Dream City Home

Welcome to day 31 of 31 Days of Heterotopias: Motels and Hotels, a month of posts about how motels, hotels, and inns function as heterotopias and liminal spaces in society.  Each post will look at these ideas from its own vantage point, which may not obviously connect with the others, and which may mention motels and hotels only peripherally or may focus on them without referencing heterotopia or liminality. I won’t attempt to tie the posts together. They are all listed here.
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To be an outlaw you must first have a base in law to reject and get out of, I never had such a base. I never had a place I could call home that meant any more than a key to a house, apartment or hotel room. … Am I alien? Alien from what exactly? Perhaps my home is my dream city, more real than my waking life precisely because it has no relation to waking life…  — William S. Burroughs

Dream city as home. This idea works for me. My dreamspace, which feels like a place where I live even more vividly, more sensually, than usual, is often architectural in form and setting, with past houses (which obviously do have a relationship to waking life) — especially this one …

waterborohouseinsnow6feb2001
Maine house, Feb. 2001
waterborokitchen
partial kitchen, Maine house, 1994
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Thanksgiving in Maine house, 1995
fireplaceandlivingroomwaterboroME
fireplace and living space, Maine house, 1994
stairsandwarmingovenWaterboroMaine
stairs and warming oven, Maine house, 1994
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Christmas 1996 (with Cactus) in Maine house

… and apartments, hotels, restaurants, frequently other people’s houses, auditoriums, hospitals, bridges, schools, bathrooms, meeting rooms, buildings and built spaces that I don’t think I have ever been in except in dreams (and there they are typically recurring settings) — all common in my dreams. Of course, dreams have to be set somewhere, like plays, but what interests me is the transformation of knowledge and memory of the building, and the exploration of it in the dream, and how often dreams are set in places I don’t recognise except perhaps from previous dreams. (This dream, e.g., about my dad a year or so after he died, takes place in several buildings I’ve never been in in waking life.)

My “dream city” feels like a multiplicity of places — some real, some not real as far as I know (or at least not remembered by me in real life) — that are significant for various reasons: because of my emotional and aesthetic memories of a real place; because of the feeling evoked by its architecture or layout; because of some association with it through other people’s stories (what my imagination conjures — from novels, from what friends have described, from song lyrics or lines of poetry, from what I’ve heard on the radio — or what my eyes have actually glimpsed, momentarily, in paintings, on TV or in movies, riding past, etc.); or who knows what reason.

DeliveranceChurchinYemasseeSC29Dec2013
Yemassee SC Dec. 2013
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Rocky Mount MC Dec. 2013
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somewhere in Rhode Island, Feb. 2008
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somewhere in Connecticut, Feb. 2008

Why do buildings and other places resonate and spark imagination? Why do they “make us” feel a certain way, evoke moods and sensations (e.g., “haunted houses”)? Is it because they contain us, hold us, bring us together or split us apart, both exclude and include us? Do they somehow form an external correspondence to our interior spaces?

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More to Burroughs’ point, my sense of homelessness, placelessness, alienates me from real life sometimes. My family moved often — due to my dad’s corporate life promotions and transfers — so when asked, e.g. as a security question on a financial site, “what is your hometown?,” I have no idea. I have no hometown, and my home is pretty much where I am at the moment, so in one sense I feel “at home” almost anywhere. But coming home after being away feels jarring — home is familiar, a place I know well and am comfortable, but re-entry to normal life after being away feels oppressive, constrictive; I feel restless, like I’ve lost something. I think it’s partly that on the road (hotels, motels, trains), there is much less stuff and therefore less emotional tiredness brought on by the emotional and physical demands of stuff.  But I think it’s more than that, perhaps something to do with the way, as I’ve mentioned previously, that travel disrupts, questions, and subverts conventional thought and behaviour. Coming home, I feel the demands (that word again) reinstated, the sense of what I am expected to be and do limited by the circumference of “home.”

