Our Inner Evolution is Essential

“My life as I lived it had often seemed to me like a story that had no beginning and no end. I had the feeling that I was a historical fragment, an excerpt from which the preceding and succeeding text was missing. My life seemed to have been snipped out of a long chain of events, and many questions had remained unanswered.”

“Man cannot compare himself with any other creature; he is not a monkey, not a cow, not a tree…Like every other being, I am a splinter of the infinite deity…The life of a man is dubious experiment…Individually, it is so fleeting, so insufficient, that it is literally a miracle that anything can exist and develop at all.”

“Recollection of the outward events of my life has largely faded or disappeared. But my encounters with the ‘other’ reality, my bouts with the unconscious, are indelibly engraved upon my memory. In that realm there has always been wealth in abundance and everything else has lost importance by comparison…Outward circumstances are no substitute for inner experience.”

–Carl Gustav Jung, from his autobiography, “Memories, Dreams, Reflections.”

Had these quotations not been excerpted from Jung’s autobiography, they might easily have been included in my own accounting of my life. If you are unfamiliar with the many fascinating and illuminating writings of the famous Swiss psychiatrist, I highly recommend that you review them as well as the many scholarly analyses of his work. There are many volumes of his writings and they are often scientifically intense and technical generally, but I have found much within them that helps to clarify the importance of examining and exploring our inner life.

Jung’s emphasis on his own inner experience in his autobiography was unsurprising to me once I began to absorb the context in which he described his outer experiences. Reading back in his collected works after I finished “Memories, Dreams, Reflections,” I found a passage about “the eruption of unconscious content,” that struck a familiar chord with me:

“Way back in 1973, as a young man embarking on the journey of a lifetime, I experienced what Carl Jung described as ‘the eruption of unconscious content,’ which compelled me to seek the path I continue to pursue to this day.”

It also “…led to the creation of a document entitled, ‘The Beginning, The Foundation, The Entrance.’ Although I did not recognize it as such at the time, I gradually came to view the experience as a pivotal event in my life, and I have spent much of the time since it occurred attempting to decipher its message…I recognized at this point that all I had endured, suffered, and learned prior to that day, had created the foundation for all that was to come.”

We are experiencing a particularly stressful time now across the globe, and many of us are starting to question the circumstances of our lives and to re-evaluate our emphasis on what is truly important. It’s unfortunate that we are experiencing such a serious situation right now, and the losses that families and individuals are enduring as a result are tragically taking a toll on our well-being everywhere you look. There are also stories of recovery and of the heroic efforts of many individuals and groups to help others during this time, and unless you place your focus on the broad range of events taking place around the world, you might suppose that there is little cause for much optimism going forward. It’s important to seek balance in our view of all this and to take whatever steps are possible to mitigate the harm, and to promote the safety and well-being of our fellow travelers whenever possible.

Reflecting as I often do on the responses I receive from those who visit and read here, it seems that, in some small way at least, the sharing of ideas and the expression of both the tangible events of my outer life and the movement of the spirit within me, can encourage others to be introspective as well, and in that sense, the entire path of my own recognition of an “inner evolution,” which began so long ago, has led to this moment in time, and to much of what has been posted here on John’s Consciousness. Especially during this time, I would encourage everyone to use the time in distancing from each other physically and maintaining vigilance in isolation when that occurs, to give serious consideration to giving additional attention to contemplation and what we used to call “soul searching.”

“Without the darkness of the storm, the sun can call nothing to life…Since day and night contain the seeds of one another, there is no darkness unrelieved by the coming dawn, and no stark, sun-ridden day without her stash of mystery.” –M. Holden

Jung quite often addressed the contrasts of light and darkness in his writings, and as M. Holden pointed out, he agreed that “…we subdue the chaotic, uncontrollable elements of the natural world at the price of its fertility, just as we cast out the darkness in ourselves at the price of our own wholeness.” Jung found his interests in psychiatry and noted in his autobiography that among his friends, he encountered only resistance to the subject–a curious, hard resistance that amazed him, and wrote, “I had the feeling that I had pushed to the brink of the world; what was of burning interest to me was null and void for others, and even a cause of dread.” My own inclinations align more closely with philosophy, while being passionately interested in the cognitive science of consciousness. At the heart of the challenges in bringing these ideas together, is not so much the resistance that Jung spoke of, as it is the element of uncertainty, which is only truly possible to dispel and experience subjectively. There are certain aspects of human consciousness that can only be verified “experientially,” but not tested “empirically,” and there are also empirical studies being undertaken which can cast “light” on the subject of consciousness, that are not experienced directly. It is my belief, that when combined, these sometimes disparate elements could very well produce a more encompassing view.

