There is an interesting dualism to the human mind: it loves to solve puzzles and find new solutions, yet it fears change and a lot of the safety of the familiar.
Nova season 3 episode 3 goes through much of the modern information about dreams, bringing decades of fascinating research leading to current theories. A big one is the onset and purpose of REM sleep. Through experiments, some involving waking people up in known stages of the sleep cycle, they have determined that you have dreams in both the deep layer of sleep before and after, and in REM sleep in the middle. The interesting thing is that these dreams from deep sleep are accompanied by positive emotions and visions of past experiences, while waking from REM sleep involves negative emotions and occasionally nightmares. As deep sleep is past oriented, REM sleep focuses on the uncertain future, on blending recent puzzles with past experiences to create new insights. People who take a variety of tests and get full REM sleep score much better the following morning versus little to no improvement in someone who was awakened prior to this stage. People who lose the capacity for REM sleep are interviewed and say that they often wake up at the normal time feeling like they didn’t get much sleep.
When it comes to our waking life, people love puzzles with safety such as video games, but often fear the puzzles of real life like where to move, or how to search for a new job. When you are awake, you often have the option of avoiding these questions, looking for solace in other areas instead. Unfortunately, this avoidance lets the problem fester like a sore in your mind and you just feel worse.
Pema Chodron, a Buddhist, writes about the three “lords of materialism” that we use to escape from change. The first is the “lord of form.” This involves an escape through activities of the physical world which can involve eating, drinking alchohol, shopping, video games, reading, television – anything to fill your time and thus avoid the important questions haunting you. Anything you do starts to seem fake, as your inner mind is telling you that you that this isn’t relevant to what you need to be focusing on. The second is the “lord of speech.” This involves using a number of generalizations to give you a solid, but illusory, view of the world. It involves focusing on the negative aspects of political correctness, sin, or political concerns to paint a view where you are in the right and your problems are all caused by others. Falling in this trap only leads to anger, division, and more unhappiness. The third is the “lord of mind.” This involves an amazing mental state that we try endlessly to replicate. It could be that you had a feeling associated with religious inspiration that you endlessly try to replicate, or trying to repeat an amazing high from drugs, or the infamous ‘Don Juan’ who is addicted to falling in love and moves on to a new girl whenever that initial feeling inevitably wears off. Whatever the state is, it starts to dwarf the world around you so that you feel life is not worth living if it can’t be repeated.
The above is greatly shortened, paraphrased, and has my own thoughts mixed in. That being said, when I read this section of Pema’s “The Places that Scare You,” I could identify a lot of things that I was doing to avoid thinking about the coming changes in my life. Just as she said, it all made the problem worse … and what particularly struck me was the fact that my weekday activities of video games, amazon or Netflix, or reading really did start to feel empty and meaningless. You can see my older posts railing about the wealth transfer of the fed, but that has nothing to do with me moving, adjusting my expectations, helping others who need my support, or with planning my own life.
There is a lot of struggle going on in the world today, a lot of change and uncertainty in the wind. Its very important to realize that you are not the only one with problems, and that you may be falling into one of those three traps. It’s time to pull out of that nightmarish state of endless reflection – that waking state of REM sleep where only the back of your mind is working on solutions – and to pull back to the positive present. Be thankful for what you have, consider those around you, and realize that many of the problems you’ve been avoiding aren’t as big as your fears made them appear.