Intuition, dreams, dogs, and that time we taught remote viewing to children: when ‘spooky action at a distance’ moves you to action
[CONTENT WARNING and editor’s note: Be aware that this essay discusses the death of a beloved pet and it’s not my intent to re-traumatize anyone who’s experienced this. I’ve never told this story fully in writing because it’s so difficult to write, but promised my friend Pam more than once that I’d share it, so here it is.]
This is an attempt at explaining the inexplicable experience I had involving a dream about glowing green rods, an imposter, and a swirling vortex that left me convinced the dogs I'd left back at home needed my help. They did.
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What I'm writing here is true—painfully so. I wish it weren’t.
I'm a reasonably well-educated person with wide-ranging interests, including speculative ideas about the mysteries of the universe and so forth. I'm not committed to any particular set of wild ideas; but I’m not committed to any set of non-wild ideas either.
I’d been rather closed off from speculative stuff after grad school in philosophy. But I’d had enough of postmodernist academic struggles and by god if I wanted to read a book about alien abduction, I felt I’d earned the right to do so.
But also, I’d caught myself being rude to someone who told me about a dream she had in which an alien morphed into Jesus. I said, and I quote, “you don’t believe that shit do you.” I don’t think I could possibly apologize enough for this reaction. I knew I didn’t own it. Rather, it was a bad habit I picked up in college—to dismiss speculation with scorn. I knew I was wrong and now I had a karmic debt. So I took the big philosophical toolbox I’d acquired in college and set out to make my own determination about all things speculative that crossed my path.
It’s been 30 long years since I made that imperious remark to my colleague and I’m still doing penance. For all I know, dismissing her dream experience could’ve invited the weirdness with my dream experience. The universe is perverse like that.
HOLIDAY TRAVEL SET THE WHEELS IN MOTION
This story starts on a particular Thanksgiving weekend in the late 90s. We were driving four hours east to Johnson City, Tennessee from Nashville to spend the holiday with my ex’s parents. It was the second year we were making the trip as dog parents. The year before we took the dogs with us and it was an unmitigated disaster.
This year my ex insisted we get a petsitter. One of his colleagues just started up a pet sitting service after she was laid off in a cost-cutting measure. He wanted to give her some business, which I thought was cool; but I still didn’t feel good about leaving the dogs, and I ignored that feeling the same way we ignore bad feelings all the time. You can’t let your anxiety run your life.
Looking back, I realize how painfully new we were to dogs, generally. We had our first house and it had a real yard—a half acre with trees and lots of room to run. I bet first-time dog parents all think the same thing: “No ill-tempered or untrained dogs for us. Our dogs will never potty in the house,” yadda yadda.
Dogs have other ideas.
We have Italian Greyhounds, and they especially have other ideas. First off, they think they’re human. That’s what the thousands of years of breeding for “companionship” has provided. They’re not “sporting” or “working” dogs. This breed, which we chose for being hypoallergenic (it was non-negotiable), have evolved for literally thousands of years of being treated like one of the royal family.
But this applies to ALL dogs. They see you eating and they expect a cut of the deal. They see that you have your own room in the house where you can go to the bathroom and they feel like they should be able to claim a room too. You might have little dog beds dotting every room of the house, but if you’re sitting in a chair or lying in ‘the big bed,’ that where they’re going to be.
The bonds we create with dogs aren’t like human bonds; but they’re not like bonds with other animals either. You don’t “own” a dog. Instead, we have an ancient social contract where the dogs agreed to come in from the freedom of the wild in exchange for food, warmth, and shared companionship. So protecting them isn’t just something we do to be nice or even out of love. We owe them.
BACK TO THANKSGIVING
Like every new, nervous dog-mom leaving for the first time, I wrote out a fully detailed set of instructions for the sitter—the most important of which was “you MUST attach the bungie cord around the gate or else it can open on its own.” That gate, for whatever reason, would swing open in a strong wind. It was almost like shifting air pressure alone would push it open. It was infuriating, so the bungie cord was extra insurance. Ninety-nine percent of the time you wouldn’t need it. It was for that one little percent that almost never happened (because I was being a stickler like that).
We headed out for the five-hour drive to Johnson City early Wednesday in order to make it to our local bar/music venue for Open Mic on Wednesday night. We’d made this trip every Thanksgiving since leaving Johnson City. Wednesday night before Thanksgiving was kinda like All Hallows Eve for people who grew up in Johnson City because if you went out you might see the ghosts of people who’d left town but came back this one night. It was a nice ritual.
I love driving but I came to hate this particular drive. Tennessee is a long, skinny state and we had to go from the middle to the mountains in the far east. It takes four hours to drive from Nashville to Johnson City and you cross the time zone into Eastern from Central time. In ‘relative time’ you pick up an hour going east and you lose an hour going west. It always felt like a victory to “gain” that extra hour traveling east. When you’re coming back it always felt like defeat losing that damn hour.
