The loom at the threshold of consciousness


Another threshold we experience regularly is the dream world. It’s the middle between three states of consciousness: waking, dreaming and deep sleep. Deep sleep is understood by many wisdom traditions as a vast emptiness filled with potential, the deepest darkness, the birthplace of all possibility. Dreams originate in that unknown darkness and we can visit with feeling and imagination, but never with intellect.

Messages from the dreaming state are veiled in symbolic language, so we must take care when looking for insight into present circumstances or personal history. Dreams give us shifting glimpses into possible meanings to carry into waking life, but being layered like poetry, they don’t stand up well to overly rational analysis. They are rather a fleeting peek into another realm of mystery and otherness, like a wild animal brushing past your tent in the night.

The threshold world of dreams is a place of weaving and intermingling, rather than of neat integration. A dream can be held in our waking reality the way a drop of oil is held in a glass of water. Integration is not the goal; not everything can be so neatly subsumed as, say, a drop of ink dissolving in a glass of water even without stirring. Others – like the drop of oil – can only be swirled into patterns, creating more and more surface area that touches and commingles. But there will never be a fully integrated substance called oil-water.

I’m reminded of the ancient art of paper marbling, which I first saw in Venice. A quick check online reveals that it has a long history, originating in East Asia as early as the 10th century. Artisans float oil-based paint on the surface of water and manipulate it to create swirls and patterns that exploit the inherent integrity of oil. The swirls sing of shared contours, of consort and communion, and the colors retain their full vibrancy. Beauty is created from the intermingling of opposites.

As with the yin-yang diagram, where opposing colors of black and white coexist without joining. Their curving shared contour speaks of influence and empathy that would be impossible with a simple straight line. This is useful to remember when opposites clamor to exist simultaneously, which seems to be all the time these days. Fitzgerald has some wise words for this condition:

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise.”
~ F. Scott Fitzgerald, from “The Crack-Up”

That’s the nature of life on the threshold: it asks us to bring our full imagination to the challenge of weaving, and indeed finding the beauty in, seemingly irreconcilable conditions. When the rational mind is stumped, it’s time for the intuitive dreaming mind to step in.

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