I don’t spend a lot of time trying to remember dreams or thinking about them when I do remember them. But the last couple of nights some dreams were lingering in my mind upon awakening. There always is something odd about dreams, unpredictable and often unrelated to everyday life.
Dreams have the power to mesmerize for a similar reason stories draw us in. With any story, we are beholden to the narrator, reliable or not. The narrator determines the warp and woof of the narrated world. In a dream, our mind is the narrator which doesn’t make it any more reliable or necessarily even familiar.
There is one major difference with dreams. The narrator is more hidden because the narrating mind is behind rather than in front of our dreaming consciousness. That might be the reason why identity of the dream-self seems so uncertain. It rarely comes up in a dream who I am. I simply am. The focus of dreaming is rarely on the self but what the self is doing.
More than identity, what defines most of my dreams is a sense of place, the world of that particular dream. That seems important. The dream-world determines the actions and interactions of the dream-self. So often dreams have carefully prescribed spaces that constrain choices and determine possibilities. I typically find myself in a building, a room, a hallway, a pathway, a street, a tunnel, a stairway, etc. One space opens up to another space, ever leading onward somewhere else. A sense of time in a dream is defined by movement and movement is defined by a change of location or vantage point, a shift in space linked to a shift in time.
It is like with vision. If you hold your eyes perfectly still in a perfectly still environment, your vision eventually goes blank. This happens because perception is dependent upon change, on contrast.
The world, dreaming or waking, and our movement within it determines our sense of self. Not the other way around. The sense of self is a secondary experience or rather an extension of a more fundamental experience, the waves and eddies on the surface of very deep waters.
This brings the nurture vs nature debate down to a more basic level of psychological experience. In a dream, there is no nurture vs nature, no external vs internal. Reality instead is a cotinuum, a singular experience: Being-in-the-world.
I’m in the process of reading again The Culture of Make Believe by Derrick Jensen. In a recent discussion with Quentin S. Crisp, I was mentioning how Derrick Jensen is more depressing than even Thomas Ligotti.
The more I think about it, though, their two views do seem to resonate to a degree. Jensen is an environmentalist and writes about environmentalism. Ligotti, although not an environmentalist as far as I know, relies heavily on the Zappfe’s philosophy and Zappfe was an environmentalist who inspired the beginnings of deep ecology.
There is one other similarity between the two. Both take suffering very seriously which I appreciate, but there is a limitation to this. I don’t know how else to explain this limitation other than to use an example. Here is a scene from A Scanner Darkly (the video is from the movie and the quote is from the novel):
“There had been a time, once, when he had not lived like this… In former days Bob Arctor had run his affairs differently; there had been a wife much like other wives, two small daughters, a stable household that got swept and cleaned and emptied out daily, the dead newspapers not even opened carried from the front walk to the garbage pail, or even, sometimes, read. But then one day, while lifting out an electric corn popper from under the sink, Arctor had hit his head on the corner of a kitchen cabinet directly above him. The pain, the cut in his scalp, so unexpected and undeserved, had for some reason cleared away the cobwebs. It flashed on him instantly that he didn’t hate the kitchen cabinet; he hated his wife, his two daughters, his whole house, the back yard with its power mower, the garbage, the radiant heating system, the front yard, the fence, the whole fucking place and everyone in it. He wanted a divorce; he wanted to split. And so he had, very soon. And entered, by degrees, a new and somber life, lacking all of that.
“Probably he should have regretted his decision. He had not. That life had been one without excitement, with no adventure. It had been too safe. All the elements that made it up were right there before his eyes, and nothing new could ever be expected. It was like, he had once thought, a little plastic boat that would sail on forever, without incident, until it finally sank, which would be a secret relief to all.