The Flames of Life

As I write, there is a single candle burning in front of me, its flame dancing in the corner; the light bouncing off the wall behind it and beside it sends tumultuous shadows dancing across the wall. A selection of beautiful music accompanies the swirling shadows. At the heart of the candle, at the very center of the flame, where it appears to be white hot, I consider how my life is like the wick, slowly being consumed by the flame. A common candle burning in the darkness clearly has the advantage of being so small and yet still representative of fire in all its manifestations. Like so many similar phenomena in the world, in the extreme, not all flames are as comforting or as benign.

The wild fires burning in California and Australia are the opposite in every way. The consequences of such extremes are not at all like the flames on a birthday cake; the sight of such dangerous extremes do not make us feel the same way a collection of candles can as they cast a beautiful, shadowy panorama around a room. Even a campfire or a carefully controlled bonfire wouldn’t qualify as anything more than a benign pleasure deliberately chosen.

Fires can be destructive and lethal. They can be the result of negligence or deliberate malice. They can be initiated by lightning in remote areas where they clear away the dead trees and undergrowth, thus making possible the renewal of a natural balance in a natural setting. There is a clear connection between our intentions in igniting a flame under certain conditions, and the havoc which results when control is lost or momentum is gained in other conditions. The full range of possible scenarios can alter in significant ways, the future consequences of whatever choices are made and whatever results occur.

In the same way, our lives consist of both deliberate choices and happenstances from the realm of what is possible. They also can be altered significantly by how we envision our futures, and on what aspirations and opportunities are either present or absent.

Visions and imaginings are potentials—possibilities not certainties, but when I arrive at that place where these potentials exist within me, I cannot easily tear myself away. I linger there, not wanting to relinquish the potent inner affinity for the ideas embodied in that state of mind. So often, I struggle to sustain the momentum gathered during these episodes, to relish the sensations they produce, to savor the moments of bliss which sometimes occur, and to cherish the memories they can sometimes create. We live out our lives as they unfold, having made a whole host of choices along the way, which did not include a broad range of other choices, which could have altered our trajectory through the life we did choose.

What we seldom consider is how even the smallest changes to the course of our lives can potentially represent enormous consequences to the path which results. What if the world had gone in a different direction or what if my life had been even slightly altered in a way that did not include certain subsequent events? It seems likely that moving forward at that point would have a totally different direction and a host of other subsequent events. The visions and imaginings in my mind’s eye—my vision of the future—both remarkable and beautiful, and not without pain and suffering—those tend to come along no matter what choices we make—but I believe that no matter how we envision our future lives, if we carry that vision with us; hold onto it and follow it through whatever pain and suffering we encounter, embrace the moments of joy while we continue to persist in the face of adversity, we may then be able to look back and recognize a degree of fulfillment of that vision.

Part of my vision of the future is to help to inspire the upcoming generations, to look more deeply at life, to try harder to make the life they envision to be realized, to expand, and to blossom. In order to do this, one must fall in love with life, and embrace what is possible; the realm of possibility is wide. It contains all possible outcomes—all that is possible—and I want to dive head-first into that realm, to explore, to discover, and bring to the world, that which I uncover.

And so I am grateful to be in the presence of this little flame in the corner this day. I am the beneficiary of the light, the dance, and the white hot center, which is the center of me; we are consumed by life, gradually if we are lucky, and for a time, our light burns brightly, especially in our youth. If we are fortunate to arrive in the later stages of life, we can look back on numbers of days, hours, minutes, and seconds, where a flame illuminates everything.

