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Posts Tagged ‘dreams’

Closer to Death


The image was scanned and edited from the Taschen Munch by Ulrich Bischoff

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Mumbai Traffic

A poem I wrote when I was in India a few years ago captures a frequent state of mind of mine, as more recent poems also testify.

Quest

I am seeking answers even
in the spinning of the fan
over my head, and in the strident horns
of the impatient traffic in the street below,
as meaningless to me as the cawrus
of the rooks near our hotel each night.
And yet I know (or think I do),
that there’s some pattern in the chaos
of it all, which might show me what I yearn
to understand.

How long will it be before
some force empowers my brain
to let my mind decode
the cypher of reality?
I do not want to entertain
the possibility that I am
never meant to understand,
even when my body’s
scrambling of the signal is removed.

Meanings

This kind of search is one that Bernardo Kastrup is addressing.

After his examination of extraordinary experiences occurring in the absence of brain activity, later in his book The Idea of the World, Kastrup moves on to the issue of meaning. He writes:[1]

I use the word ‘meaning’ to denote ‘sense,’ . . . .  ‘significance’ . . . and ‘purpose,’ . . .  freely conflating all three usages. This conflation is intentional and implicitly reflects the very conclusion of the chapter: that the purpose of life is to unveil the sense and significance of the world. Thus the meaning of life in the world is simultaneously life’s purpose andthe world’s sense and significance.

This is so close to the title I chose for this blog more than 10 years ago that it couldn’t fail to resonate.

Why exactly did I choose this title for my blog?

My explanation in EMS Explained included this:

We’re all a bundle of feelings, intentions and thoughts, and we all matter — we all matter very much. Only one word I could think of captures all of that. “This means a lot to me,” we say when we have a strong feeling about something. “That’s not what I meant,” we say when someone has misunderstood the thought we were trying to explain. “I didn’t mean to do it,” is our way of saying that what we did was unintentional. And most of all when I say “You mean a lot to me,” I’m saying that you really matter to me.

So, those three simple words mean quite a lot in every sense of that mercurial word.

I did miss out purpose though, I have to confess.

This emphasis on the meaning of life and the world contrasts, in Kastrup’s view, with the poverty of the physicalist narrative[2] ‘which provides a foundation for rationalizing the choice of living an unexamined superficial life.’

This is not a new source of discontent with the physicalist approach as Matthew Cobb uncovers in his book, The Idea of the Brain. He writes, for example[3], of the discomfort expressed by some philosophers in 1926 who wanted to ‘push back against the materialist implications of recent scientific discoveries’ and labels their positions as ‘a revival of vitalism’ preferring to explain biology ‘by some unique spiritual attribute shared by all living things.’

Am I right to detect a faint trace of contempt underlying that phraseology?

Kastrup and others would clearly disagree with the confidence Cobb places in his materialistic perspective. Which is where another resonating theme kicks in.

Meaning and the Dream Analogy

Kastrup makes a fundamental point:[4]

If the world is akin to a collective dream also produced by mental archetypes, . . . . then the same rationale should apply to our waking lives. The meanings we think to discern in the world may not, after all, be merely personal projections, but actual properties of the world. . . . . This collective “world dream” symbolically points to underlying transpersonal mental dynamics, just as regular dreams symbolically point to underlying personal mental dynamics.’

I need to place a reminder here of Kastrup’s basic model of the world, which is summarised rather brutally on page 92:

There is only universal consciousness. We, as well as all other living organisms, are but dissociated alters of universal consciousness, surrounded like islands by the ocean of its thoughts. The inanimate universe we see around us is the extrinsic appearance of these thoughts. The living organisms we share the world with are the extensive appearances of other dissociated alters of universal consciousness. . . The currently prevailing concept of a physical world independent of consciousness is an unnecessary and problematic intellectual abstraction.

A key question is whether, even though the alters contained within it are dissociated, Universal Consciousness is similarly blocked in terms of an overall awareness of all subordinate realities and inscapes. A quote from earlier in Kastrup’s book suggests not:[5]

Dissociation allows us to (a) grant that TWE [That Which Experiences] is fundamentally unitary at a universal level and then still (b) coherently explain the private character of our personal experiences…

Where do these thoughts lead us?

In terms of a deity he writes:[6]

Thus, our only access to God is through the images on the screen of perception that we call the world. These images are the extrinsic appearance of God’s conscious inner life.

