Always Well Within

Calm Your Mind, Ease Your Heart, Embrace Your Inner Wisdom

Waking Up from the Dream

My one word focus for 2012 is “faith”.

A highly personal word that surely holds varied meanings depending upon the individual.

In essence, faith – to me – means remembering that material reality is like a dream.

Until we wake up, we’re still in the dream and there’s an automatic pull to believe it’s real.  It takes considerable diligence to retrain the mind to remember the illusory quality of existence.

Transforming understanding into realization

I might understand intellectually that material reality is impermanent; indeed it’s constantly moving and changing at a sub-atomic level.  I may understand theoretically that nothing exists independently; everything is interdependent and arises due to causes and conditions.  And, I may see that nothing is singular; everything is composed of parts and therefore can never actually be found.

In the same vein, I know there is no lasting, permanent self.  “Self” is just a label we apply to this conglomeration of parts that appear to be “me”.  These arms, these legs, this brain, this heart.  This ever-changing mindstream of thoughts, emotions, perceptions and fleeting experiences.

But once I take a look, can I really find this self?  Is it in my arm?  My leg?  Does self exist in a passing thought?

I “know” life is like a dream.  But how deeply do I know?  How fully does this awareness inform my way of being and acting?

I feel fortunate to have this budding understanding, albeit an intellectual one.   Most people consider their life and being as very real, solid, and extremely important.  This grasping onto the self and material reality as real and permanent is what leads to suffering.

Lightening Up

When you know that life is like a dream, you can lighten up on yourself and others.  A sense of compassion, ease, and spacious is born. You can simply observe the dream without getting so caught up in the drama.  The drama will – no doubt – suck you in from time to time.  But then you remember and come back to the present moment.  You decide to spend less time in the past, which is gone.  You begin to let go of anticipating the future, which has yet to come.  More often, you are right here, right now.  You are traveling the road to freedom.

“Always recognize the dreamlike qualities of life and reduce attachment and aversion.  Practice good-heartedness toward all beings.  Be loving and compassionate, no matter what others do to you.  What they do will not matter so much when you see it as a dream.  The trick is to have positive intention during the dream.  This is the essential point.  This is true spirituality.

~ Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche in  Life in Relation to Death

The “dream” is an analogy.  It doesn’t mean life is a dream or that it’s not real either.  Traditionally, it’s said “neither existing nor non-existing.”   So embracing this dream-like quality isn’t free license to indulge in selfish or unwholesome behaviors.  Due to interdependence, what we think, say, and do matters.  It has an impact that is indeed either helpful, harmful, or neutral.


This is not “blind” faith.  It requires investigating your mind and the world around you and deciding for yourself:  is it real or like a dream?

Dzigar Kongtrul explains the inter-connection between external sources of faith and internal faith.

“Most traditions assert that faith finds its origins in an external source.  But because faith depends upon our recognition of something positive outside of us, how could it come from an external source alone?  Our ability to recognize something greater than ourselves, and value it as a genuine experience, says something about the power, potential, and goodness of our own mind.  It says something about the subjective mind—the recognizer—and it’s capacity to isolate something external and use it to transcend its own small-mindedness. This means that, when we have faith, we place our trust in our own natural intelligence.  This natural intelligence has the innate ability to discriminate between something that supports our well-being and something that does not.  It connects us to the positivity in the world around us:  it brings us to the spiritual path, it brings us to our teachers, it allows us to identify the goodness in ourselves and others.”

~ Dzigar Kongtrul in Light Comes Through

I can invite external support into my dream-like life to help me wake up to the illusion.  I can follow a spiritual guide, embrace spiritual teachings, and be inspired by the community of practitioners who are also dedicated to waking up.  I don’t have to go it alone.

Most of the time, I feel like the lion pictured above:  completely asleep and fully engaged in the dream as though it were real.  But, I know we’re all caught in this same dilemma of taking life and the self so seriously.  Realizing this  allows me to have compassion towards myself and others, while continuing to chip away at all the ways I freeze perception.  Remembering to celebrate every single glimpse of freedom, keeps me aimed in the right direction.

My aspiration this year is to deepen my faith.  My wish is to spend less time grasping at illusion and more time living lightheartedly with clarity compassion and ease.