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Unlike Burroughs’ experience (“I never had such a base. I never had a place I could call home that meant any more than a key to a house, apartment or hotel room”), I have in my life almost always had a base, a room, apartment, or house to come home to day after day — and yet these places have always felt transitional to me. (I’ve written about this before, 5 years ago, in Oct. 2012). I can’t help but notice that all our lives and all our places are transitional, ephemeral, not made to last. In the short run, someone will dig up my garden or terrace it, a storm or fire may take out trees and destroy homes and towns, objects and materials constantly wear out, living things die (some exceedingly quickly, others at a slower rate) and everyone I know, including me, including friends’ children and their children, including all the animals now alive on earth, will die soon. In the long run, all bodies, all buildings and things, all governments, all human constructions will disappear and wild nature will take over, as it is wont to do now when given half a chance.

seaweedgrowingonseawallrockSeasideInn29Dec2014
seaweed growing on rock, Kennebunk ME, Dec. 2014
ferngrowingoutofbrickColonialParkCemeterySavannah18Dec2015
fern growing out of rock, brick, in Colonial Park Cemetery, Savannah, GA, Dec. 2015
treesgrowingontopofledgerockNRT19April2015
trees growing out of rock ledge, Northern Rail Trail, NH, April 2015
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watermelon plant growing on beach, Jekyll Island, GA, Sept. 2013

And in the longer run, land, sea, and all mortal beings, all species of flora and fauna, will disappear.

Which is why perhaps a heterotopia appeals to me so deeply … the placeless place, neither here nor there: a ship between shores on which an ad hoc society exists only as long as a cruise or passage; a tourist town, which shutters up and closes down after a few months; a public garden, where antiquity meets modernity (and as Louis Marin says, “the unsurpassable contradiction, where art and nature, artifice and truth, imagination and the real, representation and being, mimesis and the origin, play hide-and seek”); a museum (hard on the back and wearying though they are), where the past is reinterpreted by the present (“Foucault’s museum is not a funereal storehouse of objects from different times, but an experience of the gap between things and the conceptual and cultural orders in which they are interpreted”- from Beth Lord); a cemetery, where past and present collide and almost all of us have a relationship with it. A place, in other words, where here-there-everywhere and now-then come together in some ambiguous, disturbing, provocative way. A place that deviates from conventional norms, a constant reminder that ‘normal’ is always and everywhere just a temporary construct. These heterotopic places are where I feel I belong, if one can be said to belong to such a place, because they match my sense of what’s real.

momsspotinEvergreenCemetery13Dec2014
my mom, Evergreen Cemetery, Roanoke, VA, 13 Dec. 2014
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Dad’s ashes, scattered in Mt. Rogers National Recreational Area, Virginia, June 2013

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We each exist in a place now, places that seem real, solid, geographically tangible. At the same time, or in another time that runs alongside the chronology we obey, we are placeless, standing at a threshold, that liminal space, waiting, one foot here and one foot there, waiting, inhabiting multiple realities, multiple places and times in one moment, in one space. That’s how it feels to me, and I guess it’s why hotels, motels, lodging, and the movement of travelling resonate for me, reminders of the non-linear world beyond and inside and overlapping this other world we are inexplicably placed in. They remind me that we’re here for the moment, we’re in this spot in each moment as we move toward another spot in each moment, places we’ve never been, or have visited in dreams and in memory.

We live out of suitcases, uncertain in the middle of the night how to find the bathroom and the lights; we wake up disoriented, aware of strangers coughing, flushing, moving about next door; we check ourselves in the mirror before opening the door and stepping through.

MollysinkmirrorConservatoryLongwoodGardens13Oct2017

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Thanks for traveling with me on this part of my journey.

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The Nature of Dreams, or, Dreams about Nature

My dreams lately have been beyond vivid (which is their usual style). They have been vivid, persistent, disturbing (unusual for me), and nature-focused.