This brings us to the following insight:[7]

Most people’s instinct upon having an intense dream is to immediately ask themselves: what does it mean? Looking upon life in the same way . . . can bestow on it a much more spacious, open and wholesome outlook. . . . the ultimate meaning of it all may not be discernible in any particular end point or conclusion, but only in the cognitive gestalt entailed by a circumambulation — to use a handy Jungian term — of associative threads.’

All this maps very closely onto the words of Bahá’u’lláh in The Seven Valleys (page 32):[8]

Indeed, O Brother, if we ponder each created thing, we shall witness a myriad perfect wisdoms and learn a myriad new and wondrous truths. One of the created phenomena is the dream. Behold how many secrets are deposited therein, how many wisdoms treasured up, how many worlds concealed.

Kastrup’s justification of a search for meaning in this way resonates so strongly with me. My poems of quest make complete sense now as does my love of dreamwork. Even finding a faith, as I did nearly 40 years ago, did not quench this thirst for deeper meaning. To choose a path is not the same as arriving at your destination.

A rag rug

An Example

Even though I have never had a dream that was stunningly prophetic or profoundly mystical, I did find an apparently simple dream profoundly enlightening, so I thought it was worth reminding readers of the basics from an earlier post.

I am sitting on a rag rug, the kind where you drag bits of cloth through a coarse fabric backing to build up a warm thick rug.  The rags used in this case were all dark browns, greys and blacks. It is the rug, made by my spinster aunt, that was in the family home where I grew up. I’m in the living room, facing the hearth with its chimney breast and its cast-iron grate and what would have been a coal fire burning brightly. I am at the left hand corner of the rug furthest from the fire. To my right are one or two other people, probably Bahá’ís, but I’m not sure who they are. We are praying. I am chewing gum. I suddenly realise that Bahá’u’lláh is behind my left shoulder. I absolutely know it. I am devastated to be ‘caught’ chewing gum during prayers but can see no way of getting rid of the gum unobserved.

I worked on this dream and discovered that various elements were profoundly meaningful, such as the rug made by my aunt, not least because of what she represented to me, including what Auden termed ‘foiled creative fire.’ For a sense of that those of you who are interested could read the poem The Maiden Aunt. I want, for present purposes, to focus on what for me has become the core of the dream’s meaning, a meaning which is still evolving even though this dream is now many years old.

There were two kinds of clue to this core meaning: one derived from word play and the other from role play. I’ll just focus on the first element here.

I’ll take the word play first as it’s easier to explain. The ‘chewing gum’ element of the dream can be dealt with quickly. It related to various ways I was stuck and perhaps still am!

More richly significant was the image of the hearth. The fact that it was in a chimney ‘breast’ helps convey the power of the realisation that came to me. The word ‘hearth’ is comprised of several other key words: ‘ear,’ ‘hear,’ ‘earth,’ ‘art’ and most powerful of all ‘heart.’ (See link for an intriguing piece of possible cryptoamnesia.) All of these words were separately of huge significance for me though I had some sense of how they might all fit together. For more on that from an earlier blog post, for those who are interested, see link to the post.

World as Metaphor

The world is a metaphor for the spiritual realm: we just have to learn to read it right.

This is in part what Bahá’u’lláh was saying in Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh:[9]

Nature in its essence is the embodiment of My Name, the Maker, the Creator. Its manifestations are diversified by varying causes, and in this diversity there are signs for men of discernment. Nature is God’s Will and is its expression in and through the contingent world. It is a dispensation of Providence ordained by the Ordainer, the All-Wise. Were anyone to affirm that it is the Will of God as manifested in the world of being, no one should question this assertion. It is endowed with a power whose reality men of learning fail to grasp. Indeed a man of insight can perceive naught therein save the effulgent splendour of Our Name, the Creator.’

I was almost in tears earlier as I reflected on this: finding validation in science and philosophy for what I believed and finding it expressed in terms that map so closely onto one of my preferred modes of exploration, was such relief.

Next comes the big topic: how can religion and science be reconciled.

References:

[1]. The Idea of the World – page 202.
[2]. The Idea of the World – page 211.
[3]. The Idea of the Brain – page 159.
[4]. The Idea of the World – page 233.
[5]. The Idea of the World – page 67.
[6]. The Idea of the World – page 235.
[7]. The Idea of the World – page 238.
[8]. The Seven Valleys – page 32.
[9]. Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh – page 142.

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‘I wasted time, and now doth time waste me . . .’

(Richard II Act 5, Scene 5, line 49)

I bring a huge plastic bucket full of sand into the kitchen. I try to get rid of it in the sink. I pour most of the contents of the bucket onto the draining board, the crockery rack and taps. It spreads all over the sink area. I try to scoop it up with spoons to flush it away in the sink. This doesn’t seem to work.

