PZI Teacher Archives

Dreams Q & A


So I’ll take any comments or questions. So how’s it going? How are your demons doing? How are your elephants? What are you noticing in your meditation?

John: So I’ll take any comments or questions. So how’s it going? How are your demons doing? How are your elephants? What are you noticing in your meditation?

S: I’m realizing I don’t remember my dreams lately, and actually for a few years now. And there was a time when I remembered them a lot, when I had a practice of having my journal next to my bed and rolling out of bed and writing something on that page. Nothing would come, and after some days, weeks passed, I slowly started to remember my dreams, to where my dream life was very full and colorful, and hearing you talk makes me remember that, and I think I will do that again. 

John: It’s fun, isn’t it? One of the nice things is there’s this move – if you start saying, oh I’ll remember my dreams, that shouldn’t have any effect, but it does have an effect. It’s one of those impossible things we can do. Think I’ll write down my dreams, and suddenly you’ve got dreams to write down, and that’s a little bit like the koan world. I don’t understand koans; well if I step into them, maybe they’ll understand me. They’ll explain the world to me. Rather than me solving them; they’ll solve me. So we get that reversal of, when we’re outside the prison, things are possible that are not possible inside the prison. So in the prison we’re always tormenting ourselves about the latest thing we did or somebody did to us, the latest incongruent thing in life. 

Well, once again everybody’s enlightened and has nothing to say.

S: Earlier I was out in meditation and I guess I was kind of told that I had a dilemma, which I don’t know what it is…[inaudible] I don’t know what to say about it. It was really odd to suddenly have this here’s your answer, this is what the problem is. The problem is you can’t put down on paper or in paint or brush stroke, a sound. So I didn’t know I had a dilemma.

John: I’m not sure I understand but I’m fine with that.

S: When I’m not at sesshin it’s really hard for me to wake up in the morning. My wife will come in and wake me up, but when I come to sesshin I’m afraid I will oversleep, so I never really let myself relax. So that means I don’t sleep very well, but then during the day I’m not incredibly awake either. It’s not bad, but then something happens where it all starts to become one day, because I never feel like I went to sleep and now I’m up. I don’t get that kind of flipping over feeling, so… this blur which makes time and the concept of being awake very different.

John: There’s something touching and accurate about what you’re saying I think. What I would do is I would cut out the anxiety. You could skip… you can be blurry without being anxious first. In other words there’s something about that waking and dreaming… oh I thought they were more distinct, or I thought waking was a different thing from what it reveals itself to be, which is what you’re saying in a way. We think we’re terribly clear, but we’re just haunted by demons, and in sesshin we don’t think we’re so clear, but we’re actually clearer. My nightmare job when I was the age I was talking about in that dream, my twenties, was to be the timekeeper, because I remember waking people up at 2am because I misread my clock or something. [laughter] I knew I was a space case.

S: I came so close to doing that.

John: It’s sort of fun in a way, because once you’ve done it, you think oh, I could do it again. But I think one of those things is we have a lot of unnecessary rehearsal of life before life happens, and to skip that is interesting. The worst thing that would happen is, well, you slept in and I don’t know what would happen. In the old days at Tassajara, if someone slept in and didn’t turn up in the morning, someone would go and wake them up and tell them that. Sometimes they’d get up and come, but sometimes they wouldn’t. They’d be on strike, or sick or whatever it was. I’m not taking it anymore! And they’d give a reason and the person would just write it down in the book, and so there was this book full of all these lunatic reasons…[laughter]… which is itself a kind of dream. It’s sort of a fictional form, why I’m not at zazen in the morning. 

But there’s something nice about not having to rehearse things before you do them. It goes along with the territory of this koan – not pushing yourself around. You know how we’re always pushing the mind around and adjusting consciousness and interfering with it and messing with it, make it wake up in time, make it sleep now because I’m supposed to be sleeping, make it calm now because I’m supposed to be calm instead of pissed off with my neighbor or my colleague. And if we stop finding fault with the mind and stop pushing it around, it becomes a lot more supple and free. I think that’s one of the tremendous discoveries of Zen, is that we don’t have to refuse and reject the things the mind produces. And I think it’s the main difference between – that’s the thing about transcending the explanations and philosophies and negations and things. That’s what the whole Mahayana movement was about, really. 

