In the dream I recalled sometime after waking up on Saturday (12/2/17), I was moving through a tightly packed group of people. As I strolled closely passed this one guy, I thought I felt a prick, as if he had jabbed me with a needle. When I took a good look at him — the wild, buggy-eyed man in front of me in a trench coat — and saw the needle he held in his hand towards me, however, I tried convincing myself that he had not yet stabbed me. The thought that he had done so was far too terrifying. As I watched, he kept trying to do it again, without the slightest change, making stabbing motions towards me with the needle as if it was his singular function, like he was some robot programmed to commit this action over and over in a closed loop.
Sense it? That creeping
suspicion? Look now
at your hand.
Awaken within the dream.
Now fly up
through the ceiling
if you have to, engage in foreplay
with the sky,
flirting with the clouds
breaking up the blue. Peirce
the atmosphere, escape
the aura of the earth.
feel as you did
well over a decade
in, race and weave
through this beautiful,
just as you did as a child.
this freedom —
and this time, master
ways to integrate.
Around April of 1995, I began having experiences that I initially could not stretch my mind to fathom — quite an accomplishment for that period, too, as my life had become replete with other flavors of weirdness. Though I had achieved these experiences through effort and experiment, my intention had been to induce an out-of-body experience (OOBE or OBE) in which I could exit my corporeal form by means of the coexisting subtle body, a nonphysical vehicle through which it was said I could explore the physical universe without ever leaving the comfort of the bedroom. I listened to a tape that claimed to teach me this ability, with one side blatantly offering instructions on how to do so while the other offered those same instructions, only subliminally, over the liminal sound of waves crashing upon a beach.
The result was not what I expected. Rather than waking up outside of my body, I awoke in a seemingly endless series of alternate versions of my bedroom: nested false awakenings, I later learned them to be called. And when I ceased listening to the tape I began having what at least experientially constituted OBEs, only I found myself not disembodied in the familiar, physical landscape but alternate versions of familiar physical environments. It seemed to be a different reality entirely, and I later discovered it fit the descriptions many attributed to what they called the astral plane, which essentially fits the description of what others refer to as a parallel universe.
As I came to understand it shortly after these experiences began, the astral plane was the name some people gave to a supposed parallel universe that both echoes and extends beyond the physical universe with which we are familiar. It contains alternate versions or different renditions of familiar, physical environments as well as realms that are unique to that reality. In this place intention was the vehicle; while you could navigate in the environment much as you do in the corporeal form, you could also focus on an aspect of the environment, or even focus on a distant environment, and you would immediately be catapulted there. The objects on this plane were also described as being self-luminous, requiring no external light source. All of this seemed to describe my experiences, most of all those initial experiences, damn near perfectly.
Later I came to suspect that they might instead be what are known as lucid dreams (and more rarely, waking dreams), which are dreams in which the dreamer becomes awake within the dream environment, though there are at least three reasons why lucid dreams did not seem to be a suitable explanation.
First is the fact that during my “astral projections” experiential time often seemed compressed. In his lectures, Stephen LaBerge speaks of the well-known sleep studies, where the rapid eye movements (REM) of subjects were monitored in their sleep. He cites a case in which one subject was recorded to have very regular left-right eye movements in their sleep, and upon being awakened and asked what they had been dreaming about, they reported that they had been watching a ping-pong ball go back and forth across a table. Evidently, at least in some cases, the REM of a sleeping subject was not random but rather followed the movements being made by the subject within the dream. From this LaBerge got the ingenious idea to have subjects consciously commit a series of agreed-upon eye movements when they successfully entered into a lucid dream state during these studies. As a result of this, lucid dreaming was suddenly scientifically respectable; they could also determine at what stage of sleep lucid dreaming occurs. What this also suggests to me is that dream-time, at least when one is lucid, is perfectly aligned with real-time, which puts the lucid dreaming experience at odds with my “astral projections.” An experience in the other realm can last a seeming hour and I awaken to find perhaps fifteen minutes had passed — which shouldn’t even be long enough for me to fall asleep, let alone achieve my first REM cycle.
Second is the fact that in nearly all the cases I’ve read about the issue with lucid dreaming is staying within the dream, whereas my issue has always been waking myself up and out of it. This was particularly true during my initial experiences, though the issue may have continued unabated and the only difference now is that I have come to enjoy the experience and don’t seek to exit as soon as I can. In those initial experiences, however, I was frantically trying to wake up, but the best I could do was exit the otherworldly landscape and enter my paralyzed, corporeal body or a dark, endless void before falling back into another strange environment.
