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Dreamers

According to Greg Tucker, we live in a dream. Greg Tucker obviously isn’t the only person to have ever said this but he might well be the only clinical psychologist who has gone on record as saying so! And not only has he claimed that we’re all dreamers in a dream, he has also made a therapeutic intervention out of it, a psychological approach out of it. So the idea is that we are all dreamers in the dream and what dreams the dream is mind. The mind dreams us and we don’t know that the mind is dreaming us because we think that the dream is real…

 

 

Thinking that the dream is real is of course what the dream is all about. Of course we think that the dream is real. That’s how the dream works – by getting us to think that it is not a dream but actual reality. That thought that ‘this is reality’ is extraordinarily plausible to us. The idea that we live in a dream is – needless to say – completely unbelievable to us. It might be fine as a poetic notion, as a kind of romantic way of talking about things, but that’s as far as it goes. The bottom line is that the dream compels us to believe in it…

 

 

This dream has two natures, we might say. On the one hand there is the dream when we know it to be a dream, which is ‘light’ and airy and poetical and extraordinarily vivid, and on the other hand there is the dream when we don’t know it to be a dream which is heavy and concrete and terribly dull in its nature. The reason the dream is so dreadfully flat and dull and concrete and lacking in all things uplifting when we don’t realize that it is a dream is because what we think it is – i.e. some kind of ‘reality’ – doesn’t actually exist. We think there is something there that isn’t there. There is no definite reality in the way we think that there is, and so the definite reality that we understand to be all around us (the definite reality we believe in so automatically,) is just a hollow illusion. There is nothing ‘uplifting’ about it because there’s nothing in it – it’s a sham, a hoax, a flat surface-level crappy old illusion with nothing behind it and so of course there’s nothing vivid or poetical or uplifting about it! The extent to which our attention is dominated by this concrete reality is the extent to which we are dominated by complete unremitting hollow blankness, which is like ‘nonsense that we can’t see to be nonsense’, or ‘a lie that we can’t see to be a lie’.

 

 

This isn’t as unfamiliar an idea as it might at first seem – Joseph Campbell talks about ‘the opaque versus the transparent’ in relation to myths and literal descriptions (or dogmas) respectively. Literal descriptions are opaque because there is no seeing beyond them – the whole point of a literal description or dogma is that there is no seeing beyond it. The literal description is the end of the road, it’s the final description, it’s a solid brick wall beyond which we cannot go. A myth on the other hand is transparent precisely because it is the beginning of the road and not the end of it! It is in no way the final word on the matter. It is not a ‘terminally-authoritative’ explanation of how things are. A myth is the BEGINNING of our journey – it is a bridge to ‘an unknown destination’. So the literal description leads only to itself, it goes nowhere, it is a blank, whereas the myth leads to reality – it leads to the world itself…

 

 

Hence, Joseph Campbell, in ‘The Masks of God’, volume 1: Primitive Mythology. (P 28), says the following:

 

Kant, in his Prolegomena to Every Future System of Metaphysics, states very carefully that all our thinking about final things can be only by way of analogy. ‘The proper expression for our fallible mode of conception,’ he declares, ‘would be: that we imagine the world as if its being and inner character were derived from a supreme mind’.
Such a highly played game of ‘as if’ frees our mind and spirit, on the one hand, from the presumption of theology, which pretends to know the laws of God, and on the other, from the bondage of reason, whose laws do not apply beyond the horizon of human experience.
I am willing to accept the word of Kant, as representing the view of a considerable metaphysician. And applying it to the range of festival games and attitudes just reviewed – from the mask to the consecrated host and temple image, transubstantiated worshiper and transubstantiated world – I can see, or believe I can see, that a principle of release operates throughout the series by way of the alchemy of an “as if”; and that, through this, the impact of all so-called “reality” upon the psyche is transubstantiated. The play state and the rapturous seizures sometimes deriving from it represent, therefore, a step rather toward than away from the ineluctable truth; and belief – acquiescence in a belief that is not quite belief – is the first step toward the deepened participation that the festival affords in that general will to life which, in its metaphysical aspect, is antecedent to, and the creator of, all life’s laws.
The opaque weight of the world – both of life on earth and of death, heaven, and hell – is dissolved, and the spirit freed, not from anything, for there was nothing from which to be freed except a myth too solidly believed, but for something, something fresh and new, a spontaneous act.

