Who are you? Why are you here? Where are you going? What is meaningful and what is not? Why? When you ask such questions, what answers do you give yourself?
Many people never even get that far. They are afraid that if they make a thorough, relentless search into the foundations of their life they will expose an emptiness or purposelessness that threatens their very existence.
To avoid this possibility people generally just shut down and tend to their daily business. Others fall back on the solutions provided by their religion or culture. They settle for groupthink. Other people delude themselves into thinking that they are beyond such concerns.
In any case, the result is that they live in fear of the day when these fundamental, unsettling issues once again come up, but in a way that is much more difficult to ignore – the death of a loved one, a terminal disease, their impending death, or a past life review that strips off their pretense.
The following interview is a good example of how you can use any silly, meaningless dream to clarify questions you have about the basic meaning of life.
What we learn from it is that, at least in this case, there are no reassurances that everything will be All Better in the end. Instead, what we learn is that life’s meaning is in the act of doing and in the quality of life that we bring to whatever we choose to do. What we do is far less important than how we do it.
When the Garbage Pile, which is interviewed below, says that it is merely a collection of objects that we conceptually congregate and call “Garbage Pile,” he is talking about the nature of language, personal identity, and Buddhist metaphysics. He is saying that your sense of self, and therefore your fear of being nobody, arises with your linguistic ability to lump characteristics and actions together and give that collective identity a name and identity, thereby creating something out of nothing. Walking fur becomes “kitty;” nurturing warmth becomes “mommy;” growing stalks with green things become “bushes” and “trees.” Magic! Science does this all the time when it creates distinctions that no one saw before, like generating the concept of “gravity” from the everyday experience of falling. The connection to Buddhist metaphysics is that we use the convenience of these linguistic placeholders to not only define reality but to create reality. We think what we name is real. That’s not just helpful; it’s essential do do this. However, that does not make it any the less delusional.
The proper response to this realization is compassion. That means to understand how and why you do this and not to be judgmental about it.
Beyond that, the proper response is to not take any of these distinctions too seriously, meaning to not take yourself so seriously, to not take what other people think of you so seriously, to not take your addictions, desires, and dramas so seriously. This “not taking too seriously” is a process of unlearning your investment of reality into what people think, what you do, and who you are.
Beyond that, the proper response is to use that clarity to live fully in the moment. The six core qualities of confidence, compassion, wisdom, acceptance, inner peace, and witnessing are designed to steer you in that direction, and beyond them to an ability to laugh at the absurdity of the human predicament, honor and revere the equally absurd abundance that is always everywhere right now, and to experience the boundless creative luminosity of being fully present in this moment.
To derive the most value from the interview, as you read it, imagine that it is your own, addressing your life and your issues.
What are three fundamental life issues that you are dealing with now in your life?
Clarity; waking up; staying awake
Tell me a dream you remember. It can be an old one, a repetitive dream, a nightmare, or one that you’re sure you understand.
I have been given the job of sorting through and getting rid of a huge mound of trash, say as big as a house. It may be on a shore. At one point I am washing a lot of silverware reclaimed from the pile and feeling efficient. My attitude about the task of taking down this garbage mound is practical and optimistic.
Why do you think that you had this dream?
I woke up and thought, “That’s my shadow! What a sisyphean task I’ve given myself!” “Shadow” is a term coined by Jung and used widely by Wilber and within psychotherapy to refer to all your unfinished business and self-distortions that keep you from getting clear and staying clear. Sisyphus was a figure from Greek mythology who was condemned by the gods to roll a rock up a hill for eternity, only to have it roll down the other side.
Precipitating factors from the day before included communication with a transpersonal therapist in England whose website I stumbled across. He has done a lot of meditation, had a number of interesting and meaningful mystical experiences, and has generated useful distinctions between causal and non-dual awareness, which are levels of mysticism beyond nature and devotional types.
Essentially, his claim is that he is “clear,” meaning he has no shadow. He claims to have worked through all his unfinished business and self-distortions as a result of his meditation and therapy. Such claims impress me in their audacity. Clarity, like enlightenment, are relative and evolving, not absolute and static, states. Here was someone who was presenting themselves as if they had attained an absolute state, like Buddha or Jesus. I told him he was either clear, which would be very rare and very amazing, or he was delusional.
I think the latter, for several reasons: it’s one thing to get to where the zombies in your “cellar” are no longer coming upstairs; you can also learn to ignore their banging around down there. It’s another matter entirely to have a clean cellar. This man also makes some statements in his writing that indicate lack of clarity and confusion. He states that it takes years of therapy to get rid of your shadow; my experience is that no one ever gets rid of all their wounds, although they may heal and become scar tissue. There’s always more work to be done on yourself! Also, I’ve found that getting clear doesn’t take therapy, it takes a yoga, or psychospiritual discipline. Having a guide or teacher through the process helps, but it’s optional. This fellow, a therapist, presents having a guru therapist as essential.