I begin to hear familiar voices in dispute as usual.

‘There you are, you see. Even his dreams are telling him he is wasting his time. He should be out there on the streets doing something that would make a real difference,’ complains the activist, Emma Pancake, never one to miss a chance to score a point. ‘He’s forever on his laptop or scribbling in his notebook, while the world goes to hell in a pool of plastic.’

A more measured if somewhat sad tone breaks in.

‘I agree he is wasting his time on admin and prose when he should be creating poetry. It would at least be making sculptures out of the sands of time if he just focused on carving out a few lyrics.’

Bill Wordless, still stuck in the quicksand of his writers’ block is as eager as always to see the possibility of a breakthrough in any chance event.

I try pushing the sand down some kind of protruding drainpipe with a plastic tube inside it. That doesn’t work. I try to shut out the voices and focus on the task in hand, but that doesn’t work too well either.

Chris Humfreeze, master meditator, gently intervenes with his usual obsession, in defence of which he was happy to lose the few friends he might still have. ‘You’re both wrong. If you don’t master your interior by disciplined meditation you’ll never achieve anything.’

The word ‘never’ grates on me – a typical baseless overstatement.

I see a cat and a dog in front of the window near the sink trying to eat lumps of damp sand but in the end spreading more of it around than goes down their throats. With every moment my job gets harder.

‘Rubbish!’ flashes another tactless intervention. My parliament of selves is really beginning to earn its name. ‘You don’t master the mind by meditation alone. You have to understand the science that underlies consciousness.’

Fred Mires really begins to get into his psychological stride. ‘He skims those books on meditation and dreams, but fails to master the neurological details. That’s how he is squandering his time.’

The elder statesmen of my inscape are at loggerheads as usual. I haven’t heard anything from the younger generation inside as yet. I decide to find a plastic bag to put all the sand back in so I can take it outside. I search a cupboard but there are no bags. I can’t even find the bucket I brought it inside with either.

Then that sweet voice breaks the silence. Indie Pindance has her say, the girl we all worked together to rescue from the trauma cupboard she had been locked in at the time of my hospitalizations as a child.

‘It’s not just that. He gives up on everything too soon. He jumps from one thing to another so fast, with his butterfly brain, he could never make a difference. He’s infirm of purpose.’

I wince at the contemptuous words of Lady Macbeth leveled in my direction. Not that I have any daggers to dispose of as far as I know.

It’s then, when another voice breaks through, that I realize where the roots of her passionate intervention lie.

‘ Yes, mum,’ Peat Humus has always called her that, ever since he could talk, long after we exhumed him from his burial chamber in my heart, where he had been placed even before I was born, in response to my mother’s grief and its impact on her womb.

‘Exactly,’ he continues, ‘If he really believed what he writes he’d be out there supporting Greta Thunberg and her youth movement by joining other adults in the Extinction Rebellion. What does he do instead? Write, write and write again.’

How can she not speak out for him, whom she loves so much, when his feelings are so strong on such an important issue? She steps up to the plate again.

‘Yes, he should be out there on the street, raising consciousness, surely. I’m with you, Emmie, on this at least.’

Emma grins from ear to ear. At last someone agrees with her.

‘Poetry is the best way to raise consciousness. That’s why Shelley called us the unacknowledged legislators of the world.’

Bill doesn’t give up easily in his defence of poetry.

Just then the owner of the house comes into the kitchen.

‘What the hell are you doing?’ she asks. The shock jerks me out of that dream and I have no choice now other than listen to the choir of my divergent selves expand on their dissonant chorus.

For some mysterious reason, I find myself standing with them in a classroom I haven’t been near in the last 50 years or more. It’s the grammar school where I had my first job after college, teaching English Language and Literature, and this is the very classroom I taught my first lesson to the lower sixth. I walked into the room to find it empty. For a moment I had been puzzled until I heard all the noise from the classroom next door and realized the whole class had moved in there to confuse me. I never quite got control of that class for the rest of the year. With the first years it was easier.

The same rows of wooden desks on iron legs were spread before me. There was one huge difference. The whole of the back wall was covered with Munch’s picture of the sun and the sidewall with his evening street scene of skeletal pedestrians in top hats.

‘The Sun’ by Edvard Munch (for the source of the picture see link)

It took some effort to focus on the conversation again.

Fred, somewhat predictably given his psychological hat, comes at it from a somewhat different angle, standing at the front of the classroom, near the tall windows overlooking the bicycle sheds.