S: I’ve been finding myself in situations where I’ve been moving really spontaneously and without forethought and without knowing what was going to happen, just finding myself moved. They’ve been situations that have been often in front of a lot of people, perhaps confronting someone sitting in the seat and just being moved to do it. This has been a theme for me. It feels like there’s a natural movement and I’m not questioning it. And then somehow it’s like I just dove in this ocean and I find myself there, and all of a sudden I realize what I did, and it’s like my mind caught me or something, and I panic. And I’m really in that space of not knowing but it doesn’t feel like a creative, generative not knowing, it feels like a stopping of something. I don’t like it.

John: I think what you’re saying is I’m doing something that seems to be interesting and different and free, and suddenly I’m like coyote, I catch myself and I think my god I’m not standing on anything, and gravity takes over. And I think we just have to be kind of gracious about – we make some sort of break for freedom and then suddenly we’re in prison again, and maybe freedom was all wrong. If only I’d been a control freak like I usually am, I wouldn’t be worried about not being a control freak. Yeah. 

I’ve been reading… Michael Korda was a publishing executive for a long time at Simon and Schuster, and an editor, and one of the things he did was acquire Joan Crawford’s memoir, so he’s got these great stories about Joan Crawford trying to control reality. For those of you who don’t know, she was a famous movie star and legendary for her alternative view of reality, I suppose. Anyway she wanted all this stuff on her book tour, and part of your job as senior editor was to more or less keep the star performing and sell millions of books and things. She had asked for various things like a limousine and then a separate car for her assistant so she didn’t have to talk to her assistant on the tour, and she wanted pastel-colored flowers. So he gets a call from somewhere at two in the morning, and he wakes up and it’s Joan Crawford screaming at him because someone put white flowers in her room. She was absolutely screaming at him and he said even he was shaken, and he’s used to dealing with all these dealers. And he called the night manager and got him to find any colored flowers and put them in the room instead of the white. 

So he was talking to Merle Oberon and she said white was for funerals in Hollywood in those days. And he said why was she so angry about them? And she said this great thing that’s about the dreamlike quality of it all. She said you know the way Fred Astaire, his thing was dancing, or Jimmy Stewart was diffident and shy, well her thing was rage and she was just really good at it. You’re lucky you got to experience it. That was her piece. And he said I suppose I was. 

And we can have that attitude to our own demons when they come up. You get to experience your oh, I’m really confident and then I attack myself. That’s your two a.m. call, enraged about white flowers.

The great narratives of enlightenment are all completely linear. The plot line is always the same: I suffered, I meditated, I got better at it, I got enlightened, end of story. I never knocked over water again. I was never clumsy. And that’s actually not a human narrative. That’s an archetypal narrative. Actually everybody here has had some experience of enlightenment. It’s very hard to be human and not have some experience of it. And some experience of freedom. And then suddenly pow! I don’t know what I did but I’m in prison again. What happened to my freedom? What did I do? I wasn’t holding my mouth right. I knew I shouldn’t have eaten that last candy bar. And that explanation is just lunatic because you make lunatic explanations when you’re not free, and then suddenly you’re free again. 

I think the thing in terms of the implications of awakening is, start using awakening as your reference instead of how messed up you are. So it’s that simple. So, oh fortunately I was free and then I started second-guessing myself and I don’t like that, and I hate myself then and I’m sure everything I’ve done was wrong and I probably need all sorts of improvement. Over and over again we think it’s all about giving stuff up, and actually it’s about being more accurate about what we love. We don’t usually love second-guessing ourselves, we don’t love comparing mind, we don’t love finding that we’re better than or worse than other people. All that’s a kind of misery. Even feeling better than other people puts us at war with ourselves in a way that’s a tight, confined thing. And freedom’s just something else, and we’ll find that we then are attracted to those moves that tend to make us free just because we love them, but it’s really about finding what we love and being faithful to it. 

