The Remystification of the World: Amen for a Child's Job
There are so many thresholds to the doorway of the divine -- to the intelligent and benign forces that surpass the ego -- and one of them is by way of the dream. Because once you begin taking your dreams seriously, you realize that you “inhabit” a parallel world that is every bit as real as the material world. It is real because you -- your ego -- in no way create this world. Rather, you are are just as much an “object” in it as you are in the material world.
In my dreams I have seen beautiful architecture and paintings that have somehow been produced in me but not by me. I have seen the most awesome landscapes that one would think only God could have created. In fact, perhaps the highly creative person is simply someone who is able to dream by day -- to trancelight a small fraction of the infinite creativity of the night and bring it out into daylight. It seems to me that all great art has something of the dream -- and therefore, magic -- in it.
What is so striking about dreams is not just that you can interpret them and that they contain a wealth of wisdom and knowledge. That is a given. The larger question is, as my colleague James Grotstein out it in the title of a book, Who is the Dreamer Who Dreams the Dream? Because whoever he is, he knows us much better than we know ourselves. He knows virtually everything about us, and wishes to communicate it to us through plot, imagery, character, and symbolism. Why? What are these mysterious messages from our Self to our self?
First of all, dreams are not structured in the way science understands the material world to be structured (scientists are actually only half right about that, but I don’t have time to get into it right now). Rather, dream consciousness is explicitly holographic, meaning that, like a great work of art, it is dense with possible interpretations, all of them more or less true. In the case of this dream of mine, I believe it was a commentary of our recent little sidetrack into the bloodless and devitalized world of atheism, for such a world represents the exact opposite of the dream, so dense with layer upon layer of inexhaustible meaning.
A person will literally go crazy if he is prevented from dreaming. Along those lines, it is a truism that there is a form of madness that involves losing everything but one’s capacity to reason. This I believe summarizes the dry and denatured madness of atheism.
Here again, please do not get me wrong: I do not intend to insult or belittle rank and file atheists who are simply indifferent to matters of spirit, Rather, I specifically address myself to the rank and foul, to those who make it their life’s work to demystify the unfathomable mysteries of existence, life and consciousness, and then to try to impose that morbid ideology on the rest of us.
For to drain the world of its irreducibly mysterious and dreamlike qualities is to create a nightmare. Even as a child, without knowing it consciously, I realized that this was the world of atheistic communism. More than anything I could have learned from the adults around me, it was this dark intuition of an unambiguous world devoid of dreaming -- in a child’s mind, perhaps the polar opposite of Disneyland, which to me was literally paradise on earth. Which world is more real, the objective world of philosophical materialism, or the “fantasy” world of depth, meaning and wonderment? Is sustained wonderment not a vital human faculty? Are we not more in touch with the world when we are full of wonder than we are when we are filled with the answer?
Philosophy is no different than music, in that one can tell in an instant when a musician or a piece of music comes from a merely technical or “mechanical” place as opposed to a spiritual source. This is what gives music its depth and richness, and allows repeated listening despite having heard a piece hundreds of times. It is not about the complexity, for if that were true, there would be no way to explain the magic of certain “primitive” blues musicians such as Muddy Waters or Howlin’ Wolf. I think it is fair to say that the person who is alienated from spirit cannot help seeing the world as geometry, when it is actually frozen music of the most exquisite kind.
One of the reasons I love the music of Van Morrison is that he is always at least trying to encounter the source of music. In reading his biography, I wasn't surprised to learn that a number of years back he actually organized a conference on the power of music to convey spiritual experiences and to bring about higher states of consciousness. He rarely does interviews, but when asked what effect he would like his music to have, he responded "Ideally, to induce states of meditation and ecstasy as well as to make people think." Based on my own experience, he clearly possesses an ability to tap into and convey these spiritual states through his music. As he has said, "If you say that we all have a basic purpose for for being here, then that's why I'm here. I've tried running away from it. I've tried ignoring it. I've tried suppressing it. I've tried everything there is to get away from this because at times its seems it's a hell of a big responsibility."
I can well understand the latter concern, because, unlike most artists who simply play their "greatest hits,” I have personally seen how Morrison enters a sort of altered state in concert, bringing the audience along with him. In this regard, his music has some connections with jazz, since it is improvisational, but it is improvisational in a different way -- almost as if he's being led by a spirit into some other dimension and "singing in tongues." But that's not something you can turn on like a light switch. It's is a grace, which is not self-generated but comes from elsewhere. And when it's not there, the music becomes "merely human," so to speak. Nice craftsmanship, but missing the element that vaults you into another dimension.
Many of Morrison's songs are about the "natural mysticism" of childhood. Apparently as a child he had many unprovoked mystical experiences in which the veil that separates our world from the deeper mystery surrounding it was rent away--often when listening to music. I can totally relate to this, as I had similar experiences as a child. But as we age and increasingly ingest the “food of the world,” something happens to that childlike (but hardly childish) sense of wonder, unless we are very careful to nurture and preserve it. Is there a pill we can take that can undo or neutralize the pneuma-toxins of the world?
One fatuous charge that is frequently levelled against theists is that we are frightened of life and therefore drawn to “fairy tales” of the hereafter. I can only speak for myself and affirm that I personally don’t give much thought to what happens upon our physical demise. Rather, for me, religion is a much more intense way of being in the world, not just spiritually, but intellectually, philosophically, aesthetically, interpersonally, creatively, and in every other way.
My son, who is 18 months old, is so full of life that it is as if his little body can’t contain the ecstasy involved. Yesterday he stood up on his little chair and began dancing, trembling, laughing, stomping his feet and shouting with joy. He would become rigid one moment--sort of like one of those body builder poses--only for the energy to course through him like lightning exploding a statue. It was absolutely contagious, because he could look at us through his eyes and transmit the energy. Soon we were all laughing, and our laughter simply amplified his energy. It only happens every day. I’m sure there is a scientific explanation for this transmission of shakti. Which explains precisely nothing.
The child of whatever age remains close to the paradise not yet fully lost. “and it is for that reason that childhood constitutes a necessary aspect of the integral man: the man who is fully mature always keeps, in equilibrium with wisdom, the qualities of simplicity and freshness, of gratitude and trust, that he possessed in the springtime of his life” (F. Schuon).
In Song of Being a Child (a poem by Peter Handke), Morrison recites,
When the child was a child,
[It] wanted the stream to be a river and the river a torrent
And this puddle, the sea
When the child was a child, it didn’t know
It was a child
Everything for it was filled with life and life was one
Saw the horizon without trying to reach it
Couldn’t rush itself
And think on command
Was often terribly bored
And couldn’t wait...
When the child was a child berries fell
Only like berries into its hand...
Atop each mountain it craved
Yet a higher mountain... And still does
Reach for the cherries in the treetop
As elated as it still is today
Morrison improvises here:
And on and on and on and on
And onward with a sense of wonder
Upon the highest hill
When the child was a child
Up on the highest hill
Are you there?
Yes, I think I was. In my dream last night.