Dreams and Dying, Part 3

Dreams and Dying, Part 3

Everything that’s good, everything that’s abiding, everything that’s worthy, everything that’s generative about a human being arises on the other side of our fear of death.

Cynthia Bourgeault [1]

Throughout this discussion I have presented dreams as if they can be interpreted literally, or that they can always be understood through the lens of our earthly lives. As with sacred texts, including the Bible, and other timeless knowledge, that is seldom the case. Most often, we must wrestle with our dreams in order for them to release their mysterious essence. The language of dreams, as with the language of many sacred texts, is symbolism. Unfortunately, even a basic discussion of symbolism and/or the interpretation of dreams is beyond the scope of this work, not to mention beyond my limited intellectual capacity. Suffice it to say, however, that we cannot always take at face value what we remember from a dream because we view and judge it from our waking perspective. Because things happen in dreams that are not common or even possible in our waking reality they often seem phantasmal, terrifying, or ridiculous. But in the moment of the dream, they are real – as real as our waking lives, which for me is the important point. Even when we know we are dreaming, the vivid realness of what we are consciously experiencing remains.

A common experience with dreaming is to wake up in the morning and wonder if we are waking up from a dream or falling asleep into one. Indeed, the difference may not be as obvious as we assume. I find this to be particularly true whenever I find myself between my waking and dreaming realities. As I begin to drift into sleep, sometimes I awaken just enough to wonder how I got where I seem to be when I know I just laid down into my bed for sleep. From the point of view of my conscious awareness, there is little or no difference in the realness of the two experiences.

Another fascinating element about dreams, aside from their realness, is their transcendence of time and space. It makes me question my interpretation of time and space from my waking awareness. I know there is a history in my dreams because I am always progressing from some experience. I also find myself moving forward towards some goal or objective, so there is a future, too. Some elements of my waking life, however, like the death of my father, are frequently absent. I have had many dreams in the decades since his death where he was very much alive, even when I experience my dreaming self at the same age as my waking self and even when I remember that he died. Time is different in our dreams. Space is different, too. I find myself living in different but familiar homes and locations. I have had dreams of the home of my maternal grandmother where there are rooms and passageways that did not exist when I was a child. Relationships are different, too. I often experience family members and friends in my dreams, people who I seemingly have a long-term relationship with, that I do not know in my waking life. Many of our limitations in wakefulness are absent in dreams. In one dream, when I realized I was dreaming, I felt that I should be able to fly, so I jumped off the ground and flew.

At a very basic level of reflection, our dreams affirm that life is not just the limited experience we know from our waking hours. Yes, the dead are still with us. Yes, we do have a relationship with people we admire, past and present, who we seem only to know in our dreams. Yes, there is a sense that we are free from our earthly illnesses and heartaches. Yes, we can fly. As we reflect on the symbolism and happenings of our dreams we may realize that we have excluded much of the richness that God built into our life experiences. To the extent that our dreams are consciously real to us, to that same extent are our lives vaster than we imagine. Dreams provide glimpses into the experience of our soul – that in us which was never born and will never die, that which lives in union with God and every other being.

When we find ourselves dying in a dream, we wake up to a familiar life on earth. When we die to the life we call this life, will we wake up to a familiar, welcoming life elsewhere? I believe our dreams indicate that we will.

This is the 42nd in the series of Life Notes titled, If I Should Die Before I Wake. I invite your thoughts, insights, and feedback via email at ghildenbrand@sunflower.com, or through my website, www.ContemplatingGrace.com. At the website, you can also sign up to have these reflections delivered to your Inbox every Thursday morning, if you are not receiving them in another manner.

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[1] Cynthia Bourgeault, “The Gateway to Freedom,” Wisdom in Times of Crisis (Center for Action and Contemplation:2020), faculty presentation (May 4, 2020), Youtube video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?y=b2gBJOCyxG4

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