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Posts Tagged ‘paranormal’

Lavender and the Rose Cover

Another in the occasional series, looking at the themes expressed in my various works of fiction. 

Moving on, getting on, forgetting the past, embracing change, living in the present moment – and all that. It’s good stuff, stuff I tried to get at in the Road from Langholm Avenue. And to be sure, all these things are attainable, the material world navigated safely as needs be without falling over in despair at the pointlessness of existence. At least for a time.

But as we get older, something else happens, some call it an existential crisis, others simply the menopause. But as I see it, youth, inexperience, and just plain ignorance has us accepting without question the allure of an essentially material life, rendering us blind to the fallacy that it is entirely sufficient for our needs – the pursuit of money, lifestyle, the bigger house, the bigger car, the exotic travel destinations. It isn’t.

If we’re lucky we wake up and realise material things don’t satisfy us for very long, that we can live an extravagant lifestyle, a life all the adverts would have us aspire to, and still be as miserable as sin, still craving the next big thing. But you can’t go on for ever like that. Clearly something is missing. We need a bigger story if our lives are to mean anything.

Some find that bigger story ready made in the various world religions – usually a story about a supreme being and an afterlife to help make sense of the suffering we endure in this one. We can then explain our lives as a trial imposed upon us, the reward for which will be riches in the next life. Or we can explain it as a preparation for a higher level of existence, again in some non-material hereafter. And all that’s fine for the faithful, because religions do provide comfort in times of need, but what if you’re not faithful? What if all of that sounds ridiculous to you? What if the logical inconsistencies of such a set-up cause you to take out that barge pole and prod all religions and their scary religiosity safely out of sight. Life simply is what it is, and then you die. Right?

Well, maybe.

But what if you sit down one day in an existential funk, and something happens? Let’s say the doors to perception are flung wide open – just for a moment – and you’re given an utterly convincing glimpse of a universe that’s somehow greatly expanded compared with the narrow way you normally perceive it? How so? Hard to describe except lets say, for example, time drops out of the equation and you’re given the impression of an infinite continuum in which there is no difference between you and whatever you perceive, that your mind is independent of both the physical body and the physical world, that indeed your mind is a subset of a greater mind that is both you and not you at the same time.

How would you deal with that?

Well, you’d probably think you were ill, or just coming out of a semi swoon or a waking dream where we all know the most outrageous nonsense can be made to feel true. So we come back to our senses and carry on as normal. Except we find our perspective on life is subtly altered. We are drawn to ideas that might explain our experience. We explore it first through psychology, because it was a kind of mind-thing we experienced. So down the rabbit hole we go,…

And there sitting at the mad hatter’s table we discover Carl Jung, sipping tea and reading a book called the Yijing, which he lends to us, saying that if we are not pleased by it, we don’t need to use it, and we’d worry about that except he also tells us famous quantum physicists have used it too, though they don’t like to admit it. Then this Oriental connection takes us to ancient China and another book called the Tao Te Ching, then to religions that aren’t like other religions, to Daoism and Buddhism which are kind of hard to get your head around. But while everything you learn explains some small part of what you experienced, nothing explains the whole of it.

So you put some rules to it yourself, create a quasi-logical structure for this strange new universe you alone have apparently discovered. Before you know it, you’ve invented your own religion and it all falls apart again, victim to the inconsistencies you’ve imposed upon it yourself. It seems the moment you put words to things you limit their potential to within the bounds of your own perception, and what you perceive actually isn’t that much when compared with what’s really out there, or to be more precise in there, because it’s an inner experience that leads us to this taste of the infinite where there’s no such thing as or in or out anyway.

The Lavender and the Rose comes out of this shift in perception, but without structure it would make no sense to anyone else – just two hundred thousand words of mindless drivel that would bore anyone to tears, so we accept the vagueness and the mystery, and we weave a story around it instead, a love story, several love stories, blur the boundaries, throw in some visions, some Jungian psychology, basically a lot of muse-stuff and conquering of the ego, that sort of thing. Add in a bit of Victorian costume drama, play about with characters having more than one identity, play the story out at different points in history, play it out in alternative universes where even the present moments can pan out differently, and then try to make it all hang together as an interesting story – about what can happen when you start living magically, and with others who are similarly inclined. Then explore ways the mystery can be coaxed to your aid, and discover how, if you get it wrong it will shun you for a decade. Learn how to navigate its endless ambiguities, how to see the world as no one else sees it, and still get by without getting yourself sectioned.

Such is the irresistible allure of something other.

And as with all my stuff, if you are not pleased by it, at least it hasn’t cost you anything!

