Posts Tagged ‘dream’


In this last settled hour before the dawn,
I dig my heels to slow the flow of time,
And with each measured breath,
Embrace departing ghosts of dreams,
Until at length, and with sad smiles,
They waste into the thinning night.
And the sun rises,
Ignites first light of trembling day,
And burns to clear blue,
Somnambulant mists of sleep,
From whence souls crash their dancing flight,
Become flesh again,
Fallen in this deep befuddled mess,
Of pillow, sheet, and creaking bed.
Then here am I once more,
Slow ache of a man, rising,
Washed back upon this fractured shore,
Of life.

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Vogeler - DreamsAs we age we undergo a process of emotional development. Obviously we do not possess the same outlook in our middle years as we did when we were children, but what is it that drives us to change? Is it merely that we come to inhabit a progressively older body? Is it the experience of life itself that changes us, or is it that are we subject to influences from the unconscious mind that would have us seek those experiences out as a medium for change?

Life can provide any number of varied environments enabling us to grow in all manner of positive directions, but it can just as easily arrest our development if experience of life is at odds with our aspirations. So where does the aspiration, the imperative, the drive come from? Abusive relationships, personal misfortune, global upheaval, even financial ruin, all present challenges to health and well being, subverting a life’s path and running it onto the rocks. Yet in spite of misfortune some people suffer no injury beyond the initial trauma, while others are maimed for life. To avoid lasting scars appears to require an agile frame of mind and a deep intuitive sense of one’s abiding value in the face of all rational evidence to the contrary. Where does such strength, such resilience come from?

With bad experiences, what usually happens is we push the memories out of range of our emotional radar and get on with things as best we can. We are all good at this, at removing from conscious awareness those things that are most painful to us, and anyway we cannot always react to hurt in the way we would like, and in which our instincts are urging us – like punching the other guy on the nose. In the course of life, there is a lot we simply have to swallow, but the unconscious never forgets a slight. It remembers everything.

It even knows what I was doing at half past three on Wednesday afternoon, December 28th 1978. I can no longer consciously recall this moment of course – it is lost to my every day awareness but well documented cases of spontaneous and total recall suggest the memory of this moment still exists, somewhere, and if, during that moment, I was experiencing an emotional upset that was never healed, my unconscious will offer it back. And it will keep offering it back, until I deal with it.

It does this through the dreaming process, using a symbolic language in which the objects, the people, the situations we encounter in the dream world are emotionally charged in ways reflective of our life experience, including the things we’d rather not acknowledge. And the dream is saying, here, look, take this back this and then we can move on. But if we have fallen foul of a culture that devalues the dreaming process, if we never take notice of our dreams, the process of “dealing with it” can be a problem. And stuff mounts up. Some of us incubate hidden, forgotten traumas, combine them, allow them to breed, then hatch them into inexplicable and stupendously debilitating neuroses. At such times as these it seems our unconscious is overrun with demons out to do us harm. We might feel that to go poking around in there is the very last thing we should be doing, but paying attention to our dreams helps defuse things. It puts the unconscious mind in a better mood for dealing with us, if it realises we are receptive.

We all dream, every night, though some people dispute this, claiming never to have dreamed at all. But the thing with dreams is they play out in a part of the mind that bypasses the way we normally acquire memory. If we want to remember our dreams we have to make a conscious effort to do so. We have to remind ourselves, when we lay down to sleep, we would like to remember our dreams. Then, on waking, in the first seconds of awareness, we have a fleeting opportunity to drink the dream down whole, sufficient at least to recall it well enough to record it later on. But even then we must make haste, or the memory will fade to nothing like an imperfectly processed photograph. Reading my dream journal now, accounts of many dreams I had years ago are like reading the fantasies of a complete stranger.

So we have our dream. What now? Well, the best we can do is sit down and ponder upon it. What might it be showing us? What emotions does it provoke? It does not matter if we cannot understand the dream. It seems to be the conversation with the unconscious that’s the important thing. If we fail in the first dreams, to understand what it’s showing us, it will try other ways of illustrating the same thing, until we finally get it.

We can forget those dream dictionaries. What they fail to point out is that the dream is a personal thing and that, for example, a rabbit in my dream might mean something entirely different in yours. You can forget also asking advice from others because they may react to your symbols differently. Thus, slowly, respectfully, and with an attitude of genuine enquiry, we approach the unconscious, preferably on bended knee.

I worry about self-help dream techniques that sound more assertive, like a battering down of a door into unconsciousness in order to plunder its contents, in an effort to turn us into mega-star celebrities with millions in the bank, and perfect teeth. The lesson of a century of psychoanalysis tells us we are only a small part of who we think we are, that we are not entirely in charge. We can be part of the solution to the mystery of our lives, which involves being a good listener and a willing partner in the adventure, or we can remain for ever a part of the problem.

