Musings of an Aspiring Oneironaut: Emotions in Dreams

Intention:
Tonight, I will remember my dreams.
Tonight, I will have many dreams.
Tonight, I will have good dreams.
Tonight, I will wake up within my dreams.
— Modified from Holecek, Dream Yoga

A couple days ago, my dream ended in a way that left me feeling unsettled and oddly self-aware. A doctor opened a boil on my arm, in the dream. The needle she used to lance it almost broke–bending and straining to break through the skin. When it popped through, there was magically no blood, but she reacted with concern as she pulled out several gobs of hardened … something which was inside. I woke from this experience with a start, and I immediately began thinking about whether I actually had any blemishes on my skin which were potentially infected.

When our fears play out in dreams, it’s easy to find deeper meaning in them upon waking. Personally, when I have a rough dream like that–one that doesn’t reach the fully fantastical realm of the nightmarish but strays from the generally more erratic and nonsensical content and emotional tone of normal dreams–I tend to continue feeling that emotional dread of the dream for some time after: hours or maybe even most of the day. However, is there really any deeper meaning to these events? Let’s look at how they work out in dreams.

It’s interesting to see how much of our dream landscape is colored by the tone of emotions. Without all the details of normal waking life (for instance, in dreams, you can’t read, and smells and sound seem absent, assumed, or perhaps, rare at best), emotion has an even greater weight than it does in daily life, and the charge of emotion seems to spiral out of control in the narrative–growing stronger as the narrative loops itself around the feeling. For instance, in my dream above, speaking to the doctor created an initial emotional reaction of concern, and the narrative suddenly revealed a boil on my arm. The doctor started inspecting it, and my concern became fear as she used a needle to lance it and even more so when the needle started bending through the prodding. The fear was realized when a bizarre medical scenario came to be upon lancing the boil, and then, I woke with a start, a paranoid fear having come to full fruition in a few moments of dream, a fear that had grown to a point which then colored my waking reality and was hard to shake.

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Fear in dreams can quickly ramp up into horror story scenarios.

Another clear example is the standard dream scenario of realizing that you’re naked in public. Sudden concern and self-awareness becomes realized into full embarrassment and anxiety when a check reveals that you forgot your clothes at home. Another example are those dreams where you forgot about a test, paper, project at work, deadline, etc. In all of these, the initial concern is immediately fulfilled in the worst possible way, and the emotional tone ramps up, the whole story and sense of reality around it twisting in pace with the emotion.

Emotions play an interesting role in the landscape of dreams, and thinking on how they color our dreaming life offers an opportunity to see how our perspective, our perceived reality, can get pulled into an ever-growing and twisting spiral of reaction in our waking lives as well. Those walking the path would do well to ponder this.


May this bring you to a deeper engagement with your emotions in both your dreaming and your waking life.

Gassho!

Heartbreak Wisdom Journal–Final Entry: Letting Go of Letting Go

I’m closing out the year with this final entry in this series of posts that has both informed my spiritual development of this year and the course of this blog as well. I’m closing this narrative with a long set of connected thoughts about letting go–both my own and some quotes that have inspired me. This year is done, and this chapter in my story comes to a close as well. May this inspire those of you out there who have also gone through heartbreak.


What is the perfection of wisdom? Let’s look at some important elements that are the core of our practice as well as our lives. In face-to-face study, a student expresses agony over a relationship that ended two years ago and asks me how to let go. What is letting go?There is a little toy called a Chinese finger-trap. You put two fingers into it, then try to pull them out. But you can’t extricate your fingers from the trap by pulling: it’s only when you push your fingers further in that the trap releases them. Similarly, we think of letting go as doing something: throwing things away, ending a relationship, getting rid of whatever’s bothering us. But that works no better than pulling our fingers in order to extricate them from the trap. We let go by eliminating the separation between us and what we wish to let go of. We become it.