‘You’re wrong there, Bill. Educating the young should be his focus.’

It’s about time I chipped in.

‘At the risk of repeating myself, don’t any of you remember what we so nearly agreed last time we clashed?’

I’m not sure what the expression is on all their faces as they come into focus now my sand dream has finished fading. It could be embarrassment or confusion. I can’t be sure.

Hearticulture. Does that ring any bells?’

There was a faint murmur of recognition.

‘Didn’t we come close to agreeing that working to grow hearts, our own and other people’s, would draw on all our skills and interests, and meet all our concerns? Do you remember how I said at the end “All my life, I suspect, I’ve been unconsciously striving to achieve a creative fusion of all our different strands of activity, and now it seems we have achieved it. I think it will work because, for me and hopefully for all of you as well, the heart is at the core of us all and is a bridge between matter and spirit, earth and heaven.” And I asked if we could all pull together with this.’

Finally, they all seem to click with it. It’s as if this had all happened in a dream for them, which they forgot on waking. Just as with a dream, when the memory is triggered, fragments of it come back.

Emma is the first to speak, sitting in the front row with Peat and Indie.

‘Well, I for one thought it was a load of twaddle. It sounded as though all you were going to do was read a lot and talk to people. How is just talking to people going to change anything?’

‘I think I’m on the same page as Emmie still on this,’ Indie confirms, with Peat, her adopted son, nodding as he sits in-between them.

‘The problem is,’ Chris begins thinking aloud from the desk at the back, just in front of the sun. ‘Pete is the one who has to do something. None of us inside his head can act directly on the world. And he’s only going to do what he feels he can best do in the circumstances. I just can’t see him getting up every day and dashing to the nearest city with a ton of leaflets and a megaphone. He’s got to play to his gifts, and we are going to have to compromise some of our desires and support him.’

‘But we don’t have time for anything less. We have to demonstrate, lobby and protest until things change,’ Indie insisted.

‘I think I can see where Chris is coming from,’ murmured Fred, thoughtfully, moving to sit in the teacher’s place, facing the class. ‘Pete’s in his 70s. Sustained direct action is beyond him. Even his days of teaching the young are behind him now in terms of a regular classroom approach, sustained day after day, week in week out. He can run a short series of workshops, give talks, that sort of thing. But in terms of action that he can sustain over long periods of time, writing and blogging stand the best chance.’

This is doing a little to ease a long-standing sense of guilt I’ve harboured, feeling I am just not doing enough direct action of the consciousness-raising kind. Maybe I should stop punishing myself. It was sapping energy I could devote to study and writing. My divided state of mind distracted me from focusing for long on what I was reading or writing. ‘You are wasting time,’ a voice in my head would say. ‘You should do something more useful.’

I looked around wondering whose voice that was. One of the younger ones surely. The white-haired men in my head seem more sympathetic to this sedentary silver scribbler.

‘It’s good to hear Fred say that,’ I said, sending him a smile of gratitude, ‘but, much as I would like to, can I believe it?’

‘Not really,’ Emma butts in. ‘There are loads of people your age who go out on the streets to protest as often as they can. You never do.’

That word ‘never’ again.

Memories come back of decades ago, when I was out on the streets, shouting for the troops to come out of Ireland. But that reminded me too of why I grew disillusioned with that kind of action. Not only was it divisive, but, as I learned more about the politics of it all, the more lies and/or violence I found lurking not far under the surface. I definitely would not have wanted to demonstrate if I’d known what I do now.

I feel I have to respond to Emma.

‘I know that demonstrating against global warming is . . .’

‘Heating. It’s heating,’ Emma spits out in fury.

‘Sorry,’ I try to make amends. She’s hardly mollified.

‘. . . global heating is a worthy cause, but what worries me is whether the demonstrations will get more violent as frustration increases, rather as happens in other campaigns for other causes, now as it did in the past. That will just make the situation worse. There’s quite enough bitterness and division in our society already without adding to it. Not every movement has a credible Ghandi or Martin Luther King at its head working effectively against using violence.’

Print of the Peterloo Massacre published by Richard Carlile (for source of image see link)

The words of ‘Hope, the maiden most serene,’ in Shelley’s poem about the Peterloo Massacre, float at the back of my mind, but not clearly enough for me to quote them out loud.

“Let the fixed bayonet
Gleam with sharp desire to wet
Its bright point in English blood,
Looking keen as one for food.

“Let the horsemen’s scimitars
Wheel and flash, like sphereless stars,
Thirsting to eclipse their burning
In a sea of death and mourning.