Both of these qualities don’t necessarily disqualify lucid dreaming as an explanation, though it seems as though other factors may be present. It could mean, for instance, that these experiences of mine may be generated by some dissociative disorder or seizure that left my mind awake as it thrust my body into a state of sleep paralysis and total sensory deprivation, inspiring my mind to compensate for the sensory lack with spontaneous, unconsciously-generated material of its own. Maybe the rapidity of my mental processes during these episodes (which might make more sense if it was indeed a seizure of some sort) squeezes a large amount of dream-time experience into a comparatively small amount of real-time. My inability to wake up from this sort of special-case lucid dream could be due to the fact that the seizure or dissociative episode had yet to run its course.
A third though entirely subjective and so less convincing reason I felt resistant to the notion that these experiences may merely be lucid dreams were their astounding sense of hyperreality. Though I ultimately came to explain the experience as constituting a “different kind of real,” I originally and perhaps more honestly described it as hyperreal, as more real than the reality I experienced in my mundane, waking existence. Not only was the environment far more vivid than waking experience, but I felt far more awake, alive or aware in these circumstances than I did during so-called waking life. It continues to be difficult to articulate the distinction, but it remains nonetheless. This other world clearly operated in accordance with a distinct set of laws that distinguished it from mundane existence, but the quality of perception and awareness were heightened. This became a dilemma for me. Was I to judge the mundane world as real and the other world as fantasy or dream simply due to the difference in their guiding laws despite the fact that things seemed more real and I felt more aware in the other world? This perspective seemed flawed, which is perhaps why I came to settle on that other world as being merely a different kind of reality than the mundane one.
A former objection of mine that arose when considering whether these were lucid dreams used to be that I was unable to control the environment, merely my position within the dream (much as in waking life). During my first or second experience, during a break period in my fighting and fleeing from the entity that would go on to plague me during these episodes for years, I wondered if I was in a lucid dream and attempted to test the idea by willing something into manifestation. Though with considerable effort I was capable of manifesting a mute, translucent, animated image of a barking dog, it only held as long as my concentration could and I was never able of even getting that far ever again. I have since learned that there are various levels of lucidity and one is not always granted absolute power once one awakens; despite this, I find it suspicious that despite my painful awareness during those initial experiences and my deliberate attempt, this was as far as I was able to get.
Another former objection was that while I am wide awake during these experiences, at least for a time, I wasn’t necessarily certain that I was dreaming, just that I wasn’t awake in the mundane reality, and the act of being awake within a dream while knowing that you are dreaming is, well, the working definition of lucid dreaming. I have since accepted that this just might be a semantic argument, however.
I suppose the real question becomes how one could ever hope to distinguish whether an experience is taking place on the astral plane or in a lucid dream. The only difference in definition seems to be that the astral plane is considered a parallel universe, an objective reality much like our physical world, which is to say a neighboring space composed of a different set of dimensions, and the lucid dream is merely a mind-generated environment. One could add that an additional distinguishing feature is that the astral plane is a single universe accessible to all of us in just the same way the physical universe is, and so it should be possible for two people to independently travel there, share experiences, come back to their physical bodies, document their experiences and then confirm them to one another, thereby providing evidence that such a plane actually exists. This ignores stories where people claim to share the same dream, presumably telepathically, and sometimes in tandem with one or both of them being lucid within the mutual dream in question.
One might also add the argument that the astral plane depends upon dualism in the philosophy of the mind, on the notion that our physical bodies are but one of perhaps numerous transient vessels for our consciousness, and that the living and deceased can mingle on this plane, but this would be ignoring cases of visitation dreams, when the living has a dream of the deceased which provides information that seems to validate it was actually a mutual dream between the living and dead. It would also require ignoring what Dr. Ian Stevenson, in his research into reincarnation, called departure dreams, where the recently deceased visit the living to inform them where they will be incarnating next, and arrival dreams, where the deceased visit the living members of the family into which they will be subsequently incarnating. If the living can share dreams with one another and death is truly not the end of consciousness but merely a period of transition, it is not a leap to assume that the dead and disembodied can dream, and even share dreams as well.
