Every day, you and I are drawn up into a great Mexican wave, but we don’t think about it, for the most part aren’t aware of it, because we rise and fall with the epic surge of its passing. This is the wave of dreaming that sweeps through the animal kingdom as the westering sun rushes over the earth in an ever-racing horizon that sweeps the world. Even the plant world participates in this rhythm, in this expansion and contraction of general activity and awareness.
In a sense, each night when we sleep, we return to this morphic unconscious of nature. It is not just ourselves that dream, it is life that dreams through us. Life dreams through us too in our art, our poetry, our stories. When we dream at night, this greater dreaming that never ceases passes through us perturbing our own little system to a wrinkle in the great flexing. Always, one half of the animal world is sleeping, and as that half begins to wake, the horizon sweeps on and the other half falls into dreaming. Sherlock Holmes, if tasked with this mystery, might be forgiven the conclusion that the rotation of the earth was summoned out of possibility for just this purpose, in some dark knowing life has for its own essential needs, and we should forgive him too, for he might well be right. We can’t resist the claim of the mother body for long. If we try to resist sleep, the results are first dysfunction, then hallucination, and eventually a kind of waking insanity. The dreaming dark rises to claim us.
I have a view on the creative activities in the world that may be new and surprising to you. Specifically, I maintain that the living forms of nature are the result of a planetwide activity, the nearest correlate of which, in our own experience, we call “dreaming.” This correlated similarity is (in my opinion) not an accident, because there arises through us, independently and as individual creatures, a kind of mirrored image of the mother process at work everywhere in nature. The mother process is ancient and potent, but not supremely self-aware. The daughter process in our own nature, the image it casts through the human creature, is much newer and coupled to emergent processes of self-awareness, but it is not (or at least is not yet) as potent as the mother process. Yet the shimmering image of the moon in a pool is only an illusion in a trivial sense: it is still the same moon, and the real moon, reflected.
When Darwin published his Origin of Species in 1859, it was the most important revolution ever in the understanding of the workings of the natural world. However, there’s a subtle point often overlooked…Darwin’s theory (and for the most part, his thinking itself) came just a few decades too early to benefit from what is arguably the second most important intellectual discovery of the Nineteenth Century: Freud’s systematic development of the concept of the Unconscious. By the time this arrived, behaviorism was also into swing and thus a force to be reckoned with, such that the idea of any relationship between these two immense idea-bodies (evolution and the unconscious mind) passed the era by. Darwin’s theory was a creature (if you excuse the pun) of the mechanistic era. It was the age that saw the invention of the electric dynamo, the telegraph, and the internal combustion engine. There is no great surprise then how this colored his thinking. But we’ve already seen that mechanism is a poor analogy to lay over nature. It’s an abstraction that leaves far too much out if we really want to know what nature is and does.
There is another aspect to the concept of mechanism that has shaped our view of the natural world for the last century and more. Mechanisms are things which have separable “components” that can be lifted out and replaced, giving an impression of individualized existence. Even the language we use to describes ourselves…”individuals”…reflects this bias. But again, nothing in nature is really like this. Our hearts or our kidneys are not really separable objects discrete from the rest of the organism. The organic context exists as a nested set of wholes. Thus organelles group into wholes that are cells, cells group into wholes that are organs and tissues, organs and tissues into organisms, organisms into societies, societies into species, and so on. At any time we are an integral part of all of these structures. We may not be aware of ourselves as part of the vertebrate sub-phylum when we check out our groceries at Kroger, but we are nonetheless. So while a mechanistic picture of nature may have been appropriate in the time of Darwin, it is no longer appropriate, or even plausible, today. A truly “organic” picture of the world understands that there is no such thing as fully separable individuals, either in the context of body or mind. We belong to the body of nature and as we travel away from the surface of ourselves in either category (mind or body) we start to uncover structures that rightly belong to these larger wholes. There are things going on in our cells that express behavior across the entire kingdom of animalia. There are even deeper things going on in our cells that are found across the whole superkingdom of eukaryotes (multi-celled organisms). Similarly, in our minds, away from our surface thoughts, we begin to find thoughts and “dreams” that are characteristic of our species, and if we delve even deeper, we start to encounter, in that mysterious, shadowy dark, the hatching forms of our most ancient myths, expressions of the primal tensions to which all animal life is subject in its round.