For me it’s about being more honest with myself about [?]. Like I really liked cigarettes, and I liked the companionship of sharing cigarettes, and it was a working jobsite kind of thing when I was a kid. You shared cigarettes with each other on the construction site or wherever you were. But then I realized they were making me sick and I had to stop, unfortunately. I stopped hundreds of times, I was really good at it, but then when I actually stopped smoking I realized it was because I needed to do what I like, and I didn’t like to smoke. So it was pretty simple. So if I don’t like being afraid, then I don’t have to be afraid. I liked not smoking, including the sense of – if withdrawal’s part of not smoking, then I liked that better than I liked smoking. It’s true, if you’re really accurate. 

A lot of it’s about accurate as opposed to what we expect. I mean if you really notice what reality’s like, it’s much more non-linear than we act. You know how everybody’s got their big hole in their vision. If you put something in certain places you can’t actually see it because of the way binocular vision works. But the brain organizes it and fills it in for you and says you actually see everything. The brain does a lot of other similar things, where it just organizes things and says don’t worry, there’s not an elephant in the room [laughter]. But if you start noticing accurately, then you see the ways in which the way we construct reality starts to come apart, and it’s actually exciting, I think.


S: So John it sounds to me like you’re suggesting really look at what it is you love, really look at what it is you’re going to, and do that. And that sounds great, but then there’s always all these but I need to do, I should do, your whole life, school…

John: I need to wake up at the bell, therefore I need not to sleep.

S: Many things. So are you suggesting really let go of, really look at every one of those and see if that’s something…

John: Well you know, I like living in my house so I like paying the rent. That sort of thing. I don’t have a problem with that. I like eating therefore I like working. So I don’t know, but you’ll start noticing there’s a lot of things we do, we spend a lot of time worrying about things we don’t really care about, because our mind, we’re used to the mind that worries. We’re used to the mind that’s obsessive and the mind’s on a quest to do X. But I don’t know, do you have a specific example?

S: Well I understand the whole idea of what you were saying, you want to eat and so you work to have money. I like a clean bathroom so I like cleaning…

John: I like having a garden so I enjoy digging.

S: Right, but somewhere, there’s…

John: When I was eight I didn’t like digging. I thought it was labor and I hated it but now I enjoy it.

S: But the freedom that, that feeling of connection with everything, that feeling of freedom, it seems like it’s just a gift. It comes, it goes, it comes, it goes. So it feels like, well are you suggesting that you can actually have some, I don’t want to say control, but some influence maybe, some invitation, better invitation, bigger invitation by, I’m of course saying how can I get more of that. Because I’ve never understood why it comes and why it goes.

John: Have you noticed that it’s not dependent on circumstances? It’s not obviously dependant on circumstance. Something really bad could happen and you feel free, or joyful.

S: Yeah. One thing I notice for sure is it happens a lot more at sesshin, which is great, why I come. But I don’t see any connection between anything I’m doing or, all of sudden it’s just not there, and then all of a sudden…

John: Well I think two things. If you’re happy and you’re rolling along, there’s not a problem, right? You’re not in prison, there’s no walls, and no prisons inside. Then suddenly I think the mind just makes itself a prison without consulting us. Suddenly I ‘m here, whatever my thing is, I’m worried about it. Suddenly: wait I was happy a minute ago, and that thought doesn’t help. And that whole thing turning toward helps. Noticing oh, reaching for the happiness I had a minute ago is painful, but turning toward the unhappiness I have now suddenly becomes a gate. And that’s Yun-men saying forget about the light, give me the reaching. I think it pretty reliably does. 

Sometimes there’s a technical matter of where people get so afraid or anxious they can’t not believe it so they have to take it in little bits, little steps. But mainly it’s a matter of if we’re refusing what’s happening, that’s hell. If we’re not and we get interested in it, we’ll find there’s a gate. So then the big background, that thing about we get carried, we don’t feel alone. That’s how I experience it. It sounds to me like you’re saying you have a lot of experience of that realm, it‘s just it goes on and off. Is that right? And it’s pretty hard to know how could I manage that.

