We use the same word to describe the mystical phenomenon that happens during sleep and the aspirations that we hold for our unfolding lives. I had a dream. I have a dream. Additionally, we are told of a spiritual principle that invites us to view life itself as a dream, unfolding magnificently in a way that reflects the notion that anything can happen and probably will.
I have noticed that the idea of lucid dreaming is gaining more traction out there in the zeitgeist. When we become more consciously aware of our dreaming experience while we are sleeping, the more we can bring that conscious awareness to our dream-like waking life and the aspirations that we hold dear as we create our magnificent futures. I feel quite blessed to have devoted my practice to holding the dream as sacred and powerful. And never before has it been quite so clear that we must treat all three of these dream states with the exact same reverence.
There is a mystical text that most people in the Western world are quite familiar, even if they don’t recognize it as a mystical text. I committed it to memory when I was about three years old. It goes like this: “Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream!” This may sound like I am trying to be funny or clever, but truly, this is a piece of wisdom that we all learned at a very young age and everything you need to know about how life works is held within these four lines.
As you might imagine, it is the last line that interests me the most, as life is indeed but a dream we are dreaming up as we go along our way. However, the entire piece can be interpreted to both understand the journey on a deep and profound level. At the same time, doing so can offer insight into the principles of interpretation that inform all of the work that I do in my own spiritual practice and that which I teach to others.
One of the most powerful tools in interpreting a symbol is the principle of implication. Much like a detective surveying a scene for clues, the landscape of an image offers an enormous amount of information. Firstly, we recognize that we are on a journey as represented by being in a boat on a stream. This is symbolic of how we are to move through life. It is, ultimately, a navigation of emotional territory for water represents the emotional body and a stream is a small current, individual-sized flowing of water, much like our individual selves. When we connected in large numbers, we form a river and we are all heading toward the ocean of the collective. When examined more closely, we are part of the ne3ver-ending cycle of water flowing, evaporating, being redistributed to flow again. The stream is the fluctuating path that our life is to take and the boat we are in connects to our individuated sense of self.
We are given an instruction right off the bat. We are to row. We do the rowing and we are to row our own boat. Not each other’s. Not someone else’s boat; just your own. Row YOUR boat. And there is going to be some effort involved. How do we know this? The instruction is repeated three times. Clearly, there is going to be some effort involved.
Now just in case we are overwhelmed by all that rowing, we are given a powerful qualification. Several in fact. The first one I’ll point out is that we are moving down stream. It won’t always feel like it, but we are to know that even when the going is the most strenuous, we are still going down stream. To me, this is akin to the principle that consciousness is always expanding and that everything that occurs happens for your benefit. Even when it looks like anything but this, the truth still remains. We are expanding at every moment of the journey. And it’s a gentle ride, which is a very clear suggestion to lighten up and go with the flow. Row gently. Stop fighting. Resistance is pointless. When it doubt, choose the gentle path.
And here is my favorite part. It’s supposed to be fun. We are told to do all that we do with a sense of merriment. This is such an important principle it is given a lot of emphasis. It is repeated four times; one more merrily than there are rows. That means no matter how hard it gets, it’s STILL supposed to be more joyful than effortful. It’s supposed to fun, so do everything you can to cultivate joy.
And of course, the best part of all. Life is but a dream. And what are the qualities of a dream? It is a magical landscape in which anything can happen and probably will. It is a time when we are profoundly creative, causing the seemingly impossible to happen just by using the power of our thought. It is a state in which we get to see our blatant humanity while simultaneously becoming acquainted with our precious divinity.