Do we let go of anger by saying good bye or going away? Of course not! That doesn’t work. The way to let go of anger is to enter the anger, become the anger rather than separate from it. If you even hold on to the notion of having to let go of it, you’re still stuck. In a famous koan, a monk went to Chao-chou Ts’ung-shen and asked, “What shall I do now that I’ve let go of everything?” Chao-chou said, “Let go of that!” The monk said, “What do you mean, let go of that? I’ve let go of everything.” Chao-chou answered, “Okay, then continue carrying it with you.” The monk failed to get the point. Holding on to letting go is not letting go.

We don’t get rid of anger by trying to get rid of it: the same applies to forgetting the self. To forget the self means to become what is, become what we are. How do we let go of a painful relationship? Become the person we wish to let go of, become the pain itself. We think we’re not the person, not the pain, but we are. Eliminate the gap between subject and object and there’s no anger, no loss of relationship, no sorrow, no suffering, no observer sitting back and crying, “Poor me!”

The Chinese finger-trap is solved by going further into the trap, and the same is true of letting go: Go into it. If you avoid the situation, it only gets worse. Totally be it; that’s letting go. Similarly, when we sit, it’s not a question of trying to do something. Don’t sit there saying, “I have to accomplish this. I have to attain that.” Just let go and be what you are, be this very moment. If you are breathing, just be breathing, and you will realize that you’re the whole universe, with nothing outside or external to you. The beautiful mountain–that’s you. Anger, lust, joy, frustration–they’re all you: none are outside. And because there’s no outside, there’s also no inside; altogether, this is you. This is the meaning of Shakyamuni Buddha’s “I alone am!”–Bernie Glass, from Infinite Circle

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I intended to write this post a couple months back around the time of my birthday, but I never got to it, and I can only believe that it wasn’t ripe. I was reading the book quoted above around the same time, but this quote means so much more to me reading it again now. This is my last Heartbreak Wisdom Journal entry. After all the steps in the spiritual path of heartbreak, I’ve finally reached the realization that continuing these narratives is not fully letting go. It’s time to let go of letting go. That’s the step forward on the path of the spiritual heart. That’s the tender vulnerability that was described in the first entry. We come full circle: nothing outside.

Let my birthday journal entry, Morning Pages from a couple months back, serve as an intention in this step forward:
“Well, 33! Made it!
I’ve been thinking of this particular one for a while. As a teenager, I loved the Smashing Pumpkins’ “33”. It is now my theme song for a year, I suppose. That’s odd, in a way, as it’s a romantic song about another person making existence beautiful:
– ” You could make it last, forever, you.”
Clearly, after the year I’ve had, I just don’t feel that way about anyone, and I wonder if I ever will again. In many ways, I totally don’t respect those concepts of romance, especially as a guiding light in the life of a person. Well, maybe I can transform that into something less deluded–transmutation.
That reminds me: I’ve been thinking a lot recently about just that. I want to handle my story around the heartbreak of the end of my relationship in a very particular way. I don’t want to cast her as a monster or villain. I don’t want to cast myself as hero or victim. It simply was. It was, however, not justified–another story that explains away–no matter what came after. Again, it simply was–the complicated interweaving of sharing life and love with other people. In the end, she simply decided that she wanted something different. That’s all.
In the end, this suffering has been, as is suffering in general, useless. That’s actually one of the best philosophical essays I have read: Levinas’ “Useless Suffering”. Explaining away my pain–to myself or the explanations of others–is ultimately an unwillingness to sit with, see, and genuinely feel the agony of a broken heart. Again, it simply is, and any meaning or story that makes it OK or gives it a telos covers it over and masks it. There is beauty in the rawness, and the only use is to sit with it and be inspired to compassion for others, to aim at liberating oneself and all sentient beings from such anguish.
So, no, I won’t cast stones. However, I will transmute–that earlier thread of connection–the love I reached for her into this compassion for all. I’ll blow the lid off of the Love of an Other that completes my Self and move to a warmth for all that exists. May I step forward on the path for the benefit of all sentient beings.”


Tonight–before writing any of this or reading these quotes again–I sat down and did a mantra meditation with mala in hand, counting–bead by bead.

Om mani padme hum.
Om mani padme hum.
Om mani padme hum.



