I awoke with this dream on November 28th, the morning after a momentous neighborhood celebration of Thanksgiving in 1997. The celebration took place in Rivendell, Light Morning’s new and still-under-construction community shelter. Nearly twenty-four years later, “Crying For the Beauty of the Earth” remains one of the strangest and strongest of my strong medicine dreams. While it seemed to come out of the blue, it was presaged by a song by Bob Dylan called “Not Dark Yet.” The dream was a descent into unimaginable darkness, and the following eleven days were darker still.
Everything seemed to be going so well. We’d been building Rivendell for over two years, squeezing the construction into an already over-full homesteading lifestyle. Some of our neighbors had just helped us put down heavy-duty felt underlayment on the newly installed roof boards. But this precautionary protection from the rain wasn’t needed today, for Thanksgiving turned out to be sunny and unseasonably warm for late November.
By mid-afternoon, friends started to arrive. The mood was festive and celebratory. Joyce’s design of Rivendell had included a spacious great room, suitable for large gatherings of the wider community. Thanksgiving, which fell on November 27th, was to be its inauguration.
I was in the kitchen of the old community shelter, assembling a large salad for the potluck feast. Kent, a friend and former member of Light Morning, was keeping me company. I told him that Bob Dylan had a new album out, called “Time Out of Mind.” It would later win three Grammy awards, including Album of the Year. One of the songs on that album was “Not Dark Yet.” It had moved me so deeply that I offered to play it for Kent on my portable cassette tape player. If you’re not already familiar with the song, you can listen to it here. This is how it begins.
Shadows are fallin’ and I’ve been here all day
It’s too hot to sleep, and time is runnin’ away
Feel like my soul has turned into steel
I’ve still got the scars that the sun didn’t heal
There’s not even room enough to be anywhere
It’s not dark yet, but it’s gettin’ there.
And this how the song ends.
I was born here and I’ll die here, against my will
I know it looks like I’m movin’, but I’m standin’ still
Every nerve in my body is so vacant and numb
I can’t even remember what it was I came here to get away from
Don’t even hear the murmur of a prayer
It’s not dark yet, but it’s gettin’ there.
Such dark lyrics, I thought, from a man who’s only 56 years old. I finished prepping the salad, more friends arrived, and then, after a large grace circle in the middle of Rivendell’s great room, the feasting, music, and merriment began. I was tired when I finally got to bed later that night. But I went to sleep feeling happy and thankful. That’s why waking up the next morning with the following dream was completely unexpected. In retrospect, I came to believe that re-listening to Bob Dylan’s haunting song had been a presentiment.
Crying For the Beauty of the Earth
Ron and I are running down Silverside Road, near the town of Arden, trying to stay one step ahead of the authorities. We’re members of The Underground, who believe that our everyday world is a facade. Behind this deceptive veil of normalcy is a systematic exploitation of the Earth and a sophisticated repression of its inhabitants. Most people no longer know how to live; they’re only going through the motions. They lead busy lives, but their busyness masks a crippling despair. For the Light has either gone out of their eyes entirely, or it’s become so occluded that it can barely be seen.
Some of us have awakened to what’s happening and we’re starting to take action. The authorities see us as terrorists and revolutionaries. But we have no desire to kill people or blow things up. We have instead chosen a more radical path: to engage with people one-on-one and to use our inner Light to reawaken the Light within those we seemingly meet by chance. That’s why what we do is truly revolutionary.
Ron and I have just concluded one of those engagements. We’re running because we’re a direct threat to the status quo; and because the Empire reaps enormous profits from the status quo, the pursuit is close behind. We’re trying to get to a nearby intersection before the authorities do. But as we approach it, I notice several men in suits among the casual shoppers and passersby. They’re obviously FBI agents, and while they don’t yet have good descriptions of who they’re looking for, they do know what direction the terrorists will be coming from.