How seriously do you take life?  Would it help to see its dreamlike quality? 

Thank you so much for reading.  If you liked this article, please share the link with others.  You can also connect with me on the Always Well Within Facebook Page.  Thanks so much for your support!  Warmest wishes, Sandra


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  1. Hi Sandra,

    An extremely thoughtful and provocative post, as usual!

    From my experience, the only way to realize, rather than intellectually know, that what we live is a dream is to investigate the perception of the separate self. This is what it all boils down to. Once you can see that there is no separate “I” that is deciding, doing, thinking, etc, there is the realization that all there is is the arising and passing of experience in consciousness. That’s it – no time, no space, nothing else.

    This understanding offers so much release. You don’t construct life anymore, rather in the complete surrender of everything personal, life is lived through this seeming-to-exist body-mind. It’s so much easier!

    I love how you talk about lightening up because this is what happens. As you say, life circumstances are real in the relative sense, but not in the absolute. This leaves so much space to enjoy, welcome, and flow.

    • Hi Gail,

      It’s always so nice to see you. You really are on target and have beautifully described the sense of letting go of this sense of the separate self. I would love to hear more about how you have accomplished that. My “self” tends to be a little resistant. 🙂 I agree with you fully though, this is the key, the touchstone, the one medicine that treats all.

      Wishing you a beautiful 2012!

  2. Hey Sandra, you hit the nail on the head. Our awareness of who we really are (beyond the dream), who our neighbors are, and beyond all of it is the beginning of our awakening. The word ‘reality’ bothers me because so much of what we put our focus on in this world isn’t even real. It’s just materialism that floats from one plain to the next. I think 2012 will be the start of a big awakening. I wish you a wonderful new year.

    • Bryan,

      I’m glad these thoughts resonate for you. It seems like there’s great hope for more awakening in 2012. Sometimes it’s the worst times that bring the greatest awakening. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Wishing you a lovely new year!

  3. > More often, you are right here, right now
    This is always an interesting balance.

    It’s been said that sacrifice is the price of success, and often that sacrifice means trading what feels good in the short term, what’s better for us in the long run. It’s tough to balance immediate happiness with longer-term fulfillment. The art is in blending the now with our destination, and enjoying the journey as we go, while leaning in to the challenges we hit along our path.

    • J. D.

      These are very interesting thoughts. Often what “feels” good in the moment actually transforms into suffering; is the seed of suffering. I’m not arguing against enjoyment, but it is very useful to discern if a momentary pleasure will actually bring suffering down the road. Thanks for the stimulating thoughts.

  4. keep the faith irrespective of the beleifs being yours and not someone else- be they political-religion-sport-culture-or ways that you inherited from those you became entwined over the years–even if you think a lot of choices are your own doing

  5. What an interesting word you’ve chosen. I have so much ideological baggage associated with ‘faith’ that your post is challenging me to think more about the word and my response to it. I’ve rarely thought in terms of waking up, which is surely a sign that I am too fully engaged and need to learn how to look beyond. Over the past few years, I have at least been getting better about recognizing, while asleep, when I’m dreaming. I haven’t made it to total lucidity; just a certain awareness that I should cherish the ability to defy gravity, as I know it won’t last! Perhaps a little of that awakening lucidity will also spread to other aspects of my life.

    • Jennifer,

      Thanks for your thoughts. I can understand why this word has a lot of “baggage” associated with it for many people.

      Faith is considered very important from a Buddhist perspective. But it is not blind faith. It is based on your own analytical investigation as well as you experience and observations of mind in meditation. Therefore, in one sense, it’s more like have the strength of your convictions. Fundamentally, the Buddha observed reality and shared his observations. You can read these observations and see if they make sense intellectually, but they also need to penetrate more deeply – really click – you could say in order for them to truly and wholly transform your mind, heart, and being. It’s a process of understand that becomes realization and ultimately becomes liberation. However, a certain degree of certainty is necessary to travel the full path. So this is the context in which I am using the word “faith.”

      Clarity is a sublime quality to have indeed!

  6. Hi Sandra,

    Happy New Year to you and your loved ones! 🙂

    Faith is a good word to have for 2012. Seeing reality as it is is certainly no easy task. But awareness and understanding are vital steps which you already have. It is just a matter of maintaining this clarity throughout the year. I am sure that if you do so, by the end of 2012, you will have grown and it will be interesting to see how that growth is reflected in your writing.

