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Levels of Lucidity: A Close Reading © Matthew Thomas. Illustrations by Riko Kusuhara

Author’s Note: This paper was first presented at the International Association for the Study of Dreams (IASD) PsiberDreaming Conference 2018. Special thanks go to my illustrator Ms. Riko Kusahara, with deep appreciation.

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The difference between most people and myself is that for me the “dividing walls” are transparent. That is my peculiarity.

Carl Jung

The conventional scientific sentiment has become that—while we don’t totally understand why dreaming happens—the dreams themselves are meaningless. They’re images and sounds we unconsciously collect, almost at random {…} Which seems like a potentially massive misjudgement.

Chuck Klosterman

I: I awake in a warehouse. The bed is against one wall–on the other is a thirty-foot mountain of cantaloupes. I realize I am dreaming. I get up and run my hands over the cantaloupes. They feel absolutely real—as tangible as in life. I remember that tangibility is not a viable reality test— I’ve made that mistake before. Now fully lucid, I decide to levitate. The room dissolves, and I float suspended in dense, colourless space. Eventually, I feel the need to come back to earth but cannot locate it. I feel something beneath me. This is my bed, and I awake back in the warehouse, relieved yet exhilarated. The cantaloupes are still there, however I don’t question them. I just happen to live in a room full of fruit. Moments later I awake again, this time in diurnal “reality.”

The most common dream experience is of waking from a dream we take to be real, only to understand that it was “just a dream.” However, a subset of dreamers, probably more than we generally imagine, have experienced lucid dreams, dreams in which, to some degree, they are aware they are dreaming. Lucid dreamers may also experience “false awakenings” (1)— the sensation of waking progressively through dream “levels.” False awakenings can be disorienting {Robert Waggoner writes that after seven successive false awakenings he “would accept … any reality … as long as it stayed put” (2)}, or sought after {Daniel Love and Keith Hearne have independently developed techniques to induce false awakenings (3)}. Regardless of the desirability of the experience, the existence of dream levels, far from a simple oddity, provides a potential window into massive metaphysical questions.

First, we need to understand how dreamers use evidence to establish whether they are dreaming or awake.

II: I am in a dreaming contest with another dreamer. The contest begins and slimy amphibians begin to appear. Some resemble frogs; others are in shapes that don’t exist in nature. Their size varies from that of a pinky to that of a fist. All are very colourful. I am not trying to dream them, rather they are spilling everywhere around my feet. I sense this is a dream, and check on the other dreamer. He is standing to my right in empty space, yet to begin his dream.

This dream is non-lucid at first and becomes lucid because of the bright color and absurd number of the amphibians. An awareness beyond the dream senses a non-natural situation.

III: I am picking out fruit at a fruit stand. There are some huge avocados, almost too good looking. I wonder if I am in a dream, and touch an avocado to check. The one I choose is ripe and soft—I squeeze it a little. There is no doubt that I am having a tactile experience, and I conclude I am not dreaming. Of course, I am.

Two dreams, two types of evidence. In Dream II, I correctly identify the amphibians as anomalous, and become lucid. In Dream III, my attempt to test the lifelikeness of the avocado as an indicator fails. Simply put, realistic sensation is not sufficiently indicative of reality. Love agrees: “we are not looking for a qualitative difference in how realistic the experience feels {…} we are {…} on the lookout for issues with stability and plausibility” (4). In Dream I, at first the huge pile of melons in my bedroom appears implausible and triggers lucidity; after moving up a dream level, my mind overrides the implausibility and “justifies” (5) the anomaly.

Because we awake from sleep and dreams every morning, we are very familiar with the experience of awakening. It is therefore unsurprising that when we wake inside a dream we accept the new reality as the waking world, even if it contains anomalous elements.

IV: I am in a huge house where a large group of families on motorcycles arrive. The families are making noise all night. I realize I am dreaming and levitate to where the families are. Later I decide to wake up. I ease myself out of bed, bumping my nose into an ironing board. The room looks and feels exactly like my room. I don’t recall the ironing board being there, but whatever. Moments later I awake again—the scene is identical, only, the ironing board is gone. I feel a pit in my stomach, wondering what is ultimately real.

