On the tyranny of our definitions of reality
There is nothing wrong with this picture. It’s just a cherry pie, with or without the benefit of a pie pan, floating peacefully over a flock of sheep, perhaps radiating down angelic beneficence, or perhaps the UFO of alien invaders in a clever disguise, preparing to do some of their nasty experiments on innocent farm animals.
Dreams and surrealistic paintings like this one, are full of cosmically humorous assaults on our definitions of reality, but to what end? For what purpose? Generally we dismiss them as absurd and irrational, even if clever, and quickly move on to something more relevant to getting things done in the Real World. This is a shame, because challenges and shocks to our definitions of reality are opportunities to question our assumptions and pull off one of the multiple layers of filters that separate us from life. This is how the tyranny of our assumptions about what is real, important and useful keeps us stuck in a narrow and relatively uncreative zone of thoughts, feelings, actions and relationships.
I have a good friend, David Sunfellow, who was powerfully imprinted with the world view of the Edgar Cayce readings in his late adolescent years, as I was. We were both brought up on the Cayce approach to dream interpretation, which is classical, in that it seeks to interpret dreams as a series of symbols that are communicating truths about our physical, mental or spiritual health. David created and manages the diverse and very helpful New Heaven New Earth (NHNE) website that throws light on various gurus, New Age movements. It’s also where you can find the largest community of near death experiencers in the world (click here). The accounts posted there are inspiring and often challenging.
What is the relationship between NDE’s and dreams? Is there one best way to work with dreams? What do our dreams say about what is real and what is delusional? These are some of the questions that we recently addressed in an email correspondence, which I have edited and elaborated upon below:
Joseph: “Your posting of multitudes of NDEs is like posting multiple “dreams” of reality or the reports of innumerable blind Mystics reporting on the elephant. (I am referring here to the famous story of the six “wise” blind men grasping different parts of an elephant and declaring that an elephant is like a tree, snake, rope, wall, or fan depending on whether they stumbled into its leg, trunk, tail, side or ear.) IDL attempts to do much the same thing, but within the same individual by becoming and interviewing multiple perspectives on the same dream, life issue, or mystical experience. It’s like a number of subjectively experienced blind men who are examining the elephant of your reality and declaring what they find. What is amazing about this experience is how these different interviewed perspectives, from angels to pie pans, can be correct but so different from our own assumptions and conclusions. When they are interviewed and found to arrive at different, but equally relevant and helpful perspectives, the only possible solution is that separateness and multiplicity exist co-equally with universal oneness. Why is it that this is such a difficult concept for us to grasp? It seems that most of us either flee into the oneness of all things or into the multiplicity of all things, amusing and rescuing ourselves with an endless variety of people, activities, thoughts, feelings and dramas. Few seem to grasp this fundamental but profound and important awareness – that both oneness and the diversity created by separateness are both essential – for finding and living a balanced life.”
David: “Near-death experiences clearly insist that life is about relationships; about getting to know, understand, and connect with what appears to be different from us. So, yes, Joseph, you know I love and appreciate this comment. People who insist on standing on only one part of the medicine wheel of life and never moving or getting to know the other creatures they share life with are very stuck indeed (and very low on the totem pole when it comes to development). As far as I can see, one’s development (or lack thereof) is clearly reflected in how many different kinds of people, energy, perspectives, forces in life we can acknowledge and connect with.”
David: “Along with agreeing with your comment, an interesting thought popped into my head. You often talk about how superior you think your IDL process is when it comes to dreams because you focus on interviewing many different parts of a given dream, especially dream elements that might otherwise be overlooked. It occurred to me that I basically do the same thing by having many different dreams and engaging these many different dreams in many different ways. In other words, we are talking about hologram upon hologram.In a single dream, you focus on interviewing multiple parts. But how deep do you go?”
David: “And, of course, you can also drive yourself crazy by doing this.”
Joseph: “Yeah. Like me. I have driven myself crazy interviewing pie pans and piles of dog crap. Irony and sarcasm aside, I know I am much farther along in my development than I would be if I had not developed a practice that boils down to extreme empathy. If we define empathy as the ability to get out of our own assumptions and look at the world and ourselves from multiple other points of view and then act toward others based on that empathy, then IDL is post-graduate training in the development of empathy.”
David: “Ditto for the kind of dream work I do. I don’t tend to spend as much time interviewing all the different parts of my dreams that you do, but I do have a lot of dreams, with wildly different casts of characters, that each require a lot of time and attention. And sometimes, especially in the past, I have gone too far with this process and crippled other aspects of myself because I relied too much on dreams and dream work.”
Joseph: “The issue is who is doing the interpreting. It doesn’t matter how many dreams you interview, or how different they are, if you are the only blind man attempting to grasp and understand the elephant. Yes, your view is not only important; it is essential. Yes, the viewpoints of others, whether from dream dictionaries, psychics or dream groups can also be helpful because these sources broaden your perspective. The problem is that they aren’t you. They don’t know you. Even if they are psychics they see you through their filters of their own culture and life experience. The blind men you and I most need to consult are what IDL calls ‘subjective sources of objectivity.’ When you interview a dream character or the personification of a life issue important to you, you are accessing a perspective that knows you at least as well as you do. However, the difference is that it is not stuck where and how you are. It doesn’t have bills to pay, bosses or customers to please, families to support, or physical bodies to grow old, get sick and die. Therefore, their interests and agendas are not weighted down by all the scripted garbage of culture and society the way you and I and all our contemporaries are. This is a huge difference and a huge advantage in terms of clarity and perspective.”
People don’t have to interview dream elements or the personifications of life issues to grow.
However, they do need to learn empathy if they want to grow beyond a belief-based or reason-based psychological geocentrism. Most people, including meditating mystics, do not. There are many ways to learn empathy: Mother Theresa is one way; Meister Eckhardt is another extreme; the life and teachings of Buddha can and have been used in such a way; another is the political involvement of a King or Gandhi. However, more realistic, practical and unavoidable ways of learning empathy involve the basic tasks of life, maintaining a healthy relationship, raising kids, and getting along with co-workers. These are all incubators of empathy, but generally only to the point of cultural alignment with the context: a harmonious relationship, having healthy, happy kids, and a successful business. But what if you want to develop empathy beyond that? Well yes, you can strive to be Theresa, Eckhardt, Buddha or King or Gandhi or Jesus, or you can interview elements which are wake-up calls tailor-made for your own level and speed of development. Which is more realistic and practical?
That said, I do think some methods of connecting with The Divine are generally more effective than others. And dreams, because they are alive, because they have minds of their own, because they are directly connected with the deeper realities of life, and because they are master shapeshifters, are better conduits of The Divine than tarot cards, tea leaves, runes, and other lifeless forms of guidance, which also have their place in the grand scheme of things.
From the perspective of life, it doesn’t matter how you practice deep listening in an integral way. If you want to read sheep entrails, clouds or dance around pentagrams while worshipping goats, life doesn’t care. Everything, from its perspective, is a wake-up call. Am I listening? Generally not. Everything, from life’s perspective, is more or less dreamlike. Life has no reason to discriminate between dreams and waking, objects and people, the Divine and Whatever. Humans have reasons to do so, as means to develop an identity and stay grounded. However, believing such distinctions are real is cosmic humor, or, shall we say, tragi-comedy.
Anyway, back to your original comment: yes, embracing multiple perspectives is the way to go, as long as we do this in a way that doesn’t drive us nuts…
Confucius said, “If something drives you nuts, interview the nuts.”