The Man Who Dreamt He Was a Butterfly

Perhaps you have heard this quote by Master Zhuangzi, or at least part of it.

Once upon a time, I, Chuang Chou, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and moon and butterflythither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was Chou. Soon I awaked, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man.

Master Culadasa once remarked that one cannot really know if they are dreaming or awake since the distinction is unclear.  I thought this was curious.  Having had some experiences with lucid dreaming I knew it was possible to make a distinction between being awake and being asleep dreaming.  Further, my dreams seemed to be marked by a lack of clarity or the sense that things only existed where I was looking and could change or disappear if I looked away.

Last night I had a dream that shifted my perspective on this matter.  I just ordered another book on lucid dreaming that has not arrived yet, but when reading reviews of various books one person mentioned a technique of getting into the habit of asking yourself during the day, “Am I dreaming?”  and then following with a second questions, “Am I sure?”  Once the habit of questioning is established, it will follow into your dream state and allow you to “wake up”.

Last night I was in a dream and I stopped and asked myself if I was dreaming.  I answered myself, “no”.  Then I reminded myself that I needed to ask the second question to be sure.  I scanned the area I was in (some type of fair with booths) and concluded, “Sure, not dreaming.”  I asked myself several times during the course of the dream, telling myself, “I need to practice this so that when I’m dreaming I’ll remember to do it.”

The funny thing is that the dream had so many clues that I wasn’t awake.  First my dead brother was in it.  Second one of the people I work with was in it and was Iranian and not native Hawaiian like she is.  Third, my brother connected me up to start working at one of the booths.  And get this:  It was a Lucid Dreaming booth. LOL

Anyway, I need to have a strategy to use during the dream to decide whether I am sure or not sure I am dreaming.  Apparently just scanning my immediate surroundings is not enough.

There is continuity in my awake life that is not present in my dreams.  My mind seems to stream in a cohesive way when I am awake.  I can remember going to sleep, waking up, meditating, and sitting down to blog.  In a dream things are more disjointed.

Leonardo Dicaprio captures it best in Inception when he says,  “Dreams, they  feel real while we are in them, right?  It is only when we wake up that we realize that something was actually strange.  You never really remember the beginning of a dream do you?  You always wind up right in the middle of what’s going on.”  At this point the person he is talking to, Ellen Page, realizes she is dreaming and the dream “explodes” or falls apart.

This may be a clue I can use.  The trick to being sure if I am awake or dreaming is to ask myself if I can remember how I got to the place I am dreaming I am.

More from Master Zhuangzi on dreaming:

How do I know that enjoying life is not a delusion? How do I know that in hating death we are not like people who got lost in early childhood and do not know the way home? Lady Li was the child of a border guard in Ai. When first captured by the state of Jin, she wept so much her clothes were soaked. But after she entered the palace, shared the king’s bed, and dined on the finest meats, she regretted her tears.

How do I know that the dead do not regret their previous longing for life? One who dreams of drinking wine may in the morning weep; one who dreams weeping may in the morning go out to hunt. During our dreams we do not know we are dreaming.

We may even dream of interpreting a dream. Only on waking do we know it was a dream. Only after the great awakening will we realize that this is the great dream. And yet fools think they are awake, presuming to know that they are rulers or herdsmen. How dense! You and Confucius are both dreaming, and I who say you are a dream am also a dream. Such is my tale. It will probably be called preposterous, but after ten thousand generations there may be a great sage who will be able to explain it, a trivial interval equivalent to the passage from morning to night.