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Posts Tagged ‘reality’

standing stoneThe Ryoan-ji is an ancient rock garden in Japan, in the Zen tradition. It’s a so called dry garden, consisting of groups of large stones place upon a bed of smooth-worn and finely raked pebbles. I’ve studied Zen as an amateur student for years, but it’s an enigmatic subject, difficult to gain purchase and try as I might I still know virtually nothing about it. In a similar way I’m no doubt entirely ignorant of the deeper meaning of this garden. One of its intriguing and more talked about features however is that no matter what angle we view it from we can only ever count fourteen stones.

There are actually fifteen stones, but one of them is always hidden from view by the others, so we can never know for sure that there are fifteen, presumably without flying over the garden and viewing it from an elevated perspective. So, how many stones are there? Answer, obviously fifteen, but how many in our experience? How many from our every day perspective?

I’m not sure if this is an important Zen teaching, or if I’m creating a tangential one of my own, but it’s a useful concept none the less, that reality is always subjective and cannot help  but conceal both it’s true nature and, by inference, our own.

On a not unrelated subject, about twelve hours ago, I ate breakfast in the garden of a cottage overlooking the North Sea, a little to the north of Scarborough. I sipped coffee as I contemplated the changing shades of blue, and I tried to hold on to the scene, to imprint it in memory, both visually and emotionally, because I knew I would shortly be taking my leave of it and it would be a long time before I came this way again, indeed if ever.

Like that fifteenth stone the view is now hidden. I know it exists from some other perspective, but what I’m left with now, as I tap this out are the fourteen stones of a more mundane reality.

The ability to hold on to an awareness of the fifteenth stone is helped by having seen it in the first place. No amount of being told of its existence can substitute for the experience of seeing it. Merely being told it’s there requires faith and trust, when you cannot see it yourself.

Of course what I was looking at this morning was a reflection of my own self in a reality that was closer to the truth of who felt I am, of who we all are when not pummelled into a different shape by the repetitive and habitual lives that normally contain us. For a short time though, on holiday, we escape, we gain a different perspective, we view a different emotional landscape, we see and feel ourselves differently and wish upon wish we could be like that all the time. It is this transcendent essence that is contained for me in the symbolic meaning of the fifteenth stone.

But the truth is we have all seen it from time to time, and even though the evidence of our own eyes mostly denies its existence, we have only to shift our perspective slightly, do something, go somewhere a little out of the ordinary, to reveal its presence and realise it’s been there all along.

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mending clock 5I was walking along a corridor in a familiar office block, thinking to myself: what if I found some money on the floor? How would I reunite it with its owner? If I put up a note to say I had found ten pounds, anyone could come to me and say it was theirs, that they had lost ten pounds, and how would I know they were telling the truth? So I thought I could write a note instead saying I had found some money, without saying how much, and leave it to others to tell me what they thought they had lost. But this wouldn’t work either. Would anyone know exactly how much they had lost? And if they said they had lost fifteen pounds, would it be reasonable for me to say the ten pounds I had found was not at least some part of what they had lost? How would I best write that note?

This conundrum of hypothetically lost money and the note announcing it was a thing I pondered for no reason. I had not found any money. I had not lost any money. My mind had simply begun to ruminate on the problem spontaneously. There was nothing strange in this; I often ponder spurious things for no reason. I’m sure I’m not alone in doing so. And the punchline? Well, it was then I came to a notice pinned on the wall, and it said: Money found, please contact,…

To the rational mind, it was a coincidence, or I had perhaps seen the notice before, but registered its presence only subliminally, in other words without actually being conscious of seeing it. The latter explanation is more tenuous, but I admit it is plausible. To my own mind though, there is another explanation and has to do with the mysterious nature of time. It also requires a less rational approach and that we allow for the possibility we can sometimes be influenced by events that have yet to happen, that my pondering on the question of lost money was prompted by the as yet future sighting of the notice announcing lost money.