I am going to press this even further and suggest that as we travel down through these layers (no matter where we begin from…the surface of our bodies or the “surface” of our minds) we eventually reach a point where the categories we call mind and matter start to fuse into each other, finally becoming (at a point remote from our observation) a monistic something that is neither mind nor matter, strictly speaking, but is one and the same with the living, creative dynamism that authors the world. I use the word “authors” deliberately, becausing authoring is a creative act, as opposed simply to a “happening.” However, a creative act does not necessarily imply a minded, conscious, artisan creation, as religion imagines. Our nightly dreams are a creative dynamic, but they are not the product of a fully aware, planning mind. The suggestion I am making is that the creative flexing of nature is also like this. It is a dreaming deeper yet than our own, a dreaming writ large and epochal in scale. It was dreaming life on this earth long before we ever stepped out, our ears wet and our legs trembling like deer, into the roaring textures of the dream.
I envision a kind of two-way current in this structure. Very deep themes from nature’s dreaming exert an “upward pressure” from the general to the particular, into our individual minds and bodies. At its most dramatic or extreme, this is the evolution of new species. But at the same time, our private experiences, perceptions, thoughts and dreams are percolating down into the soil of the unconscious mind, and from there into the deeper soil of the species form, where we must assume them assimilated according to patterns and principles we at present fail to discern.
Though we may fail to discern, the process that achieves it is not hard to identify. We spend a third of our lives doing it. The mystery of sleep has never been adequately explained on a mechanistic paradigm. You can almost palpably sense the strain it is under when the attempt is made to shoehorn it into that paradigm. I implied in an earlier segment that the rational mind arises out of the “irrational body of being.” If I am right about this, then it has the implication that a dreaming state is the more natural center of gravity of the universal creative process. Each night the individual waking mind is “resorbed” in the direction of this center of gravity, in the direction of tidal rhythms affecting all life, in the direction of collective movement and experience at the level of the species and the animal kingdom, and finally all life on earth. Our individual minds (and bodies) are like seeking extensions that grow upwards from this body towards the light of consciousness, process and bind experience there, then close up their petals again, sinking away towards their origin, release the bound experience into the creatrix of the world-dream, rising again, opening their petals again, binding experience again, in a kind of ceaseless natural breathing.
The world-dream is morphic; it dreams in forms. Our weightless dreams are not a different process. They are like a surface ripple of the same process, but as individuals, our dreams are mere indigo shadows of nature’s dreaming. From out of the shadows in that elfin dell come the allusions of poetry, the “irrational” connections that the rational mind, left to its robotic self, could never process or access. Of course, the dreaming alone would remain just that…a dreaming…without the rational mind to bring it into conscious awareness. In a sense, then, the human species is this creative process made conscious of itself for the first time. This is what the rational mind does. It acts as a kind of focusing lens. Unfortunately there comes with that lens also an “attitude” or ego which fancies itself the origin of the images focused. But the real origin is the dreaming heart of nature. It arises out of the unobserved. There is something about the process of creativity, whether in its cosmic potency abroad in nature or in the artistic efforts of our own species, that takes its secret birthing outside of the light of observation. It rises up out of the unconscious, out of nature’s dark, condensing into particular suggested forms or experiences only beyond a given point, the point at which we become aware of them. But mysteries have been unfolding, nonetheless, before that “dew point” is ever reached. We who are writers or artists know this well. Who can really say where the particular image in a poem came from, or the idea for the poem itself? Even when we think we know, the ideas that form in us are not separable from the actitivies of the unconscious. This is perhaps most evident in dreams. With the exception of lucid dreaming (and even there, only with limits) who can really say they control their dreams? It would be more accurate to say that a creative maelstrom takes root in us each night, blowing out of the East from God knows where, tossing our minds around like a yacht on a turbulent sea, then vanishing West as mysteriously as it came. Yet we have the bombast to say “I dreamed” as if we are the architects of all this.
