Interrogation of a Dream

In a dream I was helping people bury themselves alive. They laid themselves out in seeming family groups – some form of affiliation – men, women, young people. They had finely made chests with fresh food items – I remember piles of glistening shellfish. They were calm and peculiarly up-beat. After laying back they covered themselves with a cloth, like bed-covers, ready for the earth I would dump over them.

I was there with them on the edge of the circle. I somehow knew – Oh the invincibility of dreamers! – I wouldn’t be affected. They acted as if they were embarking on a trip, simply going somewhere.

I’m not sure if I was dumping soil on them when they were ready or if I was just a witness. My sense of judgment – as in many dreams – was suspended. It was only on waking – after “assisting” at four or five sessions, the deaths of twenty or thirty people, young people, children – that I felt a deep revulsion and regret for what I had done or allowed to happen.

Internment, interrogation, the connection came to me.

Regard: paying attention, watching, giving honor or respect to someone by placing attention on them. When can that be turned on its head? The first thing I thought of was in an interrogation. We focus attention on someone; but not for positive reasons. Not to bestow respect. We are out to destroy them through our attention, placing attention on what they’ve done, finding fault with who they are.

Killing is another….

Killing or standing by as others die, to be a passive witness, these all include a toxic regard, don’t they?

Internment: putting in the ground, but also incarceration: enclosing, as if in a shell? Taking to the ground, trapping another’s will by confining them, burying them alive….

Inter-rogate: to make a relationship based on asking, rogare. Rogare is also one of the roots of right. Right reflects back on interrogate through some of its other kin-words; rectus: straight, regere: to lead straight, direct: rule, oregein: to stretch out. Through rectus it reflects its connection – as a practice – to authority and authoritarianism.

When a narrow rule forms the Right to become an enemy of Life, there’s a focus placed on interrogation, a willingness to subvert regard – even to kill – for the sake of an Ideal. All effort is focused on transgression. None on consideration, either for the ultimate truth of the rule or for the condition of its victims.

Rectus, regere, Rex; there’s a progression in the words themselves that leads to oppression and empire. Some words are like rails leading us inexorably to a formation – in-the-world – of concepts articulated through affiliations between words. Do all words have this power? Probably not, at least not in such an overt a way. But, they are all complicit. Aren’t they? Not words themselves; but the way we string them together. The level of consideration we give to what hides within them, between them – hiding in plain sight.

Real, reality, slippery words not much to be trusted. But why is that? Is it because they tend to imply more than they can deliver? When we truly claim to know what is real, plenty of reason to doubt right there. Where do these words come from? Sanskrit rayi: property, via the Latin res, then real, and realis. These share a root in concepts of law. Law is about assertions of right-conduct that carry the weight of coercion and compulsion behind them. What is legal would like to be considered true; but will settle for being enforceable. Will even be happy to perpetuate itself in prolonged conflict where the will to enforce is exercised for the sake of exercising it and for the righteousness held in the drama of resisting a potentially greater force perceived as chaotic.

What is real is what is enforced. It’s right there in the word again. When we struggle with conceptions of the real. When we claim one “reality” to be delusional and another to be true. We are held in a domain of competing laws with all the baggage this carries along with it. While we may claim one reality to be coercive how can we make a competing claim for some other reality as accepting and not demanding? Accepting what? Law? Law, following the law, is about establishing a claim on the Right. How does that relate to a claim of seeking to follow the true?

True goes back through faithful and sure to its Sanskrit root in hard and ultimately wood or tree. Faithful shows a movement towards the mechanism of law, but sure, behind it, leads us to its ability to protect. The sense that truth is connected to confidence and the workings of destiny. Hard it surely is. Wood and tree root truth into the growing natural world from which we all come, placing us in relation to truth as outside; but ultimately sharing the same root, the same growth, the same germ, the same bud as us.

Should we look for the real? Or should we attempt to follow the true?