It seems frustratingly unsatisfactory to conclude that there are no potential means of distinguishing between astral projections and lucid dreams, that it is all a matter of interpretation, but this seems to be the case — at least to my eyes, at least so far.
It’s April eleventh, and I’m on the toilet taking a dump and reading Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle when I notice that I’m getting incredibly tired all of a sudden. I wanted to type out the rest of my notebook writings this week, the shit I’ve been writing about everything, and the bit of shit from last week I never got the chance to type out, but the coffee is simply not kicking in for some reason. As I’m reading, I’m finding my eyes are closing and I’m getting that falling feeling, like I’m falling or wobbling out of my skin. I’m not just tired, no, I’m inexplicably exhausted, ready to zonk out, so I just finish my chapter and climb into bed. And, poof, I’m out like a light.
Sometime later, I wake up, immobilized. I can’t see anything, all is just a black, formless void, and I can only hear and feel things faintly, but it’s clear I’m being moved. It feels like I’m being pulled across some fabric of some kind, like polyester, and I can hear that high-pitched screeching as my body’s pulled across the fabric or whatever it is. I feel so numb and passive, though, so fucking relaxed that struggling to open my eyes and see what the fuck is really going on never even crosses my mind. In retrospect, that bothers me, and it bothers me even more that it only bothers me in retrospect and didn’t bother me at the time.
When I wake up, things aren’t right, and I immediately know this is the case. I’m awake, but I’m not in my body, not really, not in the physical sense. I still can’t say if this kind of experience is a dream or some parallel reality or another plane of existence, but the fact of the matter is that I’m wide awake in this place and it’s not our traditional waking world. Perhaps this is just a lucid dream. Regardless, I wake to find myself in some version of the room I used to live in when I was at my parent’s house. It’s dark and there’s a bed, a sofa chair, but the room seems tinier than my room was when I lived with my parents and far more cluttered. I get up, fully aware that this isn’t real, or at least what we traditionally regard as real, and I look around the room.
I stand up and look in the mirror, which I have developed a certain fondness for doing when this sort of thing happens, this astral projection or whatever this is. My reflected image seems distorted in places, and I don’t know if it’s due to smudges on the mirror or it’s just my vision, but overall, I certainly look like me. Getting real close to the glass, I start searching for the scratch on my nose that I know I just got at work last night, but I cannot find it, and I’m curious and amused. The longer and closer I look the more I notice that my eyes look a hell of a lot shinier, a lot darker, and the glare off of them is so great I can hardly see my pupils or iris. I reach for my cigarettes because I really want to smoke one, and I put one in my mouth, holding off on lighting it. I’m thinking about going out the door of my room, maybe roaming around, checking the place out, maybe going downstairs, but I’m still drawn back to the mirror, finding myself transfixed on the reflection of my own image. Suddenly, it looks as if my chest isn’t my chest anymore, but my back. It looks like my head’s on backward. And then I wake up.
I don’t remember anything exactly after waking up, but I remember walking down my parent’s stairs, and my mother is talking to someone, some guy I know, who has just come in from outside. It suddenly comes to my attention that mom was somehow observing throughout the whole parallel reality or dream experience I just had. That was my inexplicable and sudden assumption at first, anyway. When I hear her talk to the other guy, it seems that he observed it all, too, and they were quite interested in it all. She started describing the dream, and the guy’s agreeing with her, with every word she uses to describe it. She starts talking about some riverbank, though, and he nods, and that’s when I shake my head at both of them. “No,” I say to them, “mine was different,” because I remembered, of course, no riverbank.
Just then I look out the door the guy had just come in from, which looks no different from my parent’s door in reality, and I see a face, a body on the ground outside the door, just on the edge of what appears to be a river beyond the door. I feel an instant sense of alarm, yelling, “BODY,” as I run down the remaining steps and cross the dining room and run out the door.
When I get outside, however, there is no river’s edge – no riverbank, that is. Just a lush, green lawn, but the body is still there. It’s a young, blond-haired body, eyes closed, just lying there with his legs together, arms at his sides, comfortable and not looking dead at all. Just lying motionless in the sun upon the lush green grass of what seems to be a beautiful summer day. I’m not good at judging age, but he’s maybe nine or ten years old, I’d say, if forced to guess. I just look at him, curious and confused.
