Dreaming Under The Bodhisattva

Remember how I’m always finding ways to lie down in New York City? Like when I’ve done yoga in Times Square? Or like when I went to the sound exhibit at the Rubin Museum? I found another way to lie down for an even longer period of time. Again at the Rubin, but this time, at night. It’s a Dreamover, y’all! That means I slept over at the museum. Dreams. Come. True. But like, the goal kind of dream, not the kind of dreamy dreams you have when you sleep. Because if the dreams I had at the Rubin actually came true, we’d have problems. I’m getting ahead of myself.

First, getting to the Rubin from home meant a train and a walk. That meant taking as little as possible with me, which is a good thing. I mean, remember all the bags I took with me for two and a half days at the ashram? I’m moving towards practicing non-attachment for sure, and so I chose to take a large bag to carry my sleeping bag and a pashmina and slippers, and then a backpack for toiletries, a hat, a book, a pen, and a pillow. A friend offered to lend me a camping blow up thingie, but that didn’t pan out, so here I was with as little stuff as possible for a few hours of sleeping.

Side note: This sleeping bag is seeing more action in the past few months than it has in years. Remember Fishkill?

Nothing I carried was heavy, but everything was bulky. At the train station, I had to ride the escalator sideways with my backpack hanging on one arm and the sleeping bag on the other. Walking downtown, that sleeping bag was whacking into people as I glided down seventh. I can imagine what I looked like: a tiny woman carrying a backpack as large as a small child, wielding an overstuffed beach bag, careening across every street. After this whole experience, I kept saying that I didn’t see anything strange this trip into the city, and right now I’m realizing that I was the strange thing that happened.

Anyway, into the museum!

As a crowd formed outside as we waited for the doors to open, a few dog walkers came by, and all the dogs stopped and wanted to go into the museum. Whatever energy was happening was already detectable. Then a few passersby asked what was going on. One woman behind me kept answering with “It’s a dreamover!” which lead to follow-up explanations until someone else simply started answering, “We’re dreaming with the gods and goddesses.” That answer seemed more sufficient for anyone who asked.

Finally, doors opened and in we went, sat at tables, and then got escorted to our artwork that we’d dream under. Everyone fills out a survey beforehand and gets art matched to them. And so I found myself in an alcove on the third floor–a place I’ve always found colder than the rest of the museum, and also the place I’d guessed I’d be–and my artwork was a bodhisattva with hands in a teaching position. Holding my place was a notebook, the agenda for the evening, and a slip of paper that explained why I was there: “We have paired you with a loving bodhisattva who offers you a teaching gesture, to support your deepening practice as a student but also the wisdom you have to give as a newly published author.

Yep, that’s the right piece of artwork for me.

I unrolled my sleeping bag, set up my pillow, put on my slippers, and sat. This was happening. The building carries sound, so I listened for a while and read the itinerary for the evening. There was going to be a lecture on dreams! I didn’t know that! Very cool. Then there would be breakout sessions! I didn’t know that! Very not cool for the socially awkward but here I was sleeping among strangers and only once did I think hey is this safe? and didn’t know the answer and did it anyway, so the breakout session was still on the list of things to do.

And then we’d get a snack!

And then we’d get a bedtime story!!

This was like kindergarten!!!

Once I was settled in, I met my nook-mate, a lovely woman who works in the arts. We chatted about creativity, and then she blew up her double-inflatable mattress while I sat on my cushy sleeping bag. My dream collector–the person who would be waking me up and asking me about my dreams–came over to explain my artwork to me. We talked about how it was perfect for me. She suggested I mimic the teaching mudra to see what the artwork was doing. (This is where I’ll tell you that I usually refer to mudras as Buddhist gang signs, which is probably not funny to Buddhists or the bodhisattva, so I didn’t say that joke there).

