Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Dreams of Falling

When I was in fifth or sixth grade, I started having dreams where I would fall from a tall building or crumbling cliff. The sensation was itself terrifying, flailing helplessly into blackness. Subjectively the fall would seem endless, always with the added fear of what would happen when I hit bottom. Objectively the sensation may not have lasted more than a few moments. I would apparently shout quite loudly and then wake up.

One of my parents suggested that, it being my dream, the next time it happened I should just dream up a soft landing. I scoffed. Sounded so simplistic, so like a parents advice when really they could not understand that if I had any control over my dreams I would not be falling in the first place!

And yet somehow in the subsequent weeks and months, when this dream would occur I recall thinking "wait, I can try and change this." Suddenly there was a small space, inside the dream, where I could look at it without being completely overwhelmed by that seemingly endless sensation of falling. It took some practice, but I vividly recall the first time I was able to conjure just a grey piece of solid ground underneath me. Such sweet unbelievable relief to be landed, resting, no longer in stark peril. After a few months the dreams stopped completely, and for years afterwards I gave it little thought.

By college, I had run into the concept of lucid dreaming and could occasionally 'wake up' inside my dreams, and perhaps affect their course or content. I mark this as the first way in which I ever understood that my mind was somehow multilayered...that myself and my mind were anything but unified and monolithic. That a technique applied with one part of the mind can affect how another part of the mind operates, functions or reacts.

I think this is why, when I encountered Buddhism, it made so much sense to me that hundreds of years of self observation, comparing notes, codifying over centuries could lead to a theory of mind not too far from our own neuroscience. And that everyday practices such as lovingkindness, tonglen, and Zen sitting, working with precepts, could help me or anyone else create the space to better respond to everyday struggles.

In extremis, the past week I have been losing stamina, feeling more and more dizzy. Over the weekend I crashed so hard while out with my children I had to lie down on the sidewalk. The cascade of panic about possible outcomes to the situation was very much a free fall. Even now, days later, I still get stuck in loops of what might have happened, how badly things might have turned out. And what might happen next.

So it was just last night lying in the dark in bed, I remembered about the dreams of falling. From a practical day to day standpoint, especially given my current challenges in recovery, I realized that the practice now must be to try to recognize when I am falling while awake, and instead of focusing on the terrifying heights or the fear of the crash, to try to work with crafting a soft landing place. May it serve all beings.

Fear not.


  1. My heart goes out to you! This is such a touching post. Crashing unexpectedly is very scary. I sometimes get this sinking feeling in the middle of my chest - along with irregular heart beats, and the feeling like all my energy just suddenly ran out, and a sense that the nervous system is on overload, like a panic attack is coming on, the dizziness, and my insides feel like jello... I can't imagine being out with your children and having it happen. I can understand the panic feeling! On a practical level - Do you have a cell phone? :)

    Be gentle with yourself. And as you say, learn to recognize when you are about to crash... I'm a push through it kind of person, so that has been a good lesson for me too - to recognize when I need to stop and just stop. Today I crashed, after a high energy day yesterday. I felt it coming all morning and just had to stop for the rest of the day... Now if we could just change that dream! :)

    The neuroscience and Buddhism link looks interesting - will check it out further...

    Wishing you wellness of Being... Christine

    1. Many, many thanks for your response. Yes I have a cell phone, it was just the thought of having to drag the kids with me through an entire ordeal, not wanting to expose them to that level of stress, then practicalities like, how would I get the car back? Etc.

      Learning more every day about blood sugar, the glycemic index of various foods, what I can and can't eat. Stil trying to absorb new simple facts like, hey your body can make glucose out of protien. I never knew that. Do you track your blood sugar?

      Thanks again, and best to you in your journey to wellness.

    2. I understand about not wanting the kids to witness your crash and burn... :) Isn't it interesting how the mind comes up with these crazy questions during a crash - like how would I get the car back - when we know somehow it would all work out. I was just thinking that it would be helpful if you had someone, or a list of someones, who know the situation that you could call when you are out and get into trouble, who could come help you and take care of the kids, etc.

