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Joan of Arc, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

I was about to spend my first night in an idyllic holiday cottage by the sea. I had arrived weary after two hundred miles of roaring roads, with broken air-con and in a steam-heat that had sucked the energy from my bones. But as I took a brief stroll around my new home for the week I knew I was in for a treat: a quaint old harbour, a clean sea, a good weather forecast and porpoises leaping in the bay. What more could one ask?

I went to bed early, looking forward to a refreshing night’s sleep, but I found it hard to drift off. This sometimes happens after a long journey and a strange bed, but when I did finally eventually slip away, I was assailed by horrific dreams of violence, torture and mutilation. This was not normal, my dreams being for the most part benign and enigmatic. I wondered then where such powerfully gruesome imagery might have come from. Dreams borrow from waking life, but I don’t watch that type of movie or play the computer games that might contain it, and my actual waking life is as tame as it gets.

It was a mystery, then.

According to one theory I was sleeping in a psychical space still contaminated by the previous guest, that I had literally laid my head upon the same pillow and immersed myself in a persisting cloud of fear and knife-slashing violence. The more rational modes of thinking will not allow such ideas of course, and mostly I resist them, but the more mystical forms will and since I was desperate for sleep, I was prepared to entertain them. For help in such situations, we do no better than turn to Tibetan Buddhism, and the yoga of dreams and sleep.

These teachings are concerned with cultivating a lucid awareness during the dream; effectively waking up in the dream, and becoming consciously aware of ourselves within it. This is not something I’m capable of, but the subject interests me as do all studies on dreams and dreaming. Lucidity has been verified by experiment in sleep laboratories, and it seems many of us are indeed capable of it spontaneously. What we do with it varies. In Western culture, according to the books I’ve read by self styled oneironauts, it boils down to wanting to fly, or having sex with strangers and other fantastical, escapist adventures, in other words to use the dream-space as a kind of narcissistic playground. In Tibetan Buddhism however, the goal is to achieve a state of meditation, in the dream. Also, if we are able to become fully aware of ourselves in the dream space, the Buddhists say we are more likely to become fully awake in the awakened state as well. This is something that takes a great deal of discipline and training, but other aspects of the technique are more accessible to the lay person, such as how we prepare the ground for lucid awareness in the first place.

Obviously if we are to meditate in the dream, we need a clean psychical space, untroubled by demons and their drama. So, as we seek sleep, the yogis teach the cultivation of personal, protective archetypes. For a man these are most easily imagined as female warriors of extraordinary beauty and prowess. We conjure them up by a process of active imagination as we seek sleep, then deploy them around our sleep-space to watch over us. We station them in doorways, around the bed or patrolling the garden, wherever we feel a vulnerability. They are infinitely patient and devoted to our protection and by their mere presence they chase away the troublesome demons as sunlight dissolves shadows, or as the presence of a cat will deter mice.

Fanciful as all this sounds, I do find the technique effective and have deployed my personal “Amazons” on many an occasion when unsettled and struggling for sleep. Sure enough, on this occasion too, my later dreams found a more even keel; the gore dissolved to something more wholesome as I sailed through into a placid space and woke refreshed, ready to begin my holiday.

I was not troubled again.

Sweet dreams.

Ref The Tibetan Yogas of Dreams and Sleep

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Oberon,_Titania_and_Puck_with_Fairies_Dancing._William_Blake._c.1786[1]

Dreams are mysterious things, too often dismissed as unknowable, and denigrated by materialists as being little more than brain-burp, as bubbles of waste psychical-gas, rising from who knows where to break the surface of who knows what. We can forget them then; life is troubling enough, they say, without bothering our minds with the nonsense of dreams.

We all dream, every night, though we don’t always remember. Indeed some of us never remember our dreams, lending the impression we do not dream at all, which reinforces the point: if such a faculty as dream recall can so easily be lost, how can it be considered important? Well, perhaps it isn’t, unless of course the dream performs a function that can be usefully fulfilled outside of conscious awareness, that we need not be aware of the dream in order to live it, or be informed by it.

But what about those of us who do recall our dreams? not only that but treat them as a meaningful phenomenon? Dreams reveal themselves as beguiling, deceptive even mischievous yet it may be that for all our most earnest efforts we can come up with nothing more informative regarding their nature than if we were to close our minds to them completely. And yet,… there is still something about the dream that rewards us if at the very least we grant it our attention.

