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!

On Anger – Zen’s “Just Feeling”

For this consideration of anger, I’m sharing a passage from Morning Pages in tandem with some thoughts by a great Zen teacher, Charlotte Joko Beck.


I’ve been thinking a lot of anger recently and how to mindfully experience it. I find that being present for anger does not entail doubling down and Hulking out. In fact, I find that being present for an emotion, really feeling it, is not investing in reactivity. Sitting with lets emotions blossom and change on their own. With anger, being present for it lets that original pricked sensation come and go. It’s only in reacting to the original feeling, spinning it further and strengthening it does that original sense of anger become the larger mood of rage and aggression. If you can stop and sit with anger, you’ll see these reactions dancing around you wanting to take hold…


The point I was unable to reach by the end of the Morning Pages entry is that our experience of anger is something that rises as a roaring bonfire because we add fuel to it. We grab onto it. We spin it. We keep it burning strongly by reacting and ruminating on whatever the slight or initial frustration is. However, if you stop and sit with anger, if you mindfully be with it as it arises without clinging to the thoughts, feelings, and the narrative, you’ll experience the feeling without the feeling defining you in your reaction to it.


I am not implying that there will not be upsets. What I mean is that when we get upset, we don’t hold onto it. If we become angry, we are just angry for a second. Others may not even be aware of it. That is all there is to it. There is no clinging to the anger, no mental spinning with it. I don’t mean that years of practice leave us like a zombie. Quite the opposite. We really have more genuine emotions, more feeling for people. We are not so caught up in our inner states.

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Free image taken from morguefile.com


The Buddha is nothing but exactly what you are, right now: hearing the cars, feeling the pain in your legs, hearing my voice; that’s the Buddha. You can’t catch hold of it; the minute you try to catch it, it’s changed. Being what we are at each moment means, for example, fully being our anger when we are angry. That kind of anger never hurts anybody because it’s total, complete. We really feel this anger, this knot in our stomach, and we’re not going to hurt anybody with it. The kind of anger that hurts people is when we smile sweetly and underneath we’re seething.

When you sit, don’t expect to be noble. When we give up this spinning mind, even for a few minutes, and just sit with what is, then this presence that we are is like a mirror. We see everything. We see what we are: our efforts to look good, to be first, or to be last. We see our anger, our anxiety, our pomposity, our so-called spirituality. Real spirituality is just being with all that. If we can really be with Buddha, who we are, then it transforms.


Now the child of pride is anger. By anger I mean all kinds of frustration, including irritation, resentment, jealousy. I talk so much about anger and how to work with it because to understand how to practice with anger is to understand how to approach the “gateless gate.”

In daily life we know what it means to stand back from a problem. For example, I’ve watched Laura make a beautiful flower arrangement: she’ll fuss and fiddle with the flowers, then at some point she’ll stand back and look, to see what she has done and how it balances out. If you’re sewing a dress, at first you cut and arrange and sew, but finally you get in front of the mirror to see how it looks. Does it hang on the shoulders? How’s the hem? Is it becoming? Is it a suitable dress? You stand back. Likewise, in order to put our lives into perspective, we stand back and take a look.

Now Zen practice is to do this. It develops the ability to stand back and look. Let’s take a practical example, a quarrel. The overriding quality in any quarrel is pride. Suppose I’m married and aI have a quarrel with my husband. He’s done something that I don’t like–perhaps he has spent the family savings on a new car–and I think our present care is fine. And I think–in fact I know–that I am right. I am angry, furious. I want to scream. Now what can I do with my anger? What is the fruitful thing to do? First of all I think it’s a good idea just to back away: to do and say as little as possible. As I retreat for a bit, I can remind myself that what I really want is to be what might be called A Bigger Container. (In other words I must practice my ABCs.) To do this is to step into another dimension–the spiritual dimension, if we must give it a name.

All quotes taken from the Kindle version of Everyday Zen by Charlotte Joko Beck


May this help you find the ability to sit with all your emotions, even the difficult ones, without wrapping yourself in reactive feelings and narratives.

Gassho!

 

 

Heartbreak Wisdom Journal — Entry 8: Reclaiming Shards of the Past

For the longest time, I’ve been unable to listen to one of my favorite songs. Why? During my time with my ex, it became a song about our relationship, and sometimes, even she called it “our song”. This song is “Your Hand in Mine” by the ever-magnificent Explosions in the Sky. This post-rock anthem has always tugged at my heartstrings, despite having listened to it hundreds of times.

After being dumped, the reminders of everything were just too much to listen to this song. At this point, it still plucked at those heartstrings but in a way that I could not bear. I’d just skip it whenever I heard it. Recently, though, I found myself listening to this song again one morning over my ritual cup of coffee. Not only did I listen to the song once, I repeated it numerous times, taking a simple joy in listening to this beloved song for the first time in a long while.

It’s very difficult to get past the emotion in such things. Most people try their damnedest to forget by covering up their past or running from it. That’s not really moving on though (See an earlier post on this here). That’s just as reactive as clinging to something, and running like that leaves unresolved issues, untended wounds seeping deep inside. It takes time and patience–a resolve and open courage–to face the terrors and tortures that you experience in life and sit through them, yet there is no better way to be authentic and to walk your life’s path with a compassionate and awakened heart.

I’ve also found an ability to listen to this song recently which has always symbolically reminded me of the connection of the love between me and her. Now, the pain of that connection is no longer frightening or anxiety-provoking. It just is. I can hear these songs and experience the joy and beauty of them along with residual feelings of pain and sadness. That no longer scares me. After all I’ve been through in the last few months. I can sit with equanimity through many more of life’s challenges; strong, courageous, and awake–the tender presence that gives birth to deep compassion.