An upholder of Right will chose the real, the law, a practice intrinsically wrapped up in the pursuit of power, the exercise of will. Claiming what is rectus, leading us to regere, they are after installing human constructs as having the ultimate authority and will use whatever force is at their command to attempt to enforce their will. They will use any power of persuasion, coercion, annihilation to maintain Law’s supremacy.

Those who chose truth – IF they can hold to its root and meaning – carry on a different struggle. They, we, strive to come into alignment with something outside that, while hard and intractable like wood, embodies the dynamic of growth and is rooted in the source of all Life. It is outside of us; but it leaves hints of its existence in us that all point back to an underlying unity greater than ourselves, including us. We are not in the position of authority. Not wielders of power in the name of will; but searchers grappling with that which can, IS, the only source of confidence or assurance that we can have to guide our actions towards results that bring our expectations into alignment with what can be.

I’ve been grappling with this question about the implications of the real. It seemed to be leading to a dead-end. This dream of burial brought my unease to a head. It was also pointing towards a way through, or around, the struggle.

As always a hunger for precision in word coupled with the pursuit of authentic expression leads me back to a sense of the priority of truth. It’s so often misunderstood, willfully or otherwise. This progression of insights, a proof of sorts not aimed at finding or defending a law; but undertaken as a questioning, following the hints and whispers behind the surface of things that bring about a sense of orientation, an increase in a working confidence, approaching an assurance without the arrogance and hubris of proclaiming or demanding obeisance. It is this habit, this practice that sustains me. It’s what I work to embody and to communicate to others.

Is it a Bagua of the mind? A practice that takes place while we restrict movement and empty out our will so as to both simply be and accept, take in, what is filling our present? No thing appears to be happening. We are breathing, standing, resisting gravity, or whatever seeks to destroy our integrity while at the same time we open ourselves to a richness of contact with the world at its simplest through our most direct forms of interaction. A feeling of satisfaction suffuses us. We experience satiety. We have enough and wonder at the insanity of ever wanting anything else, more?

These practices ground us and let us feel acceptance. Not as a fall-back from some ideal; but as the fulfillment of our participation in the world we inhabit. They do not constrain us in any way other than to root us in what would only be fantasy to ignore. They don’t dominate us; but let us navigate with clarity among forces that would dominate us IF we were to lose this hard-won clarity.

Richard Sennett in his book, Respect has this to say,

“Plato’s Socrates was shy about laying down rules; he merely asked questions. Part of the reason Socrates is indirect has to do with Plato’s view of what it means really to understand something; knowing has to take form with the knower himself, as something of his own possession – Plato’s own version of craft-knowledge. And part of his indirection derives from a challenge to his society.… For the Greeks… imitation led inevitably to competition. Paedeia and agon were inseparable.… Plato’s critique of this competitive display was that it foreclosed the possibilities of exploration, of dwelling in difficulties. He took seriously the starting point of arete, the assumption of one’s own insufficiency.”

Catherine Lupton writes this about the soviet era film Stalker,

“What drew me back to the scene this time, was thinking about how to navigate any situation where appearances – and apparent laws – are not how that world actually operates. Maps, stories, received ideas – hope, even – are all useless, because the situation is changing all the time; yet experience and skills are required, to figure out the best means of adapting oneself to the situation, step-by-step, without certainty or guarantee of outcome. The situation, as it unfolds around you, dispenses only one clue at a time as to whether you’ve taken the right step, or not. The stakes are deadly, the terrain persists in looking ordinary. Feedback is often no more than a ripple of instinct, a lone article of faith.”

“The scene is also, implicitly, about choosing the right moment to reveal, or explain something. Re-watching it – viewers’ memories of Stalker being notoriously unreliable – I watched the Stalker draw apart from the other two men, half-merge into the dark undergrowth of the Zone, fill out the void in their experience opened by whatever mysterious forces compelled the Writer to retreat. Something which, even though they will go on half-pretending otherwise, they are now minded to consider seriously, no longer dismiss as cynical or crazy, because they have felt its mystery brush past within themselves.”

She titles this essay Navigation Zones.

