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Cross the River of Dreams and Into a Higher Order of Consciousness

By:Guy Finley
Date: Mon,08 Jul 2024
Submitter:Life of Learning Foundation

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best-selling self-realization author

Those who live in dreams never realize how deep runs the temptation to dwell in them. Only those who have had a moment in the Sun – who've glimpsed by its light what is real, and what is not – understand something of the nature of the shadows in which they live, as well as how easy it is to forget that all of them... are unreal.

One of the things about the spiritual journey that is so difficult – because of what it asks of a person – is that we must reach the point where we look at our life as it is and realize that we cannot have what our heart longs for in our life such as it is. We come to a full recognition that we are indeed a house, and a spirit in a house, and that the house has had its way with the spirit but that the spirit was never intended to be commanded, dominated by the house.

With this realization, we are asked to begin the journey inward, to look and see if – for all the things that we've done for ourselves, to ourselves, and by ourselves – they've amounted to anything. This is the most difficult work there is for a human being because we do not ever want to reach the conclusion that everything we've done for ourselves has not changed us, has not produced the fruit of the vine – meaning a life that is no longer assailable by negative states; a life that is no longer susceptible to a suffering born out of thinking about oneself; a life that has in it the ability to be compassionate at any moment regardless of conditions.

It is the gradual dawning inside of you when you realize that there is a huge gulf that exists between your own idealized state of self – meaning the way you feel when you feel really good about things and feeling on top of it and “spiritual” and then someone calls and tells you some news you don't want (or whatever it is that happens). And the next thing you know, you're caught up in some dark dream – a complete captive of whatever it is that's pouring through your mind at the time – and you are unable, not only to free yourself of the state that you're suffering, but you are someone who actually advocates and perpetuates in everyone else that you meet the very state that now has completely taken you over.

That’s when a person begins to realize: "Wow, all this time, and for what? What have I gained for all my seeking, for all this struggle that I have put into trying to be a better human being?" This is the beginning of the first true stage of what could be called “the dark night of the soul” for a person. They begin to understand that they are not going to be able to save themselves. There is nothing they're going to bring to themselves, find in another person, read in a book, or hear in a talk that's going to make one difference in terms of the birth in them of that nature that is incorruptible, that does not know itself through anything other than the light that pumps through its own heart. That is the quest. That is the task. And that is the purpose of this life as we have it, and nothing else. Everything else is a fool's game… as evidenced by how many times a person finds themselves completely taken over by a thought or a feeling and unable to extricate themselves from what it's doing to them and those they love.

Have you ever seen those movies where the hero is drawn to a beautiful maiden, they embrace, and then the camera pulls back, and now he's looking at her and suddenly she starts to turn into this horrendous creature? Obviously, he got tricked, didn't he? This is a classic truth in a fairy tale, where a person sees something, takes what he sees for being real, and then, when at last that evil has drawn close enough to him to act out its deed, it suddenly turns into what it always was. The spell is broken, but it's too late. The hero is in the grip of a monster that is usually one of those life-sucking things that we would all rather avoid. Haven’t you ever wound up in the arms of a life-sucking thing? I'm talking about negative states. I'm talking about those dreams about what happened to you twenty years ago, or what isn't going to happen to you next week because of whatever you imagine.

It's a little-known fact that because of the way we are presently, we don't see certain things that take place all the time that are quite clearly taking place. When I'm in a dream, everything makes sense – there’s nothing illogical about what's taking place in the dream. So, if I'm in the dream of anger, fear, worry, or resentment, everything that is presented to me (within me) is perfect – there’s no problem with it. But, of course, the point comes when a day, a week, a year, or fifty years later, a person looks at their life and it is a life that has turned out to be something horrendous, not at all what they told themselves it was.

So I’m going to tell you a story to exemplify the work of participating in our lives in the present moment for the purpose of letting what is true do for us and to us what it intends to do – so that we can begin to recognize the life that lives secretly in our heart… a life that we set out to find in the world and then discover there is no way (in the world) to find that heart that we know beats within us.

There was once a prince, the son of a good king who knew that the prince was going to have to go on a special journey required of anyone who would one day inherit the kingdom. The king said to him, "Son, it is time now to send you on your journey where you will have to go into the dark realm of the river of dreams where it is impossible to escape the mad magician who lives there. Just by the fact that you enter into where the mad magician lives, he is going to be able to cast a spell over you. This is the way it is, son, but it does not mean that you have to stay in the dark realm of the river of dreams.”

“I promise you that there will come a point that if you will remember your good father and remember this kingdom, you will not fail in this task. You will understand what is necessary to take the power out of the hands of that magician, and in the moment that you say six particular words, the spell will be broken, and you'll be able to return home – fit to inherit the kingdom.”

The boy understood the task, and it was indeed no simple task. So he set out, and sure enough, it wasn't long before he crossed over into the dark realm of the river of dreams. And when he first passed through it (this is something that has a parallel to our lives, but we don't remember it, because it was when we were very small), the young prince looked out, and knew immediately something was wrong with what he saw. On both sides of the river, as far as the eye could see, men and women were seated in chairs and on logs, all along the sandy banks. Their clothes were tattered and soiled, their facial expressions desperate as they sat there, just staring into the river. But no more did he have the thought, "My God, what is this place?" when, in that split second, he saw something coming down the river. It looked like something he'd been hoping for ever since he'd been a boy, and he ran over to the edge of the river to see if he could get his hands on it, but just as he got to the edge of the river, it went floating by, downstream. Suddenly a wave of despair passed over him, and he sank into it, because it connected with all the things that had never happened right for him in his life. So he dropped back down onto the sand and sat there (and so you understand, he became one of the billions of people sitting along that river in the realm of dark dreams).