Last week, right after my mother died (I think … it’s possible it was right before) I dreamed I had mushrooms growing out of my body. I noticed raised patches on my legs first, like small skin lesions, then on my torso, and as I discovered them, they grew. Then I noticed a very large one, without the stem, above my right breast. They were pretty at first but also disturbing, especially the speed with which they spread. I couldn’t understand how it happened so fast, and I was wondering how to remove them without damaging my skin.

underside of Amanita flavoconia mushroom (Kezar Lake, Aug 2014)
underside of Amanita flavoconia mushroom (Kezar Lake, Aug 2014)

Of course, I googled it. Dreaming of fungi or mushrooms growing from the body has many meanings, surprisingly, since it seems like such a specific symbol:

  • “When there is a fungus on the skin or protruding from it, there is emotional distress or physical distress, or your body is literally trying to fight off an infection.”
  • “To see fungus in your dream represents negative emotions that are expanding and growing in your unconscious. You need to find a productive way to express them before it grows out of control.”
  • “Mushroom – soon you will do something that will surprise everyone around.”
  • “Represent a short-term positive eroticism.”
  • “To see mushrooms in your dreams, denotes unhealthy desires, and unwise haste in amassing wealth, as it may vanish in law suits and vain pleasures.”
  • “See mushrooms in a dream – to long life and good fortune.”
  • “Mushrooms can grow anywhere, on anything, in any condition and in any climate. If the mushrooms in your dream appeared by surprise, or were given as a gift, this may indicate some exciting changes in your near future. If your psyche is alerting you to some changes, you might want to keep in mind that change also requires us to be versatile. If you are uprooted you can easily plant yourself somewhere else. Mushrooms can also represent our soul in this way and may mean that someone is ready to expose their soul to you or adversely you may be ready to share that part of yourself with someone else. In the way that that mushroom represents a soul, it also represents longevity and rebirth.”

Additionally, we talk quite a bit about fungus in my permaculture group, as mycorrhizal fungi networks are key to soil and plant health in a complicated, complex way that amounts to: fungi is necessary for most plant growth.

maybe Hypholoma capnoides (conifer tuft) fungi in moss (Kezar Lake, Oct 2014)
maybe Hypholoma capnoides (conifer tuft) fungi in moss (Kezar Lake, Oct 2014)

And this year, I have been obsessively focused on fungi every time I’m outside, taking hundreds of photos of them. Though I don’t eat them, I am enchanted by their beauty and variety.

So, who knows?

This morning, I awoke from an involved dream in which I was teaching my first adult ed class on insects. Unfortunately, I knew very little about insects (even less than in waking life) and apparently had not researched the topic or made a class syllabus. Some of the class members knew much more, including a man who raised roses and spent a large part of the class — which was a field trip, outdoors, to find insects — talking about aphids and how to control them. Some in the class grew yellow or pink roses, while others didn’t grow roses; all were obviously disappointed that I didn’t lead the class better. One man left within 15 mins of our field trip beginning. I was carrying an insect reference book and trying to keep up with what others were saying and what I was supposed to be teaching. I thought we might check under rocks and logs for some insects, but then I doubted I could identify them or say much about them beyond an ID.

greenaphidsonaweed2Oct2013I’m not even sure what to google for this dream. It was about teaching, badly, or generally being prepared and not knowing what one is expected to know, but the insect and aphid aspects also seems important to me. I do spend a lot of time in waking life trying to get various insects identified from photos (via books and online expert sources),  though less at this time of year than in spring and summer. I don’t grow roses but have consistently had small yellow aphids on asclepias (milkweed) plants.

“Bugs” obviously connote feeling bugged, annoyed, but this dream didn’t feature a bug per se … more the absence of bugs. Instead, we merely talked about them, and particularly about aphids  — “If you dream a lot of aphids, in the near future you will meet on your way a dishonest person, which at first will seem honest and trustworthy” and “Aphid teaches the importance of nourishment; spiritual, emotional and physical. Are your basic needs being met? Is it time to jumpstart your metabolism?” for two interpretations. And I think at one point I told those who were there to hear about butterflies that we would talk about them but that other insects (and I was unsure in the dream, but not in waking life, if a butterfly was even an insect, which shows how little I knew) would also be discussed.

Connecting the two dreams, perhaps, I found this interpretation of “aphid,” which seems like it could apply equally well to fungi, which uses waste products to facilitate growth and which is resourceful in an ever-changing environment:

“Part of Aphid’s medicine is about self-empowerment. You have all that is needed within and it’s time to seek and find. She demonstrates resourcefulness, riding the winds of change and making the absolute best of the situation. Use what is considered a “waste product” to your sweetest advantage.”

Not sure where that leaves me, though. Except instead of visions of sugarplums dancing in my head, there are fungi and aphids up there. Ho ho ho.