Dreamover (20)

Then I got up, realizing that, Hey, I’m in a museum! I can go museum-ing! And so I did. I walked up to the top floor and spiralled my way down. The only difference is that there were sleeping bags and mattresses and pillows everywhere. It was colossally strange in the most wonderful way possible.

I made my way down to the bottom floor theatre for the conversation between Tibetan Buddhist lama Khenpo Pema and Jungian analyst Patricia Llosa. I did that thing that I usually don’t like people doing–I sat right next to someone when there were clearly lots of empty seats elsewhere. I was kind of tired by this time–it was 9 PM, which is nearing my jammie-time, and also, I was focused on being able to see both people. Short gals gotta have a plan. The guy I sat next to didn’t seem to mind, and we chatted about what we were drawing. The screen on stage had a suggestion to draw our artwork from memory, so that’s what we were both doing. We both realized that we had very different pieces of artwork ,and they were both intricate, and neither of us excels at drawing.

After being welcomed and clapping for people who come back every year, the conversation began. It explored dreams from Eastern and Western perspectives, and it highlighted places where they converged mostly. There was a Q&A. This was an actual Q&A. It wasn’t like when I go to writing conferences and there’s a Q&A where people raise their hands and just talk without a question. There were actual questions!

That led to meditation. It was now almost 10 PM. I closed my eyes, breathed deeply, and then had a head jerk because I’d started to fall asleep. That happened two more times, not in the way it’s been happening during meditation because I’ve been falling deeper into the mind, but because I was sleeping, yo. Still, it was a good meditation session.

Onto the breakout groups! So awkward. So so awkward. Our floor was not a talkative floor, and the leaders were not talkative leaders. However, once there were a few questions like how to remember our dreams and answers about dreams and emotions, it was pretty okay. Then right before we were done, the conversation turned towards lucid dreaming. Now this was getting interesting! But then the chimes chimed out. It was time for snacks!

The spread offered apples, clementines, chocolate star cookies, trail mix, cheese, and kettle corn. This was around 10:30 PM. Who eats kettle corn at this time? I’ll tell you who–a lot of people. It was a hot commodity. Also, we could choose from three kinds of tea. Rubin Museum, you get me, man, you so get me. I had a turmeric tea. Mmm, so good.

Also, that’s not my camera doing weird things. Everything was tinged orange. Again, Rubin: You. Get. Me.

I brushed my teeth in a museum bathroom. How many of you can say that?

When I came back to my sleeping bag, I saw a stack of cushions. One of the docents had left them. I thanked her, saying I’d use them if I needed them, but my sleeping bag was good so far. After laying there a while, reading the same Kerouac book I’ve been reading for what now seems like eight lifetimes (referenced in several of the posts linked above), I realized I could feel the floor with my entire body. I tucked those cushions right up under me. Yep, that docent knew what she was talking about. How thoughtful!

Then it was time for my bedtime story!

First, a side note: My morning meditation routine waxes and wanes between silent to sound. When it’s silent, I usually have a mantra. I don’t feel like I choose it. I feel like it chooses me. Something pops into my head, and I use it as a mantra for however long it lasts in my mind. For the past few weeks, I’ve been using I am not the body.

I tell you that tidbit to tell you this: My story was Vow of the Bodhisattva in which Loke enters a state of samadhi. As he senses his own organs and bones and then subatomic particles he states, “I am not this body. All that I believed was a solid mass is nothing but vibration.”

Let me repeat: Loke in my bedtime story says the line that has been my mantra for the past few weeks.

This was meant to be!

Then it was bedtime. The museum provided earplugs, so I put them in. Then I put a blanket over my head and snuggled down into my sleeping bag. I feel asleep for a few minutes or more because the next time I opened my eyes, the lights had gone out.

And then? Things. Got Weird.

At least one person was singing in his sleep. Someone was also talking in his or her sleep. I heard that with the earplugs in. I know it was real. I don’t know if anyone else heard it. Then I started wondering if anyone was going to start sleepwalking. There were stairs! This could be tragic!

