Inception on the couch — interpreting collective dreams

Whatever brought you to these words today, please consider taking a moment to dedicate reading them to whatever it is that you want (health, wealth, success, love, happiness, your child or children’s well-being).  Setting an intention is a step toward elevating the mundane, which may be the lion’s share of what it takes to get more spirit into, and out of, our lives (not to mention the collective situation that we all share).

Meanwhile, what I wish for you is for you to want what already is.  In this way I wish my version of true happiness for you.  And your happiness, I believe, will benefit everyone you care about (i.e. happy parents are a gift to their children).

While there is no shortage of opinions about the new movie, Inception, (and I’m not here to add another one to the mix) as a zeitgeist phenomenon, films that question reality are coming at us with increasing bigness, frequency and would-be importance.  So, what might this be reflecting back to us myriad members of the zeitgeist?

If The Matrix was a collective consciousness game-changer that invited us to unplug ourselves from being batteries powering some faceless Big Brother dystopia, Avatar invited us to rethink our relationship between mind and body, with body as meat-puppet doing mind’s bidding—“wake up” it seemed to say, and “be nice to the trees.”

When Marty, our nation’s preeminent auteur, turned to questions of reality he made Shutter Island, which, ironically, is essentially the same movie as Inception—starring the exact same man and furthering the weird sense that reality sometimes feels like one big dream.

Leonardo DiCaprio has become the Jimmy Stewart of our era—an everyman to reflect our current human condition (traumatized, guilty and alienated).  While Stewart did things in the old days like go to Washington as a regular guy or discover that his Thornton Wilderesque ordinary life was in fact a wonderful life, DiCaprio played a tiny human soul on a giant sinking ship, and this year he twice plays a guilty guy with a dead wife and dead or unreachable children.

One classic way to interpret dreams is that they represent wishes.  Thus a man whose wife is dead and who cannot see his kids could be the dream of a man who feels trapped in domestic life and doesn’t know how to reconcile it with his soul-path.  On the surface the hero strives to get to his kids, but he mostly wants to go deep into the depths of the psyche and meet his soul-self, his Shadow, his “team” etc.  This is all about meeting and reconciling the Self within the context of the dream.

Thus two big movies about men with dead wives and dead or unreachable children could be understood as the secret wishes of these directors, their hero/alter-egos and more than one or two of us popcorn-munching filmgoers.  In other words, are these films ultimately about how the male principle hates and mistrusts the irrational feminine principle?  Are they about men as Peter Pan Pueri avoiding their children because the playpen’s not big enough for the both of them?  These guys aren’t really trying to get out of Neverland, they just keep calling to say they’re trying to catch the next flight out (but there’s always inclement weather when it comes to intimacy).

One can certainly imagine Chris Nolan’s wife saying, “You’ve made how many hit movies now?  You’re missing your kids growing up.”  DiCaprio as alienated hero is either on a locked mental ward island or in forced exile away from his kids, motivating the action while unconsciously protecting him from sippy cups and story time.  Perhaps it’s actual lived reality (meaning interconnected and collective consciousness) that these developmentally stuck anti-heroes, and our culture that they seem to enthrall, cannot, or will not, wake up to.

If one crosscut Shutter Island and Inception into one movie it would make just as much sense, maybe even more.  Together these films invite us moviegoers to ask of our own lives and our own selves, “What time is it, really?”

Beyond plot and character, these are movies about the everyman losing his grip—a mirror of a society losing its grip on the so-called reality of materialism, alienated individuality and profound lack of intimacy that has become a nightmare from which our world may be struggling to awaken.

If brains are but a bunch of neurons while the mind is the powered-up and energetically interconnected matrix of those neurons, perhaps the earth and its collective biomass is on the brink of some sort of awakening—a world awakening to itself as everyone slowly realizes that we are not just connected as a bunch of individuals with wireless access, we are really one vast consciousness.  If so, this would mark the death of the old overly-concrete and overly rational consciousness as the likes of Stephen Hawking and the string theorists (not to mention the Buddhists with their Maya and impermanence) gradually supplant the creaking old Newtonian machine consciousness that seems ready to blow a gasket and sink like the Titanic.  What better image for our somnolent state of stuckness than Leonardo DiCaprio as a mental patient who is not quite ready to leave Shutter Island or as a dream-worker not quite ready to actually wake up?

Our eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth century consciousness as humans could be akin to a baby in its crib accidentally hitting itself in the face because it has poor motor control; super-rational humans making a mess of our own planet and each other.  Thus if we follow Darwin from biology to metaphysics, perhaps we are surviving and evolving to be the fittest to eventually awaken to the realization that we are indeed one—an ethic that we rational muggles as yet just don’t grasp.   Perhaps the ultimate fiction of the last three centuries will turn out to be science itself—the very idea that you can separate out objects and objectively study them as if there can be a dream without a dreamer.

Stephen Hawking and his buds search for the unifying principle of everything.  Perhaps we cannot quite wake up to that without “dying” as we currently are.  Perhaps our collective fears of (and endless films about) nuclear winter and other variations on Armageddon are really just a male way of depicting vast loneliness (and the wish to “wake up” and escape out of it, rather than wake up and connect to being here now).

Unity consciousness, whatever that really is, could be a way of conceptualizing the feminine principle (of connection and compassion), which is both the missing ingredient in our alienated and objectified world and the much-feared death-knell for the hacking Marlborough Man in the grip of a long nightmare.

Inception depicts a paranoid, Kafkaesque dreamscape, depicting the current and long-standing modern dilemma in which there seems to be nothing better to wake up to.  What Inception does not offer is any viable way out.

To that end I propose that we could revision waking life as if it itself were a dream and then consciously choose our approach to this vast collective dream.

