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.

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