Dream IV is a good example of how dream levels can become increasingly realistic level by level. An ironing board in front of the bed is (for me) more plausible than a house full of bikers. Dreams such as this beg the question of how we can ever be sure we are awake. I have dreamt of getting up, walking to the front door, opening it, and emerging into the sunshine in my neighbourhood. At every point, this dream felt entirely realistic with no anomalies. After experiences like this, is it wholly unrealistic that we could dream an entire morning? An entire day?(6)

There are different ways to approach this kind of question. The first is to use rigorous reality tests (7). Using reality tests after each fresh awakening can help us filter anomalies in what may be an increasingly realistic dream state. The second is to open ourselves to a wider set of questions. Although space limitations make full exploration of these questions impossible, modern dreamers would do well to recall that throughout recorded history people have speculated on the meaning of the dream state and what it can tell us about space, time, life after death, and the nature of reality.

As dreamers, we know that dreamtime behaves very differently than waking time. Robert Moss distinguishes between Chronos (“linear time”) and Kairos (the “spacious now”). He writes that when Kairos operates in waking life, “ordinary time is {…} suspended or elastic,” and the world can “quiver or shimmer” (8). Moss’ Kairos time sounds a great deal like dreamtime.

Jung in his memoir writes “our concepts of space and time have only approximate validity,” (9) and “there are indications that at least a part of the psyche is not subject to the laws of space and time” (10). Jung makes multiple connections between dreams and life after death, suggesting that our waking world, in which we are “conscious,” may in fact be a projection of a more “real” and permanent, even timeless, unconscious (11).

In the Tibetan tradition of dream yoga, the yogi prepares for death through dreams and meditation, entering death consciously by releasing bodily energy in such a way that the body partially or entirely dissolves into pure light. This “rainbow body” is well documented in Tibet and China, and cases of this phenomenon have been reported across multiple religious traditions (12). Finally, Moss connects dreams with the much discussed Many Worlds theory, as does, in popular culture, Richard Linklater (13).

V: I am among a large group of people on the top floor of a building. We lie down on our backs and form bundles. As the molecular structure of these bundles dissolves we become lighter, then totally empty. This process is dictated by a power outside of us which doesn’t speak. Once empty, we have the choice to become anything we want. I choose to become white light. Suddenly I am transported through space in a burst of pure white light, my old body left entirely behind. This is the most peaceful and thrilling feeling in the world. Then, I am back into a new bundle, trying again to become empty. I make progress, but it is hard and I am over-concentrating. Progress ceases; I wake up.

Although I have thought at length about dreams, I am a normal person, with a normal job, dreaming anonymously night after night. I do not belong to a spiritual tradition, am not a yogi or a meditating hermit. As a lucid dreamer, like many of us, I am self-taught. While we anonymous dreamers are wise to suspend judgement about the particularities of a theory as mind-boggling as dreams as an interface to infinite parallel universes, it is perhaps not by chance that my dreams of ascending to a state of pure white light bear close resemblance to innumerable near-death experiences or the reported manifestations of a lifetime of dream yoga. Although admittedly outside of our normal rational mode of apprehension, the experience of journeying through multiple dream levels, and the energy and amazement which often accompany these experiences, may point toward worlds far above, below, or beyond our own.

Who are we in our trek through life? Are we the maker, or the made? The writer, or the page? The actor, or the stage? The happening, or the happened to? Perhaps our ability to exercise agency in the vastness of forever depends in part on learning to navigate levels of “reality,” however we encounter them. Or perhaps, journeying to the far side of the dream can bring us face to face with that which is actually dreaming us.

Citations:

1 Waggoner, 61

2 Ibid., 63

3 Love, 131

4 Love, 71

5 Love cites “poor reasoning skills” as one common reason for failing to recognize dream signs and achieve lucidity. Love, 73.