I suppose the bottom line is we do not need to be ill to take an interest in our personal development, in the rounding out and the maturation of our soul. True there are grown men and women as emotionally well developed as four year olds, or for that matter wildebeest, and for whom all talk of the dreaming process will sound ridiculous. But for those who seek meaning beyond the normal watering and rutting of the species, the dream is nature’s own gift to aid us on the path to a greater self awareness.

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naked man cafe

Ye Olde Naked Man Cafe – Settle

It was an unusually quiet drive east along the A59, then a left turn at Gisburn for the undulating and sinewy-twisty loveliness of the Hellifield road, which becomes the A65 at Long Preston, which directs one a little more assertively north and west in the direction of Ribblesdale, which brings us finally to the beautiful little Dales town of Settle. The last time I was in the Yorkshire Dales – Ingleton, back in March – the season was a good few weeks behind Lancashire, but seems now to have overtaken us in the race to summer, the Laburnum tassels already opening to cascades of yellow, while the Laburnum in my own garden, down on the Lancashire plain, is still some weeks away.

For company on the drive I had the inoffensive burble of chatter on the radio, but I remember only the one snippet of an interview with a writer who inadvertently posed me the meditation for day, which was: is it better to fail utterly at doing something you think you’ll love (like writing), than to survive doing something you merely tolerate, (like holding down a conventional day-job for 40 years)?

It’s a question I’ve often asked, especially now as I’m approaching that 40 year service mark myself. Unlike me, the writer in question did indeed give up on the financial security of the conventional day job in order to take the risk  of doing something she loved. The message was clear: you only pass this way once, so don’t waste your life doing something you don’t particularly enjoy. It’s sound advice and hard to fault, but at the gut level I wasn’t so sure; I suppose it all depends on how you define “surviving”, and whether or not you believe happiness can be achieved by “doing” anything.

It’s okay, even heroic, to take a risk on realising a dream if you’re single, when there’s only you to crash and burn, but what if you’re married, with kids? It’s a conundrum – and it depends how “far out” that dream is, I suppose, and how easily you can balance your own desires against a responsibility towards others. I chose financial security, at least as much as that’s possible for a time-served engineer living through a downsizing, de-industrialising phase of his nation’s history. I made my choice and I stuck with it, but for all of that I’ve never considered myself to be a frustrated author, held back by the shackles of wage-slavery. I am still writing, still publishing, of a sort – just not rich or famous at it. And driving into Settle on a sunny Friday morning with my walking gear in the boot, and all the fells looking so timelessly lovely as this, I could hardly feel that I was wasting my life either.

constitution hill

Constitution Hill, Settle

Of all the Dales towns and villages, Settle is my favourite, but then my favourite is always the last place I visited, so others need not feel too put out about it. It was a beautiful, warm sunny morning, and there were American tourists photographing Ye Old Naked Man Cafe. I joined them for a few shots myself. It must be the most photographed cafe in Yorkshire. The day was shaping up well. In winter I’ve thought of Settle as the coldest, teeth-chattery place on earth, even something a little dour about it, but basking in the spring sunshine it made for a very respectable waymark on the tourist’s tour-de-UK.

My walk for the day was a circuit taking in the not-so-secret secret waterfall of Catrigg Force, then the cave-dotted crags of the Attermire Scar, and returning via the breathtakingly beautiful Warrendale Knots – four or five hours and six or seven miles of varied ground, and every step begging a pause for a photograph. It’s a walk I’ve done twice now, in the company of a friend, both times characterised by atrocious weather, and the fact we got lost. It was a pleasure to be seeing it at its best for a change -the camera was charged and ready!

But was she right? Who? The writer who talked about taking a chance on doing what you loved. She’d been working in New York, in a Lawyer’s office, watching the twin towers of the World Trade Center collapse, and thought to herself, there are people in those buildings who’d been thinking to stick at the crap dayjob a little longer, while putting off their dreams – whatever they might be – and if only they’d gone and lived the dream a little sooner! But would I have done anything differently if I could? I don’t think I would. Of course I have always wanted to write, but for me the writing, like much so much else in life,  has lead me in directions I did not expect.

Near Lancliffe

Approaching Lower Winskill

The walk takes you out of Settle, climbing first the aptly named Constitution Hill, then along a path through the high meadows above Springs Wood. All is lush green and lovely here, the meadows contained by the white limestone dry-walling that demarcates much of the upland regions and which assumes an almost painful pearly whiteness in strong sunshine. We drop down briefly into the village of Langcliffe before continuing our way north, up Ribblesdale, along a green lane, walled in between ancient field systems, then  on to the energetic Stainforth Beck, which, pouring through a nick in high limestone crags plunges into the Sylvan glen that contains the roaring spectacle of Catrigg Force.

