By Douglas McElheny
On Easter Sunday this year I woke up feeling like I’d actually rested during the night, which is abnormal for me since I usually wake up feeling quite the opposite to varying degrees. I also felt clear and still on the inside for lack of better words, and with a little bit of enthusiasm and positivity for the day. That clear feeling stayed with me for the rest of the day, though it got covered up at times when I would get absorbed in doing this or that. It was pretty slight to begin with, and was even more slight throughout the day, but it stayed until the evening if I remember correctly, maybe even up until I went to bed, but I can’t recall for sure. I think the experience is connected to this dream I had Easter morning:
I’m driving down Montvale Road in Maryville, TN to Briarcliff Circle, where my family used to live. I’m with Trent and at least one other person. I know my family and I are staying as guests at the Bailey’s, and I joke with Trent asking him if he wants to go and see my dad (in waking life my dad did not like Trent). I turn into Briarcliff, but don’t get far before I turn the car around and go back out on Montvale Road towards town. Now we’re on foot though, and on the other side of Montvale Road is a large lake with pretty light blue water (in waking life there is a large expanse of farmland there). I’m saying to the others: “Why weren’t we coming to the lake and swimming every day when we were kids?” I just can’t believe we weren’t doing that. We all get in the water and are sitting in it next to the shore. The bottom has soft mud though, and I don’t like the feel of it so I get out and am now sitting on the road. A man and a little boy are here now with a big rectangular chocolate birthday cake. I tell them today is my birthday also, which, in the dream, it is. It says Happy Birthday Jennifer on the cake, and I assume that’s the boy’s mother. Then Jennifer, who is Latina, shows up and isn’t very friendly. So my friends and I go on the other side of the road to a small house that seems to be just one big room that has a garage door on it which is open. The family comes in too, and I find out that Jennifer is from Bolivia and start speaking to her in Spanish, telling her I went all over Bolivia over a period of about 10 months. As we talk she starts to warm up a little bit. My friends and I decide to go, but we have to get our car out of this room so we start moving the furniture and things that are in the way of the car. I move some small items, not wanting to hurt my back. There is no car now though, just a big bed, but that is what we’re planning to move out once we clear the other furniture out of the way.
In his Letters on Yoga Aurobindo states that ‘water is the symbol of a state of consciousness or a plane’.1 Now when I told Donny about the dream he pointed out that in his experience a lake with its expansive yet bounded condition (as opposed to say the ocean which is limitless and would represent an even higher condition) represents the state of mental silence and loss of ego denoted by terms such as realization, enlightenment, silent mind or in the case of the integral yoga ‘the spiritual consciousness’. The fact that the water was a pretty blue supports this idea since Aurobindo says the levels of the spiritual consciousness can be symbolized by the that color.2
I will say though that for me the real proof of the meaning of this blue lake is ‘in the pudding’ as they say. For millennia sages have testified to the peace and stillness of the spiritual consciousness and that was what spilled over into my waking life albeit in a very diminished form. So what I think happened here is I must have had a unrecalled brush with the spiritual consciousness in some way during sleep that was transcribed by the dream and also produced an effect on the waking consciousness. In a sense it was a very strong effect since it remained for the whole day even though the actual change in consciousness was very slight.
Looking at other elements in the dream, the appearance of the birthday cake is something that gives weight to this theory since, as Donny pointed out, it could be a symbol for a permanent transition from ego consciousness to the spiritual consciousness. That transition seems to be such a radical reversal it can be likened to dying and being reborn. The cake was also rectangular, and in his letters Sri Aurobindo also says that in visions a rectangle “indicates something partial and preliminary”3as opposed to a square which “indicates that the creation is to be complete in itself.”4I imagine squares and rectangles could have the same significance in dreams, and Aurobindo’s interpretation makes sense here since it appears all that may have happened was a fleeting immersion in the spiritual consciousness. There was no permanent change of station to that level.
I’m not sure what the muddy bottom of the lake might mean. Perhaps it’s some obstacle coming between me and the spiritual consciousness or maybe something that was difficult or disorienting about the encounter with the state. Apparently a lot of people require some time to adjust when they enter the spiritual consciousness permanently. It’s certainly worth noting though that I had a vision later on that morning after the dream where I was being encouraged to swim in that blue water.
Most of the rest of the symbols in the dream are hard for me to interpret. I don’t really know what to make of the room at the end of the dream and trying to get my ‘car’, that had turned into a bed, out of it. The fact that the dream took place in Briarcliff Circle where I used to live is interesting though because two days before Easter I received news that the Bailey’s, who are mentioned in the dream and who are close family friends, had suffered a very devastating loss. So Maryville and the Bailey’s had been on my mind, and in a manner of speaking I really had ‘been in Maryville’ on the level of thought and emotion in the days preceding the dream.
So is the fact that I was giving the Baileys a lot of thought the reason Maryville was the setting of my dream, and it was a more or less reflexive element woven in with other more obviously symbolic and meaningful elements? Or is there something more significant going on? I honestly can’t say. Perhaps the birthday woman from Bolivia who was in the glum mood represents the Bailey’s since there was Latino blood on Mrs. Bailey’s side. It would seem though that it would have something personally to do with me too, with the tendency for glumness in my vital which was being represented by this woman.
Having finished my attempt to analyze this dream, there is still one interesting question left to address. And that is: did my dream and experience have anything to do with it being Easter? I have to admit that, while I’ve had experience with the effects of things like solstices and full moons, if I’ve ever had a dream or experience like this on Easter, I can’t remember it. As it turns out Easter was on April 1 this year, and the night of March 31stwas the night of the full moon. For me the full moon alone would be enough to account for my dream and subsequent experience, but perhaps Easter, even though the date moves around every year, is a day with spiritual power in the same way the darshans of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram are for myself and many others.5
Now in conclusion, while the potential impact of things like full moons and days like Easter on sleep experience is no doubt interesting, what I feel is most important here is the idea that experiences that happen in sleep, even when we don’t remember them, can give rise to a dream transcribing the event as well as have a noticeable effect on our waking consciousness. It’s fair to point out too that, in my experience, you can experience and remember an altered state of consciousness in a dream that leaves no effect whatsoever on the waking consciousness like a number of dreams I’ve had over the years where I smoked marijuana and got high in the dream, but woke up feeling completely normal. Donny also recently recounted a dream to me where he was feeling a blissful ecstatic bhakti from which he woke up directly, and yet nothing of the experience carried over. I’m sure there are reasons for all this, but I could only guess at the moment what they are, so I’ll refrain from doing so. I’ll just leave all this as food for thought.
Notes and References
- Sri Aurobindo, Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo Vol. 30: Letters on Yoga III, pgs 150.
- Sri Aurobindo, Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo Vol. 30: Letters on Yoga III, pgs 127-28.
- Sri Aurobindo, Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo Vol. 30: Letters on Yoga III, pg 102.
- The spiritual effect of the darshan days here at the ashram was the subject of my last post for those who are interested.