Celebrating Life and Love

By coincidence, all day today, I was working at my part-time job, which places me in a position of interacting with a large number of random people, and as I am naturally inclined to be social, as the opportunity presents itself, I try to engage each one in a brief conversation, mostly as a polite way to greet them and maybe get a smile out of them. Apparently, marking this particular day as one in which we celebrate love in all its many forms; love clearly was on the mind of just about everyone. Most often, the exchange would be brief, and took the form of well-wishing and polite banter, but several of the exchanges, while also positive in nature, revealed a different layer of attention to the subject of love, including a few which required diplomacy on my part to acknowledge the gestures, without slighting the intention of the well-wishing, but also maintaining the appropriate demeanor. As I contemplated my responses in the brief minute or so in which they were required, it occurred to me that the subject was fairly challenging to address under these circumstances, and upon completing my shift, I began to consider the subject at length.

There’s almost no telling how love will unfold in our personal lives or as we move through the world-at-large. As we progress through our lives, we all seem to arrive at our own understanding of what it means to love someone. We learn first about love from our parents or primary caretakers whoever they end up being, and often it’s amazing to us as adults what sticks with us through all the changes and stages of growth we go through. In some circumstances, where our lives are most often in balance as we grow, we learn to appreciate the love we are given, and have a fair idea of how to demonstrate our love based on these experiences. For most of us, though, the balance is often tipped in one direction or the other, and it can take a long time to appreciate how other people might differ in their understanding of what it means to love another person.

It seems to me that, as a rule, we are far too rigid in our views of what reasonably might constitute a loving relationship between parents and children, amongst siblings, between extended family groups, and between the many different levels of friendship that we encounter as we age. Our best friend in grammar school can still be our best friend in our adult life, or they can vanish from our lives for any number of reasons, and every variety of circumstance can either contribute to the longevity of friendship or make it impossible to continue, just as every other sort of relationship can experience long periods of enriching and enduring affection, or be lost or mitigated by extenuating circumstances.

I have often encountered circumstances in my life, where people have inspired me to feel a loving connection in one way or another, but who have a difficult time understanding how it could be that such a connection is even possible. I have often thought that there should be some guidance in our educational system, particularly when children are approaching adolescence, to begin to appreciate the many different varieties of emotional connection that people feel, and to broaden the definitions of love across the whole spectrum of human interactions.

history of the world

The amount of time in which a life takes place, which includes everything from a few moments to, at times, nearly a century of life, is one of the least important measures of a life. Each of us is given a certain amount of time to live our lives, and none of us knows in advance how long it will be before we must relinquish our lives. This is the very nature of life–uncertainty. In some ways, uncertainty DEFINES life. If we knew about everything that would happen in our lives in advance, and the exact moment when life would end, there would be no mystery, no wonder, no sense of anticipation, no expectation, no reason to try anything. Because life is unpredictable, it is worth getting up in the morning to see what will happen! Life is about potentiality. When we DON’T know what will happen, or how long we will have to do anything, it’s up to us to discover how our lives will unfold. It is always sad, as an observer of life, when we see a life that is, from our perspective, cut short, before it has had sufficient time to unfold in the normal way. But really, each life, no matter how long it is, is precious, and worth every effort to live each moment fully, for however long we have to live it.

I do not claim to be an expert. I am not a scholar, or a magician, or a superstar quarterback. Even though I attended two universities for more than four years, I haven’t turned my education into a platform for expertise or exploited those opportunities into a particularly abundant life. What I can say about my life, given the measures we normally apply to accomplishments in education, in my case at least, the results were not especially impressive, but my life EXPERIENCES have been extraordinary.

Every memory I have is precious to me. I have been the father to six amazing children. I have served my country in the military, traveled to Europe for two years, and met many extraordinary people. I have experienced great joy, as well as terrible sadness. I have experienced hunger, deprivation, loneliness, bitterness, rejection, loss, and just about every sort of unhappiness imaginable, but I have also been a witness to and a participant in spectacular experiences of loving; I have attended feasts, and eaten at fine restaurants; I have vacationed in beautiful natural settings; I have attended family reunions with some of the most fabulous people on the planet; I have been satisfied in many different ways, and cried tears of joy as I held precious newborn children in my arms.

I could go on, but you can see from just these few examples that no matter what we accomplish in our lives, when it comes right down to it, what we EXPERIENCE is what means the most to us; it’s what hurts us the most; it’s what drives us and what slays us; what we experience is more important than what we accomplish almost always, and all the skills and knowledge we acquire, as vital as these aspects are in helping us to function in and to understand our world, we must BE IN the world and experiencing our lives in order to make any good use of any of it.

