Doors within Doors ~ deciphering the dreaming

Doors within Doors ~ deciphering the dreaming

Last year I found myself taking lots of photographs of doors and doorways, some open, some closed and some even bricked up.

 The best ones (visually anyway) were ones that were taken from the inside looking out. The view is framed by the doorway and the view is enticing.

The real reason I am fascinated by doorways is not merely aesthetic but symbolic. I dream a great deal about doors; often in the dream I try to exit a building only to find that the doorway is somehow far too narrow to squeeze my bulk through. Or I dream that my door to the world will not fully shut and remains stubbornly open and vulnerable to intrusion by the exterior world. Or that I am unable to open a door to escape from a house. Many of my dreams see me exploring, often fearfully in darkened rooms and corridors, a great house, vast in size and packed with rooms full of wonders and terrible things. I go up stairs that never end, trying to find a way off the exhausting ascent. Often stairs are for the trigger for realising I am dreaming and then I can take some control and enjoy “lucid dreaming”.

A common door dream I have at regular intervals is one where I find a secret door in my home, that has been there all along but I have forgotten about, and which leads to a series of rooms that are hidden but somehow familiar. I discover what amounts to a second house, annexed to the main one, and I explore that avidly. I wake feeling disappointed that these extra rooms are not really present. The extra rooms have the feel of having been recently inhabited but I never meet anyone there.

But the dreams that end up haunting me most are the ones where I am trapped within a building and cannot find a door that takes me out into the open air, and into nature. Sometimes I go through doors that seem to take me outside but in fact they turn me back to the inside. I often wake distressed and claustrophobic from these.

About a week or two back I had one of these dreams but it had a rather interesting twist. I was in a caravan and I wanted to go out. The door was there so I opened it. Behind it was another door. I opened that. It went on, opening door after door without ever revealing the way out. A voice, just off camera, said to me, “This is a spirit door, it is there to confuse the spirits.” It made perfect sense and within the dream I seemed to remember some Tibetan practise of putting in fake doors to trap evil spirits. I lost the dream a moment after that but I do recall I may have tried to exit via a window and the dream went elsewhere.

I woke with a sense of having been given a clue.  A door is not always a door; sometimes it is a trap. In the last novel I wrote (not yet named or published) the main character ended up in a catatonic fugue state, as a result of extreme stress and trauma but the final straw was moving through a gateway in his own garden. Now previous to this, he had experienced a deep shamanic trance state where he had met and talked with his dead mother herself stuck in between worlds, and captive by her own choices in a moment frozen in time in that same garden. Their conversation finally freed her from this self-imposed imprisonment and the son acted as a kind of psycho-pomp for the dead by allowing her to pass from the garden into the next world via a seldom-opened gate in the garden wall. His own desire to escape from the travails of his life meant that the next time he passed in reality through this gate, it sent him back into a limbo world like that timeless night-garden and trapped him in a non-responsive state.

I’ve battled with this desire to escape, escape from myself and my life and who I am for a long time. I think this is what fuels these dreams of doors and doorways and why my unconscious plays these tricks on me.

I somehow feel that perhaps within my dreaming I have been so focused on going through doors I have not considered (like the hero in my novel) where they actually lead. Do they lead to the open air, the wide skies and freedom or do they lead like the gateway in my hero’s journey to a limbo land of nothingness and waiting?

I do not know.

Last night though I dreamed a slightly different dream. Without conscious action I moved within a dream from an interior setting to an outside one. I had no awareness of the transition from being at a computer holding an instant messaging conversation with someone who will probably never communicate with me again, to being outside and at the foot of an impossibly steep hill. Others (I don’t know who) were with me and while I thought the hill too steep to ascend, someone showed me that it was only the first six feet that were hard, and suddenly, I was hauling myself up onto a path that was far higher up than I expected to be. It was a hill that seemed to have been a sort of ancient hill fort that had been built upon and used for a long, long time and once I was past a certain point, I was able to stand at the low walls and look out across a vast and brightly lit city below me. I wasn’t at the top, but I was a good halfway and the rest of the climb didn’t look that hard at all.

The following lines are from T.S Eliot’s East Coker, in the Four Quartets

You say I am repeating

Something I have said before. I shall say it again.

Shall I say it again? In order to arrive there,

To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,

You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.

