the tunnel would have taken me if I had not stopped the tumble. I mean what would have happened if Alice had stopped her fall down the rabbit hole by waking herself up?
Almost as soon as I had that thought the following came to me and I quickly grabbed a pen and in my haste, and not finding any other suitable writing surface, wrote it inside the dust jacket of the book.
“Seeking zero point where nothing holds you up and you plunge into the emptiness of your being.
Falling into the objectless void you’re on your own with no one to aid.
But keep your wits and you’ll pass right through hell, the tears will wash away the fear, and the abyss will become your grace.”
The words in my mind came to an abrupt end and I set down the pen and briefly pondered their meaning.
Suddenly a memory of light elbowed its way into consciousness and for a brief moment I was laying on the floor of a mediation room open on all four sides to a surrounding forest that until then had been cloaked in the deepening grays and shadows of an advancing night and marveling how every tree, every leaf, the sky, the ground, and the people around me seemed to have a glow.
What had been a somewhat hostile world became warm and friendly and I got up and walked into the night feeling for the first time in my life that I belonged, not to any organization or place, but to everything.
And then I was back. As I sat at home reading my musings it was as though something in the universe wanted to remind me of the journey I’ve been on all these many years and how far I’ve come and how I’ve changed over that time. It’s not in my essence that change took place but in my ability to see it and function from it and like Alice sometimes there’s a light just for us at the bottom of the dark holes we fall into and we just have to let go in to them.
Carl Jung the 20th century Swiss psychoanalyst suggested that there’s a place between the conscious mind and the soul called the dream–it is a hidden door into the cosmic mind he said. It is something that exists in the twilight, the limen if you will, between the “out there” and the “in here” of our brains. This is the threshold upon which the shaman works his magic, where the healing takes place.
To the Iroquois dreams are a representation of the desires of the soul. To some tribal cultures they are messages from the ancestors, or from the spirit world. To many Christians and Muslims they were and in some ways still are seen as messages from God.
Jung thought that dreams were part of the Individuation process where we each become more fully human–where the “I” is created. Perhaps we dream to create the self? But what is this dream?
One night I thought that I had awakened from my sleeping imaginarium and attempted to manipulate the lingering images so as to get back into it when I realized that I was still dreaming. So I asked myself while in the in the dream, “What is being awake? If I am still in this dream, but think I’m awake, am I really dreaming?” It came to me then that perhaps I wasn’t awake in the rest of my life, but only dreaming. “Am I a dream, dreaming I’m awake, or am I awake dreaming I’m dreaming?”
That was my first lucid dream experience, though at the time I didn’t recognize it as such, but it did shift my perspective a little about what I had been calling consciousness. Dreams then took on a different meaning for me when I realized that they were an in-between state of realities that may actually all take place within an even greater dream–the dream of God. If as Edgar Allan Poe quipped, “Are all we see or seem, is but a dream within a dream?” do we also dream God into reality and if we are dreaming him, is he also dreaming us?
In the Australian Aboriginal cosmology the Rainbow Snake god created the Earth that then created mankind, who in turn recreated the Earth, and all was done within “The Dreaming.” To them this Dreaming continues to this day and in this perspective we are the dreamer and the dream at the same time.
Every story of every creature creates. And according to the physicist Fred Alan Wolf, just as reality is affected by the surrounding energy field, dreams are not made by the dreamer alone either, but by the surrounding field, which in this case can be seen as the people around us. We are all involved to some degree in each other’s stories. When dreaming, we may be writing our own script and in this way each of us is but one dream story of the Dreamtime.
Perhaps we are all standing on the threshold of consciousness and in a lucid dream so to speak–where being awake and being in the dream are superimposed. It may be here that we create what is. We do not devise the objects of reality, though we do beget our experience and meaning for what is there. But because we can only know what we perceive-what we project; we don’t really know what exists outside our own heads.
