Life is But A Dream—That is, Until We Wake Up!

If  I am called to solitude, it is, I think, to unlearn all tension, and get rid of the strain that has always falsified me in the presence of others and put harshness into the words of my mind.” ~ Thomas Merton

As modern people, we often feel stuck between our ears.

We don’t experience the world as it is. Rather, we think about it. This cuts us off from the vitality of the present moment. We feel disembodied, discontented, lifeless, which gives rise to insecurity.

Kleshas are emotionally charged thoughts. They aren't innocent thoughts like, “Why are donuts round?” or “I wonder why turtles are green?” They are thoughts that push our buttons, like “I wonder if she likes me?” or “Do I look fat in this dress?”

Kleshas prey on our insecurities. They trigger our fears and before long our mind is worked into a frenzy. We start thinking about our own thoughts. “I wonder if she likes me,” we think casually. “I’ll give her a call.” No answer. Half hour goes by; we check our phone a half dozen times. No response. Another hour goes by, “Maybe she didn't noticed I called; I’ll call her back." No answer. “She’s probably with Michael. It’s obvious she likes Michael. That son of a bitch. Every time I like a girl he does this. To hell with the both of them!”

The first thought pushes our button, triggering an inbred cycle of thought. The second thought, thinks about the first thought; the third about the second. And we carry on in this way until we are five, ten, twenty thoughts removed from the present moment. Each successive thought pushes the insecurity button again. We are like a caged rat in a scientific experiment, except we aren’t getting cocaine; we’re getting fear and anger—a great big ole helpin’ of adrenaline.

So our thoughts begin racing. As our thoughts gain momentum, much like a ceiling fan, they no longer look like individual blades spinning in space. They look like a solid disk. We begin to mistake the story between our ears for reality. We start hallucinating. And to make matters worse, we make decisions based on this hallucination.

We pick up our phone and shoot her a text message saying, “I don't deserve this. You should at least call me back or tell me you’re not interested.” Then we see her response: “WTF?! What are you talking about? I’m visiting my mom this weekend and can’t talk right now. Psycho much?” Suddenly our thought bubble is popped and we are plunged from our dream world back into reality. We feel lathered in embarrassment, which pushes our buttons, cuing up the same insecure thought process. It is a vicious cycle.

A similar process occurs when we go to sleep. We dream up all kinds of fantastic scenarios. We go on magical quests, great adventures, or have nightmares about being attacked by lions or crocodiles. However, when we wake up in the morning, we know they were just dreams. In our dream, the lion is a mirage or a hallucination. Interestingly enough, in dreams, so are we. The body running from the lion is not our “real body.” Just like the lion, it was a mental construct. And so is the act of running. Subject, object, and verb—the whole scenario—are an hallucination.

So it is with day dreaming or the stressful narrative many of us feel stuck in.

This does not mean that nothing is real. There is a dream-like image that we hold over our experience. This is what we think about the world. It is our commentary on reality. Often times, we mistake what we think about the world for the world itself. And when we do, we cut ourselves off from the basic awareness of the body and migrate up into the head where we live as a false-self.

When we observe our mind, we see that the immediacy of our True Life is veiled by a dream-like overlay. This conceptual veneer is comprised of various thoughts. The mind thinks about its own thoughts until that conceptual cloud becomes so dense that the light of basic awareness no longer breaks through.

Meditation practice enables us to break through this cloud by slowing thought down. We bring our awareness to the breath, which is anchored in the present moment. When we notice our mind drifting off, we return to the present moment by reconnecting with the experience of the breath. We use the breath to break the cycle of thinking about our own thoughts. As a result, the mind settles. Thought no longer looks like a solid disk. We see the gap between each propeller. The light of basic awareness shines through that gap. This is called a spiritual experience. And such experiences are transformative. If we do this every day, we can actually unlearn this habit of consciousness.

If you are interested in learning more about meditation and contemplative spirituality, check out my book, Finding God in the Body: A Spiritual Path for the Modern West. It draws from a variety of different traditionsincluding Buddhism, contemplative Christianity, Judaism, and 12 Step spiritualityto present, not a smorgasbord, but a synthesized and actionable path structure that resonates with the modern Western mind. Click here to learn more about Finding God in the Body: A Spiritual Path for the Modern West.

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