Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d tow’rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
— William Shakespeare: THE TEMPEST, Act 4, Scene 1
It’s likely anyone educated in the English-speaking world has heard or read (or been forced to memorize) the words quoted above. Shakespeare (like many other Western poets, philosophers and psychotherapists) had intelligent things to say about the dreamlike quality of existence, yet those insights haven’t made much difference in how most of us experience reality.
A dream: ‘It was a beautiful spring day. I approached a large wooden gate with open slats which allowed me a glimpse of a beautiful garden within. The latch-pull was an eroded cross-section of sea-shell. As I pushed the gate forward, it squeaked, heightening my awareness. I paused in front of a low water bowl where the path divided and gazed at the reflections on the water, the bits of floating storm debris, and the flame-coloured fish dashing about in
‘Ah,’ you think, ‘very interesting dream! Profound symbolism indicating entry into new, deepening levels of realization! Union of fire and water elements . . .’ or this: Bonni struggles through the gate, carrying four big bags of groceries from the car, wrestling with the latch-pull. ‘Gotta ask Matthew to oil that hinge,’ she reminds herself, ‘and ask Sara to clean up the water bowl. At least the raccoons haven’t eaten all the fish, yet.’
The significance of dream events is no different from waking life events; it all depends on the view. We can (and do) project meaning into everything we experience, based on past experience and our hopes and fears. What makes one reality ‘real’ and another ‘illusion’? Where does the meaning — transcendent or mundane — reside? Some individuals perceive sermons in stones, prophecy in cloud formations and the voice of Dharma speaking in everything. In some cultures they are respected as seers; in others, swept aside as delusional.
In the light of this, what can we make of our own experience? How awake are we really when we believe ourselves to be awake? Are we free to respond with wisdom and compassion, or driven by unconscious impulses that reinforce narcissism?
Some of us have rich inner lives that express in dream; many study and analyse these, perhaps seeking a deeper, more profound story than the one played out from day to day. Others lie down every night, close their eyes and go unconscious. Dreams arise, and in them karmic patterns interact and reinforce themselves, because there is no conscious awareness to provide an opportunity to choose transformation.
Looked at with clarity, it is impossible to discern a difference between the quality of our so-called waking life and sleeping dreams. Our bodies respond to danger the same way, our emotions ignite, passions arouse, form images which give rise to story out of which assembles our sense of self . . . until we awaken and the illusory nature of the experience is revealed.
We are so fortunate to be living at the crossroads where western mind science and eastern methodology for purification and development of consciousness are meeting. The combination of these two frameworks for direct experience and understanding make for increased confidence and the open-ended questioning that gives rise to speedy realisation.
Continuum awareness in waking life gives us choice, and hence the power to shape our experience. Without it, wandering blindly, we are subject to transient moments of happiness which brighten the on-going flow of seeking pleasure, praise, wealth and ego-recognition and avoiding pain, blame, loss and critique. Seeds from past unwholesome actions explode like hidden land-mines.
Awareness allows us the grace of wholesome response and transformation. Neuroscience affirms that neural processes (and the endocrine functions that interact with them) change as a result of meditative work; our brains develop in surprising ways that are only now being investigated scientifically. The apparent happiness of a temporarily-satisfied ego is replaced through meditation with a durable state of wellbeing. Such a person is naturally and fully engaged with the healing and transformation of all and is relatively unaffected by the rises and falls of life’s changing circumstances.
For all but well-trained (or naturally talented) practitioners, most sleep-state dreams lack continuum awareness or lucidity. We are ‘put through’ experiences arising, in part, from latent karmic seeds that lack supportive circumstances in our present life to germinate and flower. This can be frightening and de-stabilizing; but it also provides an unequalled opportunity to change depth patterning . . . called in the Dream Yoga texts ‘cutting the tree at its root.’ Bringing the same quality of continuum awareness into the dream state gives us choice there too; we can reinforce the imprints of ethics, focus and clear-seeing and transform the darker impulses that emerge very directly and efficiently.
Training for enlightenment 24/7 speeds up the process! Why put up with hours of completely unconscious activity every day? How logical and compassionate is that? Our minds have many latent abilities that are free to manifest when past seeds of karma have been cleared. We are then able to communicate directly and support the growth and unfoldment of other beings more effectively, on every level.
BONNI ROSS has taught the path of liberation and peace since 1978 and has practiced both Western Mysteries and the Zen, Theravadin and Vajrayana traditions of Buddhadharma for more than 40 years. Her teachings explore both the philosophical and theoretic foundations of the teachings of awakening, as well as providing practical and pleasurable methods for increasing awareness, kindness and wisdom in daily life. Bonni teaches eclectically, with passion, humour and attention to the needs of each person: she guides individuals through all stages of meditative practice and leads retreats for depth unfoldment at centres around the world. For more about Bonni please visit: www.retreathouse.bc.ca.