The best thing about dreams is that fleeting moment, when you are between asleep and awake, when you don’t know the difference between reality and fantasy, when for just that one moment you feel with your entire soul that the dream is reality, and it really happened.
–James Arthur Baldwin
Looking back at when my journey started, I now see that the coincidences in the here and now piled up, one on top of the other, like my dreams, mosaics of images and sensations one overlaying the other.
The shock wave of that first awakening out of a dreamless sleep — that electric jolt that ripped me from sleep into the waking world, prompted me to know more. I wanted to explain the unexplainable. Why was I experiencing these seizures that had no effect whatsoever on my health? Doctors could find nothing wrong. No damage. They passed them off as severe hypnic jerks, just transitional disturbances. I was willing to accept this, having done extensive research on my own.
“So there is a pleasing symmetry between the two kinds of movements we make when asleep. Rapid eye movements (REM) are the traces of dreams that can be seen in the waking world. Hypnic jerks seem to be the traces of waking life that intrude on the dream world.” —Tom Stafford, BBC Future
However, I’ve never liked taking the easy way out. Difficulty was always my companion, and I just had to whittle away at this mystery. There was something strange going on. After these episodes, as I lingered in hypnopompia, I’d sense I had dreamed. Images were on the tip of my mind. Just like the lightning flash that would wake me up, I started to get flashes of memories of where I had traveled while I slept.
What we don’t remember may be as telling as what we do. What we can’t understand as important as what we do. Mapping perceptible reality as crucial as pushing past existing boundaries to explore and move beyond current limitations. Alone time as essential as being together with other people.
The interplay between the unknown and known, exploration and discovery, disconnect and interconnectedness are some key characteristics of life and also of survival.
Our passions drive us to know more, to experience more, to do things our own way. We all can relate to being a little bit of crazy, to breaking the rules at some point in our lives. However, there is a tether that grounds the individual, separate “I.” That which enhances what we each do and amplifies experience. Our connection with others.
In the past, I had an active dream life. I had all types of dreams. Adventure travel, fleeing danger, fantasy, labyrinthine, reliving the past -both pleasurable and distressing, working through current problems, lucid and even precognitive. Back then, I thought dreaming was a solo act. I loved being able to experience the past, present and future in my dreams. To travel to all the places I’d never been but always wanted to. However, I never considered sharing dreams was possible.
The beat poet Jack Kerouac in his Book of Dreams says
“Dreaming ties all mankind together.”
Although not a common activity in Western society, indigenous tribes around the world start their day by sharing the experiences they had in their dreams. And just as discussing dreams is a social activity, these same tribes believe dreaming itself is a social activity, a way to tap into a shared realm that breaks through the barriers of time and space. Dreaming can be a form of guidance not just for the individual, but also for the community.
And with the dreams I remembered, I thought back to the characters that had appeared and I wondered: Did that person also dream about me? Or, by going to that shared dream space, did I tune into their dream or vice-versa?
That thought led me to something I had read by Carl Gustav Jung:
“we might think of [the unconscious] as a collective human being combining the characteristics of both sexes, transcending youth and age, birth and death..it would be a dreamer of age-old dreams and, owing to its immeasurable experience, an incomparable prognosticator. It would have lived countless times over again the life of the individual, the family, the tribe, and the nation.”
All these circuitous thoughts tied to the snippets of memories I had after being jolted out of what I thought had been dreamless sleep. The coincidences that were happening in real time.
Why was the most important thing I remembered about my dreams explosive like a lightning bolt? Why did I experience what has been termed exploding head syndrome? What travels faster than the speed of light?
In the stillness of one awakening, my mind still wandering half in dream, half in reality, in the dark stasis of my closed eyelids, I saw images, I heard voices, I sensed a presence.