In order to arrive at what you do not know

You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.

In order to possess what you do not possess

You must go by the way of dispossession.

In order to arrive at what you are not

You must go through the way in which you are not.

And what you do not know is the only thing you know

And what you own is what you do not own

And where you are is where you are not.

It seems to be about a form of conscious unconsciousness. Maybe like my hero in that novel, I need to go through a form of dispossession of self.

Doorways ~ an open and shut case?

This one?

or this one:

“Footfalls echo in the memory, down the passage we did not take towards the door we never opened into the rose garden. My words echo thus in your mind. But to what purpose  disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose leaves I do not know.”

T.S. Eliot, Burnt Norton (Four Quartets)

Returning from a Pilgrimage

 

And what you thought you came for
Is only a shell, a husk of meaning
From which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled
If at all. Either you had no purpose
Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured
And is altered in fulfilment.”- TS Eliot, Little Gidding

It hits like an earthquake or a flash flood, or thunder in a clear sky, this sudden understanding, this making plain of what was obscure. It’s like being hit on the head, the violence and the unexpectedness of the realisation that now, now  you understand.

And yet, in the moment also comes a realisation that the chances are you will never be able to explain what you know now and how you come to know it. Everything becomes a metaphor, a finger pointing at the moon.

The first time this earthquake really shook my brain I was nineteen and I’d just had a professor of astrophysics explain the Theory of Relativity to me, quite cordially over a cup of coffee in a senior common room I really wasn’t meant to be in. It had taken about fifteen minutes and when he paused and looked at me to see if I “got” it, the ‘quake hit and I did. I had the sense of my own intelligence being too small, too puny to retain it and relay it back to another person, but for a few seconds I “got” it and it made sense. Then the synapses involved seemed to implode and the fragile connections were lost. But for a short while I understood.

Perhaps I might have understood for longer had my field been physics or even mathematics, but my subjects were English and Latin and I was a sneaky interloper in this world of mad professors and bad coffee.

These last weeks have been full of goodbyes, some permanent and some apparently temporary. I’ve been discovering that I am homeless, in a very real sense, but not the literal one. On Sunday I attended Quaker meeting as I occasionally do. For those who are unfamiliar with it, Quaker worship consists of sitting in silence for an hour and listening to…well, inner thoughts, God, the collective thoughts of all. I don’t know. For me, it’s always been an oasis of peace and time to be, for a short time at least, a part of a greater community. This Sunday, I felt an outsider again. Nobody’s fault; I suspect it’s always been the case. I am unable to commit to being anything other than an occasional attender and on Sunday I realised that while it may be still of benefit, it’s never going to be Home for me.

Yesterday we made an impromptu pilgrimage to Walsingham.

It was unplanned in the sense that we didn’t spend days or weeks deciding we would go, but we went on the spur of the moment. It’s maybe an hour and a half’s drive away, when the traffic is good and it’s been some three years since I last went, I think. Walsingham has been the centre of pilgrimage since 1061, with a break during the Reformation until about seventy years ago when the Well was rediscovered. I’ve always liked the quirky little town in the middle of nowhere near the North Norfolk coast and enjoyed the Anglo-Catholic pomp and ritual, with a small smile of amusement, and I have had great respect for the well itself. The Shrine church is a masterpiece of bad taste and worse art and yet, amid the many flickering candles I used to sense the spirit of the place and of God.

But yesterday, while I enjoyed the visit, it had ceased to be special and meaningful for me. My purpose in visiting had been to touch base with my spirituality and yet, when I was there, nothing. I attended the sprinkling of the waters, drank the waters and was grateful and yet, beyond that, nothing.

When I got home, I remembered the words that had been in my head before we went:

You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid.” TS Eliot, Little Gidding

That was true enough. I had indeed gone to pray and yet, my purpose in being there was indeed “beyond the end you figured
And is altered in fulfilment.”- I had come for something and yet, not knowing what it was, truly, even then I had found it was not what I had come for.

I had come for something else. I had come to find something I had believed I would find here and yet, I did not find it. I don’t even know if I can get further than this with my explaining.

There are three conditions which often look alike
Yet differ completely, flourish in the same hedgerow:
Attachment to self and to things and to persons, detachment
From self and from things and from persons; and, growing between them, indifference
Which resembles the others as death resembles life,
Being between two lives—unflowering, between
The live and the dead nettle.” TS Eliot, Little Gidding

Something has changed in me. I am between two lives.

