I dreamt I was sitting in a classroom listening to a philosophy lecture. The room had a plank wooden floor and high windows that looked out on winter trees. The desk where I sat was one of those heavy wood and metal contraptions with a hinged lid, and it was too small for me. Toward the end of the class the professor invited me to speak. I got to my feet, went to the front of the class, and continued the lecture. After the class I was pleased with the way I had handled myself and shook hands with the professor and many of the students. But when I left the building, instead of being on a campus, I found myself in a city with yellow brick skyscrapers. I walked along a street crowded with pedestrians and then went down some stairs into a subway station. I knew I had a life somewhere in this city, but I didn’t know where.
On the platform a woman spoke to me in a language I didn’t understand. She wore a light green dress and had blond hair with a tint of red in it. She tilted her head to one side to look at me. Tears sparkled in her eyes. She seemed to know me. My feelings about her were very strong. I knew her gestures, her tone of voice, and I seemed to have an intimate knowledge of her body. It was as if I had held her in my arms and made love to her. I wanted to touch her, to kiss her neck and shoulder and put my arm around her waist. I spoke to her in French, asking her to tell me the name of the station. She frowned at my French. Then she smiled and touched my cheek with her hand. I was surprised and pleased by her gesture and reached out toward her. She took my hands, pressed them together, and then lifted them up to her lips and kissed them.
When a train pulled into the station, we boarded together. The compartment was crowded, and we had to stand holding straps above our heads. At the next station, when the doors clattered opened, I turned my head. A few people got off and a few more stepped into the compartment from the platform. After the doors banged shut, I turned my eyes to where she had been standing next to me. She was gone. I pushed though the crowd to the window, hoping to catch a glimpse of her. She was on the platform. I saw her face very clearly. She had been crying, and I understood that she hadn’t wanted me to see her weep. Then the train pulled out of the station. It started slowly, but quickly gained speed, so that everything outside the window was a blur.
After that, I had no idea what I was supposed to do. I rode the train for some time without recognizing any of the stops. At the end of the dream I got off the train and stood on a platform between two tracks. Trains came into the station from both directions, but I couldn’t decide which one to get on. I just stood, not understanding anything, watching the trains come and go.
When I awoke, it was morning. It took me a long time to get used to the idea that I was William Page, that I was living this life. I couldn’t shake off the sensation that I was this other man, and that my present life was also a dream, and that I might just as suddenly wake up again and be that other man.
On the sleeper between Saint Petersburg and Moscow I dreamt that I was the head of a large family of entertainers—actors, clowns, acrobats, and the like. As a clan we were successful and respected in show business circles. My recommendations were sought after. In many ways my life was very good, but it had one flaw: I had an inexplicable hatred for one of my brothers. I enjoyed my work and my relations with my wife and family, and I should have had a very satisfying life, but it was all destroyed by my hatred. I was consumed by my aversion to this brother. When I wasn’t involved in evil thoughts about him, I hated myself for my lack of self-control. I had no peace of mind at all, and everybody saw it. They said about me: he’s a generous man, except where his brother is concerned. I saw very clearly that this one passion—to hurt this man—ruined every hour of my life, but I could do nothing. I had no enjoyment at all and lived surround by my frustration.
This dream, like the first, affected me deeply. It was not just a series of fragmented images and disconnected incidents. It felt more like a window into a whole life, a life that I seemed to know from the inside. In ordinary dreams I don’t have a sense of displaced identity. I am still myself but find myself in a world that is more pliable to my imagination and desires and fears.
I believe that these dreams, and others like them, have softened my identification with self, and in turn have made more empathetic. As a child I knew that I had lived before, that I had not always been William. Were these dreams memories from past lives? Of course, I can’t really say that they were, but the feeling of being these two men was very strong and lingered for a time after I awoke.
I have read that in the 19th century it was considered bad manners to recount your dreams to others. Perhaps dreams were considered too personal to be of general interest. But that was before the stories of Kafka and the writings of Freud. Kafka gave us the dream as a chaotic nightmare where fears and anxieties are played out, and Freud taught that dreams, through imagination, allow us to satisfy our most primeval urges and desires, urges and desires that society finds unacceptable. But dreams can originate from a higher place. Granted, these types of dreams are the exception, but they do occur. Higher centers can, through dreams, enrich our experience with visions of higher worlds that are unavailable to our day to day reality.
Dreaming can be seen as an avenue of creativeness that is, for the most part, used to digest feelings and desires and experience. In other words, dreaming is just a particular way that consciousness organizes experience; it can be used by higher centers to communicate spiritual truths, or it can be used to express our buffered fears and confusion. The passivity of personality in the sleeping state (the first state) allows desires and fears that are buttoned down in the second state (our normal waking state) to be worked out, but it also gives higher centers a white screen to project revelatory images and, perhaps, even prophetic visions.
The last two dreams I want to recount were both recurring dreams. This first one I had maybe ten times, both when I was living in California and London, which would put in me in my early thirties.