 

In the concrete or opaque realm things have a definite meaning; they have ‘only the one meaning’ and this is what makes this realm ‘definite’ in the first place. The meaning is this and nothing else, and here is our ‘literal definition’ of reality. When a thing is known it is known and that is the end of the matter, and so when – in the concrete realm – we register some datum or other, we don’t ever have to look again. We already know it, so what need is there to keep looking at it? In the transparent realm the meaning that things have is unlimited and this is what makes the transparent realm transparent – this is what stops everything being opaque or solid. This is what William Blake says in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

 

If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.

 

 

If it weren’t for the opaque productions of the thinking or literal mind, therefore, we would see that the world isn’t finite at all (in the way that we are so fond of taking it to be) but, as Blake says, Infinite. We would also see that the world isn’t temporal at all (in the way that we inevitably think it is) but Eternal. So we could say that when we see (and wholeheartedly believe in) the world as being finite and temporal this is when we don’t see the dream as the dream, and when we do see the world to be Infinite and Eternal, then this equals ‘waking up’!

 

 

It could be said that the dream, despite its immense plausibility, nevertheless suffers from an insurmountable central flaw or weakness. There are certain features to it that – if we get curious about them – will always lead us to question it. We could also say that there is something about the dream which – ultimately – makes living in the dream utterly untenable. The dream actually gets quite unbearable if we take it totally seriously, which is of course how we’re supposed to take it! The dream compels us to believe in it, and then – when we do believe in it – it ends us becoming so ridiculous and self-contradictory that (if we’re paying any sort of attention at all) we can’t help having very serious problems with it. These problems aren’t the usual run of problems either – they are systematic problems, which is to say, they are fundamentally insoluble problems, problems that are inherent in the very nature of the dream itself.

 

 

The thing about the dream is of course that when we believe to be real then it becomes very serious and the more we believe it the MORE serious (i.e. the more ‘unfun’) it becomes. The root of the problem is that there’s no actual space in our dogmatic belief in the dream and this is what makes it so very flat and humourless, so innately self-contradictory, so very lacking in any genuine ‘fun’ or ‘lightness’ or ‘interest’ – this lack of spaciousness is what makes the concrete realm of our literal beliefs so terribly restrictive, so utterly lacking in any kind of genuine possibilities at all.  As we have said, in the concrete realm everything just ‘is’ what it is described as being, and this type of heavy-duty inflexible concretism is guaranteed to kill any humour in the situation stone dead on the spot. Just as there is no fun in a person who is 100% serious, 100% literal all the time, so too there is no fun in a world that 100% serious, 100% literal…

 

 

As we have indicated, there is no ‘lightness’ in such a world, no flow, no possibility of free movement. Everything is dull and mechanical and tedious. Everything drags. Living in this concrete world (i.e. living in the dream when we don’t know that it is a dream) is a lot like being stuck in a job that we don’t enjoy but which we are compelled to make do with, either out of a sense of duty or because we need the money and there’s no other work available. It’s a ‘routine mechanical environment’ that we are obliged to adapt to. It’s like a bad relationship: we put our time into it and we put our energy into it, but we don’t get anything back out of it! It drains us, in other words. We do it, but it’s a drag…

 

 

This raises the point, if the dream (when we’re concretely stuck in it) is so dreadfully dull and unrewarding, then why do we stick with it? Why do we get so caught up in it? What’s the incentive? What’s in it for us? The most obvious answer is that we can’t really see any way out because we’re just not aware of any alternative and so we’re pretty much obliged to carry on, no matter how rotten it is. Another answer is to say that whilst there’s no joy, no fun, no light-heartedness in the dream (when we accept the dream on its own concrete terms), there is still the possibility of pleasure and pain, which as we all know act as very effective motivators!

 

 

Pleasure and pain are of course both deadly serious, unlike ‘fun’ or ‘happiness’ – they are states of mind that are linked with ‘literal descriptions of the world’ (or we could say, they are both states of mind that are dependent upon whatever concrete evaluations we have made of our situation in the world). If I evaluate my situation as being ‘good’, as being ‘favourable’, then I feel pleasure, and if I evaluate my situation as being ‘bad’, and being ‘unfavourable’, then I feel pain. We try our best to obtain situations that are favourable, and avoid those that are unfavourable, and this is the psychology of the sleeping state. That’s all we need to know! With regard to thoughts and ideas, it can be said that we staunchly uphold and promote those ideas that we see as ‘good’, and reject and deny the ideas that we see as being ‘bad’, and this is too is the psychology of the sleeping state…

