Sunday, October 11, 2015

We Float

Conversation with my roommate while at a wedding at Heinz Chapel:

Me: ‟So, what do you think would happen if I just went up there and hovered over the Nave like fifteen feet up?”

Him: ‟It would probably really disrupt the wedding.”

Me: ‟See, that’s why I don’t do things like that. People are so skittish.”

Yeah, my brain doesn’t always work the way others do.

But this exchange brought up a memory of a dream. It wasn’t a dream of flying, not in the traditional sense. More a dream of hovering.

It was in the early 90s and I was living in the Bloomfield section of Pittsburgh. In the dream (and I kind of think it was a series of dreams with the same basic premise), I was able to levitate about a foot off the ground by flexing my feet back and forth. Somehow, if I continued this very specific motion I was able to propel myself forward, like walking, but I was hovering. I have pretty vivid memories of floating out of my apartment and crossing the Millvale Street bridge spanning the valley of the busway. So vivid that they feel like something that actually happened instead of a hazy dream image.

That’s the thing with this memory... it feels so real that at times it seems like something that actually happened. Okay, I know it didn’t so don’t dial 911 to get me help. But it feels that way, like somehow it is something I could still do, but I’ve forgotten the first part, the launch. If I could somehow remember how to do that I could flex my feet back and forth and hover around the city.

In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Douglas Adams states, ‟There is an art to flying, or rather a knack. Its knack lies in learning to throw yourself at the ground and miss... Clearly, it is this second part, the missing, that presents the difficulties.”

I’ve lost the knack of hovering.

Maybe it was astral projection. I’ve read enough comics to have been exposed to the concept from a very early age. Dr. Strange was doing it through magic and Professor X through psychic powers throughout my childhood.

Art by Dan Adkins
From X-Men # 117 by Chris Claremont and John Byrne

I’ve encountered the idea through a lot of reading about psychic phenomena and magic to know that a lot of people would say that is what I experienced.

I’m not saying that’s what happened. As much as I want to live in world of magic I’m enough of a cynic to not jump headfirst into that metaphysical pool. It’s as easy to drown there as it is to swim. So I dangle my feet, dip my toes in, and watch from afar. I can’t speak for the experiences of others, nor do I have the arrogance to deny their definitions. I hate to put any of my own experiences in a tightly defined box with lots of labels.

But the memory persists, more so than a lot of more obviously real experiences.

In classic dream analysis the experience of flying is usually interpreted as a positive thing. It is a symbol of freedom, of rising above one’s circumstances and seeing things from a new perspective.

I can see this in my life at that time. I had walked away from a good job (a really horrible ‟good” job), and my career in psychology and was living as a temp, making my first forays into the world of freelance art and writing. Other than some financial worries it was a really good time in my life. I was involved in a remarkable relationship. I was actively engaged with a group of people who would become my life-long closest friends. I was finding my power as a writer and an artist. I felt for the first time that I was on my true path and not one based on simply having a career. I was living in a dump and eating ramen noodles and ending up with twelve dollars in my bank account at the end of the month.

To quote Henry Miller, ‟I have no money, no resources, no hopes. I am the happiest man alive.”

So why think of this today at a wedding? Hmmm...

I’m still pretty happy overall. I have more responsibilities now than I did then, certainly. A lot more security as well, though I don’t want to take that too much for granted. I have matured and been somewhat successful with my writing and art, though that is a never ending work in progress. There are times I’m too busy and do feel too much gravity. I have my own litany of ‟stuff I need to accomplish” that can get in the way of freedom (however you wish to define that term).

Maybe the metaphor of hovering needs to be looked at. None of us ever have the ability to fly completely unfettered. That implies leaving everything behind, no ties to the earth at all. It’s important to fly, but so is the the need to remain grounded. We do have responsibilities here, to ourselves and others. There’s a difference between being grounded and being chained. Gravity is hard to overcome and Sisyphus’ stone won’t get to the top of the hill all by itself. But maybe we occasionally need to stop and think about what we are really responsible for and look at what may be holding us down.

There is a concept in Taoism called Wu Wei (Chinese, literally “non-doing”). It means ‟natural action, or in other words, action that does not involve struggle or excessive effort. Wu Wei is the cultivation of a mental state in which our actions are quite effortlessly in alignment with the flow of life.”

We all need to rise up once in awhile, see things from a new perspective, put our head in the clouds, stop fighting and just float.

Quote from Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

Here’s PJ Harvey’s take on the topic.

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