A Dream of Flight

The human desire to fly--physically and spiritually--is a profound way to transcend like the angels.


Most people have recurring dreams. I’ve had several over the course of my life, but the one I had more often than any other--again and again during my childhood--was one in which I found myself walking in the big backyard of my parents’ house in suburban Virginia.

In the dream it’s warm, I’m barefoot, and the grass underneath my feet is a lush, summery green. I walk faster and faster, but without breaking into a run. Then, all of a sudden, I’m no longer walking but flying. Not high in the air, and not fast, but just off the ground. The grass moves by, only a few inches away. Gradually, I speed up. Beneath me the grass moves faster and faster, becoming a beautiful blur.

Then...I wake up.

An original dream? Hardly. In fact, you would be pressed to find a less original one. The dream of flight is perhaps the most widespread in the world. Just about everybody, everywhere, dreams--as children of course but also as adults--that they can fly.

Anyone who’s had one of these dreams knows how curiously familiar the feeling of flight is while it’s happening. Of course, I would think to myself as my feet left the ground. Of course I can fly. How did I ever forget? Flying felt as natural and normal to me, in these dreams, as drinking a glass of water on a hot summer day. Likewise, my surprise as I woke up and realized that I couldn’t fly after all was as sharp as the kind I feel today when I reach into my pocket for a set of keys and find that--unaccountably--they’re not there.

All around the world, traditional cultures have taken the human feeling that we should be able to fly so much for granted that they have assumed that surely, at some point in the past, we must actually have been able to do so. The myths and legends of these cultures usually see flight as part of a whole package of abilities that people possessed in ages past, before things went wrong and fell into their present, less-than-perfect state.

"Whatever the causes of the Fall," writes Richard Heinberg in his book Memories and Visions of Paradise, "its effects are described similarly in almost all traditions. With disobedience, attachment, and forgetting come the loss of contact with the sacred Source; death and the necessity for reproduction; and limitations of various kinds, such as the loss of luminosity and the abilities to fly and to communicate with the animals. Human beings must now labor to obtain what they need to survive, must invent technologies to compensate for the diminution of their various natural abilities, and must wander through life unaware of their real nature, purpose, and collective past."

Cultures with myths like this tend to agree that though most people can’t fly anymore, some can--at least on rare occasions. All the world’s faiths have stories of individuals who, usually because of their exceptional holiness, are able to break the bonds of gravity every now and then--even in the uncharitably thin air of today’s fallen world. And of course it’s no accident that angels, even when they appear without wings, always possess the power to overcome the laws of mundane physics that keep the rest of us stuck to the earth at all times.

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