Thursday, July 29, 2010

The view from the bowsprit

"Roaring Forties," Gordon Frickers, & at Messing About in Sailboats

The sea was dark, the waves were high, but the lurching up and down was all I thought about. I held tightly to the pulpit surrounding the bowsprit where I stood lookout, each time the boat headed up a crest and the sea crashed against the bow, throwing tons of water across the deck. I never let go. It was the one thing that mattered to survive. "Don't let go."

It was simple and easy to take wave after wave, one wave at a time. Up, through the crest, and then back down. Then the unthinkable happened. The boat did not emerge from a crest. Instead it seemed to plunge into the heart of the wave, deeper and deeper into the sea. Was it really heading down into the sea, instead of through the crest to the back side of the wave? In an instant it was clear -- "don't let go" now guaranteed my death, rather than my survival.

So I woke up.

I love having a dream that stirs you deeply, that seems to hold a truth like a golden key to a treasure chest. I dreamed that dream a long time ago, and I've thought about it many times, not because I wanted to ponder or recall the truth it held, but because I did not understand something about it. I got that it described a moment of discernment, when suddenly everything you've needed to do to live is turned upside down. All the rules seemed to change in an instant, and what was right was suddenly wrong, and what was wrong was suddenly right. But that never seemed to be everything, so I kept thinking about it. Yesterday, the missing piece came to me during a visit with my mother who continues, even to the precipice of death, to teach me about life.

For the logical mind, it's simple. We hold on and let go all the time, for different reasons. There's no one rule or way to be that "always" or "never" works in life. Constructing a rigid response, literally clinging to a rigid rule to be safe, guarantees death, because the circumstances will change. You can count on it. We're quite happy with that understanding of a dream, though we may (as I have) sense that there's something more going on.

On a different level, however, the dream suggests something quite different. That's what I glimpsed yesterday, as I watched my mom, now weakened so terribly, still intermittently struggling to act, and then letting go, over and over. I saw that in that last second of the dream, there was another way to see and another way to respond to the flip of the rules, because I saw an essential identity between life and death.

Have you ever experienced death in a dream, and realized that you were aware in death (like being aware that you are dreaming in a dream)? You're dead, or you've just died, but you're actually conscious of it? This dream speaks to that kind of awareness, an awareness that exists behind or beyond thinking, behind or beyond the idea of "me" and "my life." It suggests that the certainty that clinging would result in death, and letting go would save life, are right for one level of existence, though they are exactly wrong for another. At that other level of existence clinging to life is a kind of death, and letting go into death is letting go into the life of the formless, but life nonetheless.

The logical mind will rebel and dismiss this, but you can quiet it for a moment, assuring yourself that, yes, it's true that we have no way to think about this formless state using the word, life, because we define life as, well, not dead. But if you can just put definitions aside for a moment and try to see without them, you may see in the dream a crossing of elements, a melding of states. Perhaps life and death are somehow the same, not polar opposites, but essentially the same thing, in different forms. Clinging in the one prevents letting go into the other. Having trouble with that logical mind? Without an active meditation practice, it's nearly impossible to see any other way, so I recommend it to you. But back to the story.

Mother, my teacher, showed me peace, love, joy and life when she would let go, into death. And she showed pain, resentment, anxiety and anger when she would struggle to hold on, to life. Logical? No. Beautiful truth? Yes.

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