Thoughts and emotions will always arise. The purpose of practice is not to get rid of them. We can no more put a stop to thoughts and emotions than we can put a stop to the worldly circumstances that seemingly turn for or against us. We can, however, choose to welcome and work with them. On one level, they are nothing but sensations. When we don’t solidify or judge them as good or bad, right or wrong, favorable or unfavorable, we can utilize them to progress on the path.
We utilize thoughts and emotions by watching them arise and dissolve. As we do this, we see they are insubstantial. When we are able to see through them, we realize they can’t really bind us, lead us astray, or distort our sense of reality. And we no longer expect them to cease. The very expectation that thoughts and emotions should cease is a misconception. We can free ourselves from this misconception in meditation.
In the sutras it says, “What good is manure, if not to fertilize sugar cane crops?” Similarly, we can say, “What good are thoughts and emotions–in fact all of our experiences–if not to increase our realization?” What prevents us from making good use of them are the fears and reactions that come from our self-importance. Therefore, the Buddha taught us to let things be. Without feeling threatened or trying to control them, just let things arise naturally and let them be.
When ego-mind becomes transparent through meditation, we have no reason to be afraid of it. This greatly reduces our suffering. We may actually develop a passion for seeing all aspects of our minds. This attitude is at the heart of the practice of self-reflection.
-Dzigar Kongtrül, “It’s Up to You”, pp. 8-9

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May this inspire you to find your own ability to let things be and to utilize your own experiences to increase your realization.

Gassho!

Previous Heartbreak Wisdom Journal: Entry 7 – Letting Go of the Person You Used to Be (Part 2)

Snippets of Wisdom from an Old Journal

I recently moved, and when I did, I came across some things that had been buried in boxes and corners. I found an old journal in which I wrote about the beginnings of my spiritual path, roughly a year and a half ago. I’ve strayed a bit and returned since then, but I was impressed to have found these thoughts and feelings at the end (because they are close to where I am now in many ways although I subsequently lost many of them) and thought I would share them here. I also shared another piece from this journal in a previous post: Control and Letting Go.


Reading through my words from the past…

8/15/2013

In any case, I am finding it very difficult to remain compassionate in the interpersonal drama of daily life. I see everyone casting about their plans, goals, and emotional hooks. In so doing, they use others as objects, as though we are all some great game of emotional physics–balls of emotional matter bouncing off one another and taking on each others’ energy. Is it any surprise that everyone else acts in turn when this is the inherently agreed upon name of the game? Some might say this is human nature or the human condition; I would say that the second is possible but only because we all make it so. I know that by the end of the retreat, I was able to step away from this game for the most part with a different perspective, and I understand why monks remove themselves from the attachment of the world now.

8/16/2013
Yesterday, I distinctly had a moment when I felt that the activities and lives of people are like so many ants, scurrying around the face of the planet, myopically thinking that their aspirations are more profound as their self-centered goals damage their very home. Of course, who am I to think I am removed from this, but I don’t think I am; I just think I am able to see it. We each think our own life is special and unique, thinking ourselves separate, and in one way, we are; however, in a larger way, all of the manifestations of separate difference are part of a greater universal whole that holds all difference in its chaotic depths, and we are merely its unfolding sway. This is where my Buddhist experiences from the retreat encounter Deleuzean difference, and I think they work together beautifully. It seems to me that Deleuze offers a metaphysical theory that resonates with the changing nothingness of Buddhist thought.
Another issue I face again and again now is the problem of balance and integration. How do I take my experiences and insights up as an ongoing practice in my life? I think that I’m doing OK with this despite my moments of being drawn into my own drama. Also, how does one balance the truths of separate individual life with that of the greater picture? This is the question I’m left with after Dōgen and after my new-found insight. I don’t know, but I find myself thinking often of ethics and self-growth over and across from trying to be a bodhisattva. This will take much more reading and meditation.

8/22/2013

I ultimately had to take a short walk to the park. Once there, I sat and meditated for a few minutes. I heard the cries of joy from nearby children and felt their lives wash over me as they experienced excitement, pain, happiness, and frustration. I heard cars go by on 33rd Ave. I saw the green of the grass and the blue of the sky as wind blew across my face. I saw people walk by, absorbed in their daily lives. I felt the universe unfolding in all the particularity of that moment, felt it unfolding again into the next and then again in the next–each just as miraculous as the last.
At the same time, I opened my heart chakra and felt that I was part of it all without separation. I was the children, the grass, the cars, the wind, and the universe. Of course, “I” is somewhat inaccurate here, and I’ll return to my placeholder about judgment from earlier. We constantly go through life labeling everything as “good” or “bad”. This is how our minds work–an apparatus for making decisions which is a separation of things into different categories. The unison of things is split apart into qualitatively different entities by the mind. This is not false. It is one aspect of existing as an embodied individual, but it is also not absolutely true as it is also true that everything is one and that the differences of separation are merely an illusion. As such, it is narrow-minded, or rather, missing the greater picture in pursuing “good” moments as special, uplifting moments of existence. Good and bad are just our own cognitive labels. Every moment is just as miraculous as every other.
In any case, my meditation allowed me to return to such a compassionate perspective, and I was able to go through the rest of the day and night with more grace and acceptance.


For more discussion of “good”/”bad” and our labeling of things, see: Love, Rebounds, and Relationships: Part 3 — Love and Metaphysics.