6 Cf. Klosterman, 141

7 Love, 78-79; Waggoner, 259. (Wagonner uses the term “reality check” instead of “reality test.”)

8 Moss, 49

9 Jung, 300

10 ibid., 304

11 ibid., 324

12 Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, 314; Gyalwai Nyugu Rinpoche

13 Moss, 74-74; Linklater

Bibliography:

Jung, Carl. Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Vintage Books, 1989.

Klosterman, Chuck. But What If We’re Wrong? Blue Rider Press. 2016.

Linklater, Richard, director. Slacker. Orion Classics, 1990.

Love, Daniel. Are you Dreaming? Enchanted Loom Publishing, 2013.

Moss, Robert. Sidewalk Oracles. New World Library, 2015.

Rinpoche, Gyalwai Nyugu. “About Rainbow Body.” http://www.gyalwai-nyugu.com/about- rainbow-body/. Accessed 24 July 2018.

Rinpoche, Tenzin Wangyal. The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep. Snow Lion Publications, 1998.

Thomas, Matthew. “On Coming Through”: A New Meditation on Intention. https://craftfollowsconcept.com/2013/05/13/on-coming-through-statement-of-intent-on-the- approach-of-my-39th-birthday/#more-11. Accessed 24 July 2018.

Waggoner, Robert. Lucid Dreaming. Moment Point Press, 2009.

IASD PsiberDreaming Conference 2018 Matthew Thomas: Levels of Lucidity: A Close Reading

0A109046-75C4-43F2-8D04-10D8B3E02BB8Note: This piece in its current form was originally published on thekyotokibbitzer, although the genesis of the piece dates back to my first blog, the now defunct classicalsympathies.  Clearly the concerns included here have lasting resonance in my mental space.  And yes, there is a sort of a thesis, god forbid.

After the rousing success of our first breakdown here on the kibbitzer, we have doubled down on the form.  Here we will be exploring two incidences of stage banter by musicians captured on live albums.  We will look at Matthew Houck from Phosphorescent introducing his band, and Dean Wareham from Luna riffing with a French audience.  Phosphorescent and Luna are two of our most beloved bands, and the proto-thesis of this piece is that through their stage banter we can see into the core of what makes Matthew and Dean who they are as artists and entertainers, and in so doing discover anew what makes them great.  Stage banter, in short, may be the royal road to stylistic explication.

That all sounds pretty good, though we aren’t actually going to start with stage banter. Instead, we will take a quick stroll through the archives, back to 2009 when we published a little piece on our first blog, Classical Sympathies called “Curtis John Tucker Had a Lot to Do With It.”  Around this time, I was interested in artistic communities, artistic communes really, I guess.  My Dinner with Andre was a huge influence.

Around that time I was also listening to a bit of Giant Sand.  Giant Sand is an ever-evolving group of musicians around the enigmatic Howe Gelb, a shape-shifting Southwest troubadour who makes a lot of music, some of which is really good.  On the record Cover Magazine, the Sand covers a Kris Kristofferson song called “The Pilgrim (Chapter 33)“.  It is this song that the Curtis John Tucker piece took up.

The themes that occupy a Gemini through life, though certainly never stable, do have a certain macro-coherence.  Such is it with stage banter—our current focus calls back to this little piece on Giant Sand.  What follows then is a re-write of the original piece as an introduction to our main topic.


Re-write of “Curtis John Tucker Had a Lot to Do With It;” original version July, 2009.

On Nothing Left to Lose, a Kris Kristofferson tribute album, and later collected on Giant Sand’s Cover Magazine Howe Gelb covers the song “The Pilgrim (Chapter 33).”  You may know the song; it goes:

he’s a poet/ he’s a picker/ he’s a prophet/ he’s a pusher/ he’s a pilgrim and a preacher and a problem when he’s stoned/ he’s a walking contradiction/ partly fact and partly fiction/ taking every wrong direction on his lonely way back home.

Yeah, you know the one.

