Last night’s nightmare was set in a strange house which appeared to be my home. People arrived for dinner singly, in pairs and small groups; one man announced that 21 more were on their way. I welcomed them as neighbours from the community where I’d lived for 21 years. While everyone gathered in the dining room I went to the kitchen, only to find fridge and cupboards empty, with neither food nor drink, nor cutlery, glasses, and plates in sight. Guests soon grew restless and some came to the kitchen to ask what was going on. I woke up in panic.
The first thing I did was to assure myself this was a dream. Then, as they day unfolded, my mind tried to make sense of the experience by looking for possible subconscious messages. The most likely explanation was that this was about separating from friends and neighbours. Many had known me as the Bread Man who sold artisan loaves at the farmers’ market and gave the proceeds to the food bank. This dream, I decided, was my psyche’s way of processing of change, separation, and loss (realizing that other interpretations might be similarly plausible).
Viewing dreams from a Buddhist perspective, I turned to the Verse of the Diamond Sutra in our monastery’s chant book. It reminded me that everything changes, nothing lasts; that such distinctions as Me, Psyche, Dreams, and Reality are illusory.
A star at dawn,
a bubble in a stream,
a flash of lightning in a summer cloud,
a flickering lamp,
a phantom and a dream,
so is the fleeting world.
My monastic teacher once described nightmares as wake-up calls. The way I understand her view (today) is that dreams, just like the 1000 other events that occur throughout the day inside and outside of our awareness, are just that: momentary impressions. What makes nightmares stand out is that they point to something important. It matters little what they point to than to heed their call to awaken from my existential slumber.
image: “Banquet of the gods” by Frans Floris (1550).