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Posts Tagged ‘balance’

Dreaming.*oil on canvas.*128,5 x 201,2 cm.*1860.*signed b.r.: J. Israels

Dreaming – Jozef Israels 1860

The way of the West does not suit the dreaming life. Indeed, we do everything we can to suppress any intrusion of unconscious influence into waking experience. Instead, we work, we party, we spend long hours in front of our devices, numbing our minds with junk images, junk tasks, and junk narratives. When a dream does pierce the blank wall of our materialism, we dismiss it. It was just a dream, we tell ourselves. But what if that dream could tell us something useful we didn’t already know? It would make sense to listen, wouldn’t it?

When the analytical psychologist, Carl Jung visited Africa in 1925, he was interested in studying the dreams of isolated tribesmen, but to his surprise he was told by a medicine man he didn’t dream any more. After the Colonial powers came, he said, everything changed, “that dreams were no longer needed, because the English knew everything.”*

That a people could use their dreams to guide their lives seems primitive to the rational mind. Yet anyone who has sat down with a big dream, say the morning after they have dreamed it, cannot help but be affected by it. A big dream can colour the entire day and provide an emotional undertone that’s hard to shake. Some dreams we remember all our lives. That they can be so powerful suggests that to dismiss them is to lose our connection with important aspect of living.

The art of dreaming is not taught. You have to listen to other dreamers, read their books, sort the wheat from the chaff, and just do the best you can. But it’s inevitable, when we do stumble into a dream, we no longer have the sophistication we once had to deal with them properly. It is difficult to accept for a start we did not create the dream ourselves, that we are the dream’s guest, that the dream is the landscape on which we walk, its characters the fragmentary but autonomous denizens who can help or hinder us on our way. Only by accepting this can we play our proper part as pilgrim and, come morning, reflect usefully on the experience.

It’s natural for one interested in dreaming to want to push the boundaries. To whit, the Rolls Royce of dreaming is said to be the lucid dream where we enter the night-land fully conscious. Then we can make of it a playground, and all the characters we meet there our play-things. But my intuitions warn against the lucid path, and I consider myself fortunate I have never been able to dream lucidly.

Enthusiastic reports from lucid dreamers tell us we can take the dream over and have a hell of a time, flying about and having the best sex ever with whomever we can dream up. But that’s like colonizing the dream world, and then, like the bushmen in Jung’s day, our dreams become mere husks and psychologically useless, because the Ego, like the Englishman, knows everything.

Still, that the lucid dreamers have established such doors are open to human experience suggests a greater role for the dream than we give credit for, but we should tread carefully. The dream is no place for the crass, hedonistic tourist. But if we have lost our way with dreaming, or worse, if we have lost our way with sleeping, the techniques of the lucid dreamers can help enormously.

We close our eyes. What do we see? Do we see nothing? Look again.

The darkness behind closed eyes is not complete. It is grainy, speckled with colour. There are pale areas, like clouds, and they drift in the midnight blue. Deprived of visual stimulation, the mind idles with pattern. But if we can focus the inner eye upon them, the patterns will take on more recognizable forms. We do not willingly imagine these forms into being. They are entirely spontaneous and will show themselves if we allow it. They will be indistinct at first but, with practice, we can develop an inner vision that is capable of staggering clarity and detail.

At some point, say the lucid dreamers, the entire field of vision becomes active and detailed, and we can simply step into it at the point consciousness falls away. This has never worked for me. I am asleep long before this happens, and that’s fine. I prefer to lose my self-awareness and be of the dream rather than consciously in it. But as a way into sleep when the mind is otherwise resistant, this is a powerful method. I also find the dreams more vivid, and more easily remembered on waking.

We are alive at a time of deepening world crises. Without the counsel of dreams our mental well-being depends upon whether we really do trust the English to know everything. And if not, then where do we turn? We each have access to a wise, inner voice, through our dreams, but it’s been forgotten, and it’s rusty. It has forgotten how to speak to us, as we have forgotten how to listen. Few are interested anyway, and willingly join the downward spiral of our culture, presided over by the joker archetypes, and all the strutting demi-gods of chaos.