Firstly, let’s look at three possible dream states:  dreaming unaware, lucid dreaming where we make things go the way we want and lucid dreaming where we don’t change things and instead study and learn from the dream and all its figures.

Applied to life or “reality” as collective dream, we have the sleep-walking masses—zombies who have no idea that the material world as we perceive it isn’t “real.”  Such people will kill, cheat and steal to get what they want, running endlessly on hamster-wheels of addiction, running from their own Shadows and chasing after illusory desires while never actually attaining the real feeling of love, safety and success that they are after (as this comes from connection and presence, not questing and achieving):  life as nightmare, death as reprieve (with the numbing hope of some future heaven to keep it all going).

At the next level up from zombie-hood, we have people who seem to realize that we’re all dreaming and then take advantage of this awareness to either gain advantage and/or help other people (sometimes it’s hard to tell which).  These “manifesters” seem to walk a tightrope between the ghost towers of the World Trade Center, sometimes working magic and healing, sometimes bilking people as the Trickster; these people either eventually learn to stop doing so much or crash and burn in a Faustian reconciliation with their darker nature that eventually outs them as nothing more or less than human just like the rest of us.  Perhaps, though, they are held to a higher standard since they operate in the wizarding world.

Finally, and although I am not one of them (I am striving to understand all of my archetypes in the hope that I won’t over-identify with any of them, thus I’m a bit of everything and ultimately just one of us) I fantasize that there are enlightened but seemingly ordinary buddhas amongst us, Big Lebowskis who simply abide.

Every now and again we might manage to simply be present to what just is while grasping that our so-called reality is more like a vast movie architected not by God but by some lesser God, by our own unity consciousness which is itself a work in progress—a collective dreamer and spider-web weaver fighting its way out of sleep and into fuller presence to this life.  Ultimately “waking up” means being present to the ceaseless heaven and hell contained in what always has been and always will be the only time it ever truly is—the eternal now.  When we arrive at this time, there is nothing to do but love.

In Justine by Lawrence Durrell, Justine tries to clarify something Balthazar, her Kabalistic and Gnostic teacher, had been trying to convey.  She says, hoping she has it right, “I mean, that God neither created us nor wished us to be created, but that we are the work of an inferior deity, a Demiurge, who wrongly believed himself to be God?  Heavens, how probable it seems; and this overweening hubris has been handed on down to our children.”

Although I still prattle on, tracing my slow journey toward silence, I think again of Durrell’s words:  “…for those of us who feel deeply and who are at all conscious of the inextricable tangle of human thought there is only one response to be made—ironic tenderness and silence.”

Namaste, Bruce


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7 Responses to “Inception on the couch — interpreting collective dreams”

  1. Katrina Kenison Says:

    Bruce–NOW I know why I read Shutter Island and saw Inception and even The Big Lebowski (they are really not my sort of thing, but I, too, have a teenaged movie-loving son)–so that I could read your brilliant, far-reaching essay here and understand what you’re talking about! The move to weekly blogging has only expanded what is possible for you. And why write something daily when this is the product of weekly: deep thought, beautiful writing, ideas that take a while to formulate and that need to be mulled over by a reader. Thank you!

  2. BigLittleWolf Says:

    I’ve read this several times, and will need to read it again. Absorb. I haven’t seen these films, yet your writing goes beyond their confines to a fluid, mind-bending set of possibilities that are fascinating to ponder. Or better yet, to feel and allow to flow.

  3. Ash Roney Says:

    I believe we’re all experiencing part of the same whole. I also believe that the greatest whole is God, and that we’re all part of God. We were all created by God. Two parts of God came together, your mom and your dad, to create another part of God: you.

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      I’m with you on this, only I’m concerned that the word “God” means so many things to so many different people that is causes as much, if not more, problems for humans than it solves. “God” as signifier for “greatest whole” works well, but “God” as legitimizer of any sliver of the whole against any other silver is human ego and not the “God” you mean.

      When I try to think about this issue, wishing like you to find unity within the flux, I imagine a signifier that might remain deliberately ambiguous (see “By the Grace of X”/

      One of the reasons I find parenting so compelling as a subject is that, as you say about parents being parts of God, it unites us across a vast myriad of beliefs. Namaste

      • Ash Roney Says:

        Yes, to find unity, and to unite our concept “God”. Although we all experience the same thing, we each experience it uniquely. In other words, we all experience the greater whole (God), but different parts of it. So, always our individual concepts of God will vary.

  4. Christabella Burdette Says:

    When I was around 20 I had a dream that I was young boy who worked in a coal mine and I barely escaped with my life after an explosion in the mine. I never gave it much consideration until a few years back when I was researching my genealogy and found that many of my ancestors on my mother’s side had work in the coal mines and many of them were young boys from age 12 and up. This was fascinating in own, but I did some further research and uncovered that two of my ancestors that worked in the mines lived in an area where a number of mines had reported cave-ins as well as explosions during their life time. Dose this explain my fear of dark tight places?

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      It certainly seems worth considering. One approach might be to consciously honor your fear as rational in some expanded consciousness; then you can assert that you are safe now and that your fears of being trapped are better understood as memories of the past (even if they are ancestral memories telepathically transmitted, much less some sort of karmic or mysterious memory). Perhaps it is best to admit our ignorance and uncertainty, but in so doing not be certain that the ancient past is not a factor in present fears.

      If you assert that you are safe now, but your fears are real and yet past, let us know if you find any tangible change in your current fears of the dark and the small space. After all, if you have any luck with it this might help future readers take a little leap of irrational experimentation and perhaps find a bit of freedom in it.

      Sending good wishes either way, BD

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