“But in this dark world where he now dwelt, ugly things and surprising things and once in a long while a tiny wondrous thing spilled out at him constantly; he could count on nothing.“
~ Philip K. Dick, A Scanner Darkly (the book)
The last sentence is particularly what I had in mind as being a contrast to that of Jensen and Ligotti. I’ve written before comparing Ligotti with PKD(Burroughs, PKD, and Ligotti, PKD Trumps Harpur and Ligotti). There are certain similarities: both are mainly fiction writers who also wrote extensively about philosophical ideas, both willing to look unflinchingly at the sources of human suffering. But the difference is that PKD expresses an endless sense of curiosity, wonder, awe (see: PKD, ACIM, and Burroughs, PKD on God as Infinity).
I just love the way he describes this sense of reality: “ugly things and surprising things and once in a long while a tiny wondrous thing spilled out at him constantly…” That is beautiful. It’s this kind of verbal expression that inspires my desire to write.
I’ve had many experiences that have touched me deeply, and they’re always at the back of my mind. Even though I’ve rarely written about them, I strongly desire to write about them. There are several things that hold me back. First, they’re experiences that are a bit on the uncommon side. Second, I don’t feel capable of of fully describing them in words, of capturing that actual in-the-moment experience.
Let me just mention some of them briefly so that you’ll have an idea of what I speak of:
Dream – In general, dreams are perplexing to write about. One particular dream was of a theatre where spirits would come and go, but when the spirits were present the theatre transformed into a vast desert landscape. The experience of it was profound and mysterious. More than any other, this dream has always stuck with me.
Psychedlic – I experimented with drugs in my 20s. I only did mushrooms once, but they really blew me away. I felt the whole world alive, breathing in unison, and the field was shimmering like that scene from Gladiator. Concepts such as ‘animism’ or panentheism are just interesting philosophies until you experience them.
Spiritual – In some ways, the most haunting experiences I’ve had happened while fully awake and when no drugs were involved. There was a period of my life where depression, spiritual practice, and a broken heart all came together. At the bottom of this suffering, I came across a truly incomprehensible experience of life, almost a vision. It was a unified sense of the world that was both absolutely full and utterly empty. My response to it was at times a sense of loneliness but it was an intimate loneliness that transcended my individuality. It was a presence that wasn’t my presence. It just was whatever it was.
Any of those experiences are probably meaningless to anyone who hasn’t had similar experiences. Of course, they are far from meaningless to me. Each individual experience is meaningful to me in that they’ve all influenced me. I can even now viscerally remember these experiences. More importantly, these experiences together are meaningful because they remind me of my sense of wonder. The world is a truly strange place.
The animistic visions I’ve had particularly give me a sense of wonder on a daily basis. I can to some degree shift my perception into an animistic mode. I can put my mind into that sense of anticipation where the whole world feels like it’s on the verge of becoming something entirely else.
This animistic sensibility combines both PKD’s gnostic revelation and the shamanistic worldview. Much of PKD’s writing conveys a sense of paranoia. I think this modern sense of paranoia is essentially the same thing as the premodern shamanistic view of the natural world. The suffering of life is more than mere biological horror, more than mere existential angst. The darkness isn’t empty. There are things out there unseen that aren’t human. The world is alive with intelligences. The seeming empty spaces have substance. We aren’t separate from the world. Our skin doesn’t protect us from invasion. Most of that which exists is indifferent to humans, but some things may take interest. When we look out at the world, the world looks back.
We modern humans bumble our way through the world oblivious to all that surrounds us. The police protect us. Various public and private institutions make sure our daily lives run smoothly. We generally don’t think about any of it… until something goes wrong. The indigenous person lived differently than this. A tribal person depended on themselves and others in their tribe to take care of everything. If you’re walking through the wilderness, you have to pay attention in order to remain alive. The possibility of death is all around one. Death is a much more common event for hunter-gatherers. When someone is injured or becomes sick, there is no emergency room.