Waterfalls make great subjects for photography, with the best examples being judged by a fairly strict set of criterion: not too slow a shutter because that misty milky effect is definitely passée now, and definitely no ugly fallen trees to spoil the view – at least according to the forums that discuss these things. The latter is an unfortunate requirement because at most significant falls of water, there’s always a log gone over the top and lodged itself somewhere in the flow – the falls thus eliminating themselves, apparently, from the “sublime” category. I don’t know, nature is what it is and I think we have to take it as we find it. It’s strange, but I can look at a fall like this and those untidy logs are nowhere to be seen. It’s only when we look at the pictures afterwards they stand out. It’s as if in trying to capture something, we imagine them as simpler than they really are. I note the Catrigg Foss log has slowly been working its way out of shot since I last visited.

catrigg foss

The path to Catrigg Foss

But we were thinking about that “living the dream” thing. Have I not wasted those forty years? I suppose we can all wonder this, especially in moments of transient unhappiness. But I’m old enough now to realise that if I’d ditched the day job at 25 like I intended to, and banged away at publication for my novel “Sara’s Choice”, that really would have been a waste. For all my naive enthusiasm for the tale, it was hardly literature and the world is not exactly the worse for my having abandoned it. It does not even appear as a freebie download in the margin of my blog.

I have the internet to thank for stripping the writing of its “arty” veneer, its debatable mystique. I was never going to make my living at it, and that’s not defeatism or lack of self confidence talking. Call it experience, and reading the runes, but I finally worked it out that there has always been more to the publishing lark than I was ever going to understand in one lifetime. Then I realised I didn’t want to publish anyway, I just wanted to write, and put my stuff somewhere where people could read it, and maybe have a chat now and then with those readers who felt the urge to get in touch. I didn’t want my life to consist of literary parties, speaking tours, book signings and publicity bashes. I wanted to do a job I was reasonably good at, but one I could also shut in a drawer every night at 5:00 pm, then go home and do the stuff I wanted to do. And now and then I wanted to take the days that were owed me, and slip away to beautiful spots like this. It seems I have not wasted those 40 years at all, and am already living that dream. It’s just that sometimes we think we’re not, that the grass is somehow always greener on the other side. In this sense there’s a risk, not that we will will fail at the dream, but  that the dreams will reveal themselves to be simply whatever we’re not doing at the time. And chasing those dreams is just another form of materialism.

catrigg foss waterfall

Catrigg Foss

From Catrigg, a dusty path leads across open moor to the narrow Langcliffe road, which we descend a little way until a close cropped path leads us off through the green towards the Attermire Scars – great limestone crags, running with scree. These are famed for being dotted with the entrances to several caves: Jubilee, Victoria, Attermire, and the Lookout Cave. They are all accessible, with care, and have been drawing the eye of humans since Neolithic times. They were used as burial places, also as hidey holes by the Celts during the Roman occupation – beautiful period jewellery, and even a chariot have been recovered. But I’m not much of a caver and wasn’t tempted to explore, except to wander a little way into the most accessible of these holes – the Jubilee Cave.

jubilee cave

Inside the Jubilee Cave, Attermire Scars

The return to Settle is via a lush meadow pathway that follows the line of the Warrendale Knots – dramatically shaped limestone crags that rise several hundred feet above the green of the dale. This is Carboniferous limestone country, laid down in a tropical sea some 360 million years ago. Compared with the immense age of the earth we’ve come from nothing to iPhones in a heartbeat and it makes one wonder if we’ll still be here in another 360 million years. The sun has another 6 billion years to go, which makes the earth quite young, and I’m wondering at what point in our evolution we shall finally get our hovering jet-scooters, like in Dan Dare, and when the problem of the daily commute will be solved by teleportation, and when the day job itself will finally be abolished, enabling us all to live the dream, however we define it.

But if we’re all living the dream, what then what shall we dream of?

warrendale knots

The Warrendale Knots

At a little over six miles, the walk is by no means a severe one, but my feet have a way of complaining on the last quarter of any hike, whether I’m doing two miles or twenty, so I was feeling like I’d had a decent outing by the time I made it back to Settle. I found excellent coffee at the quirkily named “Car and Kitchen”, where I sat out at the pavement tables in the warm late afternoon sunshine. How would I like to change my life, at that moment, I wondered? How could I improve on the day as lived thus far? Well,  right then it would have been to settle, in Settle and to have hills like this for company all the time, instead of the dreary plains of home, where all I can see is sky.