So the prince sat there, watching everything coming down the river, over and over again. As the years rolled on and he watched things come down the river, something in the back of his mind bothered him, but he couldn't quite get his mind around to what it was. Then, one day (because into his heart was sown what I'm talking to you about), something beautiful came down the river. And oh, he wanted it so much. He felt so good when he saw it, and he thought how much promise there was in his life if only he could get his hands on this thing coming down the river. But for a moment, instead of turning away like he always did when things passed by, he kept his eye on it, and as soon as it crossed by where he was sitting next to the river, he saw it turn into something hideous. He saw it turn into something ugly, and this was a shock to him because he'd never noticed that before. (Now, the parallel here for your life are those dreams and those ideas that "If only this and if only that," and then you get your hands on them, but as soon as they become yours, they start to turn.)

Seeing the beautiful thing turn ugly gave him his first shock. (Oh, may you all have the first, real shock!) And because of this first shock, he wasn't quite as comfortable as he had been sitting there, hypnotized and fascinated by this river as it was flowing by. Then the next day, something happened that had been happening the whole time he'd been sitting there, yet he never saw it take place. Suddenly, the river started flowing backwards! (Now, remember, when you're in a dream, everything makes sense. If you're in a dream, and you're sitting there by a river, and all of a sudden, the river changes direction and starts to move back the other way, bringing stuff up from the river that's gone by, there's no problem in a dream like that. That seems absolutely natural because you just think that’s what rivers do at this time of the day – or whatever the psychosis is of the mind inside of that dream.)

So, here he is, sitting on the bank, and suddenly the river starts to flow back the other way. And coming upstream is one of those things that he almost got his hands on before, and as it starts to come up, he thinks, "Oh, my God, this is terrible. I remember what I didn't get before!" But as the thing starts to come closer, it looks good again. And the second he runs out to embrace it, the river changes direction again, and it sinks. (This is exactly what happens when you go back and revisit what you didn't get; what happened to you that you didn't like; how life didn't bring you what you hoped it would. It's gone down the river, but now you start to think about it again. You start to wonder if there's a way to recreate it – to get back what went away. You are fascinated, fully captive of this river of dark dreams but not knowing it. This is what it means when a human being relives their past. They don't see the river flowing backwards because they're in a dream in which it makes perfect sense to the dreamer to relive what was, what's gone, and what can't be again.)

But the young prince, sitting there one day after this happens three or four times, thinks to himself, "Wait a second! Just wait one second. This makes so much sense to me what I'm seeing, but I know it can't be real because I know rivers don't flow backwards!" (That means for you that you know life doesn't bring back what was lost, but you don't know it because you're a captive of the river when it starts to bring back to you all the stuff you didn't do, couldn't get, or never made.)

So he’s sitting there, and he has a revelation! He says, right out loud: "This river is not my life!" And boom, like a thunderclap, he hears the mad magician scream, and in a split second, he's released from living in the realm of the dark river of dreams.

Without knowing it, you are captives of this realm – this river of dark dreams. You sit completely hypnotized, fascinated with every thought, every feeling that runs by that captures your attention. And if it's not coming about what might be, what could happen, what you’re going to get if it's not that, then the river runs backward. But you don't see it when it's running backwards, and it dredges up all the hideous forms that never brought you what they said they would bring you when they passed by you the first time. But you relive them. Do you know why? Because you don't know you're sitting by the river that is not your life!

You are not your thoughts and feelings. Those thoughts and feelings have a place, a time, a world – a kingdom of their own. And you, because of being a human being, have a certain relationship to the movement of those thoughts and feelings passing through that kingdom, and are stirred by them. But the kingdom they pass through, and the self that they stir when they pass through, is not who you are.

But we can begin to understand, even in the smallest way, what it means to be able to one day look out and realize, "My God, I've been sitting in my life, and all I do is stare at the river! All I do is think about what comes down the stream. All I do is regret what flows backward up the stream. All I do is derive a hope from it. And this river is not my life!” You must discover the fact of that experientially. There's only one way to discover the fact of that, and that is for you (inwardly) to one day realize, "I can meditate; I can be talking to people; I can be sitting having a coffee by myself; I can do whatever I'm doing, and, instead of deriving a sense of self from everything that moves down the river and everything that's coming back up the river, I can safely see the river is not my life.”

This is the beginning of the stirring in you of a certain order of your own self that is this permanent nature not compromised by its own content or by the conditions that create it whenever they move left or right, up or down through your life. You have to begin to understand what it means to be still to that river, and then have the courage to let it roll by without dragging you into it. This is what it means to have a meditative life.

For over 40 years Guy Finley has helped individuals around the world find inner freedom and a deeper, more satisfying way to live. His in-depth and down-to-earth teachings cut straight to the heart of today’s most important personal and social issues –stress, fear, relationships, addiction, meditation, and peace. His work is widely endorsed by doctors, business professionals, celebrities, and spiritual leaders of all denominations.

Guy is the author of 45 books and video/audio programs including his international bestseller “The Secret of Letting Go” which has been translated into 30 languages and sold millions of copies worldwide.

He is the founder and director of Life of Learning Foundation, a nonprofit Center for Spiritual Discovery located in Southern Oregon, with over 40,000 online newsletter subscribers.

Through Life of Learning, Guy has presented over 5,000 unique self-realization seminars to thousands of grateful students throughout North America and Europe over the past 30 years and has been a guest on over 700 television and radio shows, including national appearances on ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, and NPR. Guy is a faculty member at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York and 1440 Multiversity in Scotts Valley, California. He is a regular expert contributor to Beliefnet, Insight Timer, Simple Habit, and many other popular spiritual sites.

Finley holds regular classes at Life of Learning including two free talks each week that are live-streamed These classes are open to all. For more information about Guy Finley and Life of Learning Foundation visit

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