I sometimes have ominous dreams of catastrophe. The world is going to end - for various reasons - and I'm on a desperate mission to save it. There's a jar of magical uranium on a shelf ten miles away, and if it falls and breaks, the universe will explode, and people's eyeballs will drip down their cheeks like tears. Or my dear friend is in grave danger, trapped in a cave underground, and I've got to rescue her before she suffocates. Or I myself am fighting to defend my family's home, waving my sword against three fierce onlookers who want to chop us into soup-sized pieces.
Usually the rescue attempt never quite succeeds. I arrive just in time to see the uranium jar topple, in slow motion, far away across the room, or I dig down into the cave only to find my friend already dead, or the warrior I'm fighting hacks my arm off, and then they all surround me. In the moment just before kinetic disaster descends, there's a moment of stillness, overwhelming horror. My heart thumps, my mind races in terrified denial: Oh shit I'm going to die this is real in just a few seconds there will be nothing, nothing at all if only I'd - oh I made so many mistakes I could have avoided this - oh God it's too late it's too late - and then I wake up. It's usually not with a scream but with a gentle gasp.
These sound like nightmarish dreams, but the mornings that follow them are wonderful. I can't describe the sense of blissful oceanic relief that follows the realization that it was just a dream. It wasn't true! The world remains! My friend is not a worm ridden corpse, she's well and happy and probably eating her breakfast right now! My left arm is still attached to my body - I can wiggle it and feel my fingers - and I'm alive, alive, alive. On the days that follow these terrible dreams, colours are brighter, tastes are sweeter, everything in the world is more vivid and precious, and the sense of wondrous, shocking gratitude never quite leaves me.
Occasionally, when I have these dreams, they become lucid. That is, I'll realize I'm dreaming, even though I don't wake up. When that happens, they instantly lose their dread, and become interesting movies. Ah, I'll think to myself, even as I frantically dodge and dance during the swordfight, that's not actually my left arm lying there severed on the ground, pumping blood. This is just a dream! I can wake up whenever I want. But I think I'd like to see what happens next.The last stage of the yogic journey is Samadhi, or enlightenment, after which you acknowledge that everything in the world is simply Maya, or illusion, and you recognize the universal spirit in all things. I wonder if it's anything like that: waking up from an unhappy dream.