“Haven’t seen too many of you around lately. Things have been tough lately for dreamers. They say dreaming’s dead; no one does it anymore. It’s not dead, it’s just that it’s been forgotten. Removed from our language. Nobody teaches it, so nobody knows it exists. Dreamers are banished to obscurity. I’m trying to change all that, and I hope you are too. By dreaming, everyday. Dreaming with our hands and dreaming with our minds. Our planet is facing the greatest problems it’s ever faced, ever. So whatever you do, don’t be bored. This is absolutely the most exciting time we could have possibly hoped to be alive. Things have just started.”
I’ve been listening to these words for weeks now. They’re embedded into an eclectic mix on a podcast from an internet radio station I discovered some years ago, and whose combination of trance and ambient chill-out I more or less listen to exclusively these days*. Anyway. I did some detective work, took the phrase: They say dreaming’s dead; no one does it anymore, fed it into the Google box and out popped references to the Kleptones who worked the reading I’ve been listening to into their 2006 concept album, 24 hours, but there were also references to the original dialogue which was lifted from a film called Waking Life (2001) by Richard Linklater.
I don’t know what I was doing in 2001, but this film passed completely under my radar, and I’m sorry it’s taken me over a decade to catch up with it. You’ll find clips on You Tube, but I wanted the whole experience so I ordered it from Amazon for the princely sum of £4.00 (including postage), and I watched it last night.
I found it mesmerising, but also puzzling that it should surface now because it deals with a lot of stuff that’s running around in my head at the moment, and which I’m trying to get a firmer handle on in order to make way in my own inner life. It resonates because I’m dreamer. I dream with my mind and with my hands. Dreams are great liberators, but they can puzzle or enlighten in equal measure. They can also be disturbing if we’re not ready for what they have to say, and they can make us ill, if we repeatedly ignore their warnings.
The film uses the phenomenon of lucid dreaming as a vehicle for exploring the nature of reality – a lucid dream being the kind of dream where you wake up in your dream, and become lucid. Lucid dreams are a rare and startling faculty of the human psyche. The dream world, normally vague and passively experienced, is suddenly focussed by the conscious ego into a tangible alternate reality, one in which you can interact with the dream-scape, and change it. You can engage with the characters in your dream, ask their advice, respond to them, make love to them. A lucid dream can be a life-changing experience.
Personally, I don’t dream lucidly, but I do record my ordinary third person dreams, and sift the imagery in a Jungian way for clues as to how I might improve my outlook on life. There’s been enough strangeness in my ordinary dreams – false awakenings, and the occasional bizarre occurence of frustratingly banal precognition – for them to be at least suggestive of the existence of an imaginal plane outside of time, one we might actually inhabit all the time, without our knowing. And that’s without getting into lucid dreaming.
For anyone who’s ever asked questions about the nature of dreams and reality, you’ll find them all in this quirky little movie – the questions, not the answers. But in this field, you don’t need answers. Just asking the right questions can change the way you see the world. I thought the film was a beautifully crafted discussion piece, a gem of art-house animated movie-making – thought provoking, astonishing, and – well – dream-like.
Without spoiling anything, the main character in the film arrives in a town that’s familiar to him, but which has also taken on certain odd qualities. The characters he meets seem intensely hung up on existential matters – from college professors to ordinary people in the street – they all have something to impart to him regarding the nature of reality. At intervals, he wakes up and realises he’s been dreaming all of this. But these are false awakenings – the kind where you think you’ve woken up and gone through your normal routine to start your day, only to find yourself waking up again, that you’d simply dreamed waking up. Each successive false awaking, plunges our character deeper into the dream. By now he knows he’s dreaming, realises he’s fully lucid and able to participate in the dream world. He wonders if in fact he’s dead, wonders how he can escape and finally wake up,…
Dreams feature a lot in my stories, either as a means of passing on a vital insight to one of the protagonists, or more full on, as a means of slipping out of one reality and entering another. In the past there’s been a tendency in fiction to rely on some form of technology to do this for us, to open the doors to other worlds – fantastic machines to make all things possible. But lately I sense things are changing, that our collective love affair with technology is coming to an end and what we’re heading for is a period of collective navel gazing in order to work out what it is we want from our lives. This might take some time. Indeed, it’s a process that can take a life-time, but I think it’s also healthy. It’s when we deny the objective reality of our dream life that the trouble starts. You don’t need fantastic machines to be at the cutting edge of reality, all you need is a working knowledge of the one thing we were all born with. Our mind.
Dreaming isn’t dead. It’s just that nobody teaches any more, so nobody knows that it exists.
There are still plenty of technologists out there of course, pushing the boundaries of what’s possible, and to some extent, in my day-job, I’m one of them, but they’ve also got a lot of people these days looking over their shoulders, scrutinising what they’re doing – and not everyone’s happy with what they see. Technology is a tool and like all tools it can work wonders. It has the potential for doing a lot of good, but it can also be destructive, and are we wise to trust in it as much as we do when, in our technologically sophisticated world, there are still people dying for want of a clean drink of water? There’s no point being technologically sophisticated when we’re also morally and spiritually bankrupt.
We have to recognise technology for what it is, and that if we don’t also use our brains, it can be worse than useless. The brain – or rather the mind – has to be the starting point. It’s where we came from, and where we all ultimately return – or if the premise of the film “Waking Life” is to be believed, it’s somewhere we never actually leave. But whatever the truth of it, I think that in order to fully realise our potential, we have to look at what the mind can offer us, what doorways it can open up, if only to make us all better people. And we can do that by dreaming.
“Dreaming with our hands and dreaming with our minds. Our planet is facing the greatest problems it’s ever faced, ever. So whatever you do, don’t be bored. This is absolutely the most exciting time we could have possibly hoped to be alive.”
Maybe things have just started.
I hope so.
(I think I’ll watch it again)
* Frisky Radio
** The picture accompanying this post is by the German artist Heinrich Vogeler (1872-1942)