We are out on a hike with a group of others, walking along the sea shore until we come to a steep climb up the cliff. There is a choice of two path, one parallel to the cliff's edge, narrow and rocky, the other along the top of what appears to be a pipe line, a path impacted with snow and ice. For some reason--and unwisely, as it turns out--I choose the latter, while the rest of our group proceed along the first path. We walk parallel to each other, within hailing distance.
Both paths follow up and down steep slopes, roller-coaster style. My own becomes increasingly slick and treacherous, and I decide after a while that it's time to attempt a crossing over to the other. A deep chasm separates the two by only a short leap. I call across to the other side for help, but I'm too impatient to wait and make the great lunge toward the other side. Mistake. I fall a few inches short of the path, but save myself by clutching to a small projection, no more than the root of a shrub, perhaps, sticking out from the side of the cliff, close to the top.
I call for help. Ellie and a friend of ours, a long-time neighbor, peer over the side and promise help, but need to get assistance. They disappear. I hang there, waiting, descending ever further into panic when the wait becomes interminable. Have they forgotten me? I cling on desperately. Nothing. No one. I start to yell: Help me, help me! Above, an Asian tourist looks about him. He has heard something, but obviously can't find the source. I shout again, but seem unable to raise my voice sufficiently to be heard. Help me, Help me!
No one can hear. I cling with growing desperation to my root. The tourist continues to look about him with a puzzled air. Down here, I yell. Down here!
My yells had apparently shifted from dream to reality. They woke Ellie, who asked if I'd been having a nightmare. She had never before heard me make the sounds I was making as I yelled, in my dream, for help.
Okay, so what's the gift?
My first thought is that the dream had to do with the fear of dying. I was clinging on to life with absolute determination and wild desperation. Meditating on the dream for a few minutes before going back to sleep, I recalled another suggestion Ken McLeod had made in his dharma talk on Sunday: that an good alternative for that "suffering" we hear so much about in Buddhism might be simply "struggle." He asked us to wonder what it might be like not to have to struggle, to simply give it up....
I don't know about you, but I find myself struggling a lot in my life. It's sometimes a struggle just to get out of bed in the morning. I find myself struggling when I write. And yet I know that the best of my writing comes when I give up the struggle, when I allow myself to be the channel for the writing, not the "writer." The same applies, when you think of it, to almost everything we do.
What if, in my dream, I had been able simply to give up the struggle to cling on? What if I had been able to let go, and fall into... I really did not know what lay beneath me. It could, yes, have been a long, steep fall leading to treacherous rocks below. It could have led to my death--which was obviously what had me in such a panic. But I'm thinking now that this is what Buddhism is really all about, achieving that kind of spiritual serenity where it becomes possible to enter into death without the fear that brings more suffering with it.
It's evident that I have some way to go!