I was at the house of some friends of mine, across town. It was an extremely beautiful, sunny Spring day. We were sitting in the garden, drinking, listening to music…
And then the acid hit, so to speak. I finally snapped out of it, woke up — realized what was going on.
The world was dying.
Covid-19 was killing off the human race, and had been doing so for decades.
The only people who didn’t know were those weird, twitchy, homeless schizophrenics you still see wandering the streets on lockdown. They are locked in their own minds, adrift from reality, living this dream where everything is fine and dandy… and they get violently angry at anyone who questions this fantasy.
And I suddenly realized I had been one of those. I was just as obviously unstable as they were; just as creepy, scary, unpleasant. And everything I thought had been my life actually wasn’t real. The world had been on lockdown since before I was born.
Humanity had been split into two groups.
There were The Awakened — a higher life form, with enhanced faculties and powers of discernment. Because they are more in control of themselves, more aware, their mind can afford to take out the blockers to their experience: everything becomes more vivid, more intense, more real. Each second, in this awakened state, lasts as long as a day did before.
That moment of awakening is the most joyful experience of your life; you step into an entirely new world.
But it is also the saddest. Because that is when you realize that this new world is dying. In that moment, you realize the lie you’ve lived, and are ashamed. And from that moment on, you are burdened with a terrible obligation. You have to spend the rest of your life in hard labour, trying to keep the boat afloat a little longer. Even though, with your heightened powers, you now know it is doomed to sink.
(Those who awaken usually do so sometime in their teens; occasionally, it takes until your early twenties; if you hit your 30s without it happening, there’s probably no hope for you.)
And then there are the delusional. They live their life entirely driven about by their random, haphazard urges, this way and that, never seeing the bigger picture, nor the full palette of colours. They understand neither the world nor themselves. And they are driving the world to extinction — going around, doing their meaningless jobs that only make sense to their deluded minds, constantly consuming all these pointless products that only have value in their twisted heads, feeding their obsessive-compulsive fetishes. They sap the actual, necessary resources which the awakened produce, and spread the virus that is slowly bringing down human civilization.
And unfortunately, the Awakened are an ever-dwindling minority. Every single last one of them is either producing food or caring for the sick. And they are slowly failing.
I was so sad. All I had wanted was to enjoy my life. To have some fun; to taste a little bit of sweetness, hoping that it would make all the previous bitterness somehow worthwhile. I never felt I quite had my moment; never got the chance to whole-heartedly rejoice.
Just a little bit, please… just a little longer… just a little more…
It had been that constant thought which had kept me from awakening.
And I was the last person to find out. I was the one who stayed in denial the longest, and the hardest. All my family, all my friends. All the people I ever knew, who had disappeared from my life, one by one. They had all been aware, the whole time. And they had kept trying to tell me. But I would get angry at them, and call them horrible things. And they would just take it, and treat me with pity, and indulge me in my delusion out of kindness, until my insanity drove me to reject them as toxic and run away.
I thought of all the people I have ever felt intimidated by — that had ever gotten entangled with my superego. My father. My mentor. My boss.
They all knew. And they had all told me, or tried to tell me. My meetings with them were now cast into a whole new light. What a ridiculous creature I must have appeared as to them. I must have looked like a worm. They knew what I was, and yet still managed to lay out the clues, so that I might one day finally come around to the right side.
But now it was too late. I tried turning on my phone and calling my brother, my parents — oh God, how badly had I treated them while I was sleepwalking all those years? How much trouble had I caused them? Even my brother, who’s ten years my junior — my little brother, whom I should have guided and protected. Oh heavens above, heavens above… no wonder it took me so long to let go of my denial. The reality is just too hard to confront, especially with these heightened senses…
So I tried to contact them, but my phone wouldn’t work. The communication systems were collapsing. It was all coming to an end. And it was happening right now. We were all dying, all at once. I wouldn’t even have the chance to spend the rest of my life hard at work on a farm. This was the last day; there wouldn’t be another dawn.