And then I wake up again, but I’m inside my head, trying to find a way out, trying to wake up in the right place this time, and suddenly I wake up in my bed. I run to my computer desk and try to write it all down, try to remember as much as I can because I feel this is incredibly important. My eyes, as I write, they’re all out of focus; it’s as if I can only clearly see out of one, and the other’s all fucked up. My teeth feel as if they’ve been clenching. Am I having seizures during these experiences? I’m not sure. I can’t be sure about anything.
I look at the clock, and it reads 10:34 in the morning. It was ten-something when I went to bed, which means the whole experience, it shouldn’t have taken longer than half an hour, and probably considerably less. My experience seems like it might have fit into those time constraints if it was exactly ten when I went to bed, but I would have had to have started “dreaming” or whatever as soon as my head hit the pillow. That seems incredibly unlikely.
And I think about the kid in the dream, and my mind goes back to the kid I saw on December 15, 2001, and the weird experiences that followed that encounter, and how that child I saw way back when seemed to be maybe four, and how the kid I just saw in the dream or whatever, he seemed to be maybe ten, and I just shake my head, because that doesn’t help this make sense.
II. Altogether Numb With Psychospiritual Novocain.
It’s the Wednesday before last. It’s raining outside, and I spent the drive home trying to relax, doing my little mental ritual that makes me feel more protected and secure, all the while hoping to high hell I won’t go tires-on-a-Slip-N’-Slide and hydroplane. And that my spare won’t go flat. That a deer won’t run out in front of me. That I won’t veer into oncoming traffic. I try to make the relaxation come on more easily by putting on some pleasantly distracting music, but the only songs playing on the radio bring back angry, frightening and depressing memories, most of them from high school, slightly before or shortly thereafter. I finally settle on listening to Guns N’ Roses November Rain, which is a peculiar choice, considering the song’s themes. You know. Rainy weather, death.
Having survived the trip home, I pull into what has become my usual parking space in the lot outside my apartment. I open the door, smell the exhaust from my car, put out my cigarette in the ashtray overloaded with tangled butts and clumps of soot. Outside, the rain beats down on me. I’m leaning in the open door, reaching in for my book bag, when something weird happens.
My consciousness suddenly shifts. Like a head rush, but more than a head rush. More breadth and width than a head rush. Just for a brief second, just for a blink, it’s suddenly as if I’m looking, feeling, hearing, smelling it all from outside myself, behind myself, above myself but through myself. It’s not just the perspective that’s changed, either, but my sense of self. It’s as if my everyday ego is just some costume I put on, some role I play, and this is a deeper aspect of me waking up after a snooze and just peeking through the curtain. And this hiding, now-peeking-out me seems so much more awake and alive. I feel like I am somebody I am, but I’m not the me I fooled myself into believing I was.
I look around and realize that I’m leaning inside a vehicle, reaching for a book bag. That I have a job and go to college and live alone and have somehow managed to survive enough to get here. And I am awash with perplexity and disbelief. I realize a lot must have transpired in order to get here and I am skeptical with respect to the notion that I really am. This can’t really be the case, can it? How did I get here? How did I make it this far? This is inconceivable, considering where I was last time I peeked out from behind the curtain. It’s exciting, I notice — the freedom I have — but the world is also frightening. I find it amazing that this world even exists, really. That the circumstances are the way they are.
It’s as if I’ve just really woken up out of this dream-like zombie state I’d been in since who knew when. And everything I — the me I think I am — takes for granted, it’s all so unbelievable.
This sudden shift in consciousness lasts a second, as I said, a mere second, and I shift back. I go on about my usual routine like it never happened, but inside my apartment, I’m contemplating. It’s so weird how we live the majority of our lives thinking we’re awake when in a moment we realize just how asleep we’ve really been. We’re altogether numb with psychospiritual Novocain, really.
