A 21-year-old broke and living in Paris, Jennifer Dumpert slept more than anything else. It’s what you do when you’re out of money, when winter frosts the cobblestoned rues and the nights grow long and dark.
There was a moment—a particular “watershed” dream that awoke within the young woman something profound. One night a vision of clarity afforded Dumpert a window into her past sleep cycles; suddenly she understood that the alien terrains and impossible cities that she visited in her slumbers recurred again and again without fail.
The startling realization spawned yet another. Not only could she remember and inhabit these celestial landscapes, but through her repeated twilight excursions, could also begin to map them.
Still, ever the pragmatist, Dumpert remained skeptical about her newfound ability.
“I’ve always been an avid dreamer, and a lot of my earliest memories are dreams,” she tells BTR. “But sometimes there are false memories in dreams—you might wake up and realize, ‘Oh, I used to be a squirrel living in a tree,’ but of course that’s not true. But let’s say you convinced yourself it was, and you could go back and explore that same tree every night…”
The subconscious adventures echoed sentiments of deja vu, without the stinging void of doubt. In its place, a mounting sense of continuity flooded Dumpert’s awareness. Through returning to the same imaginary realms each night she could chronicle the inner workings of her mind. Before long, the dream world felt just as present and lucid as her waking life.
With the thin veil quickly evaporating between these seemingly disparate states of consciousness, Dumpert sought to forge a tangible connection between the two. She moved back to New York City, and the abrupt shift in architecture inspired a new idea: she would employ her physical neighborhood as a sprawling dream journal, to inhabit and serve as both a reminder and bridge to the other side of her subconscious being.
“I would split the dream into little pieces and associate each one with a different part of architecture in my neighborhood,” she explains. “The natural flow of my eye over the landscape would bring back the dream. It’s like I’m hyperlinking the city to lead back to the dream.”
The surreal thought experiment arose from reading David Francis Yates. In his “Art of Memory”, the author explains an “entrance” practice in which the participant constructs a memory tassel—essentially harnessing their imagination and visualization to associate physical objects with ideas. It’s a common technique utilized by speakers confronted by the daunting prospect of delivering lectures that are several hours long; they create a memory palace where each part of the speech has a separate and unique association. For instance, they might visualize walking into their home and associate the living room sofa with an idea that connects to another, and so on.
Though Dumpert has since moved to the city of San Francisco, the process remains the same. Each morning or early afternoon (“I sleep quite late,” she admits) begins with dream recollection. She divides what she can remember into “bite size” pieces: a particular image, a feeling, a sound—often ten of these little puzzle pieces is sufficient.
Then it’s time to take to the streets. Dumpert walks aimlessly through her neighborhood (the edges of which, she notes, have been carefully demarcated to maintain a feeling of containment in an otherwise endless space) until she stumbles upon something that strikes her as “correct.” It could be a tree, a low-hanging bridge, a lamppost or a sign; Dumpert stands before it and meditates on associating the object or architecture with one of her dream ingredients.
She shares an example of a recent dream that she mapped in her San Fransciso neighborhood.
“Near me there’s a Japanese restaurant that’s next to a French restaurant with a really interesting porch over the top,” she says. “I had a dream where I’m jumping into a body of water and following whales, and these Japanese businessmen are in the water spinning in circles. For me, going into the water is associated with the awning over the restaurant, following the whales is over the release on the edge of the roof, and the Japanese men are on the window of the next building.
“Now I’ve entered the dream into the architecture,” she continues. “It instantly throws me back into the dream world. Walking to the store to buy some avocados, suddenly I can see the pod of whales and I’m right there again. I love blurring the boundaries.”
The strange passion project became what is now called the Urban Dreamscape. Dumpert published her findings online, and a dedicated community of dreamers materialized out of the woodwork. With likeminded sleep enthusiasts at her side, Dumpert felt encouraged to join a number of parallel organizations, including the International Association for the Study of Dreams, where she could stretch her research into the beyond even further.
It’s important to distinguish that Dumpert’s exploration of constancy in dreams stems from practice rather than the free-wheeling notions of interpretation. It’s piqued the interest of many who follow her blog, those who prescribe themselves self-identifiably curious yet wary of abstract ad-libbing. For many adventurous skeptics with a more empirical taste, the concrete and phenomenological practice seems fascinating yet grounded.
The rabbit hole deepened. Dumpert soon discovered oneirogens, herbs and supplements capable of stimulating dream states and heightening subconscious awareness. After much research, she began hosting events in which strangers could ingest the ancient medicines and set out to explore one another’s dreams…
To hear about Jennifer Dumpert’s explorations with oneirogens, tune into this week’s episode of Third Eye Weekly.