The Dream Environment


Our default situation in dreaming is that we are 100% helpless with regard to the script, the drama, the narrative that we are being presented with. The way it usually works is that dreaming – for us – means going along with the script, going along with the drama or narrative. There is a narrow predetermined route of ‘how the dream is going to go’ and we go down that route. There is a clearly defined format for our experience in the dream and we accept that format…


The primary element of the script – aside from what it literally entails, i.e. ‘the defined storyline’ – is the degree of compulsivity that comes with it (which is to say, the degree to which we are swept helplessly along with it). ‘Compulsivity’ means the degree of unfree fascination that we experience with regard to the story-line that has been provided for us. It is a measure of the degree to which our attention is held by the storyline, in other words, which is a concept that is known as immersion in gaming. The more immersive the game (or the dream) the less able we are to know that it is a game, or that it is a dream. If the experience is 100% immersive, then we have absolutely no sense that it is only a game, that it is only a dream. Another way of putting this is to say that when compulsivity (or immersion) is at a maximum, then we are completely trapped in the narrative that we have been provided with…


We’re swept along with all dreams – that’s the nature of dreaming – but the degree of compulsivity (or immersion) does vary. Sometimes we’re more aware that we’re dreaming, other times we’re less aware. Compulsivity is what leads to ‘immersion’ and compulsivity is all about how much fear or desire we experience in the dream. Fear/desire is what keeps our nose to the grindstone, so to speak. We’re either attracted to what’s being shown to us in the storyline or we’re averse to it and this attraction/aversion is what determines our ‘compliance’ in the dream. It ensures that we will go along obediently with the storyline. Straightaway – as soon as we say this – this allows us to see what would help free us from the narrow constraints that are being brutally imposed upon us by the compulsive element of the dream. Straightaway we can see what it is that would allow us to work towards not being so ‘helplessly controlled’ or ‘driven’ in the dream…


If attraction/aversion is what keeps us hooked into the script, the drama, the ongoing narrative, then our natural ‘child-like’ curiosity about what is going on is what will free us, and allow us / our experience to be less defined by the script that we have been presented with. Curiosity is the perfect antidote to attraction/aversion. What almost inevitably happens is that as we get older we become less and less curious about life, more and more ‘serious’ in ourselves. This is pretty much what ‘being an adult’ has come to mean – it means being serious. ‘Being serious’ simply means that we don’t question the predetermined situation that we have been presented with – on the contrary, we accept it at face value. We go along with it, in other words. Or we could say that being ‘adult’ very much tends to mean that we just take stuff for granted.


We are presented with a structure (with society, with a way of thinking and behaving, with a whole pre-formatted world in fact) and we unreflectively adapt ourselves to it. We narrow ourselves down until we fit that way, until it wholly determines us. As the character Cristof says in The Truman Show,

We accept the reality of the world with which we are presented.

It could be said that this process of adaptation to a given structure is what the whole process of ‘becoming an adult’ is all about – even though, in a healthy society, it ought to mean more than this. Another word for this adaptation process is simply training. We’re trained. We’re told that we are educated but really we’ve been trained (the difference being of course that the former broadens us whilst the latter narrows us down). This is the point being made here by Krishnamurti

Education is not merely a matter of training the mind. Training makes for efficiency, but it does not bring about completeness. A mind that has merely been trained is the continuation of the past, and such a mind can never discover the new. That is why, to find out what is right education, we will have to inquire into the whole significance of living.
To most of us, the meaning of life as a whole is not of primary importance, and our education emphasizes secondary values, merely making us proficient in some branch of knowledge. Though knowledge and efficiency are necessary, to lay chief emphasis on them only leads to conflict and confusion.

Training is all about pragmatic considerations, and pragmatic considerations are all about continuing the pattern of the past, as Krishnamurti says. The more ‘narrowed down’ our sense of ourselves is the more committed we are going to be to perpetuating the structure that we have been presented with – when we’re totally defined by the training process then we going to be 100% committed to perpetuating the given pattern, the given template, and this is of course just what the ‘given pattern’ (i.e. society) wants. This is what all defined patterns of organization want – to be perpetuated!


