Monday, 17 September 2012

Dream Tapestry

Do you dream?

Of course you dream, we all do, it's part of our anatomy. We don't all remember them though, not that I really feel I can comment on why that is. Everybody's different. Could be that some people wake up and in that first instant of consciousness, they are already gearing up for the day ahead, any memories of their nocturnal journeys fading into nothing before they have even been acknowledged. Or perhaps our sleep patterns differ so that some people are prone to waking straight from REM sleep while others tend to drift more slowly into consciousness (apparently we only dream during REM sleep, and unless we wake within seconds of being in that state of sleep, we actually can't remember our dreams.)

But I would say we are all affected by our dreams on some level. Even if you can barely remember the details of one or two dreams in your entire lifetime, I would put money on you remembering many times where you've woken in an unexplainably odd mood- angry and ready for a fight; sad and fragile; horny and excited... and always tinged with a slight air of confusion: wasn't I just somewhere else?

Personally, I find dreams fascinating. You can read some of my own if you're interested- just go to my dream journal at the top of the page. For me it has been a lifelong curiosity which began as a child, sharing my dreams with close schoolfriends, listening to theirs and laughing at how odd they could be. Then as I grew up and began asking more and more questions about life, people and the workings of our incredible brains, looking into dreams became, for me, another insight into it all.

There is so much to say about dreams... so much that has been said about dreams. You could start with Jung and Freud, Adler and Breton, you could look into dream symbology and mythology, you can go through dream therepy and psycoanalysis, you can learn to lucid dream and take yourself on exraordinary philosophical journeys while you sleep...

It's all good stuff.

But I'm going to ignore all of that for now.

Last night I was with an old friend of mine. I should mention before I go any further, that I wasn't really with this old friend. This is a dream.

She was about to be married to a man I didn't know. The details of this man are hazy, all I know is that he was tall and handsome. He would make a perfect husband and they were very much in love.

But there was another man there with them, and he was also in love with her, but I don't think up until that point he had known he was. They were hugging each other: a proper deep and heartfelt hug, the sort you give someone when the lurching, tingling feeling in you chest and your stomach is so strong, it's almost like a magnet pulling your insides and their insides together and you just can't get close enough.

And it made me so sad to watch: sad for my friend because I knew that although she had a strong connection to this man, she didn't love him like she loved her fiancee; and sad for him because he knew this too. He knew he had lost her. He probably hadn't even realised he had anything to loose until it was too late.

I couldn't stand there and let this sad situation continue. I stepped in and took the man from my friend. I took him in my arms and I held him while he reluctantly let a couple of tears fall onto my shoulder; and my friend left with her soon-to-be-husband. Shortly after this, I had sex with the man who was in love with my friend.

I didn't feel anything towards him particularly. I didn't want anything from him. I found him arrogant and a little slimy, but he needed distracting from his pain and we had already shared a fairly intimate moment when he cried in my arms. Sex didn't feel so distant from this, but was definately more fun.

But the problem was, neither of us were entirely there. So, when something made me giggle (I can't remember what it was now), the moment passed and next thing I knew he was pulling away from me and zipping up his trousers. I think I felt a little disappointed, and perhaps guilty, but I didn't really mind.

After this point, the dream becomes much less vivid. I remember being on a beach (a recurring dream landscape for me) with the man who was in love with my friend, but whatever we were doing, it has fallen out of my memory.

I woke up wondering why I would have dreamt this. It feels a little silly and 'airy-fairy' to say that, but stay with me on this one...

Not all dreams hold 'meanings'. You could dream a fantastic dream about a man flying off into outer-space, leaving everything he knows behind and hooking up with a beautiful alien women. It doesn't necessarily mean anything more than "You fell asleep watching Dr Who."

But sometimes, for me at least, I wake from a dream feeling so full of raw emotions that I cannot just let it go without asking why I was so affected. Once you have that question in your mind, you will inevitably look at what happened in your dream and examine its relation to your own waking life. Sometimes it can be so close to reality that you don't have to look very far. Other times the whole thing can initially seem fairly ridiculous. At this point it can be helpful to break everything down, like taking apart a lego tower. If you look at each part separately and think about what it might mean on it's own, you can then piece the dream back together again and the story can read entirely differently.