It’s a good song, and Gelb turns in a sound version.  But it’s his spoken introduction that really peaks my interest.  On Kristofferson’s original he name-checks a number of folks who “had something to do with” the genesis of the song.  Gelb repeats the original name-checks, slightly out of order, before listing a set of artists that he, Gelb, learned the song for:

Well, I guess when Kris wrote this song he wrote it for Chris Gantry–he started out doing it though by–ended up writing it for Dennis Hopper, Johnny Cash, Norman Norbert, Funky Donny Fritts, Billy Swan, Paul Seibel, Bobby Neuwirth, Jerry Jeff Walker.  Ramblin’ Jack Eliot had a lot to do with it.

Me I ended up learning this song for Vic Chesnutt, Jason Lytle, Evan Dando, Polly Jean, Paula Jean, Patsy Jean, Juliana, Victoria, Bobby Neuwirth, Bobby Plant.  Curtis John Tucker had a lot to do with it.

The alliterative Bobbys and the matching of Ramblin’ Jack Eliot and Curtis John Tucker make this speech into a mini-poem of sorts, and we know many of the protagonists.  Hopper and Cash of course; Jerry Jeff Walker and Ramblin’ Jack Eliot are folk singers, older than Kristofferson; Bobby Neuwirth is a folk singer, multimedia artist, and Dylan confidant in Don’t Look Back,  Funky Donny Fritts is a session keyboardist, and I believe Norman Norbert and Billy Swan were session musicians as well.  Paul Seibel was also a folksinger–I don’t know him; maybe you do.  Kris’ meaning is pretty clear—a song like The Pilgrim doesn’t come from nowhere, and the folksingers he learned from are portals back in time to an earlier tradition to which he generously pays tribute.

Not being myself a 70’s session musician completist I did have to look up a few of the names.  The Gelb names are more familiar, expect one.  Vic Chesnutt, Jason Lytle and Victoria (Williams) are folk singers (or were, as sadly Chesnutt has passed).  Evan Dando, Juliana Hatfield, and P.J. Harvey are/were alt-rock superstars.  Bobby Plant would be Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin fame, Bobby Neuwirth is Bobby Neuwirth.

But here’s the point, after listening to Kristofferson and Gelb name-check Funky Donny and Curtis John, I feel an affinity for them–were I to bump into Funky Donny in an airport bar or lounge his presence would resonate with an essential familiarity.  Even if I didn’t know precisely that it was he, I would recognize immediately that he was indeed funky, not to mention a serious problem when he’s stoned.  And Curtis John Tucker, well, his role is still opaque to me, but he clearly had a lot to do with it.

What both singers hint at in their evocation of the circumstances surrounding the creation of a song is the presence of community behind the music.  Behind or beside every Kristofferson is a Norman Norbert, behind every Dylan a Bobby Neuwirth, every Gelb a Curtis John Tucker.  In 2009 I wrote that “this thought fills me with a little jealously and a little sadness; I’m not at all sure that such communities of practice are as common as they once were; (there is) something about the atomisation of human affairs in the first world in the 21st century means that the idea of an artistic community where minor but still vital players such as Norman Norbert is no longer viable.” Today, although this statement still rings somewhat true, things appear rather different to me.  It seems that at least two things are occurring: first the internet has evolved such that any artistically minded person can find a niche community(s) that fits their style, and live with a foot in this community.  The second is that an apparently opposite, and actually concomitant, vitalisation of local community is underway all over the world, and a vitalised local community by necessity contains a vitalised local artistic scene.

Whatever the case, the humanity and camaraderie inherent in the spoken introductions to The Pilgrim remind us that artistic communities are vital in the creation of lasting artistic production–Neuwirth may not have been essential to Dylan’s art in the mid-60’s, but he was instrumental to its vitality; Kristofferson wrote “The Pilgrim” but it wouldn’t have been as good without Paul Seibel.  And as for Curtis John Tucker, well he had a lot to do with it.


On the spoken introduction of the band Phosphorescent by Matthew Houck between the songs “Joe Tex, These Taming Blues” and  “Los Angeles,” from Live at the Music Hall.

