I want to tell the group how I came to buy this table. I ask if anyone knows the story.
Patricia Garfield, a famous dream author, raises her hand, turning from her place at the table.
I am going to tell my story anyway. It involves a visit to a "cheap" Sotheby's auction in London, not one of the grand auctions. My purchase of this table marked a turning point in my life. I now believe that without the table - and its promise of engagement with large, convivial groups in a social setting - my life would have taken a different course, and I would not have remained close to the woman who is responsible for tonight's party.
When I step outside the house for a moment, into bright sunlight, I realize that in the reality where my body is asleep in bed, the woman I am with is dead. She died many years ago.
So I am in a dream.
I look back at the house. It is a row house in London, like houses I lived in long ago. The scene is entirely real, and solid - the portly taxi pulling up near the steps, the couple with a baby in a perambulator, the sounds from the house.
Is the Robert in bed in upstate New York dreaming me, or am I dreaming him?
I am in a place where someone who died in one world is alive in another.
This feels less like an afterlife situation than like a parallel reality, an alternate world, where she is alive and I made radically different life choices.
I woke from this dream excursion feeling calm and reflective, saddened by memories of the loss of a wonderful woman who died tragically young, cheered by the idea that she may be enjoying a happy life in another reality, and maybe in many alternate realities.
It's a common, perhaps even universal experience to find that the dead are alive in our dreams.
Often an encounter with the dead, in a dream, becomes a prompt to dream lucidity. As we begin to realize that someone we are with has died (in our default reality), an inner voice may say, I am dreaming.
The presence of Patricia Garfield*, the dream author, may have been a prompt to the Robert at that dinner table to say to himself, I am dreaming.
There are things of huge importance afoot.
Encounters with the dead, especially in dreams, have been a primary source of human knowledge of the afterlife throughout the whole odyssey of our kind on the planet. More than this, we may come to understand that in dreams and visions, we are at home in the realities where those who died in this world are at home. We don't need to puzzle over what happens in the afterlife once we realize that we are already in it.
As I write this, I am back in a world that I know is real through the evidence of my
Yet my senses were no less alive when I was welcoming guests at the enormous dining table. I could smell the aromas of cooking from the kitchen, and of the flower arrangements on the table. I could feel sun on my face when I stepped outside.
I muse over the many ways in which the Robert who is at home in that scene is different from my present self. He is highly social, very willing to entertain twenty or more people in his own home. By contrast, the Robert who is writing now is fiercely private at home and avoids social scenes, except in the context of his chosen work. (I often sit down to dinner with twenty people when I am leading residential retreats.)
Yes, the dinner scene where someone dead was alive is a dream. And it is entirely real. Like life. Here and there, now and then.
The experience of parallel worlds and alternate realities is probably the most important feature of my dreaming, and has been as far back as I can remember.
*Patricia Garfield's book Creative Dreaming marked a watershed in our understanding and discussion of what goes on in dreaming. Before I met her, and before I started leading public classes around 1990, I dreamed that there was tremendous excitement in the small city where I was living because Patricia Garfield had moved to town and was teaching people about the importance of dreams. When I shared the dream with a friend, she shot me between the eyes by saying "YOU are the famous author who moved to this town and you are the one who should lead dream classes." (We did not yet use the "if it were my dream" protocol!) The next day, I received a call from a local arts center asking if I would lead some classes. They had creative writing classes in mind but were thrilled when I proposed dream classes - because of my dream of Patricia Garfield and my conversation about it. I enjoyed telling Patricia this story when I met her for the first time, 20 years ago. It is in my new book, The Boy Who Died and Came Back.
I have written at length about dream encounters with the dead, and dream travels in worlds where the dead are alive, in several of my books, especially Conscious Dreaming, Dreamgates and The Dreamer's Book of the Dead.
Photos of tombstone at Vyšehrad (c) Robert Moss