For example, I once had a very emotional dream where I had to carry a sponge through the dark to take back to my bedroom. It makes very little sense on it's own. But when you pick out the three symbols here, suddenly you're looking at a little story about soaking up and holding onto emotions (sponge), feeling lost and blind (darkness), and being in a vulnerable and sexual place (the bedroom) and then it's easier to understand why it upset you!

A friend once said to me "when you look at a dream, you should consider every character as a part of yourself." This has stuck with me ever since. It's only very recently that I have realised how important that little sentence is.

I strongly recommend that anyone interested in psycology and subpersonalities should read The Ghost In Love by Jonathan Carroll. I read it exactly at the right time in my life, when my own opinions about the subject are just beginning to form. I don't want to spoil it for anyone who does read it, so I won't say much more about it other than to explain that there are literally hundreds of people mentioned in the book. But each character is just an element of the small number of main characters, so although the book features hundreds of people, it's really only about 2 or 3.

Carroll talks about love, and how when you love a person, it may just be a part of you that loves a part of them. The subject of your affection may not even realise they have this part of themselves, let alone that you love them for it. I find this such a beautiful proposal, and I agree with it entirely.

We go through so many experiences in our lives. We act out so many parts with so many different people. We learn new ways to behave, new ways to cope with situations... but the part of us that was there the first time around never really leaves us. To me it feels like a photograph album. Every action we ever took is stored there, a snapshot in time, even if we're not aware of it. Sometimes we randomly open the album on a certain page and it can feel like we're right back there, no matter how much we have learned or been through in the meantime.

That is how I interpret subpersonalities.

So when something makes you feel anxious and you turn into the white rabbit from Alice in Wonderland, it is because several memories of anxious people you have been in your past all blend together and take centre stage!

When I woke this morning, wondering why I had dreamt about some imagined love-triangle, the voice of my friend "think of the characters as parts of yourself" echoed in my mind. It then merged with Jonathan Carroll's suggestion that love is a complex tapestry where parts of each person thread together, some loving, some hating. And this way, my dream suddenly made sense to me in an entirely new way.

I chose my friend to represent the part of me that sums up success in love. In reality she is already happily married with two beautiful children, despite being younger than me. She always was confident, focussed and attractive. Of course, there is much more to her life than that, but this is the part of her I have singled out on a subconscious level.

The man who had missed his chance with her was played by a TV actor. Unsurprisingly he always plays the arrogant womanisier. And again, I had chosen this person because he characterised the perpetual Cassanovas I have met in my own life. I felt little towards him because I genuinely don't have a lot of time for this kind of man thanks to my own past experiences.

And yet I took him in my arms and hugged him as he showed uncharacteristic emotion.

I see this dream as an interesting reflection: a way of looking at my own opinions of love from the outside, shown to me as if it's in a mirror. Familiar and unfamiliar at the same time.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

The Egg

By Andy Weir

You were on your way home when you died.

It was a car accident. Nothing particularly remarkable, but fatal nonetheless. You left behind a wife and two children. It was a painless death. The EMTs tried their best to save you, but to no avail. Your body was so utterly shattered you were better off, trust me.

And that’s when you met me.

“What… what happened?” You asked. “Where am I?”

“You died,” I said, matter-of-factly. No point in mincing words.

“There was a… a truck and it was skidding…”

“Yup,” I said.

“I… I died?”

“Yup. But don’t feel bad about it. Everyone dies,” I said.

You looked around. There was nothingness. Just you and me. “What is this place?” You asked. “Is this the afterlife?”

“More or less,” I said.

“Are you god?” You asked.

“Yup,” I replied. “I’m God.”

“My kids… my wife,” you said.

“What about them?”

“Will they be all right?”

“That’s what I like to see,” I said. “You just died and your main concern is for your family. That’s good stuff right there.”

