Commentaries on Living Series 3
Commentaries on Living Series III Chapter 43 'Awareness and The Cessation of Dreams'
THE EASTERN SKY was more splendid than where the sun had set; there were massive clouds, fantastically shaped and seemingly lighted from within by a golden fire. Another mass of clouds was a deep, purplish blue; heavy with threat and darkness it was shot through with flashes of lightning, twisting, sharp and brilliant. Above and beyond there were other weird shapes, incredibly beautiful and aglow with every colour imaginable. But the sun had set in a limpid sky, and towards the west there was a pure orange light. Against this sky, over the tops of the other trees, a single palm was etched, clear, motionless, darkly slender. A few children were playing about, with excitement and pleasure, in a green field. They would soon be going, for it was getting dark; already, from one of the scattered houses, someone was calling, and a child replied in a high-pitched voice. Lights were beginning to appear in the windows, and a strange stillness was creeping over the land. You could feel it coming from afar, passing over and beyond you to the ends of the earth. You sat there completely motionless, your mind going with that stillness, expanding immeasurably without a centre, without a point of recognition or reference. Seated at the edge of that meadow, your body was unmoving, but very much alive. The mind was much more so; in a state of complete silence, it was nevertheless aware of the lightning and the shouting children, of the little noises among the grass and the sounding of a distant horn. It was silent in the depths where thought could not reach it, and that silence was a penetrating bliss - a word that has little meaning except for communication - which went on and on; it was not a movement in terms of time and distance, but it was without an ending. It was strangely massive, yet it could be blown away by a breath.
The path went by a large cemetery, full of naked white slabs, the aftermath of war. It was a green, well-kept garden, enclosed by a hedge and a barbed wire fence with a gate in it. Such gardens exist all over the earth for those who were loved, educated, killed and buried. The path continued on down a slope, where there were some tall old trees, with a small stream wandering among them. Crossing a rickety wooden bridge, you climbed another slope and followed the path out into the open country. It was quite dark now, but you knew your way, for you had been on that path before. The stars were brilliant, but the lightning-bearing clouds were coming nearer. It would still take some time for the storm to break, and by then you would have reached shelter.
"I wonder why I dream so much? I have some kind of dream practically every night. Sometimes my dreams are pleasant, but more often they are unpleasant, even frightening, and when I wake up in the morning I feel exhausted."
He was a youngish man, obviously worried and anxious. He had a fairly satisfactory job with the government, he explained, with good hopes for the future, and the need to earn a livelihood caused him no concern. He had capacity, and could always get a job. His wife was dead, and he had a small son whom he had left with a sister, for the boy was too full of mischief, he said, to bring him along. He was rather heavily built and slow of speech, with a matter-of-fact air about him.
"I am not much of a reader," he continued, "though I was good at my studies in college, and graduated with honours. But all that means nothing, except that it got me a promising job - in which I am not greatly interested. A few hours of hard work each day is enough to keep it going, and I have time to spare. I think I am normal, and I could get married again, but I am not strongly attracted to the opposite sex. I like games, and I lead a healthy, vigorous life. My work brings me into contact with some of the prominent politicians, but I am not interested in politics and all the beastly intrigues that go with it, and I deliberately keep out of it. One might climb high through favouritism and corruption, but I keep my job because I am proficient at it, and that's enough for me. I am telling you all this, not as gossip, but to give you an idea of the milieu I live in. I have a normal amount of ambition, but I am not driven crazy by it. I shall succeed if I don't fall ill, and if there isn't too much political wire-pulling. Apart from my work, I have a few good friends, and we often discuss serious things. So now you know more or less the whole picture."
If one may ask, what is it that you want to talk over?
"A friend took me to hear one of your evening talks, and with him I also attended a morning discussion. I was greatly moved by what I heard, and I want to pursue it. But what I am concerned with now is this nightly dreaming. My dreams are very disturbing, even the pleasant ones, and I want to get rid of them; I want to have peaceful nights. What am I to do? Or is this a silly question?"
What do you mean by dreams?
"When I am asleep, I have visions of various kinds; a series of pictures or apparitions arise in my mind. One night I may be about to fall over the edge of a precipice, and I wake up with a start; another night I may find myself in a pleasant valley, surrounded by high mountains and with a stream running through it; another night I may be having a terrific argument with my friends, or just missing a train, or playing a first-class game of tennis; or I may suddenly see the dead body of my wife, and so on. My dreams are rarely erotic, but they are often nightmares, full of fear, and sometimes they are fantastically complicated."
When you are dreaming, does it ever happen that there is an interpretation of it going on almost at the same time?
"No, I have never had such an experience; I just dream, and afterwards groan about it. I haven't read any books on psychology or the interpretation of dreams. I have talked the problem over with some of my friends, but they are not of much help, and I feel rather wary of going to an analyst. Can you tell me why I dream, and what my dreams mean?"
Do you want an interpretation of your dreams? Or do you want to understand the complex problem of dreaming?
"Isn't it necessary to interpret one's dreams?"
There may be no need to dream at all. Surely, you must discover for yourself the truth or the falseness of the whole process which we call dreaming. This discovery is far more important than to have your dreams interpreted, is it not?
"Of course. If I could perceive for myself the full significance of dreaming, it should relieve me of this nightly anxiety and unrest. But I have never really thought about these matters, and you will have to be patient with me."
We are trying to understand the problem together, so there's no impatience on either side. We are both taking the journey of exploration, which means that we must both be alert, and not held back by any prejudice or fear which we may uncover as we go along.
