Chapter 3 - I Dream Therefore I Am

Lesson: What you hope, dream, and believe has a direct impact on your future, so choose well.

Sci-Fi Movie Maps

What I am calling a sci-fi movie map is a diagram that illustrates the plot of a science fiction movie that is really difficult to follow, most of the time because there is time travel or are multiple universes involved. There is no actual template for a sci-fi movie map. It is almost as if each has to be tailor made or else it won’t adequately represent what is happening. The movie I’ll be discussing in this chapter relates to dreams since this is the chapter on that very topic.

If you are familiar with the movie, Inception, you know that this movie is set at a particular point in human development where/when the technology exists that can let someone else manipulate you while you dream. Interestingly enough, the process itself is not so much of a “hacking” of your dreams as it is a “luring” of you into someone else’s dream. The dream you are lured into is designed to accomplish a purpose, like revealing to the hacker a secret held by the victim or to guide the victim toward making a certain decision that will benefit the hacker or client of the hacker. In the climax of the movie, the team of hackers has created a scenario where the victim can be affected at a deep subconscious level. The following is a cleaned-up version of the sci-fi movie map that I developed to try to explain to my daughter (about 6 years old at the time) what was going on in the movie.

Inception Movie Map

Each level has a different scene. Reality is where all the characters are on an airplane on an overseas flight. A deep sleep is induced in the victim whose dreams they seek to hack. In Dream Level 1, all characters are in a van in a high speed chase trying to escape the defenses that the victim has put in place to protect against dream hacking. Dream Level 2 is set in a hotel, and Dream Level 3 is set in a fortress on a snowy mountain top. The goal of this convoluted scheme is to convince the victim of something in Dream Level 3. Once that is accomplished, then the team of hackers must set a process in motion to wake up in Dream Level 2, then wake up in Dream Level 1 and then wake up in Reality, before the victim actually wakes up. Of course, the waking sequence happens in a bang-bang-bang format and at the end of the movie you are left wondering if the hackers succeeded or if the DeCaprio character is actually still dreaming.

In thinking about the themes of frustration and anger inherent in rock music, I came up with a version of this sci-fi movie map that helps to understand why it is that this frustration and anger are so prevalent. Here is the Inception sci-fi map with new labels for the “levels of illusion.”

Illusion vs. Reality Map

The gist of it is that we live in “The Grind of Life (Virtual Reality level 1),” and it sucks so much that we want to escape from it. Instead of escaping towards reality, from which we are removed because of the grind of life, we move toward “Virtual Reality Level II” where we seek comfort or relief from the grind of life through distractions and addictions which bring comfort and excitement into our lives (since they feel a heck of a lot better than the grind of life but offer no true/real fulfillment). In this digital age, I feel that we are even a 3rd level removed from reality. So many of us spend inordinate amounts of time in “Virtual Reality Level III” where we connect with others through digital media and social networking. We can’t wait for the next opportunity to check-in or see what others are up to via their own check-ins. If anything, we are moving in the wrong direction.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which I reference in the reality level of the chart, provides an outline of our needs as individuals by order of importance: 1) basic needs (safety, physical needs); 2) psychological needs (positive self-esteem; a feeling of belonging; feeling loved); 3) need for self-fulfillment (personal, professional, creative). Meeting these needs for ourselves and helping others meet these needs for themselves is what should drive all of humanity. We fail to realize that by letting the “the grind of life” define us we are left feeling incomplete and hurt and are surrounded by people who feel the same way. The stress and strife are so pervasive and so unnecessary.

To return to our storyline from Inception, the goal for the hackers in the sci-fi movie is to get back to reality before the victim does. Unfortunately, in our life circumstance, the hackers don’t need to rush at all. They know that we hate “The Grind of Life” so much that we are all too happy to reside in Virtual Reality Level II or Virtual Reality Level III. They need not worry whatsoever about us occupying any space in reality. The result is that, unbeknownst to us, the hackers are able to run amok in (their and our) reality. As Metallica might put it, “You know it’s sad but true!” [“Sad But True” (Metallica)]. But as in the movie, Inception, all that it takes is for the victim to realize that their dreams/lives are being hacked. Then, all they have to do is to wake-up. Once you are aware of the situation that confronts you then you must choose to make decisions that will lead to fulfillment of your needs and not your misdirected desires. It’s not impossible or hard to do. It requires that we use our consciousness and ability to reason.