My anecdote hardly qualifies as evidence of déjà vu. All such occurrences are, by their nature, anecdotal and therefore inadmissible in the court of the scientistic pedant. And yes, I could have made my story up – I am a writer of stories after all. I suggest you have no choice then but to be sceptical, unless something similar has happened to you, for only then are the non-peer-reviewed anecdotes of time anomalies of any interest. And I bet most of you reading this have experienced something odd about time and the occasionally back to front sequencing of events.

It’s happened to me before. I find the dream a good place for encountering the influence of events that have yet to happen. I once dreamed repeatedly of a time – twenty past seven – then woke groggily from a deep sleep to hear my wife telling me I was going to be late, that it was already twenty past seven.

It doesn’t happen a lot – just now and then. I mean, I’m not a freak or anything. Moreover, you don’t have to believe in any of this. I’m not claiming a penetrating scientific insight, now will I be attempting an explanation. But if it’s happened to you, you may find such musings of interest.

For a time, between the world wars, the question of time anomalies, time slips and dream precognition were pondered openly and in all seriousness by intellectuals, by artists, writers, poets, and the general pre-soap opera public, all of them inspired by publication of a book called Experiment in Time, by J W Dunne (1927). Post war however, it was a fascination the popular world quickly grew out of. I don’t know what happened, but dreams, precognition, time anomalies and such were suddenly embarrassing topics of conversation to be having at parties. Instead we became ensnared in the theories of Freud, at least in so far as they pertained to advertising and trivial want, and we became docile consumers thereafter, with never questioning thought in our heads as regards the nature of time and reality. But the question has not gone away. And the anecdotes continue to mount. Can our thoughts be influenced by a future event? Can we visit the future in our heads before it happens?

I come back to Dunne and his book “Experiment with Time”. In it Dunne writes about time anomalies, and a kind of low level dream precognition. Then he presents a theory which attempts an explanation but which reads like a textbook exercise in geometry. I was always good at geometry, but try as I might Dunne’s lecture on it doesn’t make sense at all. Only the anecdotes stick. Thus Dunne manages to be both visionary and annoying at the same time.

Priestly (JB) writes of Dunne along similar lines in “Man and time” (1964), in which he too explores the time-haunted world, while wisely avoiding too much theorising and geometrical diagrams. Priestly had plenty of his own time-slip anecdotes, plus an archive of anecdotes sent to him by the public. Priestly is more content to rest in the philosophy and the mystery, that these things happen, and we don’t know how or why, only that it opens a door into the unknown through which many things become possible. We are wise I think, to follow his example.

But the critic will argue it’s absurd to claim we can see the future, because by seeing it we might then take steps to avoid it. But if we’ve seen it, how can we possibly avoid it? This attempt at paradox is rather a feeble one, however, presupposing as it does a single linear line in time. It does not allow for the idea of multiple lines, of the possibility that what we see of the future is only one possible version of it. We take our permission for such speculation from the Many Worlds interpretation of Quantum Mechanics and by so doing also usher in a semi-scientific basis for our idle postulations, but without actually explaining anything. Quantum Mechanics is endlessly useful for us dreamers in this respect. We can use it to prove anything.

This is where the way becomes strange and all explanations equally valid. If these slips in time are real, and I have no choice but to accept they are, it points to something perhaps, to a future evolution of consciousness where the actual nature of time is revealed and becomes useful to us. Or it may be there’s just something a little frayed around the edges of the consciousness we posses, that it is only an imperfection that allows sporadic glimpses of a place outside of time, beyond the curtain so to speak, a place we do not belong and can never explain within the limited paradigm of which we are a part and spend our entire lives.

But if we are trapped for the most part, in a purely linear flow of time, while being capable of more, we must ask ourselves what purpose does it serve, this self imposed imprisonment, this pedestrian view? And what nightmares would it unleash, were we ever to break free and see the universe as it really is?

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chattertonUnlike a head-cold there’s no working with influenza. It’s not without irony my last post should have been on the health conscious practice of Qigong – more useless talk and insufficient action I’m afraid. And the next thing I know I’m sicker than I have been in years. The universe is not without a sense of humour, but neither is sickness without its purpose.

