A Flash of Insight, or Magical Thinking?

cloud-ground-lightning National GeographicHave you ever had a dream so devastating that you woke with a headache and unshakable sense of doom? Yet so powerful it provoked flashes of insight about life and reality?

The Dream

I woke from such a dream recently. It was my daughter’s wedding day and everything that could go wrong went wrong. We arrived at the church only to discover no one had come to decorate it. The food we’d ordered was half-prepared. My daughter showed up in her beautiful gown, but we’d forgotten to get her hair done or her make-up. It was so horrible, we cancelled the wedding and sent everyone home. The wedding party climbed into a car and was driving away when my daughter said, “Stop! I can’t wait, I just want this over!”

So we stopped at a tiny diner, and that’s where the wedding took place. I tried to talk her into going to someplace nicer, where it wasn’t so shabby and depressing. But she insisted. I had wanted to take photos of the wedding to hang on our walls, but how could I take photos of this? It was too awful.

The beautiful wedding day we both had dreamed about was ruined, and there was nothing I could do to change it. Our worst nightmare had come true and it was all my fault. I shouldn’t have left the wedding planning up to her. I should have taken charge. I should have had a check-off list and made sure everything had turned out as planned. But it was too late. I screwed up. I let this happen. And now there was nothing I could do to change it.

Then I woke up. My head was pounding and I was gripped by sense of failure and doom.

It was crazy! Why was I having this dream? My daughter had already had the most beautiful wedding imaginable just last year. And she had planned it all! I hadn’t had to lift a finger. Why would I be worried about her wedding?

Then I had a sudden flash of insight. A whole series of them. One after the other.

Flash of Insight #1

This wasn’t a dream about my daughter’s wedding! It was a dream about my son’s life. About the terrible drug addiction that had ruined the beautiful life we both had dreamed for him. And I blamed myself. I shouldn’t have left something as important as his life up to him! I should have taken charge. I should have planned better. But now everything was ruined and there was nothing I could do about it.

Flash of Insight #2

My daughter’s ruined wedding had only been a dream! There had never been a reason to be so upset and despondent. I could have changed the dream at any point. I could have decorated the church, fixed her hair. I could have insisted to go to a beautiful restaurant. At any point in the dream I could have taken charge and created the perfect wedding. If only I had known I was just dreaming. If only I had realized I had the power to do so.

Flash of Insight #3

Maybe I’m still dreaming! I remember how real the ruined wedding had seemed in my dream. Like it was really happening. Like this was reality. So much so that even when I woke, I couldn’t shake the sense of sadness and failure. Maybe I will wake up and find out that my son’s ruined life, his addiction, was just a dream too. Maybe in “reality,” he’s living the perfect life I’d always wanted for him, just as my daughter had had her perfect wedding.

Maybe I’d wake to find him in his perfect house with his loving wife, surrounded by his beautiful children, happy and healthy. He’d flash me a big grin and put his arms around me and say, “Silly mama. Why so sad? You were just dreaming!”

Flash of Insight #4

Maybe in this current “dream of reality” we can change things. Maybe we have the power to practice a type of lucid-dreaming. The power to wake up enough to know this isn’t real, and to change the dream into something better. It’s possible, right? Isn’t change possible?

Flash of Insight #5

Maybe this is what they call “magical thinking.” What we do when every other avenue of escape from a reality we cannot tolerate is closed to us.

Maybe. But I’m not convinced.

Spirituality and Science

I keep thinking of some talks by Alan Watts about Christian mysticism and Asian philosophy that I listened to not long ago. He talks about the inter-connectivity of the universe and how it has evolved into human consciousness. How the very cells of our bodies and brains are made of star stuff. How we are in some strange way the universe made conscious. “We are the eternal universe,” he tells us. Each of us, individually, is a pinprick perception of the whole, and altogether we are the whole itself.

The Christian mystics and Zen masters and Hindu gurus all seem to tell us this is so. We are sparks of Divinity.

But the stories of science, of quantum physics, and cosmology also include fantastic tales about the nature of reality that seem “magical,” even “mystical.” And the reality science depicts sounds strangely similar to these spiritual teachings.

Think of it! How strange is this: The story of the Big Bang, how creation exploded spontaneously out of empty space, a void. How an infinite number of galaxies are spinning through space, some being swallowed by gigantic black holes. How our own bodies which seen so solid to us are actually composed mostly of empty space. How an infinite number electrons and neutrons spinning are spinning through our cells like tiny galaxies. What could be more fantastical or magical than reality science teaches us! The reality we accept on “faith” because we believe what science has revealed.

