It’s a dream, yet there’s worse happening in reality. Along with empathy, guilt moves through for my privileged life, for my lack of suffering.
It’s moments like these when the power of believing thoughts is transparent. I find myself in a state of sad loneliness because of a dream my mind created. Yet, this alone is not a bad thing. The empathy and love I feel as a result connects me to the whole of the human experience. The part that is useless is the guilt, helplessness, doubt, fear and clinging that are generated if I follow my thoughts.
I watch the whole thing move through me like a violent storm across an otherwise peaceful landscape…
When I first wake up I just feel it, I’m crying as a get out of bed. I’m disturbed by the pain and cruelty I witnessed in my sleep. As I put my contacts into my eyes, the world comes into focus, and the thoughts begin.
“It was just a dream.”
“But somewhere it’s real, or worse. I’ve seen it on the news.”
“Why am I so lucky?”
“I should really be doing more to help others who are in pain.”
“but who? but what…where to?”
“Fly to foreign lands and set up camp?”
“I can’t. I’m useless.”
“What’s the point of my life? So privileged. Why me?”
Suddenly empathy becomes self-doubt. Before breakfast my whole life is called into question and I haven’t even spoken. Connection to others who are suffering in the world becomes all about me. I feel terrible. Suddenly all I am really thinking about is what I can do to make myself feel better.
As a student of environmental studies and social justice this is a battle I’ve been engaged in before. And I’ve never won. I know I won’t win it now if I stay with the thoughts that I’m bad, that I should do something more.
be something more. work for something more. whatever more might be.
Only the ego can take something so beautiful, our deep connection to all of a life and the ability to feel love and empathy for all creatures, and turn it into my problem. My loneliness, my guilt, my fear, my burden to bear.
Pema Chodron, American-Buddhist nun, writes that the greatest gift we can give to the world is our own awakening. Sri Nisargadhatta Maharaj, Indian sage, writes that greatest way we can spend our time in this life is to work to become free from our patterning. Free from our anger, blame, guilt, and depression. After all, we cannot offer help to the world if we are living our lives in a state of inner division.
Luckily I am still standing in my bathroom. I don’t (though I might have in the past) have the dream, get depressed, feel resentful, yell at my partner when he asks for something, create an argument, fall to pieces in the middle of it, saying, “Why are we even arguing about this it’s so stupid. Don’t you know there are people in the world who are really in pain? What’s wrong with us?” Thereby passing on the blame, guilt, and shame, into the world. Thereby making suffering out of nothing. Out of a thought. Out of a dream.
Instead I wake up with tears in my eyes. On that cusp between sleep and wakefulness, between eyes open and closed, I feel the pain of being alive. The pain of suffering, of living and dying, of killing and being killed. I breathe in deeply this feeling. I watch the temptation to make it all about me pass by. I send love and light into the world with my out-breath. And I catch a glimpse of the connection and love of the entirety of life. And I promise to live my life from here.