Have you ever gone back to sleep after having woken up, sure that you need more sleep?
Then do you ever have one of those crappy, out of control weird dream/nightmares that seem to only happen at that time, sleeping for just an hour that seems like days?
That happened to me this morning.
I fell back asleep and went immediately and totally into a dream about not being sure I had enough credits to graduate from college. Did I have to go back to that math class I hated? Was it okay for my GPA if I just let myself fail the shop class?
Wait. Shop class?!
Is this college or high school?!
I have variations on this dream a lot, sometimes about high school (which I graduated from almost twenty years ago) and sometimes about college (fourteen years ago for that one). I didn’t really have much anxiety in college or high school—certainly not about finishing and not that much about grades.
So why, oh why, are those the bad dreams I have? They are so believable and all consuming, and this one included dragging around a tank of bathwater, a broken bicycle, being lost on the campus and unable to find a bus, and, to top it all, having to take a ferry from the registration building to central campus through a heavy storm.
For real. Seriously. Aren’t I done with this already? What is this trying to tell me?
What interests me most at this point isn’t content. It’s not analyzing the dream to figure out what it means. It’s the character of dreaming all together: the feeling of being so sure this is reality, only to wake, slowly, gradually, painfully even to find it is not.
Sound familiar? I bet. And not just on the level of sleeping dreams.
Lately I’ve been reading Mariana Caplan’s Eyes Wide Open, a great book on looking with discernment at our own spiritual journeys and teachers. It works for any tradition, but she speaks a lot of enlightenment and awakenment. What I really like in her writing that I have certainly heard before, but she really expresses well, is both our attachment to our illusion of reality, and also, our misconceptions about enlightenment.
First, our attachment. If you replace illusions with dreams, and understand dreams to be not just sleeping dreams but also idealisms, this passage takes on even more depth:
“Many of us come to the path and say that we want to be free of our illusions, yet these illusions make up most of our reality. Again, it is not life that is an illusion, or maya, but our relationship to life that is clouded with projected images, false perceptions, and endless levels of subjectivity and beliefs—all of which we assume to be real.” ~ Marina Caplan
Then, she goes on to explain many times (the word enlightenment appears eighty-two times in the book!) that a goal (or dream) of enlightenment as a one-shot deal is itself an illusion. Again, I’ve read this so many times before in many ways, but Caplan is so clear and piercing in her description:
“It is easy to imagine that enlightenment is the end of the path rather than the beginning. If enlightenment is our true nature, as we intuitively understand when we find ourselves in enlightened awareness, we are never far from its perception. And still, regardless of how many “experiences” we have had of our essential enlightened nature, there remains a lifelong process of integrating understanding into the body on a cellular level, into the deep grooves of psychological conditioning, and into all aspects of daily life. Most of us have trouble accepting the fact that as awe-inspiring and life-changing…as moments of enlightened experience are, they are merely the beginning of the spiritual journey rather than its completion, for it will not be complete until we have embodied our nondual insight into every microfiber of dualistic expression.” Marina Caplan
Just when I think I know what is going on in this dream, getting a hold of my life, a hold of my anxieties, something wakes me up: a cat on my lap, kneading my stomach, the sun coming through the curtains. Then I realize I was still asleep.
Whether this is in a literal dream state or while I am ostensibly already awake, it never ceases to surprise me. More and more, though, it pleases me, rather than shaming me or triggering me to think I was confused or inadequate in some way before. Again, Caplan describes the humility necessary in waking from sleeping dreams and waking dreams so clearly:
“The temporary insight into enlightenment often provides a sense of all-knowing and invincibility that is deceiving. We think we know more than we do and are often self-righteous in our “knowing.” As time goes on, life itself tests these insights and, if we are self-observant and willing to grow, opens our eyes to our spiritual naïveté.” Marina Caplan
Each morning we wake from sleep.
Each moment of our waking lives, we have the chance to wake from the dream of our ideas of living.
With as much gentleness as we can muster, we can open our eyes wide.
Each time is another experience of being awake.
Even if that never becomes a complete full-time state, the more we are awake, the better we can be in this world.
Let us wake up together to the constant, ever-changing but always available opportunity to be awake. Now. Now. And again.
And If I fall back asleep into a dream, please feel free to prod me a bit and help coax me back into reality.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: via ashkay moon on Flickr