Dreams and the Power of What We Think and Believe

I have always been intrigued by my success. I have had so many unique opportunities, educationally and professionally, that others with the same set of skills or experiences as me have not. Why is that? People around me may assume that it is because I have been driven to succeed since we are taught in school and at work that this is how success comes to be. I was being interviewed on Spanish radio once about Austin ISD’s Hispanic Futures program and was asked just prior to coming onto the program what advice I would give to the listeners about the importance of education. Without too much thought, what I came up with was the phrase: “el exito se gana, no se regala” (success is earned, not handed to you).” It appears to be good advice, but do we assess the usefulness of this advice based on the right criteria?

My sense is that we typically think of the idea of earning success as having worked hard enough to achieve success. But with wealth being so concentrated with a small proportion of Americans, do children born into wealth actually earn their success or do they benefit from the success of their parents and/or prior generations? I think my advice to parents about education is valid, but I think the typical success measures solely address life outcomes: what kind of job you have, how much money you make or what kind of car/house you have. The question is: have we actually earned these things?

The standard for people growing up in poverty is that they have to earn success. That’s what students at urban schools are told. Why have the rich kids who have the social and academic supports to do well in schools been presumed to have earned their success? Rev. Mike Manor, a good friend who is a retired social worker and community/spiritual leader that, for many years, facilitated an on-going Friday morning conversation about race and equity, uses a baseball metaphor from time to time to highlight the impact of privilege on life outcomes: “Some people enter life on 3rd base and go through life thinking they hit a triple.” That most certainly constitutes success that has not been earned, but yet we look down upon children and families in poverty for being at home plate and not already being on 3rd base. Although we ought not to judge, we not only judge, we judge erroneously.

My theory is that the true measure of success has to do almost exclusively with our character rather than monetary earning potential. Since I feel that no person is better or more special/deserving than another, then it cannot be that money has anything to do with our success as human beings or more importantly, as spiritual beings. Now, you probably think that we’re going to venture into spiritual matters here. And we are, ever so briefly, but for a good reason. The musical-spiritual discourse part of this book comes much later, but I believe that the thought process that relate to faith and hope are very similar to the thought processes that relate to dreams.

I wouldn’t characterize myself as being “driven to succeed,” not in any way, shape or form. I did not want to be top in my class. I wanted to get good grades because I knew it would keep me out of trouble with my parents and teachers. I had my heart set on attending the University of Texas but decided to attend Stanford University because everyone around me told me that I was crazy to pass up such a great opportunity. I went to graduate school to study urban planning because I didn’t think I would be happy working as an engineer, and it seemed pretty well-aligned with my undergraduate coursework. I did not have a vision for changing the world through municipal policy and planning. Also, I never dreamed about being a political leader. I ran for political office because I was encouraged to run by many community advocates who were not aware of any other viable candidates. Of course, this is not the whole story about any of these life decisions/experiences, so I will explain more in coming chapters. What I will explain about these unique opportunities is their connection to my dreams.

I believe that the dreams that I held onto that led to these opportunities and experiences are: (i) my desire to make my parents proud; and (ii) my desire to help others who have not had the opportunities and experiences that I have had in my life. These hopes combined with a strong work ethic that was instilled in me by my parents led me to be diligent about finding avenues to make a difference for others. So, the intention was a self-less one, and my pursuit of this intention was a proactive one. I recall on several occasions being in annual job performance reviews and being asked, “What is your goal in life or in your career?” and responding, “I am not sure. I just want to help people, and I feel that being in this position is a good way to accomplish that goal.” The reaction to such comments was usually a blank stare and, probably, a thought such as, “What a waste?” or “Is this guy for real?” I sincerely believe that life gave me the opportunities I outlined in the previous paragraph because I demonstrated a real commitment to realizing dreams that were NOT focused on self-advancement. As I will demonstrate below, there is some basis in science for my claim.

The first point that I will advance is that your thoughts affect the world around you, LITERALLY. If our thoughts affect the world around us, then what we think really does matter. What we do is not the only thing that matters. What we think is equally as powerful, maybe even more so. We affect the people around us in either positive or negative ways based on our thought process, and their thoughts affect us. And all of this happens without any of us knowing it has happened. So, if you wish to do good in the world, do good deeds AND have good thoughts!

