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Meet the British poet teaching asylum seekers to lucid dream Open in fullscreen

Anu Shukla

Meet the British poet teaching asylum seekers to lucid dream

Could lucid dreaming help to transcend borders? [Potent Whisper]

Date of publication: 28 July, 2020

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From the metaphysical to the political, spoken word artist Potent Whisper explores the concept of lucid dreaming.
What if lucid dreaming (being conscious during a dream) could become a tool for manifesting freedom of movement for the most marginalised and oppressed people in society? 

Spoken word artist Potent Whisper's contextualisation of this very idea has materialised into a musical audiobook called Lucid Lovers and a series of lucid dreaming workshops for asylum seekers, the homeless and people living with disabilities. 

The artist, real name Georgie Stephanou, delivers powerful political prose dissecting an immigration system impaired by institutionalised Home Office officials.  

Narrated in rhyme and interspersed with a multi-genre soundtrack by producers 3ss3nce and Antonio Lewis (ToneO), Lucid Lovers is an emotive journey seen through the eyes of a Sudanese couple who discover the art of lucid dreaming to transcend borders and reunite in a different realm after they are torn apart by state violence and systemic obstacles to asylum in the UK. 

In the narrative, lucid dreaming becomes a passport like no other. And it's beyond the control of any immigration officer. 

Last Monday, the artist delivered a lucid dreaming workshop to 10 homeless participants and staff members from the YMCA. One participant told the artist the workshop was "a life transforming experience", while another said, "we didn't want the workshop to end." 

Lucid dreaming may give people a sense of freedom to move, and some greater sense of control over their own lives and environment

Following the positive outcome, Stephanou said there are plans for another session, next time with unaccompanied minors seeking asylum in the UK. He said lucid dreaming offers "a sense of spatial freedom in a society that restricts our movement."

The workshop - which encompassed his "Rhyming Guide to Lucid Dreaming" - involved basic techniques for writing poetry, and observations about restrictions and rights to the freedom of movement. 

"The idea is to show there are other ways of moving, other ways we can experience the same benefits of spatial freedom in a society that restricts our movements, whether we are homeless, disabled, refugees or asylum seekers," he told The New Arab

The Guide to Lucid Dreaming speaks of why dreaming is a 'radical act' and is featured in the audiobook too:  

They won't let us dream they want us living their illusion / That's why dreaming is a radical act, dreaming is resistance / To dream is to imagine that the world could be so different / Imagination soon becomes a move toward a vision / And a vision we can work toward and change our whole position / So never let them tell you not to dream or what to dream of / Go to sleep, live your dreams, then wake up and then dream on!

Lucid Lovers is an emotive journey seen through the eyes of a Sudanese couple who discover the art of lucid dreaming to transcend borders and reunite in a different realm

The book was written following his own initial experience of lucid dreaming, encountered in the aftermath of his grandmother's death. "I recognised the potential of lucid dreaming to provide a sense of freedom and felt compelled to share this realisation beyond the audiobook by sharing the practice with communities unable to move as freely as they wish.

"Forced immobility is a very real form of state violence: whether we're talking about the no recourse to public funds policy imposed on asylum seekers, or the lack of lifts for the disabled at trains stations.   

'Lucid Lovers' is an amalgamation of Georgie Stephanou's
creative experiences

"But my hope is that in all these areas, lucid dreaming may give people a sense of freedom to move, and some greater sense of control over their own lives and environment."

Lucid Lovers is an "amalgamation" of Stephanou's creative experiences: script writing, rhyming, rapping, acting and directing.

The artist said he began his creative journey as a trained theatre actor at the BRIT School, changing direction when he began to experiment with rhyme. "I discovered Hip Hop artists like Immortal Technique and Lowkey who revealed the power of music to bring change to our communities and around the world." 

Writing scripts led him to spoken word. He said that its "conversational approach to political issues allowed me to connect and reason with people in a way I was unable to achieve through music." 

Over the years, the 31-year-old has become renowned for his rhythmic response to social injustice with his consecutive "Rhyming Guide" series featuring Grenfell Britain, NHS Privatisation and Sudan's Revolution.  

The latter - produced in support of the Sudanese uprising after the country's Janjaweed Militia massacred hundreds of people - provides context to the Lucid Lovers backstory: 

"The EU has paid no less than 400 million directly to Sudan and the Janjaweed militants […] / The Janjaweed are being paid to police the borders / But now it's the EU who release the orders / Endorsing terrorists, awarding terrorists, with hundreds of millions, supporting terrorists" 

Stephanou says Lucid Lovers was written with more than just one audience in mind. "I thought of people trapped without power or control in their lives; people not given opportunities to explore spiritual elements of their existence; and people brainwashed by politicians and media into 'othering' migrants."  

London-based Sudanese actress and pharmacist Hind Swareldahab plays Ahlam, the lead female in Lucid Lovers. After escaping state violence, Hind fled to the UK with her four children to join their father, a refugee doctor who sought asylum because of his role in the campaign against the dictatorship. 

The idea is to show there are other ways of moving, other ways we can experience the same benefits of spatial freedom in a society that restricts our movements

She told The New Arab it was easy for her to relate to the story when she was invited to play Ahlam. "As soon as I read the script, I knew I wanted to play the role. Ahlam doesn't only represent the struggle of Sudanese women, but all women around the world who have had their dreams shattered by an unfair justice system."

Mustafa Khogali, a Sudanese youth leader and prominent voice of resistance plays male lead, Samer. He began working with Stephanou in 2013 when the artist was commissioned by the British Council to deliver workshops in Khartoum. 

Khogali, now based in Manchester, helped stage a politically daring performance with Stephanou at the Sudan National Museum that led to a walk out by several government officials. 

Lucid Lovers was conceived following the death of Stephanou's grandmother, and further inspired after his brother gifted him a book called A Field Guide to Lucid Dreaming: Mastering the Art of Oneironautics. 

"I had already started to lucid dream after she passed away. And at a time when I was thinking about death and existence, lucid dreaming offered me hope it is possible to live beyond our bodies.

"It was comforting to me after the loss of our grandmother. I went on to have one of the most profound experiences of my life in a dream where I flew over yellow fields with my grandmother. It was one of my first lucid dreams and it felt realer and more vivid than me speaking with you right now. It was incredible."

The artist said he lucid dreams at least once a month, and more often than not, his grandmother is present. 

"Lucid Lovers is an expression of my realisation that the worlds we exist in when we are asleep, are real.

"We can be conscious of ourselves in completely different spaces, without our bodies. Therefore it seems to me that if we can exist without our bodies in dreams, perhaps we exist without our bodies after we die." 

From the metaphysical to the political, he said one of the main aims of the musical audiobook is to "humanise the impact of Britain's asylum system and reveal the true experiences of refugees and asylum seekers who are abhorrently dehumanised and vilified by politicians and media every day."

The official trailer of Potent Whisper's Lucid Lovers audiobook was exclusively premiered by The New Arab.

Lucid Lovers is scheduled for official release on 25 August 2020. A free copy can be pre-ordered here


Anu Shukla is a freelance journalist based in London

Follow her on Twitter: @AnuShuklaWrites

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