The Mandala is for me an excellent metaphor for the dream within a dream concept where at the center of its concentric circles lie our selves. In it we are both the center and the rings around it–it represents the whole self, the conscious and unconscious striving for unity. Upon every boundary one stands and sees him self, forward and backward, in and out, above and below, creating and being created. Reality is derived from the center and then collapses upon itself as it becomes ever more aware.
On his way to the Archipelago (in the book The Archipelago of Dreams) Robert crossed this limen between worlds and entered the world of the dream where reality is created. In it he was confronted by the archetypes of his race and was forced to reconcile with them. Beyond the veil he discovered the reality of creation and was forced to grow up in its embrace. Robert learned of the dream within the dream and feared awakening within his slumber. This was his ultimate shadow that had stalked him all his life and would end his life as he had known it.
Some have dreams of an invisible creature sitting upon their chest, a presence in the room, dark, foreboding, and cloaked in fear. Sometimes there’s a sound but almost always a vision, there can be a feeling of floating, shadowy outlines and sometimes-demonic characters. There are times in these dreams where one feels like they are falling and jerk awake. Very real and quite vivid these are the dreams of the Hypnogogic.
“Sometimes I am in that state as I just start to go to sleep when I begin to have very strange visions, sort of pre-dream dreams. Typically my dreams are of regular situations with regular people inhabiting them, though these “regular” dreams are a bit disjointed in that they often jump around. Sometimes I find that people or objects are doing things that they can’t do in the waking world, such as fly, or hover.
But sometimes, in this pre-dream state, what dream scientists call the hypnogogic state, my mind seems to manufacture some of my strangest creatures. People morph into odd-looking creatures—visions that I don’t ever recall having seen in the waking world. To top it all off while having these visions my body can feel paralyzed. On occasion I’ve recognized that the visions are about to turn nightmarish and I’ve forced myself to wake up only to find that for a few seconds I can’t move!”
RJ Cole –Hypnagogia and sleep transition states
As a boy I used to lie out on the grass in the evening and strange creatures and flying machines would swoop down from the sky. I would watch in fascination cartoon-like characters scroll across the stars. Sometimes in my darkened room I would watch small balls of light dance in the air and flit behind the dresser or in and out of the closet. I was never afraid of them for they seemed to be friendly and often kept a lonely boy company. They went away in my teens and I didn’t remember them again until I became interested in dreams in my early thirties. I have only had one experience since then. This was a dream of the hypnogogic and it was one that led me to write the tale ofThe Archipelago of Dreams.
In this vision I left my body and traveled to a place where souls go to recuperate after a life of stress and suffering. There they become revitalized and move on to their next level of adventure or return to the land of being to live it all over again. It was there that I discovered my true being and its destiny– hallucination, lucid dream, parapsychological experience, or just a little crazy or perhaps all four?
An occasional hypnogogic hallucination is an interesting phenomenon and most of us have had them at sometime in our lives. Several dreamers who have shared their dreams with me have shared a novel hypnogogic-like experience. However, when these experiences start showing up on a regular basis they can fall into the category of sleep disorders.
If they are frequent enough that they disturb your sleep there are a few things that you can do to lessen that frequency:
Keep a regular sleep schedule and be careful to get enough sleep every night.
Control your stress. Relaxation activities such as meditation, deep breathing, yoga and the like can be very helpful in controlling stress.
Consult with your doctor as to whether your medications could be causing hallucinations.
Consider consulting a sleep specialist and having a sleep study done.
Understand that these hallucinations are common and not necessarily a sign of a more serious disorder, however that dos not mean they should be ignored if they become too frequent. Ultimately your physician and/or therapist can help to determine whether they fall into the category of disorder.
Keep a sleep journal and track your symptoms to look for patterns.
Not too long ago I ran across a phrase that so accurately represented my experience of the dream world that I had the feeling of having been lost yet finally coming home to myself. This was especially true as it related to all those times when I’ve awakened to find only a whisper, or trace, of having had a dream but otherwise lost in a strange emptiness that try as I would couldn’t be filled.