You looked at me with fascination. To you, I didn’t look like God. I just looked like some man. Or possibly a woman. Some vague authority figure, maybe. More of a grammar school teacher than the almighty.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “They’ll be fine. Your kids will remember you as perfect in every way. They didn’t have time to grow contempt for you. Your wife will cry on the outside, but will be secretly relieved. To be fair, your marriage was falling apart. If it’s any consolation, she’ll feel very guilty for feeling relieved.”

“Oh,” you said. “So what happens now? Do I go to heaven or hell or something?”

“Neither,” I said. “You’ll be reincarnated.”

“Ah,” you said. “So the Hindus were right,”

“All religions are right in their own way,” I said. “Walk with me.”

You followed along as we strode through the void. “Where are we going?”

“Nowhere in particular,” I said. “It’s just nice to walk while we talk.”

“So what’s the point, then?” You asked. “When I get reborn, I’ll just be a blank slate, right? A baby. So all my experiences and everything I did in this life won’t matter.”

“Not so!” I said. “You have within you all the knowledge and experiences of all your past lives. You just don’t remember them right now.”

I stopped walking and took you by the shoulders. “Your soul is more magnificent, beautiful, and gigantic than you can possibly imagine. A human mind can only contain a tiny fraction of what you are. It’s like sticking your finger in a glass of water to see if it’s hot or cold. You put a tiny part of yourself into the vessel, and when you bring it back out, you’ve gained all the experiences it had.

“You’ve been in a human for the last 48 years, so you haven’t stretched out yet and felt the rest of your immense consciousness. If we hung out here for long enough, you’d start remembering everything. But there’s no point to doing that between each life.”

“How many times have I been reincarnated, then?”

“Oh lots. Lots and lots. An in to lots of different lives.” I said. “This time around, you’ll be a Chinese peasant girl in 540 AD.”

“Wait, what?” You stammered. “You’re sending me back in time?”

“Well, I guess technically. Time, as you know it, only exists in your universe. Things are different where I come from.”

“Where you come from?” You said.

“Oh sure,” I explained “I come from somewhere. Somewhere else. And there are others like me. I know you’ll want to know what it’s like there, but honestly you wouldn’t understand.”

“Oh,” you said, a little let down. “But wait. If I get reincarnated to other places in time, I could have interacted with myself at some point.”

“Sure. Happens all the time. And with both lives only aware of their own lifespan you don’t even know it’s happening.”

“So what’s the point of it all?”

“Seriously?” I asked. “Seriously? You’re asking me for the meaning of life? Isn’t that a little stereotypical?”

“Well it’s a reasonable question,” you persisted.

I looked you in the eye. “The meaning of life, the reason I made this whole universe, is for you to mature.”

“You mean mankind? You want us to mature?”

“No, just you. I made this whole universe for you. With each new life you grow and mature and become a larger and greater intellect.”

“Just me? What about everyone else?”

“There is no one else,” I said. “In this universe, there’s just you and me.”

You stared blankly at me. “But all the people on earth…”

“All you. Different incarnations of you.”

“Wait. I’m everyone!?”

“Now you’re getting it,” I said, with a congratulatory slap on the back.

“I’m every human being who ever lived?”

“Or who will ever live, yes.”

“I’m Abraham Lincoln?”

“And you’re John Wilkes Booth, too,” I added.

“I’m Hitler?” You said, appalled.

“And you’re the millions he killed.”

“I’m Jesus?”

“And you’re everyone who followed him.”

You fell silent.

“Every time you victimized someone,” I said, “you were victimizing yourself. Every act of kindness you’ve done, you’ve done to yourself. Every happy and sad moment ever experienced by any human was, or will be, experienced by you.”

You thought for a long time.

“Why?” You asked me. “Why do all this?”

“Because someday, you will become like me. Because that’s what you are. You’re one of my kind. You’re my child.”

“Whoa,” you said, incredulous. “You mean I’m a god?”

“No. Not yet. You’re a fetus. You’re still growing. Once you’ve lived every human life throughout all time, you will have grown enough to be born.”

“So the whole universe,” you said, “it’s just…”

“An egg.” I answered. “Now it’s time for you to move on to your next life.”

And I sent you on your way.