 

 

Of course, since the dream is only the dream, there is no good and no bad, no right and no wrong, so all the fuss, all the trouble, all the stress and pressure, all the anguish and anxiety, all the pure rotten misery of it, is all about nothing! All of this drama, all of this excitement, is all about nothing. But contrariwise, it can be seen that if we don’t make so much fuss over good and bad, over right outcomes and wrong outcomes, if we didn’t bluster on so forbiddingly about how important it is to get things to happen the one way and not the other, if we didn’t make such a god-awful row about it, if we didn’t by a combination of hollow threats and empty promises bully everyone into conforming to it all, then the whole thing wouldn’t amount to a hill of beans! It would fall apart in a flash.

 

 

Seeing this is pretty funny, which in itself shows us something. Because we can see how funny the whole thing is this means that we’re not quite so stuck in our tediously dogmatic beliefs about what’s going on in the dream after all; this shows that we have – to some extent, at least – woken up from the dream! If I can see the joke, then I can’t be asleep. As a general rule of thumb (and a very reliable rule of thumb at that), the funnier we find our situation the more awake we are, the more conscious we are, and if we don’t find it funny (like some hardcore Bible-bashing fundamentalist, or any of us when we have regrettably lost our sense of humour) then we’re not awake at all – we’re ‘lost in the dream’. We think that ‘something’ (whatever it is) is very serious indeed, when actually it isn’t at all. We’ve missed the point big time, like a team of highly qualified experts spending their lives studying the finger that points instead of looking where it is pointing to – as someone who wasn’t a highly-qualified expert probably would do without even giving the matter a moment’s thought…

 

 

The observation that there is nothing actually in the concrete realm, that nothing can ever really come out of it apart from more of the same, lets the cat out of the bag with regard to the assertion that the opaque world we believe in so uncritically has some kind of inherent flaw or weakness in it. The flaw is that the dream (when we fail to see it as a dream) has nothing whatsoever to offer. This means that when we’re stuck in the dream (thinking that the literal way in which we understand the dream is absolutely real) then this feels thoroughly rotten – it feels lousy, it is absolutely no fun at all.

 

 

Looking at this from the other side, we could note that just as taking the dream seriously feels rotten, when we stop taking it so seriously then we ‘come back to ourselves’ and feel OK again. We ‘lighten up’. The fact that ‘taking the dream seriously’ feels thoroughly rotten and ‘not taking it seriously’ unfailingly restores our sense of well-being and happiness to us, indicates very clearly that the concrete (or opaque) realm doesn’t actually have anything at all going for it! When we think that the dream is real we feel bad, and when we realize that the dream is just a dream then we lighten up and feel OK again – so what’s the point in persevering as stubbornly as we do in this tedious business of ‘not seeing the funny side’?

 

 

Realizing that the dream actually is a dream happens all the time, in lots of little ways, but the thing is that we don’t really appreciate what is going on. we don’t see how significant this is. Everything I see something that is funny, I am waking up a bit out of the dream because the dream (unless I see it for what it is) is never funny! Every single time I smile or feel genuinely happy I am waking up a little because there’s no smiling and genuine happiness in the dream. Humour and happiness only ever come about as a result of disidentifying with the elements that are presented to us in the dream, and there are no exceptions to this. There is absolutely no way at all that any one could be happy or have a sense of humour and at the same time be identified with the elements that make up the dream. This can’t be done! That would be like me taking some drama or other seriously and yet at the same time having a keen sense of the irony of it all – the two possibilities are mutually exclusive.

 

 

If I am ‘taking it seriously’ then I have no sense of irony and if I have a sense of irony then this means that I’m not taking it seriously. ‘Being ironic’ means that I am not taking any one viewpoint, any one context of meaning seriously – it means that I can see that the viewpoint I am adopting (or the framework of meaning I am using) isn’t the only possible one. So what this comes down to (what irony comes down to) is the matter of there being a ‘plurality of perspectives’ rather than just the one. ‘Seriousness’ on the other hand means that there is only this one way of looking at things, which means that anything this way of looking at things shows us (or tells) us has GOT to be taken at face value…

 

 

When there is only the one perspective then everything just ‘is’ what it is represented as being, and so what option do we have other than to take it seriously? If there is only one way to see things then there’s only one way to see things and that’s the end of the matter – it would be foolish to argue the point. Either something is right or it is wrong and this clear-cut, black-and-white, either/or nature to things is what have called ‘making everything serious’. But if things aren’t so black and white (if there are many perspectives that we can bring to bear instead of just the one) then this is a different kettle of fish entirely…

