Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Dr. Johnson in a Dream

I guess I’m like most people on this planet.

I’ve made more than my fair share of mistakes.

I was thinking about this a while ago. “It’s a pity life doesn’t come with an instruction manual,” I thought. And than it struck me. It does.

I’d just remembered something: a dream I’d had when I was in my teens. I won’t go into the details here except to say that, as I understood it later, it contained all the instructions I needed to get the best out of my life at that time. The fact that I didn’t pay heed, and continued to go about things in all the wrong ways is neither here nor there. Having an internal instruction manual doesn’t mean that you necessarily have to use it.

Actually the term “instruction manual” isn’t quite right. It’s more like the “Help” menu on your computer, meaning that it is part of the software, rather than an actual, physical book.

It is the sense, residing deep in your unconscious, of what your purpose is, which comes out in your dreams.

Sometimes the dream-instruction can seem a little obscure, but when you take time to think about it, it always make sense.

Like the time, in my early twenties, when I was wondering what to do with my life. I had a dream in which someone gave me a copy of Dr. Johnson’s dictionary, and I looked up the word “lapidary”.

A lapidary is someone who polishes gemstones. I am a stone: CJ Stone. I was being told to polish myself by reading the dictionary, in preparation for my life as a writer. The fact that it wasn’t just any old dictionary, but Dr. Johnson’s famed and immortal dictionary - the first definitive English dictionary - implies that the instruction came from some very deep and venerable place. From Dr. Johnson no less.

As a child, in fact, I had always been fascinated by dreams. Dreams were like stories in which I was the hero. Adventure tales, resonant with emotion and implied meaning, strange and yet familiar, they seemed like commentaries on my life, as if another part of me was whispering its reassuring presence from behind the veil of ordinary reality. I dreamt of a door inside a tunnel inside a cave, behind which lay the world of the dinosaurs. But that tunnel, that cave, that door seemed so reassuringly like home to me: as if they were all part of the geography of my soul.

I’ve heard it said that there is nothing more boring than listening to other people’s dreams. That may be true, but there is nothing more important, surely, than listening to your own, because where else do they come from but from your soul?

It’s imperative that you provide your own interpretation, however. No one else can do this for you. A dream is a feeling translated into images. It is a mood. You cannot find its meaning in a dictionary (not even Dr. Johnson's Dictionary). It’s what the images mean to you that matters. Mr. Freud cannot interpret it to you. Neither can I. The images are from your own life, for you and you alone. Only you can know what they mean.

Actually, I’m always sceptical when people give me that line about other people’s dreams being boring. If this were true then it would invalidate most of the work of psychoanalysis, not to speak of the Bible, many myths and fairy tales, as well as a large percentage of the world’s greatest literature. It’s just one of those defensive postures people adopt whenever they are faced with something that is a little too real. They pretend to yawn as they look the other way.

Chuang Chou said that he dreamed he was a butterfly and forgot he was Chou. He said, “I do not know whether it was Chou dreaming he was a butterfly, or the butterfly dreaming it was Chou.”

And, indeed, this is the truth. In a dream you forget the world of everyday reality, and enter a different realm. And who can say, really, which of the realms is the true one? Perhaps both of them are.

As for me: one day I dreamt that I was high up in the sky looking down at the toy town world below, riding on the back of a swan with a girl I knew at school, and the feeling was like exhilaration, like joy, like every pleasure you can name. And then it was as if my heart was caught on a wave of air as it reached out in front of me to a place high up on a mountain where a secret trail led to a crystalline rock, glistening with light in the fractured air. And then there was that feeling again, that this was me: this was my life, my place, my heart, and no one could ever take it away from me.

That dream, that place, that feeling, has called out to me ever since, as the place where my destiny lies.

Over the years it has been a recurring dream. One day I dreamt I was in my home town of Birmingham, amid all the industrial rubble and decay, and I saw my mountain glowering over the scene, hazy in the distance, calling out to me.

Another time I dreamed I was in a pub, and everyone was chattering in a foreign language, and I saw my mountain out of the window.

Finally I found myself in the lowlands on the way to the mountain, but I was diverted by the lure of bright lights and entertainment in what appeared to be a retro '70s discotheque, and then I was attacked by beings with bags over their heads on which were scrawled the crude depiction of faces. I called these beings the Un-men, and I knew that I was lost in the world of unreality.

I’ve not dreamed about the mountain since, but I’ve thought about it, often.


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