Saturday, March 12, 2011

On Dreaming: Whys and Wherefores?

Dear Readers,

It's possible my postings today sound a bit discombobulated.  And that they'll continue to do so for some days now.  And it occurs to me to tell you why, though this means speaking at a level of personal self-revelation that some bloggers who want to be thought of as tasteful and respectable eschew.

On several occasions in my life, I've had dreams that, well, I can only say this bluntly: they foresee the future.  I suspect that many more people have experiences like this than we know about, and that many people who have prescient dreams may not even know this is the case, because they're simply not paying attention to their dreams.

I happen to have grown up in a family that valued dreaming.  This was, I think, something passed down on what we have always called the Irish side of our family, though I have Irish roots in more than one place in my family tree: it was passed down from my maternal grandmother's mother, who was born in Ireland, and who had, so family stories have always maintained, what was called "second sight."  She had flashes of insight about the future, even--so the stories say--"visions" of the deaths of several of her children who died as infants or young children.

And this tendency to "see" got handed down to various family members, along with a familial tendency to believe in and value the "seeing."  And dreaming.  We seem to dream lavishly in my family, though--again--I suspect everyone dreams lavishly, but many people simply don't remember that they have done so when they wake up in the morning.  What makes the difference is a cultural or familial setting that teaches us to remember, value, and talk about our dreams.  And that culture has long existed in the "Irish" side of my own family.

And so there's this: on three occasions that I can recall, I've had dreams that foresaw some natural disaster--vividly.  And with a strong sense of foreboding in each of these dreams.

The first such dream I can remember took place in the fall of 1976, when I dreamt in rich detail about an accident on the Mississippi River in which a ferry was overturned by a ship, causing cars to careen from the ferry and killing a number of people.  In my dream, I was with my family waiting for the ferry (we had, in fact, taken this same ferry across the river on several trips to Louisiana in the past).

As the ferry approached, I knew something ominous was about to happen and I begged my family not to drive onto the ferry.  We didn't do so, and then as we watched from the shore, a ship came along, hit the ferry broadside, and sent the cars on the ferry tumbling into the river.

And a few days after the dream, I opened the newspaper to see that this precise thing had occurred the day before.  And that the ferry in question was the one I'd just dreamt about.  The picture on the front page of the paper was a picture from my dream--it was what I had seen happening in the dream, in precise detail, following the accident.

Years down the road, the same thing happened to me with the Katrina disaster in New Orleans.  At that time, I was keeping a detailed dream journal, and I can now go back and read the two vivid--and ominous--dreams in which I foresaw the flooding of New Orleans.  The first occurred on the evening of Epiphany in 2005.

Like my ferry dream, this dream was precise in its details: I was in New Orleans, on a street--Palmyra--near which Steve and I first lived after we met, and on which some longtime friends of ours, Abner and Kathleen, lived for many years.  And, as we looked out the window from our second-story house (a fictional house from the dream, and not one in which we had actually lived), the street suddenly flooded.  As did all the surrounding streets.  A boat came up the street, a man paddling it.

Then the waters receded and we were about the task of picking up debris, helping people rebuild, getting gardens back into shape.  There was, in the dream's final moments, a sense of urgency about rebuilding, about taking what had been destroyed and putting it back together, and while Steve's urgency focused on gathering architectural debris, mine centered on reclaiming the drowned gardens of the city, especially the gardens of City Park nearby.

Then months later, I had another dream, equally vivid but less specific as to location.  In this dream, I was on a train passing an unnamed city.  The city was behind glass--as with an ant colony being studied by scientists, where the colony has been sliced and scientists can watch the ants at work, while the ants appear to have no clue they're being observed.

In this dream, the train passed through a long tunnel in which I could see, horrified, the bedrooms of people living in the city behind the glass.  In each bedroom, people were asleep, and water was rising, in some cases with snakes writhing in it.  I had no idea how to contact those in the bedrooms and let them know they were in danger.  I was mystified that they were sleeping as disaster approached them.

And within the week of that dream, Katrina hit.  When it did so, the people of New Orleans were asleep.  The storm had passed and appeared to have done its worst.  During the night, as people slept, thinking they were secure, the levies broke and houses flooded.  

And on the news, I saw, in the week ahead, a clip in which a man was paddling a boat down Palmyra Street.  The same street about which I had dreamt.  Same man.  Same boat. 

