Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Parallel Lives and the Meaning of Catastrophe


I continue to think about how paths not taken -because of choices we made in our present lives - may still be part of our story. Of how a second self, who made a different choice at that crossroads, is traveling in parallel to the present self, and how sometimes we sense it moving very close.


One of the best fictional treatments I know of these matters is a wonderful novel by Lionel Shriver titled The Post-Birthday World. The question is whether the protagonist, Irina, did or did not kiss a man other than her partner after dining with him alone (at her partner’s encouragement, since this had long been an annual ritual among friends) on his birthday. The twin post-birthday worlds unfold in alternating chapters. Along one event track, she leaves her partner and marries the other man and becomes bitterly frustrated. Along the parallel track, her hitherto boringly predictable partner starts cheating on her, and their relationship starts to unravel for different reasons.


There are brilliant mirroring effects. In each of the worlds, filled with compassion for the man she is not with, she presses her cheek to the TV screen when his face appears – and has to explain herself to her current mate when he walks in unexpectedly. In one world, a hose-ring popped from a car engine is just part of a mechanical problem; in the other it is the temporary wedding ring used in a hasty marriage.

There is some fabulous writing: “His face lurched to one side like water in a bucket.” “His omission [to tell her about a trip she has learned he is planning] grew tumorous, and she would brush up against it like a lump on her breast in the shower. As many a woman had done to her peril, she told herself it was nothing, in preference to bravely palpating its dimensions, testing for a texture that might indicate a discrete, cystlike aberration, or a growth more invasively malign.”

There is a hauntingly shiverish moment when the parallel event tracks, with the twin selves, are running very close to each other. Ramsey (the man she did or did not kiss) – improbably, a snooker champion – walks on stage in a Bournemouth coliseum, and she knows that this trip is a “catastrophe.”
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“A catastrophe, as in the definition of a collision: two objects trying to occupy the same space. As soon as Ramsey materialized, a feeling of wrongness permeated the hall, of an occurrence that shouldn’t be physically possible, like parallel lines meeting, or attending your own funeral. Suddenly the occasion felt off, out of kilter, like that uncertain period that precedes full-fledged nausea when you don’t yet accept that you’re going to be sick.”
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Here repetition of “catastrophe” is interesting – though she shifts to “collision” as the more precise term for what is threatened: “two objects trying to share the same space” and striking or clashing as they do so. In Greek drama, the catastrophe is the denouement, the fatal turning point. It is the “overturning” from the Greek verb katastréphein, “to overturn.” In mathematics, interestingly, it means bifurcation, “where a system shifts between two stable states.” In this moment of the novel we have the sense of the possible lives that bifurcated – “forked in two” – the night of the kiss (or no-kiss) resonating off each other like the tines of a tuning fork.
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Maybe you have felt something similar, whether or not it has inspired you to press your cheek to a television screen.

18 comments:

Worldbridger said...

I have always liked the Oversoul Seven books by Jane Roberts. Talk about multiple life and time lines ... I am amazed that she even attempted to describe such complexity in words.

hblogger said...

I have many questions about parallels. Castaneda's books suggest that we should try to unite with our parallel, while I've heard others suggest that we should generate as many as possible. Sometimes extreme deja vu feels like a union between parallel tracks. Are the doppelganger, parallels, higher self, double, dreambody... etc... related in your opinion? I've become okay with not knowing for sure, but part of me would still love to make more connections and understand this better. I find this somewhat confusing, but your discussion in Dreamgates on doubles was really helpful.
--Heather

Robert Moss said...

Heather, These are very interesting questions, and exploring them is part of a journey towards the multidimensional self. If we think of our current personality as occupying a little observation cabin at the end of one of many spokes connected to a central hub (which in turn is connected to any number of hubs at higher levels) we may glimpse the relationship of the present focus self to other selves - and the difficulty of seeing more than a fragment of the larger picture from where we are in ordinary consciousness. I agree with Worldbridger that Jane Roberts gave us a useful odel of our possible connections with other personalities in other times and with a central supervising intelligence (that she calls the "oversoul") that in turn is under supervision from higher up.

Let me remain focused here on the theme of the current post. If you go back through this blog you'll find my brief reports on current experiments I am leading in checking in with doppelgangers in a specific sense - doubles on parallel event tracks. We do this with shamanic journeying techniques and part of our game is to see where convergence with one of these doubles might be desirable (or simply unavoidable) and what the balance of gain or loss in that might be. All your themes are the focus of a new cycle of workshops I am leading in 2010 titled "Dreamgates: A Journey to the Multidimensional Self."

hblogger said...

Thanks, Robert, for your response and good insights. I would really look forward to those workshops, so please update us on the blog if possible. Also, I'd like to thank you for being such a wonderful role model for me of your service to others. I admire the work you do!

