Wednesday, October 30, 2013

In The Demi Monde

"To be at home on it's native ground
the mind must go down below its horizon,
descend below the lightfall
on ridge and steep and valley floor
to receive the lives of the dead.  It must wake
in their sleep, who wake in its dreams."

FROM "Elegy"  Wendell Berry

This walking stick I bought from a friend is doing me yeoman’s service right now, bearing my weight as I hop from rock to rock, all of it uphill.  For a guy with bad feet and bad balance I’m doing all right, keeping up with the Sierra Club guys ahead of me.  My son is with them, turning and snapping pictures of everything on the way to the summit.

The Sierra Club from my church (They always meet at the local Unitarian Church anywhere you go) invited me along, maybe hoping for a couple of new members and I was glad to accept.  It’s been a while since we had a chance to do something father and son together and this really works.

Stone Mountain, just outside of Atlanta, is barely a hill as mountain climbing goes, about 830 feet more or less and about 3000 feet above sea level.   This is a solid, gigantic lump of pure granite in the shape of an oozing glacier of frozen lava that goes down into the earth for miles, the result of some kind of apocalyptic  eruption eons ago.  Vegetation barely grows here except where it can find enough windblown dirt to take root in.  Generations have carved, pick axed  and jack hammered their names and loves into the ground going back to the Civil War.  It’s not often a man gets to see his name in granite before he becomes famous or more likely dead.

The west side is climbable, and as I struggle upwards little kids zip by me like hollering packs of gleeful squirrels.  There’s a lot of old people here too; many of them are elderly Asians where climbing small mountains is a cultural tradition.  The north face, walled off by a chain fence, is a vertiginous sheer drop of wind blasted smooth stone that regularly kills rock climbers.  A vast bas-relief sculpture of Jefferson Davis, Robert E Lee and Stonewall Jackson mounted on horses with hats over hearts is carved into the north face by the same guy who did Mount Rushmore.  It reminds you that this area was once a small nation that lost a war for independence.  They have their own heroes here.

The last hundred feet of the tourist friendly west face is the hardest.  My chest is burning and I’m gripping my staff with both hands like some grumpy old testament prophet as I heave myself up.  This is really starting to seem like a bad idea but I’m determined to see it through or tumble to my death.    After all my kid is watching.

The part I’m on, if you slip off you’ll roll a long way down before you catch up hard against anything, like say, the trunk of a pine tree or an old Chinese lady.  So I pick my way slow.  An old Korean couple struggles along with me, cautious, grimly determined and filled with the glow of gumption shining righteously around them.  I hope I’ve got a little of that on display. 

I practically crawl on my hands the last fifty feet, but goddamn, I’m there.  I’m at the top.  Huzzah.

An athletic blond babe in tight black spandex like a superhero goes bouncing by me, briskly radiating goddess gumption as though floating on air.  Her terrific fanny is so solid it doesn’t even jiggle.  Her powerful bare thighs below the tiny Daisy Duke jogging shorts are an alarm to cunnilingus.  I feel suddenly immensely proud.  To be so old, so beat up, gasping for breath and yet still capable of lust is something of an achievement.  One has to admire it.

I sit down slow and painful on a flat rock.  My thighs feel like I just did fifty barbell squats.  Fishing around in my pocket I pull out a tattered notebook and get ready to scribble some profound insight inspired by hypoxia, and I see the words  in red ink there –

“Are You Dreaming?”

Close the eyes, listen.  Breathe.  Smell.  Feel.  I look at the notebook again.  The words are still there.  I look at the palm of my hand as I trained myself.  The lines are where they should be.  I’m not dreaming.

Okay.  Still it would have been nice.

In the past, if this had been a dream, I’ve have tackled the blond goddess and had her down on the cold ground hard, heavy and silly in front of the little kids and old folks and awakened throbbing with orgasm and none the worse but for a change of underwear.  Anything goes in a dream.  But I’ve changed my ways.  This time I would have done it different – because I’m after something specific now. 

I have a goal.

I’ve been studying a book by Stephen Laberge called “Exploring the World of Lucid dreaming”.  LaBerge is the sleep researcher who pioneered the clinical evidence of what was once considered a medical myth, the lore of shamans and Tibetan meditation masters  – the lucid dream.  A lucid dream is that experience in which the ego awakens in the midst of a dream, while still clinically asleep, and is aware that this is a dream and not reality.  His book is not a celebration of the lucid dream – it’s a flight instruction manual.  He tells you how to do it.  How to train.  How to make it happen when you want it.

I had originally been interested in Astral Projection, because of the way it was depicted in comic books like “Dr. Strange”.  It turned out to be an extreme variation of lucid dreaming so I began thinking about that and then changed my mind about the whole thing.  Here’s why –

As I crawl towards mortality I think more about the mystery of consciousness and identity, a theme I’ve come back to many times in my fiction.  I see consciousness now as a kind of spectrum.  The conscious mind, the personality that we identify as ourselves is only a tiny part of us.  The vast portion of consciousness, the part that steers the ego, is transparent to us and out of reach.  It thinks in images, and doesn’t distinguish between fantasy and reality.  That’s why an image of a naked woman gets you hard.  That’s why a well written erotic work gets you wet.  The conscious mind makes that distinction necessary for survival, the unconscious does not.  The conscious mind is a crest of a very deep wave that goes down and down and you can’t see the wave, only what the wave does.  That means the Buddhists could maybe be right.  What we think of as ourselves may be an illusion.  What you think of as yourself doesn’t actually exist the way you think.  The way human consciousness exists is actually in a state we don’t even recognize or have words for.  The darkness.   The con man.  The unmanifested boundary between brilliance and madness unleashed.  The glove doesn’t see the fingers within.

