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Ataraxia

Ayrah Husain

While going through my late grandfather’s belongings, I came across a report from the company he used to work at. Ataraxia. It was shut down quite a few years ago due to the lack of funding. From what I gathered through library archives and old newspapers, it also failed to prove what it had set out to prove: the power of the subconscious. Whether dreams occur randomly or not. Whether they can reveal deep truths about the human psyche or not. I always knew Ataraxia was his life. I just did not know how deep into the research he was, since the company made all the employees sign Non-Disclosures. This report is confidential, but I’m eager to find out more about how and why things went wrong. As I write this on my laptop, I hope it bears testimony to the fact that I am already quite deep in this, and as you will realise later why, concerned about what territory I may be getting into. This is the report that began everything.

REPORT:
Given below is a dream assessment report of the first phase of the Dream Analysis Programme (DAP). The methods used in each experiment are different. Some people are able to write their experiences down. Others prefer auditory or visual methods. At Ataraxia, we believe that every trial should be catered and personalised to the patient’s preferences in order to achieve the most authentic results. The assessment of each subject has taken place after careful monitoring of their physiological state during the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) Sleep Stage, in which audio cues are used as external stimuli to activate the posterior cortical hot zone of the brain. The subjects have subsequently described their experience, and it is at this stage of the DAP that we ascertain whether the subject’s capacity for external impact is optimal. This determines if they are ready for the next phase. The assessment of the DAP-batch 12 is as follows:

Subject 1:
Assessment type: Dream journal
I look up at the sky. That’s weird. I could have sworn I expected to see stars. All I see now are flecks of thin clouds scattered across the lavender abyss above me. I can hear my family murmur from inside the house as I stand on the porch. The cousins are over and cackling laughter that could only be produced during charades rings in the background. I don’t know why I’m outside. All I know is that I was here when it begins. The terrifying unease which sends chills up my spine. Where are the stars? The stars always provide me a sense of comfort. Stars mean clarity. Nothing to distort my view of the sky. Now it feels unnatural and weird. I shuffle around till the moon comes into view. As I take it in, it happens in the fraction of a second. A square appears above the moon and disappears. I have no idea what this square is. All I can describe it as is a gaping hole in the shape of an exact square above the moon. It appears and then it is gone. I rub my eyes to make sure I’m not dreaming. As I stare at it, it happens once more and I instinctively click a picture from a digital camera that seems to have appeared in my hand. The image distorts and now I’m in the living room with my family, pulling the camera out to show them the image. I look at the screen and all I see is pitch blackness. No moon, no square, and no stars. I express that I find this weird and they just look at me with amusement.
The next few images that appear in my dream are some of the most beautiful and bizarre things that my mind have created. Being of scientific background, it surprised me what my mind is actually capable of. These images were a comet heading towards the earth, the earth as a purely water-covered planet with rolling tides, the merging of the moon and the sun, and an idea of heaven.
Cues: Binaural beats, documentary about the Mayans, a choir from Notre-Dame.
Assessor’s note: Responded satisfactorily to audio cues, but the subject’s mind is too rigid. Deemed unfit for the next phase.

Subject 2:
Assessment type: Interview
“So, I guess it started with me, my mom, and my sister in the car. She was driving us to some party. And even though we hadn’t reached the place yet I knew what it was. Like I could picture it completely. A lavish mansion and stuff. In the car we-“
“Describe the mansion. It is preferable that you do not interrupt your train of thought or get distracted.”
“Right. Sorry. So, um. This mansion is in my head right now. But I visualise it with lots of lights. Like, different colours just scattering the front lawns which have several fountains. Inside the mansion people are in different groups. High class people in sequins and fur. They are talking to each other and waiters are walking around with trays of hors d’oeuvres. Everything -from their clothes to the champagne in their hands- is shiny. Maybe I should have described this part later because now it won’t make any sense-“
“Just continue with the descriptions as they came to you in the dream. Any discrepancies between your physiological state then and your descriptions right now will lead to an inaccurate analysis.”
“Oh, okay. So, the scene shifts and I’m back in the car. My mom’s driving and we’re sort of in the middle of a wide road when she just stops. She stops and just gets out of the car. I jump out after her and just remember feeling extremely scared that we’re in the middle of nowhere. But she doesn’t listen. She just goes away. I try to tell my sister what has happened and see that she’s already in the driver’s seat. I sit next to her and panic because she’s just thirteen. She doesn’t know how to drive. I try to stop her but she starts the car. Before I know what’s happening the car is swerving in all directions. We’re going way past the speed limit, and soon I hear police sirens right behind us. When the police reach us, they make us stop and get out. I’m completely panicking right now and turn around to scream at my sister but she’s gone. That’s when I notice that the people who stopped us aren’t even the police. Even though I said police first-“
“It is alright. Do not lose focus.”
“Yes. They aren’t the police. They’re wearing black and a weird coat of armor. Then one of them says something that completely shakes me to my core. I don’t even know why, but it just does.”
“What do they say?”
“Just that they’re going to take me to Lazar.”
“Who is Lazar?”
“I don’t know. The scene shifts and now I’m at the party. No one believes me when I tell them what I just went through. No one knows where my sister is or who my mom is. The last image in the head before waking up is the same men arriving at the mansion with one particular tall figure between them.”
“Is this Lazar?”
“I have no idea. Maybe.”
“Thank you, subject 2. Your work is done.”
“Thank you. Bye.”
Cues: Soundtrack to The Phantom of The Opera, simulation of family member voices.
Assessor’s note: Responded to audio cues, but the subject’s own imagination is erratic. Thought process might be too emotional for the next phase. Subject deemed unfit.

