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The Big Dream
A few years back, I had a dream about a bison
I should write this down, before I say more about dreams.
A few years ago, I had a dream that has shaped my life ever since. It shifted my view of who I am, what life is, and how people find our paths through the world.
Really, it changed the world I found myself living in.
Not all at once, of course. I had the dream one night, and couldn’t shake it for weeks after. At a certain point, I journeyed back to the dream and let it unfold further — I let it discharge the power it was clearly still holding.
Within a few weeks of that journey, everything was different. This dream was my doorway into the reality I’ve lived in since then.
Some rough city at night, in a narrow alley. A man with a nice coat, nice watch, nice life. Another man with a torn coat and a gun. This is a critical moment, but there’s no need for anyone to get hurt.
Then, the world changes.
The man with the nice watch arches his back and screams as his body splits; a wolf peels itself out of his spine, out of his nervous system and organs.
The man with the gun falls to the ground, shrieking in confusion and pain as a fawn peels itself out of him, landing on uncertain legs on the bare concrete.
In a literary story, this moment might become an ironic reversal — the mugger and victim now swapped as wolf and prey. But that’s not what’s happening here. All four of them are in horror. All of them shudder, uncomprehending and raw.
They hurry away from one another — man, mugger, wolf, and fawn all scattering, each looking for some small dark place where they can close their eyes and be alone with what they are now.
Months have passed, maybe years. What happened in that alley happened all across the world, to everyone. The animal within each person stripped itself out of their psyche-body and walked off into the world. Everything now belongs to those animals — the people are irrelevant, outdated, forgotten. Jung’s quote from the Red Book underlies the scene, a threat that has been delivered upon: “Let go, you did not live your animal!”
We did not live our animals, so we lost the mandate of heaven.
Me, I’m in the woods, chopping logs and getting by. At the edge of the treeline, a stag shows up — my stag. I recognize him immediately. I didn’t know he’d been a part of me my whole life until he was gone.
He seems embarrassed to be here, and a little irate. I sense that he shouldn’t be here, according to whatever regime is passing out shoulds these days.
“I have something to show you,” the stag says to me. He sounds torn, guilty. I sense that he feels he owes me this — but that it’s the last thing he owes me.
I agree to go with him, and he has me hop on his back for a ride. He moves preternaturally quickly, his whole body changing shape as he runs, becoming sleeker, longer. I sense that I’m changing shape too, as we move through reality in some unfamiliar way.
We arrive at a hilltop. The stag takes a human form for a moment, and I find myself annoyed he doesn’t look like me. At least not much. It feels like he should look like me.
He gives me a grim look, communicating I brought you here — now we’re finished. He turns and leaves
From the hilltop, I look out at the landscape: to my right, there’s a desert, a small cluster of adobe shelters, half-collapsed; a small town square amid the ruins; to my left, there’s a large lake with a lush green island in the middle, and a blue-ish purple-ish pattern weaving itself in the air above it.
I can sense, even from this distance, that a new world is gestating on that island. It’s clear to me, though I can’t see it, that a massive bison is lying in hibernation on that island, dreaming the Pattern for the Next World.
From the top of the hill, I walk down to the desert, towards the small town square. I want to see what the people there are doing.
When I walk into the square, all the adults are scattered around the edges. They lean against adobe walls and busted wooden doorframes, standing with their arms crossed or hands clasped in front of them. A sparse group, maybe twenty in total.
In the middle of the square, a few children, putting on a performance that the adults watch reverently, attentively, some close to tears.
The kids move in patterns, walking back and forth, facing and turning away from each other. They twist their hands and arms, making odd little signs to each other and to the air.
As I watch, lyrics from a song I knew once come to me: “All the children painted diagrams of God upon their hand / hoping somewhere on this shaking earth they could find a place to stand.”
Slowly, it becomes clear — the children are re-enacting The Last Day of the old world. The day before our animals shook themselves free of us. The adults are rapt as the recital repeats, over and over again. The children’s paces, their gestures, all of it somehow re-enacts that day.
Even here in the desert, they can feel the weight of the Bison weaving the Next World behind them. I know because I can feel it. The remains of the village here, they’re trying to ignore it; that’s what this play is for. They want to ignore what’s happening across the desert.
Here, the first dream ended. Weeks later, I came back to it in a trance, dropping into meditation and returning to the image, letting it wake itself back up around me as I hovered between sleep and waking.
Back on top of the hill, looking out over the desert and the lake. This time, I turn left. I’ve seen what’s in the desert; now I have to see what’s on the island.
In order to get to the island, I must slog through mud, crawling through muck and seaweed, getting dirt all over my body, in my mouth and eyes. By the time I crawl ashore, I’m entirely covered in the stuff.
I feel beckoned down a path through the woods, and I start walking. As the path rolls by, the mud is stripped from me, washed off.
When I come out the other side of the path, he’s there: the Bison. He’s resting on his forelegs, looking out at the glittering lake and the blue-purple-pink Pattern that’s shimmering above it. The Pattern that will underly the structure of the Next World.
The Bison’s presence is huge in ways that aren’t easy to describe in waking words. If meaning were gravity, he’d be a massive black hole. The sheer density of his existence presses on me. It presses on everything.
Taken by surprise, I feel a creeping sense of the moment slipping away: like I’ve never been near a creature with this much existence to it, and who knows if I ever will be again. In a rushing tumble of words, images, and impressions, I (rudely, maybe) drop a question at its feet; the first big question that comes to me:
What do I do with my life? What path should I take? Join a monastery, walk the silk road, train as a calligrapher, write novels, find an office job, become a fisherman? What path am I supposed to be on??
I breathe in the echoing silence after my question, already feeling presumptuous — and worse, clumsy — for asking. But the Bison seems, more than anything, a little amused.
The same way I asked — as a mixture of words, images, and impressions — he answers:
The Bison looks at me, not just the me in front of him in the dream journey; he looks through that, speaking to the me who is lying on the floor in a state between meditation and outright sleep. Replying to all layers of me, from the dream to the physical, he says:
Here you are — a young man born in America, who moved to Korea, travelled Indonesia and Myanmar and India and Nepal and a dozen more countries; here you are — lying on the floor in Vietnam, using what you’ve learned from Buddhist meditation, from shamanic journeying, from Jungian dream work and western esotericism; here you are — speaking to a Bison of the Dreamtime as he Patterns the Next World…
You take this long journey, you use all these skills and tools, you come here to see me… and you ask ‘what is my path’? Look at your feet, they are the path; you’ve already been walking it.
Looking back on it now, that message feels profound; it changed my life. But it needed time to sink in. To settle not just in my mind, but in my bones. In the moment it felt obvious, a bit of a letdown. I’d been hoping for a big dramatic reveal that sent me off to Tibet, or Alaska.
I thank the Bison and ask “may I sit and watch the Pattern with you?”
He nods, making room for me. I lean against his rough fur and watch the purple lights dance over the lake, as my senses begin to fade toward darkness.
It’s been a few years since that dream, but I can still feel it.
There’s a lot I could say to interpret the scenes, or even note what they’ve come to mean to me. But I’ll leave it here for now.
Every dream deserves time to speak for itself.