Dreams, Memory, Dementia

kitchen in house in 1995

I’ve been wondering lately if there is some correlation between vivid dreaming and memory loss or dementia.

My mother has Alzheimer’s, and she’s at the stage now where she imagines (?) that she is making art projects with her mother (dead since 1965), that she is in the thick of raising my sisters and me, that her father (dead for more than 20 years) is a regular part of her life. Her life these days is peopled with historical figures and constructed from historical events, as if some kind of solid wall between her past and her present has dissolved and allowed the two to co-mingle.

What is the nature of that wall, I wonder? How solid is it, really? Is “dementia” another word for “nirvana,” for living in the moment without delusion, if only we weren’t so tied to the convention of time? (Except that in the state of nirvana, desire and aversion are said to be extinguished, and that’s not so for my mother. Yet.)

Sometimes when I wake up from dreaming, I feel quite sure that the past is present, that I have been interacting with people, places, and events from 10 or 20 or 30 or more years ago. And sometimes, that feeling doesn’t disappear after a few seconds but follows me throughout the day. It feels almost real, that I was just having a conversation with my ex-husband, that I was just wandering through a house I last lived in in 2002, that I was hugging my dad or calling out in a panic for a bulldog who is lost (and who died in 2003).

It seems that there is a fine line separating me from my mom:  I feel a bit disoriented and bewildered when I wake up feeling that the past is clashing with the present, because it both feels real and yet external cues tell me it can’t be real; whereas my mother accepts this intersection or collision as fully real, and external cues don’t persuade her otherwise.

(Photo: 1995; kitchen in a house I dream about frequently)

Photo #6

old house front porch
front porch of former house

Last night, I dreamed about our former house for the first time since we moved from it almost 2-1/2 years ago. I frequently dream about the house we lived in for 8 years before that one, an amazing board-and-batten post-and-beam on 10 acres in the country, with lots of built-ins and a lovely wood smell that I always noticed when we came home from being away for a while.

But I didn’t really like this Victorian that we lived in for 7 years. I like crisp, clean architectural lines, and open spaces, and this house wasn’t like that. It had redeeming qualities, though: its spacious renovated bathrooms, a bounteous well-planted garden with mature trees, the wide front porch, front and back staircases, a sumptuous dining room, and a very large deck.

But the best thing about this house, for me, was the town it’s in. And that’s really what my dream was about. It took place now, and we were buying this house back from the people who bought it from us. But I don’t recall being inside the house in the dream, just in the driveway and on the front porch, where I could interact with friends, neighbours and acquaintances who were walking or driving by. I felt happy to be back, to walk those same sidewalks, hang out at the local coffee shop, and be surrounded by friends and people who know me, something I don’t experience much in our new town.

The night before this, I dreamed about North Korea and I woke up in the middle of the night puzzling over why or how the North Korean people don’t know what’s going on in the rest of the world. How can they really believe the lie that other leaders fear and admire their leader and envy the fortunes of North Korea? I know the propaganda is strong and the boundaries almost impermeable, but there much be some people who get in or out, physically or virtually, maybe through ham radios or rigged-up TVs … It kept me awake for a while, thinking about this. About starvation and prison camps, and the power of propaganda.  Someone thinks that they know the truth about the world when they know so very little. And maybe that’s my situation, too. Not necessarily because the government is lying (though no doubt it is, at times) but because, like any North Korean (I would imagine), I’m conditioned and biased and I believe most easily that which I want to believe.  It takes effort to believe something else, even when confronted with evidence.

I think dreaming about revisiting houses must be a metaphor for something. Maybe the house represents a remembered self, from one time and place; and in dreams, we re-examine life through those successive selves, with the eyes of today. It feels like a gift, to observe the former self without much attachment, and at the same time to re-feel and re-member the smell of that wood, the texture of that countertop, the way I felt in that house … I don’t know, though, whether these dreams reinforce my biases and my life narrative, or whether they present evidence  that my conscious mind has forgotten or ignored, which might challenge my biases and give me new eyes.

Animal Dreams

So many dreams last night/this morning, including one in which my sister’s best friend from high school commits suicide, but what I most remember are the three corgis, one mini long-haired dachshund, yellow lab, large muscled Rottweiler, and German shepherd mix in that dream, plus the large brown bear on a glacier that we could walk to through a meadow path.