The phrase is the “presence of absence”.
As soon as I read it images of blank sheets of paper, the negative spaces of an artist’s canvas, and that wisp of a rapidly fading memory of a world lost upon awakening and how each defined and gave form to the reality present and the reality to be. To me the dream and the blank spaces that give presence by their absence are where the ineffable soul meets us in the bounded world of the material and where what can’t be described describes what is, was, and is yet to be.
I am always excited by the blank sheet of paper, or blank document of the word processor for in these is present the beauty of the infinite potential of the soul’s creativity. I’m never sure what’s going to happen when I begin to write– each filled blankness being a journey never taken before.
The artist’s use of what is not there to hint at what is has always fascinated me and helped me to realize that often reality is defined more by the abstract and the potential than the concrete and fixed.
I also feel the experience of something that becomes more present by its absence every time I am stirred by some event or object to recall a close friend or loved one. In some ways they have become closer through their not being than they were when they were here e.g. I am more frequently reminded of them as I travel about in the haunts of our shared past.
As I looked at the phrase again a memory of a moment in time when I was wandering with friends along a forest trail, my mind becalmed, my body luxuriating in the undefined sounds and smells of the world about me where something quite remarkable occurred. At one moment I was a Being walking amongst the other Beings of the forest and in the very next second a new presence consumed me and separation disappeared, everything dissolved, and folded into one. I was gripped by an ineffable joy that filled me with the never before experience of being the whole of creation where I was both everything and nothing. At that moment I knew that somehow I had touched the face of God. No object was he or I for that matter, but its presence was still very real.
From nothing, something a creation experience of the mystic, the place from whence my dreams are formed and the shape of my soul.
The presence of absence has often been a defining experience for me and has opened doors into all manner of new realities.
There is an uncontrolled and uncontrollable background world from which we are all born and out of which we motivate our lives. It is only through self-reflection, the art of transcending our conscious selves that we can discover a psychological resilience the likes of which the vast majority of people have never known or even knew was possible.
This is the art of reflecting on our experiences instead of being caught up in them. To do this one needs to gain some distance from them. For example, one can experience being depressed and become so wrapped up in the experience that it’s like being caught in a never-ending maze where you seem to wander aimlessly forever.
But transforming the experience from one of “being” depressed to the depression as being a signal that your approach to life has been outgrown and that a new approach needs to be developed can take you outside the experience and allow for a new perspective and change.
In short, by being your symptoms you can become lost, but by using the symptoms as signals of the psyche’s attempt to heal itself you can transcend, step out of, the maze. As with everything else the symptoms aren’t what’s causing the imbalance e.g. depression, they are only indicators that an imbalance exists. Too often we get caught up in our ego needs and forget that we are actually creatures of a much greater background world.
When we act as though we are our symptoms (fear, anxiety, depression, anger, powerlessness, etc.) we automatically try to avoid or cast out the demon. In other words, we try to reject rather than go into relationship with the symptom.
When we reject our feelings, our thoughts, or our unwanted memories we send the pains they cause into the dark cellars of our unconscious mind where they can fester and source all kinds of mischief. The art of reflection is the first step into dealing with our imbalances directly and one of the best ways of reflecting on our inner self is through the analysis of dreams. It is through our dreams that we can connect with that background world from which we all come.
In the dream it is the soul that reflects on itself while the ego sleeps rather than the daytime reflections of the ego upon itself that rarely produce any useful insight. Learning to see reality through your dreams can be a transforming experience.
“Come Fairies, take me out of this dull world, for I would ride with you upon the wind and dance upon the mountains like a flame!”
–William Butler Yeats
On my meditation walks I am often moved by the life going on about me– boys and girls with hockey sticks and skates battling street pucks at dusk, flocks of screeching Crows nesting in trees, the smile of the crescent moon with the wink of Venus below her, on a warm night crickets and barking dogs, on a cold and crisp one nothing but silence and the sound of my own footsteps. Sometimes a breeze whips through the branches and rustles the leaves and I hear the raucous laughter of a party just seen through the picture window of the house across the street.
