A few weeks ago, I dreamed of flying, not in an airplane, but mysteriously under my own steam. In my dream, I pedaled a winged contraption quickly enough to get and stay aloft as I soared over Wheeler Park and the roof of Federated Church.
I used to have flying dreams when I was young, as late as my high school years. They were rare enough that I looked forward to them as one might a birthday or Christmas. In one particularly memorable version, I flew over the town of Rothenberg, Germany. (We were living in Belgium at the time, and I’d visited that picturesque town, so it’s not as exotic a dream as it might seem.)
When I was very young, I was quite convinced that if I launched myself off one of the camel saddles collected by my parents when we lived in Ethiopia, I would be able to fly. I’d leap off a footstool over and over, wishing for the power of flight, but surprisingly (to me, at least), flew only in my dreams.
A very specific feeling arises from those flying dreams: an effortless gliding momentum I can maintain for long periods of time, with no flapping, fumbling, or floundering. There’s just a long trajectory through the air, my body stretched out, arms by my side or extended like wings, not too fast or too slow. My sense is that I could go on forever, as long as I maintain focus.
When I mentioned this to my friend Dwayne, he sent me a link to Laurie Anderson’s song, Walking and Falling, which describes walking as a controlled fall. That matches his dreams about flying, in which he is able to take impossibly long strides, and who better to narrate your dreams than Anderson?
There are rarely instances in my waking life when I have that sort of glide, but I always wish for it. I cultivate whatever tiny bit of effortlessness I find, whether I’m engaged in a routine chore or ritual, or something entirely new that only seems familiar, as if I’ve done it ten thousand times.
The trick might be to simply notice and carry that feeling over from one easeful task to another that isn’t so easily accomplished.
Some of the effort is because I am often learning new skills. In my twenties and thirties I collected skills: refinished furniture, baked bread, crocheted, gardened, canned, made paper, rewired lamps and more. I once made a perfectly horrid batch of dandelion wine from the bounty in our front yard. I like knowing how to fix things and make things.
These days my new skills are mostly on the computer, but I prefer a more hands-on experience, working with tools other than keyboard and screen, and materials other than bytes.
As a relief from the computer, I worked in the yard this week, raking, sweeping, and culling dead plants. The native sunflowers I let grow all summer – they drew tiny finches to hang upside down and pick at the seeds – have now dried and become an eyesore instead of a delight. These chores are a circling back, and like the proverbial “chop wood, carry water,” give me something to do while my mind settles certain truths, and becomes inured to the fading light.
Making a bonfire the past several nights in the fire pit also allowed me to circle back, as I sat under the stars and read by firelight. I’ve spent barely any contemplative time in the forest this summer, but I plan to take a few days over the next few weeks to see what needs to be preserved for the winter.
On Tony’s advice a year or two ago, I bought a light box. In the fall I drink my morning coffee and read the paper by its light. This ritual helps keep me anchored to the bigger planet, rather than allowing me to escape to the ‘small planet’ of my own not-quite-well brain.
Meditating on the sensations from my flying dreams and then handling that memory as if it were a smooth stone might also help keep me from dropping into the winter blues.
Holding onto sanity also means I can stay focused enough to learn something new and work with my hands, and create something from nothing. And that makes me, like John Lennon, a dreamer.