The dynamics of each unique personal relationship has always been a subject of interest for me, especially since I began to explore the nature of human interactions as they relate to our very human spirit. As we make our way through our lives, we probably encounter hundreds of other individuals through our educational and social circles, but normally only a very select few become particularly significant to us in one way or another. We generally become aware of these connections when proximity permits sufficient opportunity to do so, but proximity alone cannot account for the development of close, personal (and dare I say…spiritual) connections, particularly those which endure across great distance and long years. While there are many different foundations for our unique relationships, and much that is not necessarily self-evident regarding the psychology which supports them, the existence of a powerful personal and emotional affinity for another clearly infers a greater degree of connection not explicable by simple biology, psychology, chemistry or mere chance.

As is the case with the many forms and degrees of love which we celebrate today, there are also other more subtle and more mysterious forces at work in our lives, some of which we may eventually comprehend and predict reliably, and others that are part of the life of the human spirit within us. The power to alter our lives at any time is within our grasp. We have the means to evaluate and discern which choice is best for us. We can choose to act in our own self-interest, or in consideration of what is in the best interests of others. Depending on our choices, a whole variety of alternate realities are possible.

If our minds are simply and only the result of neuronal functioning and the basic electro-chemical balance in our brains, then none of us can be held truly accountable for our actions, since we are at the mercy of brain chemistry and the endowment of adequate neuronal functioning. My contention is that while we are clearly dependent on a nominally functional nervous system to interact in a meaningful way with other sentient beings, the delicate balance of brain chemistry and neuronal functionality only provides a platform from which we can launch our lives as cognitive creatures.

Our current social structure in the Western World has evolved significantly in the last hundred years or so, and we are beginning to understand and appreciate the value of our unique personal relationships as part of a broader and completely natural social adaptation, which has been part and parcel of our continued evolution as a species since upright humans first walked the earth.

What I have Come To Understand

“When someone enters your life unexpectedly, look for the gift that person has come to receive from you. I have sent you nothing but angels. Others see their possibility in the reality of you.”

–Neale Donald Walsch from his book series, “Conversations With God.”

Have you ever been momentarily captured by the strains of a melody in a song or musical piece that you were hearing for the first time?

 

Have you ever stumbled upon a broad vista or panoramic view while hiking and been momentarily overwhelmed by how beautiful it was?

 

Have you ever held a newborn child in your arms and marveled at the miracle of a new life?

 

There are many examples of extraordinary events that can occur in our lives, which are unexpected or have unexpected effects when we are made aware of them, and it suggests some sort of connection that exists between people and places, and the realization of a degree of resonance that can exist even without prior knowledge of or exposure to specific stimuli.

Over the course of my nearly seven decades of life, and considering the number of extraordinary events that have punctuated those years along the way, you might think I would have become a bit more adept at deciphering them when they occur these days, but life always has opportunities for learning and expanding our understanding and awareness, and right alongside of the challenges and struggles we often face each day, if we are fortunate, we also encounter moments that lift us up and result in degrees of enrichment we never expected.

 

Reviewing the positive and negative events in the world at any given time, it can seem that one or the other may be dominating, but as I consider what has been most often the case for me personally, on balance, I would say that trying to understand the character of each has been one of the main reasons I have been driven to investigate our very human nature, by both researching the many aspects of subjective experience and consciousness, and comparing them with my own experiential reality to raise my awareness of the extraordinary aspects of being a living, breathing, human being.

It also has occurred to me that I may be so thoroughly out of sync with the times—an outlier in the modern world—that any hope of progress toward my goal of raising the awareness of what I have come to understand about the world-at-large may be overly optimistic. Nearly all of my responses to individuals who, for one reason or another, impress me as being extraordinary or potent in some way, seem often to be inexplicable in temporal terms, and attempting to express the importance of these interactions sometimes creates a degree of confusion or uncertainty as a result. I have long since passed that point in my life where refraining from expressing my honest responses to others in this situation feels like the correct thing to do.