III. The Blurs Strike Again.
It was Sunday, somewhere between four-thirty and five-thirty in the evening, I was at work, and I had just come back inside after having taken out the trash. It didn’t hit me until I looked at the face of Pops Girl in the drive-thru that something was wrong. Although I was looking dead at her I couldn’t see her entire face. I looked at Gus, at others, and it was the same thing. Looking at her eyes, I couldn’t see the bottom half of their faces; their mouths, their chin, were just gone from my field of vision. It affected part of the side of their face, too; focusing on one eye, I couldn’t see the other. I tried to act natural. Tried to keep calm. As I walked passed people, I noticed that in the upper-to-middle right-hand corner of my field of vision there was this purple blob, kind of like the blob you get when you stare at a light for a really long time, only this was remaining stationary, pulsating. And it didn’t remain a purple blob for long, either; soon it became what I’ve come to call a ”distortion worm.” In the same place in the upper-to-middle right-hand corner of my field of vision, it was this wavy line that looked a lot like a slithering snake, only it was stationary and pulsating, and though it was transparent, it distorted everything it obstructed and began to shimmer in these sparkling rainbow colors.
Maybe I should just shut up about it this time, I told myself. If I ignore it, the blurs will probably eventually go away, and trying to explain this to people who don’t understand and won’t give so much as half a shit won’t do me any good anyway. I went in the back, though, to start cleaning the top of the shake machine when Moe, over by the fryers, asks me if I’m okay, and I had to confess I didn’t know. I tried to explain to him what was happening, how it starts with the purple blob, transforms into a distortion worm and then it slowly grows across the center of my line of sight until I have nothing but the most minute amount of peripheral vision to go on. Two other guys in the kitchen, Louie and Ronnie, take interest in what I’m saying. Louie steps in and offers that it might be something in my eye, maybe a hair, or maybe a cataract or perhaps my eyesight has been going bad, but I shake my head, tell him I don’t see how any of the above could be true. For one thing, this isn’t the first time this has happened to me. It happened first on September 30, 2002, and it happened on three more occasions after that. But it hasn’t happened to me in five years. Not since my last day at the first store I worked at, as a matter of fact. So it just doesn’t seem like this would be a cataract or my eyesight going bad. And the idea of something being stuck in my eye seems just as unlikely. It’s not my eye, it’s my field of vision — I can cover either eye and it’s still happening. It’s happening in my head, in my brain; the problem can’t be located in my eyes.
Back when this had begun happening the first time, it was shortly after I had met Angela Briss. Eventually, she and I would sit down over some coffee and she’d tell me some interesting, weird things that had occurred to her over the course of her life rather consistently — shit that sounded quite familiar. Among her experience was something she called “the blurs,” which was, it seemed, exactly what had been happening to me.
The last time I had an attack of the blurs was, as I said, my last day at the first McDonalds I worked at, which also happened to be the last day I had ever seen her. Just a few days ago, I finally found Angela online and tried to contact her, though I hadn’t heard back from her. I don’t see how that could be anything more than coincidence, but I think it’s worth noting. Another thing worth noting is that when I described this particular experience to my parents sometime later, it turns out my ”blur attacks” sounded exactly like what my mother saw during the extremely serious migraines she used to have when I was really young. The distortion worm would start at one end of her field of vision and slowly work its way across her field of vision, sparkling and pulsating until it reached the other side, at which time her migraine would just be over. The difference in my case is that the blurs don’t always go that far, but sometimes they go farther — either way, a headache never accompanies them, though I do feel a “pressure” in my head and my state of consciousness is drastically warped.
It’s also true that I’ve been freaking out a lot lately, however, and that I hadn’t gotten any sleep the night before. Aside from that, I’d been contemplating whether the ailments I’ve been suffering as of late might have been of a psychosomatic nature. One issue was the sharp ache in my right foot, which made it extremely painful to walk on — incredibly for one day, and then increasingly less for two to three days afterward. Then, after that had dissipated, I felt this lump in my ear and one morning I awoke with the entire side of my face throbbing with this profound ache that subsided in a day or two. Perhaps these ailments, as well as the blurs, were all psychosomatic reactions to stress, which for various reasons have been high lately. For one thing, they all occurred on the right side of my body. For another, I’m almost sure the blurs have to be psychosomatic because when I can manage to relax they suddenly subside.
As I was cleaning the shake machine, the blurs got a bit worse, with the distortion worm crawling a little further across my field of vision and another blob forming on the lower half of the right side of my visual field, pulsating. My vision got all surreal as if everything was in a sort of haze and at a distance, but it slowly seemed to calm, and after I went out for a cigarette it seemed to subside entirely.