So to go back to this notion of ‘child-like curiosity’ – we can say that this quality still exists in all of us even if it isn’t visible. If it didn’t exist, then we’d really be in trouble! Our innate curiosity about the world might have been covered over by the false sophistication of the adult mind but it’s still there – essentially, it’s who we are. It’s our true nature. We aren’t the dry format that has been imposed on us, we are that which has been formatted. We aren’t what has been written on the page, we are the page. We aren’t the message – we’re the medium by which the message (i.e. ‘the conditioning’) is transmitted.


What this means is that the ‘narrowing down’ process of adaptation can be reversed, although not as easily as it happened in the first place. Becoming free from habits of seeing, habits of thinking, habits of behaving in the world is never going to be as easy as acquiring those habits! With regard to the matter of being ‘swept along with the dream’ – in a purely passive modality of being – we can say that being curious is what frees us up and gives us more space to be ourselves within the narrow, predetermined confines of the dream. Curiosity, we could say, is how we come back to ourselves and cease to be wholly defined by the mechanical forces that are operating in the dream.


Being curious within the dream means being present enough to notice where we are, and what is it that is really happening. Moving in the direction of becoming more present means becoming who we truly are, and this means becoming curious. To be genuinely present in the world is the same thing as having an unsophisticated interest in where we are and what it is that is going on with us but this isn’t the same thing as being ‘interested’ in an adult way, which is all about looking at how we can get better at exploiting our environment. As sophisticated adults, we don’t care about what the world is, we just care about how we can use it! Our normal way of being in the world is to be forever concerned with how we might benefit from our situation (or ‘perform optimally’ in our situation) and this isn’t being interested at all – this is just attraction/aversion, this is just ‘the need to control’…


A small child isn’t looking to control the situation that they find themselves in – that would be ridiculous. Only adults do that. A child is caught up in the wonder of the world, not consumed with the need to control it. A child (or the child-like part of us) is not coldly calculating and devious, but immediate and straightforward. So when we tap into our inner ‘child-like’ nature we straightaway find ourselves reconnected with the essential wonder of the universe. We tend very much to think that it is only possible to experience wonder under ‘special’ circumstances, but wonder is there all the time, under all circumstances – it’s just our interest in the wonder that varies. That we exist (or that there is anything at all) is a wonder, and so any situation that might arise on the basis of this existence is also a wonder – even if we can’t at the time see it. The reason we can’t generally see it because we’re stuck in the artificial mind-created context which relates everything to the self, so that everything we perceive is perceived in terms of this self, either in terms of how it is either going to be of benefit or be of danger. This way of looking at the world straightaway removes all wonder – it makes everything banal! When we look at life without this artificial self-referential context, however, then everything is a wonder, even our own pain, as Khalil Gibran says in this line from The Prophet

And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy;

The artificial context that takes the wonder or mystery out of everything is as we have implied the everyday rule-based mind – it is the ‘adult’ way of thinking that we are all so caught up in. It derives as we have said from our agenda to optimize our situation, to either obtain something or escape from something, which is attraction/aversion.


Attraction/aversion drives out any sense of wonder – there is zero possibility of wonder existing within the framework of fear and desire. This is the realm of grim seriousness, not wonder or curiosity. Yet even though attraction/aversion drives out all sense of wonder, it is all the same always possible to bring our natural curiosity about the world back into play. Even if I can’t experience any wonder or curiosity about my environment I can still experience curiosity over the fact that I am not curious about my environment. This is a very curious thing, after all! If I notice the fact that I have no sense of wonder about that fact that I exist (about the fact that anything exists) then this itself is a wonder!


Another way of putting this is to say that even when we are in the grip of attraction/aversion (even when we are experiencing 100% immersion in the drama) we are still free – at any time – to notice that this is the case. We are always free to notice our own immersion in the drama and when we do notice our immersion then – by definition – we are no longer immersed! There is a kind of rule or principle that comes into operation when we obey the compulsivity of the dream. This rule/principle has to do with the ‘narrowing’ process that we have already alluded to in relation to the adaptation process.


We can explain this principle as follows:

The more we go along with the compulsivity the more we let it define us and it is the defining that narrows us.