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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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It was in 1978, when holidaying in the Lake District that I heard a story about some hill walkers who’d spent a night at the Wythburn Inn, and who were later told they couldn’t possibly have slept there because the Inn was submerged by the creation of the Thirlmere Reservoir in 1894. There was a similar story about some British travellers in France who stayed a night at a quaintly old-fashioned hotel, and attempted to find it again on their return journey, only to discover it did not exist. Then  there’s the incident recounted by tourists on a bus who were looking for somewhere to stay and noticed an attractive hotel. They got off the bus at the next stop, which was only a short distance away, then walked back to where they thought the hotel had been, but the area looked different,… and there was no hotel*.  Then there were the two young women who set out one evening to walk a few miles to a dance at a local village, only to find themselves struggling to cross an eerie and unfamiliar landscape,…

These curious anecdotes are examples of a type of psychical phenomenon known as a time-slip. They seem to fall into two categories: one where the protagonists apparently blunder into a place that only existed in the past, or two, it’s a place that is contemporary and known to them, only things are altered in some way, so that they struggle to find their way around.

It’s difficult to come up with a rational explanation for this sort of thing, and if the protagonists are clearly shaken or puzzled by their experience, as it seems they are, then it’s churlish to dismiss them as liars. Also, where the experience is shared with others, blaming it on an hallucination seems also unrealistically simplistic.

Like many of the so-called psychical phenomena, it’s safer to err on the side of a rational explanation, if only for the sake of your own sanity, and I’d be following my own advice on this one if it weren’t for the fact that I once experienced a similar thing myself. I dismissed the incident  at the time as a mental aberration, but the more I’ve thought about it, the less sure I am that the rational explanation I’ve clung to isn’t the greater delusion.

It was in the Lake District again, this time in 1981. I’d set out to drive from the town of Windermere, to Coniston. The obvious route is to take the Windermere Ferry, then drive  to Hawkshead. Just after Hawkshead, the road continues northwards to Ambleside and to get to Coniston, you have to turn left at a fairly obvious junction, where you pick up a road that takes you over the fells and drops you down into Coniston. On this occasion, however, the junction wasn’t there.

I wasn’t that familiar with the layout of the Lakes in those days, having only been driving for a few years and had just begun to explore my local geography. I knew there was supposed to be a junction because the road-map told me so, and I guessed I’d merely driven past it by mistake. Maybe it was a small turning and easily missed? I turned around and came back at it from the opposite direction, being extra vigilant this time. There was still no junction, no signposts for Coniston,… nothing, just an unbroken line of hedgerows with meadows beyond. I turned around and tried again: still nothing!

I lost count of the number of times I drove to and from Hawkshead looking for that road. I remember eventually pulling over into a lay by and trying to shake my head clear of the mixture of frustration and confusion, telling myself to take a deep breath and pull myself together because the road was definitely there – I was just blind to it somehow. But it was no good. That day, the junction did not exist for me.

I did eventually get to Coniston, but only by taking a twenty mile detour.

I’ve since driven the road over to Coniston dozens of times, and whenever I see the junction near Hawkshead I’m convinced I could not have simply overlooked it because it’s such an obvious thing, well flagged by signposts in both directions – and you’d have to be really blind to miss it. What do you do after an incident like that? Well, you blame yourself for being stupid, because what other explanation could there be?

It’s perhaps not surprising that I’ve always been interested in this kind of tale. Judging by the anecdotes, such experiences can be relatively short-lived, lasting no more than a few minutes, or they can be full-blown interactions with an alternate reality lasting several hours, or even overnight in the case of travellers who have apparently found hospitality in mysterious, non-existent hotels.

If true, I don’t know what these incidents tell us about the nature of reality,  but what they do suggest to me, as a writer of fiction, is that one need not be overly dramatic in portraying the way characters can slip between worlds in our fantasy stories. I tend to avoid fantastic machines or wormholes or pixie spells, because there’s a greater probability that it happens seamlessly and spontaneously. You just get in your car and drive along the familiar old route, except suddenly your turning isn’t there any more. You’ve crossed a divide into another universe. You’ve no idea how you did it, nor how you’re going to get back.

The fascination of these experiences for me lies in their psychological plausibility. The geography, the environment and the people we might meet all appear quite normal to our senses. The experience might leave us shaken, but there is never any doubt that the alternate reality exists in a very “real” sense, at least for us; it’s tangible, we can interact with it, people speak to us, they serve us drinks, they do not look at us as if we’re strange,…

The most remarkable thing is that there’s a strongly held belief among physicists that there may indeed be alternate versions of the reality we know,  an infinite number of them actually. Every time probability comes into play, reality splits. Toss a coin and you create two separate realities, one where the coin falls down heads, and another where it falls down tails. This is the Many Worlds interpretation of Quantum Mechanics. However, although many physicists accept it at least as a theoretical possibility, they also tell us the theory rules out any chances of our being aware of those alternate realities, that the apparent line of our own conscious experience through time always plots a coherent course. We do not for example buy ourselves a red car one day, then wake up the following morning to find it is blue. There may indeed be a universe where the car is blue, but we can have no knowledge of it because it would be inconsistent with the version of reality we have already chosen.

Stories of time-slips would seem to challenge this view. They suggest that sometimes conscious awareness can indeed blunder into alternate realities, and then for a short time at least the logical consistency of our personal experience breaks down.

Or they could all just be tall tales.

* for a fuller account of this strange tale see the case of the vanished hotel recounted in: “The Personality of Man” by G.N.M. Tyrell 1947 (free download from the internet archive and a first class book on psychical research)

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