There was a certain point in my life that I decided to drop everything I was doing and give myself up to the Tao. I was ready to put my life into the hands of a power I didn’t quite understand but was ready to trust. I was dissatisfied with my situation and I knew that greater possibilities would not open up if I continued on a path of safety and compromise.
I started to wonder about my friend Ian, who had recently moved from Chicago to Michigan, and what he was up to. A few days later, Ian got in touch with me and asked me if I wanted to go on a road trip to Vermont. Pretty soon Ian and I were on the road together, hitch-hiking our way from Chicago to Vermont, waking up in strange places with no clear idea of where the day would take us. All we had was our faith and willingness to continue on our journey, and of course the pleasure of one another’s company!
They say that beginnings are everything, because the spirit in which a beginning is made sustains the entire journey. Our trip was born from a spirit of excitement and trust, and time and time again we were rewarded. Blessings dropped on us in beautiful and unexpected ways. We met wonderful people who were kind and generous. We met with opportunities to be of service to others. Ian meditated, I prayed, I taught myself some yoga, Ian began to learn the I Ching and I studied Tarot cards. It was a magical time of sleeping out under the stars, walking through quaint and beautiful towns, and also experiencing the monotonous world of strip-malls along the big highway. Whatever challenges came along the way, our spirit of adventure saw us through them.
It took us about two weeks to reach Vermont, and when we got there it wasn’t quite what I had been expecting, but it was still wonderful for what it was. At the same time, I had a feeling of, well, now what? Part of me wanted to just be on the road forever. But isn’t the excitement of being on the road the expectation of getting somewhere?
Anyway, after a week or so we found ourselves staying with a friend of a friend in a cabin just across the border in New Hampshire. It was early spring and the nights were bitter cold–quite intensely so given the cabin didn’t have any windows installed. There I was, at the end of this small journey that was really the beginning of my spiritual path. I didn’t know what was next, but I hadn’t found the magic portal that would take me into the new world I was longing for. I was at a crucial junction in my life, and something inside began to awake. One night, I had a sequence of four dreams that were more like visions in their intensity and aura of significance.
These four dreams came as two pairs. In the first dream, you could say I went to Heaven. It began with me sitting on a plane with a bunch of other people. We were all covered in this gelatinous goo, it was really weighing us down and making us sluggish. On all the little movie screens was a clip of an American flag waving back and forth. America was once a country of freedom and revolution, but in this moment America felt like a dead weight, like being stuck and weighed down by the inability or unwillingness to move forward. And yet, something came over me. I began to shake like a wet dog, and all that goo went flying off. Sweet liberation! As I shook off my goo it bounced around the airplane and knocked the goo off of everyone else too. And so, in one beautiful spontaneous movement, we were free!
As soon as we had freed ourselves, I found that I had the power to manifest anything I wanted. Yeah, it just came. On a level I knew that I had always had that power, but I had to free myself before it really came to life. So I conjured up a beautiful banquet for myself and everyone else (we weren’t on the plane anymore). As I stuffed myself with some pastries I remember thinking, “I know this is a dream, but these taste pretty damn real!” So I continued to conjure up more stuff to our collective delight.
At a certain point, I saw a young boy discover a unique manifestation. He began to play with a miniature crossbow that folded and unfolded with the mechanism of a pocket knife. It was made of gold and unfolded with beautiful grace. He was immensely excited with his discovery. I was also mesmerized, because this little weapon had a mystifying quality to it–it didn’t belong to our world. It was the sort of weapon intended for a god, there was just something about it that was too perfect to come from my mundane imagination. And even though it was so beautiful, I knew it was much too dangerous for a small child to play with. So I had to go to the boy and tell him that the crossbow was too dangerous for him and he couldn’t play with it. The boy began to cry, and I held him in my arms to comfort him. This moment of love and compassion and connection was perfect… I realized it was the experience I’d been looking for all along. And so, my mind couldn’t conceive of anything better to manifest, and I just got stuck on that moment. But at the same time, that wasn’t quite satisfying… so what could I do???
I woke up with a really weird feeling, like mundane life was somehow an escape from the deadlock of heaven. I felt a deep sense of futility. Slowly I drifted off to sleep again and if my first dream was heaven… well this one was hell. My dream began with me descending the staircase of the cabin I was in only to find myself in a massive courtroom. Now I’m held on trial by what looks like a black version of Beethoven, and I’m being charged with all the crimes of humanity (against the Earth). In fact, the list of my crimes comes as an entire book (I flip to a random page and read about the time I dropped a carton of eggs when I was six years old).