We did Thanksgiving early the next day. The ex-mother-in-law threw a pan of Stouffer’s lasagna in the oven. I think it was a passive-aggressive move on her part. Maybe she wished other people would cook Thanksgiving (which I’d have gladly done); maybe she was harboring feelings of ill-will based for not yet having grandkids (that’d crop up in later Thanksgivings too); but regardless of the reason, this meal was one to forget—if only my gut would let me. That lasagna laid a hurt on the entire family and I can’t imagine this wasn’t the plan.
We escaped whatever drama was brewing at the house and headed out to see if any other ‘ghosts’ were haunting downtown Johnson City. We found one of the ex’s especially close friends—a guitar player whose father ran a disreputable travel agency. We drank beers at a pool joint and headed back to the in-laws’ house relatively early. We probably stumbled into bed around 1 a.m. Eastern Standard Time—my gut was still screaming in pain from that damn lasagna.
At 5 a.m. I shot out of bed with my head full of information that I didn’t put there. I was on my feet grabbing my jeans in a state of panic; my heart was hammering in my chest. We had to get back to Nashville immediately. Something terrible had happened to the dogs.
I’d just had a dream. Sounds simple and reasonable, almost.
In the dream I was sitting in the kitchen of an old friend from middle school, Cindy. She’s the “best friend” and longest friend I've ever had. She’s a very significant person in my life. We lived across the street from each other growing up at the beach in Florida. Her mom’s house, especially this kitchen area, was my second home.
This dream felt like a memory had been hijacked. One moment it was just as it was when were kids, and the next minute my friend became . . . someone else, who turned to pull something out of the freezer. She was holding two green glowing rods. They were L-shaped, like dowsing rods, and maybe about a half-inch thick and 18” long. They seemed supernaturally cold, and heavy. I felt like she ought to be using oven mitts.
As she held them out to me one of the rods seemed to flicker and fade. The idea of a glowing rod felt really familiar to me. I’d once found a glowing piece of wood that did this. It was fluorescing (probably some kind of bioluminescent fungus) and then . . . it wasn’t. I figured it was probably because I moved it. It felt like I’d broken something special. It was my fault. That’s how the rod was behaving.
It stopped glowing in her hand and she said, “You’ve been a bad mother so I have to put one of these back.”
I didn’t have kids in real life, but my friend Cindy did. So in the dream I said, “You’re crazy, I can’t be a bad mother because I don’t have kids. You’re the one who had kids.” Suddenly I had the thought that this wasn’t “my” Cindy. This was likely what ‘woke me up’ into lucid dream. Simulacra Cindy puts the non-glowing rod back in the freezer as the kitchen faded away as the space around us morphed into a roiling, unfurling vortex. Where the counter had been, now there was a wormhole swirling in front of us. There were bright colors entwined around a center of bright white light. It seemed mathematical and coherent—as if the light had a structure and none of this was a big deal. It just the way things are.
I could see silhouettes of people and animals gathering at the mouth of the wormhole. A whole bunch of complex thoughts all crashed into my head at once. I felt like my parents were among figures, but I couldn’t tell which ones they were and there was a clear sense of “that’s not important right now.” I knew some but not all of the animals. It wasn’t just my family and pets—there were too many. A feeling of urgency kept building until I woke up. We had to get home immediately (which was impossible).
I woke up the ex a little before 5 a.m. Johnson City time. “Something bad has happened. We have to leave now. It’s the dogs.” Props to the ex, he said, “okay, I’m ready to leave anyway.”
This wasn’t the first time I’d had a hunch and needed to get moving.
THE OTHER TIME THIS HAPPENED
A couple of weeks prior to this trip I’d been awakened with the memory of a song that I hate so much I couldn’t sleep through it: Scandal, The Warrior. I hate that song. I hate the stupid video. I hate the ripoff of David Bowie’s Starman face. I hate the fashion it was selling. I hate that Patty Smyth’s name was endlessly confused with Patti Smith.
Everything I despised about that era is concentrated into this sticky hairball that the 80s cacked up. And here’s my own consciousness pushing this shit on me.
“Shootin' at the walls of heartache—bang, bang.” [does fingers like guns]
Dreaming those lyrics was so offensive I was instantly wide awake…and also I knew the dogs had escaped. I know! it doesn’t make any damn sense. There were no dogs in this dream.
It was midnight. I hadn’t been asleep for very long. I knew the dogs weren’t in the house, so I ran straight through the kitchen to the driveway just in time to see both of them turning the corner on to the busy street. In my pajamas, barefoot on the gravel driveway I remembered you can’t run after them because they think you’re playing and run farther away. They have to be trained with a “return word” that will 100 percent of the time turn them around to follow you. Our magic word was GREENIE!—and they came running. I had at least taught them one thing useful.
