For about forty years I’ve kept a dream diary. Some gaps are there of course. Working with dreams, and being a writer who, therefore, works in waking dreams, sometimes I’ve had to consciously ignore dreams and let them fade out of my life in those moments when the dreams seemed to be out of control and have turned against my conscious mind and left me terrified or paranoid, insomniac. After a particularly bad year, when I felt estranged from the Buddhist community with which I’d been involved for over thirty years, on the first day of the Tibetan New Year in 2012, I had this dream:
In an abstract dimension, Shakyamuni Buddha, dressed in a rough silk yogi’s shawl, approaches me with a large white Japanese porcelain vase in his hands. The vase is enclosed by a lid. He hands me the vase and says, ‘Inside this is another vase that’s also sealed with a lid. Inside that vase is the essence and no matter what happens that can’t be stained or corrupted.’
I woke up a little shocked. The stuff about the vase – told like a parable in the dream – is essentially a classic Buddhist viewpoint. I don’t claim to have met Shakyamuni Buddha in a dream or to have had a vision of Shakyamuni Buddha. The wordless, deep part of our being communicates to the conscious mind in a language of symbols, and this language and its meanings are fluid and, crucially, they’re alive. That this dream occurred at the opening of a New Year, gave me, and still does give me when I bring it to mind, a certain amount of strength and confidence, no matter how much disappointment and dejection I feel from time to time. It’s good to start a new year on a positive note but it doesn’t always happen.
On January 1st 2017, I dreamt that someone had killed a woman and I was being blamed for this, or suspected of having done it. Another woman and I rush to find the real killer who is also with a woman accomplice. We set up a trap for them in a labyrinth of arcades like Sydney’s Queen Victoria Building. In a scenario like an Alfred Hitchcock film, we catch them in a laneway that is now reminiscent of the stalls in the Cardiff covered market but maybe just a little fancier. There were other anxiety dreams that night.
After filling up one dream diary, the first day of writing in a new dream diary is like a divination. What will be the flavour of the period that lies ahead? Will it be auspicious or disturbing? Obviously over the following months, it’ll be mixed. My current diary begins with a dream I had that was influenced by Roman Polanski’s movie Frantic, set in Paris, which I’d seen a few days previously on November 11th.
I am on the roof of a building and H___ and I are lying down on a bed, looking up at the skyline where we see the Statue of Liberty in Paris not the USA. The statue starts to move and she comes to life. She’s smiling. I say to H____ ‘Can you see? She’s dancing.’
I wonder whether this dance is only visible to me, the dreamer who knows he’s dreaming, and not to H____ who is ‘asleep’ beside me. But it seems that H____ does see it even though I’m not convinced whether she does or not. The dancer does some lovely movements: pirouettes and turns, and poises, balletic, on the parapet of the roof above us. Then she returns to her spot in the middle of the roof and stands on her plinth.
What does this mean? I don’t think it matters. Obviously some images draw on recent events and some on the past.
So to paraphrase Argentine novelist Ernesto Sábato:
Why analyse a dream?
Why not let it be the expression of the mystery that it is?
Des Barry and his alter ego Spellman write novels: 3 with Jonathan Cape and 1 with Serpent’s Tail. Barry/Spellman is a sometime butoh performer. From time to time he writes nonfiction for 3AM Magazine.