    I take life seriously enough. My chosen word this year is “Perseverance.” I decided to align my word with the reading I got for 2012. Since I know that I will have many obstacles that I have to “Bite Through” this year, perseverance is the only way to get through them all. Being aware that I have to “Bite Through” 2012 to reach my goals also forces me to see things as they are and not as I wish them to be. Hopefully this clarity will enable me to make the best of 2012.

    Thank you for sharing this lovely article!

    Irving the Vizier

    • That’s so interesting, Irving! I assume you mean you did a reading of the I-Ching for yourself and through this see that many obstacles lie ahead. It’s fascinating how the divination process can be such a useful tool and life support. You’ve definitely chosen a perfect word and have illustrated yet another way that one can select a word.

      Obstacles of course can be blessings in disguise. If we can actually see obstacles as an opportunity it makes a huge difference. But I know that’s not easy from my own experience or working with obstacles. I’ve improved to some degree, but I see there’s way more to go.

      It would be incredible if I could maintain clarity through the entire year. I would love to see your impressions of my writing at the end of the year!

      All my love and best wishes for a blessed and transformative year for you.

      • Hi Sandra,

        Yeap, you’re right. I did an I-Ching reading. I usually do one yearly, every 6 months, monthly, weekly and daily.

        There is no doubt that divination is a useful tool. But sometimes it takes great courage to know what lies ahead especially if I am heavily invested in the outcome. There were many times I chose not to know. Yet this in itself could have been an indication that I knew I may not get an answer that I would like. The result was that I was living an illusion instead of facing reality.

        In any case, I have to make an effort to know earlier this year as it will give me more time to manage unsatisfactory outcomes. Only by doing so can I turn obstacles into opportunities. After all, who has the time to see obstacles as opportunities when you are reacting to it in the midst of chaos while caught off guard?

        No worries, I will be going along with you on your journey to maintain clarity through the entire year. I would be happy to leave my impressions as we go along.

        May you have a wonderful year ahead filled with clarity! 🙂

        • Irving,

          It does take tremendous courage to face reality rather than live with illusion. I’m very inspired by you willingness. And I’m delighted the I-Ching is such a valuable wisdom tool that you use in service of yourself and others.

          You are so right! It’s hard to see obstacles as an opportunity when you are in the middle of chaos. When we can see the signs and prepare, we definitely have a leg up.

          You will be in my thoughts and prayers this year. Whatever occurs, may you transform it with insight, grace, and ease.

  7. I like this idea of yours very much, Sandra: “lighten up on yourself and others. A sense of compassion, ease, and spacious is born.” It’s interesting how lightening conjures ideas of light-heartedness, owning less, needing less, and yet, it also means we gain so much more in return due to the space that opens up. Here’s to dreams and awakenings and everything in between. xo

  8. jane

    Love your post, Sandra. I choose self compassion as my commitment to 2012. Self compassion so that each time I wake up and realize I am judging or attaching to a thought, I don’t punish myself-adding fuel to the fire of this judgment.
    And my wish, is that ‘my’ self compassion is a light of compassion for ‘others’.

    • That’s beautiful. We judge and attach to thoughts thousands of times a day, so I’m happy to hear that you have decided not to add punishment on top of that. I know you are making progress, one thought at a time! With love to you, Sandra

  9. Love the lion picture! My dog is not as impressive as the lion, but she has impressive dreams. I know because she sleeps in the bed with me, and sometimes wakes me up with all her paws flailing and little half-barks. It is very hard to wake her up!

    Your post is wise and eloquent as always. To me, faith is a beautiful word. And I love the way you describe it. What touched my heart the most was your recognition of not being alone. Pema Chodron speaks of times when we are struggling with a difficult emotion. She suggests realizing that at that very moment there are a million people in the world having that exact same feeling. And, as you say, there are teachers, guides, authors, and friends who help us along the way.

    The bodhisatva vow, as I understand it, promises to forego enlightment until all beings are enlightened. A Course in Miracles echoes this in the teaching that no one can reach that place without everyone. None of us will make it until we all make it. The good news is that we all will.