And the world seems right.
But on other nights my mind is disturbed with its thoughts and whirls like a demented vortex and I hear nothing but my own voice. It’s a boring voice droning on and on about inane this’s and that’s and burying the peace of the night in rubble.
And nothing in the world seems right.
I long for the magic I’ve so often felt on so many earlier sojourns through the dark, but tonight it’s not to be. This is when I cry out to the dark denizens of the netherworld, “Come oh magic creatures of the imaginal and entertain me. Bring to me your mystery, your awe, your wonder, and your hidden treasure– make it better than it is.”
That night’s dreams brought me headstones and skulls, darkness and gray empty fields– a reflection of the mood carried back from the earlier journey. And then I ran across the poem by Yeats and I thought, ‘It’s not the fairies of the land he is calling to, but those of the inner soul who are entreated to crawl out from the rubbish and dance with me once more’.
“I am going to teach you the first step to power,” don Juan said, beginning his instruction in the art of dreaming. “I am going to teach you how to set up dreaming.”
“What does it mean to set up dreaming?”
“To set up dreaming means to have a precise and practical command over the general situation of a dream. For example, you may dream that you are in your classroom. To set up dreaming means that you do not let the dream slip into something else. You do not jump from the classroom to the mountains, for instance. In other words, you control the view of the classroom, and do not let it go until you want to.”
“But is it possible to do that?”
“Of course it is possible. This control is no different from the control we have over any situation in our daily lives. Sorcerers are used to it, and get it every time they want or need to. In order to get used to it yourself, you must start by doing something very simple. Tonight, in your dreams, you must look at your hands.”
–Don Juan to Carlos Castaneda in “The Art of Dreaming”
Of course the shaman (or sorcerer) Don Juan was alluding to the phenomenon of lucid dreaming i.e. becoming conscious within a dream and being aware that you’re still dreaming. In this state one can actually direct the events and outcome of the dream.
But he could just as easily have been talking about what you and I call the ‘waking state’ dream, the every day activity that we call reality.
Most Psychologists believe that we all project our thought images (ideas, desires, expectations, judgments, feelings, fears, etc.) onto the events and images of the world around us– there’s a world of objects and events and then there’s what we make of those, what meaning we give them and how we then respond to that meaning.
Basically we make up our own reality, it’s true! Research on the accuracy of witnesses has shown time and again that what was seen is often not what was actually there i.e. the mood, attention, and past experiences of the witness affects what is reported.
Even the choice of words to describe an event is affected by the witness’ past experience with those words. Ones experience about another persons ethnicity, age, size and physical features all contribute to the reality seen and the reality reported.
Unless properly trained in the art and science of observation we create our own reality and even then such things as unconscious motivations and undetected prejudices will affect the reality created.
Dreams are like this as well. They are the images, feelings, and symbols of our unconscious mind playing out in our unconscious sleep state and the unconscious attributes of ourselves that creates a reality within the dream. To interpret them in the waking state requires a conscious understanding of ones inner symbolism and how that is projected onto the outward reality. This is not an easy task and very often requires the aid of observers outside the mind.
Dreams are all about symbolism, the meaning projected onto each image, each event, and each person, or animal in the dream. This is also the reality of our waking state in that we almost never see reality for what it is.
In short, you and I “dream” our reality into existence. We may actually always be dreaming.
And just as with the lucid dream within the sleeping dream one can create ones meaning and outcomes beyond those that the waking dream seems to be presenting. For example, if you don’t like the current events of your waking dream life, then change them, create another reality, dream another response set to the reality about you. In other words, become lucid within your waking dream– start noticing that you are indeed asleep, then wake up!
