Dreams, Nightmares, Reality

“A dream is a wish your heart makes

When you’re fast asleep

In dreams you will lose your heartaches

Whatever you wish for, you keep

Have faith in your dreams and someday

Your rainbow will come smiling through

No matter how your heart is grieving

If you keep on believing

The dream that you wish will come true”

“A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes”, Cinderella, — Walt Disney

You won’t often find me quoting Disney here, let alone lyrics from Disney songs– but this one in particular, I had to address today.

I woke up today from yet another of a recent string of vaguely memorable, yet ultimately inconsequential dreams. I couldn’t tell if they were good or bad dreams, and as I contemplated, I ultimately realised there’s not really a difference.

On one level, this is because of the Buddhist/Daoist philosophy of how all of nature/reality is just as it is, neither good nor bad, nor any of the other labels we put on it– it just *is*. (There are arguments to be made here, like how it’s a dream so it’s not reality, and our perceptions make our reality and since the dream only existed in my perceptions you can say that whatever I think of it as, it is; I’ll address this later.)

On another level, it’s both because dreams are highly amorphous. Sometimes they shift around on their own so fast, you can hardly keep up with what’s going on, let alone decide whether it’s good or bad. Other times, you may be able to guide your dreams along– or even control them entirely.

I’ve been called a “dreamer” in various regards, but none so true as in the context of a person who walks awake through their dreams, learning and changing as I go. I must admit, this hasn’t been as true in recent years; I only just began dreaming (and remembering anything about them) again in the past year or so. As a child, And for most of my life, I used to have regular, horrible nightmares– especially about my own demise.

It was these nightmares however, which catalysed my lucid dreaming capability. I was lucid dreaming before I knew such a term existed.

I remember one of my earliest (repeating) nightmares, from when I was only five years old. I was in the house I grew up in (i.e. living in, at the time) and there was a ghost at the end of the hall. In hindsight, the ghost was pretty ridiculous-looking, with the head of a fast-food-joint mascot of the time, and a whispy, tailed body, like Casper.

I would come around the corner and face down the hall, and there it would be, at the opposite end, waiting for me. “Boo!” it shouted, completely oblivious to its laughable stereotype. I too, was oblivious to its laugh-ability, and it terrorised me.

My memory isn’t the greatest, so I can’t be sure how many times I had this nightmare, waking me up at all hours, leaving me in fear of exiting my bedroom and stepping directly into the end of the hall where the ghost always started– it had to have been at least ten times before anything changed, and it feels like it was a lot more than that.

I’ve always been somewhat strong-willed however, and between that nightmare and many others (often worse, like the ones in which I was still five and bad men came stalking through the forest we were in to kill my mother and maybe me) I’d had enough!

The next time I had this nightmare, the ghost proceeded in its usual fashion, started to float slowly toward me, and just before it could say “Boo!” to me, I broke through the heavy, choking chains of fear, and screamed “Boo!” at it! It clearly wasn’t frightened by me, it just looked confused, so I shouted again, and started moving toward it.

It floated higher, for a better vantage point from which to look down and intimidate me, so I started flapping my arms, which– much to my surprise– successfully levitated me up from the floor! I had to keep flapping and maintain a steady rhythm, getting my whole body into the motion, but ultimately I was able to fly above the ghost! I clumsily fluttered over to him, shouting “Boo!” over and over until my voice ran out, and with nothing more than quiet disappointment on his face, he faded away! I had won! I didn’t know how to land, so I came crashing to the floor, and this woke me up.

I’d never been so exhilarated in my life! Not only had I defeated my first dream demon, but I learned that I could have POWER in my dreams!

As the nightmares grew more monstrous and genuinely frightening, so too grew my powers. Sometimes the nightmares would win, sometimes I would win, and it seemed my cognitive and unconscious minds were battling for control– but looking back now, I realised something more important.

My mind was never against me; it was HELPING me! These dreams were so frightening, they steeled my courage in the real world. I’ve died so many times in my dreams, I’ve been able to avoid real-world disasters by recognising dangerous patterns. I’ve been able to solve high-stakes problems in short spans of time, due to the sharpening my mind underwent in its sparring matches with itself.

Then, on top of these benefits, there was at least one more: contemplation of these dreams, to consider their meanings, and what my subconscious was trying to tell me. These contemplations also helped me to realise how to accomplish goals in my life, much like the process of dissecting and discerning these meanings.

Back to the Disney song: I’m not so sure a dream is really a wish your heart makes– sure, it can be, but I’m here to talk about the flip side of that song. Sometimes your dreams are there to antagonise you, and opposition makes you stronger. No organism on Earth became more powerful through being left alone. Furthermore, just dreaming and wishing for something doesn’t make it happen. That’s the fantasy of the Disney-verse, and exactly the type of lie fed to us as children, which will prevent us from ever achieving our dreams and goals.

It’s often said– usually in the pettiest and most pedantic manner– that “life is what you make it”. While true, the pedant in question rarely has any useful follow-up advice about that, to either explain how the terrible elements in your life are to be explained, or what you can do to actually make it better; and this is where I hope all of my seemingly disjointed rambling here is all going to come together:

Every moment of your life, you’re making decisions– whether conscious or unconscious, including the decision not to make a decision. If you’re not consciously deciding where to go in every waking minute, you’re being swept along by your unconscious, and by the waking dreams of others.

Life is what you make of it, asleep or awake; you want it to improve? You have to be conscious. Cherish the dreams your heart makes, but build your dreams with your head.

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