Saturday, June 20, 2009

When the dreamer must be stronger than the dream

My current studies include the life and work of Victor Hugo, whose creative work was driven by dreaming to a remarkable degree. In a curious essay titled Promontorium somnii (The Headland of Dreams) written shortly after Les Miserables, he remarks, "The dreamer must be stronger than the dream". Il faut que le songeur soit plus fort que le songe.

Hugo is not talking about trying to put the little ego in charge of the dreamstate. He is talking about our need to find a navigator within ourselves than can enable us to sail through the wreckage of dreams and plans that broke on the reefs, through the fog of despair and the will-of-the-wisps of illusion, to find and claim a bigger dream. He is also talking about the need to avoid falling over the edge of madness, when hurled into the "expanding spiral of the self". Hugo was keenly alive to the risk, since he saw both his brother and his daughter confined to mental asylums. He observes in the same essay that "sleep is not a formal necessity for dreams".

Hugo journaled his dreams and they are central to some of his novels, especially Le Travailleurs de la mer [translated as "Toilers of the Sea"] and L’Homme qui rit and to poems including “Booz endormit” (which I discovered many years ago because of a dream of my own Boaz as a sleeping king with a tree growing out of his lower body) and “La Pente de la reverie”.
“The dream is the aquarium of the night,” Hugo writes in Toilers of the Sea, which contains an astonishing account of how realities are created from subtle “stuff” that “floats in dreams”. As the fluid forms that rise and fall in the night aquarium become fixed, "beings emerge".
Victor Hugo also said, “There is nothing like a dream to create the future.” To fulfill the bold promise of that statement in our lives, we again need to heed the caution that the dreamer may need to be stronger than the dream. Dreams lay a path for manifestation. However, we want to avoid succumbing to a sense of fatality as the elements of our dreams - good or bad - start to play out in physical life. Dreams open paths, and show us possible futures. As we walk those paths, we must never give up our power to choose, and remain conscious how we are choosing.
At a couple of important passages in my life, stunned by how exactly waking events were replicating incidents in a dream, I behaved like an actor following a prepared script (one with some missing lines, however) - and lost important opportunities by abandoning my power to improvise and be present in the shifting moment. I have observed other dreamers weighed down by a sense of fatality about "bad" dreams that they feel are going to play out, thereby setting a course for the rocks. I have seen dreamers who clung to bright dreams of romance and success but failed to do all that was required to ground and nurture those dreams in the world - or saw part of those beautiful dreams unfold, only to be shattered. Out of such wreckage, once again, the dreamer is challenged to be stronger than the dream - to reach to a wiser and deeper self to find the power to sail on, into a bigger dream.
The graphic is a caricature of Victor Hugo by Bertall, titled "Une salade dans un crâne" ("A Salad in the Head").


Nancy said...

I love this post, especially the so-familiar "salad in the head"! Your description of the need to keep a light hand on the tiller, but not blindly follow a script, applies to me most in tracking my Dream Self. No, I don't want to go chasing a new relationship with the hunky young guy in my dream last night, but I do want to acknowledge my desire, & maybe bring more passion into my current relationship. No, I don't want to scream at the woman insulting me or bite off her pinkie finger (it's alarming how often I dream of this), but I do want to recognize my anger & feelings of disempowerment, & take steps to deal with them.
Thanks once again for making me think & "go deep".

fran said...

Robert, this morning I was watching the beginning of the documentary "In the Shadow of the Moon" and was taken by the vision/dream/challenge of President Kennedy of going from no manned space flight to landing on the Moon inside of a decade. A lot of people thought that it was impossible, and, to paraphrase one of the astronauts, after the disastrous fire that killed the three Apollo I astronauts, they didn't know if they were burying their friends, or the whole space program. Talk about wreckage and the aftermath! But some people carried the vision forward and were bold enough to carry on. To me there's a lesson there about dreams taking root in the world and how they need stewardship.

Robert Moss said...

Nancy, Thanks for these super examples of the need to keep "a light hand on the tiller." This exchange is reminding me of the time I was leading an adult version of the Vegetable Game at a dinner table. It began with ansking everyone, "If you were a vegetable, what vegetable would you be?" A very hyper NYC woman said, "Oh, I would be a tossed salad, because there's just so much going on."

Robert Moss said...

Fran, thanks for evoking the power of dreaming things through in the effort that led to the Moon landing. The first part of Victor Hugo's "Promentorium somnii" (explaining one of the meanings of his doubel-edged title) unfolds his amazement when, adjusting his eyes from the initial grainy dark, he first saw close-up images of the Moon through a telescope in the Paris observatory in 1834. It's interesting to reflect that though we now have the technology to walk on the Moon and lab-test its rocks and minerals, we are generally blind to what previous cultures saw going on in the astral realm of Luna, and considered (probably correctly) to be critical to the state of our psyches.