      No, I don't monitor my blood sugar... hmmmmm... interesting. Sense I found your blog I'm feeling like I need to re-educate myself, which is not a bad thing. I know I need to revamp the nutrition as that has slipped over the last 2 years - after I started to "recover" and high stress entered my life again. And I notice lately that I'm crashing after I eat certain things again... My initial slide into AF started back in 2002, but was not diagnosed until 2005, if I remember right. I went through nearly 3 years of thinking I was crazy, and doctors telling me I was having panic attacks. There's a lot I still don't know. But I'm learning a lot from you! :) And I like the "Buddhist connection" too. Although I consider myself a "closet Buddhist" I do find meditation and Buddhist wisdom helpful in the process of healing.

      Bows to you ~ ~ ~

    3. Having some people prepared ahead of time to step in is a great idea. I think I've been in denial that I might have to set those things up in advance but that's very wise and I thank you. Usually it would be my wife but I was solo parent that weekend.

      I've gone ahead and added a "fear not" Buddha to this post!

      Your second paragraph sounds so familiar. Did tons of tests and all came back A-OK. But I could feel and document a significant decline over the course of years, often each drop would come after a huge stress like death in the family. Food has been absolutely key for me, lowering the glycemic index of anything I eat--so essentially I'm eating proteins, braised mixed greens, various other veggies (trying to keep some variety) plus fats (cooking in various nut oils, adding olive oil to the greens, eating the fat on the meat). If you want I'm glad to send you the URLs of sites I've found most informative, but I don't want to evangelize. Just let me know.

    4. Yes, please do send me the URL's for those sites! My email address is: Thanks!

    5. Sent it. Do you want me to delete your message just above so your email is not out there in the big world?

    6. No, it's okay... My email is posted on my blog, so it's out there in the big world anyway :) Thanks for all the wonderful information you sent! And love your "fear not" Buddha... Have a wonderfully restful day!

  2. Scary times. I have been ill in the past and can remember the fear and uncertainty around how I might feel when I was out somewhere. And so many feelings of frustration and worry around will I ever be well. Yes falling seems a good analogy. I was greatly helped by homeopathy. I found a wonderful naturopath who knew classical homeopathy and had an intuitive bend to her. It was the perfect mix for me.

    At one point I lamented to my Zen teacher that maybe I should give up and just accept being sick. She told me a story of a woman who on her 20th try, found something that helped her. It was a bit like walking the razor's edge to know when I was "chasing" health or doing what's appropriate (at least that's what I found)

    Just came across a great little video on health (a TED talk by Lisa Rankin, MD) I've linked to it on my personal fb but I'm sure you can google it and find it too. She talks about all the components of health, of which the body is only one.

    Wishing you good health and a soft landing.

    1. Very much appreciate your thoughts and suggestions. When you say homeopathy worked for you was it just for the anxiety regarding being out and about with possible health-related complications hanging over your head, or something more? I had worked with a local homeopath here for a while before moving on to acupuncture/traditional chinese medicine because as much as the homeopathy was able to get me started down this road, they didn't seem to have anything to address the core adrenal issue.

      That was when a friend of mine basically gave me the same advice as that Zen teacher did, which was keep trying new options until you find something that works. I'm doing a combination of what is called nutritional balancing, along with the acupuncture, traditional chinese medictinal herb tonics, rest, and when I can make it to their office, chiropractic.

      Will look up that TED talk, thanks for the reccommendation.

  3. StoneCutter,
    Loved this post. What a wonderful and encouraging way to reframe the feelings of "falling" or loosing control of a situation because of unexpected health issues. Thanks for sharing, loved starting my morning with this!

    1. Very welcome. As always, Glad if anything I post can begin to give back a little of the great support and information I've found on your blog!

  4. I usually just read your posts in my Google Reader but wanted to come over to your web site on this one to say "Thank you for a very inspirational post and for the Buddhism/Neuroscience link."

    Thank you also to some of the other commenters for very useful data including StoneCutters TED talk recommendation. I am going to look that one up also.

    1. Glad you are finding the posts interesting! And thanks for taking the additional step of coming over to comment.