The kind you’re born with, the kind you choose, the kind that teach Catholic school
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When I’ve awakened from my most important dreams, I’m usually in one of two states: 1) alert, almost pop-eyed, feeling a unity with the dream, and remembering details readily; 2) slow to awaken, feeling a kinship with the dream, but rarely remembering images; my mind is unusually empty after waking.
The two dreams I’m about to describe best exemplify this.
I’m in a large dining hall, a banquet room. High ceiling. Long tables, set with fine silver. I am the first to arrive. There are seating cards, and scrolls for each person. I find my place. I have my denim purse with me. I sit down and unroll my scroll. The words are so remarkably clear I make mental notes to myself to recall them, but that is not enough. I am amazed at what I am holding in my hands. The scroll is a handwritten, tongue in cheek, humorous description of my “job.” I know that is what it is, and it feels so clean in my hands; my personal melodramas and what’s behind them boiled down to one legal sized sheet of paper. I remember a place where there was a reference to fruit, and there was a cartoon drawing of fruit. I remember being genuinely surprised at some of the twists and turns of life it described, and feeling an over-all sense of laughter and relief after I finished reading it. I quickly pulled a pen and paper from my purse and copied down every single word for my waking self, a little concerned about the legalities of this; I kept glancing around to see if anyone would stop me but I was still alone except for two people seating themselves at the end of the table.
I don’t remember anything about the banquet itself, except leaving it afterwards with many people, my denim bag clutched tightly in hand.
I went on to other dreams that night, comically clutching the denim bag through them all, checking it repeatedly to be sure my records were still there. As the time drew near for the alarm clock to go off, I began to worry about the mechanics of getting the paper and purse through the “door.” I was thinking apprehensively about it, rearranging some mechanical structure of “the door,” when I suddenly woke up, alert, heart pounding. I glanced around for the purse immediately, and felt a momentary disappointment when I realized it was somewhere inside of me, and I couldn’t remember a word I’d written.
In this dream, even though the setting was one with which my waking consciousness could identify, I was aware of the temporariness of the “props” that were communicating meaning to me. Because I felt comfortable with that, I seemed to “wake up” in the dream in a way I never had before. It was a landmark for me: I had felt as aware in my dream as I feel in waking life. The line dividing my dream life and waking life has since then begun to break down as the two have met each other as equals, and discovered more of their unity.
In this type of dream, there is a sense of timelessness that can envelop what seems to be years or a lifetime, the dream reality seeping into the cracks of my waking life where I most need a new perspective.
I usually awaken feeling slightly electrified, my heartbeat rapid; I feel co-ordinated, as if my athletic ability as a dreamer had peaked. I can recall dreams from this state readily, in full detail for hours afterwards, but I often wonder how much the details I’m remembering coincide with what actually went on.
More often than not, I am unable to translate into words the significance the dream seemed to have for me. Rather, it is an experience that I feel has profoundly altered my inner hearing ability, and my inner attentiveness to strange languages that reach my waking consciousness in garbled form (“My cat Kea is the totality of the number 17!”).
These dreams are very determined to contact my waking consciousness, even if garbled. Sometimes I don’t bother to think about them after getting out of bed, particularly if I’m late for work and “slam the door” on the dream world without allowing it to sufficiently permeate my waking consciousness. When this happens, it bounces back open again as soon as there is room for it in my waking life. I usually recall the neglected dream at the same point along Highway 54 as I drive to work.
Oddly, the most life-affirming sleep experiences I have, I cannot remember, and feel no need to. When I awaken from them physically, my full consciousness does not return quickly. The first thing I am aware of is that I have been lying there with my eyes open for a period of time, and that my breathing seems to have stopped, it is so light. I feel like a baby: sweet and clean. The serenity I feel expresses itself in near thoughtlessness, and my attention feels undiscriminating. I remember waking like this once in my childhood bedroom, and my attention lighted like a thoughtless fly on a patch of sunlight on the pink wall. That empty wall was as full of life for me as anything has ever been. I wasn’t seeing anything, or feeling anything, just merging quietly with that bare pink wall, sunlight flickering on it.
These sleep experiences that leave me so opened feel best minus flashy dream imagery and details that announce their importance. The basic process that must be going on during these experiences must be so simply fundamental to all life that I go into it with silent recognition, and emerge silently fulfilled.
The only time I coupled one of these sleep experiences with a dream, and recalled it, was when I was 15:
(When I dreamed this, I was sleeping in the basement of our house, a cavernous room with a fireplace, and a door and window that opened to the edge of a ravine of large old trees. It rained all night while I was dreaming.)
I am not a person, but a pinpoint of consciousness who is perceiving the world from the surface of a spring — clear, cold water bubbling up through a rocky crevice. It’s night, and I’m able to feel the life in this softly gurgling water, in the wet, dark rocks, in the blackness of this hole the water springs from. It is raining, and I feel like a happy, friendly animal, smiling at the rain as it plops into my pool of gurgling water.
I feel as if I am literally at a particular geographic point on the earth; I recognize the grasses and ferns along the earthen banks of my spring as my family, my friends. The rocks are so much themselves too, beautiful and as real as I. I can feel the happiness of all of us — the water, the rocks, the ferns and grasses, the large trees towering over us — our happiness for the rain that is falling on us, watering us with its spirit.
When I woke up, I felt better than I’d ever felt before. I could hear the rain splashing outside the basement door, and felt a kinship with it that brought tears to my eyes.
Sometimes it seems that this type of sleep experience has come at a time when I’ve been troubled in waking life. As if gentle, loving hands had whisked me away, wiped my tears, and asked nothing of me.
After waking from this type of dream, my ability to cope is enhanced, over-all. I enjoy a perspective of distance from problems I’d imagined were over-powering me, and my heart inevitably beats with a calm openness that is the opposite of a closed, fearful heart. I feel light and airy and peaceful, quiet internally and externally. I feel a reticence to speak, or to make a sound, or to move hurriedly, or to wear clogs, or to answer the telephone. I want to reach for the hands, the daily hands we use to open and close doors in our waking life, the hands of strangers, of friends, dirty hands, clean hands, hands I know, hands I don’t, and open them, and kiss the palm.
The basic message I feel from this is not to literally start grabbing hands and kissing them, but to translate that feeling of intimacy into the fabric of my life; what I am feeling at these times is the most powerful thing I know. Its silence is formless, faceless, voiceless, but it is my link to my self, and to life. It makes me want to get as clean as I can, to let that powerful thing that opens clenched fists within and without myself (if there’s any difference) have as much room as possible to work.
Elizabeth Rose Campbell