This is part 8 of a series. Here are Part 1 & Part 2 &Part 3 & Part 4 & Part 5 & Part 6 & Part 7
A story within a story. A dream within a dream.
I had a dream the other night – one of those odd anxiety dreams that show up occasionally. For some reason, my psyche likes to throw up a variant on the not having done your homework subtype. Specifically, I had turned up to my history lesson for the first time in an age – in the dream I’d been skipping it for most of the year, you see. My teacher was as snarky and sarcastic as he ever was in the waking world, taking pains to note that I’d really screwed up and would never get into University now.
In the dream, I remember shrugging. Sort of a “So be it” crossed with “Meh.”
“What are you going to do, now?” he asked me, moustache waggling dangerously.
“Now..?” I looked straight at him. “Now I’m going to quit.”
The shock reverberating around the classroom was almost physical, as if I had slapped every single dream-person around the face with a wet fish.
And I had done it really hard.
That was the point at which everything stuttered and froze. A person might suspect that such a thing could have bad consequences – and yet the whole experience was like one of those inevitable train-wrecks that we’ve all seen. The kind you can’t look away from, even though, inside, something wants to be as far away as possible from there, pretty damn quick.
Maybe that’s happened to you in dreams before – the inability to look away? Or maybe some other form of dream logic has gripped you tight, and no matter how much you try, you just can’t wake up, until the dream has run its course. Then again, maybe you’re an expert in the art of lucid dreaming, or just plain lucky.
Nevertheless, in that frozen moment of dream logic, the paralysis was total, and yet…
Yet I began to notice something, and as we’ve said in the previous posts, sometimes you don’t know what it is that you’re noticing. Sometimes you don’t know, what you know, until that moment when you’re able to notice that it’s already begun. It’s even more unknowably noticeable in dreams; that vague, murky somethingness.
That inchoate sense, that odd feeling that you can’t quite identify, can’t quite describe. You just know that there is something there, right?
Something close and near, even though you don’t quite know what it is. Maybe it’s tension in your chest, the knotting of your gut, that sense of pressure in your head – or maybe it’s one of myriad sensations that bring you an indefinable knowledge. We’ve all had it – something like it, haven’t we?
And when you have that, what happens then?
When you’re fixed in place, faced with that rising sensation, something happens. If you’re lucky, sometimes in dreams, then that’s when you’ll wake up. More often than not though, that murky sensation becomes impossible to ignore, until there’s no escaping the knowledge. A person can suddenly become aware of something that they didn’t know before – and it’s that change in perspective and perception which really ramps things up – for good, or ill.
In the case of that particular dream, the sensation was of everything holding its breath. As the moment stretched, it brought with it the realisation that I had apparently gone off script somehow. Whatever part of my brain was running my sense of self had, in some way diverged from the rest that was spontaneously creating my classroom, my snarky history teacher and shocked classmates.
I hadn’t taken control of the dream – hadn’t stretched out my hand and shaped it to my will. I was still paralysed in that moment – my sense of my self locked in a holding pattern, and yet it was one of those odd teaching moments that will happen when you least expect them to.
Imagine for a second that my dream was in fact a computer simulation, and that some part of me had realised the import of my shrug. Because even though I was apparently supposed to be having an anxiety dream about screwing up, long years after graduating University and doing postgraduate work, I didn’t care.
The usual reactions and responses to such a situation are well established – that’s why most, if not all of you, will recognise what I mean when I write about an anxiety dream – we’ve all had them at some point, after all.
But suddenly, the hardware and software was being forced to generate a new environment, to change the parameters.
And what happened?
The whole thing crashed, because it couldn’t cope. It couldn’t cope with the lack of the usual responses
Think about that for second – no move was made to escape, and it still crashed the system. What could that mean?
If control is impossible, what then? Nothing is static after all, and even the smallest change can engender massive effects. That’s the essence of what we do – we change worlds with words and deeds. Like I said, think about that.
When last we left our erstwhile seeker of knowledge in the tale told by the storyteller, they had been digging for the secret of all things beneath the roots of a certain tree and the earth had collapsed on them. Trapped underground and slowly running out of air, they had encountered an earth spirit:
“..So the seeker explained that they were trapped and waiting for death, and that there was no escape. The spirit looked on open-mouthed, so much so that his pipe fell from his mouth!
Why should one wish to escape the earth? He shook his head in stupefied wonderment. Rock and stone, earth and soil was all one could ever need, surely?
Would that I could be as you, lamented the seeker, but alas, I am not.