Then I had two dreams where I was making out with a guy named Randy (hah!) but he actually looked just like Doug from the HGTV channel. I was kissing his neck and so on in front of some other people, in an aimless yet passionate manner, and idly noticing that he was doing something else; when I asked what he was doing, he said it was “My Little Farm” — and he showed me a sort of Fisher Price kids’ toy —  and we cracked up, laughing happily and with abandon  for several minutes, and I thought, how good it is that we can enjoy a laugh like this.

When I woke up, I missed the glacier and the bear.

Dreams of Dad: 2

dad on phone feb 2007I think Dad has had bit parts in other dreams lately but last night he had another major role.

I don’t have the chronology down but it’s something like this:

I’m outside at a hotel or inn of some sort, on a street in front of it. Both my sisters are there too. One of them has either her shirt or her bra and all her many necklaces on backwards, making the shirt look lumpy. She takes the shirt off and re-dons it the other way. I’m surprised to see that she wears a C-cup  bra because she doesn’t look that big. Both sisters decide to take a bike ride before dinner and they head off.

I walk over to the inn and go inside. I am returning a bunch of dvds to a shelf upstairs but it occurs to me that I’m not supposed to refile them but let the staff do it so I leave most of them there.

I hear voices from a nearby room and one sounds, clear as a bell, like my dad’s. I think: He doesn’t have any brothers, or any other male relatives who could be here, so it must be him, even though he’s dead. I can hear his voice completely plainly, sounding just like him. I go into the room where I hear the voices and sure enough, he’s there, sitting in a rocker or some chair along with some other men in other chairs, chatting. He’s his usual animated self, not sick at all, exuberant with vitality and humour. I’m glad and only slightly surprised to see and hear him.

(I don’t think we talked or interacted here, but I think my sisters and I were there at the inn with him and were all going to have dinner together soon).

My friend Renee comes in wearing a white tunic sort of sweater, which she comments on, something about how it’s hard to find tops that fit right.

—–

I’ve lost bits of the dream but I think I remember all the Dad portion of it.  As in the last dream I recorded here, there’s a dinner that’s about to happen and Dad is going to partake. And in this dream, tops or shirts, and how they fit,  seem to be a motif …  What does that signify, if anything?

Dreams of Dad: 1

at Summit of Ben Lomond Since my father died in early February,  I have been dreaming about him most nights. I have lots of other dreams, too, but these about him are new.

I thought I might start recording them, particularly what he says or does in these dreams. I have no idea what they ‘mean’ — I just know that in most of the dreams, as in life, I am smiling and feel amused by him. They don’t trouble me; I welcome them and him.

Last night:

Most of my dreams were about losing my dog in various way — she manages to get through a small opening in a fence just as I almost reach her, she runs into a neighbour’s driveway or house and they give her back to me on her leash but seem unsure that I will keep her and not get rid of her, and so on. These are pretty much par for the dream course — common dreams of mine.

The dream about dad:

I’m in a sort of dorm room in China with two young women, one Chinese and one Japanese. The Japanese woman is new here and is relieved because she thought China would be so much worse than it’s turned out to be — she had been warned that it was a dark and frightening forest, but she finds it’s actually much like the country she left.

Dad enters the room, sick and dying, but walking and wearing an outfit he commonly wore when well and not when sick (a plaid rust-coloured shirt and beige Docker-type pants). I am happy he’s there and I start to introduce him to the women but I can’t remember how to pronounce their names. They introduce themselves to each other.

I ask Dad to interpret what the Japanese woman is saying but soon after she starts talking, Dad says, sadly, that he is afraid he is interfering with what she has to say.

At some point, one of the women lays down on a sofa in the room and Dad tucks her in, and then he leaves, saying that he doesn’t want to be late for dinner, which they are serving in the cafeteria.

The two main elements I notice are communication, or miscommunication — my inability to pronounce names and Dad’s perceived interference with someone else’s verbal articulation, and nourishment or nurturing  — Dad’s desire for dinner, his tucking in of the woman, the hospitality of welcoming and introductions among people. Perhaps the dorm room has something to do with education, something to learn?