Walking alone in what appears to be the front yard of my parent’s house, it is a dark, clear, warm summer’s night. I’m watching something in the sky that at first looks like a plane in the distance but suddenly it quickly accelerates forward, and in the end what I’m looking at is a saucer-shaped object with lights all over it in neon-like colors. I don’t know how high up it is, but it looks bigger than the moon would appear and it’s dancing, doing acrobatics in the sky above me. Soon another joins it, virtually identical in appearance to the first, and then another. It is absolutely amazing to watch them.
Though in retrospect my instinct should have been to run and take cover, instead I find myself laying down, putting my back upon the grass of the front lawn. As I do so, the magnificent, surreal light show above me continues, but I realize something is even more awry now. There’s a strange mixture of excitement and fear present in me, and I know something in particular is coming. From the especially dark area of the yard towards which the top of my head is pointing there comes something. A form. It approaches me, bends down and looks at my face, but as soon as it does so I close my eyes.
Suddenly, with my eyes closed, with my consciousness altering and drifting in and out a bit, I feel myself being lifted and moved around, and when I open my eyes again I seem to be in a pretty bright place. From the table on which I lay I can clearly see them walking around, surrounding me. Some are familiar. The little gray guys. But they don’t all look the same. Some are of types I never remember having seen before, not in personal experiences and not in my research into the experiences of others. I remember how the head of one of them struck me as unusual and interesting and that I hoped that I would be able to remember this whole incident well enough to be able to draw it later on. This led me to playing over in my head what happened from the point of seeing the objects in the yard until now over and over, trying to remember the sequence, burn every detail of it in my memory so that I could write about it later.
Like so many times before, I hoped they wouldn’t wipe my conscious mind entirely clean. I wanted to remember how real this was in order to abolish the skepticism that always followed an experience, the doubt that always ached in me about my sanity after they dropped me off. There was a moment there on the table when I thought that perhaps I should just ask them, beg them to let me remember the fact that this happens from now on, to just do away with the amnesia because I can’t stop them and I think I can handle the memories. Maybe I could just accept what’s going on and somehow learn to integrate it into my life because, really, for the most part, its the mystery, the inability to know whether this is insane or really happening, that drives me over the edge. If I knew for sure, maybe I could deal.
But then I began to recall the kinds of things thoat went on when they took me, the kinds of things that were in store for me pretty soon, as I waited there on the table, and I thought how maybe it would benefit me not to remember. That perhaps if they took my suggestion and let me remember it might just cause more pain, more fear, and may perhaps even destroy me and my life completely. And after that point, I have no recollection of what else happened in the dream, but I feel certain more happened.
Though it has been plain to me and has, in fact, plagued me for a good, long while, I only recently came to learn there have been various terms for it in psychology: fate neurosis, destiny neurosis, and most recently, it seems, repetition compulsion. In essence, this is an individual’s unconscious impulse to repeat their history over and over again, in many cases while remaining exceptionally blind to the fact.
It appears to me as if there are at least three steps to repetition compulsion. The origin of the skipping record is typically perceived as a “seed story” or circumstance one faced while in childhood and as a consequence tends to deal with the relationship one had with one’s caretakers. One may have been neglected or abandoned, physically or sexually abused, or perhaps suffered under the reign of an authoritative parent. Another dawning situation, as it is with one dear friend of mine, may be a home life that breeds parentification — a process in which the child is forced to take on the role of the parent due to the actual parent’s general incompetence when it comes to parenting. There are potentially endless scenarios for such a seed story.
Whatever the circumstances, there comes a time when the child is no longer technically a child and so she wastes no time getting the bloody fuck out of dodge. Consciously determined, she then attempts to make her own life, but the subliminal aspects of her being, addicted to that familiar story, immediately get the shakes and they quickly intervene. Though she isn’t aware of it, she then finds herself unconsciously gravitating towards people and finding herself in circumstances that have an uncanny affinity with the people and circumstances she had just managed to escape. Like a shadow, the weight of her history appears fundamentally inescapable: the past, it seems, is forever present.
After successfully anchoring herself in the familiar, the phenomenon of transference takes hold, prompting her to exhibit conditioned reactions in her new context and inevitably, through projective identification, generates the desired reactions from the other person or people in question. In this way, the feedback loop creates and maintains the familiar circumstance.
Repetition compulsion can also come in one of two forms, the most direct being what we could call the Remake. If we can conceive of the original story as a sort of movie, every subsequent regurgitation would constitute a remake. I say this because the distinguishing feature of a remake is that it honors the source material, plagiarizing where it can get away with it and striving to pay homage where it must yield to the call for modernization.
