The night kicked off with a conversation between Vanessa Sinclair, a psychoanalyst with an interest in art, spirituality, and the occult, and Khenpo Lama Pema Wangdak, a Buddhist Lama originally from Tibet. They discussed dreams and how the environment of the Rubin—a shrine to creativity and spirituality—might affect our unconscious activity over the course of the night; how art might just be able to unlock chambers of our subconscious, if we were open to it.
“The main thing is, you will yourself to dream,” explained Lama Pema. “Tonight, you might go to sleep and imagine the universe as a pure, translucent light. Over your head, you have your babysitter, which is the Buddha. You’re the baby,” he laughed. “And you’ll have the most peaceful, satisfying, curled-up kind of dream, because you’ve willed it. That’s the most important thing.” He spoke with a smile, chuckling softly as he made Buddha jokes, as when he referred to the “Buddhaverse,” a portmanteau used to describe an enlightened dream space.
The concept of willing a dream is a compelling one. It’s something I’d tried before, not for spiritual or psychoanalytic reasons, but to tap into new sources of creativity—to experience trippy, transportive dreams. But I’d given up after a few attempts. That night, though, I found myself in a circle of people (which one funny dreamer referred to as a “metaphysical AA meeting”) setting dream intentions. Some were there to connect with a specific energy or person, or simply to experience a deep, peaceful sleep. Others hoped to unclog creative blocks or just have an adventure.
After a midnight snack, the 85 dreamers (among them, a former U.N. employee, an art teacher, a psychologist, and a science writer) curled up in sleeping bags under paintings, sculptures, and shrines across the museum’s six floors. As I drifted off to sleep under my 7th-century Devavatara Buddha, Savannah, a docent, came over to read me a bedtime story. The last sentence I remember went something like this: “His movement was like a galaxy orbiting an atom.” Not a bad way to enter into the dream world.
At 6 a.m., one of the dream gatherers (artists and psychologists tasked with waking us up and talking us through our dreams) whispered in my ear, asking me if I’d dreamt. I’d gone surfing the previous morning and often have ocean-filled dreams the night after, ones where I spend the whole night out at sea. But the version that I experienced at the Rubin was a little different. This time, a wave carried me softly to shore. My dream gatherer reminded me that my Buddha represented a “return to earth,” suggesting that maybe there had been a connection between this sculpture and the deep recesses of my mind.
I’m a romantic and wanted to believe it. But no matter what sort of subconscious synchronicity, if any, I experienced during my night at the Rubin, I have never felt closer to a single work of art. That will stay with me, even though my Buddha will remain in a corner of a museum that I once called my bedroom for a night.