I mentioned this briefly in a previous article, and thought I would expand on it a bit here.
THE CONVENTIONAL VIEW ON DREAMS AND WAKING LIFE
Many think of dreams and waking life as categorically different.
A dream is a fantasy and product of the mind. It may say something about our internal life, and that’s about it.
Waking life is real, as it appears to us. It has nothing to do with dreams, with the possible exception of daydreams and fantasies.
THE GENERAL DREAMING FUNCTION OF THE MIND
The reality is quite different.
When we look, we may find that all our mental activity is a kind of dream.
We put mental representations on top of what’s in our sense fields – sights, sounds, sensations, smells, taste – to make sense of them. We label and have stories about what’s here. Similarly, we have mental representations of what isn’t here – the wider world, the past and future, and so on.
In a very real sense, all our mental activity is imagination and a fantasy. It’s a kind of dreaming activity.
It can be very useful in helping us make sense of the world and in helping us orient and navigate in the world. It can be more or less accurate, in a conventional sense. And this dreaming activity doesn’t hold any absolute or final truth.
THE DREAMING ACTIVITY OF THE MIND – IN NIGHT DREAMS AND WAKING LIFE
This general dreaming activity of the mind plays itself out while awake and also in our sleeping dreams.
Both are an expression of the creativity of our mind.
Both create a world for us. Sleeping dreams happen in the absence of sensory inputs. And these waking dreams happen partly as an overlay over sensory inputs (what we see, hear, feel, smell, taste etc.) and partly in the absence of these sensory inputs (imaginations of a wider world, past, future, and so on).
Both can seem real if we take them that way, and we can learn to see through both. We can recognize a sleeping dream as a dream while we dream (lucid dreaming) and we can recognize our waking dreams as they happen (through inquiry). It takes time, but recognizing dreams as they happen can become a new habit.
What we are is capacity for both types of dreams, they both happen within and as what we are. When we notice this, identification with them tends to soften. It’s easier to recognize them as dreams.
Our sleeping dreams are one expression of the general dreaming activity of the mind.
NOTICING THIS HELPS RELEASE IDENTIFICATION OUT OF THE DREAMING ACTIVITY
Recognizing this general dreaming activity of the mind can help us take it a little less seriously. It is immensely valuable in helping us navigate the world. And it doesn’t hold any final or absolute truth.
When we notice that all mental activity is a kind of dream, it helps release identification out of this dreaming activity.
HOW CAN WE EXPLORE THIS FOR OURSELVES?
If we just read or hear about this, it becomes part of the dream. It may be interesting, but it doesn’t really do anything for us.
So how can we explore this for ourselves?
The simple answer is by noticing the dreaming activity directly. By noticing this dreaming activity as an overlay on the other senses for what’s in our immediate environment. And for anything else – the wider world, past, future, and so on – it functions on its own.
And to do this, structured inquiry can be very helpful. We may not be used to noticing this, and may not even know how to go about it, so a structured inquiry will function as training wheels and helps us explore it more systematically and in depth.
The best approach I have found is the Living Inquiries, which is a modern version of traditional Buddhist Inquiry. Here, we get to explore the different sense fields, and how the mental field combines with other sense fields to create our experience of ourselves and the world.
As we get more familiar with this, we learn to notice and recognize the dreaming activity of the mind – the mental field activity – as it happens. And that makes a big difference. It helps us hold this dreaming activity more lightly, recognize it as a kind of dreaming activity, and not something that holds any final or absolute truth. Read More