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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A dream, a website, and a sacred armbone

As an adult, I rarely remembered my dreams. That was probably because I didn’t sleep all that much, and when I was asleep, I was dead to the world.

   This has nothing to do with insomnia; on the contrary, once my head hit the pillow, I was usually sound asleep within minutes, and when I woke, I was very much awake.

   Even as a child on a farm routine, I went to bed at 10 pm and woke at 5 am in the later years of high school. I did an hour’s study from an elaborate timetable I had manufactured for myself, and then helped with milking before coming back to the house. At high school I would make breakfast for Kay and me while my parents finished off at the dairy, and we would get ourselves off to school. To catch the high school bus for Gladstone, I had to jump on my bike no later than 7.30 AM and ride like the devil to be at the bus stop by 7.45.

   That didn’t leave much time for memorable dreams, and it was a pattern that stuck with me for most of my working life. That is to say, my hours of sleep were a good deal more limited than most people’s. I went to bed later and later but tended to wake early, sleeping 5-6 hours a night at most.

   These days, I still have the pattern of going to bed late, and waking early in the morning. We never go to bed before midnight. As I write this, it is 5.45 am and I’ve done 45 minutes exercise. If I don’t do that exercise I will die, simple as that, and there’s no use lying in bed awake in zombie mode, thinking about unpleasant things in the dark before dawn. Better to be up and doing....

   The big difference now is that by 9 or 10 am, I often hit the sleep zone with a bang. Well, perhaps a wimper may describe it better. My brain demands shutdown and there’s no point in denying sleep when that happens. I think of the oncologist’s warning that one thing he believes contributes to the onset of seizures is sleep deprivation, so it’s foolish to stay awake just for the sake of it. And if I don’t have that sleep in the morning, I will be sure to do so in the afternoon.

   This is a drearily long way of saying that daytime sleep seems to bring dreams to the surface that I’m likely to remember, sometimes very strange ones. Perhaps it’s the subliminal injection of daytime noises into the dreams that makes them different, though no doubt people who study types and patterns of dreaming have their theories based on other criteria such as measurement of brain activity using MRI.

   Three days ago I had a quite vivid dream and I wrote it down, as far as I could remember it, on the notepad beside the bed. I’ve written dreams down before, sometimes so scrawly and cryptically that later I can’t even understand what I’ve written, so I am careful these days to write more legibly and in a little more detail.

   But the thing is, if I don’t use those notes within twelve hours or so to flesh out the details, the words can mean nothing, or get entwined with events that have happened in wake periods.

   I can’t always expand a particular story here at the computer at the best time to do so, which is as close as possible to the end of the dream. Sometimes I want to do other things more than interpret my notes right then. So I am looking at these notes now and am amazed at how little I could drag any of this back into memory without them. Even now the remains of the dream are tarnished and vague. It’s what I am left with, so we go with it.

   It’s a bit like when we used to make a home movie when the girls were little, with the Super 8 movie camera that made five-minute silent movies played on a projector. Thanks mainly to John and Kay, we’d make these movies, directed largely by John, who had a wonderful gift for recording events in a memorable way.

   What I mean is, in the end, the movie becomes the memory when all else slips into the deep recesses of the mind and there is little else able to be recalled.

   So it is with these notes on dreams.

   But I don’t only make notes on the dreams themselves, because at times the dream sets off a stream of associative conscious thought, which to me at least can turn out more interesting than the dream. I’m sure we all do that – slip from one sequence of thought to another by tagging on to the end of the last thought when we’re in contemplative mode.

   Anyway, most of my notes from three days ago are more about the associations than the dream. But in the dream, now just a tiny flash driven by the words I’ve written on the page at that time, I was in a barber’s shop, and on a small round table was an ashtray. In the ashtray were an unlit cigarette and a silver lighter.

   The flint in the lighter sparked spontaneously and it flamed very strongly, and then went out quickly. The cigarette tip was lit as perfectly as if the lighter were guided by an invisible hand.