Seeing that there’s no longer any hope of escape, I stop running. Then I walk across the street and spontaneously start a conversation with one of the agents. I learn that his name is Tony, that he’s an Italian-American who has two small children, and that his job leaves something to be desired. As we talk, Tony becomes conflicted. His assignment is to help catch two dangerous criminals; yet he also wants our conversation to continue. Almost in spite of himself he’s responding to my assignment: to search a person’s heart, to reach for their laughter, to revive their Light.
Tony finally tumbles to who I must be. He’s already so far out of his reckoning, though, that he doesn’t put handcuffs on me. He does, however, escort me to a small federal office building. Just inside the main entrance is a plain-looking door. When someone opens it, I see that it’s made of heavy steel and reinforced concrete. A dimly lit descending staircase disappears into the darkness. With a rising sense of dread, I realize that way down there is where subversives like me are to be punished.
Those who fight the Empire with guns and bombs are executed. Members of The Underground, however, are far more dangerous. For we know that the Light lives within each person, no matter how well it may be hidden or how fully immersed in the repressive system that person may be. So we engage, we witness, and we rekindle slumbering embers of Light. That’s why we’re never tempted by violence. And that’s why our punishment has been so craftily designed. The powers that be don’t want to destroy my body; they want to break my mind.
* * *
Two guards lead me through that heavily fortified door. As it closes solidly behind us, I know that I will never see the Earth again. We go down a spiraling flight of stairs that were long ago cut into the sides of a rectangular mine shaft. The steps are dark and narrow. They go down and down and down. Claustrophobic fear starts to claw at me. If I push too hard against it, it will leap on me and devour my mind. But it will also consume me if I simply give up. It’s a precarious tightrope walk across an abyss. My only razor-thin hope is to stay fully aware of that looming fear, but not surrender to it.
Yet the temptation to yield to terror is almost overwhelming.
My jailers take me still deeper into this dungeon. I can feel their fear, even though they will later walk back up these same stairs, pass through that formidable door, and return to their everyday concerns. They have surely led other prisoners down here, so it must almost be a routine for them. But they can’t completely shield themselves from the repercussions of their actions. Due to an immutable law of recompense, whatever we do to others, we do to ourselves. By taking me down into these murky catacombs, my two guards are forced to feel — at least to some degree — the ratcheting fear that threatens to consume me.
As we continue to spiral down the roughly-hewn stone staircase, we pass several small dungeon cells. There are no bars or doors on these cells because escape is impossible. The prisoners here are despondent. They have vacant eyes and their scarred bodies suggest self-mutilation. So this hellhole of a prison is serving its intended purpose: to break the hearts and minds of those who dare to oppose the Empire. It’s a brutal irony that members of The Underground are to be broken underground.
My guards finally deposit me at the bottom of this chasm of catacombs. I listen to their labored footsteps as they slowly trudge back up toward the sunlight that awaits them on the other side of that massive door. Then I’m alone in a dim, twilight world, just barely able to fend off the stark terror and the crushing despair.
* * *
Endless hours (or perhaps days) pass before I finally summon the courage to look around. To my surprise, I see that another prisoner is down here with me. I wonder how long he’s been here and why he has chosen to come all the way to the bottom of the dungeon. My surprise turns to shocked amazement when I notice that, even down here, the Light is still alive behind his eyes. They are mostly hooded or veiled, as though behind a determined mask of self-discipline. But the Light is clearly discernible behind his eyes.
My unexpected companion glances up through the dusk of the dungeon, as though wanting to draw my attention to something. I follow his gaze. At the top of the shaft, off to one side, I can see a vague hint of green. Part of the satanic design of this tomb-like prison is to taunt and torment the prisoners with a faint glimpse of something they will never see again.
I burst into tears, crying for the beauty of the Earth – for the whisper of wind through green leaves, for white clouds drifting across a blue sky, for the sound of children laughing and playing. I’m crying inconsolably for all that I will never see or hear again.
“How beautiful it was,” I murmur through my sobs.
