“To see a World in a Grain of Sand, And a Heaven in a Wild Flower, Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand, And Eternity in an hour.”William Blake
Dreams have been significant catalysts of my awakening. Some were revelations, etched in memory with more lucidity than events lived in the real world. Some were extraordinary; I’ve looked at Earth from the moon, explored unfamiliar worlds with pink trees and oceans of liquid bliss, had the chance to interact with beings of light.
Yet one dream has stayed with me due to its simplicity, and the way it changed my relationship to the ordinary. It was a lucid dream where I chose not to fly, or transform, or instantly manifest any desire. Instead, I explored the intricacies of the world itself.
Lucid dreams are triggered by a spot-the-difference moment. That moment was looking at the sky, and seeing that it was alive. This is a dream. That’s why I’m walking back from my girlfriend’s house, even though I didn’t stay the night. That’s why the sky, a watercolour horizon of hues invisible to the naked eye, wants to show me something, because this is a dream.
Usually, when realising you’re in a dream, you wake up, return to the real world. I’ve even had nightmares I’ve deliberately woken myself up from. But some lucid dreams spark a sudden wakefulness as the dream continues. The response is always a rush of excitement. It’s quite something to be conscious in a dream, to explore a landscape of your imagination. You become God.
The world I was in was familiar with an edge of surrealness. Upon closer inspection, the surrealness was hyperreal, as if the substance animating the atmosphere was the nectar of life, as if, counterintuitively, this dream was reflecting a world closer to truth.
There’s a parable in the ancient Chinese text, the Zhuangzi, a founding text of Taoism, called Zhuang Zhou Dreams of Being a Butterfly. It goes like this:
“Once, Zhuang Zhou dreamed he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering about, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn’t know that he was Zhuang Zhou.
“Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Zhuang Zhou. But he didn’t know if he was Zhuang Zhou who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming that he was Zhuang Zhou. Between Zhuang Zhou and the butterfly there must be some distinction! This is called the Transformation of Things.”
The parable highlights the confusion in separating dreams from reality. If no separation is made, how do you know when you’re dreaming? If you don’t know you’re dreaming, how do you wake up? As a philosophical enquiry, it points to the nature of reality, and our eagerness to identify one reality as real, another as illusion.
Why is it that in the majority of dreams, the dreamer is oblivious to the nature of the experience? You go to bed, fall asleep, and wake up in another world, having completely forgotten who you are. There’s no point of reference. Anything can happen, the most absurd to the most inconceivable, and the dreamer surrenders to the flow, playing a part.
But an element of consistency remains, the silent witness, a part you recognise as yourself, regardless of the context. In this dream, that was the part of me exploring. There was enough of “me” to witness the miracle, to wonder in disbelief at the contrast of this reality, struggling to comprehend the experience, eager to stay on this celestial vacation for as long as I could, to allow it to teach me.
I paused and took a few deep breaths. I didn’t want to wake up. Staying in the dreamworld required focus. I looked at the sky. Its resilience reassured me. There was a purpose behind this world’s elegant construction, a theatre prepared to impart knowledge.
Most dreams are fleeting and vague, making them difficult to study. But the stability of this world elevated the realisation that I was creating this. Me, little me, capable of orchestrating such an exceptional work of art. My rapture was met by affirmation, an embrace of love, pure love, everywhere. Love, the fabric of this world, the sculptor of the skyline, architect of its atomic waves.
I enquired further. The boundaries of the dream stood firm. What aspect of “my” consciousness transformed a known landscape into a demonstration of the life behind all things? Why am I absolutely certain this is closer to reality? What part of me knows that to be true? What have I been missing? As soon as each question was asked, the answer was already a part of me.
The more I observed the environment, the more lively it became. In re-cognising the validity of this world, it responded, rejoiceful at feeling seen. I was sure my sensory perception was at full capacity, yet the world became brighter, more defined, more vibrant, expanding and contracting with each enquiry, the breath of creation, inhale a question, exhale an answer, a cyclic rhythm of seek and find.
Content I was receptive to receive guidance and not dismiss it, sky interacted with light, and the clouds, the trio’s illumination directing me to a small tree in a small garden. I knew, intuitively, this tree was the beholder of this dream’s message. It’s a tree I’d walked past many times, caught up in thinking, on my way to university, anxious, rushed, blunted to the world. I never paid it much attention.
Spotlight, guided by the sun, highlighted a single leaf, bringing it to the forefront of my awareness. I picked the leaf, brought it close, not sure what to expect. What did this leaf wish to convey? Would it display ancient scripture, like words on a page?
What I saw sparked a quantum leap of enhanced awareness. What was perceived as hyperreal became baseline from which greater depths flourished. The gravitational force pulled me into a vortex of worlds within worlds, Russian dolls of ever-increasing precision, through the journey of refined attention.
A microscopic infrastructure of ultimate intelligence, a work of art, infinite perfection, rested in the palm of my hand. The leaf glimmered gold as life pulsed through its veins. Standing in this dream world, up close and personal, the immaculate beauty struck me to the core, spoke the language of the soul.