Heather

Susan said...

This is one of the most intriquing topics for me and one that I struggle with. Currently I am waiting for dreams to point the way for me as they have always in the past. I am dreaming but not about what I want guidence on. I feel very much like there is a story happening on many levels of my being right now that need to be played out before I get fresh direction. This is a topic that not many people converse about and I am quite grateful that it is discussed here/now.

I may take a little journey on this.

Robert, if you would like to consider a workshop in Mystic, CT on this theme I would very much like to explore this.

Leanne said...

Dear Robert, as you know this is one of my favourite streams of thinking and your post started an interesting thread in my head around the choice point of parallels. I was thinking about the book your described and a kiss being the point of diversion. And while a kiss is rarely a small thing, I started to wonder about the small things in life that make the big changes. We can go back at look at the life choices for journeying i.e. leaving a job or marriage, moving etc, the big decisions that stick out in the memory and wave their flags at us. So my wondering is how often do we reflect or be conscious in the now of the effects of the little things. For example the email I do or don't send, the words I do or don't say, the smile I do or don't give, how present I truly am in conversation and where that may lead or change the course of that discussion. I know a whole relationship can begin from a small gesture that speaks volumes. So when I am contemplating anything in my life can I bring my conscious mind a little more present and truly reflect on the consequences of what I do or don't do in the little gestures. Obvviously I can't spend all day contemplating every move I make but I think most us know where there is potential or energy in any relationship, and can be open to the small shifts that may herald a big leap into a parallel. While this may be a little off topic for the experience you described I liked the idea of looking at a kiss and moving from there as to what other small acts can change the course of our lives (I wrote loves there and changed it back to lives - a jungian slip no doubt). Kind regards, Leanne.

Lumial said...

Interesting I see this today. Last night I had a vivid dream where I had two lives going on at once and at one point I was conflicted, feeling I was cheating on my 'real' husband'. The 'parallel' husband in my dream is not someone I even recognise or find that attractive. The dream was very vivid and at one time the two realties merged when in the dream I lived in the same apartment and my 'real' (and actual) husband was celebrating his birthday. My parallel family merged into the house and the real and parallel could see each other. My 'real' husband thought it a very strange birthday party in the dream as he did not know the guests. At one point he found a mobile phone actually belonging to the 'parallel' husband with messages on it from me and from others saying that I was 'cheating' on my parallel husband. If you're confused - you should be! The funny thing is my 'real' husband would defintely accept the notion of parallel lives and is not jealous at all and we are very honest with each other. I even remember the parallel husband's name, 'Nigel'. I've always disliked that name and I'm very happy with my 'real' husband! Also, the parallel house was being threatened by a flood which I and my parallell friends and family tried to stem with tiny sand bags - very effective, not!Still processing this one.

Lou Hagood said...

Then Tiger Woods lived parallel lives until his catastrophe--the collision of his Caddy with a tree!

Robert Moss said...

Heather - Thanks for your warm and spirited words. Please check my events calendar at www.mossdreams.com for breaking news of new programs. We are getting ready to do a major update listing many new 2010 workshops and trainings.

Susan - Certainly I'd be happy to explore offering a high adventure in these realms at one of my favorite addresses (The Dragon's Egg, Mystic). We'll talk.

Robert Moss said...

Leanne - Sometimes, as you say, life choices "wave a flag" at us; sometimes small things turn out to have huge effects. And sometimes, in our life trajectories, we rush through a major crossroads without noticing - until we look back, maybe ruefully - that we just made a huge decision, unwittingly. In parallel words theory (in current physics) the world bifurcates every time any detail is changed, however small. It gives me a headache to try to grasp that. It's enough for me to try to track a few of those doppelgangers on those "paths not taken" and see what we have to gain or to learn from each other, and where we want to stay clear.

Robert Moss said...

Hi Lumial - Thanks for sharing this fascnating report. It does seem a fine synchronicity that you found this post immediately after that dream. Your experience reminds me of a Demi Moore movie titled (if I remember correctly) "Passion of the Mind" in which a woman switched back and forth between two parallel lives with two husbands (and two shrinks, each of whom declares the other to be illusory) - until one of the realities starts to disintegrate, and we come to understand that she may have been living part of another person's life.

I wouldn't be in too much of a hurry to process deep dreams of the kind you shared. They give us personal insight into the nature of the larger reality, and to grasp what is going on we have to grow our understanding in nonlinear ways. But let me assure you that in what you saw and lived in the dream, you are most certainly not alone!

Adelita Chirino said...

I was thinking of the Demi Moore movie, Robert. Also, are you familiar with Sandra Miesel's "Dreamrider"? Published in 1982, not one of my favorite reads, but raising the possibility of travel across the branches of the central tree where our parallel lives are found. I consider it a privilege when a dream self and I meet, I to I so to speak, and have been holding one in mind the last few days, so this post and the comments here are fascinating.