Then a sudden illumination seizes me. I not only see how beautiful the Earth was, but how beautiful it is. All the beauty we can see, I now know, grows out of an inner beauty, a beauty accessible to each of us. The authorities that imprisoned us down here can’t begin to imagine such a possibility. Since their focus is totally materialistic, they’re only able to perceive and appreciate the physical world. They therefore assume that the ultimate punishment is to forever deprive someone of the beauty of the Earth. They literally cannot see that all outward beauty is merely the out-picturing of an intrinsic beauty.
My companion had earlier been gifted with a similar realization. That’s how he’d kept his Light alive. Yet it takes sustained self-discipline to keep from losing access to that Light. All that we truly need is within. But when the unavoidable fluctuations of awareness are magnified by having to spend the rest of ones life inside a ghastly prison, access to the Light can be lost.
So after opening a hidden inner door to radiance, one risks not only losing it, but losing all memories of it. That’s why the Light has to be cloistered and protected behind an impeccable mask of self-discipline. Having not yet crafted this mask, I’m still weeping for the lost beauty of the Earth.
Then a second epiphany seizes me. I see that a tower of Light can potentially arise out of this dark dungeon. Such a mirror image can extend as far above the surface of the Earth as our prison extends below the surface of the Earth. The Light that some of us will learn to hold in this claustrophobic darkness will, against all odds, become a beacon — like the luminous beams from a coastal lighthouse, or the light-illumined Washington Monument at night.
This will be the final irony. For the misguided souls who sought to suppress and bury the radiance will be instrumental in amplifying it. The shaft of Light that will burst out of the tomb will likely be invisible to our captors’ jaded eyes; but for those wandering through a darkness that masquerades as light, the beacon will serve as an irresistible reminder.
I awoke from the dream with a surge of emotions coursing through me. Picking up the little cassette recorder that I kept by my bed, I pushed the Record button and spoke the story while it was still pulsating. Listening to it always brings back the fierceness of the experience; as does listening to “Not Dark Yet.”
On Friday evening I went to Rivendell and played “Crying For the Beauty of the Earth” for our small dream group. We’d been meeting weekly for well over a year and I had invited them to hear my dream on the same day that I had awakened with it. We didn’t discuss the dream. After everyone left I walked back to our cabin and went to sleep.
I didn’t go up to the community shelter for breakfast Saturday morning. Or for lunch. Or for supper. I stayed in bed. And stayed there for eleven days.
The human psyche is a vast, wondrous, and sometimes terrifying terrain. It’s paradoxically both fragile and resilient. We often don’t know whether the fragility or the resilience will win out. It can go either way.
My family and friends were understandably concerned. I’m normally quite stable and had never done anything like this before. As the days passed, I tried to reassure them. I said that I wasn’t depressed or suicidal, but that the collision between “Not Dark Yet” and “Crying For the Beauty of the Earth” had disarranged me at such a deep level that I had to put my life on hold for a while. I had to wait for my psyche to knit itself back together again; wait for the song and the dream to slowly be assimilated.
What was unnerving was that the protective barrier between inner and outer had become permeable. The terrifying darkness of the dream didn’t stay within the safe confines of that dream. It didn’t dissipate at dawn. It oozed through a mysteriously porous membrane and took up residence in my waking awareness. To assimilate it meant to own it and to wrestle with it; to do in my waking life what I had done in the dream — acknowledge the terror and the darkness without succumbing to it.
It took eleven days. On the morning of the twelfth day, I intuitively knew that what needed to happen had happened. I climbed out of bed, got dressed, and went up to the community shelter for breakfast.
* * *
Strong dreams are multilingual creatures, shapeshifters that shy away from facile or arbitrary interpretations. Even delving into my personal associations with this dream could easily take many more pages than the dream itself. And where would I start — With the time my father spent in prison just after I was born? With how a 20-day Vipassana meditation course can sometimes be like “a precarious tightrope walk across an abyss”? With the name that was given to us in Virginia Beach in 1973: Associations of the Light Morning?
So I will instead close by using three images to briefly convey a few of my cultural associations with “Crying For the Beauty of the Earth.”
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