Your consciousness is the totality of what you think and feel, and much more. Your purposes and motives, whether hidden or open; your secret desires; the subtlety and cunning of your thought; the obscure urges and compulsions in the depth of your heart - all this is your consciousness. It is your character, your tendencies, your temperament, your fulfilments and frustrations, your hopes and fears. Regardless of whether you believe or disbelieve in God, or in the soul, the Atman, in some super-spiritual entity, the whole process of your thinking is consciousness, is it not?
"I haven't thought about this before, sir, but I can see that my consciousness is made up of all these elements."
It is also tradition, knowledge and experience; it is the past in relation to the present, which makes for character; it is the collective, the racial, the totality of man. Consciousness is the whole field of thought, desire, affection and the cultivated virtues, which are not virtue at all; it is envy, acquisitiveness, and so on. Is not all this what we call consciousness?
"I may not follow in every detail, but I get the feeling of this totality," he replied hesitantly.
Consciousness is something still more: it's the battleground of contradictory desires, the field of strife, struggle, pain, sorrow, It is also the revolt against this field, which is the search for peace, for goodness, for abiding affection. Self-consciousness arises when there is awareness of conflict and sorrow, and the desire to be rid of them; also when there is awareness of joy, and the desire for more of it. All this is the totality of consciousness; it is a vast process of memory, or the past, using the present as a passage to the future. Consciousness is time - time as both the waking and the sleeping period, the day and the night.
"But can one ever be fully aware of this totality of consciousness?"
Most of us are aware of only a small corner of it, and our lives are spent in that small corner, making a lot of noise in pushing and destroying each other, with a little friendliness and affection thrown in. Of the major part we are unaware, and so there's the conscious and the unconscious. Actually, of course, there's no division between the two; it's only that we give more attention to the one than to the other.
"That much is quite clear - too clear, in fact. The conscious mind is occupied with a thousand and one things, almost all of them rooted in self-interest."
But there's the rest of it, hidden, active, aggressive and much more dynamic than the conscious, workaday mind. This hidden part of the mind is constantly urging, influencing, controlling, but it often fails to communicate its purpose during the waking hours, because the upper layer of the mind is occupied; so it gives hints and intimations during so-called sleep. The superficial mind may revolt against this unseen influence, but it is quietly brought into line again, for the totality of consciousness is concerned with being secure, permanent; and any change is always in the direction of seeking further security, the greater permanency of itself.
"I'm afraid I don't quite understand."
After all, the mind wants to be certain in all its relationships, doesn't it? It wants to be secure in its relationship with ideas and beliefs, as well as in its relationship with people and with property. Haven't you noticed this?
"But isn't that natural?"
We are educated to think that it's natural; but is it? Surely, only the mind that's not clinging to security is free to discover that which is wholly untouched by the past. But the conscious mind starts with this urge to be secure, to be safe, to make itself permanent; and the hidden or neglected part of the mind, the unconscious, is also watch- ful of its own interests. The conscious mind may be forced by circumstances to reform, to change itself at least outwardly. But the unconscious, being deeply entrenched in the past, is conservative, cautious, aware of the deeper issues and of their more profound outcome; so there's a conflict between the two parts of the mind. This conflict does produce some kind of change, a modified continuity, with which most of us are concerned; but the real revolution is outside this dualistic field of consciousness.
"Where do dreams come into all this?"
We have to understand the totality of consciousness before coming to a particular part of it. The conscious mind, being occupied during its waking hours with daily events and pressures, has no time or opportunity to listen to the deeper part of itself; therefore, when the conscious mind `goes to sleep', that is, when it's fairly quiet, not to worried, the unconscious can communicate, and this communication takes the form of symbols, visions, scenes. On waking you say, "I have had a dream", and you try to search out its meaning; but any interpretation of it will be biased, conditioned.
"Aren't there people who are trained to interpret dreams?"
There may be; but if you look to another for the interpretation of your dreams you have the further problem of dependence on authority, which breeds many conflicts and sorrows.
"In that case, how am I to interpret them for myself?"
Is that the right question? Irrelevant questions can only produce unimportant answers. It's not a question of how to interpret dreams, but are dreams necessary at all?
"Then how can I put a stop to these dreams of mine?" he insisted.
Dreams are a device by which one part of the mind communicates with the other. Isn't that so?
"Yes, that seems fairly obvious, now that I have understood a little better the nature of consciousness."
Cannot this communication go on all the time, during the waking period as well? Isn't it possible to be aware of your own responses when you are getting into the bus, when you are with your family, when you are talking to your boss in the office, or to your servant at home? Just to be aware of all this - to be aware of the trees and the birds, of the clouds and the children, of your own habits, responses and traditions - is to observe it without judging or comparing; and if you can be so aware, constantly watching, listening, you will find that you do not dream at all. Then your whole mind is intensely active; everything has a meaning, a significance. To such a mind, dreams are unnecessary. You will then discover that in sleep there's not only complete rest and renewal, but a state which the mind can never touch. It's not something to be remembered and returned to; it's entirely inconceivable, a total renewal which cannot be formulated.
"Can I be so aware during the whole day?" he asked earnestly. "But I must, and I will be, for I honestly see the necessity of it. Sir, I have learnt a great deal, and I hope I may come again."
Commentaries on Living Series 3
Commentaries on Living Series III Chapter 43 'Awareness and The Cessation of Dreams'
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