The spirit’s perplexity increased. For after all, he noted, he and his kind had arisen from the earth and nothing but! It surrounded them, and permeated them – were all mortals this silly?
With a hand, so the spirit gestured, and the earth gave a groan. What little room there was about the seeker collapsed inward, sealing them in completely!
The crushing weight was all about them – the air slowly being squeezed from their lungs…
Until, suddenly, they found themselves moving amidst the blue light, swimming through the earth – and to their surprise, the dwarf had grown to normal size!
Smiling, so he reached into his pocket and handed the seeker a pipe of their own – and with a shock, the seeker realised that their skin was as dark as the spirit’s!
For its part, the spirit seemed pleased – now, it explained, the seeker had assumed the necessary shape. This, it explained, was only natural as such things went, because none could ever return to what was before. The earth had no time for anything that was not itself, and it was far, far older and more patient than any mere mortal. Its shifts were aeon’s long, the thunder of the continents themselves.
The seeker protested that they were mortal, and the spirit snorted!
This was not so, could not be so, it insisted. No mortal could ever dwell here. The pressures alone would end them, grind them to pulp. No, the only way to live was as himself. Their conversation was proof of this, as the dwarf led the seeker deeper still into the earth, until at last they entered a large hollow chamber in the centre of which, something hung gleaming, obsidian black and cold.
It presided over a plethora of machinery and furnaces, it shone over the busy backs of labouring spirits as they crafted their art. About it, all things seemed to turn – like planets around some interior sun.
The spirit pointed. There, he explained, lay the secret which the seeker had sought! See there – the way the tip of a root quests downward to bathe in that luminescence?
The seeker looked on, amazed beyond all reckoning. For that inner sun seemed equal in size to the burning orb which hung in the vault of the heavens, and our seeker had learnt much of astronomy in their time.
How was this even possible, they wondered aloud? How was it that something so vast dwelt here, all unknown, at the centre of the earth?
Not a little grandly so the spirit informed them that such things had always existed, but were by their very nature occluded from mortal eyes, untouchable by apish, grasping hands. Were ever the earth to be broken open by a mighty hammer, and its innards laid open to the sky, that secret heart would never be found.”
And back in the inn, here the storyteller leaned forward and tapped his very own seeker on the forehead.
“Do you think you have the guts to dig that far, my friend? To give up what you are, for what you will inevitably become?”
Now, dear reader, do you not remember that the story of the tree and the seeker is a story within a story? A tale told to a seeker in an inn, newly descended from the mountain?
A story within a story. A dream within a dream.
We shall soon hear the seeker’s reply to the story, yes indeed. And when we do, then you perhaps you will ask yourself what it is about yourself that can be illuminated by such a tale.
But we won’t be doing that quite yet, at least not until I close the loop and set us on the next level of the spiral. Because you’ve probably noticed that, contrary to first impressions, the real work of this comes not from the how-to. Instead, it comes from the stories themselves. And you may be wondering when exactly you’ll understand what it is that I am uncovering for you now.
So, consider this – what if stories were your environment?
What if you were shaped by their subtle pressures, and all that that entails?
Because remember, everything you perceive is that, is it not? Are you not already changing in ways that you will only become aware of, after those changes have occurred, even as they are happening.
And they are happening, right now. Right as you read this, minuscule changes are happening that you are as yet unaware of, which means quite precisely that you are not the same person as you were when you started reading the post.
So a person might get to wondering what exactly will occur when you’ve read this whole series, especially as we are by no means done yet, are we?
As you’ve been reading, I hope you’ve been thinking about that crashing of the system, because we can give that a more accurate name, can we not? Rather than saying we crashed the system, we might say that it was disrupted. That the dream tore itself apart when one tiny piece acted in a minutely different way.
All those stresses and strains within the dream, all the parts that made it what it was, were precisely what made it fly apart into pieces. But before I tell you what emerged from within that wreckage, don’t you think we should hear what the seeker’s reply to the storyteller was?
For there was a pause, and then the seeker said three words – if I were a betting man, I wonder if I could count on you knowing what they were, already?
“I don’t know.” They said.
And the storyteller grinned. “That’s the only answer worth any salt, I’ll give you that. But the story’s not done yet, not by a long chalk, so – Would you know more, or what?”
An eternal question – but before we leave the answer for next week, I must tell you what emerged from the wreckage of my dream – a dream within a dream.
A dream composed of three words:
YOU. ARE. WHOLE.
Catch you next week!