Whereas my heaven dream is a long stream of everything going my way until I hit a dead end, my hell dream is a series of vignettes that each make me deeply uncomfortable and then morphs into a new, even more disturbing situation. In one vignette I’m trying to fly to the top of a tower and just as I get close I suddenly start flying way too high, then I try to come down and end up falling. As soon as I hit the ground, I’m in a new vignette… and so on. I don’t feel particularly compelled to share all my dark fears and insecurities with you, but let’s just say I got put through the wringer. At the end of the dream, I’m in a movie theater, staring at a blank screen. Slowly the screen becomes the wall of the room I’m sleeping in, and I’m awake, staring at the wall.
That’s not exactly something that had happened to me before, having a dream seamlessly shift into real life. But then again, it was just that kind of night.
Somehow, I managed to drift off to sleep again. My next dream was very aimless and floating. I was just allowing myself to be taken on a ride. A large segment of the dream involved Ian and I being driven around in a schoolbus by two drivers who didn’t know where they were going. At a certain point, I spotted a girl I was infatuated with at the time and called to her to get her on the schoolbus, but she circled it warily and then walked away. Oh well, I said to myself, and we continued on the journey. I remember being at a school from my early childhood where Bjork was putting on a show, and really just drifting here and there.
Ultimately, I get to a large gathering where my high school English teacher is talking about the Buddha. She’s saying the Buddha this and the Buddha that… stuff like, “The Buddha is a clear vessel of consciousness, the Buddha is total purity.” I can feel something building inside of me and all of a sudden, the words just burst forth of themselves: “THE BUDDHA IS NOT!”
The Buddha is not. No sooner have the words been spoken than I feel myself breaking through a veil, and now the dream is moving through me. I am flowing on currents, I am no longer in the driver’s seat. Every movement, every moment is perfect, perfect…
And then I wake up. Pinch myself… nope, not enlightened. Bummer!
Then, one final dream. Now, at the beginning of this dream I’m talking to Ian about how I just had a dream where I became enlightened. He’s pretty interested, although I feel like maybe I’m not supposed to be telling him about the dream because it’s egotistical of me and that’s unenlightened… Anyway, I decide that I should really do something to get back to that place of enlightenment. So I start doing a sufi twirling kind of thing to try to trigger the enlightened state… I’m holding a little world ball in my right hand and I’m staring at it as I spin. People are watching me spin around and around like a madman while I’m putting all my effort into willing this enlightened state.
Finally I fall down from all the spinning and my Dad comes up to me and accuses me of being on drugs.
“No dad, I’m not on drugs,” but he doesn’t believe me. Then he starts to force his fist into my lower ribs, like where I imagine the Roman soldiers pierced Jesus with the spear. So yeah, not very pleasant.
Then I wake up.
After that, I’m pretty much done dreaming for the night. As I reflect on my dreams, they strike me as four visions: heaven/hell and enlightenment/ego. The message I take from them is that heaven and hell are reflections of one another, heaven is the world of craving and hell is the world of aversion. If you go looking for heaven, you might experience some pleasant things but you ultimately find that there is no true satisfaction in an experience. In hell, on the other hand, it’s your unwillingness to face an unpleasant situation that keeps you diving from one into another. You can avoid any particular situation, but it just comes back in a different form.
My enlightenment dream seemed to say that enlightenment isn’t something you do, it’s just something that happens when you relax and stop trying. I wasn’t making any conscious effort to “go with the flow,” and the idea of becoming enlightened just wasn’t there. Things were happening and I was going along with it, and all of a sudden this tremendous energy just came in and took over. In the ego dream, on the other hand, I was trying to make something happen, I was putting effort into triggering an experience and trying to become something or someone amazing. This just led to being rejected and crucified by the people around me.
Well, what’s in a dream? Were these dreams divine inspiration or just part of the endless wandering of the imagination? I’m not sure, but they’ve stuck with me, and every time I’ve experienced vivid, allegorical dreams they’ve echoed into my waking life. I don’t feel it’s about having ultimate answers, but about contemplation, seeing life from different angles, and developing awareness of the inner and outer worlds.
I hope you find some seed of wisdom in these recollections. The world of dreams is hazy and mysterious, and perhaps more relevant to our waking life than most of us admit. For myself, I would wish greater lucidity in my dreams, the wisdom to smile and surrender rather than waste my nights seeking or running away from phantoms, and the blessing of tapping into higher realms. In that spirit I wish you sweet dreams, may you also find beauty and truth in that shadow realm.
Perhaps we’ll see each other there.