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?