John Lennon & May Pang
“# 9 DREAM”.
I once had a dream where I was sweeping the cloistered walk of a
temple courtyard. It strangely resembled one I had seen in Turkey:
ostensibly a school of traditional music, I had suspected that this
Turkish school was in fact connected with Sufism. In my dream, as in
life, a strong sense of peace of security possessed the scene. Across
one of the cloisters there were hung brightly woven curtains. I was
quite light-hearted, and was almost finished sweeping, when someone
asked me if I would like to have my fortune told. Across the courtyard
garden, others were having their palms read by women who were barely
more than teenagers. It all seemed a bit of a hoot, so, in a spirit of
fun, I said yes, I would have my fortune told. Directly, someone said
that the fortune-teller had arrived, and I felt a slight tremor. When I
saw her, something inside me drew back. She was a tall and noble
African, with high cheek-bones, a multi-coloured turban, and something
of that impersonal, hierarchical presence which Nina Simone commanded.
She seemed to displace the air rather than to walk, and she was
accompanied by two men, one a bearded man in middle age, and the other
an unshaven and demented youth. Somehow, I knew that they meant
business. This was the real thing. I was in two minds about going ahead
with the consultation, but I found my courage. I sat cross-legged,
opposite her, while the two men looked on. She took my left hand with
her right, and drew my arm forward. Then she laid the fingers of her
left hand on the flesh of my left forearm, placing a slight pressure on
the veins. Immediately, sensation filled my body and flowed over into
an electric sensation, which took me into another state.
I know how far short these words fall of communicating the
experience, and its present significance for me. Yet, the dream is a
source of confidence. Perhaps the most I can do is suggest something
which you can then relate to a similar dream you may have had. However,
some poets and musicians have had more success in communicating these
sendings. Samuel Taylor Coleridge managed to evoke an eerie power in
“Kubla Khan”, his account of an opium dream. Interestingly, he was
moved by the music he heard played and sang by “an Abyssinian maid”
with a dulcimer. However, the music had passed from him, as it were,
causing him to say that “If I could revive within me her symphony and
song”, it would make him a man of altogether different capacities and
I feel that in “#9 Dream”, John Lennon fulfilled something of
Coleridge’s yen, and has fashioned a fantasy-ruby, an auditory vision
of roughly four and a half minutes’ duration. The first time I heard
this song, even though it was on a battered old radio with knobs and
switches falling off it, I was entranced and physically affected, I
could hardly stand. As is the way of things, no subsequent listening
has ever had the same effect, but maybe now the experience goes deeper,
to a place which is not so easily overcome by shock. Certainly, the
song has benignly haunted me for 35 years. Frequently I sing to myself
the opening words: “So long ago: was it in a dream? Was it just a
dream?” Even now, it conjures in me a different focus, as it were. It
reverberates with echoes of a far-away time, a far-away place, of
people and spirits separated only by a veil dancing just beyond my
finger tips. The tempo of the song is neither slow nor “dreamy”, and is
all the truer to dreams for taking a pleasant walking pace. The nice
tread of the music contributes to the sense of visionary reality –
there is nothing hallucinatory about this song, unlike “Lucy In The Sky
With Diamonds”. Yet, the melody line takes its time; the words are not
hurried. Some of the key words are subtly sustained, or given a light
stress. It sounds as if Lennon is singing the following:
So-oh long ago: was it in a dream? Was it just a dream?
I-hi know-oh, yes, I know, seemed so very real
Seemed so (un)real to me –
Took a walk down the street,
Through the heat whispered trees.
I thought I could hear, hear, hear, hear
Somebody called my name – “John, John”,
As it started to rain – “John”,
Two spirits dancing so strange,
Ah! bawawaka, po-say, po-say.
Ah! bawawaka, po-say, po-say.
Ah! bawawaka, po-say, po-say.
Dream, dream away – magic in the air, was magic in the air?
I believe, yes I believe,
More I cannot say, what more can I say?
On a river of sound,
Through the mirror go round (round),
I thought I could feel, feel, feel, feel
Music touching my soul, (whispering)
Something warm sudden cold,
The spirit dance was un-fold-ing,
Ah! bawawaka, po-say, po-say.
Ah! bawawaka, po-say, po-say.
Ah! bawawaka, po-say, po-say.
Ah! bawawaka, po-say, po-say (continued)
May Pang, Lennon’s then girlfriend, whispers his name and some other
words I cannot quite make out after the words “music touching my soul”.
There is nothing dramatic about Lennon’s delivery or the music, they
are almost understated, and yet they leave an impression. “So long ago:
was it in a dream? Was it just a dream?” I cannot imagine these words
being sung to any other tune, or the tune having more appropriate
words. In fact, all the words come out as naturally as if he were
speaking them with the unpractised emphasis of everyday conversation.