Another claim he makes is that roles are inauthentic; you don’t do roles any more when you are clear. This leads me to believe that his clarity is all about what Wilber calls the “self line” of development. It’s all about “me” becoming clear rather than about the universe waking up to itself through me. This clarity does not sound as if it is about multi-perspectivalism, that is, thinning the self through identification with a multiplicity of perspectives or roles.
Having a clear self line is somewhere south of vision-logic, the stage between personal and transpersonal development that not only sees a “map” that is integral, but disidentifies with a fixed sense of self (“Joseph Dillard”) in favor of a plurality of perspectives or world views. In vision-logic, your identity is no longer anchored to the evolution of a self through stages. You can have a clear self line and remain subjectively immersed and identified with your “self” and its issues. In fact, most people who experience transpersonal states are.
All that may sound abstract, but it gets down to a very concrete question: “Am I evolving or is the universe evolving through the temporary place holder that this small part of the universe (myself) thinks it is?” Classical mysticism and the thrust of Wilber’s work is about evolution of the self. A focus of IDL, and something also intensively experienced in some near death experiences, is the evolution of an unlimited number of perspectives, representing emerging potentials, awakening in and through you, as they are listened to and given voice.
What questions would you like to have answered about this dream?
Is this garbage pile a representation of my shadow? Why do I waste my time giving myself the job of getting rid of a pile of garbage? Why does it matter if my attitude in the dream and in my life is practical and optimistic if the task itself is a waste of time? Are all tasks equal? Are there none more important than others? Are all tasks essentially “taking out the garbage?” Is there no escape from garbage piles, shadow, and Sisyphus? Is the goal to stop doing meaningless, mindless, pointless tasks or is it to stop viewing whatever you do as meaningless, mindless, and pointless? Is it both? Is it neither?
These are the characters in the dream, beside yourself…
Garbage pile, ground, silverware, water, sink, shore.
If one character had something especially important to tell you, what would it be?
Now remember how as a child you liked to pretend you were a teacher or a doctor? It’s easy and fun for you to imagine that you are this or that character in your dream and answer some questions I ask, saying the first thing that comes to your mind. If you wait too long to answer, that’s not the character answering – that’s YOU trying to figure out the right thing to say!
Garbage Pile, are you a character in Joseph’s dream, yes?
Garbage Pile, would you please tell me about yourself and what you are doing?
I am sitting here being my magnificent, stinking self. I am a collection of discarded things. Am I junk or treasure? Who knows? It depends on what you want to see in me and what you’re looking for. I’m a three-dimensional Rorschach.
What do you like most about yourself? What are your strengths?
I am everything and I am nothing; I am important and I am insignificant; I am your life or I am totally inconsequential; I am your enemy or I am your friend; I am your focus or I don’t exist. In other words, I am God and Reality and I am non-existent and delusion. You get to choose.
What do you dislike most about yourself? Do you have weaknesses? What are they?
What’s there to dislike? I enjoy life! I think it’s pretty funny watching Joseph figure out how he is going to relate to me!
Garbage Pile, you are in Joseph’s life experience, correct? He created you, right? Garbage Pile, what aspect of Joseph do you represent or most closely personify?
I am several things. On the one hand, I am the parts of Joseph that he would rather not deal with: the discarded, odd and ends, the parts that don’t seem to go anywhere or that weren’t useful at some earlier time. On the other hand, I am his sense of responsibility: “I must take out the garbage!” “I must clean up my life!” “I must get clear!” “I must be responsible!” On the third hand (I’m an octopus…), I don’t have anything to do with him. I’m just a character that’s showed up in his dream. Do I hold the secrets of the ages? Yes. Am I the path to salvation? Yes. Am I irrelevant and a waste of time? Yes.
Garbage Pile, if you could be anywhere you wanted to be and take any form you desired, would you change? If so, how?
I get to be whatever I want to be anyway, already. For now I’m enjoying being a Garbage Pile and giving Joseph shit.
Garbage Pile, why do you want to give Joseph shit?
It’s not that I’m a wicked source of torment, though I guess I am. It’s not that I’m bored, though maybe that’s true too. It’s that he learns a lot about himself when he has to deal with me. He grows. And through him growing, I grow, since I am an aspect of him and he is an aspect of me. So we do this dance where we both get to grow! He outgrows himself and I grow into an awareness that I am everything and nothing!
(Continue, answering as the transformed object, if it chose to change.)
(Character), how would you score yourself 0-10, in confidence, compassion, wisdom, acceptance, peace of mind, and witnessing? Why?
Confidence: 10 If this means fearless, then absolutely! You see, I don’t really exist, so how can I die? I am merely a collection of objects that you conceptually congregate and call “Garbage Pile.” I am not real; I don’t exist, except in your conceptualization of me as an object.
Compassion: 10 I have great compassion for the delusions you hold that created me. I have great compassion for the delusion you hold that you are someone doing something or going somewhere. I have great compassion for how thinking that who you are and what you are doing may not be true or important or real is scary to you and causes you to dismiss the possibility out of hand.
