I am often unaware of making the trip. But suddenly I am back again, standing in the kitchen, wondering what brought me here. Other times I will be deeply engrossed in the trying task of finding exactly the right word to express a subtle perception hiding just around a bend in my mind, when the beep of a horn or a knock on the door returns me to my chair, disoriented, dislocated, disassociated. I would be more concerned were this a phenomenon of recent inception, but I cannot remember a time when it was not part of my life: "Robby, are you listening to me? Robby, I have asked you three times now to let the dog in. I swear that boy…"
Still, it would be foolish to deny that moving into my seventh decade here on planet Earth has not focused my attention more closely on the phenomenon. Can it really be creeping senility, dementia, or Alzheimer's if I have done it all my life? And am I really doing it more often, or do advancing years simply make us paranoid about these flights of reflective fancy as "that boy" has somehow become "the old guy."
There was a family reunion in South Dakota last April. My father, who will be 98 in June, could not make the trip. But we took videos of recent conversations with him to the reunion via my tablet computer. They were such a hit that we showed them to him when we returned to Chicago. However, watching himself on the screen seemed more confusing than entertaining. It wasn't that he didn't grasp that we had taped the conversation, it just seemed, perhaps, irrelevant. In that moment of his disorientation, I saw myself struggling to return to "everyday" when I had been "away."
I think that was when I first began to play — more consciously anyhow — with the question of what I have come to think of as "travels in Alternia." Is there, I wondered, another space/reality where we venture when we lose contact with everyday reality? It must certainly be something considered by those whose loved ones get lost behind the tragic curtain of Alzheimer's; that hope that they are "somewhere else" and are "all right." That is part of the conversation. But is it merely a protective fancy to conjecture that senility in this realm of consciousness may not mandate universal senility? More positively, can we posit an actual realm that is home to dreaming, and creativity — and my daily flights of walkabout? "Well, perhaps," you say, "But another 'reality'?" Stranger things are dreamt of.
We have learned only recently that 96% of the universe is made up of energy and matter that lies beyond our perceptual abilities and imaging technologies. That which we can see — what we believed to constitute the entire universe, all of heaven and earth — is actually only 4% of what is "out there." We have been the drunk in the old joke:
Late one night, a police officer happens upon an obviously inebriated gentleman on his hands and knees, creeping studiously about beneath a streetlight.
"Sir, is there a problem?" enquires the officer.
"Most certainly," replies the gentleman. "I have dropped my keys."
The officer looks carefully around. There is obviously nothing on the ground.
"Where did you drop them, sir?"
The drunk gestures towards the dark shadows over his shoulder, "Back there."
"Then why are you looking over here?"
"The light is better here."
We look for explanations where they are most easily seen. We have defined reality based on what falls within the glow of immediate lamplight. In doing so we seem to have missed 96% of the universe. Perhaps we have made a similar error as we explore human consciousness. Consider the notion of "cloaked consciousness." [I think "dark matter" and "dark energy" are unfortunate choices to name the other 96% of the universe, the part that lies outside the comforting circle of our lamppost. Too much Darth Vader in those monikers.] I borrow "cloaked consciousness" from Rowling's world of Harry Potter. Harry's invisibility cloak makes him invisible in one world, but in no way reduces the totality of his "presence in reality." "Cloaked consciousness" is how I conceive of the home to those experiences that leave no footprints here beneath the lamp, "cloaked consciousness" is the home to dreaming, and creativity and walkabout. It is Alternia.
In Alternia, one lives unencumbered by the frailties of the awakened world. One leaps and creates and seeks truth differently. In Alternia one does not hear voices, it is not delusion. Rather one senses silent and affirming audiences who share your interest, and that interest propels you on. Alternia remains invisible until we recreate its insights on this side of the curtain. Does that make one place illusion and another truth? I doubt it. But belief does not reality make. How long did we point our telescopes into the heavens before the analysis of the data revealed that something — something huge — was missing?
I do not know where we may find acceptable evidence for Alternia. But I do know that is isn't here, beneath the same old streetlight. Perhaps it is time we looked elsewhere.