July 20, 2005

Dreaming for Answers

One of the constant private themes of my mental life since childhood has been that life is a beautiful wonderland that confuses and baffles me, and that when I ask people for explanations I’m more confused than ever. In waking adult life I realize that no one has the answers, we’re all puzzled and mystified, but sometimes in dreams I find that I’m still the same child asking the grownups for answers and being so frustrated I want to cry.

I’m waking up very late this morning after a series of dreams that held me down in sleep, fascinated, desperate for answers and not getting any.

-- A bunch of people call me on the phone to arrange a social gathering, claiming we know each other, and I begin a long, labyrinthine journey with them even though I have no idea who they are – and yet later my best friend assures me that I know those people from past get-togethers.

-- I’m a car passenger on the main thoroughfare to a writer’s colony called Loincloth. Everyone else in the crowded car is a guest at Loincloth but I’m only a gawking spectator, subject to dismissal if they feel like getting rid of me, because I haven’t made the smart career choices they have. I ask one of my fellow riders what I should do next in my writing career, and get no answer.

-- I’m at a crowded, shabby beach resort, streets lined with amusement park attractions and gaudy restaurants. I want to get back to my wife and kids, who are in a quieter place, but I can’t figure out how to work the dream-strange message system, which has elements of bingo and pinball about it.

-- I make a new friend there, a guy of my size and type, and I demonstrate push hands, a form of two-person tai chi training, throwing him over a sea wall. But when he returns it becomes clear that he’s a far more advanced practitioner than I am: he’s a member of a troop of military commandos who are putting on an exhibition at the beach, throwing sharp metal discs back and forth like Frisbees so that they make sinuous paths through the troop (who stand at intervals like pinball posts) without hurting anyone. My friend mocks me for thinking that my puny amount of training has taught me anything worthwhile. I beg him to teach me more, but he won’t even tell me the name of the martial art he practices. “How can you call yourself a teacher,” I plead, “when you won’t explain anything?” The unstated answer, that I’m supposed to figure things out for myself, frustrates me immensely and makes me want to give up. I’ve been hearing it all my life. I decide that only a small number of extraordinary people have the courage and strength to figure it out for themselves, while I have only enough to go partway and then stop.

(In a previous post about dreaming, I mentioned that my dreams often have song associations which I discover after waking. This one, of course, would be Dylan’s song “Series of Dreams.”)