The Shadow and Compassion

Recently, my dreams have seemed more erratic and emotionally charged. I think there are a few reasons for this.

  1. I misplaced my dream journal for a while, and even though I don’t write in it that often, it seems to have had an impact on my dream recall. When I found it again, my dreams suddenly were more remembered when I woke again, almost as though my dreaming process appreciated its reappearance.
  2. Last week, I underwent a bout of sickness that renewed my sense of mortality — my awareness of impermanence and gratitude for health are currently sharp.
  3. Recent events have made this summer feel like a charged examination of current cultural and social trends as well as the human condition.
  4. I’ve been reading a lot about The Heart Sutra and, therein, about the prajnaparamita teachings’ deep yet confusing pronouncements regarding emptiness and the view of no view.

Those dreams I mentioned have been all over the place. They’ve ranged from feverish problem-solving of work issues to brutal violence. The most unsettling thing about the violence, to my waking, analytical mind, was that I was perpetrating it, and although purposeful, it was still violence of the most disturbing and vicious sort — carnal murder with a blunt instrument of someone who wasn’t even fighting back.

My analytic, waking mind reacts to memories of this dream by lashing back, saying “I could never do that!” and “How horrible!” However, this judgmental simplicity covers over truths I know from both my academic and self-reflective studies. Furthermore, I recognize this quick reaction to be an attempt to shore up my ego-identity to fit a narrative in which “I” am a permanently righteous being, always wearing the white hat without any aberration.

Here are some truths I know to the contrary of my ego’s simplistic, self-defensive narrative: I know that the greatest finding of social psychology is that people do strange things when in strange situations. Study after study, ranging from Milgram to Zimbardo to Asch challenge our understanding of identity. Beyond that, my studies of Buddhism and existentialism make me question any simplistic appeal to an unchanging thing as the core of who I am. Even the most introductory of Buddhists should know that this is a concept to be cut through with Manjushri’s sword. Another truth: I’ve gone through enough life and have sat with my thoughts for hours in meditation, both leading me to know that I have a great capability for anger. If anything, it may be my greatest personal obstacle to overcoming reactivity for pure, responsive, and compassionate awareness. All of my experience in academics and in personal reflection lead me to know that I have a Shadow (as Jung would call it – but without the intended hard understanding of the term with a Jungian “Unconscious” at play).

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Knowing the truth of this Shadow takes me beyond the ego’s defense, and I have nothing to do but embrace these darker, incomplete, difficult feelings, for which I have a propensity. Those are all possible ways for me to be and feel, but seeing them, however, embracing their possibility even, doesn’t mean that I have to act out upon them. If anything, it allows me to potentially move beyond them to the compassionate awareness I just mentioned. Recognizing and accepting our feelings without repressing them or enacting them is a way to understand the emptiness of who we are and our connection to all other beings. Recognizing my own dark, destructive impulses allows me a point of connection with even the most pained or hateful of beings, giving some small ounce of understanding to see those current perpetrators in our world and hope to better understand how I can communicate with them to help them get beyond their own darkness.

When I think of this, I inevitably think of the closing section of Hesse’s Siddhartha, in which Siddhartha is shown to share the face of all people in Govinda’s mind — even thieves and murders. If you haven’t read it, I suggest you do, and if you’d like to know more about The Heart Sutra, I recommend Karl Brunhölzl’s The Heart Attack Sutra. If you’re interested in social psychology’s findings regarding identity, I recommend this episode (The Personality Myth) of the wonderful podcast Invisibilia. If you’re interested in a more Buddhist take thereof, check out the Dalai Lama’s How to See Yourself as You Really AreFinally, to read more on dream yoga itself, Dream Yoga by Andrew Holecek is a good all around source.


May this help you see yourself as you really are and help you reach out to the world with compassionate wisdom.

Gassho!