Recording our dreams is even better. This allows them to inform our conscious awareness more intently, night after night, revealing aspects of our lives we were perhaps unaware of. We might note then our dreams are, to a degree, coloured by waking life, even by aspects of our waking life we are at first pass unaware of. Looking then more closely at our dreams we can see echoes of our insecurities, and if we are honest about them with ourselves – by no means an easy thing – we can help our soul grow in the direction it most needs to grow. The content of dreams can also colour our waking day. So powerful they can be, they draw attention to themselves and challenge us to take stock, to own this thing we are again perhaps unconsciously avoiding.

I hesitate to describe dreams as “tools” for “self development”, for that would be to dishonour them. Certainly they have always been used in psychoanalysis, as messengers from the unconscious, but sometimes this can be confusing when we neglect to see the dream as having its own existence within us. Indeed we have only to turn our attention to them to realise they can become as much a part of life as our waking experience. Yes, we can get by well enough ignoring our dreams, but that is also to live a life lacking depth and colour.

One of the most remarkable things dreams reveals to us is that our concept of space and linear time is incomplete. We dream of something, a striking image, an event; usually such things are informed by happenings in our recent past, but occasionally a dream will show us something we have yet to encounter. The more materially minded will struggle with this concept, and if you are indeed vehemently opposed to it, I suggest you follow your instinct and dismiss it as bonkers or it will seriously disturb your frame of reference. But we have only to make a record of our dreams to find that it is so.

It needn’t be a dramatic glimpse ahead in time, indeed my own experience suggests it rarely is. For me it happens with places I’ve visited, or images I’ve seen on screens. I dream the image, the place, and then encounter it. True, by all rational reckoning, such a thing is impossible, yet it happens – admittedly not very often and never in ways that are helpful, like revealing ahead of time the number of a winning lottery ticket, But then it does happen, it’s always startling.

It’s as if a par of us has passed that particular way before, just a little ahead of ourselves, and the dream has found the imagery we encountered useful for its own purposes, careless of our line in time – as if indeed we might be following many life-lines simultaneously, some similar, others not. The writer JB Priestly made a study of this oftentimes eerie phenomenon and wrote a book on it: “Man and time”. This is a classic of the genre but he was careful to avoid drawing any rigid conclusions regarding what this might actually mean, I mean regarding the temporal structure of universe, and I shall be careful to follow his lead.

Indeed what we do with this depends very much on our nature. If we are highly egotistical and equipped with a smattering of scientific knowledge, we might want to formulate an explanation, but therein lies madness and the loss of friends as we become too shrill. The wiser ego is chastened by the phenomenon, softened and becomes more accepting of the mystery of life, though nonetheless amazed and inspired by the apparently multi-dimensional nature of consciousness that’s implied.

At best it enables us to step back when the arch-materialist pontificates and sucks out all meaning from life, leaves it as a dried up husk, because we know it’s not like that. Indeed establishing a rapport with our dreams suggests that in addition to the waking life we are aware of, we are also each engaged in some form of psychical existence beyond the bounds of space and time, whether we know it or not.

And that’s interesting.

 

 

 

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daimonic realityFairies, flying saucers, angels, visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary, ghosts, crop circles and other assorted Forteana; it’s all fascinating stuff, even if you don’t believe in any of it, but as Patrick Harpur tells us in the opening of this book, these are not topics for respectable discussion. Intellectually they’re shunned, relegated to the idle conversations and the popular beliefs of “ordinary people”. Yet here too, we find certain of these things to be ‘in vogue’ while others are ‘out’.

Talk of the Faerie, for example, at least outside of the West of Ireland, might get you laughed at, while it’s odds on we all have a compelling ghost story or two to tell and will solicit from our listener a rapt attention, even if neither of us believes in ghosts. Strange that, don’t you think?

Me? I still have a fondness for the nostalgia of the Faerie, but I put that down to my Celtic ancestry. Then again belief in the objective reality of angels is widespread in the United States, but far less so in Europe. As for those poor old fairies, they seem antiquated now, replaced by talk of flying saucers and aliens which in turn seem suspiciously contemporaneous with our own development of space technology and powerful weaponry.