I finally understood the reason for the Fermi paradox — that since the universe is billions of years old, chances are, if a spacefaring civilization is possible, it would have happened by now. So where are all the aliens?
And I knew. Life just does this. It evolves under certain conditions, and develops attributes that work under those conditions. But then the conditions change, and they can’t adapt. They are too stuck in their ways. Strategies which had been exactly what kept them alive in a previous situation now hasten their demise, and too few are the ones who can adapt themselves on the fly. This had happened to every previous sentient species. And it was our turn now.
There is this ladder of consciousness. The higher you climb, the richer and more vivid your experience is. But the richer and more vivid your experience is, the more you are liable to fall into delusion, and the harder it is to stay lucid and responsible. And so, by this tragic logic, each conscious species rises, rises, rises… peaks… and falls.
We had gone into the living room by now, and the housemates were all comfort eating, stuffing their face with the last few fried chickens. It hit me — this was a party to spend our last few hours in company, rather than alone. And it had been that all along. This is where I had ended up; these were the last people willing to have me around — relative strangers I had only met recently, but were kind enough to take me in for my final moments. They were all awakened; they all knew. But they also knew there was no point holding back anymore; no more need to ration our resources. Let’s just enjoy the final few moments while we can.
If I couldn’t go to my parents’ place and apologize at least once, before the end, and die with them, then I thought I could at least go back to my own room in my own house, across town. But then I realized I wouldn’t even make it there in time. I was going to die right now, in the next few minutes.
In a flash, the full horror of it hit me.
They say that when you die, your whole life flashes before your eyes. Well, now that I was awakened, it would be so much worse. As I died, I would live through every moment of every mind in existence — starting from the most distant, and then passing through every single person I know, from my most casual acquaintances and ending with my closest loved ones, before finally reliving my own again, exactly as I lived it, unchanged, eternal, immutable.
I would see what it was like to see myself through other people’s eyes — the shameful, sorry, ungrateful wretch I was. I would witness every mistake I had ever made, through the eyes of the people I had hurt… and only then would I relive it all from my perspective, with full knowledge of what every error entailed.
But first, my breath would slow and weaken, my flesh would slacken, until I no longer even had the strength to lift my ribcage to allow air into my lungs.
I could feel it happening now. This was it. It was all over. I was dying.
I looked around at the housemates who had so kindly let me into their world’s end party, and had to make a choice:
Do I go out here, in this living room, with these people?
Or do I use my last remaining strength to find somewhere else?
Their yakking, their in-jokes — all very reassuring to each other, I knew — just struck me as noise now.
The decision was clear. If I was going to perish, then at least let me do it with a modicum of peace and quiet. If I could not have lived with dignity, then at least let me die with it.
I crawled upstairs to one of their beds, curled up under the covers, and watched as I faded away.
And then I woke up.
I grew up reading a lot of Kafka. This kind of stuff is, and has always been, my jam. For as long as I can remember, I have studied my dreams with great attention, and tried to work out what that told me about the nature of my mind.
This reached a peak in 2015, when I went full shut-in. I would go days without stepping out of the back half of my miniscule studio-flat, and weeks without human contact (this was when they had just introduced self-checkout machines in my local Sainsbury’s, so I didn’t even have to talk to the cashiers).
During this time, my dreams became more vivid than ever — and because absolutely nothing else was going on in my waking life, when I would correspond with distant friends and relatives, I would recount to them what would happen to me while I was asleep.
One by one, they stopped replying — several of them, after sending me extremely harsh words, because something in my dreams unsettled them. In my spiralling state, I assumed all the others, who failed to reply for other reasons, must feel the same. By the final few months, I had no one left to send them to — not one person in the world to share my experience with.
Since then, I have largely paid less and less attention to my dreams. I had gone through enough of them that I was starting to get bored — the patterns and tropes were becoming all too clear, and no longer inspired my interest like they used to. These days, I usually only make an effort to remember my dreams when they turn up some fantastic, impossible vistas and cityscapes.
