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Excerpt from Dreams

Ablaze With Meaning (p. 272)

From chapter "Ablaze With Meaning"

If I see a horse in a dream, there’s a good chance I’ll ask what that horse might mean. Was this horse enclosed in a pasture? Was he or she running? Did this horse remind me of any other horse (or any other place, or any other time) I’ve ever known? What was my emotional response to this dream horse? What associations are in my head, heart, or body? Do the surroundings speak to me? If I see a horse in a dream, I presume the horse is there for a reason, and it is part of my responsibility as the dreamer to attempt to find, understand, articulate, and/or live that meaning.

If, on the other hand, I see a horse in waking reality, I usually don’t notice it at all, and when I do, it’s just another damn horse.

All of this cuts to the heart of what this book is about, and to the heart of how we live. How would you live differently—how different would every aspect of your life be—if even just sometimes you walked awake through a world ablaze with meaning? How often have you ever—if ever—experienced the world in this way?

Many people in this culture have never experienced this. While they may allow that dreams might have some meaning (though the meaning is often relegated to being therapeutic), the general consensus these days seems to be, as we’ve seen, that the world does not.

One reason we in this culture find it easier to believe that dreams may have meaning while the world does not is that we’ve been taught that dreams come from our own sub- or unconscious, and are therefore of human origin. And remember the first rule of this culture: while humans may or may not have meaning,the world certainly does not. So because dreams can be seen, under this rubric, as human, they can be allowed to have some meaning (though certainly not so much credibility, given our inability to control them, as scientific experiments).

But what if we break out—or even simply walk out—of the perceptual prison into which we are put by this culture’s philosophies and religions (as promoted, to provide one example among far too many, by the scientific priest Richard Dawkins, whose religion states that the universe is random, meaningless, pitilessly indifferent, but acts as though the universe were created for humans to use, and, as in Christianity, to transcend), and we reenter the living world? What if we drop the narcissistic conceit that only humans have something to say, and we reopen ourselves to a world, indeed a universe, of meaning?

I find it significant that for the last several hours I sat in front of a computer and tried to write what became the previous three paragraphs. I got nowhere. Not a single idea or word. I finally decided to ask for help from this forest I love and live in. I walked outside. As too often happens, five steps out the door I forgot to ask any questions, and forgot even the forest, thinking about nothing but my internal chatter, oblivious to the real world. I may as well have been walking down a prison corridor. Suddenly, though, I noticed the play of dappled sunlight on understory leaves, then the light shining on tiny flying insects moving from sun to shadow to sun, then the song of (sadly) a solitary wren, then the creaking of trees in the breeze, and then I remembered where I was, and I remembered to ask for help in understanding why we in this culture continue to deny that the real world has meaning, and to ask for help in understanding the implications of this denial. Not ten seconds later the ideas and words rushed through me, and I was squatting on this path, writing with one hand, paper against my knee, petting Shade with my other hand, sometimes stopping to watch near-invisible spiders walk across my backpack, or black and gold centipedes crawl over branches, or the delicate movement of a tiny feather in the wind.

To live in a living universe, filled with songbirds speaking, dogs communicating, spiderwebs telling stories, ferns saying yes and ferns saying no, centipedes saying yes and centipedes saying no, is to not inhabit the same perceptual universe as those who perceive the universe as meaningless. It is the difference, truly, between being alive and being dead, or rather between being alive and being dead but not yet knowing you are dead, or rather between being alive and being undead. It is the difference between being alive and being empty, devoid of life, hungry, an unpluggable void plugged by a void of unceasing and omnicidal consumption, manifesting the question so rightly asked by R. D. Laing: how do you plug a void plugging a void? The answer, of course— and as I’m writing this a tiny translucent red ant crawls from my pants onto my paper, and now a hawk calls in the distance, and now Shade returns panting from wherever he was playing, and now that wren chatters quietly—is that you can’t. And so those who perceive the universe as meaningless consume, they destroy, and they force everyone else to keep up with their frenetic forced march, to follow this culture to its inevitable end. All this meaningless rushing, all this meaningless loneliness, all this meaningless destruction, when a world of meaning surrounds them, a world of meaning that gave birth to them (back when they were alive, back when they were human), a world of meaning waiting to welcome them home.

But of course they can never come home, because to do so would be to admit they were wrong, to admit this destruction has not been purposeful, has not been meaningful. It would be to admit that all of this misery and terror—their own, caused by them, and that of others, caused by them—has been in vain. And at this point I believe most of them are spiritually, psychologically, sociologically, and physiologically incapable of coming home.

And so they continue, ever faster, ever harder, ever more defiant, with ever less satisfaction, to try (and fail) to plug the voids plugging the voids. And all this time they continue to destroy the real, physical world, to destroy real, physical meaning, to turn the world into a landscape nightmarish, barren, and meaningless enough to match the landscape of what used to be their hearts and minds.