I’m conscious of viewing the world differently just now, not so much as a firm reality any more but as a half truth, one we can render malleable through the active medium of imagination. Or we can become passive while that truth is more shaped for us by external images beamed from myriad sources: TV, computer, phone. I can watch the national news, update myself hourly on a selected slice of the world as it is presented “now”, or I can allow a different kind of prejudice – my own – to choose a path through the plethora of alternate views on the video channels of the world wide web.

And viewed through the lens of my sickness, all of these images have taken on something of the grotesque, like a circus sideshow viewed at night, under the leaping glare of an unfamiliar light. And there is a sound, like the snort and bray of caged animals and their top-hatted masters. There are donkeys preening with two tails, giraffes with two heads, snakes with two tongues. The images compete, each for a slice of momentary meaning, but only in sickness and delirium does the mind allow safe passage for these chimera into consciousness – not as the truths they purport to tell, but more as the ravings of drunks and loons. Why only in sickness are we capable of seeing that the world is not that?

For the duration of my illness at least, the world is my bed, my pillow. It is the soft press of the covers upon my chest. And it is the sound of heavy rain, falling day after day. There are no other certainties. Any other story of reality is a flexible concept. And there is no end to the stories of the world I can choose to believe in. But are any of them even remotely true?

What is it safe to believe in any more? Our only guide is to ask this: What does not go away when we stop believing in it? What does not go away when we switch off the info-screens? This is the only safe guide to personal reality, that our reality is not concocted from the lies and the grotesqueries of others with a view only to power and self aggrandisement. The only sure reality then is intrinsically local. Distance from the centre will inevitably blur it.

My sickness fades, leaves me emptied of energy. And what doesn’t go away as I surface from these thoughts is only the world that butts up against my weary senses. There is no meaning to be found in anything beyond that. I have by now tired of the news, tired of You Tube. So many images, so many voices, so many versions of a possible reality. And there is something of the intellectual demand, too, that we keep up with current affairs. But current affairs are like soap opera. It does not matter if we watch or not, keep up or not, for there is no story, no vital plot twist that will leave us behind in the reality stakes, even if we close our eyes.

Part of this meditation may be that I no longer possess the energy to deal with the world that lies much beyond my bedroom window. The winter thus far has drawn a forbidding veil.

I take a deep bellied breath, let it out slow, feel for the stirring of the Dantien.

There is nothing.

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tree of life paintingAccording to the theory of parallel universes, every time we make a decision, our personal universe splits into however many possibilities we are presented with. Roll a dice, the universe splits into six, and six versions of ourselves are led off into each of them. Toss a coin, the universe splits into two – one for heads, one for tails. The universe becomes a multi-verse, one of infinite possibility, the result not only of our own decisions, but the way the decisions of others, and chance events in the manifest world, impact upon us. It’s a staggering idea, but one that is taken very seriously by physicists and cosmologists as they explore the twisty turney rabbit hole of Quantum Mechanics.

If this is the way things are, one of the most important rules we’re bound by is that once we’re committed to a particular universe, there can be no going back. We can’t buy a blue car one day, then wake up the next with a red one. Our timelines must be consistent with all previous events. Of course there’s considerable unease over the idea too, with critics telling us the theory is light on actual “theory” and top-heavy on universes. While this is true, I’m still open to the possibility, and why not? If the multi-verse is infinite, it can’t be filled, no matter how many universes you pour into it, but I have the advantage of being unconcerned with scientific rigour – just fictional plausibility.

If we think of our lives as inhabiting any number of potential universes, splitting off many times a day as we make even the most trivial decision, our multi-dimensional growth can be visualised as a tree in which every single possibility for our lives is realised within its ever-bifurcating branches. Some branches may not extend very far, with poor decisions or even just bad luck leading to our early demise. Other branches lead to long lines in time, and a grand old age, but these might be lives where chance and poor decisions have resulted in unhappiness. Other branches of course may trace lines through times of great hardship but lead eventually to the promised land of inner happiness and well being.