Then I started worrying that I wasn’t going to fall asleep and then I wasn’t going to dream and then my dream collector would have nothing to collect and I’d be a big huge disappointment to everyone, especially the bodhisattva.

Then I talked myself off that ledge. No one would care if I dreamed or not. In fact, the cafe was open all night for anyone who had insomnia and wanted to have tea.

I took out the earplugs, realizing that they could be the reason I wasn’t sleeping. Then I fell asleep for a bit. Then I woke up, realizing I’d been dreaming. I reached out for my phone to get some light and for my notebook to scribble down whatever I could. And then this went on, repeating itself, me waking with a start each time, wanting to remember what I’d dreamed.

When morning came, I was awake already. I actually went to the bathroom at around 5 something, careful not to trample on anyone sleeping. I know I wasn’t the only one awake because I’d heard the bathroom door opening and closing, and I heard the elevator ding a time or two. The sleep singing had stopped hours before, which was kind of a bummer because it was kinda funny.

My dream collector found me lounging–they wake you by shining a light your way–and we chatted about my dreams. She wrote things down and asked me about emotions and colors. She also asked if I dreamed about or felt influenced by my art. Nope. My dreams? Were whacked out. When she left, I looked at what I had written. The act of writing them down made me remember them, so I hadn’t had to look at my notebook when she was collecting. That’s a good thing, too, because what I wrote down looked like a lunatic had found a pen for the first time and decided to scratch at some notebook pages for a while.

Here are my dreams:

  1. A man in a hoodie standing against a wall holding something important.
  2. People needing to know the hours that Disney is open.
  3. A mall kiosk lady walking around her kiosk in a mall.
  4. Looking for a place to sit in a restaurant/cafe that I realized was RollNRoaster in Sheepshead Bay but also it wasn’t exactly that place, and then a tall dignified African American woman is with a large family and she’s wearing a trench coat and green patterned dress, and she stands up and politely says, I’m not going to wait anymore.
  5. There’s a ship in a storm but it’s not a real ship or storm because it turns out to be a tv set that looks like the set of that sci-fi show about water with the guy who was in that movie with the big fluffy white flying thing.

And that’s that.

I meditated for fifteen minutes. Then I trekked down to the cafe for breakfast with my notebook so I could do my morning writing. (It’s all about the routine). There was quite the spread for breakfast, too, but mostly stuff I don’t eat. Basically, it was all carbs and dairy, so like, the opposite of my life. Dreamover (5)

I was hungry, though, so I had three mini-muffins, fruit from the top of a parfait, and trail mix that was still out from the night before. I had green tea that was so so good. There was also coffee, apparently, but that looked pretty scary.

When I was done writing and nibbling, I packed up my stuff. Then I went to the morning breakout group to discuss our experiences. Again, there was a lot of awkwardness. We went around and made a group poem. I liked that, of course! Once the leader read the poem, I knew it was one of those poems that would also work backwards. I’m in the homestretch of teaching two creative writing workshops, so hearing work read out loud and knowing how to revise it comes to me instantly. It’s a gift. I didn’t ask for that, though, because everyone loved the last line, and I wasn’t into speaking up because the mini-muffins were weighing heavily on my soul.

We all said our thanks and goodbyes–I thanked the docent who had left me the cushions–and then I grabbed my bags and headed down the spiral staircase one last time. At the bottom was a station where we could draw something, so I drew a flower.

Then I went out onto the streets of NYC early on a Sunday morning. They were practically empty, so I wasn’t hitting into anyone with my gigantic bag as I strode uptown towards Penn. Then passing by FIT, I saw this for what seems like the first time:

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And that pretty much sums up the entire experience.

