Even in Kyoto—
hearing the cuckoo's cry—
I long for Kyoto.
Ancient Buddhist teaching has taught that consciousness (vijnana) is a story making machine. It connects the dots, makes patterns, and turns wiggly black letters into fully formed words and sentences.
Think about it. We have a steady stream of sensations coming in. Colors come in through the eyes. Sounds come in through the ears. Internal and external sensations light up the body in vary shades of light and dark, pain and joy. Yet we do not experience a series of drips and drops. We experience a smooth, continuous flow of experience that appears to carry from one moment to the next.
Consciousness, or the mind, creates a story. In fact, this is its job. It can help us. If we were confronted with a confusing jumble of sights, sounds, and sensations, it would be hard to avoid the attacking tigers and find the right types of plant to eat.
The problem is that we mistake the story for the reality. The story is a dream that consciousness creates from the bare facts of what we experience. Over time, we begin to believe the dream. We think in terms of self and other, good and bad, this and that. We create a separation between ourselves and what is happening. This leads to suffering.
To undo this process, it is important to look at the bare facts. When we are sitting, we are often tempted to dream our time away thinking about what happened to us yesterday or what we're going to do later. We tell ourselves stories instead of developing insight.
The same thing happens at night when we dream. We get so caught up in the story, even if it is completely bizarre. We believe the dream is real. We may try to change or manipulate the dream to make it more pleasant. But spirituality isn't about changing or manipulating the dream. It is about waking up. One way to wake up in a dream is to examine the dream closely. For example, in a dream if you see an oak door with a brass handle, and you look away, and look back, the door will often change. Maybe now it is a white plywood door with a different handle. When this happens, we are often "jarred" into realizing we are in a dream.
The same goes for waking life.
One meditation secret is stop feeding into the story. Look at the thoughts. Shift away from the narrative and to the alphabet. What is a thought? Where does it begin? Where does it end? Is it permanent? Is it satisfying? Is it really me?
I've heard from too many people who spend all their mediation time dreaming up stories. This can go on for months and even years. A little actual practice goes a long way.