But every now and again, something relevant pops up. This was one of those times.
So — what underlying anxieties does this dream bring to the surface, reveal, and then and use as building blocks to construct a nightmare?
That I’m not just doing something wrong, I’m somehow existing and experiencing wrong. That there’s a higher plane of existence which I’m not accessing due to some fault of mine. That I haven’t meditated hard enough; haven’t cracked the 17th Jhana; haven’t done this drug in exactly this kind of scenario; haven’t given Tibetan Buddhism a chance and contacted my spirit deity so it can take me to the astral plane and unblock my Kundalini chakra so I can finally put on these nano-implants and become one with the Mega-Algorithm.
(This is why it’s so tough to talk about mysticism; it’s quite tricky to try and communicate these things to people without either trivializing it or inducing them to fall into some form of this anxiety.)
That last one mostly manifests towards completely imaginary people which I’ve invented in my head on the basis of weird books I’ve read. But then there’s the one which uses real-life people I’ve actually met to deliver the lines my anxiety has written: in this case, authority figures (father, mentor, school teacher, boss…).
In this case, the anxiety usually revolves more around being responsible, being mature, being less of a drama queen, of a whiner, of a ninny-winny weakling. “Yes, yes, everything you realize is true; but some of us have understood all that long before you, and have still managed to contribute to society and not be so self-obsessed and navel-gazing and narcissistic.”
This, again, is something I’m very conscious of even now that I’m older and have no one around to judge me, because I sometimes see people acting towards me the way I did towards the few people who would send me into this weird spiral of self-hatred, and it freaks me the hell out. If I’ve somehow become a target for this person’s resentment, then I’m in danger, dude.
That I’m insane. That I’m annoying and unlikable. That the reason I’m so alone in life is because of this.
This is the big one. Because my view of the world is pretty fundamentally different from almost everyone I’ve ever met — in terms of politics; in terms of how our personal relationship should go; in terms of the nature of the world and reality and God… — my subconscious has latched on to this as a constant, gnawing suspicion.
Trash sci-fi — both in actual fiction and in supposed non-fiction. Trans-humanism, post-humanism, space-faring, AI… — all these issues humanity is starting to confront at the moment.
Basically, among the minority of people who take these issues seriously, it is my impression that the vast majority of them are doing so without any form of rigorous self-awareness: historical, psychological, existential, etc. They have no handle on when their mind is thinking lucidly and when they’re lost in some psychotic (and often fashionable) fantasy, and their ideas become a schizophrenic muddle as a result. It’s something I keep feeling I should delve into and eventually contribute to, but which also fills me with a tremendous sense of dread (not so much the subject matter itself, but the discussion around it, and how taking part in it will erode my mental health).
But most importantly, there’s the present situation of Covid-19 lockdown.
Obviously, when I’m sober, awake, lucid, and rational, I get what’s going on just fine, and understand why it is that I haven’t seen anyone in a few weeks.
But some part of me, deep in my subconscious mind — the animal, the child, the madman — really doesn’t get what’s going on. To that part of my mind, it looks like I have stayed in place, and everyone else has left me for no reason at all (because animals, children, and madmen don’t understand what a pandemic is; it’s not an obvious danger, like a fire or a predator).
And the main point of writing this whole dream, and sharing it, is understanding that.
There’s probably some part of you that thinks you’ve done something terribly, terribly wrong, or that you are fundamentally horrible and worthless. As a result, everyone else has abandoned you, has banished you, has punished you.
That is our subconscious response to isolation. That is our gut reaction; our primal explanation.
Now, in my particular case, there’s really nothing to worry about. Through past efforts and experiences, I’ve gotten into a really good spot in my life now, so my days have largely been blissful. But there’s always a funny little something going on under the surface, and sometimes it takes a night-time hallucination to pick it out.