"...Do you understand
Do you feel the same
Am I only dreaming
Is this burning an eternal flame..."
- The Bangles
In their 1980s classic, "Eternal Flame," the Bangles ask, "Am I only dreaming?" I thought I would always know, without a shadow of a doubt, the answer to that question...until one morning.
You see, I've always been a lucid dreamer. From the time I was a little girl...in fact, for as far back as I can remember...I've thought of dreaming as my own alternate universe. And it was a dimension I loved...alot. I've flown over mountains and through river canyons, with nothing more than my arms for wings, and only a slight leaning of my head, in one direction or another, to steer by. I've shared space with fairies and talking sea turtles on whose backs I've crossed great seas.
I've always known when I was dreaming and when things got scary in a dream, I could "change channels," move my attention over to another, less threatening dream for a while, and avoid what was frightening or uncomfortable...returning to the orginal dream when I thought we'd gotten through the scary parts. Or just wake up! It was always my choice.
Dreaming was my escape, my vacation. I liked dreaming, and I was pretty adept at it. I knew how to create the optimal situation for dreaming. I had mastered the art of the dream. If I slept for four to five hours, woke up for at least ten minutes...but no more than thirty,...and then went back to sleep, I could be fully engaged in a very realistic dream within minutes. My dreams were rarely "nightmares." Life itself was usually more nightmarish than my dreams.
I became good at living "on purpose" in my dreams as well. As a spiritual healer I often prayed, gave treatments, and saw patients in my dreams. My dreams were becoming as real to me as my everyday life. For the most part, both were populated by the same people, although there were characters in each...my day life and my night life...that did not exist in both. For many, many years I did not take issue with this strange co-existence...but all that began to change when I started probing the acuracy of my own version of what I considered "reality".
For over two decades I'd held onto hard-to-dismiss, heart-shattered feelings about something someone had said to me. In my daydreams I would rehearse a conversation in which I imagined myself confronting the person, having my say, and smartly turning on my heels, leaving with my dignity...and my recovered self-worth...in tact. But I never felt like I had the courage, the confidence, or the steely, flint-like heart...to say it all.
One morning, however, after returning home from a very early pre-dawn trip to the airport to drop off a friend, instead of heading straight into the office for an early work day, I very clearly heard a voice urging me to return to bed and get a bit more rest. It came on the heels of long week of sleepless nights full of prayer, listening, writing, and study. This message was gentle and kind. It was not a message of avoidance or escape. It did not feel like the hypnotic, snakelike suggestion of "go to sleep, go to sleep...." -- I knew that one pretty well - this was a voice of genuine love. And I was obedient.
Within moments I was asleep and dreaming. And it was a vivid, realistic dream. In it, I was able to approach the person I'd long-imagined confronting, and I spoke my mind, didn't wait around for a response, but turned on my heels...just as I had planned to for two decades...and left feeling completely self-justified.
But it didn't end there...in my dream, it immediately became clear that what I had said was ill-timed and just plain wrong...and mean. New information came to light quickly, and I was horrified by what I'd done. But it was also clear that what I had said (and more importantly, the way I'd said it) could not be taken back, would have long term ramifications, and would cause a schism in an important relationship. I was left with a stricken view of myself and my actions. I had betrayed my highest sense of my self...and I would have done anything to turn back the hands of time and have the option of never having said a word.
That was when I woke up and realized it was just a dream. I was so happy I started to smile..and then sighed with great relief. I jumped out of bed and got started on my day. As I was standing in the kitchen, the doorbell rang, and when I opened the front door, to my surprise the person I'd confronted in my dream was standing there. I was thrilled to see them...in light of what I'd discovered about my misperceptions in my dream...and greeted them with an ebullent "good morning." But imagine my horror when, the person looked at me with disappointment and derision, and asked me what my confrontation from the day before had been about, and why I would say such things. My friend was hurt and angry, and I realized I hadn't been dreaming at all. Oh my gosh, I'd actually confronted them, and it had been as pointed, and devoid of emotion and pathos, as I'd always, sort of, hoped for...but now deeply regretted.