 

Since crossing over the mid-sixties in age, I am painfully aware that I can no longer suppose that there might be plenty of time left to engage in genuine expression of my feelings. Naturally, most of us have no idea how long our lives will be no matter what age we have attained, but it becomes more apparent in the upper ranges of human aging that, even barring unforeseen circumstances, we still realize more readily how precious life has become, especially in view of the smaller portion of life one might have to experience and to share our insights.

The events of my life have been particularly instructive in this regard, since I often refrained from freely expressing my genuine responses to individuals in the past, and I realize more clearly now, that tomorrow is not a guaranteed gift for any of us. If there is a feeling we wish to express, or an experience we hope to share, it becomes a matter of greater urgency, since there are fewer tomorrows within which to do so.

I understand that others, especially those who are not as familiar with these ideas and who are not approaching the age of seventy, as I am, may not fully appreciate this urgency in the same way that I do, but I cannot change the arrangement of the circumstances which exist currently, and must act upon the urgencies which present themselves to me in a way that is responsive to my own character and disposition. There is now little time to waste in hedging or delaying expression.

 

 

While I acknowledge that others also have their own circumstances to consider, as a general principle, I tend to defer to the inclinations of those with whom I interact. Conversely, I also no longer feel as though my own inclinations aren’t worthy of attention either. I express whatever it is that I feel in as measured and considerate a manner as I can, and if the response is positive, I allow the interaction to unfold as it will, and if not, I am fond of saying, “I am easily discouraged.”

I normally rely on mutual agreement to determine whatever degree of sharing might take place, and would not ever seek to impose my own inclinations on anyone. Many times, the initial circumstances which ensue upon meeting an individual who captures my attention in a big way, far from being automatically engaged, are now much more likely to prompt caution at first, at least until some reciprocal response is detected.

Once it becomes clear that there is sufficient encouragement to continue, I usually will, and if it becomes clear that continuing would impose some difficulty, I tend to step back or away from further interactions, recognizing that anything other than a positive response must be acknowledged as well. The real challenge comes when the individual is uncertain or vague in their response, and doesn’t give a clear indication of a negative or positive response. In cases like these, I tend to err on the side of caution, or, at the very least, refrain from any overt response, until such time as a more definitive indication is forthcoming.

Over the years, I have become a better observer of body language, facial expressions, and other circumstantial indicators, and have learned to better trust my own instincts. Self-doubt is still a factor in some cases, particularly when the interactions are intense or disproportional to reasonable expectations, but having suffered through a number of emotionally agonizing consequences from miscues or misunderstandings, I am far less inclined to go where angels fear to tread.

All of these machinations and interpretations of previous encounters still haven’t prevented me from suffering to some degree when an extraordinary individual arrives and presses me to respond in a more immediate way. The recent encounter with a “kindred soul,” which prompted the creation of the previous poem, was similar in character to some others, but, as the poem indicated, it was surprising in its complexity, and stunning in the degree of delight it produced with no apparent outward cause.

These are the truly mysterious kinds of unexpected encounters that occur so infrequently, and strike with such suddenness and intensity that I am typically thrown back on my heels, holding my breath, and uncertain as to how it was even possible.

In this case, I was fortunate to have time in between encounters to consider what my response might be, but even these advantages seem to have failed to prevent me from feeling completely confident in determining just what my response should be. Clearly, the initial response warranted an additional opening to the interaction which occurred several days later, but I am now beginning to wonder if I have tested the patience of an angel.

Underneath all of our temporal inclinations, beyond the considerations of brain physiology and neuroscience, and in spite of uncertainty surrounding the basic understanding of our subjective experience, the human spirit remains for me the “élan vital,” at the heart of all contemplation of human nature, and I savor the delight of interacting with every positive moment, and strive at all times to learn from the others, and to grow and share what I have come to understand.

 

Samsara

This week, I was finally able to view a film I’ve been wanting to see for some time called, “Samsara,” directed by Ron Fricke and produced by Mark Magidson, and was stunned at the richness of the diversity of locations filmed, and was both inspired and disturbed by the powerful effect of the contrasts presented in the film.

In Indonesia, Balinese Tari Legong Dancers perform a dance in a tradition that goes back over 100 years. Kilauea Volcano erupts and spews forth massive clouds of steam and smoke and lava in a process that began billions of years ago on the primitive Earth. A human child developing in the womb, almost fully formed, shown in the tiniest graphic detail, with the very beginnings of human life hanging in the balance.