 

 

For the purposes of ‘just getting on with whatever it is that we want to get on’ with we generally assume that there is only the one perspective, only the one way of looking at things – we pretty much have to or we’ll get confused. This is only a choice that we make, and then forget that we have made. It is never more than a convenient ‘over-simplification’ since, as any complexity scientist (or chaos theorist) would be more than happy to explain, there are no end of perspectives out there, and none of them are any more ‘special’ than any of the rest. As Ilya Prigogine puts it, there is no ‘divine point of view’ from which the whole of reality can be surveyed and mapped out. We might like for there to be, but there isn’t. Reality isn’t a dissymmetrical situation (where one way of looking at things is better than all the rest) – it’s a symmetrical one, where all possible perspectives exist on an equal footing. Localized disymmetries exist, such as the observable structure of the physical universe (or like the laws and constants that lie behind this physical structure) but underlying these local disymmetries is a profound symmetry – the state of Original Symmetry which underlies the whole tangible universe, just as the featureless ocean ‘underlies’ all the transient disturbances (i.e. waves) that may occur on its surface.

 

 

Now the thing about localized disymmetries is that they take themselves seriously (they have to if they are not to fall about laughing and thus disappear back into the State of Original Symmetry) but this ‘seriousness’ only comes about when we take the dissymmetrical disturbances at face value, and totally ignore the oceanic vastness that underlies and supports them. The ‘ocean’ that we are talking about here is the Ocean of Perspectives, which is an ocean that is made up of an endless plurality of different perspectives, none of them having any more validity than any of the others. This business of ‘no one perspective having any special significance’ means therefore that no one perspective (and all of the multifarious details that it throws up) is actually serious. The State of Original Symmetry itself is not really a serious idea – even though we might be tempted to think of it as such! ‘Serious’ means just the one perspective, and Original Symmetry is All Perspectives, all rolled into One…

 

 

From a logical point of view, ‘If all statements are true, then none are true’ and this is why the dream is a dream, and not something serious. If everything is true then this gives rise to a strange situation: in the one hand it’s obviously a very unrestricted situation because nothing is ruled out, but it is also – slightly less obviously – a situation in which nothing is true because for something to be definitely true all competing statements have to be false. This just can’t work any other way! If all the competing statements aren’t ruled out then the whole thing collapses and we might as well give up trying to say anything definite. If we say that definite statements are serious statements (in that they’re not just joking around) then a world in which no possibilities are out-ruled (a world in which all possible possibilities are allowed equally) is not a serious world. In the Ocean of Perspectives, “nothing is real”. What we’re talking about here is ‘a world’, but only in a very ephemeral sense, therefore. It’s a dream world, and we are the dreamers who dream that they’re living in it…

 

 

In a rough and ready way we can say that ‘humour’ (or ‘irony’) is what allows us to float free from the brutal gravitational field of concrete existence. We should note at this point however that ‘humour’ cannot be considered as an actual method for escaping from the suffering that comes about as a result of being stuck in the dream. There is no method for not being serious! The very moment we try to employ humour as a strategy we are going to come right back into the concrete realm. Everything is going to go instantly opaque! To try to use humour as a deliberate strategy is, after all, a frighteningly humourless sort of a thing. There is nothing even remotely funny about this – it’s a clanger. The idea is a complete non-starter: strategies are innately non-humourless, which is to say, inasmuch as a strategy is directed towards some kind of serious goal (and what kind of strategy isn’t?) it must serious. The only way it wouldn’t be serious would be if it wasn’t really a strategy at all, if it were only pretending to be a strategy…

 

 

This throws a lot of light on all those very serious ‘therapy-strategies’ that we in the overly-rational West have cunningly developed to try to help people free themselves from their mental suffering, The thing is – as we have just been saying – that if they have a serious (rather than strictly ironic) goal in mind, then these interventions can’t be therapies at all. An extra dose of seriousness is only going to make us suffer more, since it is surfeit of seriousness that we are suffering from. Unless a therapy is humorous in nature, it can’t possibly do us any good. If I am a therapist or a psychologist and I am ‘reading it out of the manual’ (so to speak) then this means that it’s serious. The very fact that it’s a manualized therapy means that it has to be serious because in order for me to have the light touch, the humorous touch, the ironic touch, whatever it is that I’m saying or doing has to be coming from me.