On side two of Phosphorescent’s majestic 2015 live album Live from the Music Hall, the band plays a song from their 2005 album Aw Come Aw Wry, called “Joe Tex, These Taming Blues.”  Houck’s early Phosphorescent albums are interesting–they are more ambient and keening than his mature work and some of the songs are really long.  Joe Tex is one of the better early songs, and Houck puts a little something special into the first couple lines on the live version: 

Is it ever gonna not be so hard to see you around/ or am I really really really really gonna have to really gonna have to really have to leave town

Houck is a master at harnessing the power of repetition—here each “really” takes on its own character and valance.  The band gives an excellent performance, which goes for about 4 minutes.  It is apparently the second last song of the night, because at the end of the song Houck moves to introduce the band.  Here he goes, as the band chugs on behind him:

Brooklyn, that’s Scott Stapleton playing that piano right there…

The first “Brooklyn” is loaded with import–Houck is going to drop some wisdom on the folks tonight.  Stapleton plays a few understatedly beautiful lilting keys and…

Brooklyn, that’s David Torch playing that percussion right there…

Torch gives a little maracas shake, right on time, as Houck establishes the rhythm and flow of the introductions.  The basic elements include a “Brooklyn,” which shifts in valance a little each time, and the band member playing “that (instrument),” “right there.”

Brooklyn, this is Rustin Bragaw playing that bass guitar right there…

A slight shift in the pattern–probably Rustin is standing next to Houck.  Bragaw drops a couple of notes on his funky bass and on we go–naturally, the bassist gets the lowest key introduction.

Brooklyn, Christopher Showtime Marine playing those drums right there…

Houck reaches for a higher register here, both on the slightly more breathless and rushed “Brooklyn” and an uptone delivery of Marine’s nickname.  Another shift in the pattern–Marine has a moniker.  Showtime delivers a healthy drum piece and…

Brooklyn, the trigger finger Ricky…Ray…Jackson playing that guitar and that pedal steel right there, come on…

We’re getting there.  The crowd is excited for this one; the pedal steel player is clearly a star.  Houck pauses a beat on each name, “Ricky…Ray…Jackson, come on,” and the come on is both an entreaty to the crowd and also a general “come on can you believe this guy!” from the lead singer.  Pedal steel is no joke.  Also, Ricky Ray’s nickname comes before the name–he is in fact the trigger finger here tonight, his birth name is just data.

The trigger finger plays a couple of high notes and…

Brooklyn, last but certainly not least, the best looking one in the group, Joe Help, playing those keyboards right there, come on.

No fuss around the two-syllable “Joe Help,” which Houck delivers as if it was one word.  Joe Help and Joe Tex, good looking guys that’s all.

I can’t tell you what a pleasure this has been y’all. Thank you for being here. Hope you come back again.  We’re going to play one more song; thank you guys so much again.  This is a song called Los Angeles; this is how it goes.

And the band plays a stunning closer.

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So what’s going on here?  On the one hand, Houck is just introducing the band like any other bandleader might.  However there are layers to what he is doing that are really interesting.  First, the introductions take up a good 2 minutes 20 seconds, more than a third of the 6:13 running time of the track.  Second, the whole thing is a mini-performance in and of itself.  It has an introduction, momentum, a high point at “the trigger finger Ricky Ray Jackson,” and a come down in the clipped, humorous Joe Help introduction.  Houck is doing a little “bit,” where each introduction, although seemingly quite similar, is actually it’s own piece, with his own special kind of appreciation for each band member. Read the rest of this entry »

Matthew Thomas, Kyoto

This post originally published at craftfollowsconcept.com

Press Release:

Good evening.  I am here to introduce to you a new band.  You will always remember this evening, as you are the first audience to hear about the band, which will go on to shake the music industry to the core.  However, I’m sorry, I’m very sorry, but you will not be hearing from the band this evening.  They are very busy preparing for the possibility of contemplating their first show, which you will hear about in a few minutes.  At that time, you will be given a inside tip about how to score FREE TICKETS for this gig, but first I should explain the membership arrangement of the band, as it is a bit special.  The band is a trio consisting of two humans and a third member, a “third term”, which is referred to as “the floating concept.”  The floating concept triangulates the members and makes the band structure as we know it possible.  The band structure is therefore equivalent to a trinity.  Without the floating concept, the band would spill apart in a matter of hours due to its own frivolity and according to the second law of thermodynamics.