It seemed so very real, Lennon sings, and then he seems to say that
it “seemed so unreal to me”. Perhaps he was only taking an audible
breath before saying “real”. But it has always sounded to me as if he
were saying “real” and then “unreal”. He both said and unsaid himself
in an unreleased version of the Beatles’ song “Revolution”. which was
faithfully shown in the movie Imagine, so it is not impossible. The
song seems to imply that reality and unreality are two sides of one
coin in this dream existence. Indeed, the difference between them is
only a question of realisation. Once it has been dreamed, once it has
been imagined, the concept or feeling can be realised, even if the
realisation is itself an act of imaginative recreation.
I recall that Lennon was interviewed by a Sydney radio station when
the album Walls and Bridges was released in 1974. He said that in the
song he had described the dream exactly as it happened: so he will have
seen himself walking down a familiar street, in hot weather, as trees
whispered to him, and someone called his name. The DJ asked him about
the spirit mantra “Ah! bawawaka, po-say, po-say”. Lennon answered with
disarming simplicity that this was what it sounded to him the spirits
Was magic in the air? he asks. And he replies, yes, he believes it
was. As I have indicated, dreams can comfort, they can console, teach
and inspire belief. Thus it was for Lennon: as Lennon fans scholars
well know, “nine” was for Lennon the number of destiny, it was his
number. For many years he had taken drugs to break free from “the
straitjacket of the self”, as he said. Now, through a dream, he was
able to go through a mirror and around: through the image, coming back
to reality having seen the other side of his perception.
Finally he asks, what more could he say? And what can he say about
this mystery? What can be said by anyone about any mystery? Yet, he has
described something almost beyond description. Could you imagine a song
with the lyrics “I went through the image and came back to reality
having seen the other side of my perception”? This is what he has done
with the simple words “through the mirror go round”.
It seems to me that Lennon did receive an intimation of something high,
I might say “sacred”, in this dream. First, however, we must say a few
words about dreaming.
Dreams are the work, in Gurdjieff’s terms, of the “moving centre”
(”moving brain”). This centre, which is in charge of our learned
movements such as walking, talking, playing guitar, cleaning dishes and
so on, continues with a certain consciousness while we are asleep.
Generally, and especially during deep sleep, it is not connected with
the intellectual or emotional brains, and so the next morning we do not
recall the dreams. But if we are not fully asleep, then a faint
connection between the centres may subsist, and the intellect can
recall something of a dream the next morning. The moving centre, unlike
the intellectual centre, is not logical, it does not have a sense of
non-contradiction. Therefore, Gurdjieff said, it allows illogicalities
and impossibilities, the dreamer can speak with people who are dead. To
the extent that the moving and intellectual brains are disconnected
during dreams, dreams can be illogical. Gurdjieff told this to Mme
Lannes, and she passed the information on to Mr Adie, which is why I
can confidently attribute it to Gurdjieff.
I extrapolate from this that to the extent that the moving and the
feeling brains are unconnected, our dreams can have emotional aspects –
even fearsomely emotional aspects – but the moving centre does not know
this, so it blithely goes on creating dungeons and other tortures for
us. Meanwhile, the emotional centre is being racked by torments, but is
unable to convey this to the moving centre. It may, however, succeed in
getting its message to the instinctive centre (which controls the work
of the organism one does not have to consciously learn, such as
breathing, the circulation of the blood, digestion and so on). And when
the message gets through, we awaken. What Gurdjieff does not tell us is
why the moving brain dreams, and whether all dreams necessarily come
from moving brain.
George Adie’s view, with which I agree, is that the moving centre
dreams as a form of digestion. Impressions are received during the
waking day, and these impressions are not necessarily fully understood
or grasped by the other centres (see the diary note of 4 February 1987
in George Mountford Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia, 283). Some
impressions are fairly unimportant, and leave little trace. So little
trace do they leave that they appear in dreams only as background. But
the concerns of our moving centre, and hence our dreams, tend to be
things which are of substantial importance to us. Generally, I find,
they relate to two fields: (a) matters where our ideas and feelings are
as yet unresolved, and (b) the transfer of patterns from intellectual
centre to moving centre. First, unresolved matters. If I have a bad
conscience about something (using that phrase in its ordinary sense),
if something has disturbed me, or, on the other hand, if something
caused me pleasure or an intense hope, it may reappear in dreams. It is
as though the moving centre has to file everything away into the
tidiest possible place. We are made for order. Significant matters need
extra filing, as it were. They demand extra attention, and if they are
not given satisfactory attention during the day from the intellectual
centre, then they demand it, so to speak, in sleep. So the connection
between the moving and intellectual centres is re-established, albeit
weakly, the prominent event is gone over with the help of the
intellect, and it is given new associations in the psyche – it is
acclimatized, as it were.