This seems rather scary to a modern person. However, to the indigenous person, this is simply the way one lives. If your life had always been that way, it would feel completely normal. You simply know the world around you. Being aware would be a completely natural state of mind. All of the world can be read for the person who knows the signs. Just by listening to the calls of birds you can know precisely where the tiger is, and you simply make sure you’re not in that same place.
The problem is that I’m not an indigenous person and I’m definitely no shaman. I at times can see something beyond normal perception, but I don’t know how to read the signs. If you go by polls, most people have experienced something weird in their lifetime. The weird is all around us all of the time. We just rarely think about it. And when we do notice it, we usually try to forget about it as quickly as possible.
Yes, Jensen is correct about how humans victimize one another, is correct about how civilization is destroying all life on earth. And, yes, Ligotti is correct about how humans are paralyzed by suffering, is correct that all of human culture arose as a distraction from this primal horror. Yes, yes, yes. Even so, there is something beyond all of that.
These may be my favorite words ever spoken by an American President. They come from a speech delivered by John F. Kennedy on October 26, 1963 — less than a month before his death — at Amherst College, in honor of the late Robert Frost. The speech was published the following February in The Atlantic under the title “Poetry and Power,” while the nation was still in shock and mourning.
[A]rt establishes the basic human truths which must serve as the touchstones of our judgment. The artist, however faithful to his personal vision of reality, becomes the last champion of the individual mind and sensibility against an intrusive society and an officious state. The great artist is thus a solitary figure. He has, as Frost said, “a lover’s quarrel with the world.” In pursuing his perceptions of reality he must often sail against the currents of his time. This is not a popular role. If Robert Frost was much honored during his lifetime, it was because a good many preferred to ignore his darker truths. Yet, in retrospect, we see how the artist’s fidelity has strengthened the fiber of our national life.
If sometimes our great artists have been the most critical of our society, it is because their sensitivity and their concern for justice, which must motivate any true artist, make them aware that our nation falls short of its highest potential.
I see little of more importance to the future of our country and our civilization than full recognition of the place of the artist. If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him.
We must never forget that art is not a form of propaganda; it is a form of truth. And as Mr. MacLeigh once remarked of poets, “There is nothing worse for our trade than to be in style.”
In free society art is not a weapon, and it does not belong to the sphere of polemics and ideology. Artists are not engineers of the soul. It may be different elsewhere. But in a democratic society the highest duty of the writer, the composer, the artist, is to remain true to himself and to let the chips fall where they may. In serving his vision of the truth, the artist best serves his nation. And the nation which disdains the mission of art invites the fate of Robert Frost’s hired man — the fate of having “nothing to look backward to with pride, And nothing to look forward to with hope.”
– – –
I was just listening to the actual speech that JFK gave that day at Amherst College (also, here is the poem spoken by Robert Frost along with the poem he was going to speak). I’m not someone who cries easily or often, but listening to JFK brought tears to my eyes. I’m a Gen-Xer born more than a decade after JFK’s assassination and more important born after Nixon’s demoralizing presidency. With the CIA’s illegal activities abroad and the FBI’s attack on civil rights through COINTELPRO, everything that was good about America seemed long gone. Gen-Xers are cynical for a very good reason. Between the assassinations of JFK (15 yrs after Ghandi’s assassination) and MLK (and RFK on top of that), it feels like the soul of America (the hope of liberal idealism in the entire world) itself had been assassinated.
The first hour after the shooting, before his death was announced, was a time of great confusion. Taking place during the Cold War, it was at first unclear whether the shooting might be part of a larger attack upon the U.S., and whether Vice-PresidentLyndon B. Johnson, who had been riding two cars behind in the motorcade, was safe.
The news shocked the nation. Men and women wept openly. People gathered in department stores to watch the television coverage, while others prayed. Traffic in some areas came to a halt as the news spread from car to car. Schools across the U.S. dismissed their students early. Anger against Texas and Texans was reported from some individuals. Various Cleveland Browns fans, for example, carried signs at the next Sunday’s home game against the Dallas Cowboys decrying the city of Dallas as having “killed the President”.
