What is the first thing most people do when they find themselves in a nightmare while dreaming at night? Most people I know would become aware, conscious, and then try to wake themselves up out of the dream and into the waking state. During the dream it feels like that existence is real, but the dreamer becomes aware in the dream and realizes that she must wake up if she is to be free of this intense situation. It becomes extremely urgent during the case of a nightmare.
Everyone has experienced a nightmare at one time or another. Some are worse than others. What makes the nightmare so difficult? It is usually the feeling of intense fear and desperation. Where does that feeling come from? It is the feeling that the situation in the dream has reality. Of course, it does not even though it feels real. Sometimes you become lucid or aware in a dream. When that happens, the intensity of it changes and there is a steadiness, a subtle knowing that this will be over and it is only a dream. This awareness is of the utmost value and power. This awareness is an impartial seeing. It allows you to wake up.
The real nightmare, the real dream is the identification with the mind. In the dream state, your awareness gives rise to all the characters and locations in the dreamworld. In the waking state, it is no different, though it is longer and tends to feel more solid. Check for yourself and see. People routinely experience nightmare and dream-like experiences in the waking state as well. In fact, when these kinds of things happen, many often report that it “was like a dream” or it “was surreal.” Just like the dream state, the main suffering arises from the feeling that what is happening has reality apart from awareness. In a sense, it is not the pain itself that is the problem. There are many people who go through extremely difficult experiences and pain with a laugh. What really is it then? The suffering itself arises largely from a sense of confusion as to what is happening.
Here is an example: Suppose your house is going to be demolished. Due to some financial calamity you know it needs to take place. You have another house ready and your things are moved in. It is sad but there is no other option. On the scheduled day, the demolition company arrives, you sign the papers and stand aside while the team demolishes the house. Then you go to your other, smaller house and eat lunch. How much suffering? Likely little to none. In the second scenario, you wake up in the morning a little groggy and hobble down the stairs to make some coffee. Before you know it, crash! a giant wrecking ball crashes through the living room smashing all the furniture and sends shrapnel everywhere. The house alarm goes off and all the neighborhood dogs start barking. You spill hot water all over your pants. You rush outside and are shocked to find that there is a demolition team destroying your house due to some financial problem. Nobody told you about this. How much suffering in this scenario? Much more. It’s largely due to the surprise and sudden confusion of what’s happening.
Where does confusion about what is happening arise from? It comes from confusion and doubt about your real nature or who you really are. This confusion gives rise to more confusion as you identify with your limited dream body and its exploits as it interacts with the other pretend dream bodies. The way out is similar to what you would do in a dream. Of course, you will probably want to wake up. If you are having a really great dream, you may not want to wake up. Perhaps you’re eating a delicious ice cream or meal (the Matrix, anyone?), or boating on a beautiful river, or you are President of the United States (dream or nightmare, I’m not sure… ;). In this waking state you may be very successful and have a wonderful life. But experiences keep changing, just like in a dream. A turning point comes when you realize that you are suffering. You have an experience of suffering in some form. If not fear, perhaps a lack of some kind. Well, now you feel — “get me out of here!” Ok. What do you do? For example in a dream: inquire, who is having this dream? Of course, “I” am having the dream. Everything in the dream arises in my awareness. There are no other real people in my dream separate from me. Similarly, in the waking state everything arises in your awareness. Remember, you want to wake up!
Now inquire upon waking up in the morning and all day, the very same thing. Who is having this experience? Who am I? Who is having these thoughts and emotions? Don’t think but inquire with an aim to turn awareness back on itself. Sink into the space. Keep bringing all experiences (thoughts, emotions, sensations, perceptions, concepts) back to the feeling “I” again and again. The pure, colorless, imperturbable, impenetrable, clear, free, radiant, eternal awareness, Silence itself will come forward and introduce itself. It was there all along. Slowly, but surely you become aware and awake! The limited feeling “I” dissolves into this limitless awareness that is the Source of the waking, dream and deep sleep states. This is self inquiry. This is awakening. This is the end of suffering. This is enlightenment. This is Self Realization. This is God. This is the Unknown. This is perfect peace. This is total rest. Now you see life as it is. Now you see Reality. Now you are Reality. Now you can have a nightmare and it wont matter. All doubts are gone. Now you are free.
This post is in response to the wordpress one-word prompt: Nightmare.