   Now here’s the weird bit. In the dream, I had a powerful urge to smoke the cigarette. On what grounds? They were even weirder. The reason that was uppermost in my mind was that it would be a waste not to! It was such a perfect, new, white cigarette that it seemed almost my duty. But a waste? Very odd.

   I got up and went to the table. There the dream ended, but I didn’t smoke the cigarette.

   I have such anticlimactic dreams, I know. But it’s either tell them as they are and see what you make of them, or invent something spooky, and I’ve no intention of doing that. It rather defeats the purpose of the exercise, if there were one. You pays your money and you takes your chance....

   Maybe it was this very image of the lit cigarette in the ashtray that set me thinking about the chain-smoking Aleisha Bonfield and my old days writing scripts at the ABC; a story that suddenly seemed more urgent to write about three days ago than this crazy dream fragment.

   In my conscious mind was the image of that self-lighting cigarette; well, more the flashing lighter than the cigarette. It set me thinking about how in the first days of website building, people started to use flashing text on a web page to direct the viewer's attention.

   I did a lot of website making in those days when web pages had little but text on them, but the one thing that sent me loopy was to see a page with text flashing on and off on it. No way would I ever build a page like that. I don’t do webpage designing these days, as it’s got away from me, and you’ll probably notice that for this blog I have kept to the most basic template even though I see that others have done something much more impressive visually to create their blog with the tools at hand.

   BUT I haven’t got over my loathing for things that move on a web page, and right now you can hardly go to one without ads composed of animated stills or mini-movies of various types crawling all over it. Yes, I turn all that stuff off when I can, as I can barely read some great article when extraneous things are screaming at me to look at them. Oh, ping OFF! is my visceral response. Pardon me while I have an epileptic fit. 

   Don't laugh. That was another thing the oncologist warned me about last visit. Avoid strobe lighting, even though I'm not an epileptic - so far at least....

   That then set me to thinking about a particular Indian website constructed in the late 1990s by an over-enthusiastic designer. There was barely a thing on the page that didn’t flash, move backwards and forwards or spin, race round the page and change colours sequentially. I could imagine how delighted he must have been by all the action he had created, and that he would have spent hours admiring his work and dreaming up new ways to add yet another whirring object.

Vishnu the Preserver, my favourite Hindu God right now
   I haven’t the faintest idea now what his site was about – I never got far enough beyond the animations to retain that. But then that made me think how the Indians always loved their flashing electric lights, bright colours and arresting images, like the billboards for movies or the gaudy images of Indian gods and goddesses in books. You know - the Hari Krishna style ones.

   All over the subcontinent in fact, people are brilliant in creating colourful displays... Diwali, Bollywood, Christmas, other festivals... they’re all in the Indian pantheon of light and colour, drama and joy.

   And then my thoughts moved on to a particular shrine in India that I’d seen – the shrine to commemorate the arrival of St Thomas in India in 52 CE and the early manifestations of Christianity in the south of India, at Mylapore, in Kerala.

   St Thomas is the most interesting of the disciples of Jesus in terms of his unorthodoxy, as he seems to have preached notions of reincarnation, and there is evidence of this in the famous Nag Hammadi texts (1945) and the Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered in 1947. The local Kerala tradition is that his success at converting people to Christianity ended in his murder some twenty years later (73 CE).

   According to the local tradition, the arm bone in this shrine is that of St Thomas. Its relevance to this story is that when I saw it, the bone in its glass case was surrounded by an arch of pulsing electric lights – a veritable Las Vegas of Hinduised Christianity.

   The stories of St Thomas in India are shrouded in myth. It's highly likely that he never made it to India at all. There are plenty who say HE didn't exist either. I don’t care. I just love how that shrine embodies the Indian way of celebrating things that are imbued with spiritual qualities, and drawing them into the Hindu fold.

