Tuesday, January 12, 2016

At the door to the dream vault

It happened again this morning. Noises in the house ripped me out of sleep in the early morning, and my dreams fled from me as I tried to grab them, groggy and disoriented, hurled too quickly from their world into the bedroom.
    I padded to the bathroom, grumpy. I went back to bed and made it my game to place myself at the door to the dreamworld. I sensed the presence of a favorite gatekeeper, the black dog. Then a portal appeared, vivid on my inner screen. It was a large round opening, big enough for me to step through without stooping. Its shape and the impression of locking mechanisms made it look like an open hatch in a spacecraft. Or the open door of a bank vault.
    I went through, without setting any firm intention about where I wanted to go. I found myself, immediately, in a tunnel. There was the sense of a benign wind in the tunnel, pushing me forward at increasing speed. I came out on a road beside water. I saw a pleasant village ahead of me, fishing boats and pleasure boats tied up at the docks. As I entered the scene more deeply, I found I was in Canada. It was a pleasant visit, just-so, eh.

    This little experience of entering lucid dreaming from the hypnopompic state (the liminal state after waking) leads me to offer a few more reflections about what to do when our dreams seem to be locked away on the other side of a sealed door.
     You've been into a deep place, full of valuable things you'd like to bring back with you. But as you leave the treasure house, a door swings shut behind you. Maybe you try to catch the door before it closes, but it's so heavy and its movement so strong that you frequently find you can't manage that.
    When the door is sealed tight behind you, you may look for a way to reopen it. But the combination is tricky, and there may be a time release, as with the doors to some vaults. that won't open until a certain hour or date unless you can find a supervisor or an override mechanism.
     Many people just shrug and go about the business of the day, leaving the door between the worlds shut. Some people dedicate themselves to keeping it shut, because they don't make room in their lives for dreams or because something once happened on the other side that scared them. But even the most passionate and dedicated dreamers go through periods when the vault door slams shut, morning after morning, leaving the strange feeling that we are missing out on something really important.
     I have recorded many thousands of my own dreams over the years, sometimes a dozen from one night. Because I know just how much goes on in the dream worlds, I get edgy when I find I have lost my night dreams. Yes, I make a practice of living as if everything around me is a set of dream symbols. And I have developed many techniques for entering states of conscious dreaming, including the use of shamanic drumming. But I treasure the gifts of spontaneous night dreams, especially the ones we don't ask for and may or may not want, because they hold up a magic mirror to our lives and show us things with an objectivity we can rarely achieve in ego-centered consciousness. They may also be adventures across time and in other dimensions of reality. 
    Dreaming is social as well as individual. We get out and about and meet others: other dreamers, the deceased, beings other-than-human. Sometimes I feel that behind the door of the bank vault is a lively, well-appointed restaurant, as in the photos from a converted bank in Butte, Montana.
     Let's assume you know all about setting an intention for the night. (My favorite one is "Show me what I need to see.") And that you have trained yourself to be ready to catch and record dreams at whatever hour you stir from them. But now you are finding that, despite your best efforts, that heavy metal door keeps swinging shut behind you, keeping the treasure (and the beauty or terror or both) down in the vault. What to do?
     See if there is a wisp that followed you as the door was closing, or slipped through the tiniest crack before it was sealed airtight. In ancient Mesopotamia, dreams were called "zephyrs" because, like little breezes, they can slip through a chink in the ordinary world. Stand under the shower, or sit with a cup of tea, and see whether the wisp will reveal itself in the rush of the water or the rising steam. If you can grab that wisp, it can take you back behind the sealed door, in its own special way.
      If you can't catch even a wisp, be alert for how the logic of the dreams you missed may now be playing out in the world around you. Find signs and symbols as the day unfolds, and read them as if they were dreams.
     As general practice, we want to learn how to slow down the closing of that tremendous door, by schooling ourselves to linger in the twilight zone between sleep and waking. Instead of jumping out of bed when you wake, however you wake, see if you can stay for a time between the worlds, in the twilight state that researchers call the hypnopompic or hypnagogic zone. A great place to develop the practice of conscious or lucid dreaming.
    You might try this, when you wake up and find your dreams are missing. Picture yourself standing in the doorway between the worlds. It is open, like the door of the bank vault in the photographs. One one side is your dormant body in the bed. On the other is an adjacent world, a world from which your traveling self is returning. You can look both ways. If you are crafty, you may be able to tiptoe back into the vault and grab something you can bring back to the daylight side. It could be pure gold. Or the deed to a magic kingdom.

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