Dreaming and Writing: Visiting the Invisible

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It is probably after two in the morning and there are things here with which I am not always at ease, though I am light on my feet and moving fast, slip in and out of atmospheres without thinking. I know the places from before, steep coastal edges, towering crystalline mountains, long narrow streets that wrap around terrain in confounding whiplash routes that I often recall. Sometimes I am in a car or on a motorcycle and they crash and it needs fixing, but I am always on the move. (Last night it was a skateboard.) I pass, then enter vast buildings crammed with rooms that open to more rooms, as if a sprawling educational campus open to all. Everyone is busy; little makes much sense to me in a usual rational way–it is reasonable in that place, with those beings–and it doesn’t matter much. I know I am visiting and I know to pay atetntion.

People who seem flesh and blood yet are spectral, sharing the spaces but present for reasons I don’t always comprehend. We talk with spoken language, sometimes not with words but knowings and gestures that trail energy and clarify the truth. And there are animals that turn into other creatures as easily as if they are an essence of life, body-less and inhabitants of other zones. Harm comes to some of us; fun excitement arrives to others. I am in the midst of it and part of it, but often from a distance, watching all, hearing interesting ideas. Music is captured in passing. Colors constantly change. When someone puts their arms about me, though, there is immediate radiant warmth that aligns any disjointedness to a rhapsodic otherness. I believe in it. On the other hand, a sense of foreboding can foretell violence. I believe in that, too, and feel compelled to propel my self toward a chilled gasp for air beyond my blanket.

To wakefulness. Into one of those deepening night hours. To sitting position where I gather together sensory input and reassure myself I am back in my body. I rest–or seek something close to it– in the dark, cradled by its unique amorphous quality. Day and night are extensions of one another to me, gradations of the same thing, a configuration of time on earth. It is not the night that picks apart my personhood, the unseen seams that keep me one piece. What could undo me is dreaming, for it instigates in me a restlessness–often for better, but other times for worse.

In the mornings, I might feel close to engaging in a battle with dreaming. Well, not a full armored war, not the sort that makes me awaken to wander about, stumbling with a mind full of blather. Or at bedtime to shake off inklings of dread when pulling the pillow close. But I do want to shake off remnants, restore my balance further. Still, the second sentence above may be partly a defense to ward off the mere possibility of trying dreams. There have been times in my life when dreaming meant nightmares that would not leave me. They weighted me like a heavy cape, overshadowing each step. As I suppose it happens for all of us at one time or another.

Sleep has become relegated to a secondary priority in the last decade. I am given less of it naturally; if I want more I ingest melatonin for aid. But I am at heart a night person who also enjoys being engaged in daylight hours–hard to get both fulfilled well lately. If I could function well with no sleep I would prefer that. For decades I ran my days and evenings on perhaps five hours sleep and felt alert and energized until I hit the bed, falling asleep in increments. When I was drinking one reason I feared being sober was that I would not sleep at all and my detoxed mind would crank to a halt. But not so. I slept more to my surprise and it even continued. Full rest! And I had discovered a bonanza of peace textured with rich dreaming that I finally, again, could recall. I jumped out of bed early in the morning with all systems done with sleep mode and switched on high once more. I had five spirited children and a husband, a life to be taken in and lived on Go. Dreaming as I had understood it was what I did when I created a half hour to close the bedroom door and plaster a sign on it: Writing! Do no Disturb Unless Truly Desperate! How lovely that I could bring forth both old and new dreams, awake or asleep.

But now there is more waking, with life’s various doings and states of being and there is a slim interlude, a few multi-strands of sleeping. It seems almost all the same to me. Not that when my eyes are open I am entertained by fantastical creatures and go to fabulous but invisible places. Well, that is, unless I am immersed in the process of writing or other creative work. But I do wonder if I write to assemble an orderliness of night journeys. The material is profuse, feels random and appears peculiar–i.e., fertile ground. Of course, it is said we dream to process our wakeful hours and that without it we cannot function effectively–it would be input overload. I can attest to that as well as any person.

