Skip to Main Content

"The Woke and the Dreaming" - repost from Tad Hargrave

by Lisa Avnet

repost from Tad Hagrave's Substack page "On Culture Making" written June 2021

Last night, driving home to Victoria from Courtenay, I was listening to Martin Shaw and Manchán Magan on the work of John Moriarty. Martin had just written up a collection of John's work in a beautiful book called A Hut At The Edge of the Village.

"He wasn't woke. He was dreaming," said Martin of John.

That difference struck me as worthy of sinking into.

There is such a focus on being 'woke' these days. I'm not against it but there's more to the story. Being awake is half the story of being human. The other part is dreaming or, even more so, being dreamed.

The condition of being awake is a hard one. It means seeing this world with a blazing lucidity with the noon day Sun banishing all shadows. It means coming to sobering grips with the consequences that made us and that we have made. It means attending to the 'wake' we have left behind us and trying to discern which boat left the wake in which we find ourselves.

It means regularly attending the 'wake' of all the endings, limits and frailties that are a part of life. There's a lot of grief in seeing clearly. As Stephen Jenkinson puts it, "the sound of waking up is not 'aha'. It's a sob." And that's often true.

But there's another whole side to this.

It's being on the receiving end of the deep mystery often in the form of images that appear to us. Sometimes those images come to us in the form of poetry and old folk tales. Sometimes they come to us in dreams.

We didn't generate the images any more than we generated the eggs we cook or apples we pick but they nourish us just the same.

Being awake lets us see the territory as it is, but being dreamed by forces greater than us is what allows us to navigate that territory and choose a direction.

Part of being awake must also be to wake up to the hard limits of wakefulness. Of course, the science, statistics and data matters. But, if that's all we have, we are left directionless and overwhelmed.

Dreaming and being dreamed is the home of our intuition, of synchronicities, of the ways that the natural world speaks to us and gives us signs.

I suspect that traditional people's understood that the little ones born to them came out of the Big Dream, from the other side, that they were a sign of something and some ones. That the appearance, the gifts, capacities, personalities and interests of this little one could tell us something of the times we were in. They were a communication from the Great Beyond.

And this matters. As Martin put it in another wonderful book of his called Scatterlings, "Of course we're outgunned. But outnumbered? Not when you call in the myth world, not when you call to ancestors deserving of the name, not when you weft your life to the thinking of a hare or the open-shouldered stance of a midwinter beech. Make a stand for something small, specific and precious. Do it today. Amen and let it be so."

We are being spoken to constantly. Part of that speech we hear when we are awake. Part of it is banished by our insistence on constant, vigilant, wakefulness.

Calling out bad behaviour is important but so is being able to hear the call of your soul telling you where to go next.

Can we, as Yeats suggested, "make our minds so like still water that beings gather about us to see their own images and so live for a moment with a clearer, perhaps even a fiercer life because of our silence."?

Wakefulness tries to offer us safety rooted in control. "If we just understand enough of the facts, we'll finally be able to relax," says some younger part of us obsessed with the idea that universe is a machine. It's understandable but it's not the only kind of safety there is. The little bird doesn't feel safe because it trusts the branch won't break.

Wakefulness gives us a map but dreaming gives us a compass. Maybe it's something like that.

Statistics are like bread. The calories burn quick, man. But images? These are the full, exploding with nourishment, dripping fat left to us in the mystery feast of our ancestral art and stories. It's amazing any of it has survived at all.

Dealing with the troubles of the world can't happen by logic alone. It will also take radical imagination. The root of this word is 'image'. The images we receive from nature, good art, our dreams, poetry and myth. No image? No imagination. No imagination? No new direction. No new direction? More of what's become normal and, as Bruce Cockburn says, "The trouble with normal is it always gets worse."

While we are busy trying to 'figure it all out' we may have missed the most obvious and important thing: we are the world's way of sorting out the messes of the world. Imagine a body full of white blood cells waiting for someone to come along to deal with the troubles of the body. We, ourselves, are one of the images, planted in the world at just the right place and in just the right time.

Dreaming is that hut at the edge of the village. It receives strange guests all night long. They leave gifts for you when you wake. You will need them in the times to come. The ones to come will need them more.