For me the question of method is, if you’re working with a koan, try to let the koan into the area that’s the most painful and see what happens. Because the koan is, if I weren’t believing all my thoughts, am I happy. What’s wrong with this moment? I’m still alive, even if I just stepped out of the plane and forgot to take my parachute. Do I need a parachute? Evidently not. It’s like, what do I want to do with this moment, which is always the thing.

S: I have the same sort of experience often. I was just thinking about there’s something about that not being able to manage when it comes that’s for me part of the delight, more than delight, that’s the thing that undoes me, unwraps me… I don’t know, there’s something about that, not being able to control it when it comes and it goes. It seems like in sesshin you just give yourself permission to notice.

S: Well, someone described the experience as swimming in the divine, and then you come out and you’re dripping in the divine, but you’re not meant to always be swimming in the divine. And I thought, I love that idea, that actually it’s so incredible when you’re there, but then what’s really wrong when you’re not there, maybe they’re both equally…

S: Or maybe the sea keeps expanding, and you’re like, oh I guess that’s part of swimming in the divine too. I thought I was still on land, but I’m not.

John: Yeah I think there’s something to that. Suffering is the illusion that I know what’s happening. The illusion that I’m not in the vastness. And also it’s a matter of prejudice. A lot of things about awakening are like those processes, like dreams are interesting, like falling asleep is something you don’t know how to do, but you manage. Waking up you don’t know how to do, but you manage. Sneezing. There’s a lot of things. Or remembering something. You don’t know how to remember something, something you’ve forgotten. Oh, like Coleridge had that thing with Kubla Khan where he was halfway through this great poem and somebody knocked at the door and he went out and it had gone. But there’s a way in which… those processes are in a way sort of rhymes with the step into freedom. 

We like to use these big images like awakening and laughing and the whole cosmos seems to make sense, and those experiences sometimes happen, but I think the thing that I really am interested in is those little moves where you’re imprisoned and then you notice oh, I just noticed being imprisoned and I’m not. And I’m not finding fault with my condition. Say, one of the things I’ve noticed is I’m more neurotic than I thought I was. I’m Australian. We’re not neurotic, we’re just foolish. It’s more like my mind will just start working on something without informing me. And then it will be working on it and keep me awake. And so I’m giving some kind of new presentation or something and I think: I need to sleep beforehand, but my mind doesn’t think I need sleep beforehand. It keeps me awake all night with these sort of silly rehearsals going on in my mind, and not to think that’s a problem is kind of fun. It’s sort of interesting. Oh look, my mind’s got this, I’ve got a Beatles song now, whatever it is. In other words, not to find fault with things becomes a kind of freedom and then becomes very joyful even when it’s weird, or… even when it’s not what I was planning, not what I had bargained for.

S: I was just remembering, it made me laugh recently. I used to sit when I first started very, very strict, like Tassajara, if you didn’t show up, they [inaudible]. I had been sitting for months, maybe even a year. And one day I had to cough, and I coughed. And I realized oh my god, that is the first time I have ever coughed in the Zendo without having a prelude of a couple of minutes of: oh my god I think I have to cough, maybe I really don’t, I’ll breathe a different way, oh my god what if I start and don’t stop…oh god… it was such an incredible moment. It was so tiny. It makes me chuckle now thinking about it. But it was memorable, it was really [?] to just cough and not have a whole lead-up, or afterwards, not having a whole, oh god what are they thinking about me? Gee, they’re thinking she had to cough. Talk about neurotic.

John: Well, we do that though. The interesting thing is we recognize that mind. It’s just mind, it’s not even yours. That’s the nice thing; it’s not even ours. Not only are your thoughts not my business, my thoughts are not my business. Not only do your thoughts not belong to me, my thoughts do not belong to me. Here, you can have mine. You short of delusions? Have one of mine. Thank you very much.

Summer Sesshin 2011
062011 John T