But what truly divides the sleeping world from the waking? How much of it is the body recharging so it can carry us around and how much the spirit recharging so it can live in this vehicle of a body? Alright, so the mind busily sorts and tosses and files so we can continue to learn and operate nicely. My eyes close, I float, move to an internal space that allows all this to happen. Or I am removed from here and placed elsewhere, enter one universe or another, this or that dimension.

We experience in a multiplicity of ways and live to tell the story. Or at least ponder it.

So, too, when I write. Who beckons those characters, who dresses them, who directs them through a grimy city street or a watery tunnel or a marshland where the birds are rising and swooping all at once? Who tells them: you have one day to find your long lost brother and share it all in detail and well. I am typing but where is this material coming from, how does it get leaked into this consciousness?

I think those who dabble in abstract realms and invent from them live within fluid states of being, but I don’t believe we are so unique. Perhaps some children just never lose their belief in the invisible made visible, while others want or need to, for whatever reason. Imagination is admired as long as it creates something deemed “worthy” or isn’t confused with culturally proscribed parameters of reality. But what if imagination and the three dimensions are meant to overlap, that is, what if they are just a little more one thing or another, in a state of flux, ever shifting and combining? We imagine (hypothesize) solutions to difficult problems; we also dream answers, awakening with a start as the light bulb comes on. I write this way, too. What manifests is a combination of my thought, the Muse and the ether at large. (Perhaps, yes, Spirit. (And guardian angels? They may have a motive, after all, that I may never know about.) Language so often tells me what I need to know, even before I realize it. It has, like all creative mediums, a potential for intense energy–to evoke and also invoke, to name and alter, empower or silence. I respect the gift of language–human or not–for this.

This is why I asked my clients in mental health and addictions treatment to write down one object they recalled as a child; what they lost and wish they had now; what they see when they close their eyes at night; what they fear most about staying clean and sober; who keeps visiting their dreams. They were asked to write a small poem, sparely,to get to the heart of it. Or to keep a daily journal where they could write non stop without censoring themselves. Or to let one word come forward the moment they emerged from sleep. They were asked to let their selves move from the shadows–as addicts, as those with emotional illness–into illuminating light.

Many of these clients had no faith in the process. Did not like to read or had failed English so were afraid. But they took the pencils and paper and began letting their minds roam. The insights they had were life changing. The poems they wrote moved both listeners and themselves. The stories they told came from haunted and healing dreams, from a landscape of pain and the journey of survival. They found that language gave them power and stories shared gave them comfort and encouragement. To speak and be heard was a miracle of sorts.

One of the best parts of my career was when a group of Native American women trusted me enough to tell their stories. They shared them in English, in poems and in song, then some did so in their own, old languages. Their bodies were loosened, their ghost-filled eyes came alive, their tears fell in riverlets. They spoke quietly, then were louder and freer. For these women, dream, myth, spirituality and common reality fed one another and were each a part of the other: they made the whole of being and doing. I witnessed slow healing with their offerings of words, the rich silences that lulled in between. What they needed most found them as language rose up from what was once unnameable suffering. They gained bravery–to write and say things in any way that came to them. And learned and accepted that their truths were even larger multifaceted experiences than they had first thought. We felt transfixed by so much naming, saying and letting go.

So what of dreaming, what of writing? Do I choose my dreams and my writing–or do I only need to be willing to be open? Or determined to be closed? And meanwhile the darkness and light, all those gradations therein harbor me as I move among the moments.

The opalescent light of a Northwest afternoon is dimming within this room but out there, on Mt. Hood perhaps, it would yield a different quality against the snow or between fir trees. The night will be lighter here in the city than in the wilderness, I am certain. And I remember how as a kid I would climb the trusty maple tree in our backyard, settle in a sturdy crook and watch the sun slip through tree branches, a flaming orb that seemed more friendly, a shining orange ball disguised as a heavenly body. It took with it that brightness of day. The leave taking allowed me to consider it as a giant ship sailing below the perimeter of a horizon and I wondered what other countries, what other children, it was sailing toward. The light turned dusky, then a transparent bluish, then purplish charcoal. Distant trees were black outlines against the radiance of early evening, a chiaroscuro picture like an old-fashioned greeting card. But it was real, so real that I felt my heart grow bigger, my skin tingle, my mid expand. The sky changed itself into an endless satiny swath of black; inside it were stars like bright portholes to other places. It beckoned. Can I come there? I whispered. Can I sail the skies to another place? A small thing took wing inside me and gave me an urge to rise with it but the tree held me, strong and steady. My mother appeared in the bright kitchen window, laughing and cooking and my father’s viola was a crescendo of delights. The permeable sky opened and sang. The hush inside it and me was immense. It was all a dream and I was dreaming within it and all was well. Or would be well.

