The Dark Dream
Spiritual life and the addiction to command, capture, and control
In Gravity’s Rainbow, a novel from the early 70’s, people are said to be “on the Dark Dream.”1
The Dark Dream is the dream of European colonizers, of fascists, of Puritans and enslavers who don’t realize that they are captive to their addiction to command, capture, and control.
The Dark Dream is the drive to compel admiration and dominance. The Dark Dream is the fixation on categorizing, explaining, and predicting. The Dark Dream is the attachment to mastery and being the ones who know.
The Dark Dream scares us into being obedient actors by establishing the “us” and the “them” and the lie of empty space around us.
The Dark Dream is a dualist nightmare.
What if there is no Vacuum? Or if there is—what if They’re using it on you? What if They find it convenient to preach an island of life surrounded by a void? Not just the Earth in space, but your own individual life in time? What if it’s in Their interest to have you believing that? (Gravity’s Rainbow)2
So how does the Dark Dream show up in our spiritual lives?
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Attachment to spiritual accomplishment
Attachment to spiritual accomplishment, spiritual concepts, levels of realization, competing with other practitioners or traditions, to a final destination, or to any notion of mastery poisons our spiritual life like methamphetamine.
It keeps us constantly chasing the next peak experience, the next admiration fix, the next lie, the next follower, the next drip feed of fame, and our fictitious final destinations as we waste away with secret self-doubt and spiritual starvation.
And because the Dark Dream is always about the elevation of the individual, it preserves, and in fact strengthens, our experience of separation from others no matter how big the admiring crowd.
Real spiritual awakening reveals the vast intimacy of life. The Dark Dream leaves us feeling very, very alone.
The State of Ignore-ance
The only way that small self can measure spiritual accomplishment or achieve a sense of spiritual mastery is by remaining in a state of ignorance. The word “ignorance” contains the word “ignore.”
We measure ourselves by setting our own limited standards and then ignoring whatever exceeds our understanding.
And there is always an excess. Or you could say that we are always just somewhere in the middle of an immeasurable expanse.
This alive, aware reality is the source of all wisdom and skill. It is made of wisdom virtues such as compassion and devotion. It has no mission, ambition, or attachments. It is not evolving or expanding. It has no reason to do or not do anything other than awake, spontaneous, playful self-expression.
Its intelligence, creativity, and clarity so far over-run the boundaries of what we call intellect or power, it renders our claims about ourselves laughable.
Whenever we attempt to defend our sense of small self by measuring and feeling ‘better than,’ we are in fact only demonstrating that we have not understood anything or touched the heart of reality.
The infinite, devotional heart of reality always escapes those who are limited by the desire to master, control, or capture life. Having encountered the heart of wisdom which is everywhere, the only possible response is to yield and let that wisdom guide and carry us.
Hello darkness my old friend
Darkness in my spiritual traditions has three intersecting meanings.
Darkness means limited access to wisdom. We are “in the dark.” This is compared to clouds blocking the sun. The sun is always shining in full, but we just can’t see it until the clouds pass.
Darkness is also the groundlessness that appears when our cherished concepts and attachments dissolve or are ripped away. Darkness is a bardo (Tibetan) or sandhi (Sanskrit) — a gap or transition zone between relative ignorance and greater wisdom. We must enter into the darkness of loss, fear, relative chaos, unknowing, and groundlessness in order to become more wise.
Finally, darkness is a womb, a generative zone. The cave of the heart—an infinite, liminal space in the center of the chest—is the womb of the Divine Mother and the source of the creation. Many practices in my spiritual traditions are done in the cave of the heart. In fact, the heart is said to be everywhere.
Ultimately we learn to recognize that darkness and light are always intermixed. They are differently experienced aspects of the one indivisible existence.
Command, capture, and control
Command, capture, and control is a defensive posture of small I. It is the deepest, most entrenched tension many of us will encounter in our practice.
But the world Mother is generous. She gives us opportunities galore to crack the shell of our defensiveness and open to the world.
We have various ways of describing these opportunities: failure, loss, fear, getting our buttons pushed, and not getting what we want, what we think we are owed, or what we expect.
Every time we encounter these circumstances, we have a choice: let small I mount its familiar, frantic defensive power grab, or recognize the experience of groundlessness for the opportunity it is and consciously yield to a more immediate encounter with living wisdom.
We can let go of our death grip on being the knowers, definers, masters, and controllers.
We can yield our positions and bravely enter into groundlessness and, ultimately, the generative darkness in the womb of the heart where we also discover the light of self-awareness.
On the other side of the Dark Dream, we find the confidence and spaciousness to adapt to life’s ever-changing circumstances. We can be responsive rather than defensive and reactive. Natural intimacy and devotion arise. We relax our efforts to compete and measure, recognizing the utter futility, and even comicalness of these strategies.
with infinite love,
Pynchon, Thomas. Gravity's Rainbow (Classic, 20th-Century, Penguin) (p. 697). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.