Becoming an observer

There was once a boy who, in his dream, was being chased by a lion. As the lion gained on him, his fear turned into terror. He screamed. His family gathered around him, and shook him awake. Realizing he was only dreaming, he relaxed. His family helped soothe him. Soon he was able to laugh at the incident. “Ha!” he said, “It was only a dream! And I thought it was real!”

You may have heard variants of this story already. But you may not have heard the epilogue:

The next night, the boy dreamt the same thing, and woke up screaming again. Some were annoyed. His father, though, kindly said, “Be prepared for the dream. When it starts, remind yourself that it is simply a dream.” The boy agreed. Even though he was asleep, he observed his dreams. When that dream started, he was able to say to himself, “It’s only a dream.” And dreams no longer bothered him.

Everyday dreams

I love that story. I think of all the everyday (or otherwise) things that make me lose my cool. These could be things that try my patience (kids being kids – making a big mess, being loud, throwing stuff away, …), leave me disappointed (injustice, unmet expectations), or really, any small thing. Much as a hapless leaf may get sucked into a vortex, I get pulled into a grand drama being played out on my mind’s stage.

“How dare they say it?” my mind demands, and proceeds to play out an imaginary exchange. That exchange, in my head, consumes a ton of energy. When the drama is finally played out, I leave exhausted, not even realizing what just happened. Guess what: nothing. It was just a dream.

Becoming an observer

There have been times when I was actually able to step aside from the drama, and realize it’s all in my mind. It was like a weight off my shoulders. Now relaxed, I could look at the stream – no, flood – of thoughts, initially stunned by their intensity and volume, then amused by how I took those seriously, and finally, peace – this is simply what my mind is. It likes to think; it can’t help it – poor thing. I empathize with my mind, and say, “its ok.”

Such moments are very rare. But they’re fantastic when they happen.


The key, as in the story, is to be prepared. Unless you’re prepared, ready to pounce, you can’t tell your mind, “It’s only a dream.” Or, as another great story said it, constant vigilance! Be on the guard against your mind being pulled into a vortex!


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