BY John Price-Kabhir the Buddhist Adviser[Note: This is Part I of a two-part column on dreams. Part II will appear in a future edition of The Scene.]
Waking life had a hardness about it. We can rap our knuckles on the table, feel the cold, feel pain, become exhausted after heavy activity.
But dreams are different. Though every bit as real as waking life, dreams allow us to fly, to rise above the senses of normal life. In dreams, although in mysterious ways, much is offered beyond everyday life.
Dreams are real. Inside a vivid dream, what happens is its own reality. We slip into dreams while sleeping, and then emerge before we wake.
Dreams can be ascertained with machines tracing our eye movement and brain waves. But dreams are poetic, and their substance belies any machines. The reality of dreams is its own reality. Dreams are the closest things to magic in action as any aspect of life available to virtually all of us. People who say they don’t dream simply do not wake enough in the night to allow waking reality access to the dreams. We live in dreams, we live out fantasies and wishes, and we are confronted by our fears.
Poets create dreams. Great poets bring words to life much like dreams do. Where do dreams come from and what do they mean? Perhaps we each have a kind of angelic Dream Creator, giving access to worlds of dreams often far more enchanting and interesting than normal waking life. Dreams have their own magic, their own Dream Creator.
I once wrote in this column about using our dreams to inform waking reality. If we could look through into dreams like we might be gazing through a window, the lessons dreams offer us might indeed help us to solve our own problematic issues. Dreams just might bring our suppressed problematic matters to life and allow us opportunities to solve our problems.
Throughout my life, I’ve had memorable dreams. Some of them are truly fantastic, setting aside all conventions and allowing me to fly, move through walls, traverse great distances. Others could be called nightmares, the kinds of dreams that keep one awake and have me too fearful of the dream to return to it. Others aren’t particularly special, just mundane repetitions of normal day and thought activity.
But when I hit on a recurring dream with obvious symbols, good dreams or bad, they get my attention. Not that any stock in trade dream book can help e.g. horses = X; fire symbolize Y. When I’m under the spell of mysterious recurring dreams, I am enchanted.
There’s an important distinction between the dreams happening during deep, heavy sleep and light, airy dreams called daydreaming.
People who meditate deeply and often produce brainwaves suggesting dreaming. But visions had during the deeper meditative states are not technically dreams.
The most memorable vision I’ve had during meditation was of myself shrinking, shrinking before the door of a flaming hot woodstove, I bowed in blessing, and when I was small enough, the door opened slowly and I stepped in, burned up and disappeared, painlessly.
A type of “pre-cognitive” dream has in it the element of clairvoyance and predicts the future. Many people have had this or that incident in a dream, only to have it actually happen in the waking world after the dream is over and the person awakes. We’ve all had these, and they often contribute to what we call déjà vu.
A very long time ago, when I was twenty-four and a beginning teacher, I woke up from a very clear, lucid dream. It was so strikingly vivid that I woke my wife to tell her of it. In it, a woman I hadn’t known well, who had a strange way of walking in a kind tilted, kind of gait, appeared to me. And then, in my first day of teaching, the door down the hall opened, and there she was. This is not a particularly dramatic dream, but it remains memorable due to its striking accuracy.
Another such dream happened on my first night at a Zen retreat at an Eastern (U.S.) monastery. In it, around the circle of people, a woman sat. This in itself was odd because at the time, no women were allowed in this type of retreat. Yet in the dream, in the circle, sat a strangely beautiful woman of indistinguishable origin. We were passing around the ritual Samurai sword, very gently as instructed. When the sword came to her, she quickly and with authority pulled it from the sheath, It glistened in the morning light, and she just as quickly rammed it back in its sheath. Despite our ban on talking, I told my bunkmate of this. He dismissed it as wildly imaginative and something that would never happen. As the retreat unfolded, surely, a woman, an Israeli, joined our circle through some kind of mysterious deal made with the Master. She indeed performed the action with the sword exactly as in the dream. The woman became the first in what is now a long line of co-ed retreats. Clearly, my mind wandered ahead in time while I was sleeping.
Less than a year ago, my closest living relative died. He was a first cousin, and though we’d been estranged for some time, I always thought of him as a slightly older brother. He’d been there with me for many of life’s milestones. Hi8s sudden death shocked me, and in its wake, I have come to accept life after death in ways I never had before. I have some of his last photographs imprinted in my mind, and I can hear him whispering in his own curious inflection to me, but always through a window. He offers in my dreams a way to get to him. I am not clear on that path, but its repetition in my dreams on so many nights tells me there is a way. Perhaps it’s only a longing, a desire. But it’s so real.
Dreams can offer us ways to address our problems, our unresolved issues. I know for certain the “plot” of many recurring dreams for me is centered on things I have left behind in life unresolved. My repetitive dreams have been telling me for years that I need to be slower and more methodical in making life decisions.
Dreams are not always painless, not always offering us exotic things. Dreams can bring shadowy and fearful things to the front of our consciousness. In further exploration, we shall see.
John Price – Kabhir, is an ordained Zen householder. I welcome your input at 920-558-3076; Shiningcrow11@yahoo.com