Chaos is inevitable, but it’s also a bad place to be. It is an indeterminate period of transition, and with no guarantee it’s leading us to a better place. When the ground is shifting daily, and reality is frozen out in a blizzard of lies, the rational mind is of no use to us any more. Only a keen native instinct, born of the dreaming life can tell us where best to place our feet, so we’re not constantly unbalanced by whatever damned thing is coming next.

*Jung – Memories, dreams, reflections (Kenya and Uganda)

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millais somnambulistDon’t worry, I know there’s nothing more boring than listening to an account of someone else’s dreams. Our own dreams interest us of course, but then I think they’re meant to. Me? I take them as the surface of a sea of unconscious currents upon which the vessel of my ego floats. It’s a temperamental vessel, at times leaky, and it has a tendency to become unstable in stormy weather, skittering all over the place, lacks ballast perhaps, or sufficient steerage. Reading ones’ dreams then is like listening to the shipping forecast – you know when to venture far out into calm water, and when to put back into safe harbour.

Or maybe not. Dreams are funny things.

We seem to get by well enough if we pay them no attention. Indeed to analyse them sometimes only confuses us, and we’re taught by the materialists to forget them anyway, even though materialists have no more idea than you or I what dreams are, exactly, or if they’re important,… or not.

If we pay them no heed, we forget them on waking, perhaps even lending the impression to some they do not dream at all. But everyone dreams, every night, if we remember or not. Dreams can be embarrassing, frightening, or simply puzzling. They can have us waking with feelings of foreboding, or regret, or a deep bliss, or even with the cryptic understanding of the answer to a question we’ve not asked yet.

I suspect anything that affects our emotions should be taken seriously, because emotions influence our physical well-being too. Thus an awareness of one’s dream life can lend insight and depth to one’s waking reality. We must take care though not to allow the ego to get wound up when the dream turns its back on us, when it becomes inscrutable to analysis.

Sometimes dreams are subtly nuanced, contain no obvious nuggets of meaning, as if in our dream life we sometimes simply tread water. Sometimes there is meaning aplenty, messages we can take back with us into the waking world. And these messages will speak to our emotions, speak of balance.

To remember our dreams, we simply ask it of that inner part of ourselves before we sleep, and eventually, we rediscover the trick of keeping hold of them, otherwise they leak away on waking. But even then there is a strangeness to these kept dreams. My journal is filled with accounts of dreams I no longer remember, as if even once firmly recounted and committed to print, there is a sell by date on them, and when we read them back, perhaps a year later, it is like reading the dream of a stranger.

Not all dreams are like that, and perhaps the ones that aren’t are the ones of most importance to us, even though we do not know why.

Freud talks of dreams as wish fulfilment, and its true I have experienced many a fulfilment in the dreaming that was denied me in waking life – whether this be compensatory or not I do not know, but also what is denied in life, I spend a deal of time chasing fruitlessly in dreams as well, so the dream also mirrors, or caricatures waking reality oftentimes to a cruel degree.

On waking the ego then writhes in agony, or rails in frustration at its inability to shake some sense out of the dream world. And sometimes the ego can break in. Just as we can teach ourselves to hold on to our dreams, we can also arm ourselves with the keys to the kingdom and drop the ego into the dream world. Then we are no longer passive as the dream unfolds around us. We are conscious, as if awake in the dream.

This called lucid dreaming.

It’s relatively rare phenomenon, but commonly enough reported, though I have mixed feelings about it. It’s not a thing I’m able to indulge in, nor am I advised is it wise, like trying to see the bottom of a pool of crystal water while splashing about in it. Ego assumes dominion, like it does over everything else, bending all to its will, flying about, having sex with strangers, or worse: sex with people you would never dare proposition in waking life, and all are suddenly putty in your hands, or rather in your mind, your thoughts manifested in apparent form. Oh, the ego can have a ball all right, but then the dream itself becomes shy, loses meaning, serves not its natural purpose.

That said, I know the techniques, and sometimes ask the keeper of dreams to grant me lucidity, “if it would help”. But I have yet to be trusted, and perhaps just as well.

Jung shows us the dream as an expression of the unconscious, sometimes personal, sometimes collective. He teaches us to recognise the subtle players of the dreamscape and the masks they wear – anima, shadow, trickster, peur, senex. From a study of their manifestation in the dream over time we can chart the development of our personal myth, our very own hero’s journey to wholeness.

