When we were kids, we had a song that we used to sing in rounds:
Row, row, row, your boat,
Gently down the stream.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
Life is but a dream.
I didn't get it. How could life be a dream? Now, I see the rhyme a little differently. With a longer perspective on life, it's easier to see life itself as a dream that we are dreaming, with ourselves as principal characters in the story.
I think what gives our waking life more intensity is the emotion, the attention and the belief that we give to it. When dreaming, we can be frightened, but there may be a small part of our mind able to tell us that it is a dream and that we will wake up. The heat of the emotion can be strong, but we don't feel like the very 'self' of us is at risk. While awake, we feel this self is threatened. We think that the waking self is the real one and the dreaming self the not- real one.
Yet there are moments when we realize that both of these selves are not-real. We know that they are constructs of something deeper that has brought them into being.
It can be useful to see life as a dream that we are living. When we don't feel that our very self is at risk, we can relax and enjoy the ride a bit more. Since life is never entirely in our control, it can be a relief to be able to let go. It can also be useful to let our dreaming self inform our waking self more.
When sleeping and dreaming, we are not tied to time or space or belief. For example, when I was a kid, I learned how to ride a two-wheeler in a dream. The dream was so vivid, I thought it was real. It wasn't until after I'd brought the skill into my waking life that I'd found out it had been a dream, and by then it was too late to go back. Even though a dream, it was real. What's more, we can do this sort of thing intentionally with practice.
As our consciousness expands and perceptions broaden, we can become aware of other realities - other dreams. Some may seem more real than waking life and some may seem less real.
Yet the question of how real they are is not the important question. I feel the more important question is "Who is the dreamer of these dreams?"
"Row, row, row your boat" is a rhyming song that has been with us for many generations. I wonder that it lasted in a world that likes to make clear distinctions between waking life and dreaming life. Perhaps it has lasted because it is true.
Perhaps life is a dream.
First published May 2005 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.