The event left a lasting impression on many Americans. As with the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor before it and the September 11, 2001 attacks after it, asking “Where were you when you heard about Kennedy’s assassination” would become a common topic of discussion.
In the United States, the assassination dissolved differences among all people as they were brought together in one common theme: shock and sorrow after the assassination. It was seen in statements by the former presidents and members of Congress, etc. The news was so shocking and hit with such impact, it was later reported that 99% of the U.S. population knew about his murder within three hours afterwards, an amazing speed of a news item before round-the-clock cable television networks.
Around the world
After the assassination, many world leaders expressed shock and sorrow, some going on television and radio to address their countrymen. In countries around the world, state premiers and governors and mayors also issued messages expressing shock over the assassination. Governments ordered flags to half-staff and days of mourning. Many of them wondered if the new president, Lyndon Johnson, would carry on Kennedy’s policies or not.
In many countries radio and television networks, after breaking the news, either went off the air except for funeral music or broke schedules to carry uninterrupted news of the assassination, and if Kennedy had made a visit to that country, recalled that visit in detail. In several nations, monarchs ordered the royal family into days of mourning. The government of Iraq declared three days of national mourning.
At U.S. embassies and consulates around the world, switchboards lit up and were flooded with phone calls. At many of them, shocked personnel often let telephones go unanswered. They also opened up books of condolences for people to sign. In Europe, the assassination tempered Cold War sentiment, as people on both sides expressed shock and sorrow.
News of the assassination reached Asia during the early morning hours of November 23, 1963, because of the time difference, as people there were sleeping. In Japan, the news became the first television broadcast from the United States to Japan via the Relay 1 satellite instead of a prerecorded message from Kennedy to the Japanese people.
Hastily organized memorial services for Kennedy were held throughout the world, allowing many to express their grief. Governments lowered flags to half-staff and declared days of mourning, and church bells tolled. A day of national mourning and sorrow was declared in the U.S. for Monday, November 25, the day of the state funeral. Many other countries did the same. Throughout the United States, many states declared the day of the funeral a legal holiday.
There has hardly been any kind of positive international response to a US president since that time… that is until Barack Obama. I’m not saying that Obam is the new JFK, but it sure has been a long while since America has genuinely believed in its own idealism… believed it to the extent that the rest of the world was actually convinced. (The only killed political leader that has touched the world’s heart since JFK is Princess Diana.)
And out of the ashes JFK’s assassination was born the white supremacy evangelical right. It saddens me to my bones. Look at what America has become: Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. Should I kill myself now or hold onto the hope that America can actually live up to its own idealism?
President Kennedy wasn’t perfect, but it was we Americans who failed him. That is how I feel. In listening to JFK shortly before his death, all I can say is, “I’m sorry” (and repeat those words again and again and again). I feel that somehow I personally failed his dream (and MLK’s dream… not to mention Gandhi’s dream… and John Lennon’s dream… please, let the list end here). and it feels like America (and the world) has been in a downward descent ever since… with the cynical vision of the Republican party ruling America. It’s completely understandable that the conspiracy theorists disbelieve the official story (for example, watch these videos and feel the outrage at the deepest level of your heart and soul). How could a fluke, a random event assassinate the very soul of America (the supposedly greatest nation in the world)?
Let me just say that I take the increase of death threats against Obama very seriously!
In the conclusion of the Wikipedia article about MLK’s assassination:
In 2004, Jesse Jackson, who was with King at the time of his death, noted:
The fact is there were saboteurs to disrupt the march. [And] within our own organization, we found a very key person who was on the government payroll. So infiltration within, saboteurs from without and the press attacks. …I will never believe that James Earl Ray had the motive, the money and the mobility to have done it himself. Our government was very involved in setting the stage for and I think the escape route for James Earl Ray.