108 times
.

I focused my attention on Kwan Yin/Avalokitesvara/Chenrezig/Kannon–the listener to the cries of the world, bodhisattva of compassion. As I repeated the words and contemplated Avalokitesvara with his hundred arms–reaching out to touch the lives of all sentient beings, I felt my own loving-kindness swell, and I flashed on those who have done me pain, who have stoked my anger or sadness… I realized, as separation of I/Them dropped away, that They are I and I am They. Her face flashed by amidst others, and I saw tears and felt her fear, her anxiety. I embraced her feelings with loving-kindness. Many others flashed by as well. Among them all, my own face flashed up, my angry, sad face, tormented by delusion, struggling with all the cares of being human. I compassionately embraced this too. As Glass Roshi said in the initial quote above: “Anger, lust joy, frustration–they’re all you: none are outside. And because there’s no outside, there’s also no inside: altogether this is you.” — For a brief moment, I sat in this compassion and wisdom, in this karuna and prajna

Then, like always, my mind flitted back to ordinary shenanigans–always room for more practice.


After meditating, I lay down and finished reading a graphic novel, weathering a slight stomachache. The closing words rang true and inspired me to sit down and write this entry. We shall close with them:

I can’t give you your hope. You have to grow your own and hold it through the seemingly endless darkness. The true task–to find joy in the small things we can count on.

When we stop taking pleasure in the basic experience of being alive, beat-by-beat, we lose everything that makes life worthwhile. We must relish in every sight, every touch…
… Every memory. My daughters playing in the garden. Johl kissing my neck. Marik’s elation at a new invention. These memories are enough to light my darkest hour. To face whatever awaits above. We all of us carry burdens that seem too heavy. … Losses we can’t conceivably move past. The things that once gave purpose to life. It is all too easy to give yourself over to the traumas of the past–allowing pain to define us. There is a medicine for that–hope and perseverance. Light brings light. And no matter what we face there is one thing we can control: our outlook. It’s not about ignoring the pain or mindlessly believing things will simply be better–it’s about finding the joy in participating. And when the weight of the past pulls us low we must find the strength to release it…
…and finally give ourselves permission to start over.
-Rick Remender, Low: Volume 2, closing passage

 

The character, Stel, finds the hope to start fresh, letting go of the past, but she doesn’t do this by running away from it–ignoring it–or by blindly believing that the future will make everything right again. She’s neither lost in the pain of the past nor in a dream of a hazy, euphoric future. She’s faced all of her ghosts by sitting with everything as it was and as it currently is. She’s fully taken on her pain, her burdens. She realizes that in becoming them, the weight of the past drops with the permission to start over. That permission is always at hand, right now. It merely takes the warrior’s courage to let go: to fully be here as we are. That’s what starting over is. This may begin with holding on to the wonders of golden experiences, but this sagely wisdom fully blossoms in participating joyously in every moment of life, even the most painful or burdensome. This is wrongly called “hope” because it’s not about that belief in a future deliverance; it’s actually “faith”–trust in and no separation from all that is. This is recognizing the basic goodness of existence, and it is a clear step forward to liberation: happiness that does not rely on the conditioned.

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May this light the path to letting go of heartbreak for those who need it.

Gassho!

Experience in Meditation

What arises in this moment?
“Joy”?
“Agony”?
“Nostalgia”?

Can you openly be present to it?
Whatever it may be?
So many butterflies
And moths, flitting about…

Don’t react. Just feel–fully.
Just anger.
Just lust.
Just sadness.

No narrative yarns following these swarms.
Breathe in.
Breathe out.
No attachment.

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May this inspire you to meditate.

Gassho!

