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The dreams, yes; they are what began me on my course.  Dreams of levitation: I had only to extend my arms, power cupped in my outstretched hands and I would lift from the floor.  It was all too natural: a piece of my biology as common and necessary as eating, breathing and copulation.  My dreaming ability was never met with wonder or consternation; I floated free of effort, free of knowing how

            Such degrading horror: to awake incapable of such trivial, simple ability.  My waking body felt too heavy, clumsy and wracked with mortal discomforts. 

            And since my waking body failed me, I sought sleep.  Over-the-counter aids were not to be trusted: their deathless, disruptive void did not resemble true dreaming sleep in the slightest.  The litany of side-effects, too, outweighed what marginal aid was offered in slipping into the seas of nocturne.  Indeed, I eventually eschewed all use of drugs or alcohol – until later – for fear that my REM sleep would be arrested and my dreaming capacity for flight so diminished. 

            Meditation became scripture.  Cloistered, I spent hours in preparation.  Soothing teas; herbal salves; repeated ritual intonations – couched from obscure treatises penned by sages – murmured against the atonal drone of a circulating fan.  Later I learned these practices primed portions of my brain – the ventrolateral preoptic nucleus of the hypothalmus and the parafacial zone of the brainstem – to produce slow-wave-sleep: the loss of consciousness before REM could commence.    

            Waking life became the dream: hallucinatory interludes where my body’s increasingly hateful necessities were attended to.  Hunger became a constant companion: its pangs informed my fiber even as I chased my fleeting ability through nocturnal journeys.  Waste, too – hideous necessities – were ignored to the point that it became necessary to sheet my narrow bed with a crusty tarpaulin of unknown previous use.  I waked grudgingly to drudge through the chill, colorless rooms of my apartment, which would never again hold joy for me after vivid, wondrous sojourns through fable-like lands conjured by my dreaming brain.  I ate  tasteless noodles directly from a stained pot; binged on salty chips that left my fingers discolored.  Always, I would have to clean a putrescent mess from the tarped bed before I could lie down again.  Shaving, showering regularly no longer concerned me.  At some point my power was even shut off and I lost sleepless hours rectifying the overdue balance.  My small inheritance dwindled.  When not sleeping (and not attending to my disgusting prison of flesh), I inhabited the internet, seeking always means to better, deeper sleep and the attendant dreams that it facilitated.  Always, I was careful to eliminate screen time hours before lying down: the faux light of LED screens is anathema to natural circadian rhythms and the body’s ability to manifest melatonin. 

            Material on lucid dreaming became my primary study.  I thought that, if I could learn to anticipate and direct my own thoughts and actions while dreaming, I could then draw out the secret of flight from the confines of sleep and into my waking life.  You laugh, I’m sure; perhaps you even think I am mad.  But only a small percentage of the human brain is used in our waking, day-to-day drudgery; indeed, it has been shown that deep vaults of our mind only become accessible through dreams.  Stimulated by the continued function of the hypothalamus, the pineal gland relays the sensory information as dreams.  Despite reading as much as I could, the science of waking my conscious mind up while dreaming seemed only a matter of practice and focus.  The practice only increased my unease with my waking body: to continually ask one’s self if they were, indeed, actually awake, tested by reading or peering at a watch.  The idea being that text and time were often transient and nonsensical while dreaming.  Continually questioning one’s consciousness also facilitated the capacity to do so whilst one was dreaming: the crux of a lucid state.

            After several weeks, and several strong dreams (that included only one instance of levitation down an endless hall), I was no closer to consciously manipulating dreams.  I continued to be a passenger; a witness.  Then came an afternoon, when my ritual focus, as I spiraled deeper, was spoiled by an irregular sound, difficult to place.  My spiral stopped but I remained still, knowing that I was on the cusp of sleep.  Scratching.  Scratching from beneath my stained pillow, beneath my head – not overtly loud, but neither was it stealthy. 

            scritch  scratch  swipe

            Fisk, I thought.  The stray cat that haunted the building and the alley beneath my window.  Yes, Fisk the tatty ginger-cat had gotten into my rooms – not for the first time – and was mischievously menacing my pillow.  My mind swam up from plutonian depths, just enough to see, through one cracked lid, the closed and locked window; lank afternoon light fanned across the patina of filth and gave the window a milky cast.  The scratching stopped; its abrupt absence did more to draw toward wakefulness than did the sound to begin with.  A ponderous weight in my bladder finished the task of waking me up.  I decided to get up and rid myself of it rather than have to clean up the mess later.  Eyes fully opened and propped on my elbows, I prepared to swing my feet to the course, slivery boards.

Brad Emshwiller

Edited: 30.11.2019

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