But humans are hard to satisfy, and no doubt you’ll soon be wondering if you’d be any happier than you are now if you’d only taken some other path. Without the ability to go back and remake those decisions though, there’s no point in reminiscing and lamenting the choices we’ve made. It’s a metaphysical dead end, and the idea of parallel universes becomes one of purely theoretical interest, one of making the sums add up, rather than helping to make any real sense of our lives. As story tellers though, if we can come up with plausible ways in which one might indeed set up lines of communication with our alternate selves, or indeed swap places with them, we can have lots of fun.

In my current work-in-progress, the protagonists have realised it’s the only way to avoid an asteroid on a collision course with the earth. There’s no need for Bruce Willis and a nuclear bomb – you just search the probabilities, find a timeline in which the asteroid’s course is slightly different, misses the earth completely, and Bob’s your uncle. There’s still a version of your self who dies in the impact, but it’s a self who’s no longer in the line of your newly-current conscious self. You’re not aware of your demise, so you don’t care – if you know what I mean.

But in the story – because it’s a story – there’s a price to pay, such as will the ideal partner you’ve just met, the woman you’re convinced is the one true love of your life, still be around in that other time line when you’ve jumped, and if not, is it better to live a longer life without her, or to experience love as you’ve never known it, knowing full well you’ve only got a week left to enjoy such a profound mutual awakening? Once I’ve solved that conundrum, I’ll have my conclusion and final chapter in the bag – and thank goodness for that because it’s making me dizzy and I’ve still got white rabbits running about all over the place.

But why stop there? You could search all the other timelines in which the asteroid misses the earth and in which you meet someone else who blows your mind even more. Then you could search for the timeline in which you were not only stoned out of your mind in love with this person, enjoying the best sex you’ve never had, but also all the scenarios where you’ve made the right investment decisions too, avoided the crash, and are living the life of Riley, retired at forty to a beach house with a sky-pool in the Bahamas. And if you didn’t like the idea of ageing, you could find a way of entering a timeline at any point, pick a nice long line that yields all the stuff of your dreams, trace it back and enter it in your twenties, just as the ride starts to pick up. But no life is perfect, so skip sideways for a bit to avoid that day when someone robs your house, then skip back later on, once the emotional hurt has healed. Heavens, you could become a time travelling, materialistic pleasure seeker, cherry picking the best bits of all the possible versions of your life!

I think you can see where is going.

by fall of night cover

coming soon

It would take great discipline for such a time traveller not to waste their multi dimensioned life, enjoying the rush of the best bits, because it’s the tough bits, the puzzles, the confusion of choice, the insults, the injury, the heartache, the bits we are most tested by that we learn the most from. But who would willingly submit themselves to the most unpleasant parts of their lives if they thought they could avoid it? This is the manure that makes the tree grow in all of its dimensions, and without it we might as well never have been born.

Perhaps I should be more grateful that my awareness is limited to this single line through time. It might not be perfect, but it is at least authentic. If there are other versions of myself, living out the lives I did not choose, I’d be better just letting them get on with it.

And if I’m not mistaken that’s my conclusion staring me right in the face.

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nondual awarenessOne of the milestones along the path of the soul is the realisation of the non-dual nature of the psyche, indeed of reality itself. Many traditions describe this state, and it’s possible by careful study of the writings of their wise men to form an idea of what it might mean, intellectually. But the intellect alone cannot fully grasp it, nor can it fully accept its reality. The non-dual state must be experienced for it to have any meaningful effect on a man’s life, and the way to attaining that experience cannot be written down in any detail. Pilgrims can be pointed in the general direction by others who have gone before, but the experience itself is always a matter of chance, an accident. It’s just that some pilgrims are more accident prone than others.

You don’t have to be monk or a saint to experience it, though this helps. You can fall into it at any stage of life, and you don’t even have to be meditating. It can even happen when you’re not ready, when your mind is still rigidly rational in its outlook. But this can also leave you in a very strange place, questioning both the validity of what you experienced in the non-dual state, and questioning too the nature of the reality you have always believed to be unassailably firm.Thus, instead of celebrating one’s brush with non-dual awareness, one ends up pathologising it, dismissing it, saying we were simply off our head, that the concepts revealed in the non-dual state are simply so far at odds with the reality we daily perceive and understand, they cannot possibly be true. So we hide from them. We cover them with intellectual detritus and a fog of words.