Watts tells us that we each are sparks of the divine Creator, living an infinite number of lives over and over. Sometimes we choose easy paths, sometimes difficult ones. Sometimes we just want to see how much we can take, how far we can push ourselves, how bad it can get before we turn ourselves around.

Did my son choose his path? Did I choose mine? Are our night dreams and waking dreams just various stages in the ever-expanding understanding of who we really are? Will we wake to another understanding of reality and realize this life is just a dream within a dream within a dream . . . and each life is just as “real” or as “magical” as the next one?

We once believed the earth was flat and the distant ocean spilled off into nothingness. Later that the sun circled the earth, and we felt smug and special at the center of the universe. Then we woke up.

What more will we come to understand about reality–the universe and ourselves–as the eons unfold?

Wake up, I tell myself, wake up.

I still don’t know if this is “magical thinking,” the desperate hopes of a mother afraid to let go, to face the fact that there may actually be nothing I can do to help my son, to change his life.

Or a faint faraway flash of insight about reality that is yet too radical to be believed by most.

What do you think?

11 thoughts on “A Flash of Insight, or Magical Thinking?

  1. Interesting that in my search for answers…I came across your post…written today. Not sure where to start other than I hope my light bulb moments come on quickly. I am 38 and have never had “nightmares” but over the last week I have had two both of which my husband woke me out of and I have ABSOLUTELY NO recollection of the dreams…just heavy emotions I don’t like at all…yucky…foreboding,..heavy…so open to ideas and thoughts and help!!!


    • That’s strange. My husband never remembers his dreams either. I remember mine in great detail, almost as if I’m watching a movie. Funny how that works, Dreams are usually seen as ways for our unconscious to reach us and help us work out of things that are troubling us. I hope you can work your out. I’ve heard that making a firm intention to remember your dreams before you go to sleep sometimes helps. Although from the sound of yours, you may not want to remember! Let me know if you figure it out.


  2. (I’m sorry I’m commenting on nearly every post — I’m binge-reading your entire blog right now. Hah.)

    Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. None of this is your fault, unless you actually forced him to do drugs. You seem like a wonderful, caring parent. Sometimes thing are out of our control; sometimes we have to let our loved ones screw up and fix their lives themselves. We can only help to support them the best we can.


    • “Binge-reading” – I like that. And I love that you are reading all my posts–that’s why I wrote them, for people to read and comment. Your comments have been so supportive and really have helped me to let loose, at little at least, of some of the guilt and stress. Thank you.


  3. Dreams are just as you say: “…ways for our unconscious to reach us….” Their symbols are not the same as those of our waking mind, though; we have to dig away at them to find what is the message.

    A few tips: People in your dream are almost always facets of your own psyche. I think Insight #1 is on the mark: the Black Wedding dream is about your son’s life. The line “Stop! I can’t wait, I just want this over!” is your unconscious speaking to you, in all probability. You, of course, are the best interpreter of your own dreams. Write them down as soon as you wake.

    As for science and spirituality, never the twain shall meet. Purveyors of ‘woo’ counterfeit validity for their magical thinking by appending scientific terms that have no genuine meaning in their context. Thus we have “quantum” this and “quantum” that, “energy,” “vibrations,” and what-not. We all believe in magical thinking to some degree, perhaps because we originate in a place where magic works. But I prefer to limit my faith to the precepts of Christianity as modified by my own logical analysis. But that’s a topic for another time.


    • Thanks, Jeff. I think you are right about the dream and what my subconscious is telling me. I’m not sure I agree about science and spirituality never overlapping. Somehow I believe it is deeply connected. That all of this–life, reality, etc.–is one whole. Even though we attempt to break it into different threads of understanding, it’s all woven together, all one piece. But that is another topic for another time.


  4. Did you ever hear of a lady called Carolyn Myss…she has written a lot of books and is an intuitive healer. She has a saying… Christ doesn’t take a room at the Ritz. What would be the problem if someone was just married in a diner. The dream you had died but what was the deeper psychic reality of the family of which your son is now manifesting the darker side? That pain was covered over by trying to make things look nice so you could feel better about yourself or that the truth of the psychic reality of whatever damage happened to your son was now manifesting in you having to look at some shadow aspects, which although painful, are at least real?

    I suffered emotional abandonment by my mother at critical times (and my father too). She just wasn’t present. She didn’t nurture me cause she was never nurtured. That was the reason I sought the warm embrace of alcoholism. It has taken me many years and much anger to realise it wasn’t my Mum’s fault. She just replayed something and that abandonment pattern is woven back over at least four generations that I know of. You love your son. You aren’t to blame, but the truth is that you may have done some things to contribute to his addiction.