Savannah said...

I am enjoying this discussion, including the dizzying consideration that every moment constitutes a decision that splits off a potentially infinite set of possibilities onto separate tracks... I may have caught a glimpse of a parallel self last night, along with what seemed like a series of possible futures laid out like movie clips. In the dream I share a home with three sisters and a woman we call our mother, though none of us are blood relatives and none I know in ordinary reality. Alone in the house after the others leave for a movie I consider visiting mom's best friend Lynette but instead I am in my mind transported to a store front where I watch a friend talking on her cell phone. The friend owns and lives in this mixed use space, very similar to one I had once in waking life considered buying in a questionable part of town. A woman who looks nothing like me but with whom I identify as if she were an actor playing me comes through the wide open front door. I question the wisdom of leaving the door open after store hours. The scene replays. Now the actor who could be me walks in on the friend lying unconscious under the chair, phone still pressed to her ear. In disbelief I prepare to call 911. Then I wake confused, for a moment convinced I may have seen the friend leap up from her unconscious state. Was she in real trouble or just pretending in a macabre joke? I can't tell. I do wonder now what might have happened had I committed to the mixed use property in waking reality...

Robert Moss said...

Hola Adelita - I read Sandra Miesel's novel in its expanded second edition, which has a different title ("Shaman"). Thanks for the prompt to look at it again. I'll see whether the Library Angel will allow me to excavate it from under the mountain of books in my house where I think it is currently buried when I get home form my current travels in Oregon.

Robert Moss said...

Hi Savannah - Thanks for sharing that shiverish glimpse of possible problems, in another reality, at the apartment you did NOT take. Sometimes our glimpses of parallel lives make us thankful that we chose to leave a certain track. I've found myself observing various of my doppelgangers having misadventures on parallel even tracks I'm very glad I did not follow beyond a certain moment of choice.

Since the self you are observing in last night's dream is so unlike you in appearance as well as circumstances, I might consider (if it were my dream) whether something a little different is going on here. Perhaps I have slipped into the persepctive of another person connected with the occupants of that apartment who took my place. Maybe I am viewing the actual history - past, present, and maybe into the proximate future - of the apartment I did not take in my present reality, rather than an alternate history of myself...

greenodream said...

"The unexamined life is not worth living" (Socrates). A quote I picked up last week at my knitting group.

DreamingBear said...

Thanks Robert for this.
What a wonderful thread.
This concept of multiple timelines and parallel life paths has always intrigued me. Nearly thirty years ago I attended a teaching by the late Tibetan meditation master Kalu Rinpoche.
I told him I was having some difficulty with the concept of reincarnation, specifically the concept of the 'emanation body.' (Trul Ku).
I had read that Kalu Rinpoche was the reincarnation or rather, the emanation of the mind stream of a great meditator named Kontrol who had lived in the previous century (1800’s). My confusion arose from the fact that I had recently met another Lama named Kontrol who was likewise considered an emanation. And to further complicate the matter, I had previously studied under another Lama, whose teacher was yet another emanation of the great Kontrol. 'How should we understand this?' I asked.
Kalu Rinpoche responded that indeed, he was an emanation of the mind stream of that previous Lama, and furthermore, he was one of no less than FIVE contemporary emanations of the previous Lama.
Kalu went on to make the concept even more enticing by stating that not only was it possible to have five parallel mind streams emanating from a single source, but it was absolutely possible to have a VAST number of emanations simultaneously occurring.

Note: I was reluctant to add this information to this thread feeling that perhaps it did not belong and might be considered out of place. However, after thinking about it all yesterday, on returning home I found my wife had set on my journal some photographs of a young Tibetan boy, the current reincarnation of Kalu Rinpoche. She had just found them - I had not seen these photos for many years. Beside the photos, she had laid a highly reflective gold card bearing four stickers, suitable for sealing envelopes. On each circular sticker flew an embossed golden hummingbird. This morning the number had grown to 12. (how I luv that girl)
This synchronicity oracle was simply too much to ignore... and so, I enthusiastically join this most fascinating thread.
Thank you all for your offerings and insights…

Robert Moss said...

Thanks for sharing this, DreamingBear. I have heard that the original "Kontrol" - Jamgön Kongtrül Lodrö Thayé - was credited with generating no less than 25 "emanation bodies" or tulkus, after his death.

Not surprising, perhaps, that there is often controversy over who - amongst parallel emanations - is entitled to be recognized as the head of a Tibetan lineage. Thus today Tibetan Buddhists are divided over which tulku is the rightful heir to the original Karmapa, head of the "black hat lamas", who attained enlightenment (significantly) in a state of dream yoga.