    So glad that we are in this together!

    By the way, my word of the year a few years ago was “Awake!” As in the verb, not the adjective. “Wake up!”

    • Galen,

      I really love this example from Pema Chodron of how there are always others having the exact same feeling as we are in any moment. It helps to feel connected and to put our challenges in context. Thanks so much for sharing this inspiring reminder.

      I enjoyed the story of your dog too. My cats don’t seem to have such impressive dreams, but they don’t wake easily!

      How do they know we will all become enlightened? I’ve been wondering about that lately. Technically, there are three different levels of bodhisattva aspiration: that of the king, the boatman, and the shepherd. The shepherd is the one that helps everyone else go first. But I get the point! Let’s all wake up.

      Here’s to waking up!

      • I’m no expert in A Course in Miracles, but I think the idea is that being enlightened is our true nature, and we will all eventually return to our true nature. I didn’t know about those three levels. If you have time, could you point me to a site where I could learn more about that?

        • That’s what’s said in Buddhism too, but I never have a heard a specific explanation of it. Those three levels are explained on page 218 of The Words of My Perfect Teacher by Patrul Rinpoche. It’s in the section: Arousing Bodhicitta, Classification based on the three degrees of courage. There is also Classification according to the Bodhisattva levels. Those Buddhist get really specific!

          Here’s a web page that mentions the three types of commitment You will have to scroll down a bit.

  10. Hi Sandra,
    Thank you for the wonderful article on your intent word of faith. My intent word is “excellence”; within that I am exploring commitment and routine, which in a way is similar to faith. Commitment says: I will be fully present regardless of circumstances, and routine says: I will practice living my values in alignment with my commitment–in such a way, similar to faith.
    “How seriously do you take life? Would it help to see its dreamlike quality?” *grin* This is tricky for me. My answer is I take life seriously because I know as I exist in this form now life is fleeting and this very moment is precious–that is serious. However, I am “traveling the road to freedom” and within that context, I take life lightly–I honor natural cycles and invest in that which is life enriching and do not invest in drama or some of the practices that mainstream follows. As a vibrant ball of energy, my practices within a day are to enrich that energy and to share that energy.
    I don’t think of life as dreamlike–although I love and understand your insights, thank you! is like a combination of feelings to while it is “not real”, it is often very real indeed because my senses can experience it (if that makes sense–I’m using words to describe a feeling).

    • Hi Joy,

      It’s my turn to *grin* when I hear you speak of taking life “seriously” being the light-filled soul you are. I do know exactly what you mean in terms of life being precious so I do embrace this description too…with a smile.

      The sense I have of your description of “real” is as being very vivid and alive. And I agree, there’s no need to shut down to senses to experience the dreamlike quality of life. Quite the opposite.

      I know I will continue to enjoy all the ways you express excellent in the coming year. It will be a great pleasure to see your excellence unfold and unfold!

  11. Melhim shaker

    Hi Sandra,
    I’ve stumbled upon your ” 35 Inspiring Quotes from Albert Einstein” which I have liked , then I moved to the bottom of the article and saw this title “Waking Up from the Dream” and since I’m new to the lucid dreaming phenomena I thought this article is about it. I have read the article and approximately all comments and I can’t hold myself from commenting on it.
    I liked this article , it is very close to my thinking.
    (Sorry for my English Language ,it’s not my first language).

    • Melhim,

      Thank you very much for taking the time to leave your positive impressions. I appreciate the synchronicity in our thinking and wish you well on your journey. All the best to you.

  12. Hi Sandra,

    I have always viewed faith as preparing for something we want even when all things does not point to it happening. In this sense, the dreams we are on is so amazing in our lives. When we dream we are really thinking of all the possibilities we can have in life. What a powerful way to live our lives.

    I also like the point that was made about our dreams coming from an internal being. That is a suggestion that we all have an element of the superior being in us. No matter how small that all important being is, it is our true authentic self that we are all supreme in some ways, Imagine the dreams that are possible from that.

  13. Hi,

    I really feel your enthusiasm and commitment for your positive dreams! There is a strong element of faith in believing in ourselves!

    I love your description of how we are all ultimately supreme. I feel that we do have this fundamental goodness within us as well. Thanks for sharing your uplifting thoughts!

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