Sleeping in the Museum: Dreamover at the Rubin

photo: Aaron Colussi

from The Independence Project, 3/29/2011, 3:52pm

Sleepovers are fun. But in a museum? You bet!

photo: Aaron Colussi

Ever since I read From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler, a classic of children’s literature about two kids who run away from home to live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I’ve cherished the thought of someday doing the same.

And when the Rubin Museum of Art, a fantastic modern museum of Himalayan (mainly Buddhist) art, offered a “Dreamover,” on March 5, in which adult participants could sleep in the museum, under a piece of art specially chosen for them, and work with an analyst to see how the art affected their dreams, I was in!

(The event was part of the Rubin’s Brainwave series, an annual set of lectures, activities, performances, and panels. This year’s theme was “Dreams.”)

A few notes: Most of the art in the Rubin is from Tibet, Nepal, and Bhutan, reflecting the area’s strong Buddhism. In Tibetan buddhism, there is a practice called Dream Yoga, which is not about doing headstands in one’s sleep, but about a sort of conscious dreaming.

Never having done it, or even read much about it, I’m not going to discuss it, although I am a buddhist, practicing in the partially Tibetan lineage of Shambhala. But I admit that the prospect of exploring dreams amid all that powerful imagery and the energy of those objects did pique my interest more than another setting would have.

So, I wanted to meditate and sleep under something like this:

And instead I got this!

This is a photo of a Pahar Ganj, New Dehli, from the ON-AIR Project, a series by Atta Kim, part of the Grain of Emptiness exhibition. He’s a great modern photographer, and I’ve admired his work in other venues.

But all my projections about what might happen as I slept beneath a thangka had nothing to do with the actual experience. I wasn’t sleeping under a thangka at all! I had that little POP of a gap between what I thought and reality. Without the reference points I had imagined, this art was totally unexpected. It was a good space to be in.

So I set up my sleeping bag and slept–pretty well, in fact. Before bed we heard a lecture about dreams from two psychoanalysts, were instructed on art meditation, and participated in small group discussions led by grad students in Columbia’s psychoanalyst program. We each were told a specially chose bedtime story, and on awakening were asked about our dreams by one of the grad students.

Somewhat unsurprisingly to me, I dreamed about business, about receipts and such–probably inspired by the scene of commerce above me.

We had great tsampa for breakfast and departed.

I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Such fun! Not sure of the deep meaning, but it was a wonderful chance to explore in-depth an everyday — or every night — state of consciousness that I don’t spend much time looking at. And it was yet another reminder that my concepts and reality may be often congruent, but never identical. I was happy that what I had imagined — a traditionally Tibetan image – was not what I got. Kind of symbolized the course of my practice and my immersion in the very 21st century sangha of the IDP.



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