KNOCKING ON HEAVEN’S DOOR by Deirdre Lenehan

Schooldays. Bells ringing. Girls tumbling out through classroom doors.  Footsteps echoing along a corridor towards a distant stairwell.  Turning onto the landing at the grey end wall, and then the starkly simple choice to go upstairs or down.

Adolescence… a time for dreaming. The dream world conjured a door in the bleak grey wall on that second floor landing, which appeared so real it required regular checking to confirm the facts. A memory of standing outside the school building, neck craning upwards, staring at a gable end wall, puzzled… no, the material world clearly indicated, no place for a doorway to lead to.

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The dream so unequivocally imaged a door, simply there, silent, waiting, and an awareness of a space beyond, a room maybe? No attempt made to enter; all was quiet and still, yet with a vibration of aliveness. An invitation or call… but to where, to what?  Delusion perhaps?

For many years after, the dream continued to weave its way through the fabric of the mind, time and distance playing tricks on memory. Some thirty odd years later, prior to the school’s eventual closure, a farewell visit was arranged and, unknown to others present, the first port of call was the landing on that set of stairs. Upon which, the more fully formed adult brain could most definitely confirm that the door was a figment of the imagination. Chapter firmly closed.

Fast forward another ten years or so to an art class in the Burren, Co. Clare with the theme of ‘Dreamlands’, an invitation to visit landscapes of significance, real or imagined, past, present, or future, through the medium of paper and paint.  The long buried memory of the imaginary door instantly returned… but why? Why so vividly remembered in response to this topic? Being in an art class that morning, and with no shaft of inspiration, the only sensible thing to do was to attempt a depiction of this long forgotten image. The process of externalisation revealed new details… the door colour is dark blue, somewhat translucent, with a deep purple frame… why it is so is unknown, mysterious… the journey of discovery is achingly slow.

On the way home that day, the door that had materialised on paper opened with a clear view; uncharacteristically, the next step became clear.  The further artistic undertaking was not to be of landscapes without, but of landscapes within.  A decisive pathway… for a change!  Perhaps the child’s imagination sought an alternative escape from the difficulties of the temporal world; today a middle-aged reality check confirms there’s but one way out.  So, why not enter fully into existence, and explore the internal biological terrain of the body; after all, contained within a single human cell is a world as complicated and extraordinary as a galaxy.

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There are intriguing spaces within the brain, filled with circulating fluid that is generated three or four times a day, interconnected by canals and aqueducts and cisterns; what would it be like to enter these spaces through a blue door? As if a minnow, swimming and following the internal contours, attempting to imagine-sense what it’s like on the inside, taking a living tour through anatomy.

The rudimentary stages of image-making surprisingly reveal how fluid and watery our interior seems to be… as if there’s a sea inside; there are strange sea creatures emerging on paper from internal oceans. Of course, water is the most abundant molecule in the human body, and life is thought to have originated in the sea, as single-celled organisms. And curiously, there is considerable similarity between the mineral compositions of seawater and blood plasma.

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When attentive, images seem to arise in the mind before words materialise, often seeming to convey the communications of the body, sometimes understood, more often not.  Transmission of information via the senses may perhaps be more accessible.  Combining sense and image impressions in the process of artistic exploration offers the possibility of furthering the conversation between body and mind, and into the bargain, might help address the question of who, or what, am I?  And… this may be the beginning of an actual, real, art project!

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New research shows passing through doorways is a cause of memory lapses, forgetting what we were going to do, or get, or find.  An interesting idea, which immediately raises a question in light of the subtheme of ‘Dreamlands’: “I am here but I long to be somewhere else. I am there but I’d love to return”.   Is it possible we’re here to remember something, and if so, what might it be?

The resurfaced dream image and its current direction lead to speculation about conceivable meanings and significance.  Might the door symbolise the possibility of transcendence, and the stairs represent the opposites and dualism, of the phenomenal world?  If humankind has evolved from single celled sea creatures into complex entities with reptilian and limbic brains and now a neocortex, presumably there’s an ongoing process of evolution, and if so, towards what? Are human beings required to be conscious of, and play a part in, the evolutionary process? Might the material body be a gateway to a subtler universe within that permeates throughout all and everything?  Who knows?