Novel Excerpts: Back When We Were Grownups

Anne Tyler’s Back When We Were Grownups (2001) is exquisite.

“Her dream was the kind that lingered, coloring the whole morning. Bits of it rose like dust from her pillows when she plumped them — a sense of travel, a sense of longing. When she heard the harmonica sound of a train whistle from Penn Station, she felt a little pinch of loneliness deep in her chest.”

“She’d been fielding calls like this from the early days of her marriage, because the Davitches were notoriously mistrustful of the telephone. … Whenever the phone rang, they spent an inordinate amount of time debating: ‘Who can it be?’ ‘It’s not for me.’ ‘Well, I’m not expecting anyone.’ ‘You get it.’ ‘No, it’s your turn.’ Often, the caller hung up before they got around to answering. They dreaded placing calls, as well, and would put them off for days. Monday, Phone liquor store, the kitchen calendar read; Tuesday,  Phone liquor store; Wednesday, Phone liquor store.”

“What kept her mother going, these days? Her life seemed so stagnant: the tea-and-toast breakfast, the few dishes washed and dried afterward, the bedclothes pulled up, the carpet sweeper rolled across an already immaculate carpet …

“Well, what kept anyone going? Who was Rebecca to talk?”

“It had occurred to her, often, that the way to win your family’s worshipful devotion was to abandon them. … Distance was the key, here: the distant, alluring mystery woman whose edges had not been worn dull by the constant minor abrasions of daily contact.”

“She saw him prepare to say no again, but she pressed on. ‘Monopoly? Checkers? Clue? …’

“Peter said, ‘I don’t care.'” …

“Oh, Lord, she thought, life was so wearing. Still, she forced herself to persist. ‘Scrabble? Parcheesi?’ she asked ….”

“‘I think botched cakes are a Davitch tradition. You should have seen my wedding cake! Mother Davitch didn’t bake it long enough and it was all soupy in the middle. The bride figurine on top fell into this sort of sinkhole, waist deep.'”

Making Friends with Death

Judith Lief
Judith Lief

I spent a couple of hours Friday night, all day on Saturday and most of the day on Sunday at a weekend programme called “Making Friends with Death” at a local Buddhist meditation center, led by acharya Judith Lief. (Acharya means senior teacher in Sanskrit.) Lief’s teacher is Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche.
We had three or so meditation sessions per day on Saturday and Sunday.

Friday evening was mostly spent watching and talking about a film titled Pioneers of Hospice: Changing the Face of Dying, about the inception of hospice in the UK, Canada, and the U.S., focusing on four movers & shakers: Cecily Saunders, Florence Wald, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, and Balfour Mount.

On Saturday and Sunday, we meditated on our breath for 20-30 mins on arriving each day. On Saturday, we participated in a guided meditation on death, and later in a taking-and-giving kindness meditation (called tong-len) with a partner; on Sunday, we did several simple silent meditations. [Pema Chödrön on tong-len; Unitarian perspective on tong-len.]

These periods of silence were balanced with periods when Judith Lief taught, as we sat in a circle or facing her, and with several periods of discussion in a large group, and, for 45 minutes on Sunday, in a small group of about 8 people each. We also took bathroom/stretching breaks, tea breaks, and lunch breaks.

First, after meditating, Judith introduced us to the topic of death/Death. Then we spent about an hour, maybe more, introducing ourselves (there were perhaps 35 of us) and saying something about why we were there. I was there to explore more deeply the death of self, of ego, of identity — that kind of dissolution — but I forgot to say that and said something else instead, about wanting to explore everyday death, loss, transition, impermanence, and living fully with every day. I loved hearing why others were there and what they hoped to do with the weekend.

For the rest of the weekend we were led to discuss a few key topics, most of which are more broadly developed in Judith’s book, Making Friends with Death: A Buddhist Guide to Encountering Mortality, which focuses on “seeing the immediacy of death as an aspect of everyday life” and accepting “the ongoing reality of impermanence and transition.”

Specifically, we talked first about death: our experience with death in general; about what is it exactly that we fear we will lose when we die (what is the nature of the loss, what is the nature of the fear); about how it may be difficult to believe that we really will die, even though we know others do; about the unpredictability of death; about the moment of death.