The easiest personal example I can offer is Sandra, who was a longtime friend before I finally had to sever the close tie. Part of the reason was her overall lack of empathy and compassion, particularly with me, despite the fact that I exercised such empathy and compassion with her. The second reason, related and more to my point here, is that she was unable to see the Groundhog Day nature of circumstances, particularly when it came to men. She used to come into my room in the house I shared with her and her brother, lay on my bed and spill her soul to me, raw and unfiltered. This in and of itself is not unusual, as even total strangers tend to do this with me. I don’t mind. But over the course of countless failed relationships, I was hearing damn near the same exact story. No matter what part of the story she happened to be in at the timeI could tell her not only how she had gotten there but where it was going.
It should have been for her like it was expressed in that Nine Inch Nails song, “Everyday Is Exactly the Same”:
“I believe I can see the future
because I repeat the same routine.”
But she never saw it. I have often critiqued her for being unable to see beyond her own head to understand others; the truth of the matter was that she seemed utterly incapable of seeing so much as herself. Her deafness towards her own skipping record life soundtrack was heartbreaking and endlessly frustrating.
By no means is this phenomenon limited to her, of course. I certainly see it in my own life — but for me, that was and remains the difference: I see it. If nothing else, strive to gain some degree of self-awareness, for fuck’s sake.
Another way in which repetition compulsion can play out is in the form of Role Reversal. Whereas in the remake the person always plays the ego, the role they played in the seed story, here the person plays the role of their shadow, seeking out or forcing another into their previous position.
In many cases this can lead down a rather dark path: while you seek out the same general circumstances inherent in your core story, you now abandon your dawning role as the victim and put on the costume and mask of the victimizer. The song “Prison Sex” off of Tool’s album, Undertow, encapsulates the essential nature of this, perfectly summarizing the underlying aim with the line: “Do unto others what has been done to you.”
There may be various underlying motivations for repetition compulsion. Seeking out the familiar, no matter how painful, provides a greater sense of psychological security than the health and safety that may be possible, even probable, given a different pattern, simply because familiarity offers predictability, and therefore the illusion of control — and that’s certainly part of it. Also, as has been said in the case of recurring dreams and flashbacks, it may be an attempt on behalf of the unconscious to discharge emotions or desensitize one to the stimulus through relentless redundancy. Conversely, it may be an unconscious attempt to master the circumstance, to find a solution, to achieve resolution.
This sounds an awful lot like the Hindu take on reincarnation, which is to say we keep repeating the same damned cycle, our story, until we ultimately extinguish our desires. Buddhism offers a different take on the matter: one can take charge and work towards escaping the cycle now, within this lifetime, within this most recent adaptation of our recurring story. It involves transcending the ego and, as a consequence, the circumstances it compulsively perpetuates through mindfulness — through witnessing rather than engaging with the mind.
There may be additional measures one could take to escape the chains of their existential echoes, however: creative outlets. Just as our seed story can manifest in our objective circumstances it can also manifest in our music, play, writing, art, as well as in dreams and hallucinations, making us more mindful through the reflection such creativity offers. Carl Jung’s Active Imagination technique could potentially accelerate the process, too.
8/19/17, 1:15 AM:
I sat in my chair and decided to set the alarm on my old iPhone for 21 minutes his time. For the past two or three weeks, since I picked up mindfulness meditation as a daily practice again, I had been doing 11 minutes a day, and the last few days 16. Along with cutting back on the drinking significantly, I found it simply made me feel better: more present, more focused, with more periods of equanimity. I feel I’m getting more out of sleep when I actually manage to get some shut-eye, too. Why I abandoned this for perhaps two years or so is beyond me.
I had been noticing the same weird stuff happening during meditation, and even outside of it, that I had the last time I’d routinely engaged in this practice. Though it has gotten better the past few days, I find that when trying to focus on my breath coming in and going out through my nostrils I would experience what I can only call localized, transient, fluctuating dysmorphia. This is to say that one nostril would seem large and close up to my face as the other would be barely noticeable, giving a lopsided kind of feeling. It would never be stable, however; the nostrils would seem to change in size independently and with varying speed, making it difficult to maintain a steady focus. Typically this happens near the beginning of the session, giving way to stability as I keep at it without fighting this illusion.
