A STRUGGLE WITH LIFE
I freed a rhododendron from the grip of a thick thorny blackberry tendril, dug out both and separated them, then planted the rhododendron again. The tendril had proved very difficult to contain, and I had already tried to cut back on the ground, but it always returned. The thorns were also very sharp and had even cut through garden gloves. At about the same time I had seen a fantasy film on TV and somehow the experience and the film had come together in my dreams. I dreamed that I was confronted with a plant that had more in common with a tentacled animal than with a plant, and came to the overwhelming understanding that I was fighting against life. I suddenly woke up from the nightmare and had to get out of bed and walk around to lose the excitement that had awakened me. In my early years, I was described as a child who was easy to impress, easy to fantasise and driven to imagination. That had remained in adult life, but it also gave me a deeper sense of what I had experienced. In this last sense, I understood the dream.
Rarely do we see ourselves involved in the struggle for survival by competing with all other life forms. The moulds, spores, and germs that we wipe off furniture surfaces with a chemical cleaner attempt to take over areas of life that we have chosen for ourselves. Ants and spiders try to live in our houses. The rats, if left to their own devices, would come through the pipes and feel comfortable in our garbage. Not to mention foxes, wolves and, in some countries, bears and larger mammals who browse our garbage when they lack food.
We smile at a dandelion breaking through the asphalt, or flowers in a wall, or songbirds in the bushes in our gardens, but we try to get rid of the mole that ruins our lawns and the mice that take over a corner of the shed. We assume that the airtight habitats that we have created for ourselves are what is normal for humans and forget the Aborigines or the people who live in the rain forests. We also turn off our televisions when we see people in refugee camps struggling with their existence. It is a question of the meaningfulness with which we are confronted. Where do we find meaning in such a strange existence with so many possibilities? What is it good for when people suffer? Why is suffering so widespread among people, often inexplicable among wealthy people? In countries that have fallen into armed conflict, life is often impossible.
When did we lose respect for the life around us and forget that we live in an environment that is interactive and in which all forms of life have a purpose except humanity? Different religious traditions see humanity as an caretaker, and there are many examples where man has understood what it means to harmonise with his environment. There are examples that institutions have been created that include, rather than exclude, many aspects of natural life as an improvement of a healthy life. There are people who successfully seek out nature for healing. Our medicines come from our environment, from natural molecules found in natural sources such as plants, bacteria, and fungi. The discovery of medicines is based on the collaboration of researchers such as chemists, biologists, and physicians. These are people who acquire knowledge from all areas of life, which only shows that an attentive person, despite the suffering we find everywhere, can discover meaning in life. Perhaps that person would truly be a caretaker.
Have you ever awoken from a dream that was so real that you thought you were somewhere else? When that happens you have to come back to the present and realise that you are indeed in your bed and not in some exotic location. When people with dementia awaken, they find themselves in a world in which they feel uncertain. How did they get there? Where are they anyway? Who are these people? Their memory has lost any number of years and their expectancy could be to be living in a world twenty years before or more. They cope by playing along as though they know the people around them, but the faces have no names. Their location is foreign to them. Their situation is unclear. They could be bed-ridden but awake expecting to be able to climb out of bed. This is, of course, a horror for healthy people, but the way we awaken from dreams that seem so real is an indication that we are not always in control.
People who have been in a war zone, or who have experienced other traumatic experiences, tell us that they are on edge even when sleeping and that the slightest sound is enough for them to stand up and be alert in a second. Others, often teenagers, need 30 to 60 Minutes to awaken fully, probably due to the protected lives they lead. There are also cases of people who have left their beds, spoken loosely with their partners, showered and eaten breakfast, driven to work and then wake up at their working place. The whole procedure lies in darkness because they were not conscious. Obviously, the quality of sleep and the speed at which we become fully alert depends on the situation we live in.
What has happened during sleep? Our minds rest their intake of stimuli and let us sort the stimuli we have taken in in the last 16 – 18 hours. The endless monologue in our minds ceases to speak and we drift off into a state in which we are vulnerable. A dream is a succession of images, ideas, emotions, and sensations that usually occur involuntarily in the mind during certain stages of sleep.[„Dream“ (http://www.thefreedictionary.com/dream). The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language,
Fourth Edition. 2000. Retrieved May 7, 2009] The content and purpose of dreams are not fully understood, although they have been of religious, philosophical and scientific interest throughout time. Dream interpretation is the attempt to find meaning in dreams and to search for an underlying message. CG Jung’s conclusion regarding his “Dream Theory” is that dreams reveal more than they hide. They are a natural expression of our imagination and seem familiar to us because they use the simplest language available to us, the language of mythical narratives. According to Jung, this did not mean that dreams had to be interpreted in order to fulfil their function. Instead, dreams do the work of integrating the conscious with the unconscious. He called this the process of “individuation”. Individuation could be described as the pursuit of wholeness by the mind, the source of wisdom. In the mythical world, we have the realm of archetypes. These are considered the universal energies of every human being and help us understand potential conflicts, not only with society but also with ourselves.[https://dreamstudies.org/2009/11/25/carl-jung-dream-interpretation/]
This seems to mean that we put some things on hold and sort them out later, bearing them in mind whilst getting on with whatever life is asking of us. It also suggests that consciousness is more than just being awake, but instead, it is the ability to work with experiences. This seems to have been around for a long time before we were able to name it. The shaman, monk or priest were probably the first to attempt to understand what was going on and we have records of the Christian Desert Fathers, who, in living as hermits without true precedents provided a new psychological expression requiring forethought and self-knowledge [http://www.hermitary.com/solitude/desert.html]. Through trial and error, they built up a knowledge of the self that today is recognized as not just rudimentary psychology.
If the awake mind is alert, what is happening when children lose themselves in what they are doing? They are “in a world of their own,” we say, but Adults can experience a similar state of mind when the flow of what they’re doing makes time just slip away and they are left wondering where the time went. It hasn’t “gone” anywhere of course, but we were so preoccupied that we fail to register the passing of time. This concentration on what we are doing is a kind of spotlight focusing, whereas the other is more like a floodlight focusing. Both are kinds of alertness but differ from each other.
Our attempts to understand these things go back to the point where we become aware of our awareness and our ability to look at things with varying perspectives. The awake mind is able to find the meta-perspective, as though we are looking down upon the transactions we are making, judging them to be good or bad. The awake mind becomes also aware of the suffering in the world, in every human being to varying degrees. The awake mind tries to understand itself, and then everybody else.