The first evidence of my claim that thoughts matter is the experiments of Japanese researcher Dr. Masaru Emoto who has spent more than 15 years documenting the impact of words on the formation of water crystals. His experiments involve exposing a container of water to written words or word combinations and photographing the water crystals before and after the exposure to the selected word(s). His findings suggest that: (i) certain words, and I would argue, kinds of thinking, affect water (i.e., our physical world) on a molecular level; and (ii) the words that create the most beautiful crystalline structures are those that are positive and hopeful. The word combination “love and gratitude” is one of the most beautiful of all crystals created. Also of interest is the beauty of the crystals for terms such as “beautiful,” “hope,” and “you did well” compared with the disjointed or fractured crystals from words such as “ugly,” “it’s hopeless,” and “that’s no good.”

Bruce Lipton, a stem cell biologist and former professor at the University of Wisconsin and Stanford University, takes us to the next level of thought: our beliefs. Thoughts may be subconscious reactions to our immediate environment, so the impact that these random thoughts have in the world around us are random in nature. Our beliefs are more fundamental to our being. We carry our beliefs with us everywhere we go, and these thoughts will have a more profound effect on the world around us as we go about living our lives. One of the main ideas that Dr. Lipton puts forth is that “our perceptions of life affect our biology.” The interesting thing about this idea is that our perceptions change with every passing day since our perceptions of our environment will change over time. If our perceptions change, then biology is likely to change based on our new perceptions if they happen to affect our thoughts/beliefs.

Lipton explains how our advanced understanding of the functioning of cells demonstrates that our life outcomes are affected almost as much by genes as by the environment in which these genes develop and function. Our genes are like gateways that are either open or closed (active or inactive). What happens in our life, particularly in the prenatal environment and in the first six years of life, determines which genes are activated. If someone is born into a safe and nurturing environment, then it is more likely that the good genes will be activated thus leading to more positive life outcomes. What parents think, say, and feel leading up to the conception and during pregnancy and the infancy of their children have great implications for the future of their children. If parents are in an environment that is difficult and tense (i.e., full of stress), then it may be more likely that the genes leading to more difficult outcomes may be the ones that are activated.

Our genes only express our genetic potential. During our first six years of life, external forces have a very strong impact with regard to the activation of our genes. While the quality of our environment (pre-conception, prenatal, and pre-kindergarten) greatly affected our genetic development, after the age of six, it appears that we as individuals become the masters of our genetic potential. How we as individuals think, feel, hope and dream and how our environment influence these things (whether consciously or subconsciously) will change our genetic blueprint from early childhood in either good or bad ways. Lipton counsel us as follows: “You have a choice! But I can tell you that if you choose to see a world full of love, your body will respond by growing in health. If you choose to believe that you live in a dark world full of fear, your body’s health will be compromised.” What you believe matters a great deal!

This idea that thoughts affect our physical environment is echoed by Lynn McTaggart, author of The Intention Experiment. She shares a great deal of examples demonstrating the variety of ways in which intentions (i.e., thoughts with a purpose) affect experimental outcomes. There is much that I would like to share about what is covered by McTaggart in her book but will focus on the peculiar way in which certain intention experiments appear to transcend time. The most bizarre of these experiments is one involving the impact that a single person’s prayers had on the health outcomes of several thousand patients who were dealing with a condition called sepsis. A scientifically significant impact was recorded for the documented severity of the illness in the patients as well as for the duration of the fever that they experienced. The interesting twist is that the prayers for the patients’ well-being were offered in the year 2000, whereas the illness suffered by patients occurred four and ten years earlier. Thus, the prayers that were offered had a scientifically significant impact on health outcomes recorded in the past.

In The Intention Experiment, McTaggart provides additional examples of experiments that produce time-displaced impacts, particularly those involving random outputs such as repeated flips of a coin, the repetition of certain movements by lab rats, the frequency of vehicles entering a tunnel, and reaction times of the nervous system to images appearing on a computer screen. What this suggests is that we can affect the past as long as the outcome we seek to alter is not known to us or could be made known to us by someone else. I find it interesting that this concept also applies to our dreams, that is, that our dreams and goals for the future are probable as long as we are NOT aware of something from the past that would preclude that dream/goal from happening. It appears that the past and the future are not so different from each other.

