Over the years we all accumulate a lot of insight on life that can be applied to earlier experiences to bring to conscious awareness much that was originally unperceived or unappreciated. This was vividly brought home to me, more than 25 years ago, by a dream.
In 1914 my parents had moved to Brooklyn, New York, and I grew up there, on Covert Street, until I was 15 years old. This street of my father’s house was a typical, ordinary, modest middle class one. It was lined with single family homes and one small apartment group. It would be laughable to speak of the “architecture” of the buildings, they were as undistinguished as you could find. The street had a few trees on it though now, 50 years later, I can’t remember any. So it was ideal to make the point of my dream.
For in my dream I was walking along this same street, or so it seemed to me. I couldn’t clearly distinguish the buildings or sidewalk but I knew I was in Brooklyn and I felt in familiar surroundings. My age in the dream was immaterial, somewhere between 20 & 40 years. It was my reaction that counted: I was filled with inexpressible ecstasy. The source did not lie in anything specific in the environment: it came just from the sensation of being alive, of being conscious of life around me and how marvelous it was to experience personal existence. My feeling was not simply a very pleasant one. I was flooded with joy, as if every atom in my body tingled with rapture. I have never felt any-thing remotely up to that sensation in waking moments.
That was my whole dream. I never saw anyone I knew; I never spoke to anyone; nothing happened. I just walked along the street, breathing deeply, looking around, and conscious of the incredible bliss of being alive and sensitive to the human beings and physical environment around me.
Now in childhood I had walked and played thousands of times on that street. I must often have banged my knee or cut my hand or suffered any number of other unpleasant happenings (none of which disturbed my dream). Most of the time, however, I’m quite sure I enjoyed myself.
But I had then little awareness even of that, let alone of the inestimable boon of existence itself. It took me apparently another 25-odd years of living and reflecting to yield the perspective, the overtones, to be able to go back, as did my subconscious in a dream, and extract an infinitely richer experience from the most commonplace of childhood activities in the most ordinary of environments.
Though that dream was unique for me in the emotional impact, conscious thought has long recognized our aptitude for transmitting past experience by applying to it the wider vision, and maybe even some wisdom, from added years of living (Viktor E. Frankl, in his books “Man’s Search for Meaning”, 1963 and “the Will to meaning”, 1969, writes how he later found meaning even in the horror and suffering of his years in concentration camps.) This capacity suggests that one of the gifts of life, if not one of its purposes, is this very accumulation of experience from which we can distill in retrospective leisure a second experience, softened from any original sorrow and enriched by later perspective.
If only we could learn how to become more aware of the preciousness of life, how to appreciate not only its peak moments but also its struggles and even its routines – and to savor that awareness not only in retrospect or as our subconscious may bring it to our attention in dreams, but as a constant accompaniment of life’s experiences.
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