 

Musings of an Aspiring Oneironaut: Emotional Insight

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

One of the most difficult parts of travelling through dreams, studying them, understanding them, is encountering them with an open mind. We are all raised in cultures with a long history of trying to understand dreams because they’re such an integral aspect of human experience, and furthermore, because they are ostensibly laden with symbolism and emotion – i.e. personal and cultural meaning.

From my own Western cultural background, for instance, Freudian and Jungian interpretation dominate the hermeneutic playing field. Not to shortchange these approaches, but if we are to ever really understand dreams — dance with them and explore the dreamscape — we have to let go of the simple authority of such dogmatic and rigid culturally historied interpretations (without the self-reflective ability to trace out the cultural and historical developments that led to these interpretations). In this line, I’ve found a phenomenological approach to understanding dreams to be very helpful because instead of positing universal, ontological symbols and then muting the dreamer when he or she disagrees, it relies on pushing the dreamer to tease out his or her own understanding of the elements in the dream based on his or her daily waking life. Dreams are taken as meaningful here, but they are personally meaningful rather than asserting tropes that are universally of the same significance, independent of the mind at hand.

Also, I’m compelled by Tibetan dream yoga’s understanding which delineates different types of dreams, indicating more depth and terrain to the dreamscape. There are three types: samsaric, insight, and primordial light. The interesting thing is that the vast majority of dreams in this categorization is of the first type: samsaric. This means that they’re dreams animated by the delusion in which we live our lives — the delusion of not being awakened, of not seeing the true nature of the universe. As such, these dreams, though laden with personal meaning, don’t have any more profound revelation to share — they are our thoughts, feelings, ideas, and half-cognitions writ large and allowed to fully express themselves. This doesn’t make them meaningless, rather a story about ourselves to ourselves without revealing the greater truth of the world. The other two levels of dreams are required for that greater scope of insight and are rarer.

These aspects, different perspectives on dreams, have led me to reevaluate my dreams on a more personal and intimate level — taking them to reveal much about myself but not jumping to greater conclusions just due to the fact that they feel very compelling. Holding them with this dynamic of piqued interest but only light seriousness has left me wondering what to make of the more charged emotional undertones which can pull and color the whole experience of a dream.

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I recently had a dream that had a very strong emotional message which stays with me, even still coloring my daily experience several days later. It reveals feelings that were pushed aside, not actively engaged in my waking life. What does an onerionaut make of such personal, emotional insights? The dreamscape offers the opportunity to recognize them and address them well — integrating them into daily life with reverence and respect (as maybe they were withheld for some good reason and couldn’t readily be skillfully integrated without some effort and care). There’s such opportunity even in samsaric dreams, to better know ourselves in our lives and to better engage in our worlds. The only question is how to do so when these opportunities come up.


May this help you in your own interpretation of dream and investigations of your dreaming life.

Gassho!

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!

Musings of an Aspiring Oneironaut: The Difficulty of Waking Up

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

My dreams often go into strange places. A recent one rambled in many ways — across my last breakup, my hometown, home invaders, servants who looked like older versions of me, a daughter of mine (I don’t have any) in her 20s (impossible chronologically), vampire bikers, and an army of zombies and werewolves. Clearly, the familiar is mixed with the impossible, yet the mind skips along with the story, not pausing, not missing a beat. The question: Do we live our waking lives like this as well?

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As I work more on lucid dreaming, dream yoga, being an oneironaut, the more I realize how little of life is really lived, fully awake. Even in our daily lives, we float through our stories from one hazily projected attachment to the next, from one reactive entanglement to the next.

When this mode of existence comes so readily to us and is practiced again and again in our daily lives, is it any wonder how difficult it is to wake up, either in our dreams or in our “waking” life? Mindfully attending to this: just now. Pausing and really sensing. Letting the stories and reactions drop. There’s nothing simpler, but it’s anything but easy.


May this inspire you to explore waking up in your own life.

Gassho!