 

 

The whole thing about therapeutic protocols that come out of a book or a manual is that it’s the same thing ever time I do it. It’s essentially the same for every patient or client receiving the treatment, and so what’s ironic about this? Only if it’s coming in its entirety from a genuine, fully-autonomous individual can the ‘therapy’ be ironic, because only a genuine fully-fledged individual (who doesn’t give a damn for convention or what anyone thinks) can ever be coming from this ironic place. If it’s the same for everyone (i.e. if it’s standardized) then it must be ‘serious’, and if it’s unique, then it’s ironic…

 

 

‘Serious’ or ‘mass-produced’ therapies aren’t really therapies at all when it comes down to it – they are counter-therapies, they are dream-therapies designed to make us take the dream even more seriously than we did before (and – inevitably – feel even WORSE than we did before since the more we believe in the dream we more we suffer as a result). The whole idea of deliberately (or seriously) trying to wake someone up out of the dream is utterly ridiculous – if I doing it seriously, if I’m doing it deliberately, then I myself must be fast asleep (snoozing away like a good ‘un), and who ever heard of one sleeper waking up another? If I’m that serious about waking you then I’m probably a good bit more asleep than you are! I’m probably in the equivalent of a spiritual coma!  As P.D. Ouspensky says –

 

All the ideas of this work begin with the idea that we are asleep and we have the possibility of awakening. All the other ideas that we find in life though they may be intelligent and elaborate, are still ideas produced by people sleeping to sleeping people.

 

When it comes to waking up, all theories, all ideas, all models are equally ridiculous. How can a theory put together by a dreamer help anyone wake up? Theories and ideas and models are all the very stuff of dreams – they are narcotics, anaesthetics, hypnotics…. Nothing is needed for waking up other than waking up – no amount of deliberation or calculation on the part of the sleeper is going make any difference to the continuation of the dream. As a general rule, if it makes sense to us (if it makes any type of sense at all) then it’s just the dream, disguised in whatever format happens to be fashionable, dressed up in whatever finery happens to be the flavour of the day.

 

 

There is no way anything serious can help us wake up because even the serious idea that we should ‘wake up’ (and all ideas are serious) is only just another manifestation of the dream. To say that it is our duty to wake up (or that we must wake up) is a contradiction in terms – this is all pressure and pressure is the very essence of the concrete realm. Literal descriptions are pressure in themselves – we are under very serious pressure to believe what they say!

 

 

To try to obtain any outcome is serious – this is what serious is all about. ‘Serious’ means that we are earnestly (and non-ironically) trying to obtain some kind of an outcome, some kind of an outcome that we can understand, some kind of outcome that makes sense to us. This ‘trying’ is what sews us into the concrete realm in the first place – to obtain the goal is RIGHT and to not obtain it is WRONG and so straightaway we’ve got all that pressure, all that seriousness going on. The impression we’re going on is that is that if we get it right the pressure will be off and everything will be wonderful, but ‘towing the line’ in this way isn’t the end of all the rotten pressure and stress, it’s the beginning! It just gets worse from here on…

 

 

As we have been saying, the essence of the dream (when we don’t see that it’s a dream, and take it lightly) is that it is all about restriction and compulsion – what we’re up against is basically a heavy-duty bureaucracy, we’re up against a heavy-duty bureaucracy of the worst kind. It will run over us like a steam-roller. It is completely without empathy, completely self-justifying – there is after all nothing more humourless than a bureaucracy! All we can do is struggle away gamely to meet its innumerable petty requirements and hope that if we fill in all the boxes correctly then it will cut us some slack. And the next step on from this, if the logic of adaptation is carried one stage further, is that we will see that if we align ourselves with the humourless, dead weight of the bureaucracy, so that its pitiless strength becomes our pitiless strength, then it won’t roll over and crush us because we will be it. So whatever the system is, whatever the system wants or demands, we go along with it completely and in this way its ghastly seriousness becomes our ghastly seriousness. As J. R. ‘Bob’ Dobbs says, it’s all part of a global conspiracy to steal away our slack…

 

 

