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THE MEANING OF LIFE
To gather experience over countless lifetimes.

We Realize who and what we really are, and come to behave like That.

Ignorance of That and associated bad habits result in mistakes and consequential suffering.

The accumulation of experience eventually brings us to realize that we are not separate from others, which forms habitual devotion to the ultimate welfare of all.
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The street on the Innsmouth waterfront was dark, and the door unlit. There was no music or other sound from within. Arman Carter looked at the address number on the door, then down at the invitation, printed like a Campbell’s Tomato Soup can label. Glancing at his watch, he understood that he was in the right place at the right time, but it didn’t look like a party.

Earlier, as he’d looked at the invitation, he’d considered whether he wanted to mingle with a bunch of people he didn’t know or just go to sleep. He’d been sleeping a lot, immediately on returning from work and all through the weekends. He loved his dreams. They were beautiful, adventurous, carefree and fulfilling, with wonderful experiences that seemed more meaningful than his life. “But how often do you get invited to an Andy Warhol party?” he’d asked himself.

About to leave, he tried rattling the door handle. It was locked, but the sound drew attention from within. A strange looking man with an elongated head, drooping shoulders and bulging fish-like eyes peered out at him. The man asked with a gurgling accent, “Invitation?”

Arman nervously handed him the Campbell’s Soup label. Moving awkwardly, the man ushered him in, down a hall toward the sound of music, and into a small warehouse full of people with drinks in their hands.

Some of the people were in costume, some in black tie. Most, like Arman, wore jeans and tee shirts. The invitation hadn’t said how to dress. It assumed everyone knew what to wear to an Andy Warhol party.

Arman could see a crowd around a couch in one corner. That must be Andy over there, he thought. It looked impossible to get through all the people to say hi, so he looked for the bar instead.

As he sipped his drink, he heard someone saying, “It’s all mind, you know. Everything is mind. This is a dream, man.”

Arman looked behind and down to see who was talking. There was a couch below the loading platform that supported the bar. On the couch were two odd looking people dressed in black robes. They had the same odd look and fishy smell as the doorman. A bunch of curious partiers were gathered around them.

“I don’t need to prove it to you,” the strange speaker continued. “Anyone who dares can prove it for themselves with a simple but ancient method. All you need to do is build the habit of looking at your hands as you’re falling asleep. Intend to remember to look at them again in your dream. Eventually, you’ll remember, and wake up in your dream.”

Arman was fascinated. It would be wonderful to live in his dreams, with conscious deliberation all the while! Could he learn to be a dreamer, like his great uncle, Randolph Carter? Arman inched closer to the edge of the platform to hear better what the fish man said.

“Then, when you get used to waking in your dream, go ahead and change something in it. After all, it’s only a dream. If you keep doing that, one day you’ll look at your hands while you’re awake, and you’ll be able to change this dream too, proving for yourself this is a dream.”

Arman was thrilled. Was this possible? Could he love his life as he loved his dreams?

That night, Arman couldn’t stop thinking about what the fish-man had said. Excitedly he looked at his hands as though he’d never seen them before, and then he slept.

The boat creaked against its moorings as the moon shone down on the Innsmouth harbor. In the center of the ballroom at the stern was the beautiful machine he’d been working on. It was time to try it, to switch the machine on.

Mesmerizing lights emanated from its workings, and a hum like a choir of angels filled the room. My own hands, he thought. I built this with my own hands.

Just then, looking at his hands, Arman realized he was supposed to remember to look.  And as he looked, he woke up with amazement, still in the dream, still watching the machine.

My god, Arman thought. It worked! He was awake in his dream! He could still smell the salty fishiness of the sea, and the mustiness of the old boat. He could feel the boat heaving on the waves. He was still watching his machine, so beautiful, so graceful. He reached out and touched its glassy surface. It seemed so real to his touch, solid, heavy and unyielding.