I’m not sure if this is normal.

Others talk of an instant conversion, like a light-switch, and once it’s on, brother, it’s definitely ON! Personality changes wrought by the experience can be dramatic and overwhelming both for pilgrim and loved ones alike, to say nothing of embarrassing. Some feel called to greatness, even martyrdom as a result of their psychological shift, but others don’t. Others become even more confused than before.

The non-dual state is characterised by a dissolving of the boundaries between the individual and the world of form, yielding the devastating insight that there is no “other”, no “out there”, that we are both what we feel ourselves to be, as well as being whatever we are looking at. This is not to say we become one with the mountain because this implies the mountain has an independent existence in the world of forms. It’s more fundamental than that; we are the mountain, and, bizarre as all of this might sound, none of it comes as a great surprise to those plunged into the experience – more it’s like the remembering of something we have always known, but somehow forgotten.

Some would say the purpose of our lives is simply to awaken to this state, to renew our acquaintanceship with the hidden hyper-reality that is our natural heritage. But this cannot be the whole story.

The nature of reality as revealed in the non-dual state suggests that anything is possible, that our own reach knows no bounds. But if that’s true, then what are we doing here? In flesh, my furthest reach enables me to scratch my bottom and change a lightbulb. The experience in flesh is rather more limited then, also fraught with emotion. The experience of the non-dual state, by contrast, is liberating, it is to be embraced by an infinite loving wisdom and a boundless compassion, while the experience of the flesh is one of imprisonment, loneliness, disappointment and desire.

There must be a very good reason for us being here if we’re missing out on all of that. But what is it?

I’m not going to answer this question because I really don’t know, and can only speculate like anyone else. But there is a clue, I think in the fact that the experience of non-dual awareness occurs at a point in time that is neither past nor future, but at the singularity of their interstices, in the “now”. Past and future are psychological constructs, neither of them existing as anything other than memory or anticipation. The closer we can bring our minds, in the day to dayness of our lives, to that present moment, feel our presence in it, the less we fear the future, and the less we lament the events of the past, and the more we feel our aliveness and our interconnection with all things. Our purpose in life then may be nothing more than to achieve a sense of presence in whatever we happen to be doing at the time.

The rest is unimportant.

Or so I tried to tell myself this evening as I took a spanner to my leaking radiator valve. But no amount of presence would lessen the dripping to a rate that might be contained by an old biscuit tin until morning. Non-dual awareness wasn’t much help either, the sense that the aged leaking valve and I were one – although as metaphors go we we’re pretty well matched. What I really needed was not a sage but plumber. What use is non-dual awareness when my radiator valve is leaking? Answer that and I think you’ve covered just about everything a man could ever want to know.

leaking radiator

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southport beachI didn’t see the figures on the sands when I took this picture. I was more interested in seeing how the polarising filter would help bring details out in the sky, while leaving the sands recognisable as, well,… sands. It was only later when I put the picture up on the bigger screen of my PC, then cropped and zoomed,  other details became apparent, and the ghosts emerged.

No, I didn’t know they were there, I don’t know who they are, and of course I don’t know where they are now. They’re simply gone. But for that moment, at 14:53 hours and 53 seconds on the 17/2/2013,  they were everything, creating a living harmony out of what is otherwise nothing.

I get this same eerie philosophical melancholia from watching crowds. There are so many of us alive, and each life of infinite importance to itself, each of us viewing the universe from the centre of ourselves in a uniquely different way.   But for me there’s something about the lone figure or a small group of figures set against a vast landscape that turns up the wick, and applies a more intense heat to the question of what it is to be human in the world.

