See Everything As a Dream

Practice of the Week
See Everything As a Dream

Category: SLOGANS TO LIVE BY: These are for everyone. Carry these reminders at all times. These practices don't require setting aside a separate substantial chunk of time -- but they will slow you down a bit (and that's a good thing.) Resolve to get stronger at living by these maxims, day by day. Sometimes make one of them the focus of your daily journaling.

Adopt "see everything as a dream" as a personal slogan. Repeat it to yourself from time to time -- when things aren't going well, when things are going especially well, when things are going somewhere-in-between.

Everything is always passing away. That's just how it is in this world. As soon as something appears, in that same moment, it's already gone. Everything that exists in time is like this, appearing and disappearing in a flash. That's what we mean when we say "time is passing." Things do certainly seem to be here, I am here, you are here, what you see outside your window is there -- but the closer you look, the less clear this is. The me of today must be slightly different from the me of yesterday and the me of tomorrow because I know for certain that the me of fifty years ago is quite different from the me of today, almost completely different.

The me of fifty years ago is completely gone, and no trace of him can be found anywhere. He must have disappeared decade by decade, year by year, day by day, and moment by moment. But how? It really doesn't make sense. Now it is today. Where did yesterday go, and where is tomorrow now? You can't say. Nor is it really clear where today -- where now -- is. As soon as you try to figure it out, it is already gone. Since this is so, you have to wonder whether it was ever really here to begin with, in any hard-and-fast way.

Things are always slipping gradually away. If we thought about it even for a moment, we would have to agree. But this is more than a thought. It is also a feeling. If we stop for a moment our busy activity and actually take stock of ourselves as we really are right now, feel our life at this instant, we can note a wistful sense of unease at time passing; we can actually feel this as an underlying mood or sense about life. It is quite unmistakable.

We actually do live our lives as if in a dream, trying to grab something that isn't really there. Think about this. You are reading these words sometime during a day of your life. Maybe it is early in the morning or late at night. Whatever time of day it is, you assume that the earlier part of the day actually happened, but did it? How can you really verify that? The past is completely gone. And so quickly! There is a memory, yes, a vivid memory, but memory is not the actual concrete fact. It's just memory.

Certainly you can find others who will agree with you that today really did happen, and it may never occur to them or you to question it, but what proof do we really have? Mass illusions are certainly possible. Everything is like this -- it's a memory -- even while it's happening. This is a physiological fact: the brain registers experience a moment after the experience has happened. Life actually, scientifically, is a kind of illusion. It's very hard to actually put your finger on experience. And the closer you look, the stranger it gets.

The truth is that there are many things that just don't add up, and you go about your business without investigating. But when you stop to reflect about it, or just stop to look at something or listen to something acutely for a moment or two, just stare at something or try to feel what your own mind feels like -- at such moments the oddness of it all comes home to you. Life is like a dream.

Here is an experiment you can try, a very simple one: try catching the beginning of any thought or emotion, just as it arises. See if you can grab it right there, just as it first appears in your mind. Sit still, very attentive, very alert, and try to do this. I think you'll discover that this is impossible to do. First there is no thought there, and then somehow, suddenly -- as if no time had gone by -- you are in the middle of the thought.

It didn't have a beginning; it is just there, as if it were there all along. And then it's gone, and you don't know when it started to go. It has just evaporated, without warning. It's really impossible to catch a thought before it arises or to see it pass away. And it's impossible to see your own mind, impossible to see the contents of your mind, because everything is like a dram that appears and disappears, and we don't know where it came from and we don't know where it went.

Seeing everything as a dream will coax you into relief. The same relief that comes when you wake up from that nightmare and your whole body suddenly relaxes because you realize that the dire situation you seemed to be in a moment ago is actually OK, it was just a dream. Your anxiety disappears, and you immediately lighten up and relax. Even the worst things can exude some lightness:
"Yes, this is terrible, this is not what I wanted, not what I'd hoped for, not what I'd worked for, maybe even what I had feared. But also it's not that bad. It is like a dream. It's happening and not happening. Soon it will be in the past. So I can look at it differently, I don't need to validate all of those dire thoughts that only make matters worse. Maybe I don't need to be so worked up about it. Maybe I can just figure out how to deal with it without that extra measure of anxiety and freak-out."
This is not a gimmick. Everything really is like a dream. When you practice seeing everything as a dream, apply it in your daily experience, it begins to change things for you. When you find that you are upset or angry, when you are having a day when you are mad at yourself or someone else and you are hammering on yourself or complaining about someone else for some reason, you can remember to see everything as a dream, and your mind will snap into a more alert present and you will find that you can lighten up to some extent.

Everything is passing; every problem, no matter how tough is already solved, even as it's developing.

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