The Dream of Life
Meditation is Not Trivial
In a journal entry I made last year titled “The Addiction to Thinking”, I claimed that the normal human condition is to be spellbound by incessant thinking every minute of the day. That is, to be thinking without being aware of the thinking. I went on to claim that the lack of awareness of thinking causes nearly all of our psychological suffering. Near the end of the entry, I offered substantial evidence that there’s actually an alternative to living this way.
A lot of people read stuff like that and think “I’m thinking. I know that I’m thinking. I don’t see the problem.” They conclude that meditation is just this trivial thing. In reality, they’re just hopelessly lost in thought. Proving to yourself there’s nothing to meditation with “I’m thinking. I know that I’m thinking.” doesn’t discredit thousands of years worth of contemplative literature by people who spent considerable portions of their lives meditating.
It’s hard to show people the why of meditation when they’re intent on missing the point. If a person refuses to try meditation, then for all intents and purposes, they’re unreachable. Psychedelic drugs often show people that there’s more to life than what they’re living, but lots of users of psychedelics don’t put trips in the proper context. They view alternative mind states as experiences that are only available on drugs. They don’t realize that people have been entering alternative mind states without drugs for thousands of years through practices like meditation.
Thoughts Are Like Dreams
So today I thought I would share an analogy to help those who still don’t really get the point of practices like meditation and perhaps inspire them to give meditation a sincere effort. I’m going to draw a comparison between thoughts and dreams.
Thoughts and dreams have much in common. When you’re dreaming, you don’t realize you’re dreaming. If you’re lucky, you recall the dream after you wake up, but that’s after the fact. During the dream, you’re convinced that the dream world is the real world and that your dream self is your real self.
Thoughts are very similar. When you’re thinking, you don’t realize you’re thinking. If you’re lucky, you recall the thought after you have it, but that’s after the fact. During the thought, you’re convinced that the “thought world” is the real world and that your “thought self” is your real self.
“But my thought self is my real self! I just thought about how I lost my job and I really did lose it. That’s not a dream.” You’re right. You really did lose your job. But you know what else happened? You thought “I lost my job.” That thought also really happened. Notice the difference between losing your job and thinking about losing your job.
Would losing your job bother you if you never thought about it? No. How could it? The aftermath of losing your job may bother you, but the thought of losing your job itself cannot bother you if you never have it. So thoughts shape reality. In that way, each thought is like its own little temporary dream.
“So what? I already know that my thoughts are just thoughts!” And you know that dreams are just dreams too. But you don’t realize you’re dreaming during the dream. In the abstract, you know that thoughts are just thoughts. But you don’t realize you’re thinking during the thought. You only realize you were thinking after the fact. Realizing you’re thinking during the thought takes practice.
What happens when you realize you’re dreaming during a dream? You have this sudden realization that you’re not just this isolated dream self any more. You’re the builder of the dream world. You’re the one crafting the narrative. The whole world and everything happening in it is just a play that you’re putting on and you’re the actors, the props, the director, and the audience all at once. When you realize this, you become free to do whatever you want. You become god, figuratively.
So what happens when you realize you’re thinking during a thought? Well who exactly is doing the thinking? When you have the thought “I lost my job. I’m a failure.”, who is meant to hear that? Yourself? Why do you need to tell yourself anything? Wouldn’t you already know everything you want to tell yourself? Why even have the thought at all then?
People talk about thought as if they’re doing it and as if it’s happening to them. On the one hand, you feel you are the one doing the thinking. On the other, you feel you are the victim of your negative thoughts and if you only you could somehow stop them. Well which perspective is more accurate? Neither, because what you take to be the thinker is really just another one of the thoughts in disguise.
When instead of appropriating each thought, you become aware of thought as thought, then life becomes like a lucid dream, but with total clarity rather than the fuzziness and discontinuity of a dream. You realize that there really is nothing to worry about except for worries you create.
If meditation can be said to have an ultimate purpose, then the purpose is to radically transform your conscious experience and to grant you a sense of conscious freedom akin to the level of freedom you get from a lucid dream. Even if you never meditate and I hope you do, at least now you know, at least in the abstract, what all the fuss is about.
1: The Addiction to Thinking