Then we talked about compassion and its components (awareness or knowledge or intelligence, kindness or friendliness, and openness), and how although we and others might have good intentions to be compassionate, good intentions are not enoughthere is skill required to effectively be compassionate, there are pitfalls in intending compassion, it is a tricky thing. We discussed in the group many of the pitfalls Judith names in her book (without referencing the book), including:

prepackaged or simplistic compassion (one-size-fits-all),

manipulative compassion which expects appreciation or some certain response,

viewing compassion as a key part of our identity or credentials (in the book, she says this can make us less like white knights and more like vampires),

guilt-based compassion,

and heavy-handed compassion.

Perhaps not incidentally, this teaching came during the heart of the weekend, on Saturday afternoon and continuing on Sunday morning.

Next, we talked about slogans relevant to dying and to caring for the dying. They balance each other in terms of doing and being, effort and letting go, expansiveness and focus. The slogans, which we discussed in the small group break-out session, are:

  • Start with Knowledge: Four kinds: knowledge of externals, such as symptoms, institutions, legalities, etc; knowledge of self, limitations, our own rackets and justifications; attentiveness, tuning in to the atmosphere, the changing situation, subtle vibrations through our “antennae”; and intuitive knowledge, accessed through dreams and visions.
  • Give and Receive: This generated the most discussion in our group and in others’. This slogan focuses on generosity, on graciously sharing what we have and graciously accepting what is shared with us. Specifically, those cared for often feel they are in a one-down situation, with perhaps nothing of value to give, while caretakers can feel they are in a one-up position, powerfully providing what is needed. This slogan acknowledges the need to be aware of this imbalance and to be open to generosity in all ways, in receiving and in giving. The idea is to give and receive in ways that are clean, i.e., without strings attached, and not to manipulate, to belittle, or to deplete another. True generosity enriches both the giver and receiver.
  • Pay Attention to Details: There is power in small gestures, like giving ice, removing or giving a blanket, opening or closing a window … not standing on someone’s oxygen hose …
  • Slow Down: This is about pacing oneself to the person who is dying, and being patient in the moment. Stopping spinning like a dervish on a mission, stopping frenetic action, perhaps even releasing a need to be efficient; and focusing with compassion, time, and awareness on the situation at hand and on the other. This might take the form of speaking more slowly so that someone who is ill can follow the conversation, of allowing silence between thoughts, of waiting for a full response before asking the next question. Like the others, quite useful in non-dying situations, too (if there can be said to be any)!
  • Don’t Give Up: This is not “don’t give up on life, keep fighting to be cured.” This slogan is about developing effort that is reliable and steady, able to respond effectively. We might also think about this slogan as asking us not to give up on the patient, whether because she seems to be in denial about her illness or death, and we wish she would “face” it, or because he is unconscious or in a coma. Each person, while alive, is 100% alive and is worthy of respect as a human being.
  • Be Present: Be present in body with the other. Be embodied. When we share our essence, our presence, with another, we give a valuable gift, and this way of being may evoke the quality of presence in others, too. To do this well requires a connection with our own bodies, an awareness that silence is powerful, and the courage not to defect in place or to disappear in some essential way from the interaction.

Finally, we talked about the Buddhist idea of death, what happens immediately after biological death, and the importance and potency of all liminal places, of those thresholds between one space and another, including between death and life.

At some point I will probably offer some specific reflections on the weekend. In general, I found it worthwhile, even powerful in places, and the conversation and teaching always engaging, the other participants wise, courageous, open and interesting. The Buddhism, as was noted near the end of the session, was soft-pedaled, for which I was appreciative; there was almost nothing said that I felt wasn’t easily applicable to my more Jesus-focused walk.

I can recall only one statement that evoked in me a “no” and it was said in passing, early on, so I may easily have misunderstood it. (And even now, I think it is just something I would like to have talked about more in the group.) It was something about noticing how we go to sleep each night, a sort of losing of ourselves, then wake up and there we are again. That way of saying it felt untrue to my experience, which is that I am more awake at night than during most days. I don’t feel that some part of me — or perhaps, that an essential part of me — is gone when I sleep … it feels prominent then, in the multitude of vivid dreams I have every night. I would like to explore this further.

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!