“Stand ye calm and resolute,
Like a forest close and mute,
With folded arms, and looks which are
Weapons of an unvanquished war.”

I plead with them again.

‘I have to find another way of operating and I really need to have you all working wholeheartedly with me. Our hearts must all be as one on this, or we will be paralysed.’

There was a long silence.

‘Just how exactly are we ever going to reconcile our differences of view?’ Indie challenges me. ‘Three of us in here passionately believe that direct and unremitting action, protesting on the street and campaigning outside centres of power, are the only effective ways forward. And have you noticed two of us are women and one is a child? It’s because we care more about children than any of you men can ever possibly do, that we are so determined to protect their future from the damage you men have done. You men just want to sit back and pontificate.’

I could see we were a very long way from a consensus.

I make the same plea again. ‘I don’t know how we are going to achieve that, but we must, or the rest of our days will pass in fruitless wrangling.’

There is an even longer more unbearable silence.

References:

For the first and last post in the original Parliament of Selves sequence see links.

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The original Spanish will be in this Thursday’s post. For the source of the edited image, see link.

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O SON OF BEAUTY! By My spirit and by My favor! By My mercy and by My beauty! All that I have revealed unto thee with the tongue of power, and have written for thee with the pen of might, hath been in accordance with thy capacity and understanding, not with My state and the melody of My voice.

Bahá’u’lláh Arabic Hidden Words No. 67

On a huge hill,
Cragged and steep, Truth stands, and he that will
Reach her, about must and about must go,
And what the hill’s suddenness resists, win so.

(John Donne Satyre III lines 79-82)

Themes that Resonate

The previous two posts, after a brief look at his life, considered issues such as politics, linguistic obscurity, doubt and egotism in relation to his poetry. Now I’ll begin to look at the themes that resonate most for me. There will some slight overlap with the themes previously discussed. The main problem though will be knowing where to start and when to stop. There is so much I could say.

Just to say, before I plunge right in, there are two main texts referred to in what follows: Alan S Trueblood Antonio Machado: selected Poems, and Xon de Ros The Poetry of Antonio Machado: changing the landscape. I have tried to make sure the source of any quotations is clear.

Spirituality

Perhaps the best place to start is with the explicitly spiritual aspect of Machado’s poetry, and it’s not just me, with my bias in that direction, finding a spiritual element. It’s there in Machado’s own words, as translated by Trueblood (Page 5): ‘I thought that the poetic element was not the word in its phonic value, nor colour, nor line, nor a complex of sensations, but a deep pulsing of spirit: what the soul supplies, if it does supply anything; or what it says, if it says anything, when aroused to response by contact with the world.’ Xon de Ros quotes the original Spanish to support her sense of what Machado describes as his genuine voice – voz verdadera (page 186):

However, Paterson’s post-modern notion of a decentred identity is alien to Machado’s metaphysics where the individual consciousness (however problematic) lies behind both the Bergsonian ‘moi fondamental’ and the ‘tú esencial’ of his later poetry. Machado defines his ‘voz verdadera’ in rather abstract terms as ‘una honda palpitación del espíritu; lo que pone el alma, si es que algo pone, o lo que dice, si es que algo dice, con voz propria, en respuesta animada al contacto del mundo.’

I do not feel his doubts about the soul disqualify the use of the word ‘spirit,’ though exactly what he does mean by the term is hard to determine.

Trueblood raises the interesting possibility that his later style has traces of a mysticism which relate at least partly to the impossibility of expressing what he has experienced (Page 57):

The sureness of Machado’s mature touch is revealed in this mere hint of a state of consciousness which, like that of the mystic at the end of his journey, is inherently inexpressible – and, to the modern mind, unknowable.

I’ll be looking more closely at the issue of the inexpressible later. What will also come into the mix is Machado’s use of paradox to convey the ambivalent state of his reaction to experience (Xon de Ros – page 4): ‘paradox invites resolution, urging the mind to expand and move beyond both scepticism and belief.

Dreams & Spirit

Right now I want to look briefly at a poem that illustrates the interconnection in Machado’s writings between spirit, dreams and loss, all issues of concern to me, as readers of this blog will know.

Poem 10 in Trueblood’s selection pulls these three themes together. It opens with ‘Oh tell me, friendly night, so long beloved,/bringer of my puppet world of dreams,/bare barren stage that holds/only my phantom inside . . .’ before shifting later to a sense of loss in the night’s response, ‘I do not know your secret,/although I have seen that forlorn phantom/you speak of, roaming through your dream.’ Night also admits ignorance because ‘in the deep recesses of the soul,/whether weeping is voice or echo/I do not know.’ This intermixing of such themes runs through the whole of Machado’s poetry. The uncertainty here is also characteristic of Machado’s take on reality as I will explore later, explaining why this also appeals strongly to me.

