Each of us also inherits a second-hand social universe –

an organizing principle,                                         I didn’t know the

architectural design,                                    question before I                       

elemental philosophy,                                  learned the answer.

if you will – which

imperceptibly becomes yet another part of the total life-map.

In truth though, what you see

Is not what you get.

 

Sooner or later, that social universe –  

                  is going to break

                  under data-strain

 Then what will remain?

                         Sounds

                        visions,

                        insights,

                        questions,

                        exploding –

                                    light.                                                

 

~ Martin Bell, 1983, Sweeping Meditations #12 & 17

 

Earlier this week, I don’t know why, I woke up with the sudden certainty that Row Row Row Your Boat was a song about death.

I didn’t do any research, and still haven’t. I didn’t hunt down its origins or its permutations. Who cares? I just knew, that even if it wasn’t intended to be a song about death, and even if no one else in the world thought that it was or someone  could summon definitive proof that it was in fact, merely a song about boat rowing – I still would believe, utterly and forever, that row row row your boat, whatever it was meant to be, was also, simultaneously a song about death.

I mean, Ring Around The Rosey has that disturbing bit about ashes and “we all fall down!” And then there’s Rock A Bye Baby with its broken bough and fallen cradle. And so many of our lullabyes which we sung innocently to our children, as nonsensical clusters of unexamined word and rhyme, when you look closely are  haunting/soothing as we take on the role of psychopomp, luring our wide awake children, like the Pied Pieper humming a seductive tune,  over the cliff of consciousness down to the land of Morpheus.

So: yes, I’m sure that all these things are silly little transliterations over hundreds of years, and there is no determining what they originally were intended to mean or why. But can’t we also ask ourselves why these words, and images and variations stuck around, and why we keep singing them to our children, who, until very recently, were far far more likely to die in early childhood, and how terrified to our bones we are that even now, even with all our “affordable” health care and medical technology they still may not outlive us?

Constantly and everywhere as individuals we think we are doing one thing when we are also doing the opposite. We think we are being kind when we are actually being undermining or causing offense. We meant it as a joke and are shocked when the brunt experiences it as an act of hostility. Our conscious intentions are easily and often conscripted by an unacknowledged, un-conscious agenda which will have its way with us when it is activated and or when we have set our consciousness in opposition to it. Our unconscious will out, whether in dreams, or by acting out, or often by creating symbols which seem to contain both what we wish for: a loving, forgiving God, and what we most fear: a murderous, wrathful destructive deity – now molded together into a crucified human son of God who contains all of our ambivalence and terror and forgives us all our sins.

Or by singing haunting lullabies, or teaching our children creepy nursery rhymes.

So, imagine Charon, the ferryman guiding souls across the river Styx, leading his passengers in song as he rows:

Row row row your boat, gently down the stream. Merrily merrily merrily merrily…

We sing in it a round, in sequence – groups together, one after another, one group finishing before the next, until the last group sings the  last line all alone.

Life is but a dream.

Life is a but dream which we will one day  wake from.  We might as well go merrily. 

No one gets to sleep forever, even if some of us are permitted take longer naps than others.

“Myth is society’s dream” said Joseph Campbell, talking to Bill Moyers.
We dream to allow content which is necessary but also threatening to our conscious functioning to pass into our awareness in way that are palatable. 

Religion and myth and fairy tales and nursery rhymes are the dreams of cultures, generations and societies.

And we don’t often know why we are collectively doing something, or what story we have written together and taken in as truth, we just know that it how it has always been done, or that is what everyone else is doing.

It almost seems as if these images had just lived, and as if their living existence had simply been accepted without question and without reflection, as much as everyone decorates Christmas trees or hides Easter eggs without ever knowing what these customs mean. The fact is that archetypal images are so packed with meaning in themselves that people never think of asking what they really do mean.  ~ C. G. Jung, Vol. 9, Part 1, paragraph 22, Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious

And this morning I had another thought that asserted itself in the space between dreaming and waking: That as our generational and social universe begins to buckle under extraordinary data-strain – as we tell ourselves millions and millions of stories and create hundreds of thousands of myths every day – many based in the realities of news-stories, events which begin as actual, witness-able events but which then become instantly told and retold and repackaged and re-edited and curated like a giant game of telephone (or more properly a game of internet) – we are all co-producing myths (and half-myths and incomplete myths – myths which split our ambivalences rather than contain them) at lightening speed and immeasurable volume. Collectively, culturally, societally, we are dreaming more and faster than ever before.  We are in the center of a veritable hurricane of societal dreaming and myth-making. If myths are society’s dreams then humanity is in the deepest, thickest, fastest REM state is has ever been in.

And we don’t really know what we are collectively dreaming, or why, or what dream we are caught up in or how long it will last before we are plunged into reacting to the next upswelling myth or when one myth begins and another one ends. We are just moving through a flood of myths and images and symbolizations, deciding some are real and some are true and some are right or wrong, that some activate our fear and others activate our self-righteous outrage and some make us sad, and some drive us into ill-considered action, and that some are good dreams and others are nightmares.

We forget that collectively we are sleeping and that we are dreaming. And we have no idea why we hide Easter eggs to begin with or why we are rowing our boats, merrily merrily as fast as we can down the rushing rapids of partially digested incomplete, unprocessed collective myth.

We are so busy making and responding to symbolic content wrapped and plastered all over current events that we have no idea that we are producing and reacting to symbols, and we aren’t even all that curious about it.

In reality, however, he has merely discovered that up till then he has never thought about his images at all. ~ C. G. Jung, Vol. 9, Part 1, paragraph 22, Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious

And every once in a while, I try to unpack a symbol that I see racing past me in the flotsam, and try to pause for a moment to examine it and wonder about it – and sadly, more often than not, when I do that it is absorbed into yet another myth, a politicizing dream, a dream that says this is a stance which includes or excludes my dreaming and I object to it being examined or reframed at all. And I’m sure this same thing happens to others who become curious about all the symbolic content flying past in this not so gentle stream.

And when we wake? What, if anything at all exists underneath all of this collective dreaming and myth-making?

Then what will remain?

                         Sounds

                        visions,

                        insights,

                        questions,

                        exploding –

                                    light.                                                

Nothing else.

Merrily merrily merrily merrily, Merrily merrily merrily merrily, 

Life is but a dream. 

Merrily merrily merrily merrily, 

Life is but a dream.

Life is but a dream.