A dream in time gone by, when men were kind, their words inviting

Last night before I went to bed, I sat down and wrote my affirmations for fifteen minutes. “I see my future as positive and bright. I am happy, I feel good. Regardless of external circumstances, I remain centred and calm.” This last one (a new edition) has made a surprisingly significant impact on my approach to and peace with life. As I slept, my lines filtered into my dreams, and the result was quite… insightful.

I dreamed I was on holiday in Singapore again, exploring the country. I kept my journal with me, writing letters to Beth and filling it with pages of affirmations. And, for some reason, I was enrolled in a high school. I got into an altercation with one of the “alpha males” (for what, I can’t remember) and he cornered me in a bathroom to intimidate, and possibly harm me. For once, I did not try to pacify my oppressor – I knew that the only way to assert my right to safety would be to meet his challenge full in the face. I stood half on the bathtub to make myself taller, threw a kingeri to his groin and punched towards his face, twice in quick succession. I pulled all of my attacks more than I normally would, stopping before contact with a kind of insipid overcommitment. But as I stood there, eyes cold, posture straight, relaxed and waiting for his response, he dropped his eyes to the floor and took a few steps back. He turned and walked away, defeated. Unfortunately, as I had risen to the bathtub I shattered a number of wineglasses, and the glass had cut my feet (though I had not shown any weakness before my adversary). As he left, I tended my wounds and cleaned the destruction wrought from my violence.

Shortly after that, my dream transferred me to a Year 2 class. I had to spend a week with six-year-olds, and the teacher of this class manifested as one of my least-liked teachers from social work. And in this dream, she hated me.

For reasons I could not identify, she loathed my existence and went out of her way to make me suffer. (Writing about it now, I can see similar experiences in the waking world that likely inspired my dream as it transitioned from short term memory.) She would call upon me in class to make sure I was paying attention, calling out silly noises with the six-year-olds designed to humiliate me, but I participated in good spirit. She noticed the mitsudomo I had on my necklace and marched up to me, telling me that no unauthorised jewellery was permitted. I found this ridiculously unfair as I noticed she herself was wearing a mitsudomo on a knotted steel chain. When I pointed it out to her, she clutched it defensively and told me in a pained tone, “This is who I am. Someone died to make this chain.” I responded “My chain is ordinary, but the pendant is my identity.” She let me keep it.

And finally, she started reading from a book out loud during storytime. I wasn’t interested, so I started writing to Beth about my experiences with this scornful woman. She finished reading and announced to the class that we would split into groups to act out the chapter she had just read. I had no idea what it was about, but I went along with my group willingly. Before I could stand though, she demanded my notebook from me because another group needed it for paper. I hesitated a moment, knowing it was full of my personal affirmations and about my experiences with her, and then gave it to her in trust that she needed it more than I did.

As I predicted, she flicked through it to see what I had been doing – she read the affirmations and hesitated. She found a page I had recently written on the different ways to hold a sword, the different styles of cutting and so on. She circled some of my illustrations and said to me, “I’ve drawn this too.” As she read over my notes, circling some and musing over others, her countenance flickered. Her scorn was giving way to a mutual understanding, a shared experience and the sympathy that comes with it. She paused at one diagram she hadn’t seen before and asked me “What does this mean?” It was a circle intersecting two other circles beneath it, which had four beneath it, expanding into a large triangle (like bowling pins, though numbering the hundreds.) “This represents the consequences of our actions. One action affects multiple people, and in turn they affect those around them. One becomes two, two becomes four and so on, until all the world is changed by what we do.” She thought about this and said nothing.

Later as we were practicing our skit, the bell rang for recess. One of the teachers came up to me and told me that Mrs X wanted to see me. I knew that she had reached the part of my journal where I spoke of her cruelty and unfairness. With courage, I sought her out, and she took me aside to talk to me. For a long moment we looked at one another without saying anything.
“Did you take offense to what I wrote?” I asked her at last. She said nothing. “Was it an untrue account of my experiences?” I pressed. She ignored my question and gave my journal back to me, saying with a sudden urgency, “You’re so close to understanding the nature of the universe. But your ambition blinds you.”
I felt offended at how direct and personal her comment was, but I swallowed my feelings before I responded. All of a sudden I felt I knew her intimately. She was once and intelligent, happy and loving person, who had been hurt so deeply it had cut to her heart. In her pain she lashed out and distanced herself from everyone for fear of being hurt again, but deep inside she was still that same good person. I said to her, “I mean no offense by this, but who are you to judge me? You who are so hurt, and who clutches your pain to your heart like a burning coal. You, who are intelligent enough to know that at any moment you can let go, yet still you cling to your grief so that you can show it to everyone you meet and inflict some of it upon them as well. I thank you for your feedback – I care a great deal about what you have to say – but have your own shit to work on. I’m far from perfect, and I’ll take your advice on board, but you have your own burdens to deal with. Let me help you with them.”

She paused a good long moment, staring me in the eye until she finally asked, “Why would you help me?” She glanced towards my journal, as if this contained all the proof she needed to assume that I despised her.
“Because I care about your happiness,” I told her. “And because I can see that you are smart enough to be happy at any moment you choose.”

I woke up shortly after. But it was a humbling experience that fundamentally altered my perception of humankind. I hope this is a lesson I do not readily forget.