When Robert Olen Butler named his fiction writing workbook “From Where We Dream” he was pointing the flashlight in the right direction. But deeper even than the place from where we dream, there is the place from which nature dreams through us. Imagine a Nineteenth Century diving bell. We plunge in at the surface of mind, that shallow puddle where such epic concerns as whether or not to have ketchup with this fish, take root. As soon as we sink away we will encounter the realm of personal dreaming. Already we are some distance from the “rational mind.” When we dip in that moonlight pool, the shapes that swarm there move by currents that undertow the waking self. To raise them up, to bring them fully into conscious awareness, would be to court insanity. But the source of creativity is down even deeper than this. It is deep in the strong undertows beneath even the world of dreaming. A whale song that takes its shape in the very fathoms of the world. Beneath dreaming is the crucible of myth. Not myth that has risen like a cake in the oven and there hardened to story or dogma. I mean the the liquid themes of the mythic itself. These themes open on the upper side to the roots of our minds and on the underside to the formative forces that govern the movements of nature itself. Deep in this kernel of the world, form and imagination are no longer what we know them to be. They are something more potent we don’t have a word for…”morphination”…the insuppressible creative flux of the world-dream. Our deepest dreams are something like the outer surface of this process, rippling in the wind like a sail. Here are the deepest themes moving in the currents of life itself. The seeking towards awareness. Growth and development. Birth and death and fertility. Feeding and predation. And most important of all, the dim groping towards expression, towards existence in an unmasking of itself, towards the created new.
When the rabies virus infects a mammal’s body, it makes its way slowly towards the central nervous system. Once it is within the nervous system, it is sequestered from immune attack by the body and migrates slowly along the nerves to the brain. How does it know to do this? I maintain that there is a kind of “intelligence” in nature. It is not the intelligence of a waking, thinking mind. Rather, it’s the other way round. A waking, thinking mind (such as we have) is just one of the late products of this cosmos-wide dreaming intelligence that inhabits all of nature (in nature, I am including the birth of the universe, the formation of galaxies and solar systems…in other words, the progression from the general to the specific, even on cosmic scale). I think the rotation of the earth is part of the intelligence our subsystem has in an instinctive knowing that the sleep and dream phase of the animal kingdom is a crucial behavior contributing to the ongoing evolution of life on earth. This intelligence in nature is more akin to a quasi-aware sleepwalker than a mind. A sleepwalker does “intelligent” things that are not mechanistic or random: she or he may visit the bathroom, put the kettle on, retrieve something from the fridge, may even drive a car, completely asleep. A sleepwalker is not the same thing as a mechanism or a clockwork toy. But neither is a sleepwalker awake.
This sleepwalker…is seeking to awaken. This is what the human species is about. This is what evolution is about. Deep in itself, the world-dream senses the possibility of wakefulness and moves towards it like a buried shoot dreaming through the soil towards the surface. It “knows” where to go because it is nature itself. It is subject to the laws of nature only in the sense that those laws were its own earliest dreamings, and it may at some later point dream new ones, just as it dreamed new ones with the dawn of animal life, and new ones again with the dawn of human life.
The poet, the writer, the artist and the musician are not irrelevant ornaments littered at the side of life’s highway like so much detritus. They are the most complete expression of the Dreaming yet to find wakefulness in the cosmos. The world is dreaming through them, and though they fail often, the wind of being is truly at their back, at the backs of us all, because what is achieved in that theater will percolate by the processes described to the eventual benefit of all animal life. Even our pets are transformed in experience (as we are transformed) by the unique sharing of events such relationships allow across the bridge from human to nonhuman consciousness. Seen as a structure of action or event in the world-dream, the influence of human consciousness upon the consciousness of cats and dogs, is like the influence of a magnetic field that lifts it slightly in its own direction, towards a subtlety of feeling or a richness of experience that is not possible in the wild state of these creatures alone. If we see ourselves, and our relations with other species, as shifting functions within the world-dream, within the quasi-intelligent creatrix of nature, then the function that is the relationship between a human a pet is a dynamic movement that is evolving both participating species. It is a movement from lesser to greater potential, towards greater wholes and broader experience, which is the fundamental movement of the world-dream detectable in this cosmos. After several billion years of consistent trend, if we can’t say that with some assurance about this universe, then we can’t say anything. The simple moves towards the complex. The lesser experience towards the greater experience. The unconscious towards the conscious. The possible to the actual. The Not Yet to the Now.