This idea of ‘joining the bureaucracy’ isn’t necessarily to do with going along with other people in some kind of soul-destroying social collusion, although its that too, its more to do with conforming to the deadly soul-destroying bureaucracy of the mechanical personality, which is at root more nothing more than a dusty old collection or rules and precedents, which have to be obeyed simply because they are there, and it would take too much effort (and involve too much painful awareness) to stop obeying them, to stop seeing the world in that hidebound way. ‘Humour’ in this context can therefore be seen in terms of not taking the rules and regulations of the bureaucracy of the mechanical personality (which is what we have become as a result of inertia and fear) as seriously as that dreadful bureaucracy would demand. This isn’t a matter of fighting against anything but of seeing the funny side of it all, of seeing that none of the stuff the mechanical personality takes so seriously matters anyway, really…

 

 

When we are able to see this then it must be the case that we have ceased to identify humourlessly with the conditioned self, and are able instead to relate to the mechanical personality in an ironic way, rather than seeing it as we habitually do as being ‘who we literally (or concretely) are’. Rules and ‘need’ are the same thing, and so humour has to do with the absence of need – we could therefore say that it arises as a function of our autonomy. We could say that it comes about as a result of the perception that we are ‘OK as we are’ – the perception that, in a fundamental way, we are already OK and so we don’t need to work (or enslave ourselves) to obtain this feeling. We realize in this case that we don’t need to buy into any system for the purposes of either benefiting ourselves or defending ourselves so as to avoid some kind of threat or penalty.

 

 

Saying that the concrete or opaque realm is serious rather than light-hearted in its essence is just another way therefore of saying that that it operates on the basis of need. The bigger the ‘need’ the more serious it all gets, the greater the ‘need’ the less fun it all gets! The need to obtain pleasure is serious, just as the need to avoid pain is – both seeking pleasure and avoiding pain are absolutely humourless pursuits!

 
We can also look at the forces that keep us asleep in terms of duty and guilt: one of the things that happens if we don’t fulfill our duty (with regard to whatever it is that we are supposed to be doing in the dream) is that we feel bad about ourselves, we experience feelings of being unjustified, we experience feelings of being unworthy, we experience feelings of having betrayed some kind of sacred trust or obligation. According to Alan Watts, guilt is what stops us waking up out of our ‘dream roles’ – we feel allegiance to the dream, we feel guilty about walking away from our ‘responsibilities within the dream’. Guilt is what stops us waking up, in other words:

 

…And when you’re ready to wake up, you’re going to wake up. And if you’re not ready you’re going to stay pretending that you are just a poor little me. You won’t wake up until you feel you’ve paid a price for it. The guilt one feels, the anxiety, is simply the way one experiences the guilt of keeping the game of disguise going on. You say to yourself, ‘I won’t wake up until I feel I deserve it. I won’t wake up until I’ve made it difficult.’ When I feel it has been sufficiently arduous, then I may at last admit to myself who I really am, draw aside the veil, and realize that after all, when all is said and done, I am that I am. Which is the name of God. As they say in Zen, when you attain satori, nothing is left you but to have a good laugh.

 

 

There is a connection here with the type of guilt or unworthiness we might on occasion feel when we find that we are actually happy. What it means when we are happy (genuinely happy, that is, rather than simply being excited or elated about something) is that we have forgotten to take the dream seriously – we have been negligent of our ‘dream duties’ and that is why we are experiencing this very strange, very irregular feeling of being happy!  This is what happiness is all about – ‘happiness’ is a kind of code word meaning that we have stopped taking the dream as seriously as the dream itself wants us to take it. When we forget to believe in the concrete realm then we are happy!

 

 

There is after all, as we keep on reiterating, no happiness to be had in the concrete realm – it is all about seriousness, it is all about how important it is to do this, that or the other, or how important it is to not do this that or the other, and no happiness can possibly come out of that. Seriousness is all about doing stuff for some external (or abstract) reason – the reward will come later, not now! If we have fun now we’re betraying the important ‘value’ that we’re supposed to be working hard for… This explains why it is that we often uncomfortable about being happy. It doesn’t seem, right, we don’t feel that we deserve it, and so we feel downright uncomfortable about it. Because happiness is not part of the game we’re playing, it feels strange. There may even be a sense that we might be bringing some kind of disaster down on us as a punishment for our presumption – when we’re happy we’re no longer being serious about the stuff we should be being serious about. We’re breaking the rules of the game!

