Top Photographs

Awake early enough before sunrise to watch a full moon ignite the Monterey Bay in full light. Large powerful surf hitting the beach below the cliffs on which I have perched myself these past few days. The loud roar of the waves did not keep me awake last night, but lulled me into a deep and restful sleep. I do not recall any dreaming, but I am sure I did. When I awoke to this wonderful moon and lively sea I felt as though I were dreaming. I take that as a hint to understanding why I enjoy living near the sea. When I am freed from my daily thinking and can just look out at such a broad and untamed horizon as this, I feel as if I am awake in a dreamland. It is the place where I am aware of both my physical surroundings and my subconsciousness at one and the same moment, the full me, rather than the me that is fractured by the clock.

I glanced over a collection of the top photographs of this past year, 2011, touted to memorialize significant events around the earth. Out of the forty or fifty, very few had any inspirational beauty about them, but showed the hopelessness of war, natural catastrophe, civil unrest, death, poverty, and starvation. Only a few of these images gave me any sense of sparkle or wonder about this living, breathing, pulsing planet on which I live. I collect my own photographs of things and places that I see as a way of helping me focus on the daily miracle of living. Of course, I do not go into war zones or ghettos, starving African villages or badly smashed Japanese cities, so I will seldom see such sights except through the eyes of dedicated photographers. I feel protected or isolated, not sure which, from the extraordinary amount of human suffering going on continuously. These photographs show the hard and dark reality for what it is. They call out for an emotional response from viewers. But for most of them, my response is simply one of great sadness and despair.

Since I am not interested in remaining in an emotional slump over world catastrophes, I can only look and think for so long, without wanting to plunge inside my own mind and look there for understanding. I read the people who most give me inspiration, who incite joy, when I feel emptied of thoughts or emotions. This morning after watching and talking with the full moon, I dipped into a few entries from the journal of Henri Amiel, who never fails to stir me with ideas, as though he were with me and teaching me the importance of possessing a living philosophy that overcomes the great tragic sense that world events can provoke inside of me.

What would my life be like if I could not dream? If I went to sleep and only physically rested, and always awoke with the dreaming part of my subconscious never having been engaged during those hours of rest, would I be any different than I am now? What would that difference be like? This notion I got from reading Amiel this morning caused me to wonder. Is a dream life essential or superfluous? If essential, that makes a huge statement about who I am as an individual and what hidden forces I am composed of that I am not aware of (except on moonlit mornings by the sea). If it is superfluous, having no value to me, then what an oddly unused and unneeded accessory I carry around for no purpose.

To answer the question not as a scientist, but only from the limited view of my living experience, I believe dreaming ability to be an important part of my make-up and well-being. When I am asleep and all of me is resting, part of me that I am not usually consciously aware of, is also resting. My dreams are both an elusive and perceptible product of my resting. It is my soul or inner being receiving its nourishment. If I did not dream I think I would be less of a human, perhaps mentally unbalanced, or dead to any world of intuition or emotion.

The collection of photographs I viewed this morning gave me the feeling that dreaming is superfluous. The ability of the photographers to capture stunning images of horrible scenes is somewhat admirable, but the message the images left me with was one of complete futility. And maybe that is the message they want to convey, the best dreamless nights of 2011, in which people become disconnected, splintered, butchered, and brutalized by a dangerous and cruel world. If Amiel were to view these photographs he would certainly acknowledge the sheer ugliness of life, but would also encourage other viewers to yearn for what is miraculous and beautiful.

There is a natural flow and balance, a harmony, between these two opposites, that becomes exaggerated or lop-sided when we have too much input from artificial sources. I feel a need to have my emotional and inner being not very much stimulated by media, but rather by the personal, authentic experience of living. When someone I know dies I am saddened and am reminded of my own future demise. And yet, after some period of grieving, I pull out of that state and come back to see and appreciate the joy of living. A natural and dynamic transition of emotions that cannot so easily be told in still photographs, and often is trivialized or sugar-coated in cinema and drama. Writers, such as Amiel, working from their own understanding and experience, bring me more quickly and directly to the heart of what is important and meaningful, though often hidden or difficult to perceive and acknowledge.

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