Subject 3:
Assessment type: Visual therapy
“I’m not a painter but this method seemed the most natural. After waking up I felt like I had to paint it on paper, otherwise I would not remember anything. Right. So ever since I signed up for the programme, the dreams just became increasingly bizarre. They were crazy before but after the initial tests I started visualising vivid scenes and there were proper plotlines.”
(subject gestures to the first painting)
“As you can see, the first picture has burnt trees, and a red sky. This is definitely where the dream started. I am walking across this battleground of sorts. It was very clear that a war had been fought here not long ago. A bunch of people are walking with me. All of their faces are blurry. There is just one that I recognise. My best friend from primary school, Jim Anderson. Jim and I start walking together, but he doesn’t look at me for some reason. I find it odd that he is here, since we haven’t spoken in years. As we walk together, I see certain machinery suspended in the sky. They are sort of like metallic spheres that look like they might detonate any second. I am informed by the group of people that they are some sort of reactors to foreshadow any enemies that might be incoming.”
(subject gestures to a black mass in the second painting)
“The next picture that I drew is of a maze inside a dilapidated building. I remember this so clearly. All of us enter the building and pretty soon each one of us heads off in different directions. I am aware in my mind that this is not a good idea. None of us know the place well and it would be extremely easy to get lost. This entire time, the atmosphere has felt heavy and toxic. Not in a metaphorical way. It literally feels like acid in my throat. After most of us make our way out, we can hear what seems like thunder in the distance. I’m told by someone that it is actually the sound of bomb blasts in a neighbouring battlefield. Jim now starts talking to me normally, and in my mind, this should be a good development. But something feels wrong. And in an instant, it is as if I can see into the old building. I see Jim being dragged off by scorched hands into a gas chamber. I know in that second that the Jim next to me is not the real Jim. I realise that my happiness of clinging onto the past, even though it was happy, made me cling onto something that wasn’t even real. What I think is that, maybe we can fool ourselves into making our own reality, when in actuality, it is just a distorted image of something our mind creates.”
“Thank you, subject. Your work is done.”
Cues: Hitler at Essen, binaural beats, War and Peace excerpt.
Assessor’s note: Responded well to audio cues. Perfect balance between own thought process and external stimuli. Cleared for the next phase.

I went through the report numerous times. It seems as if Ataraxia was actively trying to use audio cues to see the effect that it has on the subconscious mind. The usage of “external stimuli” is intriguing. We have heard of subliminal messaging in theory of course, but it has never been more than conspiracy to me. I do not know where this puts the company on the ethical conundrum, but since the entire thing fascinated me, I tried to do a little digging and found out about the subjects. Subject 1 was a college professor called Samira Koshy who refused to comment on the matter. I found it interesting, however, that she started to work in collaboration with The Roscosmos Space Corporation for Space Activities right after Ataraxia closed down. Subject 2 was a Norwegian artist called Lucas Olsen. He is with the travelling theatre and got back to my email within two days. He did not give me any information about the company or his experience there. All he said was that Ataraxia helped him “discover his true focus in life” and that he would “never trade the experience for anything else”. It intrigued me that Lucas came out as transgender the very year Ataraxia shut down. It is interesting to note that a character called Lazar is the antagonist in one of their skits. I just cannot help but feel that if they had anything to do with such major life decisions of people, one could almost assume that their experiments were an iceberg people only knew the surface of. I could not find any information on Subject 3. He was cleared for the “next phase”, whatever that might be. But despite all my efforts, I could not find any data about this person. It is as if he is off the radar.
I just believe that there was always more to Ataraxia that meets the eye. The level of research in their labs and the over-the-top confidentiality agreements just make me wonder how they could have accepted defeat this easy. Did they ever manage to finish what they began? Were the trials only to measure what our minds are capable of or something else? More importantly, did they succeed in proving the power of the subconscious? Something tells me that their work is either unfinished or still continues underground, in hopes of a loftier purpose.


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