An excerpt from Transcendent Dreaming: Stepping into Our Human Potential by Christina Donnell, Ph.D., which is available through Magus Books, 1309 1/2 4th St. SE, Minneapolis, or online at www.transcendentdreaming.com.
The following dream occurred in 1996. By then, although my familiar focus on ambition and activity in the external world had been replaced by exploration of my internal world, I was not yet comfortable with this transformation and had not yet integrated my inner discoveries with the everyday, repetitive events of my life. The dream seemed to reflect an intent to more deeply explore my internal world.
While lying in bed with my eyes closed and my awareness centered between them, image after image appeared in my mind’s eye. Meditation had accustomed me to letting images rise and evaporate without breaking my concentration. Then a heavy, syrupy feeling, which I eventually learned to associate with transcendent dreaming, blanketed me, pulling me into sleep.
I awakened within a dream in which I was doing exactly what I had been doing before the dream – lying in bed with my awareness centered between my eyes. Then the image of the black jaguar sitting in its tree, intently watching the jungle below, appeared and distracted me. The part of my awareness that was watching the dream thought it was peculiar that the jaguar image had appeared in a dream. With this thought, my awareness was drawn into the dream and became so immersed in the image of the jaguar that I lost sensation of my body and felt suspended in midair.
Although the sense of losing awareness of one’s body and physical surroundings happens to many people who practice meditation, this was not meditation. In fact, I soon felt my awareness itself begin to dissolve. The sensation was so extraordinary and pleasing that my attention was irresistibly drawn further into the jaguar image. Suddenly, a piercing brilliant light, accompanied by extreme heat, entered my brain. Unprepared for such an experience, I became anxious and aware of my body again. As the illumination from inside of me grew brighter and brighter, I experienced a rocking sensation and then felt the point of consciousness that was myself gradually expanding beyond my body.
Meanwhile, my body had been dissolving until I became unconscious of it. I was now all consciousness – without form, feeling, or sensation – spread out in every direction without limitation. I was no longer as I had always known myself to be, a small point of awareness confined in a body, but instead an infinite consciousness bathed in light and reveling in a state of exaltation.
After some time, I felt my consciousness contract, becoming smaller and smaller until I again was vaguely aware of the outline of my body. I spent some time wondering if I was going to slip back into my body but did not know how to do this. Eventually, it just happened, and I awakened from the dream, once more aware of my body and the cars passing on the street outside my window.
Returning from a foreign land
I felt dazed and bewildered, as if returning from a foreign land, but was soothed by the sun shining on my face through the window. My friend Miriam was sitting on the edge of my bed. I tried to lift my arms and hands, but they felt limp and lifeless. And while I could understand every word Miriam spoke, I could not sequence a thought or speak. I learned that I had been in this state for almost 36 hours. I had missed a full day of work and a dinner engagement with her, and when I did not answer the phone in the morning, she had come to check on me.
Eventually I stood up, although my legs felt weak and wobbled beneath me. After a while, exhausted and ill at ease, I went outside for a short walk, thinking it would help me return to normalcy. I soon doubled up from an unbearable heat in my abdomen that rose to my throat, and I felt as if I would vomit fire. I returned to the house and sat on the couch, taking no interest in anything and feeling detached from my surroundings. Miriam spent the day to make sure I was okay, and left in the evening. Retiring early, I slept fitfully, having strange dreams yet aware that a part of myself was watching me sleep.
Around 5 a.m., the same heavy, syrupy feeling descended upon me again, and I awakened in the same dream as the night before. The jaguar was sitting in the same tree, intently watching the jungle below. Again I was pulled into the image, and light pierced my head, filling me with rapture and vitality. As I felt myself dissolve, my consciousness once again expanded in all directions then slowly contracted. When I finally became aware of my body, my heart was racing, there was a metallic taste in my mouth, and my exhaustion was even more pronounced than after the first dream.
I did not feel like the same woman I had been only a few days before. Something intangible and powerful, which I could not grasp or analyze, was happening, and I could not free myself from a sense of apprehension. From that day forward, I would never be my old self again. For the next several years I would live suspended between spirit and matter, between heaven and earth.
