The Australian aborigines refer to a specific state of altered consciousness as “the dreamtime”. The dreamtime has little to do with dreaming, it is a totally wakeful state of consciousness, where the person in the dreamtime becomes the archetype of all of their ancestors performing an action. For instance, if Fred the hunter were hunting, and entered the dreamtime, he would stop being “Fred” and become purely “the hunter”, a composite of spirit of all his ancestors and decedents hunting. A key thing here is that in the dreamtime he is not “a hunter”, but he is “the hunter”. He is all hunters from the beginning to the end of time simultaneously.
I personally have experienced “the dreamtime” many times in my life. It’s actually one of the easier altered states to enter intentionally. Some behaviors, once that feel deeply rooted in being human, like sex and walking long distances, bring it forward more easily. If you are practiced with altering your state of consciousness you can probably pull it forward for yourself just by trying while doing something appropriate.
The sensation of being in dreamtime is very empowering. Though conventional identity falls away, the new identity that it is replaced with, that of “walker” or “hunter” is powerful and coherent. In essence instead of identity being centered in the body that you have inhabit identity moves into the behavior, slicing in a different way across time and space.
In dreamtime you do not loose control over your actions, there is no inhibition of choice. Rather, what happens is that the preconditioning of “who you are” is that of the behavior. “Hunter” likes to smells the wind, just as “Fred” likes popcorn. In the same way that “Fred” can make choices, even about popcorn, “Hunter” can make choices in the moment. If those choices are too far out of archetype, then “Hunter” falls out of dreamtime, and becomes “Fred” again.
In wester society we are taught a very dis-empowering perspective about political change. We are taught that we are part of a demographic, and that individually our choices make little difference as we are a single voice amongst a vast statistical heard. That we are simply part of the group “middle class male, 35-45” and that our choices and behavior will simply average out.
The underlying metaphor is that of a gas in physics: many molecules move independently and randomly, but collectively their behavior is very predictable. I want to suggest a different metaphor, that of a flock. The entire demographic reacts to similar stimulus similarly and also self coordinates. A loud noise will make the whole group take off together, independently, but in parallel.
In a slightly different version of “the dreamtime” we can see ourselves as becoming our demographic. Rather than being “Mike the college educated, 25-35 year old”, with a small mental shift one can choose to become “THE college educated, 25-35 year olds”… to become the whole demographic. When one becomes one’s demographic, the choices you make are the choices of the whole demographic. If you decide to protest, it means that your whole demographic will likely protest with you. If you choose to buy something, it means your whole demographic shops with you.
This is absolutely true to the extent that your getting the same stimulus as your demographic. When the flock sees a hawk, the choice of one bird to flee is also the choice of the flock. In the same way that one birds choices across time might make that birds personality, it’s identity they way we normally think about it, one birds choice as part of the flock make the flocks identity. In the same way that one moment of deep choice across time can establish habits that repeat over time, one birds deep choice can lead many birds in the flock.
If you let this perspective shift sink in you can go from feeling helpless and meaningless to quite powerful. If your demographic doesn’t ever seem to choose with you, it means one of two things: you are mis-identifying your demographic, or your demographic is struggling with a change, as say, a person who is breaking an addiction.
Stretch this trick further, to the point where you become representative of modern humans, and something marvelous happens. “Human representative” thinking is similar to dreamtime thinking in it’s original incarnation, but it becomes an attempt to enter the dreamtime for the process of making moral choices. Life itself becomes suffused with meaning, a wonderful sensation.
When you feel as if you are empowered to make choices for how all people in a similar situation would behave, you unlock a key trick of virtue ethics. Will you, and by you I mean you-humanity, be generous or pragmatic? Forgiving or just? Which sort of world do you want to live in? The species itself turns on your choice.