 

SOS: Dreams to the Rescue

 

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I know these who arrive in the night. They are as familiar to me as my own reflection, and yet I cannot identify their features as easily as their intentions and meaning. The are speaking to me in fluid tones, as if we are underwater or flying. This different communication requires heightened interpretation. I sense things, feel things richly, not like fleeting emotions but a deeper knowing. I think vaguely as I watch us all that it is like a telegraph system of glances, pulses of energy, knowledge sent and received in a transparent, efficient manner. Swift passages of understanding flow, heard by dreaming ears.

It is neither day or night here, and we have basic bodies that mean far less than thoughts. But they provide me with a tangible sense of happiness, a buoyancy in this hazy, opalescent place. It is clear I deeply love them and they, me. There is excitement, as though I am being cheered on, as if something wonderful is happening. I realize I am part of this forever even as I awaken from the sweetness of the dream.

There has been a crisis in my family involving a grandchild. I am filled with consternation and sadness as we problem solve. My dream reminds me not only of the strength of love in my daily life but also the love that is given us by our angels, passed relatives and allies, even God Almighty, those who tend our hearts and souls even as we slumber.

I have been in that Otherland we enter when crossing from the country of physical wakefulness into territories of dream life. We exist there for seven or so hours every twenty-four hours if we are fortunate. We sink into REM sleep state and dream. We recall it vividly or partially, or not at all. But life continues to be experienced despite our slumber. We gather information, bring it back and break the surface to wakefulness. Then we let go of dream gleanings or bring them closer for examination. We remember, we forget, but there is a difference made.

I remember. Not everything–how could I even capture all that is left behind once my body reclaims my attention? A dream might nag me yet remain ephemeral, unable to reconfigure fully in this consciousness. An identifiable sensation lingers for hours, days. Yet every night there arrive interesting scenarios, bits of ideas. Dreaming is a potent resource. Questions and answers arise from the journeying there.

It is an ancient idea. Dreaming has been valued throughout our human history and remains more important to some cultures than others. Dreams have been revered as oracular, providing wisdom. They are fables for greater living. They are sorters or filters of the ceaseless input we receive and discharge during all our human endeavors. Scientists study brain waves in an attempt to demystify the how, why and when of the subtle complexity of dreaming. Psychologists analyze, develop a guide of dream symbols; psychics advertise skill in personalized interpretation. We know that without sound sleep that supports dreaming the human mind becomes disordered, even disturbed.

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I have always believed in the value of dreams. It was my mother who taught me about them when I was a youth. Each morning she would ask how I slept. Then we would share our respective dreams over breakfast. I found her dreams intense, vivid, full of portents, sometimes fears, beautiful visions and tales of life. Even prayerful answers. Her dreams could foretell alarming events; she never discounted them and was often correct. I saw how dreams swirled about her otherwise well-organized, accomplished living. They moved her and impacted me as the receiver.  Early on I acquired the habit of observing and keeping track of my own, sometimes in dream journals.

Perhaps this example of how dreaming seemed to save me will further clarify the heart of this essay.

During early adulthood I ended up in situations defined by economic instability, victimization and spiritual crisis. I utilized resources but still saw there was not enough headway made. I needed definitive answers, tending to discover external solutions as I examined internal issues. I clung to hope but self-esteem became fragile. I prayed yet it seemed both pleadings and praises were often placed on hold. I wasn’t sure what to feel grateful of: that I had housing but lived in uncertainty and fear? That although my children were cherished they inconsistently had bare necessities? I had barely begun college only to have to quit, had few wage earning skills. I daily ruminated over all that had brought me to that point. If God loved me well–I still believed it so–then why did I feel I was barely hanging on to the sides of a small boat rolling in treacherous waters?

