Every so often have I have dreams that affect me at least as profoundly as any waking experience; in some cases, even more profoundly. They seem to come as powerful messengers from some place beyond what is normally accessible to me. The specifics of each individual dream don’t feel that important. The details aren’t what matter but rather the overall imprint that is left behind in my consciousness and the change that inevitably results from it. The actual content is symbolic as far as I can tell but I awake feeling as if I have been to another world.
In most of these cases I am aware that I am dreaming as it happens. In fact, that is usually the dramatic turning point; that moment when I become aware that it is a dream and that I can do out of the ordinary things. I become aware that something significant is happening. After this kind of event I will sometimes experience a deeply peaceful and blissful state and other times, in contrast, I will feel a sense of sadness so deep and raw that there are no words to describe it.
One of the most common analogies that appear in so many spiritual teachings is a description of life as a dream. There is the constant admonition to wake up. One of the more odd perceptions I have occasionally encountered is a slight difficulty in differentiating waking life from the dreaming state. Yesterday’s real life event feels comparatively significant to yesterday’s dream. Neither have a tangible power over my current situation but both leave imprints behind that can color my perception if I am inattentive enough to allow that to happen; if that makes sense. It makes sense to me.
Further on in the dream analogy is the idea of ‘being awake in the dream’. Buddha was called “The Awakened One”. He awoke within the dream of this life. This doesn’t mean that his physical body evaporated into a ray of light and floated off into some heavenly realm, but clearly some transformation took place. His physical existence on this plane (the dream) continued on, but his experience of life was permanently altered. He transcended human suffering and vowed to help others do the same. He taught an eightfold path and Buddhism was born, another religion that would inevitably suffer from many of the same trappings that afflict all organized religions at one time or another. Perhaps he could have disappeared into a beam of sunshine had he chosen to, but he didn’t.
One of the more interesting things about Buddhism to me is that the entire religion is centered around alleviating human suffering. In a nutshell, the cause of all suffering is attachment and desire. This is not an opinion but rather a verifiable fact that anyone can confirm the truth of by simply paying attention and analyzing any distress they may experience. The natural tendency is to distract and run away but by paying attention on a regular basis and tracing one’s suffering back to the root, the truth of the Buddhist philosophy can be experienced firsthand. Furthermore, they say, suffering can be overcome. There are practical methods and techniques that can be applied. In contrast to western religious philosophy, Buddhist doctrine places salvation squarely on the shoulders of the individual.
The events of our lives play out in front of us in movie and dreamlike fashion. It’s interesting to hear older people talk about how they don’t feel old and how quickly it has all gone by. I think this is because the observing presence, the pure consciousness in the background, remains unchanged from birth to death; even before birth and after death. Everything else changes. We suffer because we attach and want impermanent things to be permanent. We get caught up in the particulars of our own personal dream and lose touch with the observing awareness. That is the real “us” and it is why the self-conscious part of our mind will never feel old.
I had an interesting experience as a child and one of the things that came out of it was the perception that “I” had been in existence long before this current lifetime. I don’t know how to explain it other than to say it was clear and definitive and did not leave question. People talk about reincarnation and remembering past lives but that’s not how my experience was. I had no specific recollection of past lives; just direct experience of the timelessness of my own existence. The idea of reincarnation is reasonable and logical to me but it is also purely speculative. However, I have definitive ‘proof’ of my existing in some capacity prior to this lifetime. That, of course, brings up the questions of where, when, and how; and though I find these to be intriguing questions, I also find them to be unimportant. What is important to me is where I am now and how that may affect wherever it is that I may be going.
Another outcome of my experience was the realization of how utterly brief a single lifetime is in the overall scheme of things. It is (dare I say) much like a small piece of one of last night’s many dreams. I’ve often had the thought that people would suffer much less if they had the slightest inkling of the astounding brevity of their current experience. Everything that happens to us, we somehow think it will last forever, but the scenery is changing faster than we can comprehend.
We are, understandably, attached to the scenery and we are also attached to ourselves. But our ‘selves’ as we perceive them, are most certainly no more real than a dream. The personality, who we think we are, is a creation of our own imagination. Attachment to this phantom causes tremendous suffering. In a sense we are all dreaming our own little dream at all times and, in that regard, are creating our own experience and are living either in heaven, hell, or someplace in between based on our individual capacity to navigate through the hologram.
As these words are being read someone else’s dream is brushing up against my own and both the act of writing and reading this may just leave some little imprint on both of us that alters our perception of whatever particular act is next up on stage in our own individual drama. It is both dream and stage play, comedy and tragedy, blissful fantasy and horrific nightmare. Do you feel it changing even as you think about it? Can you sense yourself apart from it all, observing from somewhere just left of center stage? I hope that you can and wish you the most pleasant of dreams…even as I begin to hear the volume of the cosmic alarm clock growing louder and louder, somewhere off in the distance.