The days immediately following the dream were a prolonged nightmare. I was aware of an intense internal glow, always in rapid motion. The nights were especially difficult since the stream of light that had pierced my head in both dreams seemed to increase in speed and intensity during the hours of darkness. I could feel my energy increasing, decreasing, and repatterning.
Even more alarming was the fact that my consciousness was not as stable as it had been before but now expanded and contracted, regulated in a mysterious way by the images, making me fearful that a fine line now separated me from insanity.
By March 1997, all these experiences had taken their toll on my body. I suffered from extreme fatigue and simultaneously experienced a weird feeling of exaltation and melancholy.
For a long time, I remained uncertain about the meaning of my condition. From the point of view of my Zen meditation practice, I surmised that I had turned from witnessing the rise and fall of awareness to participating with objects or images in my field of awareness. The amount of energy concentrated in an image, the merging into a participatory exchange with it, and the energy from which the image itself had risen had shifted my perception. My perception had also become rooted in the sensual dimension of experience, born of the body’s natural capacity to resonate with other forms; David Abram, in his work with traditional sorcerers, or DUKUNS, of the Indonesian archipelago, noted a similar anchoring of perception in sensual realities. Thus, what had been considered a distraction in my Zen meditation practice had become a new way for me to engage with the sentient world.
From the point of view of my shamanic training, the dream seemed linked to my encounters with the traditions of Q’ero medicine people of the high Andes of Peru and transmissions associated with them.
The Q’ero Indians are considered masters of the energy realm, which is the primary reality in which they live, and they communicate with nature through energy forces. For instance, they determine where they are in a large geographic area by the energetic feel of the terrain rather than by physical markers. For the Q’ero medicine people, every element of the landscape speaks: any movement may be purposeful, any sound meaningful. The more time I spent with the Q’ero, the more it became second nature to participate in discourse with animate nature and feel my body’s inherent capacity to resonate with the landscape. Furthermore, the Q’ero do not live in linear time, and therefore do not acknowledge an event that just happened or will be occurring. Given that they related to me energetically, did not talk about what they were doing and spoke Quechua, which had to be translated into Spanish and then English, I received most of their transmissions without the benefit of verbal delivery. While struggling to decipher the Q’ero, I began to see and hear in a manner I never had before.
Planes of existence
At the time of this dream, I knew there was evidence for the presence of forces and planes of existence other than those we perceive with our senses. I also realized that when other levels of reality are encountered, they revise the picture of the universe presented by the intellect. But I had no knowledge of the technicalities and implications of encountering different levels of reality other than through my dreaming experiences.
Today, after sixteen years of working with the Q’ero medicine people, I better understand their means of perceiving various levels of reality and their techniques for preserving and transmitting knowledge. Whereas we customarily perceive an object or being, separate our awareness, and label it, the Q’ero merge into an object or being to experience it. They are masterful at entering into a participatory exchange with both seen and unseen sentient forms and forces. For instance, while they are unaware that water breaks down to one oxygen to two hydrogen atoms, they can easily call in the rain by merging with the energy behind and within the rain.
Although I lacked a theoretical framework for understanding these phenomena, they made me acutely aware of the existence of different levels of reality. I realized how we live in at least two worlds within the physical body alone. There is a macroscopic world that we see – our flesh and bones. And there is also a microscopic world of our life force: numberless subatomic fields where matter disappears and only probabilities exist in a vacuum, somehow resulting in an exquisite balance within the body. These two domains are distinct yet complementary. Both are true; they are simply different levels of reality.
Dr. Christina Donnell will present a book talk and signing at 7 p.m. Friday, October 10, at Magus Books, 1309 1/2 4th St. SE, Minneapolis. To learn more about Christina’s upcoming workshops or book events, visit www.wocaassoc.com or www.transcendentdreaming.com. Her new book, Transcendent Dreaming, is distributed at Magus Books and online at www.transcendentdreaming.com, amazon.com or at www.wocaassoc.com.