Dreams are but moments between life and death.
To condense fact from the vapor of nuance.
The first quote is my own, perhaps. I found it on a sticky note in my car, written by my hand, so presumably it was some random thought that entered my mind. This blog post has bounced around my head for two weeks now, ever since I had a dream that I wanted to share but wasn’t sure I should. It’s a deeply personal and emotional dream, perhaps something that shouldn’t be shared, but I’ve been trying to actively live life in a manner that opposes what I would normally do, since past me tended to irreparably error without learning my lesson. That makes me an unapologetic open door.
That, and there’s something different about this dream. Maybe writing it down with great detail will help me better understand.
I had the same exact dream again last night, followed by me discovering the sticky note in my car, and so, here I am.
The other quote is from Neal Stephenson, from his novel Snow Crash. Thus far it is a fantastic novel and I’m in love with the quote. It’s certainly something I have attempted far too many times, often to a fault. I want to wrap my mind more about the quote before further ponder it in blogform, but I also wanted to share it today.
This post will eventually be about a dream, but I’d like to set some stages first. Over the past month I’ve slowly been returning to old me—a me I wasn’t aware had vanished. While I always devote most of my time to various forms of art, I hadn’t realized my emotional connection to it had waned. I’ve been prone to accidentally shutting down or tempering my emotions, perhaps for self preservation, as I tend to be dangerously emphatic. I feel things—everything—extremely potently, and it can be too much. Even subconsciously. So at some point I began unconsciously tempering that inferno. I will attempt to never do so again.
Last month, something changed. A convergence of events. A reminder of how one is supposed to feel when excited and terrified by life. And that was enough to wake part of me I hadn’t realized was asleep. I promise, this eventually links to dreams. For years I had stopped listening to music other than metal at the gym or ambient/instrumental while writing. Music didn’t sound the same or resonate as deeply. The same was true for most media, apart from a few standouts. My favorite artist even released better, emotionally charged versions of my favorite songs, and it all had somehow passed by me, as if I was living in a fog that I couldn’t see.
Two songs that I’ve listened to dozens of times in the past few weeks, that say many things I say to myself while evoking feelings I relate to all too well. I love Frank Turner, for his brutal honesty in music and his public battles with his demons and depression—things I also battle but can’t yet articulate so elegantly. Take a listen if you haven’t. They’re beautiful songs.
Now, back to the dream. I’ve studied and practiced lucid dreaming for over a decade now. I’m still not great at it, but I can often force myself to dream about certain topics I can return to the same dream after waking up and falling back asleep. Lucid dreaming is still difficult for me still, as I tend to freak myself out and wake up, but when it does work, the experience is life altering and paradigm shattering. I’m not a sleep guru, but I am reading a book about lucid dreaming that my friend let me borrow, so maybe I’ll become a guru some day. Actually finding a kindred soul to discuss dreams has been a welcomed surprise among other surprises. Hopefully that companionship lasts and evolves.
This dream was a lucid dream, but unlike other times when I immediately tried to seize control and change the dream, I decided to be a bystander to by own subconscious, to see how the dream played out. I cannot tell you why I made this decision. Nor why I had the dream again, two weeks later. Only that I remember it with perfect clarity, as I’ve lived it twice now.
Enter a grand palace, gilded and bejeweled, floors of golden marble and columns pink-rose. Every surface reflects a warm light. For a moment, I see myself. The perspective sits ten or so strides behind me, watching me along with two friends of nearly thirty years.
A chant. A dirge. It echoes through the chambers of the palace, and while the words become lost within the echoes, the sentiment is one of loss, but also hope. Faith. An awareness of something greater than us or individuals. Of remembrance and meaning and love.
Perspective snaps to third person as we’re rushed through the palace as if riding a conveyor belt. The rooms pass too quickly to fully observe as we finally enter an enormous glass dome, and just outside the walls, we stop in front of weathered stone stairs leading to a canal filled with impossibly clear water. Yet there’s no bottom to the canal once you step off the final stair. Just water. Endless water.
It’s here I suddenly realize that I’m dreaming, and that this isn’t like any other dream I’ve ever had. A presence surrounds me, perhaps is inside of me, and I’m here to gather knowledge or experience. I asked dreams for guidance, and so here I am.