It’s simple dream. In the dream I wake up. I seem to be waking up in a bed, but I have no real sensation of a being in a bed or even of having a body. It’s dark, and I can’t see anything, and I don’t know where I am. I call out to see if someone’s there, ‘Hello.’ When no one answers, I call out again, ‘Hello.’ And then a third time and a fourth time. But no one answers back. There is no room, no bed, and I have no body. I am just a presence surround by darkness and complete silence. I call again, ‘Hello?’ and then become more desperate, and cry out: ‘Is there anybody there? Hello! Hello!’
But just at the point where my feeling of being alone in an endless, empty world becomes unbearable, I wake up in bed.
The strange thing about this dream is that it never really lingered after I woke up. In other words, I never felt afraid afterwards. Usually I just rolled over and went back to sleep. I always thought it a strange dream for me, as I have never been one that was bothered by being alone. I am rather solitary by nature.
But later I connected this dream with another odd fear that I had at the time. During this period in my life I was writing a good deal of poetry, and there were two subjects that became obsessive with me. One was time and the other was the theological idea of the creation; that is, that we, and really everything we experience, is part of a creation. This will seem strange to anybody who hasn’t thought deeply about this idea, but at the time I found that the idea of being part of a created universe threatened the reality of my identity. And truthfully, it’s a little difficult for me to explain my fear now because it’s hard for me to get into the state of mind that I felt then. I have long since found a kind of understanding and peace in relation to this idea. The basic line of thought was that I felt that there is a greater reality in which we have no part. Here is an excerpt from a poem I wrote at the time called The Women with the Deep, Dark Eyes. It describes the awakening of a woman who realizes that she is imagined by a poor scholar, who uses her image as a comfort to his difficult life.
Winter was no more fixed than an attitude of ice,
and autumn no more reliable than a failing love;
the days and the phases of the moon were dependent
more on his frame of mind than on the skies above.
When June pasted itself on the windows
she was tempted from the house by green hilltops.
The door should have been more convincing:
it wobbled and gave far too easily, like a stage prop.
A porch existed, but it was hastily imagined;
it fell off into mere space with the slightest scrutiny.
Her steps swayed and faltered. Overhead, the clouds
mocked her and seem to say: this is your eternity.
Here is another poem about the creation of time as a medium of existence. It is called Time: Act One, Scene One
Along a narrow strip of wet road
the gods are trying to slow creation down,
but eternity, like a snake,
keeps snapping its head wildly around.
The sky is consumed in whirlpools,
and creation chokes back dark clouds.
Existence is compact and shadowless,
like an envelope or a burial shroud.
A few trees, ancient without being old,
solid without being real, stand mute
and stretch their black, broken branches
from embryonic trunks and knotted roots.
Cold is not even an idea,
and winter is not yet thought about,
but the slant of a distant sun
foreshadows darker moods and doubts.
Succession is still to come,
and change is not yet possible.
The gods want to partition a piece of the abyss:
they have conceived the growth of a soul.
Time is their device; it jumps and stops
like sheets of rain falling over a meadow
while half-formed creatures watch
like faces forever framed in a window.
A kind of night keeps breaking in—
but without the yellow crescent scar
of a moon it is lit only
by the most primeval stars.
The whole experiment keeps losing focus,
keeps falling off into mere space,
but finally, a figure comes up the reflecting path.
He has Eve’s guilt and Adam’s face.
A determination has been realized
in the straining of his limbs.
His past is a blank slate.
All of history pushes back toward him.
And from the side, creation keeps breaking in,
keeps overwhelming now with eternity,
keeps hurling sparks of forever
that fall around him like colored confetti.
Time is bent. Its circular corridors
blind him to what’s around the bend.
Surrounded by his own reflection,
he knows nothing of what the gods intend.
Perhaps they are lonely or bored,
perhaps infinity is something they want to share.
With excitement they rush around him
like a wind from nowhere.
The question that came to me about this dream was this: Is it possible that I was given a small inkling, a drop of understanding, about the experience of God in darkness before the creation?
The last dream that I want to talk about, as I said, was also a recurrent dream. I don’t think I had this dream more than four or five times and all in a period of a couple years in my late twenties. Here’s the poem that I wrote about it. It’s called A Dream.
I had a dream; it’s a dream I’ve had before,
where I lie sleeping in a deep, soundless night,
but am awakened by a shuddering,
unearthly roar and a sudden flash of light.
I rush from a familiar room to a window
(where I’ve stood looking out many times before)
just in time to hear a murmur of woe
crowded with the screams and sirens of war,
just in time to see the fire of a sun ignite
in clouds of dust and smoke and a deep-red glare,
just in time to see a thunderous sea of light
come riding toward me across the air.
Then, sometimes, with a back-turning glance I survey
what’s lost in this death that seems so premature,
but, at other times, I watch my body fall away
and wonder what new worlds I’ll now explore.
But I always awake (as it is with such dreams)
in bed just as the dying moment appears.
Of course, at first, this vision only seems
the fluttering image of my deepest fears,
but then, with the night shivering all around,
I consider man and his weapons once more,
and wonder how long before our world will resound
with the insidious fire of nuclear war.
I haven’t thought about this dream for a long time, but in the last two years with the nationalist trends we see in governments and the instability and insanity we see in world leaders, particularly in the United States, I begin to wonder if it wasn’t more prophetic than I had thought.