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Life is Like a Dream
by Paul Levy

I am sitting at my computer, struggling to put the finishing touches on this article. Out of the corner of my ear I am listening to the closing ceremonies of the Olympics, when, all of a sudden, everybody on the television starts singing about "the power of the dream."

I start crying, due to the deep personal significance of this synchronicity, and realize once more the deep fluidity between the inner and the outer.

Every great spiritual master says that this very life is like a dream. The Buddha, which literally means "the awakened one," says, "My form appeared like a dream to sentient beings who are like a dream. I taught them dreamlike teaching to attain dreamlike enlightenment."

The great teacher Meher Baba says "Your life is a dream within the mighty Dream of God which is the Universe."

The great saint Paramahansa Yogananda even goes so far as to say that the purpose of our dreams at night is to awaken us to the dream nature of the universe.

What do these great masters mean? I would like to suggest that they don't mean that life is "just" a dream, in the sense that it is a meaningless illusion, but that waking life is of a similar structure to a dream in certain very revealing ways.

In the ultimate sense, dreams themselves are projections (the mind projected outward), or reflections, of the mind (when I use the word mind, I don't mean the intellect, but the deeper Mind, which is the creative source of all experience). The mind then experiences the dreamscape as being other than itself, taking it for being objectively real, reacting to and becoming conditioned by the dream.

The situation is exactly like a kitten looking in a mirror and seeing her reflection and reacting to the reflection like it is other than itself.

The great masters tell us that this is exactly our situation in waking life. Most people are so enmeshed in their life and so identified with their roles, it's exactly like they've gotten absorbed in a dream, fallen asleep and under a spell, thinking that the seemingly external universe is both real and separate from them.

Physicist John Wheeler says "Useful as it is under everyday circumstances to say that the world exists "out there," independent of us, that view can no longer be upheld. There is a strange sense in which this is a "participatory universe."

The quantum physicists, in trying to find the nature of objective reality, discovered not only that they couldn't find anything objective, but that the very act of observing the universe actually changes the universe. They discovered that, just like a dream, this isn't a universe that we are passively observing but one that we are actively participating in and co-creating.

Michael Talbot, author of The Holographic Universe, says that "One implication (of the new physics) is that objective reality is more like a dream than we have previously suspected."

This is why one of the most profound wisdom teachings in Tibetan Buddhism is to view every moment in our life as if it were a dream. If all the mystics and physicists are correct and our life actually is some sort of dream, once we stop superimposing our mental constructs upon reality and start allowing it to manifest as it truly is, it will reveal its dreamlike nature.

And just like a dream, we play a much more central role in creating this reality then we could've imagined. To quote Gary Zukav, author of The Dancing Wu Li Masters, "A powerful awareness lies dormant in these discoveries: an awareness of the hitherto-unsuspected powers of the mind to mold "reality," rather than the other way around."

Once we begin to realize the dreamlike nature of our situation, it is exactly like a wave that thought it was separate from the ocean discovered it was one with the entire ocean. Our sense of separate identity does not have to be gotten rid of, merely seen through as the illusion that it's always been. Our identity then expands to include and embrace the entire universe, as we have recognized our true identity, which is both to be a unique expression of, as well as deeply connected to and not separate from, the entire universe.

When we become lucid in a dream, we realize that who we thought we were, our sense of identity itself, was not only an arbitrary, limited and contracted habitual imagination, but was being imagined, or dreamed, by a deeper part of us.

We realize that this deeper part of us is not only who we truly are, but it is who we all are. This realization takes our life out of a purely personal framework, deeply connecting us with other people, as we are all seen to be fellow actors in a divine drama. This realization gives life a deeper sense of meaning, which makes suffering so much more bearable. Out of this awareness naturally arises genuine compassion. In essence, we discover that the Self is having a dream and we are it!

Jung had this realization in a dream that he had during the last years of his life. In the dream he entered a church, and much to his surprise saw a meditating yogi sitting in front of the church. Upon closer inspection, Jung saw that the yogi had his face, and Jung then realized that the yogi was not Jung's dream, but that he was the yogi's dream.

In the words of the noted mythologist Joseph Campbell, "one great dream of a single dreamer in which all the dream characters dream, too."

Sir Laurens Van Der Post, quotes one of the "people of the desert" as saying "There's a dream dreaming us, and we must get back to that dream, and the vision, the power, and the energies at the disposal of man's dreaming self will help us to win the battle."

When we begin to awaken to the dreamlike nature of the universe, we realize that the same dreaming mind that is dreaming our dreams at night is dreaming our life. We become more able to embrace the situation we find ourselves in, realizing that if we see every event that happens in our life as the perfect vehicle through which we can awaken, it will become exactly that. But being like a dream, this only becomes true if we see it as such.

And if you say to me that I'm only imagining, or dreaming that this is so, I would say "Exactly!"

For more articles about dreaming, see