Another thing I noticed, and which had happened previously, is that as I meditated on the breath I would reach a point where I would suddenly and quite drastically become more aware, my mind became silent. At that exact moment I would feel and hear a sort of crunching sound in my head as I felt myself coming to entirely inhabit the area behind my forehead. It’s almost as if I’m feeling my brain shifting gears. Once seemingly inhabiting the area behind my forehead I would feel a pressure right above and between my eyes as well as within and around my nose, particularly around the nostrils, the area which I’d been focusing on. Since picking up meditation again, this has also been happening while driving, an activity that generally makes me anxious and during which I fight to keep focus, as I’m constantly phobic about something going awry.
Neither of these things — fluctuating nostril dysmorphia or the crunching sound and sensation within the head — are things I have heard happening to people under meditation.
On this particular early morning, however, after a few minutes of meditation, I found that I kept falling into a vivid, detailed dream state and then popping back out again. At first saw a carpeted floor by a door before quickly popping out of it, focusing back on my breath. Next time, I found myself in a similar environment, though I was now sitting on a chair. I bent down towards my feet and then crawled down onto the floor, looking for something. In the process I hit my forehead on the chair — and that was what snapped me out of it again. As my awareness returned to my body abruptly I could still feel the pressure and tingling sensation on my forehead, where I had hit myself in the dream.
When I slipped into the dream state again, this time I leaned down from the chair and picked up what turned out to be a small child, perhaps some rendition of my new nephew, who I then held for a brief moment before snapping back. Each time I came back to my body my awareness was more clear and crisp, and it was easier to focus on my breath, as my eyes seemed fixed behind my eyelids.
This act of popping in and out of vivid dream environments also happened sometime recently, either during my daily meditation sessions or when I listen to Michael Sealey’s YouTube video, “Guided Meditation for Detachment From Over-Thinking (Anxiety / OCD / Depression),” in bed before sleep. In any case, I would see these dream scenes play out at a distance, like from a third person perspective, and deliberately try to push myself into them so as to experience them from the first person, but I kept losing consciousness when I pushed in, only to regain it briefly before snapping back to third person perspective again.
felt more than heard, assaults
on the land
above, already desolate,
tortured. Lost down
in the dark, grasping
for anything, aching for trembling
fingers to brush
against hope, sole survivor
of all I once had, but did it make
it down here with me, to this secure
blackness of the underground,
like an armoured
womb beneath relentless waves
of raging terror?
I may not have been entirely naked but I think my shirt was off. In any case, I seemed to be sitting at the end of some table. My back hurt like hell, particularly my one shoulder. It felt tense to the point of agony and the involuntary twitching was fucking relentless. Then a woman walks over to me. I cower like a wounded animal at her approach, though once she puts her hand on my shoulder it instantly relaxes, the pain immediately disappears.
Fade to black…
I remembered walking into my bedroom and checking the digital alarm clock beside my bed, staring at the time and trying to make sense of it. I knew that this clock was set an hour and a half ahead, but the math still suggested it was far later at night — or earlier in the morning, actually — than it should have been. I check my cell phone and the clock on the computer and it still seems that too much time had passed. To boot, I feel certain that I had not been asleep, but I had absolutely no memory of what I had been doing beforehand.
I finally went to sleep, but I kept waking up every half hour, it seemed, to down a bottle of water from the fridge, walk back into the bedroom and then crash back onto the mattress. It was almost like I was caught in a loop. Eventually I just lay in bed feeling bloated, afraid to hiccup because I might vomit up water.
Shortly after I woke up I kept thinking about the shoulder memory, remembering a little bit more of it as the day at work progressed. I also suddenly remembered the confusion with the time and constantly waking up thirsty.
This evening as I drove home from work along a long, unplowed stretch of road during out first major snowfall of the season, the tension I typically have when driving in Winter returned. My back ached. It still hurts.
I wish I had her talent.
Red eyes, skin
torn on fists, split,
dead white knuckles
petals flowering, blossoming
out, pulling flesh curtains back
as they weep crimson,
revealing eyes thirsty
as fuck, wide open
as the most eager of whores.
Needs have become ravenous.
Crept across this wasteland,
seeking blood for blood,
just another burn victim
fighting fire with fire: just feeding
death and consumption,
chaos and destruction.
To the marrow.
On towards extinction.