I came to consciousness the other morning from a waking dream in which I had woken (in my dream) into an unfamiliar world, surrounded by strangers in a kind of ante-room, with thick velvet curtains and a single door ahead of me. I knew that I had to make a speech or presentation of some kind and someone mentioned that I would be ‘on’ in one minute. I looked around me — two or three people standing next to me, who seemed to know me well, and were, I imagined, my ‘advisers’. I had no idea where I was or what I was supposed to be preparing to talk about. I guessed, with a vague anxiety, that I would have to ‘wing it’, and that there was bound to be a clue of some kind along the way that would jog my memory. The stress increased, however, when the door was opened for me, and I stepped out onto a balcony, and below me, stretching far across a massive stadium, was a sea of people, a crowd of many thousands, all of them apparently gathered to hear what I had to say. I had no idea what I was supposed to talk about, nor into what world I had awoken, nor even who I was.
When I awoke for real, I didn’t want to open my eyes. Although I knew, or could sense, that I was awake and in my bed, in my own home, there was a residual fear that if I opened my eyes things would be different. There is a comfort, or security, to the ‘inner world’, at times. At least we have some say in it (when awake) whereas what is ‘out there’ is something utterly beyond our control or ability to manage. And that can give rise to fear: hence the ostrich burying its head in the sand, hence the child who closes her eyes because she doesn’t want to see what’s in front of her.
This was all running through my mind last Friday when I walked up above Cwm Banw, following the ridge from Pen Twyn Glas, up to Pen Allt Mawr, Pen Cerrig Calch and down towards Crug Hywel or the Table Mountain. It was a late summer or perhaps an early autumn day with a strong breeze and some interesting clouds.
That sense of closing one’s eyes to block out the world might seem far removed from a consideration of landscape, but it is not entirely so. For me, the landscapes I walk through, and the pictures I take on my iPhone are as much a part of my interior landscape as they are images of the world ‘out there’. When a landscape is familiar, and has been so for many years, then you do not ‘see’ it in the same way as others (who are, perhaps, seeing it for the first time). When a landscape is familiar, you retain an imprint of it on the retina, an expectation of what you will see when you turn your head in that direction. You seek out minor shifts, minute changes by which the image before you is differentiated from the template held in memory. Never before has that landscape been seen from that location with that precise framing of clouds; and so it is actually the first time you have witnessed that scene in that light with that precise configuration of clouds, and for that reason we can never truly say that we have seen anything before because every occasion, every passing millisecond, every present moment is unique and unrepeatable. And just as there is, according to some traditional cultures, ‘meaning’ to be found in the arrangement of a landscape, the arrangement of certain rocks or pebbles, the appearance of an auspicious bird or insect at a particular moment — I am reminded of Jung’s famous scarab beetle appearing at the window of his consulting room at the precise moment his patient recounts the appearance of an identical beetle in her dream — it is the link between the inner world (eyes closed) and outer world of perception (the scenery visible to all of us) that comes to mind when I consider the child closing his eyes to shut out the ‘other’ world, or my own reluctance on certain mornings to open my eyes because of an irrational fear of what I might see.
And if this is confusing, so be it. Confusion too is an inevitable element in the configuration of the present moment. I will accept my confusion, and run with it until it either resolves itself or becomes something else.