The notes (page 281) shed light on the effect of writing such poems on Machado’s mind by quoting another poem of his: ‘If I speak, my own voice sounds like an echo and my song is so hollow that my pain is no longer frightening.’ I’ll also come back later to another note to this poem – this time one dealing with the issue of our having ‘many personalities.’

Trueblood quotes Machado to explain why dreams were so important to him (page 19): ‘one who does not remember his dreams does not even know himself. . . . I have always been a man very attentive to his own dreams, because they reveal to us our deepest disquietudes, those which do not always reach the surface of our waking consciousness.’ The influence of Freud is detectable here. Their effect, for Machado, is more profound though than Freud’s take on the matter (page 22): ‘Poem 18 . . . equates the inner space of a dream with the deep vault of the soul.’ Trueblood hypothesizes that they are linked perhaps in Machado’s mind with poetry itself, referring to an English Romantic poet (page 200): ‘Keats’s final poem ‘Sleep and Poetry’ establishes a correlation between the two as purveyors of visions and dreams conceived as a source of creativity.’

If anyone needs an explanation of why Machado’s engagement with dreams resonates with me at least as much as his sense of loss, they will find it in my discussion of my Hearth dream. At the end of my explanation I wrote: ‘I don’t expect to get to the bottom of this dream’s meanings in this life. I just think I have to keep referring back to it to see what else it can teach me. I think it is a dream about the heart that came from my heart. I feel the heart in this sense is ‘the experience of soul or spirit in consciousness,’ as a friend of mine once put it in a workshop.’

At the head of the post I had quoted from Machado (Selected Poems translated by Alan Trueblood: page 90-91):

Last night I had a dream –
a blessed illusion it was –
I dreamt of a hive at work
deep down in my heart.
Within were the golden bees
straining out the bitter past
to make sweet-tasting honey,
and white honeycomb.

Not surprisingly it triggered an arresting thought: ‘An intriguing question arose after I had re-read Machado recently.  Did I read him before I had this dream? Was there some subliminal influence from that encounter? The date I bought the book permits that possibility, but I can’t be absolutely sure.’ A Machado moment if ever there was one!

This poem is one I love to read and re-read. Partly because, as Trueblood explains in the notes (page 281), it is ‘expressive of aspiration to faith but not of its possession.’ The poem ends:

Last night I had a dream –
a blessed illusion it was–
I dreamed it was God I’d found
deep down in my heart.

I will be exploring later my uncertainty principle and the idea that John Donne expressed of ‘doubting wisely,’ a turn of phrase to be found a few lines later in Satyre III which I quote at the top of this post. Absolute certainty is elusive and possibly illusory and not the same as the ‘Certitude’ Bahá’u’lláh explores in a book of that name (the Kitáb-i-Íqán). Not all the dreams we have of God are true.

His preoccupation with bees, a frequent trope in his poems, also holds my interest. Until I read Trueblood’s notes, though, I hadn’t realized that ‘bee imagery is not uncommon in manuals of devotion.’ However, there is a caveat here before we assume that this is exactly what Machado means: ‘Whereas the emphasis of the mystical writers cited is on the humility and the diligence of the bees, with Machado it is characteristically on the mysterious powers of creative transformation of their honey-making process, powers here seen at their most striking.’

The ending of the next poem in Trueblood’s selection flags up how far Machado is from the comfort of complete faith, and how close he is to the spirit that infuses R S Thomas’ poetry (page 93):

No, my heart is not asleep.
It is awake, wide awake.
Not asleep, not dreaming –
its eyes are opened wide
watching distant signals, listening
on the rim of the vast silence.

That’s enough for now I think. More on resonant themes next time. For now I’ll close with another poem about bees. The first poem below is the Spanish version, followed by Trueblood’s translation, with my lame version trailing behind, though I have improved the ending over my first attempt.

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Four years ago, after a summer school workshop exploring the Universal House of Justice’s text Century of Light, I described some of the fruits of that exploration. For reasons I’ll explain in a moment, I have recently discovered another powerful aspect of this to which I had not given proper attention.