Wisdom: 10 Have you ever had a conversation with a talking Garbage Pile before? Probably not. So I’m wise enough to know what you know – since you created me – plus add my own perspective on top of that.
Acceptance: 10 What’s there not to accept?
Inner Peace: 10 Things are very peaceful in my center. In fact, they are pretty peaceful on my exterior, too. That’s because I am not some “thing” so I can’t be destroyed, even if I’m taken down or taken apart. I’m just a collection of collections in the first place. You can disassemble “me,” but “I” never existed in the first place – except in your own mind.
Witnessing: 10 This may be the most fun! I get to witness you taking me seriously, like the Blind Men investigating the Elephant, and figuring out what you want to do with me!
How would Joseph’s life be different if he naturally scored like you do in all six of these qualities all the time?
Ha! He wouldn’t take himself, others, or life so seriously! It’s not that he would be disrespectful or inattentive – two characteristics that children are normally taught they have if they don’t take seriously the rules, schoolwork, their parents, and the acceptance of their peers. It’s that he would be much less invested in particular outcomes. He would do what he does because he enjoys it, even if it’s hauling away shit. He wouldn’t have his identity invested in whether or not he does a good job or whether other people approve or even in whether he likes himself or not.
If you could live Joseph’s life for him, how would you live it differently?
Well, I have my biases. Since I am a Pile of Garbage, I would have him live life as me. One could do worse, since I score tens in all six core qualities of enlightenment. No, I don’t have a halo, except of swamp gasses. No, I don’t have wings, except those of the seagulls that come to peck at me. No, I am not your savior, come to rescue you from your sins and the miseries of earthy life and karma. No, I am not dream trivia. Have you ever heard dream trivia talk like this? So to live life as me is to live lightly and to live life as a collection rather than “things,” such as Joseph, a soul, a Self, or God. Those are all “things.” It’s not so bad living life as a collection rather than a thing. I have tons of personality and I have an I-Thou relationship with my stink. I am a very, very, very interesting collection.
If you could live Joseph’s waking life for him today, would you handle his three life issues differently? If so, how?
Clarity; waking up; staying awake: I never sleep. Become me and you’ll always be awake! In terms of clarity, I am proof that you can have an ugly mish-mash of crap and still be clear. It’s not either/or. Trying to be either/or, for instance, by seeking to dispel shadow or attain enlightenment, is a delusional waste of time. Sorry if you don’t like me saying that. I’m an imaginary Garbage Pile, so I get to say whatever I want.
Diet/health: I’m healthy, and I eat everything! And yes, if you do that too, you’ll turn into a pile of garbage too! Actually, I wouldn’t worry about diet and health if I were you. Stay observant. Be sensible. Don’t turn it into a fight.
Discipline: You’re asking me about discipline? Me, a garbage pile? I am the antithesis of discipline! I don’t need it and I don’t care about it! I have no structure except what you give me! So I would advise you to keep your disciplines, because you are a human and you need them. But hold them lightly. Don’t turn them into gods. Do your disciplines, but look at them more the way I do – as unnecessary, meaningless absurdities that create opportunities for growth.
What three life issues would you focus on if you were in charge of his life?
1. Cosmic Humor. What’s there not to laugh at? What’s there not to be in love with? What’s there not to enjoy?
2. Abundance: I am pregnant with abundance! So is this moment! Your challenge is how to select wisely among the abundance!
3. Luminosity: I don’t exist. Neither do you. We’re just placeholders for emerging potentials, stuff that is being born, stuff that is becoming aware of itself. That’s pretty luminous!
In what life situations would it be most beneficial for Joseph to imagine that he is you and act as you would?
Whenever he takes life too seriously. Whenever he is not taking life seriously enough.
Why do you think that you are in Joseph’s life?
He has a lot of garbage in his life. It’s piled up! What to do about it??
What are your answers to the questions the dreamer had about the dream?
Oh, I would tell him not to worry about the garbage. What’s important is how he focuses on whatever he focuses on in the moment, not what he focuses on. In that regard, the core processes, the core qualities, abundance, cosmic humor, and luminosity, are good to bring into any and all situations.
I think Joseph had this dream because
To become more awake, of course! To get more out of his own way!
Garbage Pile, you are imaginary. Why should Joseph pay attention to anything you say?
Do you score tens in all six of those qualities?
How is Joseph most likely to ignore what you are saying to him?
Routine! Habit! Mindless forgetfulness!
What would you recommend that he do about that?
Read over this interview from time to time!
Thank you, character! Now a couple of questions for your human:
What have you heard yourself say?
I don’t have to build my life around taking out the garbage. It’s a choice.
If this experience were a wake-up call from your inner compass, what do you think it would be saying to you?
Enjoy whatever life brings you; enjoy whatever you are doing, even if it stinks! Do whatever you do in a quality way.