Musings of an Aspiring Oneironaut: Dream’s Strange Happenings

I recently meant to write this down but forgot and now only vaguely recall an “Aha!” moment. It was something about the nature of being in the Dreaming however and its differences from waking reality. I don’t recall the what of this difference now though

Now, I’m sitting here, trying to recall, and I can only feel the strong disparity between these two realities. In dreams, I undergo all manner of strange things that don’t happen when I’m awake. I talk to people whom remain distant in my real life. For instance, a recent dream involved a long, heartfelt in person conversation with two work colleagues in another state, whom I’ve neither met in real life nor spent much time with in conversation.

Then, there’s the impossible — swapping genders or ages, seeing events from an out-of-body perspective, switches in the narrative, gaps in time, or sudden changes of location. With all of these, I accept the unreal as real without a hitch, yet when I’m awake, I question reality incessantly…

A note:

–Do I feel anything in dreams beyond sight, sound, and raw emotion? I feel like tactile sensations are limited at best, and I don’t recall smelling things in dreams unless some powerful smell is impacting my sleeping body that is then woven into the dream narrative. However, I don’t recall these senses as being part of the dream itself.

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I hope to dig into my journey of dreaming vs. waking. Recently, I’ve taken a turn away from lucid dreaming by changing my approach to reality checks from “Am I dreaming right now?”  to “Am I awake?” This has come from the realization of mindfulness: much of my waking life is on autopilot. Just as I walk along with the flow of dream’s unfolding, I travel similarly in my waking life. Even when I’m “awake”, I’m not actually woken. When asking “Am I awake?”, I take a moment to pause and check that I’m not actually in a dream, but I also take a moment to tune into emptiness’ dance that is waking life. Therefore, this question works on two levels, and the dream yoga practitioner, the true oneironaut, benefits from both.


May this inspire your own explorations of reality, dreams, and wakefulness.

Gassho!

Dreams and Waking Life

Fantastic places
Strange situations
Wonder & Terror
Exquisiteness & Hideousness
Uncanny: familiar yet foreign

Yet, all of it,
Ephemeral
Wisps of nothing
Real?–Yes
Rife with meaning & emotion
But also,
Empty

The secret?
Waking life is the same
Transient, in flux
Not concrete,
An unfolding of myriad magnificence

The dream yogi begins,
Repeating a reminder:
“This is just a dream”
Both while awake
And while asleep

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Flashes of insight

After having begun a regular practice of meditation, sometimes I have fleeting moments of insight. They aren’t during meditation rather during the day. Suddenly, briefly, I see and understand reality as it is on an experiential rather than a conceptual level.

For instance, I’ve been reading about dream yoga from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. An important part of the practice is to regularly tell yourself that “All this is just a dream”. This is done for your waking life, not your dreaming one (ultimately, this aims at being able to lucidly recognize dreams as dreams while in them, by cultivating insight during waking life). The point is to recognize the fluctuating impermanence of existence. There is no underlying essence that endures–all changes and is ephemeral, like in a dream. This is easy enough to explain and understand conceptually. It is basically the same as the Buddhist concept of emptiness or shunyata, but this dream yoga manner of touching the concept presents it through a familiar, intimate life experience.

However, this is still conceptual. The practice is meant to be experienced, rather than just thought. Well and good, but it is harder to experience “This is all just a dream” about your waking life than you might think.

Recently, I was struggling with some turbulent emotions. I went to the bathroom mirror, looked myself in the eye and brought a meditative focus to all I was feeling. Then, I said “This is all just a dream”. Instead of understading this, I felt it. All of the roiling emotions appeared as so many dreamlike images with no underlying substance, glowing and dissolving. The sense of realization was charged and powerful: it was felt, not thought. The experience was deeper than I can express in words. Such moments of lived flashes of insight is opened, I believe, from regular meditation, and I encourage all you readers out there to take up meditation for yourselves.

May this inspire you to seek wisdom and insight through meditation.
Gassho