While the forward looking part of this equation is not news to us (i.e., you must work to achieve your goals/dreams), the most interesting by-products of this view is that as we move toward achieving our goals, our intention may be simultaneously affecting our past, present and future (i.e., altering them all in a way that facilitates the attainment of our goals/dreams). Living with intention thus becomes not only the key to achieving our life goals but also the key to creating the kind of world we want to live in. We have to believe that our goals/dreams are possible and that the world we want to live in is possible. But we cannot act in a way that precludes those goals/dreams (or world) from happening or they won’t happen.

If thoughts, beliefs, faith, goals, and intentions are capable of tangibly affecting the world around us, then so are our dreams. The lesson at the top of this chapter advises us to be smart about what we dream. What we believe affects what we think and guides the development of our dreams, so we should also take care in what we choose to believe. And if, at some point down the road of life, your beliefs are modified, then don’t be afraid to modify your dreams. Your future and apparently your past, is malleable.

Smash Some Pumpkins but not Your Dreams

The Siamese Dream album by The Smashing Pumpkins (TSP) emerged as the conclusion for this chapter almost organically. I sought out to include the song “Siamese Dream” in my dream songs list. When I consulted the album, I discovered that there was no song on the album matching the album title. But it turns out that you can find a recording of a song by this name in a “rarities” album of The Smashing Pumpkins, but not on the album itself. The name of the album intrigued me so I studied what people online were commenting about the songs on this album, and it turns out that some of the songs of the album pertain to Billy Corgan’s brother directly and others to their shared experiences growing up. (Corgan is TSP’s singer, songwriter and guitar player.) That immediately led me to the conclusion, rightly or not, that a Siamese Dream is a shared dream. How powerful is the idea that you can not only have a dream, but that someone actually can share it with you. Doesn’t it make it that much more likely for that dream to come true?

Cherub Rock - Smashing Pumpkins

The first song on the album, Siamese Dream, is “Cherub Rock.” It has a powerful message and is arranged in such a way that it builds from a contemplative tone to a hard driving pace in the span of about 40 seconds. It is this intro period of the song that I see myself using as an opportunity to provide self-encouragement as I prepare mentally for discussing my writings: “here we go; this is no big deal; you’ve got this; it’s your life; you know it by heart because you lived it; you know what’s important in life because you’ve lived it; connecting with other people; that’s what’s important; this is about connecting with other people; that’s what’s important’; that’s what matters; that’s the only thing that matters.” (The previous phrases in quotes are what I tell myself and not the specific song lyrics.) As a person who doesn’t like to share, I have to keep reminding myself that it is o.k. to do so because something good will come of it….hopefully!

The powerful message in the song, “Cherub Rock,” relates to the chorus which states, “Who wants honey as long there’s some money; who wants THAT honey?” (emphasis added). To me it seems like a play on words of the question and answer pair: “What do you want? Money, honey!” In this case, the song appears to flip the words in the answer and pose it as a question: honey, money? (i.e., honey derived from money). Now, that can’t be right. That honey ain’t real, so it can’t be worth selling your artistic soul over. In the song, the angels (cherubs) have wings that are fake. Thus, this song is about the kind of rock that the fake rock industry angels seek. The refrain from Corgan is, of course, “Let me out.” He doesn’t want to have any part of that.

Siamese Dream was one of the most difficult albums to interpret. There are layers upon layers of meaning. The idea behind the album title helps to understand it some. Plus, the songs are so deeply personal that it truly hurts to contemplate the feelings and situations that Corgan has outlined. He tackles the issue of how you are asked to be fake for the record companies, the media, and even fans, but at the same time he outlines instances where a fake smile/sentiment is meant to hide something painful/hurtful for the benefit of all of the individuals involved. One of the most intense lines is from the song, “Mayonnaise:” “I just want to be ME. Try to understand that when I can, I will…[be me].” That lyric suggests that there may be situations where its o.k. to be fake, because to present your true self or feelings would bring pain to you or others. But how often do we present our true selves to others? In the song, he commits to do what he can. Isn’t that all we can/should ask of each other?