Prior to explaining exactly what this insight was and what triggered it, I need to briefly revisit my earlier sense of the matter,

Social Reality

We had looked at some of the obstacles that stand in the way of our full appreciation of reality, first as individuals and then as groups. Bahá’u’lláh writes (Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh Haifa 1978: page 58):

People for the most part delight in superstitions. They regard a single drop of the sea of delusion as preferable to an ocean of certitude. By holding fast unto names they deprive themselves of the inner reality and by clinging to vain imaginings they are kept back from the Dayspring of heavenly signs.

Given the hidden nature of spiritual reality and our freedom to choose what we believe or seek to teach others to believe, there is also therefore the immense power of social influence at work on what we experience and how we experience it.

Given that I couldn’t possibly reproduce here the complex flow of our consultation as we grappled with this issue, I pulled in quotations that cover much the same ground.

There are two thinkers who have shaped my perspective about this, which of course is an example of how culture works: these are Paul Lample and Charles Tart. A Bahá’í writer, Paul Lample, has written illuminatingly on this theme. I will move between the two of them as I explore their thinking. Tart’s views I have already explored at some length on this blog so I will spend more time on Lample’s as explained in Revelation and Social Reality.

Before I plunge into the depths, it is perhaps important to share the distinction Lample explores early on between two types of reality, a distinction that is of central importance to our understanding of human nature (page 7):

We can understand this special role of humanity by noting that most of what we perceive to be reality – the world with which we interact every day – is not physical reality at all. It is social reality. . . . Social reality mediates our engagement with the world, physical and spiritual, and it is this reality that we have the capacity to create anew.

He quotes from John Searle’s The Construction of Social Reality to unpack the distinction he wishes to make (ibid):

In a sense, there are things that exist only because we believe them to exist. I am thinking of things like money, property, governments, and marriages. Yet many facts regarding these things are “objective” facts in the sense that they are not a matter of your or my preferences, evaluations, or moral attitudes. I am thinking of such facts as that I am a citizen of the United States, that the piece of paper in my pocket is a five dollar bill, etc. . . . These contrast with such facts as that Mount Everest has snow and ice near the summit… which are facts totally independent of any human opinions.

Of course, Searle continues (page 8), ‘in order to state a brute fact we require the institution of language, but the fact stated needs to be distinguished from the statement of it.’

‘Abdu’l-Bahá eloquently explains exactly what this means in a spiritual terms (Promulgation of Universal Peace (PUP) Wilmette 1982 pages 421-422):

When we consider the world of existence, we find that the essential reality underlying any given phenomenon is unknown. Phenomenal, or created, things are known to us only by their attributes. Man discerns only manifestations, or attributes, of objects, while the identity, or reality, of them remains hidden. For example, we call this object a flower. What do we understand by this name and title? We understand that the qualities appertaining to this organism are perceptible to us, but the intrinsic elemental reality, or identity, of it remains unknown. Its external appearance and manifest attributes are knowable; but the inner being, the underlying reality or intrinsic identity, is still beyond the ken and perception of our human powers. Inasmuch as the realities of material phenomena are impenetrable and unknowable and are only apprehended through their properties or qualities, how much more this is true concerning the reality of Divinity, that holy essential reality which transcends the plane and grasp of mind and man?

Even before we consider the role of names in clouding reality, we have to accept that our senses are quite limited in the way they represent the world to our consciousness, even at a material level. We see wavelengths of potentially particulate light as colours, and combinations of atoms composed mostly of empty space as densely solid objects. In a sense not only is our social reality a simulation: our perception of the physical world is also. It has evolved simply to maximise our chances of survival, not to penetrate the surface to reach the inner reality.

Lample continues (ibid:)

Searle notes that the structure of social reality has a tremendous complexity. A simple visit to a restaurant as a reality that include immediately visible aspects, including the social meaning of ‘money,’ ‘waiter,’ ‘restaurant,’ ‘chair,’ and invisible, underlying aspects such as the concept of employment, an economic system, an agricultural system, and government regulations. There is also a normative dimension of social reality, in that the waiter can be rude or polite, the food unsatisfying or delicious.

There is an important corollary here (ibid:)

Searle observed that the entire structure of social reality is taken for granted by individuals, who are brought up in a culture that conveys social facts in the same way it presents rocks or trees.

Charles Tart

In his book Waking Up, Tart seems to be dealing with this same aspect (page 85): ‘normal consciousness will be referred to as consensus trance; the hypnotist will be personified as the culture. The “subject,” the person subjected to this process, is you.’

In a way that parallels Bahá’u’lláh’s ‘veils’ of delusion and superstition, Tart sees consensus consciousness as on a disturbing continuum (page 102): ‘We can view illusions and hallucinations as extreme points on the continuum of simulation of the world.’

