In Defense of Dreaming

It took me a long time to realize that reading and dreaming about seeking truth–seemingly wasting time and escaping into fantasy and deluding myself that I had all kinds of powers and potential I don’t possess–has actually played a valuable role in my life and in my inner search.   Here is an example from my teen years.

I was determined to make the room to be a psychedelic sanctuary, an exotic private sanctum that was open to the innermost secrets of cosmos–just completely separate and closed to the oppressive atmosphere of the rest of the house.  I prevailed on my father to bold a three-foot black light to the ceiling.  This plunged most of the room in darkness and cast certain things—anything white and the bold fluorescent “Day Glo” paint in my psychedelic posters–in an intense ultraviolet glow.  Like the psychedelic movement that inspired me, I wanted to make what was usually invisible visible, to open new doors in perception.

I remember lying in that bed reading Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse, imagining myself as young Siddhartha in ancient India, leaving home to become a wandering ascetic.  I pictured myself in a vast forest, fasting and meditating, becoming one with the animals and the stars in the night sky. There was no doubt that I was searching in the dark, daydreaming instead of really seeking. But there was an intuition in the midst of all that imagination that glowed like my white sheets under black light. I knew instinctively there was enormous hidden potential in my own body and mind.  I sensed the truth—the real truth–was not an equation or a verbal proposition to be thought.  It was a reality that had to be perceived.  I didn’t know how to go about it but I knew that I was meant to receive and transmit the truth, to live it.

The summer after I graduated from college, the black light and the posters were gone, but sadly so was that sense of self worth and possibility.  In college, I imagined I would experience discovery and relief—that I would find a path or a way—and I didn’t.  There were bright spots, interesting people and courses, but one night in a college library there came a reckoning.  I really didn’t want to study the Tao Te Ching or the Upanishads or the New Testament—I wanted to find someone to teach me how to live them.  I wanted to see and feel and live a new way more than I wanted knowledge.

I tried to hide my spiritual longing under a protective layer of decadence—although I couldn’t look all that dangerous because I looked about 12 years old.  But my friends chided me for my hippie leanings. In the end, my advisor warned me away from graduate school, calling me a “seeker of truth.”  I graduated sad and lost.

Today I realize that this open, wondering, wandering time, this time of feeling lost, was crucial.  Very, very slowly, it allowed unused muscles in the heart and mind to develop.  I learned to be with the unknown.

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue,” writes Rilke. “Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

It has become a cliché these days to talk about the numbing effect of our technology, the way the constant stream of information and entertainment we receive can leave us passive, vacant, sterile.  I will never again bolt a black light to the ceiling of any bedroom I inhabit.  But I vow to unplug from time to time, to sit and walk and be aware.  I’m going on retreat tomorrow for a week.  But I won’t be meditating all the time.  I also vow to wander in the hills around the center, and dream.

7 thoughts on “In Defense of Dreaming

  1. Another great post Tracy. Dreaming about seeking truth – that is an occupation for some of us I think. I remember reading Siddhartha as well, I even visited the little town in the Black Forest where Hesse was born.
    The topic of dreaming is fascinating to me. What is a dream anyway? I think this is a big question for consciousness, I know the neuroscientists don’t have a satisfactory “explanantion” for it – unless there are neurological problems or short circuits associated with the dream state. I thought of the Australian aboriginal notion of the dream time. I still remember the first time I saw Peter Weir’s film The Last Wave, it totally blew my mind. What is the relationship between dreamer and dreamed, and what impact does it have on our world? I have been a student of dreaming since I was a teenager, and I think it can immensely inform our wakeful consciousness (can we even call it that most of the time?!)if we let it, or assist in drawing or interpreting our dream mandalas as it were.
    Sometimes seekers may seem lost, but that may be just the place where they find themselves. Do we ever find what we are searching for? I think not, a seeker searches in an ever changing present moment. Is the question always the same? Do we rephrase our answer to accommodate the questions?
    Have a wonderful retreat. I think fall (or nearly fall) is a wonderful time to consider the harvest and the reaching down into the grounds of roots to replenish our inner selves.

  2. Hi Barb

    Do we ever find what we are searching for? I think not, a seeker searches in an ever changing present moment. Is the question always the same? Do we rephrase our answer to accommodate the questions?

    I’m not being critical but for me to accept this, I would have to believe that wisdom (Sophia in christianity) doesn’t exist. The path to wisdom furthered by the love of wisdom is fantasy. I would have to believe that there is no objective dharma but rather nothing but a continual flow of opinions. The highest goal for a person’s search would be the continual adoption of socially acceptable opinions

    Not a pleasant perspective for those like me.

  3. Hello Tracy,
    I will tell you what has just happened. I was at home alone. I started watching a movie on Netflix. It was an animation… At one point I realized that I will one day die. I felt a very strong fear. I turned my computer off. I started to think about everything. Then I tried to put my thought into an order. I tried to meditate a bit, although I don’t know how to do it. Then I called my girlfriend who lives in Vancouver.
    I felt a bit relieved but I didn’t know what to think. I took my puppy out for a few minutes. Before I go to sleep, I wanted to read a few blogs, which I never do. I picked a random name, Tracy and put the name and word blog to google and it brought me your website. I read your above blog and it makes a lot of sense to me, especially what Rilke had said. I don’t know who he is but I will certainly google him not. Isn’t it interesting? I don’t usually think these things. And somehow, universe brought your blog to me. I don’t know how to interpret this…
    Good night,

  4. After reading this I had to check to see if my name was on it…as though I’d sleep walked to my computer and written it. I’m sure its confidential, but I would love to know which “retreat” is referenced….I’ve been searching and searching for one since I can’t get up to Alaska this year. I am not interested in structures, theatrical sets, or costumes. Whatever is natural would be appealing…does Parobala ever feature these?

  5. Tracy,

    I’ve been MIA a bit lately, too many things going on at once professionally and personally.

    I had an interesting conversation this weekend about “Grokking”, with my close friend Donna McKenzie, who is one of the hosts for NASA’s Third Rock Radio.

    I reminded her of Robert A. Heinlein’s book – “Stranger in a Strange Land,” and that if they had any special programs coming up on the Mars Mission soon, to please use that word again. GROK – I suspect some our NASA scientists who recognized the word.

    Wiki tells us to GROK is to intimately and completely share the same reality or line of thinking with another physical or conceptual entity.

    I mention this because at the sametime I was reading Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse, in 68-69, I was also reading “Stranger in a Strange Land.”

    This is what ran through my mind as you described your room at home with a black light.

    Tracy, I had a room exactly like yours or close enough.I suspect we may have had some of the same posters. Does the the ‘Zig Zag’ man sound familiar, or War is Not Healthy for Children and Other Living Things.

    Perhaps even the iconic Bob Dylan poster, which Milton Glaser designed and that was included in millions of albums. It eventually became part of MoMA’s collection.

    Enjoy your retreat, but please remember the young girl you once were who has now brought you to this place and this time.

    She really does deserve quite a bit of credit for the life you are living now I think.



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