Sleep, Illness, Dreams

I’ve been asleep for 27 hours of the last 37 hours, laid low with a cold that is manifesting so far mostly as a very sore throat that occasionally spasms. I was up for 5 hours yesterday afternoon, then 4 hours later last night, and an hour so far today.

With all the bed time, I’ve been sleeping fitfully and dreaming a lot. The last dream I had this morning is befogging me … In the dream: I am getting ready to make dinner for R. and family. R’s son C. is sprawled on the sofa nearby, listening to music. He calls the radio station to request a song, and when it comes on, I’m moved to dance a little to it, as I mop up (with a dishtowel) some water by the sink. When I wander into the living room, R. is coming towards me, also dancing, and we both start to dance full-out and sing along exuberantly. Here’s the weird part. The song is Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive,” and when I sing “did you think I’d crumble, did you think I’d lay down and die, Oh no, not I, I will survive …” instead of that I erroneously sing, “Oh no, not me” but realise in an instant that the words she’s singing on the radio are “Oh no, not I” and correct myself.

How does that happen in a dream? There was no radio or other music playing anywhere in the house as I was sleeping, so I wasn’t actually (in the non-sleep world) hearing the original song or the remake. If my dreaming self (?) has access to the right words, how and why does it feed me the wrong ones and let me know it’s done so? Where is the dream soundtrack or lyric sheet located? In the dream I had the experience of listening to music that was external (coming from a radio, not from my head), but on waking I believe that it was all contained within me, both the mistake and the correct version.

I guess what I’m finding interesting is that when dreaming, I have the experience of accessing information that feels for all the world as though it’s coming from outside of me — and maybe it is coming from outside the dream character, i.e., the role I am playing in the dream — but it’s not external to the dreamer, to the sleeper herself. And though the dreamer “knows” the correct information, the dream character — who is presumably a manifestation of the dreamer’s consciousness — may not.

I assume this experience is not unique to me. And it leads me to consider how consciousness interacts with the self, whether the “self” is a useful or accurate concept (or whether it is misleading, taking us down a bunny trail), how our conscious mind (and perhaps un- and sub-conscious minds) may keep information hidden from us, and so on.

Sigmund Freud talks about dreams as being made up the residue of daily life — things we observe, hear, experience, etc., without consciously noticing them and/or without processing them — and he posited that dreams are messages from the body that in some way fulfill our unconscious wishes and desires.

Carl Jung talks of a collective unconscious, teeming with archetypes and mythological forms, with dreams being one gateway to this mindstream that he saw as external to the self and yet at least partially accessible to it.

Buddhism posits that there is no permanent, unchanging self; that both the cause and remedy of suffering come from the individual; and that the self is both an agent (e.g., one who acts and who through acting causes consequences) and an experiencer (e.g., one who notices, feels, and reflects on action and its resultant consequence).

Reading both Sleeping, Dreaming and Dying: An Exploration of Consciousness with the Dalai Lama and James Alison’s The Joy of Being Wrong: Original Sin Through Easter Eyes, I am meditating lately on consciousness, awareness and self-awareness, the idea of the self — and not on just the ideas of a fixed self (on my recent train trip, I overheard several times “It’s my personality” as an explanation for a behaviour or feeling) vs. a becoming self (in the Dalai Lama book, the philosopher Charles Taylor brings up the analogy of the self as a ship on which a plank is changed every year; in so many years, you could say it’s the same ship, even though all the pieces of wood are different), but rather the idea of an internal, contained, self-actuated self, formed (whether once and for all or incrementally) by my preferences, actions, genetics, choices, experiences, perceptions, etc., vs. that of an external self, uncontained, a self formed solely in and by relationship, in and by connection to what we each think of as “the other.”

Freud’s psychological theories and Buddhist thought both, it seems to me, see the concept of desire as key to understanding consciousness and the self, and therefore dreams (which are seen as arising from one or the other). Freud believed that we have desires of which we are unaware or only partially aware, and that they reside in a part of our consciousness that can be at least partly accessed by dreams, among other ways. Buddhism says that our primary concern in life is seeking happiness (we desire it) and avoiding suffering (we desire to avoid it), and further, that

“certain desires arise from our consciousness. From such desires the motivation to act may arise, and together with this motivation to act comes a sense of self, of ‘I.’ Together with this sense of ‘I,’ a stronger sense of grasping onto the ‘I’ arises; and this may give rise to certain types of mental afflictions, such as anger and attachment. … I am persuaded that a strong feeling of ‘I’ creates trouble. However, the same mental feeling is something very useful and necessary. … In order to develop self-confidence and a strong will, this strong feeling of ‘I’ is necessary.” (p. 114, Sleeping, Dreaming and Dying)

I’m starting to wonder whether what I have long thought of as my self is really only a well-crafted illusion; an ingrained and habitual way of differentiating “me” from “you;” a way of maintaining the belief that I am original, an originator, that I am the chooser, decider, maker of my own life and that “you aren’t the boss of me,” as most children protest at an early age.

James Alison says that what Jesus was trying to change when he spoke with the disciples and others was “the constitution of our consciousness in rivalry and the techniques of survival by exclusion of the other.” And that after the resurrection, the disciples could finally see that Jesus’s “human awareness was simply not constituted by the same ‘other’ as their own.” Maybe my belief that I have a self, and my defense of it in various ways, is in itself an exclusion of the “other.” Maybe “I” can’t survive.

Gee, I’m feeling tired again!

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