Row, row, row your boat
Gently down the stream.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily
Life is but a dream.
-- Children's Song
The 17th century Zen Master Takuan Sōhō, as his last act before dying, wrote the kanji for "dream" pictured above. Since I first heard Takuan's story at the beginning of my Zen training, I have been inspired by his simple summation of a life of complexity and wildness. This is certainly my experience, that life is like a dream. Zen practice is about recognizing our dream life fully, and awakening into a more spacious life.
In the past few days of these strange times, I've been having extremely realistic dreams. Perhaps this is also happening for you. And two blogs I follow, one from my husband, David Rynick http://davidrynick.com/blog/, and one from my teacher James Ford (https://www.patheos.com/blogs/monkeymind/), also mention their unusually vivid dreams. As Zen teachers, we often hear about dreams becoming more intense during sesshin, our Zen meditation retreats. It's been my contention that everyone on the planet, because of the pandemic, as well as the political, racial and gender unrest, is living life more intensively. We may wish to turn away from all the suffering, but it's becoming more difficult to do this. And the feeling of turning away can be numbing and exhausting. At sesshin, we spend many hours turning again and again to what is right here, while sitting in stillness, and transitioning to other practice activities like walking, care-taking of our space, cooking and eating. Life becomes extremely simple during these retreats. And for many of us, because of the limitations on the lives we're used to living, what I have been calling the "before-times" everyday life has developed this quality of a silent meditation retreat.
So it makes sense that our dreams are following us as we move into the interior space of the heart. My dreams have been full of imagery of meditation retreats, people from the past coming back into my life to ask forgiveness for various wrongs they did to me, all surrounded in an atmosphere of love and spaciousness. I wake up from these dreams feeling alive and present. My dream life is comforting. Waking life can be challenging. But I'm lucky -- I have the good fortune to have found Zen practice, in its many forms.
Attending and teaching sesshin, practicing Zen daily in formal practice periods on Zoom (and recently in person in the Temple garden) and doing my best to continue to wake up in every moment, this is how I stay awake in the dream of human life, right now, on this planet, in this country, with everything exactly how it is. Our Temple provides many ways to join with others in practice, study and discussion, including sesshin. (www.worcesterzen.org). Maybe we'll find each other in one of these practice opportunities, and we can learn how to wake up together.