What this suggests is there’s a cultural dimension to anomalous phenomena, and it is to this that Patrick Harpur draws our attention. But rather than seeking to prove or disprove the existence of such things, he tells us such an obsession is to miss the point, that indeed to become embroiled with the ins and outs, say of flying saucers, or crop circles, is to follow a path of ever decreasing circles, one in which the daemonic will have a field day with your emotions, and even your sanity. Instead, he says, the importance lies at a deeper level, in the realms of  the collective psyche, and it’s only when we attain such a transcendent perspective do we see patterns emerging, that the bewildering multiplicity of the Forteana themselves are all expressions of the same thing, indicative of a breaking through of the ‘Daemonic’ into waking reality.

Harpur uses the term Daemonic here in the purely psychological sense, meaning a constellation of apparently autonomous psychical or ‘imaginative’ energy, and not to be confused with ‘Demonic’ in the more religious sense, meaning something entirely malevolent. In other words the Daemons and their associated Fortean manifestations are figments of the imagination, but this is not to dismiss them as unreal, because people are always reporting things they cannot explain. The problem, says Harpur, is our understanding of and our respect for the power of the human imagination.

We all possess an imagination, but this is built upon a foundation of the collective imagination of our culture, which is bounded and shaped by its traditions and by its myths. But, says Harpur, the myths themselves arise from a deeper layer still, one that has its own reality, independent of whether we can ‘imagine’ it or not, or believe in it or not, and it’s from this place the Forteana – the Daemons – arise to beguile and at times frighten us.

The idea of a ‘non-literal’, purely imaginary reality is a difficult one to grasp. The ego must reject it, for even if it were to exist, it would seem, from its reported manifestations, to be a very chaotic place, totally unhelpful to our rational and scientific enterprise, so we had better shun it, demonise it, or society will surely fall apart. But in the same way as when we suppress troublesome thoughts they come back at us as neuroses, so too shunning the Daemonic causes it to break through and disturb the smooth running of our rational lives. In this way the Daemons, manifesting as Forteana, can be viewed as a kind of collective neurosis.

In order to understand this better, Harpur takes us back to the lessons of Greek myth, which, in a nut-shell comes down to having a respect for the independent reality of an imaginary realm as described in stories of the interrelations between a pantheon of Daemonic deities and their various goings on, also of an ‘otherworld’, the place the soul journeys to after death, or nightly in dreams.

These realms exist, says Harpur, but not literally so, not objectively, yet if we deny them in ourselves, or collectively as a society, the Daemonic will find ways of challenging the smugness of our preconceptions regarding the true nature of that reality. Things will go bump in the night, we will see flying saucers, and the most extraordinary crop circles will come pepper our growing crops every summer, and we will fall out endlessly over whether it’s men with rollers doing it, or some other mysterious agency.

Contrary to popular belief, those most inclined to flights of imaginative fancy are least likely to be doorstepped by the supernatural. To exercise the imagination, for example in the pursuit of the creative arts, say writing or painting, seems sufficient to propitiate the Daemons and keep them on our side. On the other hand, it is the hard headed refuseniks with blunted imaginations the Daemons are more likely to tease by revealing themselves in whatever forms they can borrow from the collective psyche. A healthier approach then is for us to give such things some headroom, grant them the courtesy of a little respect, even if we do not entirely believe in them.

As with all Harpur’s books, I found this one a hugely enlightening read. It is a deeply thought, seminal thesis and lays the ground for his later and similarly themed “Philosopher’s Secret Fire – A History of the Imagination”. It has a foundation in Jungian psychology, Romanticism and Myth, all of which makes for fascinating reading, and for further reading if you’re so inclined. But if you’re hung up on any one topic of the supernatural in particular, seeking to winkle out concrete proof of its objective reality, the book is unlikely to satisfy you.

Indeed by telling you supernatural events are essentially imaginary, you may be so indignant you’ll miss the more profound message regarding the subtle reality of the imaginal realm itself. You’ll miss the core insight that the difference between the literal and the non-literal is at times not so easily discerned, that the one sometimes bleeds through into the other, and the proper place for a human being, psychologically speaking, is with our head in both camps, then we can tell the difference, discern perhaps a glimmer of meaning in it, and hopefully live as we should.