And then we have Hillman who likens the dream more to the underworld of classical learning, its archetypes, like Jungs, proxies of the gods. And Hillman, rather than emphasise the importance of analysis and understanding the meaning of the dream, speaks more of submitting ourselves to the experience of it, to ask not what does this dream symbol represent, for then we lose the dream. Remembered dreams are thus less messages from the unconscious as memories of preparations for death and permanent residence in that place.

Or not, maybe.

Sweet dreams.

 

 

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old englishThis was my great grandfather’s watch, on my mother’s side. But is that my mother’s maternal or paternal grandfather? I don’t know for sure and I’ve no one to ask now, but I’m favouring the maternal side at the moment, though I’ve nothing more to go on other than gut feelings and the images that arise when I’m handling it. In other words I’m weaving stories with very little to go on. But that’s what writer’s do; they take the unknown and make it knowable, whether it be the truth or not, because even holding to a myth is better than saying we’ve no idea at all.

I discovered it among the keepsake belongings of a dear aunt who passed away recently – along with copies of wills, and family birth and death certificates going back to the 1850’s. The watch was thunder black and looked quite sorry for itself. The minute hand was missing, the seconds bent, and it wasn’t running.

A quick clean-up revealed a silver cased English Lever, hallmarked 1899. I consulted an old fashioned jeweller who was able to get it going for me. The missing finger was replaced with one that doesn’t really match, but apart from that the watch runs well now – most of the time.

I’ve written about old watches  before, being a bit of a collector – always on the lookout for the half busted, bent and obsolete waifs and strays of a bygone era. I’ve waxed lyrical about their significance, speculated on their archetypal, psychological meanings – and described how at times of inner transition I find myself obsessing over my collection. Then this one turns up – the great grand daddy of them all – the size and weight of a small cannonball, pregnant with history, all of it muddled, mythical, and possibly irrelevant, yet rising from my unconscious like a well aimed torpedo and suddenly sinking me further down into my own past than I’ve ever been before.

And while I consider the story of this old pocket-watch, I feel the currents that normally drive my own fictions are becalmed, as if lost in the balance that follows a deep sigh. Indeed I find myself wondering if there’s another story in me now, or if I’m spent. It would have been unthinkable at one time, this sense of creative emptiness, but now I really don’t care. I’ve tried several fresh avenues since finishing my last novel. I’ve rummaged among the stuff on the back burner, but I find it all trite and foolish, and I’ve set it  aside. Seven novels are enough, I think. So let the muse sleep, and me with her, in some Arcadian bower for a thousand years. And when we wake, let it be without the need to light the darkness with our stories any more.

balanceA mechanical watch is like a human life. You create tension, apply it to a train of events, but without balance it would run down too quickly, deplete itself in a mad whirling blur. So the watchmaker creates balance with the hair spring – such a delicate little thing, like a  heart. Set it beating and away it goes, regulating the life force, playing it out more slowly, more usefully in time. But the balance is also the most vulnerable part  – easily lost, easily thrown out by wear or trauma.

No, I’ve not lost my balance here. That’s not why I’m becalmed. Rather I think this is one of those rare periods in my life when I can say I have attained balance, all be it temporarily  – that I know it by having known the lack of it. And balance seeks no other purpose for itself than the is-ness of the moment. Ambition, thoughts, fears – they all fall away, and the need for stories too. I don’t know anything. Let this watch be what it is, without the need to weave a myth around it, without the need to put a name to it.

And yet,…

Whatever its story, this watch is telling me something else as I write. Its tick is loud, like one of those old Smiths alarm clocks, and it’s pulling me out of the place my thoughts seem most inclined to settle this evening. Of all my old watches, this one speaks with the firmest voice, and it’s telling me I’ve been writing a lot about the fact I’ve not been writing, that I’ve been weaving an elaborate story about how I’ve run out of stories.

Sure, antique English levers have an inescapable and somewhat unsophisticated bluntness about them. They were old fashioned and idiosyncratic even when they were new – a bit like me then, born old and eccentric, and a little unreliable. Yes,  there were finer movements than this in 1899 – Swiss and American – fancy things, bejewelled and more innovative, yet here it is: this old English timekeeper, still ticking. And it’s telling me we’re not done yet, that so long as there exists a void in our understanding, there will always be one more story to fill it.

I can say what I like. It’s just a question of time.

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