Friday, April 27, 2012

Memories of double lives

Waking, we remember (and more often forget) scenes from a life lived somewhere else. Dreaming, we do the same.
    The other night, I attended a board meeting of a society devoted to the study of parallel worlds. We were joined by members of the Baltic Section. I had to use all of my charm to warm up a dour, austere Estonian.
    Leaving the building, I ran into the local chief of police. He was wearing a bowler and a camel-colored overcoat and sported an elegant moustache. He looked rather like Hercule Poirot. I was eager to recruit his support, because I wanted information from him I could use in a book. He was reserved at the start of our conversation, but my charm worked again, and he decided to change his plan for the evening and accompany me to a coffee house or bar.
    My attention drifted for a moment, because I was receiving a call from home. It was as distinct as a telephone call, but there was no ring and no equipment. I explained to my wife that a classmate from school had died that day, after a stroke.
    This mental conversation, in which I had clear memory of events in regular life, made me aware that I was traveling in a dream. I scrutinized my surroundings with keen interest, wanting to understand exactly when and where I was, and to retain this information when I returned to default (or physical) reality. Riga. There was no doubt in my mind. I was in Riga at the end of World War I, in the time of the Bolsheviks and the famous Latvian riflemen who saved Lenin. There was cordite in the air. Tremendous forces were stirring; games of nations and cloak-and-dagger intrigues were the order of the day.
    I did not linger over my glass with the Riga police chief. I needed to return to the business of the present day, and get ready to start a workshop session. But first, I would note all the names and details I could bring back, for follow-up research; it would be wearisome to share them here, without a much fuller narrative. They could provide plot and characters for an entertainment by Eric Ambler or Graham Greene, or perhaps Alan Furst. I am not planning to write in this vein again myself, though one of my dream doubles may have different ideas.
    Let me return to the general theme. Dreaming may be traveling, and our travels can take us across a rich geography - in this world and in other worlds - and across time as well as space. We may lead continuous lives in dreams, as we seem to do for much of the time in our physical world, except when the continuity is broken by a dire event. When we awaken to all that is going on in our dream lives we will discover, as Jean Cocteau did, that life can be more than "twice as huge and twice as long" as it is for those who live in the illusion that they inhabit only one world.
    Of course, even the most active dreamer can be amnesiac in one reality about what is going on, or recently went on, in the other. It is intriguing to study how memory returns. In waking life, we may remember a forgotten dream episode under the shower, or walking the dog, or in a moment of deja vu. Dreaming, the prompt to remember details of waking life comes in many ways. One of my favorite examples: you are getting ready to have sex with a dream partner, but then remember that (in the ordinary world) you are married or in a relationship. In Riga, in a time of war and revolution around 1918, I remembered something I had learned in April, 2012 and wanted to tell my wife: I had received an email informing me that a classmate from high school had just died, the first of my classmates (to my knowledge) to cross over.
    Riga in 1918 may not be on your list of travel destinations, but you may find that your dream self is traveling to places and times you never considered, and leading a rich life in a world quite different from the one in which you are reading this post.



Jeff Rosen said...

Dreaming IS travel, and travel is dreaming; but dreaming differs in that we always revisit places we once occupied, and perhaps never clearly saw.

Robert Moss said...

Jeff - You seem to be reflecting what I called the Peter Ibbetson version of dream travel in my book "Dreamgates", after the novel by George du Maurier in which separated lovers meet again and again in dreams, but only in locales based on places they previously visited on the physical plane. Frequent fliers learn that dreaming, we travel in a much vaster geography, far beyond "the fields we know" though our perceptions of other realities - and some structures in those realities - may be structured by our memories of the physical. We are actively exploring all of this, all the time, in group journeys as well as the sharing of individual experiences, in the dream school.