Growth and the journey of life: A dream

30 August 2010

05:54 am:  What an extraordinary dream I have just had. Long, elaborate, multi-layered and highly symbolic. Let’s see if I can remember it.

To set the scene, before going to sleep I had been writing something for this website about one of the personality features in the Michael teachings, the goal of growth. I was wondering how best to describe it and how it operates in life. I know that growth is my own life goal, so I was thinking that I “should” know all about it from personal experience.

It starts in a cruise ship crossing the sea. I am on a journey. But I know that this journey is actually part of some kind of “reality theatre” experience. There are actors and there are audience members like me, but it seems impossible to tell which is which.

At first I’m just looking around inside the ship for a good place to sit down for the journey, but I’m not sure where I’m allowed to be or how long this part of the journey is going to be. Everything is a bit strange and I feel very uncertain about how to be and what to do.  [Exactly how I felt throughout my childhood].

Next, the ship arrives in some port, which looks at first 17th or 18th century, but then the historic buildings give way to a very modern-looking office block.

Now I am off the ship and I am taking a lift (elevator). The lift goes up a little but then starts moving sideways. How strange! This, I realise, must be part of the “show”, the theatrical experience. Those of us inside the lift laugh nervously about this. We wonder where we are being taken and what’s in store for us.

We emerge into a small theatre or lecture room. Once we have all taken a seat, some members of staff hand hand each of us a hormone pill. [I believe it was referred to as oxytocin.] This, apparently, is going to make us emotionally open, trusting and vulnerable. They explain that this means we won’t be able to resist or disengage from the impact of the series of challenging scenarios lined up for us. All an essential part of the experience!

So now, as the pills take effect, we are sent out on our own to experience a variety of dramatic/enacted scenes in different places, some indoors and some outdoors.

In each place there is a group of people milling about, and again it is hard to tell who are the audience members (like me) who are having the experience and who are the actors providing the experience. But in each place, some kind of mildly challenging scenario unfolds.

To begin with, I go around various indoor scenes. Waiting in line for one of these, a man tells me “Wow, I just came from a room over there where I had great sex. You should try it.” Is he lying? Is he acting? Is he just a member of the public telling the truth? I don’t know how to respond. I feel very awkward.

Then I am taking the lift again to another level. As I’m standing in the lift this time, a guy leans forward kisses me on the mouth. I feel embarrassed and distrustful, but find myself instinctively saying “thanks”. Because of the hormonal effect, I feel unable to resist being warm and “nice”. Hmm, I am experiencing inner conflict. I realise that he must be one of the actors and that this kiss must be just another one of the encounters to be experienced. I realise this intellectually, but my emotions about the kiss are magnified. There’s that feeling of awkwardness again.

I go through more and more “awkward” scenes, and whenever I think it’s the last one, there is another one around the next corner.

One scene occurs when I step outdoors. Here is a poor, frantic woman — apparently this is during the Second World War, as she is being pushed and shouted at by a group of Nazi soldiers. They are getting ready to shoot her. Surely this is part of the act. But we, the audience, have to walk right through them to get to the next part, and as I do so I instinctively apologise to the Nazis for interrupting them! How weird is that?

Another scene: A tall guy wants to kick a football to me. He says, “Low or high?” I say, “Make it a high one”. But he kicks it not just over my head but right over a building, and it is lost. That seemed deliberate to me — another part of the act! — but emotionally I feel obliged to recover the ball. Then I notice that I am one of several people thinking about climbing through these buildings to retrieve a lost ball, all of us feeling slightly guilty about it.

At this point I have an insight. This whole show, I realise, has been specifically and cleverly designed to make us feel this conflict between social nicety and personal discomfort. It is representing something basic in the human condition — how in life we must always come into contact with others we don’t know, and whose behaviour is unpredictable. It’s about how our interactions in life often don’t go they way we would wish. And that’s ok. That’s exactly how it’s supposed to be.

Next I step into an art installation. There is some kind of object here on view. [I can’t remember what it was.] I notice that the written description next to it gives a major clue to the whole experience. It’s a list of all the scenes/encounters in some kind of chronological order: Number 1 is the cruise ship journey and is entitled “Insemination.” Then there is “Conception”, “Birth” and so on.

I then realise that the whole experience has been symbolic of the journey of life, from beginning to end.

I feel some great relief at this understanding, plus a little smug at getting it before other people, who don’t spot it.

Finally I am at the exit line, and we are filing out through a gate. It’s a tight squeeze. And just before the exit gate, I find myself going past some tables covered in what look like free souvenirs of the journey (cups or mugs). Many people appear to be taking one as they leave. As I pick one up for myself an angry young woman suddenly comes up to me and makes a fuss about how these are not free give-aways and people shouldn’t just take them. I now feel (once again) awkward and embarrassed and conflicted. Then I realise (once again) that she’s probably just one of the actors and this is just the final routine. I don’t know whether to thank her for a good performance or to apologise for taking a “souvenir”.

At this point I awoke and wrote all of the above. I also had a strong feeling that I have had this dream at least once before.

When I went back to sleep, I found myself in a semi-lucid state in which I could exercise some control over my dreams. I went back into the same dream and repeated the theatre scene but this time I deliberately didn’t take the hormone pill. So I was able to experience all of the same dramas but without the overriding emotional involvement.

One bit involved walking past some young people “accidentally” throwing water over passers by. Being clear-headed this time, I saw what was about to happen and grumpily avoided them.

I realised that being intellectually detached and unemotional like this makes for a different kind of life experience. Yes, it gives me a clear head so that I can avoid things I might not like, but it also robs life of its “educational” power. If your goal in life is growth, then life is supposed to be experienced the way it comes as a lot of work has gone into the production — all the emotional conflict is deliberate, carefully designed to induce us to think more deeply about life. But too much emotional involvement or conflict prevents the ability to think. So it’s a balancing act.

Just as many performance artists want to challenge their audience into thinking differently, the journey of life itself is a cunningly crafted series of personal growth challenges. Having both some degree of emotional involvement and some degree of intellectual detachment is the optimum way to gain insights from it.

This, I now see, is what the goal of growth is all about.


As I write this I am suddenly reminded of one of my favourite comedy movies, The Man Who Knew Too Little. (… And how’s that for a significant title from my unconscious!?)

In the movie, an American visiting London (Bill Murray) innocently believes himself to be taking part in a fun “reality theatre” experience with various actors playing the roles of spies and villains. He fails to realise that he has inadvertently stumbled upon a real espionage plot. As a result, he thoroughly enjoys the unfolding drama — killings, car chases and kidnappings — without any fear.

I think this is another clue to the living of life: only fear makes the dramas of life seem heavy and bad, Without fear, it’s all a bit of fun.

– barry

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