 

 

If we do suddenly notice that we’re happy then another possibility is that we will get anxious about this fact and feel the need to take steps to secure this precious feeling so that it doesn’t slip out of our fingers as easily as it came! As soon as we get excited about the happiness in this way then it will of course slip away again since by getting excited (either euphorically or anxiously) we go straight back to sleep. There can be the distorted memory of happiness, or the anticipation of happiness, but there can’t be the real thing. If we think that we ‘need’ to do something about the happiness then the happiness goes because need is a very serious sort of a thing – need is not ironic at all! Need will deliver us back into the concrete clutches of the opaque realm in no time at all and we won’t even see it happen…

 

 

Going back to sleep is like a reflex that just kicks in, like a nervous reaction. The same thing happens in meditation – we notice that there is a moment of peace or stillness, a moment of ‘mental lightness’ (the absence of concrete thought) and straightaway we get excited. This is what we’ve been waiting for, after all! Then straightaway the peace is gone, the stillness is gone, the mental lightness is gone and the clumsy old concrete thinking is back again in full force, clunking around in the dull mechanical way it always does, effectively erasing the glimpse of freedom we had just stumbled across. This ‘reflex’ operates all the time. We might be walking down the street, without a care in the world, and then suddenly getting the feeling that we have forgotten something. We can’t put our finger on what it might be, but the feeling persists all the same. It’s as if we can’t just walk down the street like that – with nothing to worry about, nothing to think about, nothing to be concerned about! It isn’t right! It’s as anxiety-sufferers sometimes say – “If I didn’t have something to be worried about then I’d be worried!” What we’ve forgotten is to take the dream seriously – we’ve ‘forgotten ourselves’, which is to say, we’ve forgotten to be who we are in the dream….

 

 

No matter how much serious stuff there is in the dream to keep us all tied up, to keep us ‘worried’, moments of lightness will still keep turning up for us. Unless we’re really trapped in the dream (like the archetypal bureaucrat stuck in his rotten old airless office, caught up in his own pointless ever-proliferating red-tape) we will still find ourselves ‘drifting free’ of the concrete realm from time to time. And then we might well reflect on the strange fact that for all the hypnotic compulsive of the everyday stuff we’re caught up ever comes out of it but more of the same, more of the same, more of the same. We might reflect on the fact that nothing comes out of bureaucracy but more bureaucracy, that nothing comes out of seriousness but yet more seriousness. We might reflect on the fact the only time we actually feel any sort of peace or joy or connectedness (and notice that the world is actually here, all around us) is when we forget to take the ‘serious’ stuff seriously!

 

 

Any time we start to pay attention to the actual reality of what is going on, in other words, the power that the dream has over us is weakened and so the only card that the dream has to play – we might say – is to prevent us reflecting, prevent us paying attention to what is actually going on. The integrity of the dream is threatened by the act of ‘paying attention’ and so the only way it can protect its integrity as a going concern is by inundating us with stuff that is supposedly important, by loading us down with jobs and tasks and thoughts and fears and goals that we are obliged to take seriously. It is therefore our infernal never-ending busyness that keeps us believing in the dream! Hence Kierkegaard says –

 

Far from idleness being the root of all evil, it is rather the only true good.

 

Or as Plato says,

Beware the barrenness of a busy life.

 

The weakness of the dream as it portrays itself to us (which is as we have said not as ‘a dream’ at all, but, on the contrary, as something very serious indeed) may be said to be that this, its central thesis, is entirely false. If I say that something is so, and stake everything upon you believing my assertion, then the weakness of my position derives from the falsity of what I have just asserted. Knowing this weakness, all I can do to counterbalance it is to INSIST upon my thesis as strongly as I possibly can and as often as I can. My very insistence ‘that it is so’ is thus the sign of the weakness of my position. In the same way, therefore, we can say that the weakness of the dream lies precisely in the fact that it takes itself so very seriously!  The unforgiving compulsiveness of the concrete realm (i.e. the relentless pressure it constantly puts on us) is a function of its own weakness…

 

 

Greg Tucker states that we need to keep on proving to ourselves that we are who we are supposed to be in the dream. On a deep level, we experience the need to prove that we’re not ‘dreamers in a dream that the mind dreams’. Or as Greg puts it, we are driven to try to prove that we have an existence that is independent of the dream, we are driven to try to prove that there is a real objective person outside of the dream, that we are a person who is not simply a dreamer within the dream! Greg calls this endeavour ‘defecting from the dream’ – it is as if mind is doing its job of dreaming so well, so thoroughly, that it even wants to prove that what it dreams is not a dream, and that there is no Universal Mind dreaming the dream! This is very similar to what psychiatrist Stan Grof (1998, p 188) says about the superlative ‘creative genius’ of the Divine in this respect in his book The Cosmic Game:

…The project of creating a facsimile of a material reality endowed with these properties is executed with such artistic and scientific perfection that the split-off units of the Universal Mind find it entirely convincing and mistake it for reality. In the extreme expression of its artistry, represented by the atheist, the Divine actually succeeds in bringing forth arguments not only against its involvement in creation, but against its very existence.

