Differing Perspectives on East and West

I awoke this morning with a quickly dissipating cluster of dreams. By the time I had finished dressing and was kindling a pre-dawn fire in Julia, our airtight wood-burning cook-stove, the dreams had mostly retreated to the refugium of my subliminal mind. Their evanescence caused me to recall the opening lines of last week’s post about Tom Hungerford, who lived at Light Morning for many years.

“Quite soon Tom will become one of the unremembered multitudes — a wave receding down a beach; a raindrop touching the surface of a lake; an autumn leaf falling from a family tree.”

In the same way that I have been moved to save (however briefly) some stories about Tom and Douglas and Marlene from imminent oblivion, so have a few of my strong medicine dreams found their way onto the pages of this blog. Navigational aids to the slowly growing collection can be found here.

What follows is one of my shorter strong medicine dreams. As with the others in this series, however, its shelf-life or half-life has been long. Hopefully some of you, too, may find that its medicinal qualities are still active.

* * *

Differing Perspectives on East and West
21 November 1994

Joyce and I are on a long journey. It feels as though we’ve been on the road together for ages, traveling through an unfamiliar land. It’s winter, the midday sun is low in the sky ahead of us, and we have arrived at a crossroads.

Since the next leg of our journey is to the east, I start to turn left.

“Wait a minute,” Joyce says. “We need to turn right.”

I pause to double-check my assumptions. The winter sun is ahead of us. That means we’re facing south. So in order to go east, we need to turn left.

“East is to the left,” I say.

“No,” she replies, gazing at the sun. “West is to the left. To go east, we need to turn right.”

We look at each other with mutual surprise and dismay.

Then, in a sudden flash of understanding, I see that either one of our differing perspectives on east and west could be correct. It depends on where we’re coming from. If we’re in the northern hemisphere – which is my own bone marrow set-point – and the midwinter sun is ahead of us, then east is clearly to our left. But someone from the southern hemisphere would look at the same midwinter sun and say that east is to the right.

Since the path we have been following has been long and circuitous, our gut-level assumptions about how to distinguish east from west are no longer reliable. Standing at the crossroads, we have become disoriented. We are confused about where we’re coming from and are therefore uncertain about which way to turn.

Amplifying the Dream

Joyce and I recently celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary. We also knew each other as children. So as the dream suggests, “It feels as though we’ve been on the road together for ages, traveling through an unfamiliar land.” In waking life, of course, the strangeness of the terrain is often obscured by a veil of familiarity.

At the time of this dream, we were about to celebrate our 25th anniversary. And soon I would embark upon my momentous first Vipassana meditation course. Part of that journey (here) was an unexpected insight into how profoundly our earliest childhood experiences had shaped both of us.

Our traveling companions often have perspectives that differ significantly from our own. Regardless of whether those differences are due to gender, race, or class, to family, politics, or ethnicity, we sometimes arrive at a crossroads where pivotal decisions must be made. The decisions can be unilateral, consensual, or somewhere in between. But choose we must.

May we be blessed with confusion and disorientation.

2 thoughts on “Differing Perspectives on East and West”

  1. Hey Robert and Joyce,
    I had a dream last night about trying to get to ALM for a 5:00 yoga session. Confusion and disorientation abound! I drove to the general area, Floyd of Dreams, parked and then was walking around to kill some time before driving up the entrance to ALM. The entrance in my dream was a stone-paved drive way on an incline tucked amidst other local buildings and storefronts—easy to miss if one didn’t know what they were looking for. It had a white banner sign stretched across the top, with the word “Wisdom” for sure printed on banner. Maybe it said something like, “Follow Your Wisdom.” In my dream, I took note of the location, deciding to only stray a few streets away so I could find my way back. On my travels before trying to make ascent to ALM and 5PM yoga, I remember walking in this one house to find a bathroom and hearing footsteps above so left quickly: I felt some fear about the footsteps. I then went to this other yoga class with many people in it. I remember being on the floor and trying to stretch arms/legs out and touching others and them touching me, and so I left. I then went to a storefront or a gathering place for many people. I was sitting by myself but in proximity to people, especially a young blond man. At some point, he started poking and picking at my hair and I felt weirded out like I needed space from people and the happenings of town. I remember feeling like so many were intoxicated or altered and on a different plane from me and I felt scared again. I then started to walk to try to find ALM. I was lost for a little bit before finding the ALM entrance. I initially thought about walking up but then realized it would take too long as it was miles up and I was already late. So I found my car to drive up. But before driving up, I entered this washing station where I had to wash myself with these two scrub brushes before going to ALM. You appeared and were helping wash and I was confused at how you could be there and not at 5 pm yoga too. I was appreciative of the help but worried that I was taking too much of your time and effort as I was already late to yoga and I was not able to stay for an overnight visit…here is where I woke up.

    I was just waking up, thinking about dream and ALM. I was thinking that I might like to take some time off in December on my birthday weekend to visit again. So, I hopped on internet and read how ALM was decommissioned. I then subscribed to blog and was perusing posts and went straight for this post as I had just dreamed about ALM:). So, I hope this message finds you both and your family well. Being at ALM for that weekend in October( I think) felt magical and it is something that I look back on from time to time and it makes me smile and I feel peace. I remember many things—-all of your books, how I felt so welcome by you both-a stranger, delicious meals, Sunday pancakes, talking about dreams, your composting toilet:), your main house and the roof( I though so pretty), the cabins, the garden with well-worn earthen paths, my encounter with two bear while out at Buzzard’s Rock, learning how to condition new books, talking about Jung’s Red Book, my red journal…I am grateful I got to go while still up and running. Thank you. I have taken up reading more this past year and a half. Wax Statues is on my reading list. Looking so forward to that read! Take good care!

    1. I, too, remember with warmth your brief but deep visit, Dabney. The dream you shared sounds familiar. I’ve heard similar dreams through the years of people trying to find Light Morning and encountering strong challenges along the way. Folks understandably use our name to symbolize something inward that they yearn for and have trouble finding. And now the challenge has become sadly literalized with the decommissioning of Light Morning as a community and as a center. I’m drawn to your dream phrase “Floyd of Dreams.” It reminds me of a song that both our grandsons have listened to multiple times, called “John of Dreams.” The version they love is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CWnyYFrpFLI

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