A human corpse of the anonymous Tollund Man, discovered in 1950 in a peat bog in Denmark, perfectly preserved, lies frozen in time, from the 4th century B.C., with the tiniest details of skin and facial hair preserved in its most raw form. The death mask of Tutankhamun displayed in brilliant detail, painted and golden, preserved with equally astonishing verity, from thousands of years ago. Each of these scenarios, in exquisite 70mm format, is part of the lead which introduces the film, “Samsara,” from the creators of the film, “Baraka.”

An extraordinary, almost alien landscape in the early morning haze, presents testimony to the extraordinary contributions that human beings sometimes make to the scenery of the natural world. Thiksey Monastery boys in Ladakh, India turning a prayer wheel. Monks making sand Mandalas. Switch from the barren deserts of Saudia Arabia, to the lush waters of Erupa Falls, in Angola.

Utter destruction from a modern catastrophe is followed by the exquisite beauty and grandeur of a palace in Europe. Natural wonders like spectacular waterfalls in Africa, rock formations in Utah, and volcanos in Hawaii, are contrasted with human-made wonders from ancient times like the pyramids, the Mayan ruins, the Hindu Temples of Angkor Wat, and the great Cathedral of Notre Dame.

According to Wikipedia:

“The official website describes the film, “Expanding on the themes they developed in Baraka (1992) and Chronos (1985), Samsara explores the wonders of our world from the mundane to the miraculous, looking into the unfathomable reaches of humanity’s spirituality and the human experience.”

Consulting the BBC.com website, I found a reasonably good explanation of the term, “samsara.”

“Hindus believe that human beings can create good or bad consequences for their actions and might reap the rewards of action in this life, in a future human rebirth in which the self is reborn for a period of time, as a result of their karma, which operates not only in this lifetime but across lifetimes: the results of an action might only be experienced after the present life in a new life.

This process of reincarnation is called samsara, a continuous cycle in which the soul is reborn over and over again according to the law of action and reaction. The goal of liberation (moksha) is to make us free from this cycle of action and reaction, and from rebirth.

An individual under the influence of Samsara will re-incarnate over and over again (not on purpose – only due to lack of knowledge) and always believe in the concept of death. Samsara is the world as created by ego; Samsara is the world of Maya—the world of illusions.”

For me, the most significant takeaway from this extraordinary film was the astonishing variety within the collection of depictions of the works of humanity and of Mother Nature. The presentation is exquisitely executed and it provides a great deal of material for thoughtful reflection without a single word being uttered throughout. It is, at times, mesmerizing and uplifting, and at other times, it is deeply disturbing and thought-provoking. I recommend viewing it when you have sufficient time afterwards to consider the impact it will no doubt have and to allow the messages it carries to sink in.

Your Web of Joy

     
The moment our eyes aligned
I instinctively held my breath;
Ordinary time collapsed and condensed
While I read your face.
Our smiles blossomed simultaneously
Like silly twins looking in a funhouse mirror;
The sweetness of your spontaneous response was met
With an avalanche of reciprocal harmony.

 


Days passed with no encounter;
Hours dragged and pulled as usual.
Wistful recollection had begun to fade
When you suddenly reappeared;
Like an earthbound angel with hidden wings,
You were unable to prevent the natural beauty
Of your robust lifeforce from pouring out,
Filling the crucible of my heart and soul.

 

Portrait of a Woman by Abbey Altson


Effortlessly, with the radiant, glowing gift of your glance,
You disabled all resistance, lifting my spirit
Beyond my own tentative grasp;
Momentarily undone, I fumble with my words–
Stunned at the recognition of a kindred soul.
Calm descends swiftly on the realization,
That I have somehow been captured completely,
Blissfully, in your web of joy.

 

© January 2020 by JJHIII24

Consciousness and Dreaming

A few years ago, I wrote a book review of David Gelernter’s book, “The Tides of Mind,” which opened new avenues of thought, and in particular, I appreciated his use of the imagery of a “spectrum of consciousness,” with descending and ascending layers from being wide awake and alert to dreams and unconsciousness. Although interesting as a means of describing the aspects of our mental machinery, his approach illustrates well the challenges presented by the subject.