Any linear thinker, forcing himself to read this post this far is shaking his head at the incomprehensible twists and turns, the ellipses and the chasms I appear to be asking them to leap. I doubt any have gotten this far, so let me address those of you who are still here.

This, as Catherine puts it, are ways to navigate zones of experience, wrestling with the terms of thought and speech while attempting to find our way. Not by paved roads and established certainties; but through cultivating a “Feedback (that) is often no more than a ripple of instinct, a lone article of faith.”

It may appear willful to be so indirect. Yet, I’m convinced it is only by some sort of indirection, by the side-long look needed to by-pass our blind-spot in low light and dim conditions, to find the kind of understanding “Plato’s Socrates” – in Sennett’s wonderful appellation – was insisting on. This places us in a position to navigate life and may make it possible for us to understand and have a potential impact on what our future will bring.

We stand by, implicit witnesses if not willing executioners, as death and extinction stalk our world. It’s not enough to be paralyzed with unfeeling, anesthesia; or appalled and revulsed at what is going on in our names. A true response will be hard to formulate. One that may bring results, even more so.

The Sanskrit for truth also brings us durable, hard, sustaining, enduring.

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4 thoughts on “Interrogation of a Dream

  1. I started this comment yesterday, worked on it for more than an hour, and lost it when I hit a key that took me away from the page. Now the weekend ebbs, and the must-do list looms, so this will second attempt to comment will be more time-constrained.

    The metaphor that works for me to explain how we navigate a complex, contradictory and intricately interconnected world is the spider’s web. I’ll borrow from an old blog post to explain:

    I think in webs that span void, circumference and even contradiction. It seems to me that there is nothing that is not connected to something else and even to its own opposite. There is no strength that is not connected to weakness, no virtue that is not connected to flaw, no ending that is not connected to beginning, no beginning that is not connected to an end, no gain that is not connected to loss, no gift given that is not also received in the giving, no selfish choice that does not incur loss as well as gain. Reality and consequence and perception are always webs, as interconnected as the forces that generate the trajectory of the ripple that rides the wave there and back again, in a foam of physics calculations the nimblest mind cannot follow. The web also represents connections felt across spans of distance, forged in conversation yet not absent in silence or difference or even death, rope bridges spanning roaring chasms between souls, precarious, yet sturdy enough for white-knuckled crossings.

    Of course, the web is not just a metaphor for consciousness and how we might know the world but also for the interdependence of life and environment, especially in an age of globalization.

    We cannot tread along the web without each step we take reverberating from our footfall to circumference, thus we are never able to be only witnesses. Even at rest, we contribute weight and inertia. We are necessarily participants in whatever happens to whole.

    Your mind will work on your dream for years, no doubt, and it will continue to unfold new meaning which you will perhaps write about again here someday. But it seems to me that the ambiguity of your position in the dream, as witness and as participant in these apparently voluntary suicides, is one of its deepest truths. There is no vantage point on this earth from which we can transcend what is happening and not be a part of it. We can only step consciously, with attention to how our choices create impacts where we are and far beyond.

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    1. InKyDo,

      Thank you for such a thoughtful response! I’ve found that when the dreaded unanticipated delete occurs, it can provide a wonderful opportunity for a clarifying redraft.

      Your articulation of the web fulfills what Richard Sennett says about Plato’s Socrates’ position on indirection, “…what it really means to understand something; knowledge has to take form with the knower himself, as something of his own possession…” p. 88, Respect. I believe this not only applies to indirection, but to the need to avoid canned thought, buzzwords and cliché. By putting things in our own words we vitalize thought, give it a nuance and a force of projection; leading to further thought on the part of the reader/listener.

      As you show the workings of the web, you clarify the place of ambiguity.

      Thought, the expression of ideas, is a dance, a ritual, and a performance; but not just in the obvious sense. Like any dance, ritual, or performance thought can be reduced to a notation. And, in so doing the power and fullness of the actual bleeds away. It is only by picking up the thread and carrying it further that we can participate.

      Thank you for doing that here.

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