Messages and Dreams

When I was a child, adults often didn’t treat me well. They didn’t seem to care about my feelings, would do things that made me really sad, and generally dismissed my experience of the world as less important, because I was a child – a fact they reminded me of constantly. I didn’t know how to communicate to them how much this hurt me.

But this was seriously confusing to me, because they’d been children once, right? And they talked about their bad childhoods sometimes, which meant they had once been in my position. I realized all the children had grown up into adults, then turned around and stopped caring about children’s feelings, because they’d forgotten what it was like to be a child. This terrified me, mainly because I knew I would one day become an adult too. Would I grow up and forget? Would I do this exact thing to the next generation of children?

So I packaged a ‘mental message’ for my future self – a set of impressions that I would remember regularly as the years went on, and preserve over time in as close to its original form as I could manage. The message went something like this: “You don’t remember what it’s like to be a child, but I’m telling you, take the experience of children seriously. Don’t underestimate how real and important this is. Don’t forget me.”

I’m an adult now, and I’ve mostly forgotten. I’m not around kids very much and my memories are fuzzy – but that message sent from my childhood is still vivid in my mind.

During the year I took a lot of acid, there were a few months near the end where I lucid dreamed constantly. I’m not sure how much of this was due to the acid, or how much was due to the fact my sleep schedule was like a baby’s – I slept and woke randomly, whenever I felt like it, usually sleeping roughly three times in a 24 hour cycle. For me, naps increase my lucid dream chances, so this was perfect.

I started to do experiments in my dreams. I found trying to influence my environment increased my chances of waking up. I tried practicing meditation, which was strange and psychedelic. I once took off my glasses and tried to fix my vision with sheer willpower, which did not work. I tried practicing piano, reading books and memorizing the poetry inside them, or remembering tunes to dream songs, some of which worked. I tested the passage of time by checking to see if songs played in the real world while I was sleeping sounded the correct speed in my dream, or if they were sped up or slowed down (they played at the correct speed).

I tried having conversations with people, often about the fact I was lucid dreaming. I once entered a dark bedroom with two twin beds, and a woman was sitting on one of them. I asked her if she was conscious, and she replied, “You mean, are you imagining me or am I imagining you?”

I started trying to find a mentor – a character I imagined I would regularly go find when I dreamed and ask them questions. Once I found a possible mentor, but realized I couldn’t think of any questions, after which I woke up and memorized a list of questions to return with. Often people would refuse to answer my questions, or laugh at me and keep walking.

In one dream, I became lucid on a strange beach with warped angles, and saw a huge stone sculpture set knee-deep in the ocean, surrounded by a circle of rocks. I waded up to him and began asking him my questions – things like “what is the meaning of all this,” or “why am I dreaming,” or “what is this place,” or “what am I searching for”, etc.

But instead of answering me, after each question he would simply point to the ocean, the sky, the rocks. And I felt sheepish, like I’d known that something like observing sensation was the answer all along. I realized I already knew these answers, that I already knew what it meant to be at peace, so why had I been asking him anything at all?

But as soon as this thought crossed my mind, he pointed behind him, and I saw a massive, unholy tidal wave on the horizon that was certainly going to kill me, and my body surged with adrenaline and I started to run.

And he spoke: “You feel fear. You are not at peace.” After this, I woke up.

I don’t remember my dreams very well – they are out of focus and constantly shifting, and my experiences in my dreams have been surreal and loose, like a book I read a long time ago.

But I have ‘mental messages’, sent to myself from my dreams in exactly the same way my child-self sent my adult-self messages. The messages say “You don’t remember what it’s like to be in a dream, but I’m telling you, take the dream experience seriously. Don’t underestimate how real and important this is. I can feel pain, cold, hunger, joy. I am looking around at the room and it is the same. Do not forget this.”

Freaks me out a little bit, man.

3 thoughts on “Messages and Dreams”

  1. The mental message thing: I did exactly the same as a kid. My beef with adults was a combination of anger at the dismissiveness you describe, and sadness that adults forgot how to pretend. I was an only child and played pretend a lot, and and was aware that there was some kind of epistemological zone I could access that they couldn’t. It was easy to imbue stuffed animals with personality and inanimate objects with agency and entertain myself for hours by unspooling a fantasy. I’ve never felt the same burning righteous fervor about anything in adulthood as I did about the importance of pretend as a child. I stood in the center of my childhood bedroom and focused all my energy on beaming a message to my future self: “Don’t forget how to pretend.”

    Despite my best efforts I lost it. I assume it’s some feature of child psychology, because kids do it routinely and I’ve never met an adult that can. Even the grown-up activities that seem closest, like improv or live action roleplaying, are too structured to really capture it.

    I guess my takeaway here is that it’s possible to convey a message to your future sense, but not a felt sense or encapsulated mental state. It’s a low bandwidth channel.

  2. I did the same thing. I remember my fourth grade teacher said once told the class that grade schoolers only experienced “puppy love.” I thought she was being arrogant and condescending, and surely what I felt for Stacey, if not love per se, was as powerful an emotion as any adults felt, so I left a mental note to my adult self to remember this.

    Now I’m the recipient of that mental note, and I’m not sure what to make of it. After all, what I felt for Stacey was just… puppy love… surely…?

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