The meaning of life is just to be alive. It is so plain and so obvious and so simple. And yet, everybody rushes around in a great panic as if it were necessary to achieve something beyond themselves.– Alan Watts, The Culture of Counter-Culture: Edited Transcripts
You are a function of what the whole universe is doing, the same way that a wave is the function of what the whole ocean is doing. – Alan WattsOne way to explore this is to take a very simple action, like brushing the teeth. Then trace the causes back in time and out in the world. By doing this, we find that there are infinite causes, stretching back to the beginning of time and the widest extent of existence. This tends to make the me or I very insignificant, or even erase it completely.
One of my favorite thought experiments.
Imagine you can control your dreams. The first night, you may decide to dream that you have everything that you have ever wanted. It’s very pleasurable, and you may repeat it for several nights.
Then, maybe you decide to forget that it’s a dream, while you are dreaming it. That makes it more interesting.
You may also decide to include some challenges in the dream, to spice it up. Maybe even some that seem a matter of life and death.
Eventually, you arrive at the life you have now. You have forgotten it’s a dream, and there is a mix of pleasant experiences and challenges.
After some more nights, you may decide to add another wrinkle to your dreams. Within the dream, you add hints that it’s a dream – perhaps through synchronicities or direct glimpses. These may cause you, the dreamer, to be curious about waking up within the dream. You may even actively wish for it, and work at waking up. That becomes another adventure within the dream.
And that too, may be the life you are living right now.
Adyashanti talks about this analogy in Ideal Spiritual Orientation.
Is the present created by the past, or is the past created in the present? Or are both true, each in their own way?
The boat and wake analogy invites us to explore this. A boat creates it’s wake, so is it similarly true that the present creates the past?
If so, in what way is it true? What do I find when I explore this through simple, real and specific examples?
And is it true in just a moderate way, or in a more profound sense?
As I woke this morning, this question returned to me:
How would it be if I was aware of dreaming while dreaming? What would I do if I could decide the content of my own dreams? Would my choices change over time?
Most of us would probably first go for our “dream” life. All our goals met. Our wishes fulfilled. Perhaps an easy and interesting life, in a house at a nice location, with some travel, and shared with good friends and family.
It would get predictable and slightly boring after a while, so why not add unpredictability, surprise, and some challenges? It would helps us stay alert and interested, and help us push our boundaries and discover new things about ourselves and the world.
But even that may get slightly boring after a while. After all, we know it is a dream. The challenges are no more real for us than the ones we watch in a movie or read in a book. The stakes are not very high. How can we raise the stakes and make it more interesting? By forgetting that we are dreaming.
Alan Watts suggested this exploration:
What if I could chose the content of my dreams, and each dream contained lifetimes of experiences, what type of dreams would I chose?
I may start out with choosing to get everything I want. (Everything my personality wants). Wealth. Leisure. Success. Security. Tropical beaches. Intimacy. Pleasure. Happiness.
After a while, that may get a little boring and stale, so I would introduce something to spice it up, maybe some light challenges. Some minor snakes in the paradise.
But knowing that it is a dream makes these challenges less interesting, so I may chose to forget that I am dreaming, as I am dreaming, just to spice it up further.
Even forgetting that it is a dream, light challenges may get a little stale, so I may chose to make the challenges more heavy, more dramatic. Poverty. Disease. Violence. Fall from grace.
To spice it up even further, I may chose to realize – or have an intuition – that it is a dream, and then strive to recognize it as a dream in the midst of the dream. Strive to know that it is a dream, even as it unfolds. And to recognize this consistently, through the different dream situations.
One part I found especially interesting is in the third segment where he explores what we would do if we had complete freedom to choose our night dreams?
For a few months, we would probably want to dream about having all sorts of riches and pleasures. But it would get boring and predictable after a while.
Since we know it is just a dream, and we can’t really get hurt by it, we may then choose to include some drama in the dream to make it more interesting. Something is at stake, and we may or may not get it.
And to make it even more juicy, we may choose to make it into a life and death drama, to see how far we can take it. After all, it is just a dream and we don’t really get hurt.