Thursday, April 10, 2014

Dreaming like a child

I often hear dreams from adults that sound like the products of a child's imagination. One dreamer is menaced by giants. She runs but can't get away - until Superman swoops down to rescue her. Another dreamer is entertained by a strange composite animal, a cross between a jolly pink pig and a hairless dog, with a strip of carpet instead of a tail.
     In such dreams, buildings and people around the dreamer often seem vastly larger than in regular life, as adults and cities might appear from the perspective of a young child. At the same time, the dreamer may find she has the ability to make herself greatly bigger or smaller, like Alice with the "Drink Me" bottles.
     I wonder whether such child-like dreams really are the dreams of the child within the dreamer. They may be returning memories of dreams in early life. They may also be a direct link to the inner child, providing a chance to bring more of her energy, joy and imagination into current life. They may even be a bridge to connect with the child in her Now time, which is past history for the adult except when released from the constraints of linear time, as in dreaming.
    I have given happy examples thus far, but the dreams of the child may of course be filled with challenge and drenched in fear. Those menacing giants may represent abusive adults and authority figures the child can't handle, and Superman is not always available. Yet when the bridge to the child in her own Now time is open, we can slip across it, to offer support and mentoring that may be desperately needed. We can help to provide the heroes our child selves want to be dreaming of.

I know that this helped a sick, lonely boy in Australia long, long ago, in the 1950s. I was reminded how that worked not long ago when I ordered a taxi to take me to the airport at 4:00 a.m. The driver was whiskery and bleary, but friendly, and struck up conversation by remarking, "You have an accent." I get this endlessly in the United States, where anyone who speaks another form of English is held to have an "accent". After allowing that my accent might be described as "Anglo-Australian", the driver proceeded to tell me that he is fascinated by "the British life style" and watches lots of period English movies and TV. He then asked if I could solve a mystery. "The characters are always having tea and crumpets. What is a crumpet?"
    I spent the rest of the ride explaining the difference between a crumpet and an English muffin, and singing the praises of the crumpet, a staple of my boyhood and still a favorite comfort food, though I must now order my supply by mail.
    As I got out of the cab, I realized this odd early morning conversation had given me a lead for the day. I was scheduled to give a lecture that evening at East West Bookshop in Seattle. I had already decided that I would read some fresh selections from The Boy Who Died and Came Back but had not yet made my selection. Now I had it. An early chapter in my memoir is entitled "Crumpet Time". It celebrates crumpets, but is also a narrative of time travel by an older self to support a younger self in his own Now time. Here is an excerpt:

The friends who helped me most in the time I was sick and lonely as a young boy were invisible to others. One of the best of these friends was the Big Man. He was like a favorite uncle I did not have. One of the lessons he taught me was how to eat crumpets.
    The Big Man came to me when I was in my bedroom, sick and lonely and feeling really sorry for myself. It was one of those days when I wanted to leave.  I felt a presence in the room, then the mattress tipped a little as someone eased down on to the edge of the bed. A hand closed on my shoulder, squeezing just a little.
    “That’s right,” my visitor said. “You really are all right.”
    The warm, confident voice was familiar but I could not put a name to it. I rolled over and looked up into a large pink face, smiling at me from under a mane of white hair.
     “I know it’s hard for you,” my visitor went on. “I know you’re lonely and feel rotten. But you are going to make it through. You’ll be knocked down some more, but you will always get up again. You are a survivor, Robert. Trust me. You will make it through.”
     The Big Man was hugging me then. I felt so small and fragile in his embrace, and I could not stop the tears flowing because I felt safe and because this stranger was holding me as my mother never did, not since I died.
     “Write,” he encouraged me. “Write your dreams. Write those adventures that stream through your head when you’re playing with your toy soldiers.”
    “Nobody wants to hear my dreams,” I complained.
    “You may have to lie low for now. But the day will come when lecture halls will be filled with people who are eager to hear your dreams and to tell their dreams to you. I promise you.  You are lonely,” he repeated. “But I promise you that the time will come when you will know the love of women and women will love you.”
    I must have fallen asleep, because I did not see him go. I did not ask him who he was. I often sensed him nearby, when I was alone. When he was close, I felt bigger and stronger.

When we were living in Melbourne, my mother took me to the café in the stately old Myers department store for afternoon tea, and I always had crumpets.
    I felt the Big Man close to me one afternoon in the café. “Crumpets taste much better with salt and pepper,” he nudged me. “Go on. No one will mind.”.  
    I reached around the pots of jam and marmalade for the shakers, and gave my crumpets a good dose of salt and pepper. The waitress looked at me. My mother just went on sipping her tea. .I had done stranger things. The Big Man was right. Crumpets are really nice with salt and pepper. 
     I know this: we can travel across time, and we can play mentor and counselor to a younger self, or receive help and guidance from a wiser older self. At the very least, when we reach to that younger self, we can offer the assurance that however much he is suffering, he or she will make it through. 

We dream dreams of the child, and the child dreams dreams of us.

Book excerpt from The Boy Who Died and Came Back by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library. 

Photo: The dreamer as a boy.

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