oke up from stress dreams yesterday feeling lost and frazzled. At some point I was in a dark hallway, middle of the night, with my mom, and once we parted ways I had to tiptoe back to my tiny dorm room without alerting any ominous security guards. But just as I had reached safety and crawled into bed, I heard a crew of men approaching my door (which consisted of a blanket hanging over a space in the wall). The men were delivering packages from a source I vaguely understood to be a relative. They started pushing boxes under my blanket-door: laundry baskets full of my high-school clothes, crates of old books — more and more boxes, until my itty-bitty room was filled to the brim. I sat rigid in bed, staring, anxiety mounting. The last box they pushed in, at 3 in the morning or so, contained a fancy TV that you’re supposed to screw into a wall.
For some reason the TV was just too much for me. Pitching a small fit, I decided I needed to immediately return it, and the rest of the boxes, to the well-intentioned person who had sent them. I jumped in my car and set out on the highway, sun rising alongside. But two or three exits down the road, I realized I had forgotten to bring the TV and all the other crap! Damnit! So I got off the freeway, crossed an overpass, and tried to turn around and go back.
Unfortunately, the opposite onramp was missing. Instead, there was a pop-up restaurant festival: a labyrinth of noodle joints, flax-oil-greasy-spoon diners, aquariums, and succulent plant displays. I parked the car and tried to find my way out of the lunch-maze. But I just kept getting more and more turned around. Finally, I asked one of the cooks (at a caramelize-your-own-sushi station: I remember this vividly), and he began to give me directions.
Then I woke up.
Now, typically stress dreams stress me out (surprise!), and as I said, this one was no exception, at first. It’s not hard to tell from this dream that I am feeling somewhat overwhelmed with expectations, a bit lost and directionless, and uncomfortable in new environments — maybe with a certain class confusion thrown in there, too. Dreaming about problems amplified my worries about those problems in real life.
But all of a sudden, I thought about the inflammatory TV in relation to a dhamma story from Goenkaji. I wrote about it here, back in the summer of 2009: it’s the story of how to stop accepting presents that we don’t want.
And just like that, I relaxed. The stress dream became a reminder of a helpful lesson, rather than a compounder of fretting and reactivity. Whatever my dream-life and waking-life throw at me, I actually have choices in how to respond (internally and externally). Even the pop-up-restaurant labyrinth, in retrospect, seemed neutral, or even interesting, rather than frightful.
Choice is a good thing for so many reasons.