    I find it hard to write this as I would not want to hurt your feelings. But this is what came to me when I read your post. Maybe your dream was trying to show you a deeper psychic reality. Does your daughter manifest the light, while your son manifests the shadow? This is a pattern in family where there has been a history of addiction.


    • I am sure there are things I have done unwittingly to contribute to my son’s addiction, and it sometimes almost cripples me with greif and guilt to think so. I don’t think the dream about the diner part was about me wanting things to be pretty, but me wanting to rescue my son from the sordid and dangerous life he was leading as a drug addict. Have you ever seen what the rooms where strung-out addicts live? Filled with trash and cockroaches, blinds closed and tweeked, floors so filthy you hate to walk on them? Yes, I do want more for my son than that. At the time I had the dream, he didn’t even have that. That would have been a palace for him. He was on the streets sleeping in alleys. He was starving and covered with staph infections. He’d had two OD’s in the past week. But when he was a boy and a young man, we had all envisioned him leading a normal,happy, healthy life. That was the “perfect wedding” I had hoped for him. Just a normal, happy life. It doesn’t have to be “nice” – a trailer on an empty lot will do, as long as he’s healthy and happy.

      I appreciate your heartfelt reading of my dream and the attempt to get me to look at shadow aspects of our experience. I am familiar with Myss, and I do understand what you mean. But my son and I are very close. He has been deeply loved and nurtured and cherished by me, as much as my daughter. Of that I have no doubt. So it’s not the same as you had with your mother, although I do understand what you mean. My mother was more like yours, and I never trusted her love nor did my brother trust her, nor my son and daughter. But that’s a whole ‘nother story.

      My biggest failing is not protecting my son from a distant and sometimes emotionally abusive father, and not getting him into therapy when he was a boy. And no, I’ll never forgive myself for that, for being that naive, that clueless. But I’ve been trying to make it up to him ever since. I think my dream was about wanting to take control of his life for him because at this stage he seems so helpless and he’s so overwhelmed. But I feel helpless and overwhelmed too. Sometimes I think we are clinging to each other while we are both drowning–him in addiction, and me in grief.


      • Your deep love for your son just shines through in this…it couldn’t be harder what you are going through. I have a friend who is going through something very much the same with her son… I speak to her a lot and sometimes cry when I hear about how her beautiful son is living in the deep throes of Ice addiction hung on by vultures…. I am so deeply sorry for your pain. You are an amazingly caring and loving Mum. I am sorry if my comments were lacking in a deeper insight… in my friends case it was the father that did most of the damage and consistently abandoned the son setting him up for similar relationships. We all make mistakes you are doing all you can and more. I will keep you both in my prayers. God bless you.


  5. Reblogged this on iron704 and commented:
    I can’t say I have experienced any type of dream like that. I have had dreams to where it was almost like I was dreaming in a dream. I know it sounds crazy to me anyways. The scariest thing about this type of dreaming is I think im never going to wake up from it as I struggle to try opening my eyes. I know what’s going on but it’s almost like I go into panic mood. I would tell my friends about it and mom and they looked at me like I was crazy and had no ideal where I was coming from. A few years I had a friend read me my horoscope it was talking all about my type of dreams I have had. She new exactly what I was talking about but acted like she had no clue. As she was reading it to me, here comes these words that desribed my dreams. The only thing was, these two words astral projection came out of her mouth saying this was going to happen tonight when I went to sleep. Not understanding the end of my horoscope I was all kinds of confused. Her playing dumb sayimg she had no clue on the end of it. That night I went to sleep waiting for her to come to bed I had that dream inside a dream happened once again. For those that dont know what astral projection is, its actually amazing and could be dangerous. Since I never let it fully happen and still won’t because its scary especially if u dont know what the hell is happening. Well she finally comes to bed and I said it happened again and I finally found out what was going on when I had those dreams inside a dreeam. I was astral projecting and had no clue. She didn’t tell me earlier that day that she knew what it was because she didn’t want to ruin it for me thinking if I knew what it was I would have a out of the body experience durimg which the soul leaves the physical body and travels to the astral plane


    • Thank you for the reblog. That was so interesting about your dreams and the astral projection. I had an experience once long ago that may have been a kind of astral projection. The human mind is such an amazing thing, and our dreams are ways to experience things beyond our rational understanding. There’s so much we do not know yet.


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