Our window into the world of dreams, while slowly revealing layers of involvement with both a physiological and psychological nature, also reveals that there is still much that is not understood about the processes involved in dreaming. The appearance of specific dream events not drawn from conscious memory, and elaborate scenarios conjured in an imaginative frenzy, suggest to me that there may be far more complex interactions that cannot be fully explained by the neurophysiology and metabolic activity in the brain, just as the true nature of consciousness itself and its link to our cognitive systems continues to elude scientists and philosophers alike.

Reflecting recently on a particularly vivid dream experience, it was clear that the content was a combination of both objective and subjective components, somehow all meshed together into a collaborative panorama. It seemed at times that I was directing the action in the dream, and at other times I seemed to be casually observing the action. My sense of delight was real enough, but the dream seemed more of how I would imagine such an experience to be, rather than how it might actually be. In the context of my research into the nature of consciousness, I am more convinced than ever that the sleeping and dreaming components of neurological functioning, while clearly acted upon and influenced by the physiological changes that take place, are a window into a much wider world that we are only glimpsing presently.

We now have access to research utilizing positron emission tomography that tracks the blood flow through the brain in the different stages of REM sleep and slow wave sleep, which can verify the findings in sleep studies in a reasonable fashion, but the ability to focus in on the metabolic isolation of the regions of the brain that consolidate and retrieve memories is perhaps the most interesting element of the current state of dream research.

The integration by the brain of visual patterns conducted in the subcortical regions is essential to what we “see” in our dreams. The lessening of activity in the prefrontal cortex and the increased activity in the complex sensory processing areas, where emotions and memories are managed, does contribute in an important way to our understanding of the process which takes place while dreaming, but it doesn’t explain how we are somehow able to conjure images that have never previously occurred in our living experience. Complex construction of elaborate scenarios that have never taken place may be partially the result of contributions from our imaginings or daydreams, but dreams like one I experienced recently seem to defy explanation.



Dream Journal Entry

“I came in to the back of the room. You were at the piano, playing a lively classical piece, unaware of my presence. You were focused on the music. I could feel you; your focus—your radiant inner world—the music always brought it out in you. It was also the one place where we never had any conflict.

 

As I approached slowly from the back of the room, I imagined us dancing along with the music—a spotlight shining on the middle of the dance floor following us. The diversion to thoughts about the dance only lasted a moment, until I once again resumed my approach slowly.

 

I was close enough now to see your fingers gliding across the keys. You were lost in the music, and I was lost in a reverie of a scene in which I imagined slipping up close to you, placing my hands gently on your shoulders, without disturbing your performance. For a moment, I was standing behind you, swaying in unison to the undulating rhythm of the music, but quickly snapped back, realizing that I was still behind you approaching slowly, coming around on your blind side.

 

Barely breathing, deeply engaged in my dream state, you still don’t seem to know, nor do you show any signs of knowing, that I am present. I am hitching a ride—with the harmony, with the sounds, with the beautiful melody. I’m on the very edge of where you might see me if you turn your head slightly, so I stop. I close my eyes, bringing me all the way to the heights…”


In an interesting sidebar, David pointed out that even as cognitive creatures known for our capacity to reason, we also “…long for our minds to be flooded with powerful emotion, so that we can only feel and can’t think, so that we can’t reason.” In the middle of all that, he points to one of the most human longings we possess–one that is central to my own dilemma–“…we long for pure experience.” I’m not as sure as David seems to be that this implies we “only” want to feel, and in a way that prevents us from thinking and reasoning. Cognition, in its most essential human form, is an acknowledgement of what we are feeling, and memory seems to me to be more a recollection of how we once “felt,” in a particular moment.

Our all-too-human longings, if we are able to acknowledge them, and to contemplate the connection we have to them–the “why” of our obsession with them–informs us about our nature as human beings in the broadest sense, but more specifically as an individual spirit in the world. Residing in our innermost personal world, our longings take on a much greater meaning–one that can only be understood well when considered as an image composed of the events of our lives–the moment-to-moment record of our innermost life as it unfolds in our daily lives and in our dreams.

Wishing all of the readers here, all the best in the coming year, and look forward to sharing more with you all in 2020.

John H.