Chuang Tzu, the Taoist sage, “woke one morning from a dream in which he was a butterfly. The dream was so vivid that it left him unsure whether he was Chuang Tzu who had dreamt he was a butterfly or a butterfly that was now dreaming it was Chuang Tzu.” This was a powerful teaching moment for Chuang Tzu, who tells us that “Eventually you will experience the great awakening, and then you will discover that life is a great dream.” The great awakening is what many might label enlightenment – the ability to be in life but see beyond the illusions of fear and separation that limit our experience. Lieh Tzu teaches, “If you are able to see through the illusion you are in Heaven. If not, you find yourself in Hell.” If, while living, one can remember that this life is but a passageway, a dream from which to learn, a fruitful time of generous experiences with the chance to feel the connection to all of life while one is a physical being – this is a great blessing!
Chuang Tzu also teaches, “Some who wake from a good dream are upset, while others who wake from a bad dream are pleased. Death is the great awakening after which one says of life that it was a long dream. But few among the living understand this. Most believe themselves wide awake! They actually believe they are kings and servants!” Do not allow the labels of our limited human world to keep you from the great bliss that is possible to being alive. You may be a teacher, a surgeon, a lawyer, a nurse, a mother, a father…but none of these labels signify the glorious energetic being you are, nor do they fully remind us of the impact each of us has on our surroundings. Your physical and energetic presence balances the life around you, far and wide, and part of your responsibility, in this gift of a body, is to keep an inner harmony. As within, so without. Your inner harmony – living with the Tao – will draw harmonic experiences to you, or, perhaps, draw discord for which you may provide a solution. Your job is to pay attention, for everything has significance! When you remember that each action, each hawk’s cry, each blast of wind, each stranger’s smile is notable, is guiding you, is an expression of what is inside of you, then you pay attention to every moment. As Henry David Thoreau says, “Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.” The awareness is the key.
“Only fools regard themselves as already awake,” says Chuang Tzu. Remember how much there is to learn from your surroundings! To think of your being as a greatness that is larger than your body, larger than your present consciousness, a being who is resting and dreaming this experience to learn from it – what a powerful understanding! Perhaps the 90% of our brain that we supposedly do not use is this being, somewhere asleep, dreaming this little dream of our life. And yet each moment of this life, each action is not less significant because of this new paradigm, it is more significant! Each moment in this bodily life is a chance to learn and grow through experience. Each event has archetypal and symbolic meaning. If you learn to see life in such a way, you will become the author and understander of your life, and, in doing so, help those around you.
Nursery rhymes stay in our culture year after year because they have great significance on a deeper level than the obvious.
Row row row your boat
gently down the stream
merrily merrily merrily merrily
life is but a dream.
If you can remember that we are living this dream in order to learn, grow, and evolve, it is a merrier and gentler journey.
Tao quotations from the Tao Book and Card Pack, NY: Stewart, Tabori, & Chang, 2002.