On the one hand the seeming smallness of our presence can make the individual life appear worthless and futile, while on the other it might be said it’s in the very uniqueness of our  perspective there lies a value that goes beyond the material –  that it’s in adjusting to this perception of ourselves, and seeing more clearly through what one might call the eye of spirit,  we each have the potential to realise the preciousness that is the individual life lived well, no matter how fleeting and superficially futile that life might appear to be.

I’m reading Field and Hedgerow by Richard Jeffries at the moment. Jeffries (1848-1887) was a small-town English journalist, essayist and novelist, who, after labouring long in obscurity, became quietly popular in the late Victorian period. Another of his works “The Amateur Poacher” has been my companion since childhood, and I still find much in him to admire. His particular forte was nature mysticism. To say Jeffries revered nature doesn’t quite get to the point of him, though revere it he most certainly did. Here was a man who could look at  a grain of sand under his fingernail and tease the meaning of life from it  – all without the aid of opium –  but he was careful not to over-romanticise – being conscious and respectful of the red-in-tooth-and claw dimension of nature as well. He was also a man who saw more of God in a Greek statue than in the whole of King James.

Stay with me, this is relevant.

lilithOf course we’re not all blessed with the divine attributes of a Greek statue, and I suppose Jeffries was getting at more than seeing a literal image of “God as deity” in hominid physiology. What the Classical Greeks saw in the human form, Jeffries hints at in his various works, while the rest of us cover it with loincloths for modesty, mistake it for a perverted Eros, and childishly titter at it. What is it? I don’t know, but if you’ll allow me a moment’s nudity, I can gaze for ever at John Collier’s Lillith (Atkinson Memorial Gallery, Southport UK), and see more than just her bosoms. There’s a ghost in her, and like my figures in the landscape, she gives me pause.

Getting back to the subject of nature, in “Field and Hedgerow” Jeffries writes of an unemployed farm labourer rejecting the grim soulless state-handout sanctuary of the Workhouse and choosing instead to survive the winter living rough, sleeping in out-buildings, finding what few scraps of charity he can from the farm wives. Jeffries suggests that in his struggle to maintain a personal dignified independence, against the rigours of nature, there is something noble, even Godlike about him.

Nature is impassive, impervious to our complaints. The rain falls and the frost bites regardless of our wishes, or the quality of our clothes. Still, on a sunny day, when the butterflies come out, you can look for God in it, a God that transcends deity, as the Romantics would say. Indeed when it’s not inflicting pain upon us, there’s enough stillness and sublime beauty in nature to see projections of all sorts of things. But whatever we discover, compassion will not be among its qualities.

In my  photograph, the tide is out. Three hours later it would be in, and the small lives that had scampered across the sands that afternoon would have to scamper for safety or be washed away. The beach is also known for quicksand. An unwary figure going down in them could not rely upon nature, or the gods, for deliverance. For the survival of calamity, or nature’s worst excesses, we’re always going to need the compassion and the selfless intervention of other human beings. We might pray to our deities but it will be another human being who pulls us from the mire, offers reassurance at our tremblings, and a hot cup of  tea to soothe away the aftershocks.

Some might take this as evidence the Divine works through us, that our capacity for compassion is a manifestation of the ineffable at work in the world. I’m coming to the same conclusion. It was Jeffries who taught me you don’t find God in mere deity, (Story of my heart), but only through a higher form of soul-life. And, incredible, as it seems, the fact remains that in a world apparently on fire, torn apart by the darker side of our natures, it’s only in human beings we find the contrary, even paradoxical evidence of a divinely transcendent and infinitely compassionate dimension, a dimension, the existence of which, is the only thing worth all the living and the dying for. If we are to understand the value of the individual life, no matter how fleeting or anonymous, like my figures in the landscape, we must first do what we can to nurture a compassion for the lives of others, and trust we’ll find it in others when we’re most in need of it ourselves.

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“Hey, You a dreamer?”

“Yeah.”

“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.

Anyway.

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.

Goodnight all.

(I think I’ll watch it again)

* Frisky Radio

** The picture accompanying this post is by the German artist Heinrich Vogeler (1872-1942)

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