Thursday, December 11, 2003

No Vacancy

In my dream I was parked on a bridge on Commonwealth Ave near Boston University, looking West down a broad, empty boulevard toward a mid-sized office tower. It was a dream version of Commonwealth Ave and B.U. -- both them and not-them as only a dream can be.

I was on a cell phone giving someone directions to my Aunt Sofie's summer house, a wonderful little cabin on a pond where I spent childhood summers, that's long given way to someone's pricey McMansion in the woods. In my dream I was to meet someone there, and I was full of delight at the thought.

Suddenly, a puff of smoke emerged from the office tower, then another, and another, and I realized with mounting horror that it would soon collapse in a 9-11 like disaster. All the street lights and building lights went out. I leaped from my car and tried to find our apartment, which, in my dream, was also on Comm. Ave. I couldn't find it. I didn't remember where I lived. I was lost, running down endless streets, University corridors, and scaffolding-covered sidewalks. No one could tell me what had happened.

At the beginning of one of my very early journals, college probably, I copied an epigraph out of Henry Miller, something to the effect that the greatest joy is to be lost in an unfamilar city. I took it to mean plunged into the new and strange, adventuring, even to be seeing things with fresh eyes or beginner's mind. I've had dreams in which I am in a new city, or a new house, exploring: pleasant, liberating, exhiliarating dreams.

Last night's dream was the antithesis of that. I was lost in a familiar city, in a city of my own making, in a thicket of my own construction. There was a reaching toward an idyllic past; there was dislocation and disorientation in the present; there was an intrusion of great menace. There was, of course, dread: which is always a gaze toward the future.

The familiar becoming unfamiliar, in my dream, was a horror. An unmooring. A loss of place, a threatened loss of self. An expansion upon the chill we fifty-somethings feel when we can't retrieve a name or word, or take a little longer finding the car in the parking lot. With death brooding over it all, inevitable. With social menace compounding garden variety mortality and pain. This was not seeing with "beginners eyes" -- seeing the familiar as if new, shorn of layers of concept and judgment. This was dissolution, psychosis, dementia.

This morning, as I made my third cup of coffee, the word "vacant" occured to me.

I sat yesterday for the first time in a while, eschewing the zafu for my desk chair, and was vacant for the better part of thirty minutes. Vacancy is nothing like emptiness. It's an amalgam of dullness, blankness, sleepiness and mental detritus. It's white noise, test pattern, electronic TV snow. It's akin to treading water, killing time, daydreaming, muddle.

I was refusing to heed the centuries of wisdom that have gone into prescribing meditation posture. There's nothing inherently mystical about how a straight spine fosters alertness. I couldn't do even quarter lotus to save my life, but even Burmese position gives a taste of the tripod stability of butt on the cushion, knees on the floor. Even the cosmic mudra -- its loveliness aside -- is sort of a strain gauge, a monitor of one's tension or laxity. I learned to meditate with eyes shut, but I think the zen prescription of eyes half open and unfocused also strengthens alertness.

I read last night's dream, among other things, as an admonition: wake up. Not so much from the literal dream, but from the waking dream. The dream that wants to hold on to what is gone. The dream that's desparate to cling to the construct of the self and its sense of solidity, discreteness, invulnerability and immortality. The dream that denies the truth of illness, pain and death, of bodily and mental dissolution. The dream that frets and frets about the same thing.

"No room at the inn" is certainly a byword of this season. In my own case, as soon as there is no vacancy, there will be room for emptiness.

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