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always—
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.” TS Eliot, Little Gidding

I am the explorer, waiting for my new journey to begin.

Celebrating Brokenness

While I was walking home yesterday I was musing on various things and the chief of these is the question I have often asked myself: why is it that most of the dearest and closest friends I have are deeply damaged people in some ways? Oh sure, that’d be because they have me in common. Somebody has said that the people we attract into our lives mirror our own inner state of soul.

I admit quite willingly I am a mess. But I am a functioning mess nonetheless: I hold down two remarkably difficult jobs and do them well, I have been married since the dawn of time to a man I still love, I have managed to succesfully rear one child to adulthood( defining success here is not on the agenda) and I’ve never yet been arrested by the police for socially unacceptable behaviour (like murder or GBH or public drunkness). But despite all this I know full well that inside I am pretty mashed up and broken up and a real live crash test dummy.

If you could look at my soul as a collection of bones, you’d see unhealed breaks, compound and simple fractures and even bones that are little more than fragments of crushed egg shells.

Thank God no one can see into the soul like that.

But brokenness has a strange side. The edges of those internal fractures rub against each other, creating pain but also friction. And that friction creates a kind of inner heat that becomes transformed into a fire. Now the fire can go several ways. You can douse it in the ice water of whatever pain relief works for you, be it drink or drugs or sex or soap operas or whatever, and stop the pain. Or the fire can rage out of control and lead you into psychosis and loss of self. Or the fire becomes one of creation.

The painter sees an inner vision rising from that pain and the flames and seizes his brushes or his chisel, the poet rushes to capture the words on paper, the singer/songwriter reaches for their guitar, the shaman draws their drum to their heart and drums the pain for the people.

And the writer simply writes.

It’s a process of alchemy, defying description and definition, of weaving not the pain itself but the reactions to the pain and turning it into something that is beyond the pain.

I’ve been given morphine many times over the year by medical people and it has a strange effect not of stopping the pain but of moving it to one side so you lose conection with it. It’s a weird state to be in: you are there and the pain is there, so real you can almost touch it but it isn’t hurting you any more. And while the pain doesn’t hurt any more, you can lie still and stop thrashing around to try and escape it and then, a miracle happens:

You can start to heal.

It’s the same process with writing. The strange internal chemistry takes the fire and your feelings and your intense pain and it changes it. You find the pain still exists but no longer inside you, burning its way out,  but now it is to one side, so you can look at it burning away, dispassionately and without judgement. And as that fire burns without burning, you can for a while be still and let it be and let yourself heal from it.

Fire cannot burn forever without fuel and eventually the fire burns out. You are left with the memory of the pain and whatever you created. And if you have responded sensitively and skillfully, you are left with something that can act as a marker for someone else, a template so that they too can feel your pain, feel it move beyond you and then subside into healing and in doing so, they can experience some measure of healing themselves.

There’s a story in Greek mythology about the centuar Chiron, tutor to the young Hercules who was given a wound that would never heal and also immortality. In his search for relief from his own pain, Chiron found herbs and healings for many many people but his own pain never left him entirely.

For a broken person, perhaps the friction between those ragged fragments of soul will never end because when one soul-bone heals there are still plenty more that hurt beyond measure.  But if art and music and literature rise from these friction flames to heal others of their pain, then perhaps the soul purpose of the brokeness is revealed.

I despair at times of the self help world because it promotes wholeness without understanding brokenness. It’s not a perfect world. It can’t be. We cannot be perfect people because while we remain open and alert to the beauty and wonder of the world we remain open to the horror and the pain and the ugliness to and if our souls are sensitive, we break.

Would you have a world without pain? Then you would also choose a world without sublime beauty and soul too. As night and day are part of the same thing, so too are pain and beauty.

I’d like to leave you with the final stanza of TS Eliot’s poem Little Gidding, from the Four Quartets.

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always—
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

I shall write more about the fire and the rose in another post but I’d like to leave you with a thought. Think of your favourite piece of music, or poem or painting or book. Would you rather that didn’t exist? Because I would be willing to bet that the creator of that fashioned it from their response to that internal friction of soul fragments rubbing against each other.