Mike Albo is one of those brilliant cultural observers whose writing makes you feel smarter —and pee (just a little bit) with laughter. The journalist and author of The Underminder and more recently, The Junket, took his outre Well+Good assignment lying down. We sent Albo on a group sleepover at the Rubin Museum of Art in Chelsea, where participants were asked to consider the influence of art on their dreams. Here’s what happened at the intersection of dream, sleep, and the museum floor.
Last Saturday I slept over at the Rubin Museum of Art in Chelsea. I was attending the museum’s Dream Over event, where about 80 people paid $108 to be given a spot on the floor in front of a work of art to see how it would influence their dreams. The sleepover promised a bedtime story, midnight snacks, Tibetan dream discussion, and dream analysis. You provide your own bedding.
The museum is dedicated to the art of the Himalayas and surrounding regions, and every floor (there are 6) presents gorgeous shrine-worthy work that throbs with meaning and wisdom.
Still I was concerned.
I was worried I would not dream. I was worried that I wouldn’t sleep. And I was worried that I am too Western and disconnected and worry too much.
I also worried that my dreams would not be worthy. They are often crazily vivid, and involve B-list celebrities from ’90s sitcoms. Basically my brain is like an old copy of People you may find in a dentist office.
I’d never been to the Rubin, but I’d been to Barneys, the former tenant of this space. The massive spiral staircase was still there, but now the space was serene, calmed with those cool battery-powered flickering candles. People in soft bathrobes and pajamas smiled and greeted me.
I sat with a couple from New Jersey, Scott and Amanda, who had won their Dream Over stay at Comic Con. They were sweet and unpretentious and made me feel more comfortable.
The Wheel of Existence
A staff member led me to my spot—in front of The Wheel of Existence. It’s a large painting on cloth, in which a crazy-eyed creature clutches onto a large wheel of several smaller scenes like rings of a tree. It’s full of beautiful and violent imagery, including a man with bleeding eyes, a soul whose head is being sawed in two, and figures boiled in cauldrons. There are also peaceful images of animals and scholars, but those didn’t stick with me as much.
At 9:00 pm, we all gathered for a talk and meditation session led by Lama Lhanang Rinpoche, mediated by Dr. William Braun, a psychoanalyst. The Lama, who was born in Tibet but lives in San Diego, discussed “dream yoga” and “sleeping meditation.”
“In practice everything is a dream” he said, lullingly. He pronounced dream like “drim.” I listened and began to feel sort of listless, but these are the quotes I wrote down:
“your past and last nights dreams are no different”
“everything is drim”
“everything is a reflection of the mind. our mind is full of concepts and thoughts, that is why we meditate”
After the meditation, we broke into groups with one of five dream experts, including a clinical psychologist, a sound artist, a Jungian psychoanalyst. It seemed like most of the people who came alone were like me, hoping to have a little window of enlightenment before they had to go back to thinking about health care and whatever else plagued their waking lives. Many were in couples, and considered this a fun thing to do for a date.
At 11:00, we had a snack of apricots, nuts, and goji berries. I was still worried I wouldn’t sleep, so I drank 3 cups of tea and told myself it was Sonata.
A staff member came by to read me a bedtime story. It was an explanation of the Wheel of Existence in the form of a myth. The story explained that the creature is the Devourer of Time, who chews and clutches onto a wheel. That made me remember my night cream, and then I fell asleep on my yoga mat.
The (Totally Wacky) Dream
I woke briefly and looked at my cellphone. It was 5:24. I went back to sleep, and, as if on cue, I had the most intensely detailed dream. I know that listening to other people’s dreams can be boring, so you can either read it below, or just know that it was intense:
“I was traveling on a train. The tracks were covered in crusty snow. I was worried that the train would slip off its tracks. An ex-boyfriend appeared. The ex is was and still is an expert traveler. “Where should I go?” I asked him. He began to talk about Paris. “There is this woman at this amazing concert hall,” he said, and then I saw the hall full of people outfitted for an Aubrey Beardsley story. The woman was in long gown. “I gave that woman a roux. Three times,” said the ex. (What is a roux? I have no idea!) He also mentioned that the Devourer of Time was in this place, as a statue. Then I was in a grand hotel lobby. It was covered in red fabric much like the cloth surrounding the Wheel of Existence. I approached a desk person, who needed to find my name in a book. I wasn’t listed. I got angry until my friend David, a pushy, self-possessed person, showed up and helped demand that someone find my name. I was accepted. We hugged and I cracked his back when I did.”
In the morning, I told this to a designated “dream gatherer” who scribbled it down. Then we had a nice breakfast that included tsampa, a mushy Tibetan Cream of Wheat.
We met in our group. Scott had a dream that he was saying words that would come out of his mouth like inflatable objects. Amanda didn’t dream anything, but had one of those annoying nights where you are sleeping but convince yourself you can’t get to sleep. I was waiting for someone to give me some dream analysis, but no one did.
I was sort of proud that for once there were no celebrities in my head for a night. Maybe, the Dream Over did its work, and some of the nattering cultural residue that dirties my mind was scrubbed away. —Mike Albo
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