When you wake from a dream, you have a moment of surprise and adjustment. Then perhaps relief, as you realise that the dream is not reality, and you were involved in a story that doesn’t exist.
Enlightenment is like this. When you became an adult, you wake up from the squabbles and concerns of childhood. This does not mean that childhood concerns don’t matter, only that they are not necessarily the concerns of an adult. In a sense, as an adult, you can ‘see through’ the concerns of children. You know why they think as they do – it is as though you can see their thoughts as they happen. Perhaps enlightenment is like this. We learn to ‘see through’ our own concerns. We gain a knowledge of why people think as they do, and we may even gain an ability to ‘read’ our own and others’ thoughts as they happen.
Just as you can experience relief when waking from a dreamworld, the person experiencing enlightenment can experience relief when waking from the world we see around us. How can something hurt you, if it doesn’t really exist in the way in which you think it does.
Waking up from the dream of your own anxiety, you may be lucky enough to realise that your anxious concerns are not ‘out there’, but in you. By changing your mind, you are able to reduce your concerns. By waking from the dream of your apparent reality, you are able to reduce your panicked attachment to those appearances.
We know this instinctively. Pop songs are full of the idea of waking up, of escaping from a prison into a free world where the old things no longer have a grip. Unfortunately, pop culture can lead us in all sorts of wrong directions to find this freedom: drink, drugs, unhealthy human attachments. The principle of gaining one’s own freedom is sound; it is just that people often look for it in the wrong place. They look to idols, chemical substances, obsessions, other people, to save them.
True freedom is very subtle, and yet very simple. It involves a lifelong process of learning to see one’s own delusions for the dreams they are. And yet, in the moment, it involves the sudden and liberating process of realising emptiness, understanding that the world you live in is as insubstantial as a dream.