I had a dream last night that I’ve had before. I was in a world overrun by people who had lost their minds. No one was as they seemed… The world was a jungle, military buildings, acting as bunkers for the few left sane stood scattered in an Amazonian world. Everywhere dense foliage made movement like wading and at any a moment a man, with sanely wild eyes could jump for your blood.
I was with a group of people who were looking for safety. There may have been five of us. We found a bunker that had an elevator that took ran deep underground. On the run and in a panic we stepped in.
Even the elevator had vines grown into it. It was a bleak and grossly futuristic space, neglected with oil running down the sides. Post-apocalyptic.
As we descended one of the people we were with, a man who looked like the main character in Home Land split in two, two versions of him stood staring at each other.
At first he started to talk with his duplicate in a frenzy, his speech indecipherable. Then he turned on us. In a chaos of violence we violently killed him with pick axes and our bare hands shredding at his body, making sure nothing was left. As we hacked at his body his innards splat over the walls and thick blood stained the walls, our faces and vision.
During parts of the dream there were violent battles. We tore people and many of us were lost and eaten in front of us by others.
I remember the deep dread we felt trying to escape. We became afraid of each other. In every look of clarity we saw madness in our eyes. On the run, afraid and drenched in blood we reached the bottom of our decent and the dream ended in a standoff.
It was the standoff at the end that struck me most before I woke. Waking at about 4am it was black. The spin of the fan on the ceiling screeched like a blade about to be flung from a machine designed to tear flesh before killing.
I had a strong sense that the dream was about patterns in my life, the people in it and not knowing who is who anymore. Ironically I felt peace after the dream. It felt as if the turmoil had awoken a question, a chance to look at the sanity and question it.
Falling asleep again the with the threatening whir of the fan humming I decided to wake and look at the world around me. To see what it was with fresh eyes.
I woke perplexed, thinking heavily about decisions I have to make.
In the last year I’ve had several moments to pause and think about the state of my life. None earth shattering but, enough to take pause and wonder who I am, what direction I’m head, who am I?
Traveling this last year I noticed that wherever I was certain behaviors followed me, ways in which I made choices and the kinds of choices I made were a shadow I couldn’t shake. Most of all I became intensely aware of the motivations behind my choices. I saw changes in scenery but, within those changes a static that brought great discomfort and with it knowledge of what my life is.
At the same time two things started to happen. First, I saw my age in the context of my death. Death became a real figure on the horizon, a force that centered my life in a span of time, a span in which I had been unaware. Sure the concept of death was always there but, never the brick wall from which none shall pass.
Secondly I started to see the faces of people I’d known in past lives in the crowds of city streets. Walking through London at rush hour I’d see faces from Los Angeles. I’d double take, stop… a moment of unease and then I’d continue. Some weeks I’d see the same face and the presence of that person became acute in my mind. They could have been people who I’d otherwise felt so significance for but, there out of context they walked past.
Moving back to Los Angeles I found notes I’d written to myself years ago. Things I’d wanted to remember to learn, read, do. Picking up those notes and comparing them to the new notes I was writing the difference was only the faded color of the paper. I could feel my complexion pale. I quickly picked up a journal I’ve written and skimming through the pages saw the same entry for weeks on end. I was in shock. For several weeks the journal haunted me. I haven’t picked it up since.
I’ve had reason to look at my life. I’ve had reason to try to understand why I have made the choices that I do. In so doing I found death and decay in a motionless glaze that buries.
The question has been begged. Of what will the future be? Will it be mine or will I slip back into daze and illusion?
I write this with one thought and many questions on my mind: Who am I in my life? What uncertainty, this second, the only moment we have, can we accept it? What direction must we know? What commitment is there to trust in a future that once awoken can be owned with as little knowledge as we have of the maelström of the present?
Several other things happened in the last year that have changed me. In each I discovered a sense of trust not just of myself but, of others. I started to open up to people and found in them the same questions I’d been asking… I saw people behind the glass and they saw me. Suddenly exposure, so haunting in the past became a relief, a force that enlivened and awoke a spirit for seeing more life. It brought color to the otherwise grayed horizon. Hope.
I also had to place trust in other people. I found myself in positions of leadership. In those positions I had no choice but to let go of the harness, let others drive the cart.
With that trust came freedom to grow. More so however, confidence built. I found not want but impulse to care for the direction of life’s pursuits.
Early in my life I worked with people who suffered traumatic brain injury. In those people I saw more humanity than I saw in most other people I knew. The patients were mostly incontinent, many delusional and all very anxious.
One patient begged daily for us to take his life. He would plead as we washed him. Another, in flights of unprovoked panic would lash out with a look of torment and despair in his eyes and another move frenetically until you turned on the radio and played Elvis.
I don’t mention these people to provoke. I learned something very deep from them. Something I carried with me as I looked at the otherwise healthy people in my life. Their veils had been removed and a raw emotion was left. In a desperation to make sense of their emotions they would plead, create delusions of persecution or freeze in fear. How many of don’t know that is what we do every day of our lives?
I think that is one reason Francis Bacon and Egon Shiele always appealed to me as artists. Francis Bacon was once asked why he painted disfigured and grotesque images by David Sylvester, an art critic and friend. Bacon responded that he painted life, just the side of life that people often choose to ignore. He made an analogy with a rose in a state of decay and asked, isn’t it still a rose.
Many years ago I was good friends with a girl who had been through a lot in her life. At one point she worked as a stripper to get through University and found herself some time after in a senior position in the British Government working closely with the secret service. Talking one evening about emotions she said something I didn’t understand at the time; “its important to feel everything“. I didn’t understand and remembered a fear raised in me not to be tested. I still harbor elements of that fear. But, as we navigate life I’ve come to realize that we can’t hide behind our fears. Many years later someone said to me talking about fear “you’d be surprised how poorly our demons do when we let them into the light“.
Freedom, it’s sense, it is not to be taken for lightly. It’s possibly the hardest sense to have and to hold. As we grow older freedom becomes less a power we feel. Freedom becomes a confidence that we can make the differences in our lives that we need to. In the words of Ghandi “be the change that you want to see in the world.
In the last year I started to discover this. Maybe others have always known. I haven’t but, I write with some comfort that I have the freedom to look at my life and recognize where I am not comfortable.