I have written previously of my proclivity for vivid dreaming and feel called to return to that topic. My dreams can be described in many ways; amusing, entertaining, frustrating, depressing and terrifying are only a few descriptions which come readily to mind, and there are others which could apply as well. I usually lay down at night looking forward to what my personal late show will bring and I am rarely disappointed. Last night my dream fell into the ‘other’ category however. I will describe this dream as ‘disturbing’.
But first a few examples. Perhaps my most vivid dreams in all of my life occurred shortly after I returned home from three years in the Army. In one dream Godzilla – the Japanese version – was stomping up El Cajon Blvd. in my native city of San Diego. I was hiding behind a wooden garage which opened into an alley between 47th St. and Euclid Ave, and when the Big Lizard entered my view I stuck my head around the corner of the building to snap a picture with my nice new Pentax camera. The ‘click’ of the camera gave me away however and the old boy turned in a stately sort of pirouette and launched a blast of his radiation breath my way. I awoke as the incinerating blast slammed into me.
I arose from that dream a combination of frightened and amused, but the next dream was nothing but fear. In this dream I was running down a street near the house where I grew up with none other than the devil himself hot on my heels. At this time in my life it would have been a stretch to label me as even agnostic. I did not believe in God, the devil, or any other supernatural entities, although reading Carlos Casteneda’s “Don Juan” trilogy made me wish that I could believe in such things. Be that as it may, Old Scratch was right there breathing down my neck as I fled east on Landis Street. How I came to have a hatchet in my hand I could not tell you, and what effect a hatchet could have on such an ethereal sprite as Satan is even less clear, but a hatchet I had and I stopped and turned and chucked that hatchet squarely where I thought my enemy (whom I could not see) would be. The effect of my effort was predictably minimal so I turned and fled again. This time however I pulled out my trump card; I called on God to save me.
As I wrote earlier, I was far from a believer in anything supernatural in my waking hours and would not become so for many years to come. I had been exposed to Christian doctrine some years earlier however and certainly a memory of that teaching was stirred up under the stress of the situation. Or the devil could have been after me and God may have stepped in on my behalf. Either way I woke up drenched in sweat and I remember the dream vividly to this day.
Many other dreams of vampires, werewolves, dinosaurs and spiders have haunted my nights but it has not been unrelieved fear. I frequently have the ability to glide in my dreams and sometimes even have the power of flight itself. Those dreams are my favorites. The gliding dreams usually involve me running and jumping, with the jumps stretching out for longer and longer distances. I eventually do come back to Earth however and have to relaunch unless I merge into a dream of independent flight. Oddly enough I am frequently aware of the fact that I am dreaming when my dream turns to flight and I make sure that I make the most of those occasions, soaring high into the clouds and then swooping down in supersonic dives, then gliding in lazy circles around wooded islands in bluegreen seas. I genuinely dislike awakening from these dreams.
Another recurring dream stems from a thread of my insecurity which has been a part of my personality all of my life. In these dreams I am usually doing a job for which I am not well equipped or not properly trained. As the dream progresses I and everyone around me become increasingly aware of my inadequacies and my ability to earn an income to support myself and my family is placed in doubt. I hate those dreams and am always relieved to awaken from them.
Many other themes will enter my sleeping head in the dead of night. Visits with my departed parents or cats which I loved long ago are favorites, as are the simply bizarre episodes of WW II battles and rescues of damsels in distress, or walks down streets which I trod years ago during other chapters of my life. And I must never neglect my dreams of breathing under water. The trick seems to be to breath very slowly, and then the water is no problem at all.
But now to my dream last night. I found myself in a scene that could have been in the American Civil War. I had a muzzle loading rifle and was creeping around through the bushes looking for an enemy to shoot and trying to not get shot in my turn. There was little of that going on; I briefly saw a soldier or two but never got a good target to shoot at. From that point the scene turned in ways that I don’t remember and I found myself faced with civilians, and I knew that my job was to begin shooting them. I was horrified but began to comply, loading one ball at a time and shooting whomever came before me. The civilians did not show fear, instead they looked at me with contempt and began to walk unwaveringly towards me. A pregnant woman, a young man, a boy of probably twelve or thirteen, walked towards me slowly but with unbroken pace as I reloaded and fired again, reloaded and fired again.
I was backing away from my advancing targets, knowing with considerable discomfort that I feared them much more than they seemed to fear me, until I came to a modern, busy street. After making sure that there were no enemy soldiers in sight I ran up that street to get behind the pursuing crowd of civilians. I achieved my objective and, after turning a corner, found myself back in my Civil War scene, this time pursued by one visibly angry woman. I ran up a road which climbed the side of a hill and which was guarded by a large, open gate. I fired my rifle again as I passed through the gate and out of the barrel of the rifle flowed a stream of what I knew was food. As soon as I was inside the gate it was slammed shut in front of the angry woman. The obvious point of this dream segment was that food and the means to sustain life were on one side of the gate and the people on the other side, represented by the angry woman, were part of the enemy being fought and would be left to starve or freeze or die of whatever privation came to take them. This time I responded with anger myself and glared at a guard who looked at me with an expression which said “I’m only doing my job.”
At this point I awoke and felt my entire body tingling with a most unpleasant sensation. I lay there for a few minutes but shortly had to get up to walk off the physical effects of the dream. I took a little water to wash out the bad taste that the dream left in my mouth. The dream was entirely unprecedented; I have never had such a dream or anything like it before, and I wonder what dark corner of my soul was able to spawn such a hideous scene. One Jewish Buddhist whom I have recently been reading suggests that dreams will tell you things about yourself. I hate to think that this dream tells me that I am capable of anything like what I saw in my sleeping head last night.
After having time to think about that dream I am now more aware than ever that the plea of a soldier that “I was only doing my Job” is not a defence for war crimes, and that the concept of total war which developed out of WW II is unsupportable. But I am still haunted by the fact that it was me committing these horrific acts. It is one thing to try a Nazi camp guard for atrocities committed against inmates or condemn the fire bombing of Dresden or the cities of Japan, but in this dream I was the camp guard and I was pulling the lever and saying ‘bombs away’. Like Walter Pidgeon in the 1956 movie “The Forbidden Planet”, is there an ID monster lurking in my own subconscious, ready when summoned to emerge and wreak inhuman havoc in the name of ‘duty’? Must I be vigilant to be aware of and contain my monstrous alter-self in it’s shadows lest it shows its face in wartime or even circumstances of my everyday life?
This dream will stay with me, I am sure, for as long as I have a memory. I believe that I will file this one generally under ‘disturbing’, but in a subfolder labelled ‘instructional’. The lesson I will take away from the dream is to not be too comfortable pointing fingers at others and think that I am morally superior to them. The same monster that lurks in others and sometimes is given free rein to show its face and wreak its havoc hides in the shadows of my own soul as well. To ignore that fact is to give the ID monster leverage which it must never have.