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cropped-southport-beach.jpg

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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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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miceThe more literary kind of story has a habit of fluffing its conclusion, of building you up through a series of struggles, pointing to one final decisive conflict, but just as one is hopeful of a whizz-bang ending, it veers off the mark and cuts to the credits without having resolved anything at all. Critics do effusive somersaults over the subtlety of this sort of thing and provide a multitude of their own subjective interpretations based on impenetrable literary theory as espoused by someone you’ve never heard of. As for the rest of us, we can only trust the whole thing was not a deceit, that the author simply didn’t know how to finish things other than by saying it was all a dream, so he trails off instead, fades away like a ghost.

In similar vein I swear I did not dream of mice last week. I saw them, heard them, chased them, tried in vain to trap them. But I’ve not seen one since, nor been disturbed by one in the night. My house is now bristling with traps, baited with all manner of treats – currently pieces of KitKat stuck in tasty splodges of peanut butter. Yum!

Nothing. No bites. No dead mice.

I’ve been round the outside of the house looking for any means of mousy ingress – tiny holes in the corners of walls and where the drains poke out. I have applied cement here, there and everywhere, just to be sure. I know they’ve definitely been around and where they’ve lingered longest because there’s an eye watering smell of ammonia coming from behind the cupboards in the conservatory. For weeks we thought it was a pair of my son’s trainers, and grumbled for them to be stored elsewhere. But the more savvy visitors tell us this pungent signature scent is actually mouse-wee. The cupboards are fitted and it will take a week to dismantle them, remove them, check for ingress, clean up, put back. Understandably I’m resisting the trial, hoping instead the mice have gone and the smell will fade if we keep the windows open.

No firm conclusion, you see? We trail off into the literary never-land. No bang, no snap of the trap and a clear indication of the saga’s end. It goes on until memory fades, hopefully along with the smell, and some other slice of life takes centre stage. So for now the mice have become ghosts to manifest at every creak or sigh in the night, but without actually materialising in tangible reality at all. Only their smell remains.

I hope.

Goodnight all.

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snowyIt’s been a curiously unsettling week. Twice my commute home was disrupted by serious accidents and motorway closures, turning a thirty five minute journey into an hour and a half marathon, where the normal free flow of things was choked off at every turn, blocked, impeded, restricted, stymied. On the last of these occasions, having finally made it home, exhausted, I left the car on the driveway and set off across the village on foot to get my hair cut, but the ginnel I normally use was blocked, the path being dug up, the way impeded, restricted,… the alternative, a long detour.

I returned home and did not move from the house again until I had slept long and deep.

And in my sleep I dreamed of road closures, of blockage, of the wreckage of trains and vehicles piled high into monuments of destruction. Thus in its own way the universe reflects my inner feelings, feelings of being stymied at every turn, at my lack of progress in terms of psychological and emotional development, my confusion – one path after another blocked, the wreckage of false hope and dreams piled high

The ego will make way at all costs, even if it ends up going only in circles.

And yes I’ve begun dreaming again, unbidden, and  vividly. I used to remember my dreams most nights and write them down in the mornings. It was a Jungian thing, interesting in the early days of my initiation into the way of the soul, but I was too much in earnest in my search for meaning, and those dreams, so lovingly recorded, remain to this day enigmatically opaque. Then for a long time I have not recalled any dreams at all – except suddenly this week I am dreaming vast landscapes, and vivid encounters with archetypal characters. Nor am I making any effort to recall them, yet they remain burned into memory, their feeling tones equally vivid and not a little disturbing.

Then there are the coincidences, trivial things yet astonishing in their persistence and their infuriating meaninglessness: I saw a dog on Instagram, a cute little fox terrier, and though I have never desired to keep a dog in my life, I was suddenly taken by the desire to keep one like that, and I would call him Snowy. Then within the hour I was watching a snippet from a banal TV game show, and the question was: what was the name of Tin Tin’s dog? Answer of course: Snowy.

Such things are only a coincidence if they happen once, but when they cluster they speak to me of other things, of something shifting, a curtain opening, the normal laws of time and space blurring at the edges. I am turning in of a night now expecting to dream next a mystical revelation. Except, I know from past experience this is not how it works. Stability will return, the old ways will open up again, the old grooves. I am left thinking I miss my turn each time, that I fail to grasp the symbolic significance of a motorway closure or even of a cute little dog called Snowy.

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