The filing carried out by the moving brain is not at all conducted
in the way the intellectual or the emotional centre would carry it out.
It seems to be performed according to a method of random associations
or, if not entirely random, of associations possessing a similar
intensity, and not necessarily of similar concepts. The result of this
is that strong impressions often produce strong dreams where one cannot
say what the dream message is, except that the impression was
The second major function of the moving centre in sleep seems to me
to be to allow it to acquire skills learned by the intellectual centre
during the day. As Gurdjieff correctly pointed out, I learn typing with
the intellect, I have to. But eventually the moving brain takes it
over, and does a better job: it does not have to think about every
little thing. Well, I suspect that sleep is when the moving centre has
a clear field, in which it can learn these things without being crowded
out by the head. This would explain why the better we sleep the better
All this suggests two things to me: one is that we are made to
understand. I can hardly insist on this enough, because at the moment
there is, in some circles, a sort of exaggerated enthusiasm for
non-understanding. It is true that some things cannot be understood,
but that hardly means that we should not try to understand them. The
very attempt may bring more understanding, or a grasp of other matters.
Indeed, I suspect that the allure of the mysterious is a providential
arrangement to arouse our curiosity, to evoke a pure love of knowledge
and discovery. To anaesthetize that impulse, so readily observed in
children is, it seems to me, criminal. I repeat, the fact that our
organism knocks out our intellect in order to use dreaming to arrange
and organize the day’s events seems to me to be evidence that we are
designed to seek understanding and the harmonisation of our various
Also, and I add this to the blog because the idea may prove useful
for some people, I have found that by carrying out the exercise of
reviewing the day, I have fewer dreams, and those I do have tend to be
less intense. I refer here to the Gurdjieff exercise whereby one casts
one’s mind eye over the events of the day, and pauses when one comes to
anything important or worrying. It is not necessary to think about
these things, let alone to conduct an amateur psycho-analysis. In fact,
that may cause new problems. All that is necessary is to put oneself
before the memories, and then, I often find, a clearer understanding
starts to appear.
To understand “#9 Dream”, and something of the process of art
(higher art), I also think that some dreams come from other centres
than the moving brain: they can be the products of higher emotional
centre, and therefore speak in a natural symbolism – and this is
emphatically not the symbolism of dream dictionaries. The higher
emotional and higher intellectual centres are the two faculties,
existing in every person, which are the means of receiving and
transmitting influences from beyond this sensory world. When contact is
made between the intellect, and the higher emotional centre, said
Gurdjieff: “man experiences new emotions, new impressions hitherto
entirely unknown to him, for the description of which he has neither
words nor expressions.” However, because we are so rarely in such a
state of connection, ” we fail to hear within us the voices which are
speaking and calling to us from the higher emotional centre.” (P.D.
Ouspensky, In Search of the Miraculous, 194-195).
My view is that Lennon heard these voices of the higher emotional
centre calling him in a dream, and hence we have this marvellous song.
As May Pang said, when Lennon woke up the morning after the dream, he
had the words and the music together. If there has been a gift from the
gods in modern music, this, I would say, is it. So the mystery of
dreams is, or at least can be, related to the mystery of the life of
the soul, the spiritual life. And Lennon made the connection.
As I said in the last blog, Lennon invites us into mystery. He does not
make the mistake of trying to strip away the wonder by saying too much.
He displays the magic, as it were, by presenting it, highlighted, in
his own river of sound (and it should be added that Phil Spector was
probably the perfect producer to work with Lennon on this piece). “#9
Dream” marks the high water mark of a tide which had begun with
“There’s A Place”, on the Please Please Me album. Between these two
points, there is a reasonably substantial body of work which forms a
connecting trail. I cannot cover all of it, but in the next Lennon
blog, I shall deal with one central concept: the use of creative
imagination. I am referring, obviously, to what is Lennon’s signature
tune, the classic “Imagine”.
Joseph Azize has published in ancient history, law and
Gurdjieff studies. His first book The Phoenician Solar Theology treated
ancient Phoenician religion as possessing a spiritual depth comparative
with Neoplatonism, to which it contributed through Iamblichos. The
second book, “Gilgamesh and the World of Assyria”, was jointly edited
with Noel Weeks. It includes his article arguing that the Carthaginians
did not practice child sacrifice.
The third book, George Mountford Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil
in Australia represents his attempt to present his teacher (a direct
pupil of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky) to an international audience.The
fourth book, edited and written with Peter El Khouri
and Ed Finnane, is a new edition of Britts Civil Precedents. He
recommends it to anyone planning to bring proceedings in an Australian
court of law.