– Edgar Allen Poe
I’ve been thinking about how we travel between different levels of dreaming, consciously or unconsciously. I recently quoted the statement of Ruby Modesto, a Desert Cahuilla shaman, that she traveled through no less than 13 levels of dreaming (though she had a hard time coming back on the first occasion).
In Ruby’s tradition, as for many of us today, movement from one level of dreaming to another is marked or facilitated by the experience of falling asleep in one space and waking in another. As we return from deeper levels of dreaming, we may have the experience of successive “false awakenings.” Some report going through as many as five or six of these “false awakenings” on their way back to physical focus.
There are other markers for a transit between different levels of reality, in dreaming. Getting on a plane, in dreams, might not only be about finding a way to get off the ground, but about rising to a higher “plane” of reality. Going up or down floors in a building – whether you take the stairs or the elevator – might also indicate shifts between different levels.
In night dreams as well as in shamanic journeys, and very frequently in the hypnagogic zone, I find myself going through a curtain or veil. Sometimes I see the weave of the texture close up before I go through, and let it stretch to allow me to slip between the fibers. Sometimes I just breeze through the curtain; the other night I drove a plane through a curtain that seemed to go up to the sky, and later turned round and drove back through it.
For many dreamers, changes in dream lighting indicate a shift from one level to another. When my inner picture changes from colors to black and white or sepia tones or super-bright (four basic variants) I know a transition is taking place.
One of my dream friends who has been scrutinizing her dreams for evidence of the reality breaks made an interesting find. Quite often, when her dream self has an urgent desire to go to the bathroom, she finds herself rushing through a door that leads to a parallel universe, where things work differently. The dream toilet seems to be her version of Clark Kent’s phone booth, or the wardrobe used by the children who go to Narnia. We have agreed to call this the Portal Potty, or the Potty Portal.
Fans of Harry Potter may recall that there is a less attractive potty portal in use by the Ministry of Magic. After He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named took over the Ministry, officials were compelled to enter by flushing themselves through underground toilets. A gold Ministry coin was required to open the doors of the stalls. When you flush yourself down the toilet, you come out in a fireplace in the atrium. To leave the ministry, you go through a fireplace and come out of another toilet in the underground bathroom.
I recall traveling through multiple levels of dreaming in spontaneous sleep dreams on nights when the innermost dream, on the deepest or highest level, was by far the most vivid, numinous and important. I have wakened from that inner dream of power juiced and eager to take action – to find that I still have many doors to open (often by falling asleep and waking again) before I get back to the body on the bed.
In the shamanic lucid dreaming adventures I lead, we often have conscious experiences of traveling through successive levels. In the big journeys, we can travel very far indeed, and I always make sure that everyone has clear directions for the return and then receives immediate help to get grounded.
I photographed the splendid old public pay toilet in a park next to Toompea Castle – the pink palace that houses the Estonian parliament – during a recent visit to Tallinn. It looked like it might have portal potential.