My dreaming reflected the turmoil. For years, they included an emergency–a fire, dangerous intruder, the house on the verge of collapse, a tornado or other catastrophic natural event–and I would immediately seek help. In these situations a partner turned away, family and friends were otherwise engaged, were not to be found or did not know who I was. I dialed 911 repeatedly only to find the number was wrong, the phone was damaged or disconnected, had vanished at the last minute. I was hanging on to my children as I tried to find an escape route. Yet I could not get out or in any door or window I located. It doesn’t take a scholar to see these dreams mirrored my feelings. I awakened fighting off defeat, tired out by a relentless sense of futility that even permeated sleep.

But I kept praying to be heard and delivered. Gradually, I began to dream differently: during an emergency, I would secure the children with watchful, benign people and go in search of help, or strike out alone and stop passersby to ask for aid. There was friendliness and pleasing events at some junctures, danger at others. I had adventures that became frightening, tests of my resilience and wits but I managed to stay alive, to keep going. Ultimately, though, I found no lasting help. So I would return to the starting point. It seemed I could depend on no one. Yet I awakened thinking: This is different–I leave and go looking for help, take more risks. But there is still no constructive solution. 

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In time, I fell asleep and found myself wandering a college campus, exploring classrooms, navigating throngs, stumbling over books, finding rest under fairy-tale giant trees. Trying to find my way back home, feeling disoriented but unafraid. I discovered different houses, often oddly familiar, some marred by disarray but safer. I then travelled to places with commonalities such as sparkling expanses of water, in mountains, situated on verdant land, town centers astir with activity. In the mornings I thought: I must save myself, my family; I must take much greater chances. God will always be with me but I must take full responsibility. Take action soon. No one else will. This is my life. 

The thoughts crystallized. One night I dreamed of trudging up a mountainous path, children in my arms, all of us sweating. So weary. The difficult path led to a huge, exquisite structure at the peak. I stood before heavy golden double doors and then turned the doorknobs. The doors sprung open. Before us was a gleaming white and black tiled floor which was part of an expansive reception area that seemed to not end. To my right and left were infinite numbers of doors. I stood before several. I did not want to open any of them, thinking then I would be ensnared in another room that was not my place of peace or freedom.

I stepped forward and kept walking when before me the wall melted away. There were white columns on either side of a vast veranda. Beyond shining steps was a paradisal garden, a scene of multiple wonders and beauties, sustenance awaiting us. A grand fountain burbled into a large pool. Sunlight warmed and energized. There were people moving among plants and walkways, engaged in discourse. At ease. I was overcome with relief. Happiness, even. We had made it. Strength and resolve welled up inside as I awakened.

I shared this with a Methodist minister who counseled me. He was so affected his hand flew to his mouth a moment, then said, “I believe God has shown you something powerful. You will make it out of your difficulties and be alright.” (Later I learned he shared my experience in a counseling workshop as an example of spiritual and emotional healing.)

So I left home. I gathered my children up, found a new spot to live, returned to college. For years I had delayed this–leaving that marriage felt cataclysmic after being in love and losing so much. The act felt defined by defeat. Yet it changed my course in many good ways. I am not telling you it was easy, that new problems didn’t arrive and need to be overcome. But opportunities also appeared. I began to trust that a better way of life was within my grasp. That I had what it took to succeed. Eventually a surprising career changed everything futher. And it had all started with a vision that came from dreaming, a choice that was spurred by night-time seeking.

Dreaming has assisted me in fine-tuning life, taught me how to resolve conflicts, become more creative, reach out to others. Even to forgive. Not every dream matters as much as others. But they each do their job of keeping mind, body and soul in running order.

Do you willingly enter the innermost place where dreams tell you a truth, even a difficult one? Have they helped save your life, too? Tonight, rest well; sleep an ancient slumber. Recharge your soul and mind. Expect to learn good things. You will find your way there and back again with more pieces of the puzzle put in place.

"Reach" by Naomi J Falk, 2003
“Reach” by Naomi J Falk, 2003