Philosophy finds its way into our lives through unexpected sources, such as children songs. ¨Row, row, row your boat gently down the stream. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily. Life is but a dream¨. The first time I heard this song (not long ago) I was listening intently. I needed to learn the lyrics so I could sing them to my daughter. The profoundness of the last rhyme wasn’t lost on me. I quickly wondered why someone would teach a child such a song. A native Spanish speaker that I am, I can’t hear a reference to life being a dream without making the mental link to Calderòn de la Barca’s play “La Vida es Sueño¨ (life is a dream). Shown below is the English translation of the play’s most memorable poem, copied from the Wikipedia link:
- I dream that I am here
- of these imprisonments charged,
- and I dreamed that in another state
- happier I saw myself.
- What is life? A frenzy.
- What is life? An illusion,
- A shadow, a fiction,
- And the greatest profit is small;
- For all of life is a dream,
- And dreams, are nothing but dreams.
La Vida es Sueño is part of the literature curriculum in many Latin American countries and the last two verses of that poem dance in my head any time I think of the absurdity or fantasticality of life. When I was twelve years old, I got a Spanish copy of the book “Illusions” by Richard Bach. I took it from my sister’s library because I needed something to do while spending the night with my mother who was hospitalized. I read the 192 pages of the book that night and then again many times in the years that followed. Illusions, along with Bach’s One and Jonathan Livingston Seagull rocked my teenage world. The idea that this reality could be just one perspective and that the universe is full of possibilities filled me with joy. At last! Something that resonated with me more than the fear and guilt-based teachings of a Catholic upbringing. A whole new world opened up for me. I could create, in my mind, whatever reality I wanted and order up my dreams like I was at a restaurant, because what did I have to lose?
Since Bach, many authors have explored the topics of alternative reality and magical thinking. Most of us are familiar with The Secret and the books that preceded and followed regarding the much talked-about Law of Attraction. Is it all bogus or is there something to it? A new generation of quantum physicists might tell you that Bach and others were onto something and that it seems we are actually co-creators of our reality, since the universe and ourselves are made up of the same stuff: light, pure fluid energy charged with information. As above, so below.
Yet another book I’m reading this week has come to remind me not to take life too seriously. The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, shares the view that life is a dream and suggests agreements we can make with ourselves to dream up a better “reality”. I may write more about this book in a future post.
It’s escapism, you may think, to go about life thinking it’s a dream. It’s naive. Maybe so. But you will agree that the world’s current state of affairs has the makings of a horrible nightmare and many are trying to escape it through less benign means. Become mildly informed and you’ll want out, or get stressed out by the overwhelming speed of bad news. It seems that, in thinking this world of ours is real and is all there is, we have managed to screw it up beyond repair. When I see friends suffering as the daily drama of their life unfolds, I really want to go philosophical on them and tell them to wake up and dream themselves a nicer dream. When my own drama catches up with me I wish I could always remember to step out of the dream and look at it from a different perspective. It can be done.
I’ve been humming the “boat” song a lot more lately and singing it out loud. I decided it’s not so bad to tell children life is a dream. While you’re at it, let them know that since it’s their dream they get to choose what they dream about and they are responsible for it. Teach them to have magical thinking and mind the energy they put out to the world. After all, what’s the worst that can happen? Reality?