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Dreamed Nov? 1954 by Jack Kerouac

photo of writer Jack Kerouac

FOR THE FIRST TlME---dreamed I climbed a gradual cliff from slope to slope and got up on top and sat down but suddenly in looking down I saw it was not a gradual cliff at all but sheer----in the dream no thought of getting down on other side---in the dream as always in Highplaces Dreams I'm concerned with getting down the way I came, or rectifying my own mistakes----and even though I know it's a dream, within the dream I insist I must get down off the high cliff I climbed---the same old fear grips me in mortal throes---"But if it's a dream then the cliff is not real," I tell myself "so just wake up & the cliff will vanish"---l hardly believe it's possible, and, trembling, open my eyes & the dream is gone, the cliff is gone, the terror is gone---This is the Sign from Buddha's Compassion at last---

ln other words, for the first time I dreamed that I was on a high place & was afraid to get down but I knew it was a dream & something told me to wake up & the high place would disappear, & I opened my eyes & it was all gone

          Buddha rectified by mistake for me-----AWAKEN FROM THE DREAM

          For a moment too I thought of jumping down to get down-----O pitiful reality! (but that would mean mortal pain, the falling, mortal horror, or, death)---

          Also, in many other Highplace Dreams I knew it was a dream too, but insisted within the drearn on getting down----dream-activity in the dreamworld---dream-action down the dreamcliff---

          The cliff seemed to be, and now the cliff doesnt seem to be---

          Dream-analysis is only cause-and-condition explanation (such, as, cliff from symbol during waking day,like, murderer with knife because window left unlocked)---dream- analysis is only a measurement of the maya-like and has no value----dream-dispersion has the only value---Freudianism is a big stupid mistaken dealing with causes & conditions instead of the mysterious, essential, permanent reality of Mind Essence---(My only problem is how to practice the Eightfold Path day in, day out, as long as I dont live in solitude---) It's more than just the high cliff of the other-night's-reading-Dante,---it's the high cliff of mortal anxiety---

--Jack Kerouac


I posted this dream for two reasons.

  1. Kerouac himself feels it's a breakthrough. It's the clearest lucid dream in his journal, and I don't think it's chance that he achieves this after writing hundreds of dreams and learning not to let his feelings jerk him around!
  2. It contains his most explicit statement about dreamwork. Kerouac thinks Freudian (and other) analysis aims at causes, treats dreams as symbols. But to Jack, dreams are experiences no more or less real than waking life. Both are Maya, illusion, educational movies. And thus not to be feared. His last sentence compares the two practices: Freud might say this dream is a reaction to reading Dante; Kerouac thinks it expresses the body's constant fear of death, and sets up an opportunity to notice and transcend it. To wake up.
I side with Kerouac here. I see no evidence that dreams are less real or more symbolic than waking life: both are labs where you learn mostly by doing. A little analysis goes a long way.

And fear of death? If you weren't miserable before birth, why would you be after death? Unless you're a hellfire fundamentalist with a long criminal record, what's to fear? Fear is of and for the body. A useful sense! If you don't let it rule you.

--Chris Wayan

Source: Book of Dreams by Jack Kerouac, expanded (2001) edition, City Lights Books, page 281-2. Date estimated from sequence.

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