Funny things though, dreams, to say nothing of the dreamers who dream them. If I was surrounded by unremittingly steep hills like this all day, I’d probably be  hankering after a bit of flat.

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drreamIn the biological sciences, dreams don’t amount to much. Bizarre and useless, we’re advised there is no meaning to be extracted from them. We dream of a rabbit, look it up in a dream dictionary, and learn the rabbit means we’ll have good luck. Hmm – seems superficial at best.

But wait!

What if we dream we’re naked among people we know – family, friends colleagues? Depending on which book we look this one up in, it can be interpreted as meaning we are afraid of showing others our true selves. In this case then, the dream appears symbolic of personal unconscious complexes, and that’s meaningful in that it reveals to us aspects of our selves in a potentially helpful way, prompting further questions like: what parts of myself do I not want others to see, and why not?

Maybe there’s more to dreams after all?

In fact dream interpretation has been an important part of psychoanalysis for over a century. Sadly though, for the layman, dreaming still languishes in the realm of simplistic dream dictionaries. Serious literature is more elusive,… but infinitely more enlightening.

We all dream, every night. It’s just remembering our dreams that’s the problem. But it’s actually not that difficult and consists merely of making a mental note as we lay down to sleep that we will try to remember our dreams. And in time, we remember them. And the more dreams we remember, the more richly we are rewarded with our dreams – the first foggy, disjointed fragments maturing into vivid dream canvasses resplendent in allegorical meaning and which leave us tingling all day in their numinous afterglow.

By interpreting my dreams I sought a new direction in life. The experience was wholly positive, but not in the way I expected. Most dreams remained inscrutable; life was unchanged; I did the same things, the same job, faced the same problems. However in retrospect, I realised the dreams had guided me towards the centre of a newly reconstructed self, one in which the same elements were present, but had been rearranged.

I had gained a different perspective.

Dreams, it seems, serve a potentially transformative function of the psyche, if we can only bring ourselves to take them seriously.

And now?

I admit I’m out of the habit of recalling dreams. My journal is rarely updated and what few dreams I spontaneously hold onto these days have lost their depth and their power. But I’ve been wondering if the time has come to make an effort to uncover my dreams again, or even to crank it up a bit,…

…and go flying in them!

In all my dreaming, I have simply let the dreams wash over me, so that like most dreamers, I do not know I am dreaming, when I dream. But dreaming can be taken further; we can train ourselves to dream lucidly.

In lucid dreams we are no longer passive observers of the dream, but self determining participants, capable of critical reasoning and intelligent engagement. We can shape our environment, talk to dream characters, and we can get about by flying. How cool is that?

Lucid dreaming requires a more advanced skillset, one I don’t possess, but one I’m led to believe can be acquired easily. The question is, should I make the effort?

The fictional characters in my current work-in-progress are adept at lucid dreaming. The dream space allows them a more flexible stage on which to explore the nature of their being, and I find the philosophical implications irresistible. But if one writes of Australia, how authentic can one be if one has never been there?

The tales of lucid dreamers have been like Siren voices for a while now urging me to make the push and become a lucid dreamer myself. But a wise old friend cautions me that to enter on this path is also to risk losing oneself inside one’s own head, becoming mired in a different kind of mud – one of self-generated and entirely hedonistic dream-content – none of which means anything.

Lucid dreamers talk of directly engaging with the unconscious, rather than being passively subjected to its whims, as in ordinary dreams. They talk of strange, paranormal things too, like precognitive dreams, healing in dreams, and even of meeting the dreaming selves of other people. But while such things fascinate and feed my hunger for interesting fictional scenarios, to actually bluster in and interrogate one’s own unconscious, seems an immodest thing to do. My wise old friend reminds me that when we travel the liminal zones bordering the Faery lands, we are always better going quietly, and on tiptoe.

I do need to move on from where I’m at. I sense a stagnation in my ways and in my thoughts. So, I have blown the dust from my dream journal, and made a few fresh entries, but the dreams I seek are strictly of the ordinary kind. I’m sure lucid dreaming can be a wild party, but I’m also thinking it’s better to wait for an invitation than to use one’s cleverness and egotistical wit to gatecrash a gathering where nobody’s quite sure what’s going on. Notwithstanding the extraordinary exploits of my fictional characters, to dream lucidly is perhaps to risk dragging the expectations of the real world into the realm of the Faery, to inform it, to shape it, and ultimately I fear, as with any other environment we seek to exploit for our own aims, to irreparably corrupt it.

So, while I may continue to appear, on occasion, naked and embarrassed in my dreams, my dreams at least are seeing me as I truly am, rather than how I would prefer myself to be seen. I think they prefer me that way.

And who am I to argue?

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