The Demi Monde, or “half world”, is that place between worlds, between darkness and light, waking and dreaming, conscious and unconscious.  A lucid dream is when this demi monde comes to life and the waking ego awakens within the dream as it continues.  The sleeper is clinically asleep, but consciously awake in the fantastic world of the dream, where there are no consequences; freedom beyond the reach of any law of God or Man or even nature.  You lift your arms and fly.  You see a lover, you take her.  You own the world you see, at least until you awake. 

There is also a problem with this.

I’ve come to see that spirituality as a practice also exists on a kind of spectrum not only of values but of motivation.  In spirituality the motivation is critical, and is most carefully hidden away from the ego.  Humility has nothing to do with the loss of true pride, but rather the ruthless skill with which we strip aside personal games to perceive our motives and ourselves as clearly as possible.  Humility is an interior form of awareness.  The art of not kidding yourself.

There’s an old saw about the young meditation student who bursts out that he has just seen the Buddha in a vision and received a stunning revelation from him.  His meditation teacher pats him on the shoulder and says “Don’t worry, just bring your attention back to the breathing and it will all go away.”  More stodgy forms of mysticism such as Buddhism are about leading you away from yourself, into a deeper awareness of the world you live in and a spiritual connection with that world and the people around you.  There is a promise, taken at first on faith, that the more intensely you experience the naked moment in its and the connection with people and their suffering the greater the happiness you will find. 

The old Indian gurus in the ‘60s had an expression “siddhi”, which means “quick attainment”, a kind of contemptuous term for junk spirituality.  It referred to our natural attraction to spiritual phenomena, visions and intense spiritual experiences which could lead to actual or imagined psychic powers.  The ability to do special things more often strengthens the grip of the ego and leads to spiritual pride, which is the cause of so much hatred and violence in the name of God.  It leads you away from the world and more deeply into your delusions.  

Lucid dreaming or especially astral projection is potentially a kind of siddhi.  It can be an insightful tool in your tool box or distracting fireworks.  If you become good at it there is a great fascination that can lead to vanity and distract you from the drabber spiritual work of simply trying not to be so full of yourself.  But there is also a potential for spiritual insight in what is essentially a life “simulator”, a self created virtual reality.  In his book, LaBerge discusses lucid dreaming as a form of therapy.  It’s a powerful thing to be in an environment where all things are possible and there is nothing that can leave any blood behind.  If you awaken inside of a nightmare you can master your fear and confront your demons – literally.  Like the kid in the book “Where the Wild Things Are” the demons may become friends and explain a few things you didn’t even know were bugging you.  When you ask your demons who they really are they’ll answer they’re the guardians of your treasures.

And it’s a interesting question to ask yourself – if you were in an environment that responded to your wildest wishes, in which there were no consequences to what you choose, what would you do with yourself?  Is this Heaven or Hell?  Is this a rehearsal for the afterlife?  What comes leaping out of you in an environment of absolute freedom?

So this mountain top is not a dream and my son is calling to me to join them and have my picture taken.  I put my notebook and its calculated question away and creak to my feet.  The muscular blonde with the terrific ass is safe for now, and I’ll be sore as hell in the morning.  I won’t be spreading my arms and flying down off the mountain top this time.  It’s a slippery climb all the way down to the parking lot and if you goof it hurts.

And as I said, I have a goal.

If this mountain were a dream I might offer the athletic blonde a kiss on the lips and a friendly pinch, but then I’d raise my arms and fly alone to a quiet spot.  There I would close my eyes and meditate on the movement of breath until I reach that interior silence.  I’m very curious to know what consciousness feels like there down in the deepest depths of the Demi Monde beyond consciousness, beyond the waking mind’s normal reach.  What does the mind feel like when you go down in those colder, dark waters where the sunlight never reaches, but whose current  moves us constantly up above?  To be the fingers instead of the glove?  What strange long toothed devil fishes live there?  I wonder if they will sing to me, like Prufrock’s mermaids.  I don’t know what God is anymore, but I think it’s going to be found in that direction.  Somewhere that away.


  1. How clever of you to set this post on a mountain, Garce. Hills and mountains have been symbolic of challenge and reaching a goal (or not). Sisyphus, Christ, ascetics mystics and mountain climbers, all looking for a goal. Goals seem to be all uphill.
    I seldom remember dreams. Those I do remember stand out, but often don't make sense. Those I remember will wake me if I see these experiences as a dream while in the dream. To be able to control this "lucid dream" would be like having one's own Holodeck, like in Star Trek. Man, would I like one of those! But it certainly would be worthwhile to look into this book in lieu of Holodeck.