Not too long ago I read an article in the New York Times. It was a story about the museums of death found in many places around the world. I was surprised by the title for I thought all museums were about death aka Natural History museums with all its carefully displayed dead animals, Art museums where most of the painters have been dead for such a long time, The National Funeral museum in Houston, Tex., antique auctions museums where you can find really old furniture from the houses of dead people, well you get the idea.
And what’s the fascination with cemeteries and skulls and horror stories?
I think that we dwell in awe and fear at the world’s greatest mystery, death. It’s that part of life that terrifies most of us because it portends something we can know nothing about, non-life, specifically our own. What is non-life? We know it’s the opposite of what we have now, but what is the opposite of life really? And why do we even ask the question? Fear? Fear of the unknown, fear of what is dark to us? Our unconscious mind is dark to us but as long as we are alive we have potential access even though we’d rather not, but death? Now there’s a darkness and unknown we can’t even begin to fathom. It’s a bottomless abyss that goes on forever.
For some it’s not death that is feared but the process of getting there because it can be so frighteningly painful and mostly uncomfortable or so it looks. We humans will enter into almost anything if we truly believe there’s a pot of gold at the end of it– something better than what we have though we’re never satisfied with what we have. But not to know? Too scary.
The promise of no pain and eternal peacefulness seems a pretty good draw for letting go of life so as to enter some kind of heaven, but the “Great Decider” determines whether we wind up there or in the burning cauldron’s of hell, or so we’ve been told, though I’m pretty sure those stories come from the same type of folk that wrote the stories for the Brothers Grimm and for the same reason, to keep the children in line, whether they be little children or adult children. This reflects the belief that left to their own devices people won’t do the right thing. That is of course a pretty cynical view of humanity usually portrayed by the “fearful ones” who don’t know who they really are and by extension who we are. In the United States we call them Republicans or the Alt-right.
Some folks have solace in the belief that they, body and all, pass into another realm. But the ego part of us is of the flesh, that 3lb squishy thing inside our head that some of us occasionally think with and that decays and shrivels and turns to dust– we like with everything else in life can’t take it with us. So what is it that goes on to wherever we imagine consciousness continues on to?
“The soul! The soul goes on” cry still others. But what is that? Have you ever seen it? How often have you been aware of it? Do you actually identify with it? How many of us truly know of that invisible, ephemeral ghost in the machine that we imagine to be us, after all aren’t we the thinking, feeling, frightened, pain wracked, opinionated, memory-filled, squealing thing with a name and social security number?
So what is the soul? Is it a living thing? Well if it is living within the body wouldn’t it be subject to the same decaying effects after death? Ahh, so it’s not alive, it’s, what, a spirit? What’s that? And why does it need us as a host to visit the world? And if it loses its host where is it, what does it experience then? Is it conscious? Was it our consciousness all along only we became duped by the not so long lasting ego that convinced us that we were actually the ego?
Recent research has shown that even after a person has been pronounced brain dead, usually a no-turning-back step beyond clinical death when the heart stops, that “consciousness” may in some cases continue beyond the functioning body1. This is known as an OBE or Out of Body Experience. What that consciousness is however, that appears to be separate from the brain has scientists stumped.
This soul thing probably has no fear of death because death isn’t part of its life but the ego is a jealous thing and envies and fears the soul because of its non-death. It dreams of being like its opposite and creates a myth of everlasting life. There is everlasting life, but probably not like the life we currently experience, but the ego doesn’t want to hear that, so let’s just keep that between us.
Still others see the soul as a transmitter of the spirit into the receiver of the brain that then allows it to be manifest in the world making us sort of like a TV with arms and legs.
“Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.
Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.”
The Psalm of Life
by– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
I go into greater depth with the exploration of death in the Chapter from the “Dragon’s Treasure”titled Death, Yours, Mine, Ours (pg. 168).
1 Life after death? Largest-ever study provides evidence that ‘out of body’ and ‘near-death’ experiences may be real, independent.co.uk/news/science/life, 7 Oct. 2014.