The Ancient Modern
To Craft a Recognizable Story / Joshua Alan Sturgill
This morning, a dream impressed on me the wisdom of an Upanishadic teaching:
Being awake in this life is sleep from the perspective of the Absolute. Dreaming is mere awareness of the Absolute. And dreamlessness in the here and now is union with the Absolute.
I took these ideas metaphorically when I first read them. They do make poetic sense this way. But I think the Upanishads are reaching into something more profound: the relationship between sleep and wakefulness, mortal life and immortality, distraction and awareness. We look for psychological interpretations for our dreams. But what of the significance of dreaming itself?
I dreamed vividly of a romantic entanglement between a beautiful, intelligent woman and a handsome, creative man. She was an administrator of some kind—the head of a school or an office. He was a musician and songwriter.
My narrative, tale-like impressions followed the moments of their troubled courtship. As each one told or felt a part of the story, I became that character speaking or feeling. I was the story; I shared all the perspectives—not like a camera passively following appearances. Rather, I knew the story from within the life of the man and woman.
When the woman said she would give up her career for the man and follow him, I was her longing and her willingness to sacrifice. When the musician said he could never ask her to dismantle the good life she had made for herself, I was his desperation—his being torn between love of his craft and love for the woman. Hers was a life of stability and security, but unfulfilling; his—a life monetarily poor and exhausting, but rich in experience and variety.
Both were selfish in part, selfless in part. She knew him to be a great artist; he saw her as a compassionate and competent leader. Each wanted more from life, but each was uncertain where or how that “more” should come. Each stood between the joy and terror of spontaneity and the hope for a guarantee.
As the dream progressed, the musician performed fascinating and provocative songs. His chords and lyrics were complex, and his voice conveyed wisdom, humor and a mysterious invitation to intimacy. She was his best listener. She understood the meaning and importance of his art more than he did.
Though he sang many times in the dream, I only remember one of his songs. It described a swindler, a colorful figure from the old American West, a snake oil salesman who, in every verse, made some shady deal which filled his pockets with prospectors’ gold and left his opponents penniless. He makes a deal for houses, a deal for horses, a deal for land.
In the last verse, he makes a deal for clothing, which subsequently causes the cloth merchant’s death through destitution, leaving the merchant (with an ironic twist) “naked in the grave.”
The woman shared with the man her reaction to this song, and they discussed it at length. But I only recall her words, “…that there are such people…,” and his thoughtful expression in response.
I was the woman listening, enchanted; I was the man performing; I was the audience, seeing the lyrics become images in my many minds: the grim humor, the tender surprise, the simultaneous forgetfulness-and-exposure of self that happens when we fall in love.
And now, I am the writer who records the dream—uncertain if its events are intuitions, metaphors, creativity released. Or, meaningless exhalations of a tired brain.
Or maybe, I approached the Absolute. Early, by a small step. Ahead of sunrise. While my heart slept, far from what I think of as my normal life.
Perhaps, we always have the ability to assemble impressions of the Other World, but rarely engage this gift. And these are our dreams: an attempt in the dark to craft a recognizable story from the scattered and piercing beams of the Realthat shower us every moment.
When we believe ourselves awake, is this precisely when we are most unaware?