An interesting take on “fakeness” that Corgan takes is not so much that we are fake, but that we allow ourselves to fall victim to that which is fake, purposefully it seems, more often than not: “We mutilate the meanings so that they’re easy to deny” (“Quiet”). We lie to ourselves especially when it comes to people with who we have relationships (“Silver F@#k” and “Soma”). But behaving this way messes with our head because we suppress our ability to discern what’s real while at the same time placing the blame someplace where it should not be: on others. We, ultimately, are the only ones who have power over our condition moving forward, but we must stop wallowing in sorrow or self-pity.

As the album title suggests, Siamese Dream is not really about what’s wrong with us or what’s wrong with the world. It is really about the simple tools that we have at our disposal to overcome the pain and the sadness we experience in life. When he asks, “Who wants THAT honey?” it suggests that somewhere there actually is honey that we should want. Search for it! Connecting with others is one of the keys. When someone “consumes my love” or “devours my hate” it “helps power my escape” (“Rocket”). That power would not be attainable without there being another person involved. However, when we’re connected with what’s fake, then we’re disconnected from what matters. The song “Luna” brings it home with its offer of help if indeed help is welcomed: “I’ll sing to you… I’ll give to you… if you want me to.”

Rocket - Smashing Pumpkins

Ultimately, Siamese Dream shows us a way out of the madness of this world. Our dreams for the future are tied. Corgan may have been thinking of how connected his dreams are to that of his brother (even though they themselves were so different). They shared a connection, and to connect with another human being is a powerful thing. The brothers shared a struggle. We all share a struggle— the struggle to survive this mad, mad world. It is through our dreams/hopes that we find a path towards survival. But we must redirect our dreams so that they point in the right direction, not in the direction of virtual escape but of true escape, so that we actually experience something that feels good and is real.

If our collective “Siamese dream” offers a pathway to the type of world/future that we want, then it matters a great deal what that dream is. In the song “MLK,” U2 suggests we turn to Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream as a possible collective dream upon which to place our hopes. That would be a Siamese dream worth realizing.

Sleep…sleep tonight
And may your dreams be realized.
If the thunder cloud passes rain
So let it rain…rain down on me.
So let it be. So let it be.

MLK (U2)

My Recurring Dream

I am and have always been into science fiction. Up until the time that I got to graduate school, I had a recurring dream that affected me on a very deep level and probably continues to affect how I view the world and myself. My sisters and I would watch the Saturday morning TV series called Land of the Lost (not the Will Farrell movie). In this series, a father and his two kids fall into a time portal that transports them to prehistoric times, inhabited by dinosaurs (and aliens, believe it or not). Every episode is an attempt by the family to try to get back home.

It is in this backdrop that my recurring dream is set. I am the son in the family that is trapped in the land of the lost, and we’ve found a way home. The solution involves leaving the dinosaur world via a rocket ship. Unfortunately, I push the wrong button during the launch sequence, and not only do we miss our launch window for leaving the lost world but in so doing we expend the only fuel cell available. Thus, we are stuck in the land of the lost forever. Of course, this is the point at which I wake up. Having not only failed at something but having failed in such a way that it has adverse implications for my entire family and cannot be remedied.

As a result of this subconscious fear of failure, anytime I am entrusted with something of importance, I take super-ultra-care in ensuring that it gets done and gets done properly. I think this, more so than my being a middle child, is the cause of my being an over-achiever. It is not because I want to be noticed but because I don’t want to be noticed for the wrong reason. I am also ultrasensitive at being accused of fouling something up. The best way of making my blood boil is to accuse me of being the cause of a failure that was not of my doing. To this day, my family blames me for breaking the TV in the living room when I was with them the entire day leading up to our discovery that the TV screen was cracked. My lips and fist immediately clench at the thought. Just because I would routinely swing a baseball bat inside the house doesn’t mean…

This fear of failure really became pronounced when I arrived at Stanford thinking I was academically and socially prepared. Nothing could have been further from the truth. The songs and albums mentioned in Chapter 4, My Songs of Strength & Inspiration, and Chapter 5, Like a Ton of Bricks, detail how I used music to not only overcome my subconscious fears but also develop the grit and tenacity that I would need to confront life’s challenges, starting with surviving the Stanford years.

Books Referenced:

  • The Miracle of Water, Masaru Emoto (2007)
  • The Intention Experiment, Lynne McTaggart (2007)
  • The Biology of Belief, Bruce H. Lipton (2005)
  • The Dream Manager, Matthew Kelly (2007)

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