Fear defines us just as desire does but what this ‘defining’ business entails may not be immediately apparent. We may not see what is so very bad about ‘being defined’! Definition is, after all, generally seen as a good thing when it comes to the question of identity, when it comes to the question of ‘who I am’…


It is true that it feels good – in a particular sort of a way – to assert our identity in a positive way. It feels good to say “I am this!” or “I am that!” but the reason this feels good is because in doing so we are obeying an external compulsion (even though we can’t see this). By asserting our identity in a positive way we are ‘obeying the script’. It feels good (in a particular sort of a way) to be this defined identity, this defined self, but only because of the security that it represents. And security feels good precisely because it is a defence against fear! When we opt for security then we are obeying fear therefore. When we aggressively assert our identity (personal, tribal, cultural, religious, national, or whatever) then we are obeying fear. And when we act on desire and ‘add to ourselves’ by acquiring property, wealth, status; influence, etc., then we are also obeying fear. We are obeying fear when we operate on the basis of desire because we are strengthening our defences, adding to our security, consolidating our position, and our need for defences, security or a solid position is of course nothing else other than fear.


What we don’t see amidst all this business of adapting to the game, adapting to the compulsiveness of the dream is that who we are isn’t some ten-a-penny defined identity! We are vastly more than that. Who we are is not a defined thing at all because to define is to limit. By obeying attraction/aversion we lose ourselves, therefore, we lose ‘who we really are’ and become something else, something limited, something that has been defined for us by ‘the rules of the game’. This is what Jung means when he says that by heedlessly following ‘the passions’ we become ‘Everyman’. Everyman is the generic man, the generic human being, and when we obey the passions of greed, lust, envy, jealousy, rage etc., (which are the ‘generic emotions’) then we allow ourselves to be defined by them and this means – as we have said – that we lose who we truly are, which is unique not generic. When we don’t automatically obey attraction/aversion then the reverse is true -we come back to ourselves, we regain ourselves. We don’t regain ourselves by what we do, therefore, but by what we don’t do! Purposeful doing is just attraction/aversion. The part of us that doesn’t obediently follow the script that has been laid down for us – the part of us that doesn’t let itself be defined or determined by mechanical compulsions – is the unique part of ourselves, which is who we truly are under all the habits, under all the generic conditioning. We recover ourselves (not just our independence but who we actually are) by not automatically getting sucked into the narrative that we have been presented with in the dream. The degree to which we do not engage in the dream-drama is the degree to which we actually are, therefore!


This isn’t just true for the dreams that we have when we’re asleep in bed at night – it’s true for everything. Actually, to be present in our dreams is the hardest thing to do – we generally have least presence in our dreams. Dreams ‘just happen’. The point is that everything we have been talking about applies equally well to our ‘waking’ life and the predetermined scripts that we automatically follow in that life. The same principle holds true across the board, under all circumstances, in every possible situation that we might find ourselves in. The principle is that all we need to do in order to come back to ourselves (or ‘wake up’) is to see that we are unreflectively ‘obeying a compulsion’. This simple act of observation makes all the difference in the world! This is a very basic manifestation of curiosity – the curiosity as to whether or not we are free!


For example, if I am angry and I am acting out this anger in some way then I get curious about what is happening here and I take the trouble to notice whether I am free to not act out the anger. If I notice that I am not able to ‘not be angry’ then I take an interest in this observation! I am interested in this awareness that has just come my way – the awareness that I am not free. Or to give another example, if I desire some outcome or other then I take the trouble to notice whether I am free to not want whatever it is that I want. If I discover that I am not free to do anything else other than obey the desire then I am interested in this awareness. I am curious about the unfree nature of my situation…


Very curiously, the normal state of affairs is that we do not manifest this basic level of curiosity! We’re not curious about whether or not we are free – all we’re interested in is how we can best obey the compulsions that are driving us, how we can best accommodate ourselves to the mechanical forces that are determining the reality of our existence. Beyond this, we have no interest! We have no interest in challenging the status quo, we have no interest in discovering that it is possible to challenge the status quo. We have therefore no interest in discovering who we truly are…


The situation of being totally unfree, of being totally controlled by our conditioning, by the compulsive forces that are shaping our lives, and yet not being interested enough in our own situation ever to find this out is a remarkable one. This is a wonder in itself. It is a wonder waiting to be discovered when we do start to take an interest – one wonder amongst many others…