Do nothing. Let the dream play out. Be the observer to your own mind. A meditative voice speaks to me from within. Or around? I listen.
A woman floats in the canal, holding onto a long, thin branch that somehow supports her weight. A long, flowing gray dress billows around her in the water. Her hair is gray, but she’s not old. Nor young. Ageless unremarkable. A jungle of flowers and plants grow along both sides of the canal, down its entire length, to where the water curves out of sight.
“You must hold onto the branch,” she says, pointing to a pile of wooden branches that mirrors her own. “Hold onto it, and you can never drown. Can never succumb and sink to the depths. You must only hold on, and believe, and all will be fine.” She demonstrates: hand wrapped around her branch, and she floats effortlessly, as if the branch provides buoyancy to every part of her body.
My friends and I descend the stairs, grasping branches before we take our final steps into the endless depths. At once, I’m greeted by an overwhelming sense of security and peace. The branch doesn’t just allow me to float, but fills my body with a presence that makes it impossible to sink. I must only hold on.. And allow the branch to guide me through the canal, following the guide as she sets off through the water.
We follow as a leisurely pace, as if guided along by a current, yet the water is still and unmoving. It’s the branch that darts along its course, and us holding onto that branch. Holding onto it is a simple thing—the only choice. We move down a series of canals for what feels like hours, until towering trees start growing along the banks, their roots spilling over the banks and slipping into the water, visible for hundreds of feet as they travel down and down.
Eventually, we reach a blockage in the canal, in which the roots form a web over the water, solid and springy enough to walk on. Branches in hand, we begin trekking across the mesh of tree roots. They’re ethereal, so that that the water is visible beneath them.
“These are your roots,” the woman explains, staring at me and tapping the roots with her branch. “And these branches come from your trees. All of these trees are yours. Just as all of these roots belong to you. The roots of your lives and deaths, one in the same. You must only hold on.” She taps again. “Very strong roots. Impossible to break until you finally want to shatter through and swim for yourself.”
I have no idea what she means as we walk across the roots, the canal flowing beneath it. Again, for what feels like hours. Eventually, the roots grow thinner, more ethereal, and the water beneath them shallower. I can finally see the bottom.
The jungle is in the past now, and to the left of the canal, a hill of green gently descends into the water. Beyond the hill stands a gate of gray stone and iron spikes, and at once I realize it’s a cemetery gate. A wall of darkness waits beyond the gate. A darkness I know I must enter, to see what’s on the other side.
“You may jump through here,” the woman says. “So long as you’re ready to swim for yourself. The branches will be here, when you return.”
I nod. Thank her. And cannonball where I stand, knees tucked beneath me as I break through the roots I had once stood on. They shatter like a fine layer of ice across a newly frozen lake, but the water beneath is warm and inviting, not bottomless, and I can swim for myself, stroke after stroke underwater until I reach the shore. The grass is slick and wet but the hill easily climbable as I approach the cemetery gate.
My friends are gone now, off to their own roots, perhaps. And another friends stands near the gate. She looks over her shoulder at me, smiles, and vanishes in front of the gate. For a moment, there’s a ticket booth, ancient and wooden, and a man in disturbing clown makeup selling tickets. And then that, too, vanishes.
I enter the gate. Inside isn’t a cemetery, but more of the same stone and iron fence stands before me. There’s but a lone strip of brickwork, ten or so feet wide, surrounded by the fence, and beyond the fence, to all sides and above, a sea of stars, bright and vibrant and reflecting countless worlds, or timelines, or existences.
My friend stands in the corner. She’s exquisitely beautiful, as she always is. The sort of beauty that steals breath and stops me short. Reminds me to be present. To observe the moment, and time, as I’ve observed this time. Tiny stars are laced through her hair, and she wears a white hood, a smile of both of sadness and pleasure.
“I gathered these stars,” she says, motioning to the great beyond. “I thought you’d like them. They’re filled with memories, both of the pasts and futures.”
Behind me, the dirge I heard from the beginning of the dream begins anew, only now I recognize the song. Hymn of the Fayth, from Final Fantasy X. The song escapes from three hooded figures who slowly demateralize in front of me, and even though they vanish, the song remains crisp and clear.
“All things must fade,” my friend says. Merely a statement of truth. “But like these stars, all things forever remain.”