   So.... Illusion, truth and reality..... I’m getting there. Just give me time. Yes, give me time - an increasingly scarce commodity, like affordable fresh fruit in these parts.


  1. Since dreams are merely a continuation of thinking once we have fallen asleep, it makes sense that a dream would trigger associative conscious thoughts. The line between the unconscious and the conscious is fuzzy and arbitrary and on one level, that of the mind, it does not even exist. Thinking just slips below our awareness, but it is still going on in the mind.

    Yes, you have to get enough sleep to enable the mind to be aware enough to remember dreams. Otherwise, it's blotto. Once you start working with dreams, even in a small capacity, going to sleep becomes filled with excitement, like going to the movies. One never knows what to expect, but it's going to be interesting and often insightful. By paying attention to dreams, you reclaim the one third of the life of your mind you once handed over to oblivion.


  2. I don't have anything very clever to say (like Joan), but I can say that it is very common to forget your dreams once you wake up...or to feel like the memory is there on the edge, but you are unable to grasp it.

    I remember having some extremely vivid dreams when I was pregnant (apparently it has something to do with hormones). I also sometimes have dreams and when I wake up I cannot always remember whether or not they really happened. Some of my memories feel like dreams.

    All I'm really trying to say is that this seems very normal to me.

    P.S. After reading Shantaram I have fantasized about the wash lines in India with saris in every imagineable colour hanging from them blowing in the wind.

  3. Interesting comment and very thought provoking (conscious and subconscious both, you’re right I’m sure.) I slept for four hours today – most of the afternoon in fact – and remember thinking after I had woken up that I had re-entered a dream from some previous time. But here’s the strange bit. I can’t remember anything about it now except for the vaguest flashes, and the more I try to drag them into consciousness, the more they slip away. I just remember rooms... always rooms. There are people and if I could identify just one of them I think much more would come back. Maybe I’ll get better at it. What it will/would accomplish by dragging the subconscious into the conscious realm, I am not sure. Superconsciousness? That would be nice. Maybe it's the mirror image of meditation, or yoga.

  4. It's so good that you are experiencing this, and having the time to do so, and so healthy I think. Before electronic devices and when nights were dark (no lights) I bet people had much better dreams.

    And there's this other space that is weird. Not memory, not dream, it appears just as you are on the verge of sleep. You have to be aware in an unforced way to notice it. Michael told me about it and I could hardly believe it when it happened! I saw (and I was awake) this town going past, that I'd never seen before, people, a market place, details on buildings. As if I was there, so 'real'! I've only managed to do it twice and I almost did last night. Mostly I don't remember to try, but I'd been thinking of it to do with the blog entries on reality/illusion.

    Another one was the time a long epic poem unfolded in my mind just before I went to sleep. I really think that was tapping into some deep subconscious but hey! I could be rich if I learnt to harness that!

  5. This 'other place' is just behind your eyelids. As if your eyelids are a screen:)

  6. Very, very interesting Julie. It sounds like you had a lucid dream or else what they call a hynogogic vision. If you've had lucid dreams, you'll know whether it was one or not. Denis, that's the next thing to work on, once you find it easier to remember your dreams.

    Not that I know a lot about this, but I think that hypnogogic experiences are more like visions than dreams, whereas lucid dreams are dreams in which you realise you are dreaming and then the fun begins. You can talk to dream characters, fly anywhere you want (if you can launch yourself successfully), manipulate the dream, all the while knowing you are really asleep. But your mind is awake in the dream.

    I have had limited hypnogogic experiences, like the one Julie describes. If you've seen my meditation hut, you will see a painting of it on the wall -- a mandala. How Jungian of me to have a vision of a mandala. This was not a dream, but an inner vision, actually seen, as you say Julie, on the inside of the eyelids. It happened too quickly for me to grasp all the details. This can also happen during meditation, and one can "sit back" and watch the images unfold as though one were in a movie theatre or an art gallery, watching pictures come and go, one after the other.

    Lots of entertainment to be had in the twilight realm.


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