Not so long ago, walking the dog along a wooded path on a cool foggy morning, deep in contemplation, quietly asking god for help in seeing the truth, came the thunderstruck realization that my entreaties to god were, in fact, god calling out to itself.
For the briefest of moments, the idea of a me architecting those thoughts vanished. There was just god (or knowing, or oneness, or presence, or awareness – please don’t get hung up on the g-word).
There wasn’t a me + thoughts about god + a god out there somewhere. No subject-object. All of it one and the same. No separation.
The seeing in such moments and its accompanying joy are unmistakable.
But they’re just that, small epiphanies or moments of clarity before the cloud of life comes rushing back in to swallow me up. Indeed, the moment you try to catch a direct glimpse of such truths or release the mind like a kind of blood hound to track it down and make it your own, it’s already gone. In other words, the moment ‘you’ return to the scene it’s vanished – you and truth cannot co-exist.
Or as Wei Wu Wei wrote: “The seeing of Truth cannot be dualistic (a ‘thing’ seen). It cannot be seen by a see-er, or via a see-er. There can only be a seeing which itself is Truth.”
The ancients from India referred to this world and our role in it as ‘maya,’ a kind of grand or collective illusion, each of us seemingly unique, separate characters with histories behind us and futures yet to come. We are filled with ourselves (be the contents of that filling self-loathing or self-esteem).
We dream characters march through this dream world filled with ideas and notions about who we are and what we must do and, of course, how the other dream characters must comport themselves. (The recent U.S. presidential election offers a classic case study in how all of the self-important little me’s agitate about how crazy is the other side while, naturally, their own side is righteous and reasonable.)
That’s the thing about dreams: when you’re in them, you don’t know it. At the moment of sleep we drift effortlessly and unknowingly (hint, hint) into a dream world, then reverse the process upon awakening. Curiously, we refer only to one of those states as ‘dreaming.’
But how do you know you aren’t dreaming now? How do you know you aren’t a dream character in a dream world dreaming these words as well as your understanding of them?
Consider one of the central hallmarks of a dream: a complete absence of control. From the start of a dream – we’re suddenly in it – to its contents – we show up naked for an exam, our teeth fall out, the elevator plunges; or we joyfully flit through clouds, swim with dolphins, make love to a beautiful other – to our exit from it, there is absolutely no control. I’m in it, but control none of it.
(I’d almost argue that our behavior in dreams is a lot like ‘real life’ – the more we chase after the good stuff or struggle to avoid the bad, the greater the frustration. Who amongst us hasn’t tried desperately to flee a bad dream situation only to find the ground beneath our feet turned to molasses?)
Why, then, do we imagine ourselves to be in control of this life? Why do we assume we are the architects of these lives? Especially with such overwhelming evidence to the contrary? (Try to stop your heart, predict thoughts five minutes from now, etc.)
So, if this life is in fact a dream and I a dream character in it, how do I awaken from it? And just as important, who or what is awakening?
I suspect the answer lies back in that little epiphany in the woods and the recognition that ‘my’ thoughts on god were actually god contemplating god. All of it that morning, the seeing and smelling, the blood pumping, the fog cooling the skin, the dog romping, atoms agitating, neutrinos bombarding, earth spinning, galaxy rocketing across space, thoughts appearing, all of it god, no separation.
In other words, there can’t possibly be a me that awakens from the dream. Only a recognition of Truth by Truth itself, and that will ‘happen’ beyond any fictional thoughts about control which, are themselves, a fiction. Heady stuff, right?
Well, no, not really. In fact, it’s the antithesis of heady. The mind just mucks it all up. The mind creates the fiction and then believes in it.
Never forget, what you are looking for is what is looking. – Wei Wu Wei