Tears of gratitude followed, as I became the one rejoicing at being seen, as I grew brighter and brighter, as I felt liberated, having seen a reflection of my true nature, contained in a single leaf, on a small tree, in a small garden. In this lucid dreamworld, I turned over a new leaf, was transformed.
Witnessing the level of detail, the design and order contained in this single leaf, shifted my understanding. It became clear this world was beyond the scope of a single brain pulling fragmented data stored in material cells, but instead, came from a source, a source far beyond the boundaries of me. A seed was planted: if this could happen in a dream, what about the waking world?
What was the difference? Was there a difference? And if not, why don’t I perceive this much beauty in my waking state?
“Beauty is unbearable, drives us to despair, offering us for a minute the glimpse of an eternity that we should like to stretch out over the whole of time.”Albert Camus
I had this dream 10 years ago. I was in a dark place. It was the lowest my mental health has been, and the beginning of a spell of psychosis. I was suffering a lot. I’d not started meditation, and had no interest in spirituality. Yet the heavenly quality of this dream stayed with me, something I couldn’t shake, a feeling that felt like home.
The core of the dream, that substance that made the mundane miraculous, the ineffable beauty behind it all, that ignited wildfires of fascination, was always present. It didn’t “belong” to the dreamworld, but arose from deep within, a prophetic vision. Had this happened whilst I was awake, at that time in my life, I’m sure I would’ve lost my mind. The beauty would’ve driven me to despair.
It had to awaken within a dream first, whilst I was a butterfly, to allow me to perceive it whilst solidly and unmistakably Zhuang Zhou. In this world, it’s reassuring to know many ancient traditions describe reality as dreamlike. My spiritual practice has allowed me to ground into this realisation, without losing myself, or my stability. In this sense, lucid dreams and spiritual “awakenings” are a poetic mirror of each other.
Does the thought of reality being a dream scare you? It used to scare me. But there’s much to learn from the butterfly’s perspective. Lucidity doesn’t diminish the dreamworld, it liberates it from the shackles of dense expectations and limited perceptions. The moment of awakening in a dream is exhilarating, because that’s the moment you’re free, that’s the moment you sense the limitless nature of things.
I understand my enchanted stroll in dreamland was an act of grace, a reminder of the profound beauty of creation, unity between the dreamer and the dreamt. The leaf saved me, inspired me, dared me to dream bigger. It rooted me into what’s possible. The leaf’s encoded magnificence wasn’t dreamstuff, but a revelation of a world free from illusion, Mother Nature resuscitated and restored to her true form.
Looking back, I wonder if the dream was a type of recollection. I wonder if part of my consciousness always records the fullness of experience, waiting for the perfect time to unlock and activate, showing me what I missed first time round, making sure I won’t miss it on second-glance.
Those familiar with Jungian philosophy will know this dream likely surfaced from the collective unconscious, designed to awaken or contextualise the psychic force that was uprooting my perception of reality. On the brink of psychosis, the dream-awakening was reassurance that the bumpy transition between the material and the spiritual was guided by divine intelligence — and beauty was the bridge.
But another layer of contained a snapshot of transcendent truth. A few weeks ago, sacred geometry surfaced as a relevant topic, and during my research the leaf returned to my conscious mind. In an epic demonstration of the vast order behind instincts to act, explore, or create, a decade on from the dream, I was presented with a subtext that enhanced its meaning and its beauty: divine proportion.
In the 15th century, Leonardo da Vinci was mesmerised by leaves, too. He observed how their spacing was in spiral form. Da Vinci’s observations planted the seeds. In 1754, philosopher Charles Bonnet coined the term phyllotaxis, from the Greek phullon (leaf) and taxis (arrangement). Geometric patterns aren’t exclusive to plants, but scale from the micro to the macro, from quantum resonance, DNA molecules, the shape of galaxies.
Fractals are never-ending geometric patterns that scale. The more you zoom in, the more intricacy appears. Humans are drawn to fractal elegance, the mosaic building blocks of life, without consciously knowing why. In observing beauty, there’s an unspoken recognition, a sense of full-body, full-heart, full-mind appreciation. Sacred geometry mediates beauty, creation, and the interconnection of things.
The spiral arrangement of leaves is one example of the Golden Ratio. Da Vinci didn’t so much discover, as re-discover. The “lost knowledge” of sacred geometry is believed to have once been taught in mystery schools, and was revered in ancient Egypt, where the Golden Ratio is found in the structure of pyramids, and other areas. Ancient Greek mathematical geniuses Pythagoras and Euclid were aware of this ratio, too.
The Golden Ratio is found in the dimensions of a healthy heart and the rhythm of heartbeats, the clock cycle of brainwaves, the proportion of the human body, the structure of the human skull. Cursiously, the human eye processes images in the Golden Ratio faster than any other.
And, it turns out, coronary arteries are distributed in Fibonacci sequences, the famous, never-ending spiral of the Golden Ratio. These sequences resemblephyllotaxis, the branches seen in nature, the veins seen in leaves.