In a dream that I had in my mid-thirties I was with a girl in a building that was either a hospital or a mental ward. We were on a quest to destroy a huge machine. When we found it we smothered it with gunpowder, turned it on (so that it would generate heat) and left the room. After hearing a gigantic explosion we went back inside to check on its remains. All that was left was a skeletal metal frame, softly burning. The girl told me that she’d done this sort of thing many times before.
The machine in this instance was like the nerve center of the facility; and as such, it stood in for the structure of rules and regulations that work to herd us in line in support of a system rather than our own authentic selves. Dreams often address this quandary of modern humankind in the age of the machine. I’m reminded of the great motif in Return of the Jedi when Luke removes Darth Vader’s mask to reveal the vulnerable and strangely unformed human being behind it. Vader, “more machine than man”, had never had a chance to develop his humanity – and express it – because he’d existed for so long as a mere extension of the bureaucracy that he served.
The society that we live in very much wants us to identify with our jobs and our social roles. This, it tells us, is our true identity – not the feelings, ideals, dreams and visions that live within our hearts and minds. We invented machines in the hopes of simplifying our lives and bringing us ease; but the machine has come to set the pace for us, asserting its rhythm over our own natural ones. I felt a kind of deep satisfaction after awaking from my dream, recalling how that soulless mechanism had been blown to smithereens. The vision stirred hope inside of me.
A culture that worships the machine will value those human beings who are best able to think and act like machines. Our dreams, on the other hand, support our true selves. They hold the image of who we are in essence, outside of the social roles that we may have identified with or that may have been imposed upon us. The essence of ourselves can never be lost or destroyed, though we may travel many miles away from it in the course of our lives. Our inner world will hold it in an inviolate place that we can catch glimpses of when we dream.
Our dreams can show us how to remove the mechanical masks and behold out true faces. They can show us where we’ve been following the dictates of a system rather than the bidding of our own hearts.