Have you ever stopped to think, what makes something a dream versus a reality? What if our dreams and reality are intertwined? Where is the line?
But before I go any further, let me first say, “No, I’m not under the influence of anything other than a bowl of oatmeal and a cup of coffee.”
And now to my story. A couple of months ago I started reading the book, “Start Where You Are – A Guide to Compassionate Living” by Pema Chödrön. I picked-up the book, read a little and thought a lot. Then I got sidetracked. I started reading other things simultaneously and dust started to collect on her book. This morning I dusted it off, looked at my bookmark and realized that I have no recollection of much of anything past chapter one, so I backed-up, way-up, to chapter two. That’s where the concept of dream vs reality came into my mind.
In this chapter, Pema is setting the stage for meditation. She describes bodhichitta (our awakened heart) and explains how to not take ourselves so seriously. (Something I’m guilty of quite frequently.)
“Regard all dharmas as dreams.” More simply, regard everything as a dream. Life is a dream. Death is also a dream, for that matter; waking is a dream and sleeping is a dream. Another way to put this is, “Every situation is a passing memory.”
Wait, what? That’s a lot to think about. My initial reaction was that it’s not possible. Thankfully, Pema gives a lot of examples to strengthen this concept:
We went for a walk this morning, but now it is a memory. Every situation is a passing memory. As we live our lives, there is a lot of repetition – so many mornings greeted, so many meals eaten, so many drives to work and drives home, so many times spent with our friends and family, again and again, over and over. All of these situations bring up irritation, lust, anger, sadness, all kinds of things about people with whom we work or live or stand in line or fight traffic. It’s all an excellent opportunity to connect with this sense of each situation being like a memory.
Just a few moments ago, you were standing in the hall, and now it is a memory. But then it was so real. Now I’m talking, and what I have just said has already passed.
Huh… Most of us wouldn’t argue that something that happened in the past is now a memory. But to think of things as they are happening as a future memory, as a dream, is a little tougher to grasp, at least for me. I love the concept though. Just think of the stress that could be eliminated if we could all pause and think that whatever good, bad or ugly thing is taking place right here, right now, will be a memory in just a few minutes.
If I could do this it sure would be an easy way to let things go. But that’s where I struggle. I want to hang onto some things. I want to hang onto the good times, don’t I? I want to feel those times, experience them over and over, right? But I have this nagging feeling, knowing that I can’t, or shouldn’t. If I’m hanging onto one moment, then I’m not experiencing the next one. Whew, this is tough. I don’t want to think of the good times as dreams or memories. I want them to be a “reality”. I just want the bad stuff to go away, to become a memory, can I do that?
At the same time, it seems that this concept of thinking of every situation as a passing memory, is an incredible way to connect with those who have died because it would allow us to experience memories of years gone past just as we do the memories of this morning, yesterday or last week. And when we dream of a person, whether it is a friend or a loved one, that dream could have the same presence in our life, in our heart, as the memories of what we actually experienced.
My Grandfather passed away when I was in fourth grade. I adored my Grandpa. Quite honestly I can’t even tell you exactly why. He and I just connected. There was something in his eyes that sparkled, a life beyond what he lived everyday. I loved spending time with my Grandpa. I could run errands with him, be his shadow while he was working on something, it really didn’t matter what we did, I just enjoyed the time we had together. When he died, I was devastated. It was the first time in my life that I felt pain in my heart. And his death changed everything. I used to go to my Grandma and Grandpa’s house after school. After Grandpa died that stopped. Grandma moved away and my Mom and Dad and I cleaned out my grandparents house. My routine changed. My Grandma changed. My life changed. No more afternoons running errands, no more trips to Sears and stopping off at their candy counter for Swedish Fish. No more projects, no more sparkle in his eyes.
But then, I started dreaming. I dreamt of my Grandpa. I was elated! He would talk to me. His voice was so clear. I couldn’t see him, but I could hear him. And in my dreams he was so real I could almost touch him. In my dreams he taught me to float. Not in the water, but on air. He taught me to lean back and relax, to trust. I could feel his hands beneath my back supporting me. Then, much like being in water, I would lift my feet off the ground and float. We would float along the side of my house and around to the front yard. We could go fast and I would giggle or go slow and I would just soak up the opportunity to hear his voice and be with him again. These dreams, these moments of being with my Grandpa happened more than once. I couldn’t make them happen, but when they did they were the happiest nights. It was so great to have him back! Sadly, I would wake up the next morning to find that Grandpa was still gone. And even though that hurt, I found comfort in knowing that occasionally I would still get to be with him in my dreams.
As I got older those dreams stopped happening at night but the feeling, the connection, still stayed. After reading this part of “Start Where You Are”, I felt extreme comfort in the concept of regarding everything as a dream. I realized that while it may make some of the things we think of as reality now, seem more distant, it can also make the distant memories of loved ones who have died, or just happy moments gone by, closer to us.
Pema explains that it is with our minds that we make a big deal out of ourselves, our problems and our pain, but if we were to regard everything as a dream, it would help us all to lighten up. I think she might be onto something.