Away from the world of politics and foreign policy for a moment, and into the world of dreams!
Last night I had a series of dreams in which I knew I was dreaming. These are fun. Once you know you are dreaming you can try to manipulate your dream, run little dream experiments, and sometimes just play. Back in the late eighties and early nineties I journaled over 1000 dreams I had, about 10% so-called “lucid” dreams, the term given to dreams in which you realize you’re dreaming. I think that experience has done a lot to shape my view on a variety of issues.
For instance, there’s the case of the dogs. Early on in my lucid dreams I would suddenly find a pack of dogs is chasing me. I’d run, they’d be catching up, and since I knew I was dreaming, I knew if I woke myself up they’d be gone. So I’d will myself awake, and the dogs would of course vanish. Yet the waking me would be mad at my dream self for ending the dream. It’s only a dream, after all, the dogs are not real. Yet the dreams recurred, and grew more frequent. At one point I was running, thinking about waking myself up, but then decided to stop and face the dogs, hurling my hand towards them as an offering. One dog leaped and bit my arm off from the elbow down. It hurt. Not a lot, but there was a pain sensation. Suddenly all the mad dogs were laying placidly and my hand and arm were back to normal. The dogs stopped bothering me after that.
There’s also the flying problem. I have flown many times in dreams, but in lucid dreams I could not will myself into flight. That frustrated me. I’d scream “aloud” in my dream, “this is my dream, damnit, I should be able to fly!” My solution came, ironically, from the book “A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” In that book the author said the way people learned to fly was to fall backwards and just fall into flight. I tried it. It worked! It got to the point that I stopped even having to do that, I could just take off into flight like superman. I couldn’t always control it, I’d sometimes just keep going higher and away from my ‘dreamscape,’ but I could fly.
Some things found dreams to be no help. I thought perhaps in dreams I could find the answer to the deepest questions: why are we here, what’s the nature of reality, this world, my soul. But ask as I would, my dream characters really didn’t give me any answers. I would sometimes fly up and as far away from my dreamscape as possible, into a region where I felt disembodied, with only sparkles of light and little color. I’d sometimes get a sense of fear, that I was venturing too far out, and then I’d pull myself back. But when I kept going, I ended up simply waking up. One thing I couldn’t do was a real out of body experience. I’d be in bed, know I was in bed and starting to dream, and then try to get up out of bed, or lift myself from my body. I could, but only as the dream ‘solidified,’ and then when I looked down, my body wasn’t there. I wasn’t out of my body, just dreaming.
So what did I get from all this? First, the dog experience suggested to me a need to confront fears rather than flee them. It’s pretty obvious, in fact! But still, the lesson seemed so real to me, that I think I changed. The flying problem taught me something about dreams. In ones’ dream world, one is limited not by the will of the dreamer, but by doubts and uncertainties that one has. I still have trouble walking through walls, and only a few times dived into the ground as if it were water. My mind doesn’t completely accept that this is possible, even though the lucid dreamer knows it is. Perhaps that’s true in life too, our own doubts and uncertainties, often beneath the surface of our conscience, hold us down.
On larger existential issues, it would always occur to me on waking that I have gone not from a fantasy to the real world, but from one world to a different one. The dream world is real while I’m there — as real as this world. I experience taste, color, substance, and pain. Pain and taste are the only experiences truly bland, colors are vibrant. It runs differently than this world, I can do things I can’t do here, and the dream world lacks the coherence of waking reality. Perhaps this reality is akin to a shared dream, where our collective minds create limitations and “rules of the game” that don’t exist in my ‘individual’ dream. I don’t know.
what then is reality? Waking reality, as we know is relatively empty. The space between subatomic particles, which are merely probabilistic ripples in fields anyway, is huge compared to the size of the ‘particles.’ Especially as I learn more about quantum physics and the nature of our physical world, I wonder if the difference between this experience and the dream experience is as stark as it seems. One is real, the other fantasy. Or are both real, or both a kind of fantasy?
Enough playful speculation for a rainy Tuesday morning. I have a chapter on German foreign policy to finish up, and a semester soon to begin. Pleasant dreams, everyone!