“I am the warrior.”
The next day we found a small hole dug under the fence, which inspired a weekend project to reinforce the area below the ground with stakes, railroad ties and anything that could stop or slow down a tunneling enterprise. It’s again, one of those things you generally wouldn’t think of prior to having a dog.
BACK TO THANKSGIVING AT THE IN-LAWS
This time I was four hours away and couldn’t just run down the driveway in my pajamas. It took time to pack the car, explain things to the in-laws, and leave. It was probably 6:30 a.m. by the time we were officially on the road. It was still very early in the morning—but we were able to get a friend on the phone who could run over there and scope out the situation. For a moment I felt some relief and hope. Maybe I’m just tripping and everything is fine. If so we’ll grab breakfast and try to enjoy the drive.
He called back about 40 minutes later. He discovered the gate was open and the dogs were missing. We weren’t even to Knoxville yet. He’d keep looking around and try to figure out what was up.
We still had three hours of driving ahead of us. The friend called back about the time we hit Oak Ridge and said he’d found one of the dogs in the garage. We had an open space that we called a “garage” but it was more like a barn. He found our girl dog Astra curled up in there, shivering. She had a few scrapes but no broken bones or serious injuries, but it had been way too cold for a little dog with almost no fur. She was ready to get back in the house and curl up on top of a heat vent.
Her brother, Mister Chompers, was missing and I felt very much like a “bad mother” as Simulacra Cindy had said.
The moment I got home I set about to do the things you do when you have a missing pet. First, I asked my listserv for advice and watched the email for responses while I made posters and faxed them to the pet ER and local vet offices. One listserv suggestion was to put his bedding out on the porch hoping he’d catch a whiff and find his way home. They said to also put a favorite blanket out of the fence so the wind would carry his scent around. I wasted no time, walking the neighborhood, putting up posters and calling for him. I was determined to make the dream not come true.
Here’s something that had not occurred to me as a new pet owner. Name your pets something you don’t mind yelling if they go missing. I could barely say “Mister Chompers” without laughing. I’d not considered how difficult it would be to sincerely call for him away from home where we all knew the genesis of the silly name.
The name ‘Mr. Chompers’ is a reference to Jerry Stahl’s autobiography of addiction called Permanent Midnight. Stahl’s memoir tells of writing for television while addicted to heroin in the 80s (this explains a LOT about 80s pop culture). He wrote for shows like thirtysomething, Moonlighting, and ALF. Stahl also wrote the 1989 cult classic Dr. Caligari which is an artifact of the glorious decadence of the late 80s; as opposed to the lazy decadence of that stupid Scandal song. In the movie version of Permanent Midnight, Stahl is struggling with heroin addiction (but has no trouble writing screenplays) and has an argument with a 6-foot tall hallucination of ALF (a kind of conscience motif). But because of licensing they can’t call him ALF in the movie so they call him “Mister Chompers.”
I named my dog Mister Chompers because holy crap that’s funny. It’s still funny.
Looking this up, just now, I realized I didn’t know that one of the producers on that movie was Jane Hamsher, who also co-produced Natural Born Killers and had the vitally important early aughties blog, FireDogLake (which since evolved into ShadowProof). Hamsher also coined the term “veal pen” to describe the hypocrisy of Obama-era progressive professionals who trade access for power. Sadly, the analysis has turned out to be timeless. It’s as true now as it was then.
At any rate, I walked the neighborhood calling out “Mister Chompers” all Friday night. Did the same most of the day Saturday and Sunday. Monday I went to work and took a call on my cell phone from someone who didn’t have my dog but asked if I wanted their dog. I told them that I still had hope for Mister Chompers, but ‘let’s keep in touch.’ I figured it’s best not to close a door when one opens, but also if Chompy turned up then I could help them get in touch with a rescue for the breed.
After work I headed out to walk and call “Mister Chompers.” My ex came with, as did his drummer. We’d walked up the road toward the Cumberland River where there is a big protestant church. It was a pretty day.
My phone rang and I didn’t recognize the number. My heart jumped. This could be someone with information.
Indeed it was.
The caller said he was a paramedic. He’d been working late Thanksgiving night when a cold front blew in, and was driving home when he saw Mister Chompers at the big church at the fork in the road—the exact place we were standing that moment. He was injured as if hit by a car. So the paramedic rushed him to the animal ER. This was about 1am Central time. The paramedic said he held Mister Chomper’s paw until he passed away at 4am Central time—I lost it. Handed the phone to my ex while I walked in circles, sobbing.
That was the same damn time woke from the dream.
WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT
So what’s the explanation here? This wasn’t a case of seeing the future. And I don’t think I have a special, mystical relationship with canines (okay, maybe a little). I had a feeling and a cognition of something happening in the present. The word for this feeling is “clairsentience” and the word for this knowledge is “claircognizance.” That is literally, “clear feeling” and “clear thought.” When I woke up I had a clear feeling that something bad happened, and I had clear knowledge that something happened to the dogs.
I also don’t know if that wormhole exists, but it’s not the only time I saw it in a dream, so it must have some significance (if only as a metaphor). I don’t know what happens to us when we die, but I have a clear feeling we’re looking at it wrong. Here’s a possible re-framing: Maybe the past, present, and future all exist simultaneously and maybe, when those moments have coherence they resonate enough to break through your consciousness. That would mean that eternity lives in the moments we’ve spent in the kitchen with our friends in Jr. High School; and the hours we’ve spent watching the clock at work; and the happiness of watching someone you love sleep.
Or maybe not.
These two incidents of dreaming that the dogs were in danger stand alone. Plenty of bad things have happened when I didn’t have a hunch or a dream. I can remember other times when a thing I dreamed corresponded to reality. But those things were always mundane. It’d be a haircut or the way furniture would be arranged in a room.
Long story short, little dogs sometimes get into trouble and human beings sometimes are amazing. We live in a succession of moments that comprise our life. It makes sense to make the most of each of moment just in case they turn out to be eternal.
Each moment we live might possibly be heaven enough.
I feel like this is edgy for a political consultant to talk about, but intuition itself isn’t controversial. I studied Special Education for a hot minute in college and our textbook treated intuition as a form of intelligence and suggested exercises for sharpening those skills. One of those exercises, called “Ladybug” became a game we’d sometimes play if we had enough people who were bored enough to follow along.
In Ladybug you have your subject make something out of clay. Then another student hides the object made by the first student. Then, the kid who made the clay figure was instructed to go through a series of binaries: is hot or cold. Is it high or low. Is it dark or light. You’d come away with a description that went something like, “it’s dark but it’s on top of something that’s shining brightly. It’s at eye-level. It feels warm, and I feel like the color orange is important.” This was a real response to a target that was placed in a floor lamp with orange shades. The lamp had three lights and the bulb was burned out in the top can where the object was hidden.
This is essentially teaching remote viewing to kids. The textbook was from the mid-80s. It was the main textbook used in gifted education and has undergone a lot of revision the last time I checked. I’d love to know if they still teach this.
For adults, I noticed that 1) some people are much better at Ladybug than others, and 2) I was lousy at predicting who would be good at the game. Even though I known my friends for years I didn’t have a bead on who had good intuition. Maybe it just never came up.
LOSING A PET
I don’t have words for the pain of losing a pet like this. A friend of mine in Nashville wrote a song that Emmylou Harris performed, and one of the lyrics went something like “you have to let love hurt.” You might as well, because it’s not going to stop. I don’t make the rules. I’ve cried a dozen times writing this. Suffice it to say that ‘bad mother’ doesn’t even come close to the guilt I felt (and still feel to some extent).
Also, the caller with the dog did stay in touch and I did adopt that dog. The dog’s name was Boots Dunn Trouble. We called him Trouble. He’d been the pet of an older gentleman who applied to rescue him from a semi-truck that overturned in Nashville. The trailer was full of dogs from puppy mills in Missouri. There were hundreds of dogs in that truck and many didn’t survive. After crashing the driver ran away, leaving the dogs to die enclosed in the heat of the trailer. The local news featured this story which created so much interest that they ran out of dogs to place in homes (after they’d all had veterinary care and had a couple of weeks of relative calm at the Davidson County Animal Shelter).
The older gentleman was moving into assisted living and had to re-home Trouble. His home health nurse was who called me because the dog on my poster looked just like the dog she was trying to re-home. She thought she’d take a shot in the dark, she said, because she thought I’d know how to care for him. It worked out that she brought him over exactly a week to the day from when we lost Mister Chompers. Astra had already settled into being the ‘top dog’ and was not happy with new arrangement.
From the moment Trouble walking through the door I knew there was no way I’d let him leave. He was incredibly good natured and everyone agreed that he seemed like if he could speak he’d have a posh British accent. I imagined he’d been an RAF officer in another life.
We’d share the ancient dog-human social contract until he passed away at 16 and boy did that hurt, but it’s okay. We went through a lot together. It wasn’t tragic by any stretch, and I think Mister Chompers probably would’ve approved of Astra having to share the den with another boy who was difficult to push around.
As far as intuition goes, I think we use it much more than we recognize. I was just making bread and thought about how it takes a bit of intuition to work with the dough. If you’ve ever invested money or taken out a loan you’ve likely felt a jerk of intuition (either egging you on, or warning you off). If you play music you’ve likely engaged intuition, like when improvising or writing a song. And we know that the military has been keenly interested in it; and intentionally let us know their interest in it—which opens up a whole other can of worms—for another day.
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