He doesn’t give us much room to wriggle off the hook here. The state of mind he goes onto to describe is not an enviable one (page 95):

. . . . consensus trance is expected to be permanentrather than merely an interesting experience that is strictly time-limited. The mental, emotional, and physical habits of a lifetime are laid down while we are especially vulnerable and suggestible as children. Many of these habits are not just learned but conditioned; that is, they have that compulsive quality that conditioning has.

Even so, Lample sees us very much as agents in the creation of our world view (Revelation & Social Reality– page 6): ‘Human beings are not passive observers of reality and our personal reality, our thought, is not simply imposed upon us.’

Lample none the less plausibly contends that (ibid) ‘In a very specific way we may consider ourselves – collectively – as co-creators of reality, for through the power of the human mind and our interactions, the world undergoes continued transformation.’

He illustrates the kind of factor that can trigger such transformations (page 8):

When the fundamental agreements which frame belief and behaviour change, social reality will change, as in the case of the dramatic collapse of communism in countries across Europe and Asia in a matter of months around 1990, after being a commanding presence that dominated the lives of hundreds of millions for over a half century.

He concludes, in terms which acknowledge Tart’s sense that we are shaped by as well as being shapers of social reality, that (page 10) ‘. . . Social reality is not static; it is mutable. It forms us, but because it owes its existence to common human understanding, we have the power to contribute to reshaping it.’

Metaphor:

I have long been aware of the link between dreams, poetry and other forms of creativity, a link that many writers acknowledge and which has a function in reshaping consciousness.

The link with poetry is not straightforward, as Charles Rycroft points out in a passage quoted by Krippner et al in the book, Extraordinary Dreams and How to Work with Them (page15): ‘if dreams are poetry, they are incomplete poems.’

Montague Ulmman, in Working with Dreams,the book he co-authored with Nan Zimmerman, expands on this (page 73) when he speaks of ‘those qualities a dream has in common with art, especially with the art form which relies heavily on metaphor: poetry.’ He spells out where the incompleteness of dreams as poetry exactly resides (page 80):

. . .whereas the poet is addressing himself to an audience outside himself, the dream is a private communication intended to be personally, not universally, meaningful.’

It is still of value, of course, for the dreamer to treat his dreams like poetry, and Ullman clearly sees the metaphorical value as worthy of exploration before plunging into the associations, which he feels (page 97) rather serve to integrate ‘metaphors into the waking context.’

Ole Vedfelt’s book A Guide to the World of Dreams resonates with me when he writes (page 54-55): in dreams, metaphors ‘may appear much more literally and visibly to the dreamer, consciousness is so totally immersed in the metaphors. . . . It may be illuminating to view symbols and metaphors as poetry… They interact with the receiver’s intuition…’

That may not be as simple as it sounds. He digs somewhat deeper. He goes on to say ‘when I use the term symbol in connection with dreams, I am also referring to a more complex and inscrutable meaning, such as when Jung (Man and his Symbols 1964, p. 20) writes that symbols have “an unconscious aspect, which is never precisely defined nor fully explained.”’

The opening sentence to this chapter was particularly resonant for me, given the spiritual emphasis I tend to give to dreams (page 53): ‘A prerequisite for all dream interpretation is an understanding that dreams live in a world of symbols where wind and weather, plants, animals and objects can all be expressions of qualities of the soul.’

Approaches such as these have influenced my approach to dreams almost since my dreamwork began.

However, for someone who claims to be so keen on poetry and who has used metaphors to help raise his consciousness, I realise now that for most of my life I have discounted the importance of metaphor in society as a whole. It is only since resuming a close examination of my dreams and the idea of dreamwork in general, including the reading of related texts, have I woken up more fully to the pervasive power of metaphor, a power that may be either constructive or destructive.

A key book on the power of metaphor has been Metaphors We Live By, by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson. I only discovered it this year and it has widened the scope of my understanding about the role of metaphor in culture.

Their basic tenet may sound improbably radical on first hearing (page 3):

If we are right in suggesting that our conceptual system is largely metaphorical, then the way we think, what we experience, and what we do every day is very much a matter of metaphor.

They amplify further (page 6) by saying ‘we shall argue that… human thought processes are largely metaphorical.’

They give persuasive basic examples to illustrate our pervasive and unquestioning use of metaphor such as equating time with money, argument with war and the mind with a machine or brittle object. A moment’s reflection should be enough to confirm to us from our own experience the truth of that.

More on that in the next post on Thursday.

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