Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Dream, dream, dream

You poke a stick at dream analysis with the same caution you would use in implying that Oprah is fallible. It is one of the routes to self-knowledge favored by a number of people I know, including me. For years I have made a practice of describing my dreams in my journal, in the hope (watch that word) of understanding my self. Only now does it occur to me that this activity was based on the conviction that I am a self, a me, and the unexpressed notion that this Wun is fascinating. I am not alone in that - just watch a baby play with its toes. Sometimes I think of this self as the sssself, and our devotion to it as the snake in the garden.

This morning I awoke from an unusually fanciful dream about a sort of mad doctor-artist. You can have fun with an image like that, especially if you are an artist, though the dream may have been the result of the electrolyte imbalance that was giving me foot and leg cramps at the same time. But I didn't take the dream as a little puff of smoke; I took it as possible insight into my "real feelings" about either the doctor I saw yesterday or myself as an artist, and off I went, asking my sssself what was hidden in my subconscious. This is what comes of reading Freud when you're fourteen.

Fortunately, I have been exposed to another understanding of the self these last years, though Wun is slow to really get it. Dogen famously stated in Shobogenzo -
To study the buddha way is to study the self.
To study the self is to forget the self.
To forget the self is to be actualized by myriad things.
Sometimes I revise this mentally: To study the self is to get sick and tired of it. That's what happened to me on my first retreats: the chatter of monkey mind was driving me crazy, going over the same old, like a Roomba that has locked itself in the bathroom.

Zen Master Dogen was not talking psychotherapy, the examination of our individual motives and behaviors. He was pointing to the examination of fundamental reality - how we are not an isolated thing, a self, but a stream of passing feelings, sensations, mental reactions, changing form. Meditating on retreat, you see this, for there is nothing else to do, no TV in the zendo, and you're not supposed to be looking out the window, lapsing over and over into dreams, fantasies, stories.

If you would like to recall puppy love, and hear purely beautiful harmony, play the attached video of The Everly Brothers "Dream." This song, popular when I was young and impressionable, conflates fantasy and reality: Whenever I want you, all I have to do is dreeee-a-eem, dream, dream, dream. Wouldn't that be nice? But even then I found that dreaming of an object of desire was not a very good substitute for being there. You can generalize that statement.

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