  2. I remember going up Stone Mountain in a cable car. Cheating, I know. This was way, way back when I could actually climb the occasional smallish mountain, but I would have had to to this one with a two-year-old kid on my back, and I wasn't up to that.

    As to dreams, the book sounds very interesting, but most of my dreams aren't ones I want to experience any more fully. Even the ones where I wake up thinking I've had a brilliant insight into a plot for a story turn out to be nonsense, if i can remember them at all, and I doubt that the one I can't remember are any different. I do know where many of my dreams come from; past experiences that were either abysmal failures or really the best that anyone could have done under the circumstances. Maybe with lucid dreaming I could come to terms with them, but I doubt it.

  3. I'm not sure we could determine the genesis or meaning of many of our dreams in the conscious state. In my guesswork, in our dreams we touch upon and satisfy human needs we may not be able to quantify in practical terms. These needs may not even be accessible to linear thought. Indeed, these unquantifiable thoughts may satisfy our need for chaos or some obscure necessity we're not aware of.

  4. Hello, Garce,

    I never know where your posts will lead me. (Or your stories, for that matter.) That's part of the fun of reading your stuff.

    I have lucid dreams occasionally, though not deliberately. I fly. I move things with my mind.

    In those dreams, sex never occurs to me.

    Have you read Monroe's Journeys Out of the Body?

    Have you seen the movie Waking Life?

  5. Garceus,

    All of it, beautifully said.

    It's fun to challenge the believability of a lucid dream (Can you feel gravity? Can you read text?). Even more mysterious to challenge is the believability of "reality" (If you've never seen it before, it may be invisible to you, even if it's there).

    Just woke up from one of those flying dreams. This one a whopper. And I visited Mom and Dad, recently passed, who were watching a new TV show called "The Sound of Round and Up." I've decided to use it as the inspiration behind and the title of a new sci-fi short story.

    Thanks, again, for your combination philosophical/poetic approach to this mystery in the demi-monde between the two worlds Krishnamurti might call the "What Is" and the "What Is Behind What Is."


  6. Hi Daddy X!

    Its the closest thing you'll ever get to a holodex and its free and all self generated. The mountain and the notebook are all true by the way. That's a picture of me slogging along my kid took in the moment.

    I think someday they may be able to induce lucid dreams as a form of therapy, giving someone a chance to explore on deeper levels. It wasn;t long ago they had the movie "Inception" which is essentially a movie about lucid dreaming. The characters dream to deeper and deeper levels, the dream within the dream within the dream. In the movie they dreamed lucidly down to five levels, like five russian dolls inside eachother. My record is four.

    But as you say the challenge is to stay in the dream. Once you realise its a dream the excitement kind of blows you out of it.


  7. Hi Sacchi!

    You were probably better off, falling with a two year kid on your back can be life changing. You could tell who climbed and who rode up by looking at their feet. The cable car people had flip flops or sandals. Anybody climbing with those would have twisted an ankle.

    I guess I understand if you don;t want to remember your dreams. I want to remember mine though. I write them down on a little PDA with a keypad I keep by the bed and sometimes the stuff I see there in the morning surprises me.


  8. Daddy X;

    What it is, when you begin to examine, or at least attend your dreams, you begin to see patterns, what Laberge calls "dreamsigns", things that are common images in your dreams. That's how you learn the vocabulary of the unconscious. I've also noticed that in the moment after I've woken up and I'll blearily scribbling down teh fading details intuitive words and images come to mind as though there were an interior dialogue suggesting what certain details represent.


  9. Hi Lisabet!

    Sex in dreams used to occur me often in the past. Now that I'm less testosterone challenged I don't dream abut sex that much. I do remember this one lucid dream I had many years ago and I woke up in the dream standing in Plaza Cinco de Mayo in downtown Panama City. A beautiful woman was walking by me and I grabbed her and kissed her passionately. She drew back and punched me in the face hard with her fist. It hurt! And then she yelled at me: "Just because you're dreaming doesn't mean you can do anything you want!"

    I HAVE Robert Monroes book "Journey's Out of the Body". Have you read it? I've snacked on it and experimented with it but nothing happened. I think it was his books that gave me the impression that Astral Projection and Lucid Dreaming are essentially the same thing.

    I'd never heard of Waking Life but after following your link it sounds like my kind of movie and I pegged it on Netflix. I just finished Homeland - my favoreite show of all time - amd I'm working my way through STARZ sword and sandal nonsense "Spartacus", which is my guilty pleasure.


  10. Hi Susan!

    LaBerge suggest reading text as one of the reality checks to see if you;re dreaming. Text has a way of changing from moment to moment in a dream, so you check to see if it says the same thing it did a minute ago. I often see my parents in dreams too. Strange. Once my Dad gave me some profound life advice in a dream and I woke thinking I should write it down but it was so impressive I was sure I would never forget it. Forgot all of it. No wonder the dead never speak to us, they'd be wasting their time.

    I have a couple of Krishnamurti books on my shelf I need to get to some time. People thought he was the messiah once - but he refused the job.



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