Do You Understand You’re Dreaming?

Glendale, California
Sunday, June 24, 2018


Do You Understand You’re Dreaming?

(Inspired by David Foster Wallace and Lao Tzu)

As the typical Sunday afternoon makes its slow transition to Monday, you might feel a tinge of sadness.

I usually do.

The freedom of the weekend wanes; the shouting to-do list beckons; the demands of the week ahead burden.

The poet Charles Bukowsky famously wrote:

Sundays kill more men than bombs.

Persons with the Sunday afternoon blues—or anyone for that matter—might find solace in realizing the true dream-like nature of our mental lives.

After all, despite our heroic efforts at denial, we are talking apes, pure and simple.

We are animals.

Our little strip of extra cerebral cortex invites us into a world of illusions which, it turns out, is easy to forget. We live the dream, the illusion, the lie—day in and day out—rarely pausing to reflect on the various dramatic themes, scripts, illusions, and games controlling us.

If you work as an attorney, for example, you might reflect on upcoming cases on this lovely Sunday afternoon. Instead of hearing the birds sing, or the wind in the trees, or feeling the warmth on your skin, the coldness of the juice you drink, or the tranquility in your muscles, you imagine the upcoming week.

It’s the imagination that constitutes the dream.

The dream, in turn, features the myriad games of life.

It’s possible to watch the imagination itself unfold.

The lawyer visualizes the upcoming client meetings, the pending trials, and the boring partnership retreat.

Physicians occupy their minds with different games, varying from the lawyers only in content. They imagine the patients lined up the next day, including the scary biopsy result they must explain to their long-term patient/friend. They dread getting caught up on their backlog of electronic medical record entries.

Those utilizing their physical labor to earn money usually struggle to feel the dream-nature of their lives. They are too busy, underpaid and stressed, to have time for reflection. They may not worry about being killed by Sundays because they often work them.

When I leave my office late most evenings, I usually run into the janitor, Lionel, cleaning the bathroom. We share stories of our fatigue, but his is much worse than mine. He works three jobs, he tells me.

We psychoanalysts have unusual, arguably absurd dreams of the week ahead. Our days consist of hearing stories many patients fear telling—even to themselves. They share their secrets. We absorb the terror of memories of abuse, or the rage at spouses, or the grief of loss. Our dreams perhaps include more emotion than most other workers but… perhaps not.

The games, the dreams, the scripts preoccupying us even include dress codes. The attorneys, if obsessive, consider which suits and ties they’ll wear on Monday; the physicians wonder if they have enough clean white coats; the workers perhaps have less concern here but some, like Lionel, wear jeans with a blue uniform-like shirt.

Psychoanalysts have more latitude in their outfits. However, should they dress in short cut-off jeans and flip-flops, they may fall into disrepute. Their colleagues may stop referring to them; their patients may quit, concerned about their mental status.

These few vignettes exemplify the dark side of the miracle of human imagination. They demonstrate how the invitation to leave the moment constantly beckons, encourages, insists, demands.

Contrasting these illusions, Verse 8 of the Tao De Ching recommends:

Those living in accordance with nature

Do not go against the way of things

They move in harmony with the present moment

Always knowing the truth of just what to do.

What to do?

Be present, that’s all.

Not long after Lao Tzu lived, Seneca wrote in his book, On the Shortness of Life:

It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. We  are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it.

He adds,

Life is long if you know how to use it.

And using it well means resisting the negative temptations of the imagination, the catastrophic fears, the nameless dread.

I speak to myself as much as to my readers when emphasizing the liberation of acknowledging the constant invitation into scripts and games.

We can relinquish it.

We can experience the eternity of the moment.

Listen to the sounds, look at what’s around you, taste your food and drink, feel the ground beneath your feet, and smell the fresh air.

Observe the play of your imagination.

It’s just a play, after all.

The only real is the now.

By living in the moment, you can life forever, freed from oppressive scripts, games, and even demands.


Wallace, D.F. (1999). Brief interviews with hideous men. New York: Little, Brown.

Lao Tzu. (2001) Tao Te Ching. Trans. Jonathon Star. New York: Penguin.


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