And that was when I woke up...again. I'd been dreaming again. But now, I was awake. Again, I was so happy. Whew!!
But to my horror, this happened three more times. Just when I thought I was awake, and that it would all be okay because I'd only "done it" in a dream, something would happen and I would discover that I'd actually said hurtful things, accused my friend of what I'd always believed them to have done, and had self-righteously stomped off full of my own self-certainty. And then I'd wake up again...in the dream...thinking I was awake. It was horrible.
I was living in my own version of a dreamer's "Ground Hog Day." I didn't know how to wake myself up, and I didn't know if I was actually awake or asleep in each instance. I wasn't sure if I would ever wake from the dream that I was unkind and judgmental, or if I was awake all along.
Just when I was convinced that I really had been horribly self-righteous, accusatory, and unkind to someone I loved...someone who I now realized had never really meant to hurt me -- or my feelings -- decades earlier, I heard the phone ringing. I reached for the receiver, on the table next to my bed, and on the other end was the person I had so wrongly accused in my dream. This is someone who never calls me in "real life," so now I am sure I am dreaming. But this time, instead of hearing their hurt, confused, angrily perplexed tone of voice...in response to my accusatory confrontation..their voice was loving, light, kind, and warm.
This time, I knew I was really awake. This was the real voice of my friend. One I hadn't been able to hear for two decades. I realized that this was the voice that my friend had always used with me, but I had always been listening as if I was under water. I had listened to every conversation, seen every situation, felt every emotion through the lens of a falsely perceived offense, and a repeatedly imagined (on my part) self-defensive retort. I was so ready to let it all go after my "Ground Hog Day" endless series of dreams, so that I could finally hear, see, feel...experience...our friendship, through the lens of Truth.
Although the call seemed random in the course of things, since we rarely called one another anymore...I knew it was a divine gift. Every step of that morning's journey into dreaming had been designed by a loving God. My hand had been held all through that hellish experience by my loving, corrective divine Parent, who knew I was ready for freedom from the daydream I thought was real, as well as from the night dream I thought I wanted to escape into.
I discovered that for over two decades I had been dreaming everytime I thought about my friend as having hurt me. I kept thinking I was awake, but as long as I was looking at my friend through the lens of a behavior that was less than Christlike...loving, kind, honest, pure, good, sincere, faithful...it didn't matter...I was dreaming. It didn't matter whether I thought I was awake or asleep. The burning hurt, anger, and roiling emotions I had fanned by imagining how I'd confront my "friend" was an eternal flame leaping at the tender places in my heart that could have held gentler feelings if only I'd been awake to who we both were as children of God.
When the dreaming finally left me feeling horrible about myself over, and over, and over, and over again..feeling as if I had said something I wished I could take back, and yet kept finding myself back in the dream...I was the, and I think only then, finally ready to let go of the dreaming on all levels...awake or asleep. I could see my friend as they had really always been...kind, loving, joyful, genuine...as my friend. Not someone I needed to confront, but someone I was honored to be in a relationship with. The buried feelings of hurt and anguish were gone with the real light of day. All I could see, hear, feel...was the presence of a friend. And as Mary Baker Eddy says:
"One wonders that a friend can ever seem less than beautiful."
When we wake up to the truth of being...the truth that God is All-in-all, at all times, in all situations, and under all circumstances...one can't help but wonder how anyone can every seem less than beautiful to us.
My love for escapist dreaming ended that morning. I have been dream-free, at least in the traditional sense of escaping-reality-with-my-head-on-a-pillow kind of dreaming...ever since. I rest well, and I now know that the only reality I am willing to experience, is the one that has the character and nature of the Christ. I am only willing to enter a reality that looks at every single moment through the lens of Love...the expectation of good in, and of, everyone...including myself. I really, really like living lucidly, loving expansively, and soaring above the clouds of personal sense...right here, right now, all the time, waking or sleeping...but always learning. Now my dream-related hope is that I can fly through the Grand Canyon, consort with fairies, and sail the seven seas with singing sea turtles...in my waking hours!!!
Kate Robertson, CS