Murderous Zeal – Letting Go

Disclaimer: This post is much more personally revealing than most posts I write. This will not be quite as didactic, rather processing with the intent of expressing what I need to express but cannot share with the person with whom I wish to express it. Some of you may know me enough to know who that is, and to those, I say that this is not meant to judge or cast aspersions to that person’s character, a person I love with all my heart. Instead, this is trying to put into words what I have experienced, the pure, raw pain of it, and the folly I see in what has happened. Disagreeing with another’s choices and trying to accurately describe them as they are, to call a spade a spade, so to speak, does not mean that you belittle them or that you necessarily even think poorly of them (judgment can mean both identification as well as moral judgment; judgment here is meant as the first of these two). Believe me, that’s part of the depth of my pain expressed here. So, those of you who know, either don’t read this, and let my expression be, or see what I have to say about what I’ve felt and how I’m moving forward. Expressing this here is therapeutic for me. This is not meant to cause any stir; that person will likely never see it, and I wouldn’t publish it here if I thought that that person would. So either let this be, or read it to share my expression without any more motive than that.


You took the ideology of relationships from a friend, a maxim we would have previously scoffed at, and you embraced it as creed and animating principle. “If we were together again, it would have to be completely different.” Thus armed, like one of the furies, you killed “us” with a murderous zeal that I’ve never previously seen — lashing out in fear and pain, you held dear the despairing mantra: “This must die.” Yet, must it have? You never stopped. You never questioned. You held on with certainty, out of pain, unwilling to see how things could already be different. You instead repeated fatalistic stories of how they could never change without this melodramatic action.

Stumbling forward, revising what you said from one conversation to the next, galvanizing your certainty as having been one clear idea that you held all along — not merely a reactive lash of pain which grew into a clearer purpose with time — you stand, superior, self-righteous, cold, and cruel. I’m cast as naive, weak, and pathetic, so worthy of the death you dole out. Yet, our conversations reveal that your position has not been clear throughout beyond the reaction of pain, and your words come again to stubborn, self-righteous contradictions, and after knowing you for years, it all shines as an inauthentic escape from that which you can’t face. The hardest has ultimately been the empty promise of friendship, the last thing to die after love and family: the third and final death. I’m no more than an acquaintance now. Best of luck with your coping with this pain, with your soothing escape from it. May your pain and resentment have been quenched. I fear deeply that you will feel them again in your next deeply intimate connection, as I am not the source of your emotional reactivity. My greatest hope is merely that you can be real about this at some point, for your own growth.

I’ve been working on letting go of my pain in regards to this for some time. It’s been hard. It’s been painful (ironically, letting go of pain is painful). I’ve lost more than I can put into words, and that clings to me like an old skin that I can’t slough off — so close to a fresh rebirth if I could only peel off an essential layer of who I have been. Strangely, a few sentences in a popular psychology magazine have helped me find acceptance in ways that so many wise words from friends have been unable to do (more due to my own difficulties than any ineffectiveness of theirs; sometimes, only the right words stick — one key opens a door): “To let go of a past injustice that preoccupies us, we must relinquish our natural burning hope for equity. or at least for exposing to the world the wrongdoer — your brother, your crooked business partner, your vicious former friend — for who and what he is. Dimming that eternal flame of rage is effortful. The bad guy won. It happens.” (Psychology Today, Jan. 5th 2015, p. 56)  Indeed, it does happen, and so many of the things we need to let go of are not done by “bad guys” at all, my case included. We are people. We make selfish, myopic, or childish choices sometimes. That’s how it goes, and perhaps, the first step to letting go in cases like mine is accepting that — accepting that someone you love deeply can throw you aside, can lose sight of you, but it’s not really about you. They’ve done something “bad”, but it’s not something you should take personally, no matter how deeply that cut may go into your heart. The Stoics would remind us that there are things that are up to us, and there are things that aren’t. Only the first deserve our concern, and the only part of this situation that is up to us is our reaction to it, so let’s not make the other person’s decision — that part of existence that is up to him or her — about us. It isn’t. It’s about them. Let it be, and wish them well from a place of strength and dignity, as hard as that might be, because it still hurts…

In line with what I just said, I’ve also been inspired by a book by Chögyam Trungpa entitled “Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior”. In one passage, he states:

As human beings, we are basically awake and we can understand reality. We are not enslaved by our lives; we are free. Being free, in this case, means simply that we have a body and a mind, and we can uplift ourselves in order to work with reality in a dignified and humorous way. If we begin to perk up, we will find that the whole universe — including the seasons, the snowfall, the ice,and the mud — is also powerfully working with us. Life is a humorous situation, but it is not mocking us. We find that, after all, we can handle our world; we can handle our universe properly and fully in an uplifted fashion. The discovery of basic goodness is not a religious experience, particularly. Rather, it is the realization that we can directly experience and work with reality, the real world that we are in. Experiencing the basic goodness of our lives makes us feel that we are intelligent and decent people and that the world is not a threat. When we feel that our lives are genuine and good, we do not have to deceive ourselves or other people. We can see our shortcomings without feeling guilty or inadequate, and at the same time, we can see our potential for extending goodness to others. We can tell the truth straightforwardly and be absolutely open, but steadfast at the same time. The essence of warriorship, or the essence of human bravery, is refusing to give up on anyone or anything. (pp. 16-17)

Here, warriorship is not meant in terms of violence and war, rather courageous action in life’s difficulties with wisdom and dignity. In letting go, I think there’s nothing greater to aspire to than the courageous realization of our freedom to be upright and dignified, to walk forward with intention of loving-kindness for the world, when every signal and resonant vibration of pain tells us to stop, turn back, give up, and be jaded. This simple way of seeing the world for the beauty that it is may just be the hardest thing to do, especially in times of severe pain, but this is precisely the choice that is up to us, and it is more important in these times than in any other. Has my pain fully subsided? Of course not. However, I can choose to see it, to embrace my situation with courage and dignity. Most importantly, I can choose to love myself in all of this. What better thing to share than that, and how better to share it than being a sacred warrior?

I hope that someone out there reads through this long post and finds some point of inspiration for his or her own journeys. If you make it to these words, know that you are not alone, dear friend.

Gassho.

Bad Faith

We are masters of our own deception.

Aware of what lies before us, we can so readily turn our eyes away, refusing to see it, refusing to take agency, while distracting ourselves from the fact that this is just what we are doing. This self-deception, self-distraction, can be done in so many ways. You see it in the dreamy confusion of “denial” – a psychological cocoon, insulating from the tragic situation the person wishes not to acknowledge. You see it in elaborate narratives, newly built, those which recast entire histories with the most radical revision of a revolutionary, changing ourselves into victims of horrible fate or victors over that same horrible fate, which was once perceived as anything but…

Be careful with the stories you tell yourself. Be courageous enough to show up and face your life just as it is.

Self-deception

Narratives

The telling of our own stories—
we’re experts at this.
Narratives twist and unfurl,
in our minds and from our mouths—
Arachne’s weaving on an equally epic scale,
the scale of our lives.

Yet no matter how exciting,
dramatic,
or depressing the tale,
the big picture is the same—
All is.
All changes,
and I am not separate from All.

My life, like the waves in the ocean,
rises and falls,
ceases to be distinct
as it crashes down into the water of the whole.

No matter how good the yarn,
how dashing or clever I may be as a hero/ine,
such is life.
Such is the Universe.
I can either see this with gratitude,
affirming every moment of this eternal return,
or continue to wrap myself
in the blanket of story.

Your Story?

I laugh, worry, press, scheme, cry, give up, and struggle—focused on my “story”.
The wind blows. The world turns, and the sun emits myriad rays.

Everyone muddles through their lives—wrestling between belief and meaninglessness, life and death.
Bacteria, plants, animals, protozoa, and fungi all come into being and fade away without a second thought.

Empires rise and fall. Man kills man en masse in the name of creed, country, and consumption. Each time, a certainty of cause drives strife and sacrifice.
Mass extinctions occur. Meteor strikes and ice ages change the shape of the world and the life on it. The only traces—fossils and craters.

We produce, consume, and dominate. Reason shall bend nature to its will through science and progress!
As species go extinct, the biosphere adapts. Everything goes onward, no matter our intentions. All changes—only organizing principles remain constant.

So what is your “story”? There is only one—the Being of Becoming, an ongoing, splendorous festival of universal emergence.

Festival of universal emergence.