Intentional

Back in February, I went to the Rubin Museum and offered up my intention to the wheel. It spiraled all the way up the stairs and into the ether. Then I took in the rest of the art. Whenever I go there, I wind up wearing headphones for something. The previous time, there was a lot of  headphones involved because it was an exhibit on sound. This time, I don’t remember exactly what I listened to, but I do know that afterwards, I went to the Spy Museum with S, where I again wore headphones, and I remember the reason for that–it was for a spy mission. Because we were spies.

My plan was to return to the Rubin when all these intentions would be part of an exhibit on the Power of Intention. Yet again, I found myself wearing headphones. I was listening to the audio for a video of violins being destroyed.

Also, apparently I wear only black and white when I go to the Rubin.

The intentions had me sitting for quite a while, feeling the need to read every last one of them. An incredible variety, for sure.

This time there was even more interaction, and we all know  how much I love to touch things! Like, not in a creepy way but in a museum kind of way. I love it second best to finding places to lay down in public. Again, not creepy.

I made a friend. This guy asked me to film him. I was like, Sure! not really knowing what the heck he was talking about. He led me to a rather dark corner of the museum. Because we were in the Rubin, where I’ve laid down with my eyes shut and listened to the Bardo Thodol with no one bothering me, following a stranger into a dark room was not creepy. It turned out to be spectacular. He stepped up to a large circle of fabric and became a master of light and sound. Again, mesmerizing. We did it once. He watched. He asked me to do it again. We did it again. He watched. He asked me to do it again, but this time, he wanted me to stand to the side of him. Okay, Spielberg, I’ll do it, but standing off to the side didn’t show anything at all. The effects happened only if you were standing in front of the screen. After three videos, he was satisfied, though I did see him back at it a few  more times, not recording, just making light and sound. And then I gave it a try. And whoa.

The World Is Sound

IMG_0625The Rubin Museum of Art brings the East to the West. The Himalayan art makes a strong impact in scrolls and statues. In addition to the visual, audio was the focus in The World Is Sound, an exhibit that offers chants, instruments, artistic snippets of sound, and a ceiling to floor soundtrack from the first floor to the top and back down. Really, sound is everywhere all the time, and in this exhibit, it’s electric.

Normally, I skip elevators, but since I was starting on the top floor and working my way down, I took it. The elevators played interviews with artists about sound. This is how all-encompassing this exhibit is.

IMG_0626The curators want everyone to experience sound with your entire body through all five senses, so some art appeared next to signs that read Touch To Hear, and you could hear the vibration of a chant that went along with a piece of art. I like museums that encourage touching stuff. I also like museums that don’t allow you to touch stuff so that I can try to touch stuff and feel a bit of a rebel when I pull it off.

I found the Om Room that plays recordings of people chanting om. I sat and hummed and listened. I went back a second time before leaving the museum because it was really neat and relaxing.

Next to that was a video that showed graphics of space and molecules and talked about sound vibrations. It was stunning with a vibrant gold statue of a bodhisattva next to it. A bodhisattva is someone reaching toward enlightenment who helps others do the same, one step down from being a Buddha, one who has attained enlightenment. See how much you can learn in one trip to the museum?

There was a bank of headphones to listen to short compositions of sound and song. I like almost all of them. While I usually refrain from putting on public headphones, these were necessary for the full experience and did not seem germy at all. The descriptions of the compositions were also artistic.

Then came my favorite thing in the whole exhibit aside from the Om Room. I did this twice. They had a recording of someone reading the Bardo Thodol, the Tibetan Book of the Dead. To experience the reading, there was a bench, and you lay yourself down on the bench to listen. Some people were sitting. I laid down. Then I went back and laid down again because I like laying down in places, especially in NYC (see: Yoga In Times Square and that trip to the Whitney where after you lie down you find out you’ve been temperature recorded). I want to find that recording because I would lie down and listen to it every day.

After taking in the permanents and other exhibits on the other floors, all the while listening to the sounds coming from the center of the museums spiral staircase, I headed back to Penn. On my way, I found the key to the city.

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