Who are these band members, you will want to know?  Of course you do.  When something this special, this fresh, this frankly white hot, comes along it draws all eyes.  Well, I can let you in on this much–the members are multi-talented young artistes on the cutting edge of fashion who are even as we speak enacting the first true artistic theory of the 21st century.  They are considering and arranging all aspects of their performance, except those aspects that relate to the music to be played.  There is a reason for this–the band can play no music, owns no instruments, and is in no hurry to learn their craft.  They are instead, busy, very busy, honing their CONCEPT,  Just as night follows day, and form follows function, the band believes, as its only tenant of belief, that craft follows concept (twitter hashtag #cfc).

Now, with the three members in place, is there room for more, you may ask.  Yes indeed.  In fact the band is actively recruiting a fourth member, and the position is wide open.  There are some conditions on this member, however.  First, the fourth member must be a woman, a female.  Second, she must be gorgeous and bewitching.  (For the time being, in advance of her arrival, we shall refer to her as the  “background term.”  Upon her arrival, the band will, momentarily, become a quaternary.)  Third, and crucially, she must break up the band almost instantaneously upon joining it.   There are no other conditions.

Now, you will be eager to know when and where the band will be playing as the break up of the band could occur at any time, in the blink of an eye, and is entirely at the mercy of the bewitching female, the eternal anima.  Fortunately, plans for the band’s first gig are already well underway.  The band will be convening in March of 2014 in Boracay, just 11 months from today, to discuss its next move.  At this point we are thrilled to be able to announce that in Boracay the agenda point of a concert or live event of some kind IS a distinct possibility.  In short, a performance concept MAY be discussed.

What that performance might look like is currently a matter of the highest secrecy not to mention massive uncertainty.  After all, as I am sure you will agree, the first true artistic theory of the 21st century, the theoretical descendant of surrealism, pop art, and the theater of the absurd, needs some little time to germinate.  It cannot be rushed.  However, there is some information that we are prepared to release tonight.  First, initial scouting has been undertaken on the island of Gibraltar, and very tentative discussions are being undertaken with representatives of the Zimbabwean government regarding possible locations.  At present, we are referring to these as “Plan A,” and “Plan B.”  In the event that either Plan A or Plan B materializes, you will be able to score FREE admission by simply attaching yourself to the flash mob which will storm the venue precisely 20 minutes after the band takes “the stage.”  In order to join the flash mob, you will simply need to locate third member of the band, the floating concept, who will be leading the mob.  Please be aware that the floating concept IS floating, and therefore by definition is subject to frequent re-definition and re-nominalization.   In other words, by the time the third term reaches this putative future time/space conjunction it may well be styling itself as something entirely other.

There is a Plan C.  Plan C will be referred to as “Plan C.”  Plan C is cancelation.  In the event of cancelation, the concert/event will be simulcast across all platforms for viewing in the comfort of your own home.

I know that at this point you will be salivating to know more, that you will already be scouring the internet for more information about the band and its concept.  What we can say is, anything you might read online is the purest of speculation.  The band does not leak, in fact it does not even hold water.  From an atmospheric point of view, however, the band is currently working under the following umbrella, and I quote:

“The new girl in Tahoe has swallowed Sinatra’s c**/ A Russian primadonna dances slow on valium/ After the game the benchwarmer can’t get a ride/ in space there is no center/ we’re always off to the side

Guinnevere orders one more beer in the smokey pick-up bar/ A burnt out tramp by the exit ramp waits for one more car/ The Latin teacher always smells like piss/ The census figures come out wrong/ there’s an extra in our midst.”

An extra?  A fifth member?  Is that a leak?  Does the band leak?  Does it, after all, hold water?

Come and see, follow us across all social media platforms at#cfc and craftfollowsconcept.com, tell your family, tell your friends, tell your neighbors, don’t tell a soul. The telos of the art world is about to be revolutionized, about to jump the shark, run rampant, build its own contingent, its own motherf***ing army.  Follow the band, tap into the excitement come and see a legend while it’s still being made!  Ladies, gentlemen, I give you, THE BAND.

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