I retired from teaching secondary school ten years ago. But last night, in my dreams I was once again teaching. In many classes, ten, twenty, thirty students or more showed up. In others, only one or two. Maybe students had begun to assume that I would always be there and took me for granted. Or maybe they were too distracted by their personal lives, or I was getting too tired. Whatever it was, my dream-self decided it was time to retire.
In one room, a large group of students came to hear and join me in saying goodbye. It was surprising how full of feeling the situation was. We accepted each other so deeply. And I had nothing planned. It was all spontaneous. What I said emerged extemporaneously, as if from all of us together, and included nothing about goodbyes.
The way a moment forms has so much to teach us and is teaching us so much as it forms. There is so much there if we can see it and feel it. It’s the ultimate teacher. In fact, we are this forming of a moment. But will we look? Feel?
And I woke up. Sort of. The light outside was a gray mist emerging from the dark night, a dawn just beginning to gray. Outside the window, almost no discernable objects emerged from the mist, no trees, or bushes. But in the mostly dark inside, I could discern the placement but not the details of the bed, dresser, and other furniture. And as I wrote down the dream on a pad of paper by my bed, I wondered if anyone in the dream, any student had understood what I was saying.
Then I realized the answer in the dream was also a question. Do I understand my own answer?
Research and theories by psychologists and neuroscientists speculate one purpose of dreaming is to integrate emotional, and other material from our daily lives. Was the dream an example of that integration process? Was it telling me what my conscious mind couldn’t figure out or was it merely putting into words what I had already concluded? We often underestimate the role the unconscious and the resting mind plays in conscious and critical thinking. Our conscious understanding never gets it all. But if we humbly accept that, sometimes what we find surprises us with its depth and value.
For years I’ve puzzled over and written about how we are so much more than what philosopher Alan Watts called a “skin encapsulated ego,” a conscious mind imagining it is enclosed in a physical body separated from the world. But what I said in the dream about all that’s included in the formation of a moment felt right to me. In the dream I felt ⎼ finally, here it is. Something was coming together for me, my unconscious breathing awareness into my conscious mind. The process by which our minds form the world we live in was revealed. Then I woke up; and too soon, only the words remained. The reality that birthed them was hidden.
Yet, it’s not just in dreams that we can see beyond the curtain or feel there’s something more. In meditation and mindfulness, the steps by which our feelings, sensations, thinking are integrated into emotions and our view of reality becomes clear to us. We perceive how we wake up not from a dream, from the stories we tell ourselves, the expectations, beliefs ⎼ the dreaming of our lives ⎼ but to it. The way we look is not separate from what we see.
And sometimes, the wind, rain, and snow whisper faintly to us, tease us. What is seen and heard feels unreasonably beautiful. Or in the sound of two pine trees leaning together, or in the call of a bird, or the sight of a loved one coming towards us, or the taste of food when we’re hungry, there’s that which tells us⎼ let go. Everything is right here ready to be let in.
I’ve been reading Joan Sutherland’s book Through Forests of Every Color: Awakening with Koans. She talks about a Buddhist teaching of the three bodies or modes of being that constitute everything. The first is one of form and substance, of physical bodies with opinions, likes and dislikes. Then there’s the vast, formless, unbounded body of everything together, open, and perfect just as it is. The third is in between those two and is often called the dream body, a liminal space where things emerge from the vast openness but aren’t fixed in a form. From this vast space come dreams, myths, insights, artistic inspirations, songs, meditation visions, and the acts of Bodhisattvas, those dedicated to ending the suffering of others, to help and to heal.
Maybe we could say that my comments to students came from this dream body. And at least for that dream, I was one moment giving form to what’s most intimately itself.
This Post is republished on Medium.
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