Note: I wrote the original version of Dreaming in Cambodia on 28 October, 2011 in a discontinued blog, so the dream is a lot older now, but I still remember it vividly.
About 3 years and 3 months ago, I had a dream that changed my perspective on life.
My first 3 years in Cambodia were the hardest years of my life. The first year was marked by emotional turmoil as it dawned on me just how serious a commitment I had made. As the second year drew to a close, all my carefully laid plans for financial security unravelled to the point where we had to sell our car just to eat. By year 3, I had managed to cobble together a survival income through freelance writing. Just when I felt I was able to breathe again, Sopheak decided she wanted to have another child. I couldn’t say no, but inwardly I was freaking out.
When Kelly was born, he had serious breathing problems. Seeing that fragile little body struggling for every breath cemented my bond with him, but beneath the surface, I was still quaking with fear. How was an old fart like me going to be able to take care of this beautiful child? Part of me wanted to escape. That’s when I had the dream.
One of my favourite neighbours is a guy just up the road who’s about my age. He used to have a fishing boat and boasted to me through translators that he used to sail his little boat all the way to the east coast of Vietnam. He doesn’t have much, but he usually seems very jovial. Then he goes on benders and blows it with drunken rages.
I dreamt that my neighbour took me out in his fishing boat. He was sitting cross-legged on the bow, teaching me to steer. I can still see the backdrop of blue, blue sea and sky in contrast to his long, wispy white beard. He looked exactly like this Cambodian sage you see statues of here and there. I’m not sure who the sage is or if he’s even Buddhist, but the statues really do resemble my neighbour, especially when they have cigarettes hanging out of their mouths. I know he is believed to live in the jungle and appears before people when they are in need of help, but that’s all I know.
Feeling the weight of responsibility, I sighed and said, “I wish I could disappear.” My neighbour looked at me quizzically, said, “Disappearing is easy” and proceeded to dissolve before my eyes.
I briefly thought he must possess some magic power. Then I thought, “Hang on. If he can do it, so can I” and the next thing I knew, I was a formless consciousness floating through empty space. I had disappeared.
Time didn’t exist, so it’s pointless to speculate about how much time I spent just existing in the void. All I know is that the sound of a baby crying made me return to this phenomenal world. I woke up immediately, relieved to find Kelly sleeping peacefully between Sopheak and I.
Kelly’s breathing problems didn’t end that night, though. At my wit’s end, I contacted a friend in America who is a gifted mid-wife and healer. After a few email exchanges with her, it dawned on me that there might be a spiritual component to Kelly’s problem. Neither Sopheak nor I fully accepted him, so perhaps that had something to do with why he was clinging so precariously to life. Remembering a healing technique I learned in Australia, I gave it a try on Kelly’s behalf. I noticed an improvement almost immediately and after three days, he was fine.
Life has gotten more comfortable since then, but there’s still no security blanket. I make enough money to feed our big family, but if I lose a client, I don’t have anything to fall back on. I’m not going to pretend I no longer worry, but what’s changed is that I no longer worry so much about myself.
Sometimes worry gathers pace and doesn’t serve the purpose for which it’s intended – to anticipate and take steps to prevent genuine threats. When that happens, I just disappear until a measure of clarity returns.
Disappearing is dead easy. I knew how to do it before my neighbour taught me, but I learned how from gurus who made it sound hard or only available to the select few. Consequently, I rarely appreciated those little moments of clarity that come so easily when you just detach yourself from the storms of thoughts and emotions in a moment between breaths.
It was my dream, so I suppose it was meant for me, but I’ve been wanting to share it ever since I had it. What’s the moral? Well, for me, the dream revealed the meaning of life as I see it now. We’re not here for any selfish purpose, whether it be wealth, power or the pursuit of spiritual enlightenment. We’re here to give and the better we get at that, the better we are at living our lives. There’s plenty of time to disappear when we’re dead.