 

From a psychotherapeutic perspective Greg Tucker stresses the point that the whole endeavour of ‘defecting from the dream’ (which is the Universal Mind trying with astonishing skill and ingenuity not only to disprove its own involvement but also – as Stan Grof says – to disprove its very existence) is doomed to failure from the onset, which means that it must resort to playing some kind of ‘delaying game’ in which we try to hang onto the illusion that we are independent of the dream as long as we can. We cannot defect from the game, but we can try out a few ‘last-ditch’ attempts to delay that point in time when we are forced to finally acknowledge that we can’t actually ever defect…

 

 

Greg Tucker states that he bases this observation upon his thirty-odd years experience working as a clinical psychologist, in which it appeared to him (as it has to others) than we seem to be strangely drawn to patterns of suffering (or the patterns of behaving that create suffering).  This is not an uncommon observation. According to psychologist and family therapist Paul Watzlawick we are all ‘unhappiness experts’ – which is to say, we are all proficient in finding ways of making ourselves feel bad – and in his book The Situation is Hopeless But Not Serious (The Pursuit of Unhappiness) he provides a compendium of failsafe ways of making ourselves miserable. The argument is therefore that there must be some kind of hidden gain from unhappiness and what Greg is saying is that our misery proves to us that we actually exist.

 

 

From the point of view of the dreamer who wishes to defect from the dream, the dreamer who wants to prove above all else that he or she is not a dreamer in the dream, being locked into a pattern which is creating lots of suffering may be said to represent a last-ditch attempt to prove to ourselves that we really exist, by virtue of the pain that we are experiencing. As Greg says, the logic here is that “I am a screwed up person, so I must exist!” This role (this fixed perception of oneself) is a very powerful one – once we fall into it it becomes very hard to doubt, very hard to question. The perception that I am a ‘screwed-up person’, that I am ‘damaged’ or ‘ruined’ person has a tremendous magnetic quality to it – it becomes a very effective trap in that as soon as I looking at things in this way there doesn’t really seem to be the option of NOT looking at things this way! The fact that such a self-perception is powerfully entrapping therefore means that – as a strategy for proving to myself that I must exist (i.e. that I have an actual ‘non-ironic’ or ‘non-dream-like’ existence) I have stumbled over a winner….

 

 

When Bobby McFerrin’s song “Don’t Worry be Happy” (the title is based on a famous quote of Meher Baba’s) got a lot of airtime in the UK at least one highly indignant letter was subsequently published in the Radio Times by someone who clearly felt the sentiments of the song to be deeply insulting the very real nature of his troubles. This perfectly illustrates the extent of our attachment to our troubles, and the way in which our identity is linked with the seriousness of whatever our predicament is. To say that “It isn’t serious!” sounds like a terrible insult to someone who is going through a hard time: if my troubles are real, then I must be real, and contrariwise, if you are saying that my troubles aren’t serious, then that means that the ‘sense of self’ which is experiencing these troubles is likewise not serious, and herein lies the unforgivable insult!

 

 

From one point of view therefore the suggestion that the predicament of the conditioned self (which is who we think we are in the dream) is ‘hopeless but not serious’ sounds appallingly heartless and nihilistic. But that is only the case when we are deeply committed to a ‘non-ironic’ perception of the ego-identity, which is our ‘role within the dream’. Given that I am not this prosaic ego-identity that I take so extraordinarily seriously, and that I never was, there really is no insult at all….

 

According to the Heart Sutra:

 

There is no suffering, no accumulation, no cessation, no Way.  And no understanding and no attaining because nothing is attained, the Bodhisattva, through reliance on Prajna paramita, is unimpeded in his mind because there is no impediment, he is not afraid, and he leaves distorted dream-thinking far behind.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Author: Nick Williams

Nick Williams works and writes in the field of mental health and is particularly interested in non-equilibrium states of consciousness, which are states of mind that cannot be validated by standardized experiments or by reference to any formal theoretical perspective.

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