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26 January 2011

A Gift From a Student

A Gift from a Student
I want to share something from a recent letter from one of my Arts High students, Shannon Schmidt. This one really struck at the core of ideas and realities I've been sniffing around for a long time now! This excerpt is reprinted with permission of the writer.

She speaks of a recurring dream:
"This dream has presented itself to me throughout the years through a great array of imagined scenarios, all of which center on the same idea but vary in details. The idea is that I am alone, in a literal sense. In some of the dreams my sudden solitude is brought on upon my entering an empty room in a building that was just stuffed with people. In others, I have awoken in this barren, alternate-universe of sorts. I am a firm believer in the fact that dreams are higher in value than we often consider them, but this particular nightmare has caused more late-night worry for me than actual deep thought. Am I afraid that the world as I know it is so fragile and temporary that it will one day dissipate around me, or am I afraid that I have already ostracized myself from the people around me?"

This is one of those nightmares with a flip-side to it. The fact that the dream has been recurring over many years and she keeps recognizing it in many different forms further highlights its value. As Robert Moss would probably offer, let's look at the nightmare not as enemy but as messenger -- see the demon as an angel if you will.

How much of reality is captured within this dream?

"Am I afraid that the world as I know it is so fragile and temporary that it will one day dissipate around me . . .?” Isn't this dissipation our great fear as well as our great hope? The eventual, inevitable unfolding of greater truths? This fear and possibility is at the very edge of the doors of perception, spoken about by William Blake and later Aldous Huxley.

I too have experienced this fear. The dissipation of everything I am -- death with a small "d" throughout my life (money, material possessions, relationships), and, of course, the thought of death with a capital "D", the end of my life; when I cease to exist, what will I be? The falling away of all the thoughts and desires I cling to, that which makes me who I am or at the very least gives me my sense of self -- its definition and boarders -- is this death? Will the process be harder if I cling to the illusions? What if I practice death in life as the Tibetan Buddhists advocate? Are my perceptions of finite reality even accurate or just more tricks of my ego? Maybe I can embrace this fear instead of relegating it to the darkest realms of my psyche so it only occasionally bubbles out in nightmares, albeit recurring ones!

Is there an unfolding universe or greater truth behind the precise yet limited ego-driven focus of my current perception?

I might look to William Blake for some answers. To quote Blake:

a body distinct from his soul is to be
expunged; this I shall do by printing
in the infernal method by corrosives,
which in Hell are salutary and medici-
nal, melting apparent surfaces away,
and displaying the infinite which was

This suffering (hell with a small "h") we all endure is a result of the "corrosives"; yet let's not look past their "salutary and medicinal" properties. Sometimes what we perceive as good or bad isn't necessarily that way. These torments are really the stripping away of our ego as the forces of life, like waves, often dissolve even the hardest rocks of certainty into grains of sand, blown with the wind and waves. The suffering and great struggle of one's life -- in this case the mental torment of a recurring nightmare -- may also bring truth and great hope if we can listen to it. The melting away might not be so bad if we didn't struggle with the process, even find peace in the illusory nature of what we call reality. Perhaps this dream brings wisdom one might search for one's entire life? Can this message be embraced?

Quoting Blake once more:

"If the doors of perception were
cleansed everything would appear to
man as it is, infinite.

For man has closed himself up, till
he sees all things through narrow
chinks of his cavern."

Only through the closing off is the fear manifest. Only through the illusion of separation and the holding back to protect the ego do the real struggles emerge; the struggles first to know, without a doubt, who I am and then the fight with all of my strength to keep that image going strong without change; it only gets harder as we get older -- to keep this fake-self together -- this requires a lot of mental gymnastics because deep down we know the ego is all an illusion anyway. Think of the suffering related to this struggle! Is there another way?

As Sri Sri Ravi Shankar writes: "Feeling and experiencing infinity within this finite body, living timelessness within the time span of life, uncovering bliss within misery -- this is what you are here for."
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
Celebrating Silence

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this discussion and the Shankar quote. It was nice meeting you! Lisa Fitton, Writing Center, Brookdale


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