And now it's happened again.  Last week, I had another vivid, ominous dream that I described the next morning in great detail to Steve.  I've checked with him in the past two days to see whether I'm imagining that I had this dream and whether I'm remembering its details clearly.  Steve confirms what I  remember.  As he points out, I told him that I had dreamt, very precisely, of a tsunami,.  I used that word as I recounted the dream, and I told him that, since the dream had the same "feel" of those other two prescient dreams, I feared this dream was another of those foretelling dreams.

I was not aware of a precise location as I dreamt of a huge wave coming in to shore and sweeping buildings away.  I only knew in some vague way that the location was "far to the west"--on some shore I would reach if I traveled many miles to the west of where I live.

As with the ferry dream, this dream, too, involved members of my family with whom I was visiting the seashore.  One of my family members, my cousin Susan, wanted us all to go swimming.  I was determined that we not do so, however, since I knew something was about to happen.

I insisted that we return to our beachside hotel and go to the top of the building.  As we did so, we watched as the waves grew stronger and stronger, higher and higher, and then overtook the beach and reached the building itself--lashing the top of the building to which we'd climbed to safety.

And so, as I noted at the start of this posting, I'm a bit rattled by this experience.  There's an aftermath of . . . guilt . . . about these disaster dreams, since part of what separates them from "normal" dreams is that ominous sense of something about to happen, a heightened sense of dread.  Which seems to implicate me, insofar as I "know" something, but am unable to do anything about what I know, a feeling perfectly encapsulated in that pre-Katrina dream by the experience of being on a passing train, looking through glass walls and seeing people's beds swamped by water, and being unable to change the situation.

And so I find the pictures of what has just happened in Japan, and the reports of the loss of life, very troubling, indeed.  And I wonder if there is not some way in which I might have channeled what I "knew" in advance of all these disasters, to issue a warning.  And I have qualms, strong reservations, about even writing anything about dreams when people have just died and are suffering in large numbers in Japan.

And I wonder why these dreams come so very rarely and randomly.  And what anyone is meant to do about them.

I wonder, in fact, why anyone has them, since I am convinced many more people have prescient dreams than we realize.  Or whether having such dreams means that I should be spending far more time cultivating a spiritual life and far less time nattering away on a blog about trivialities.

I don't, by the way, think there is anything particularly "spiritual" about having dreams such as these.  I think the capacity to have dreams that see the future (and the past: I'm persuaded dreams open doors in both directions) is inbuilt, natural, not some gift reserved for spiritual adepts.  One of the most ethically challenged people I've ever known, in fact, frequently has prescient dreams.  This is a former boss of mine.  She foresaw, and talked about, the 9/11 events in New York a number of days before they happened--foresaw them in a dream.

I do think our dreams link us to others in surprising ways, though, in ways that have the potential to deepen our spiritual awareness, if we use our dream-lives aright.  And part of what I mean when I wonder if this recent dream is a calling to me to go deeper spiritually is that there's a mysterious dimension about dreaming that yields its mysteries only when we quiet ourselves and listen intently.

And when we do that, we sometimes find, I think, that we are dreaming in ways that connect to the inner lives of others quite unexpectedly.  Over the years, for instance, my youngest brother and I have discovered that we have occasionally had the same dreams--not at the same time, but on different occasions.  And when we happen to mention to the other what we've dreamt, it turns out that we've both walked through the same dream plot, down to the most minute details of staging.

I've also had the strange experience of having a version of the same dream that two other people unrelated to me, who live in distant places and are connected to me by email, had around the same time.  Dreams linked by a shared motif of disaster that turns out not to be disaster at all, but a strange opening to a brighter future.  And dreams that, in each case, involved a white tiger as a central figure in this apocalyptic event presaging the inauguration of a new future.

What to make of all this?  I don't know.  Except that it happens.  Or, at least, I'm convinced it happens, though some of those reading this strange posting may think otherwise.  And may, in fact, think that this is all plumb crazy, as my non-Irish and non-dreaming grandmother, who believed that remarkable dreams occur only in the bible, would have said, waving her hand dismissively and making the old-fashioned pshaw sound she had learned from her mother to whisk away the nonsense.

P.S later in the day: speaking of spirituality, I've just happened to remember that today is the day I entered the Catholic church in 1967.  Not sure the church has cared much for what it got when it pulled this particular fish into its net . . . .

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