The next night, Arman looked again at his hands as he fell asleep, but this time with expectation. It didn’t work that night, however. Or the next, or any night for weeks after that. He rarely even remembered his dreams anymore. He gave up hope that he’d ever wake in his dreams again, but he habitually still looked at his hands as he dozed off.

The barn smelled of old wood, hay dust and horses long gone. He strode toward the door where the brilliant sun cast a wide ray of light, sparkling with dust.

Out into the fields of grain he happily marched, the tall stalks brushing him sensually as he moved. The gilded fields stretched as far as he could see in every direction, over gentle rolling hills. He stretched out his arms to brush the tops of the grain stalks, and felt them lightly tickle his palms.

He looked at his palms, where the grain had been brushing, and with shock Arman remembered. My hands! I’m dreaming!

He relaxed into the sensuality of it all, remaining as happy and carefree as before he had awakened in it. He kept walking, smelling the earth, feeling the warmth of the sun caress his arms and face, and the coolness of the breeze that drove beautiful waves in the boundless ocean of golden grain.

He spied a ridge of low hills not far away, and thought that the ridge could have a fence along it. A ranch-style fence would be beautiful. As he pictured it, the ridge became exactly that fence, painted black, in stunning contrast to the brilliance everywhere.

When a gust ruffled his hair, he mused, “That breeze could be blowing up the manes of galloping wild horses.” And as he thought of how that would look, the fence became the pictured herd of galloping coal black stallions happily following the ridge, manes wafting in the wind as they disappeared behind a hill.

Arman leaped from his bed in excitement, shouting aloud to his empty apartment, “Holy shit! I did it! I changed the dream!”

The following night, again to his amazement, Arman woke in his dream. He was standing in the street before his house at night and realized that his cast off body was asleep right now in that house. At this thought, he was instantly inside, looking down at his sleeping body. He panicked at the sight, and immediately woke from the dream, shaken. He hadn’t thought that dreams might involve the real world.

In the exciting weeks that followed, Arman nearly always woke in his dreams. With his newfound awareness, he lived for his dreams, barely getting through each day until he could go back to sleep. The waking dreams took on a reality he had never noticed before. He also noticed eerie correspondences between what he dreamed and what happened in life. But whenever he made an effort to change the dream again, the effort woke him back in his bed. This disappointed and frustrated him each time it happened, so he decided to stop trying. He’d rather stay in the dreams.

One night Arman found himself standing beside the Manuxet River. He could smell the muddiness of the banks and the strong fishiness that pervaded the city of Innsmouth. As he watched the sun glint off the oily surface ripples were kicked up by unseen creatures below. He was awake in his dream again and thought: That grass by the shore reminds me of a beach in New Jersey. Instantly Arman was standing on the shore at Cape May, watching dolphins in the distance.

He was astonished.  He could change the dream if he didn’t try, but merely felt it to be so. He deliberately but effortlessly felt he was on a mountain top, and there he was, chilled by the icy wind. He changed a cloud into the shape of a car, by seeing it so.

In the following weeks Arman changed his dreams at every whim, but the easier it became the more uneasy he felt about it. He liked things as they were.

One hot evening, working late, he was annoyed by the sound of a radio in the next room. He had so much work to do he didn’t know how he’d catch up. His hands ached from scratching with the pencil all day.

Stretching his hands to ease their cramps, Arman found himself looking at them as he did in his dreams. Immediately, he realized he was awake. But of course he was awake, he thought, bewildered. This was not a dream. Yet something had just happened. Confused, and frightened, he realized with horror that try as he might, he couldn’t tell whether he was dreaming or not.

He tried to calm down. Wait, he thought. If he could change it, then it was a dream. He felt the annoying music stop. Someone in the next room began to curse and bang on the radio, trying to make it work again.

So it was a dream then, Arman thought anxiously, because you couldn’t change reality by just feeling it. He decided he’d only dreamed getting out of bed this morning, and everything all day since.

Feeling stifled by the heat of the evening, he happened to crave ice cream, thought of an ice-cream bar, and suddenly the familiar music of a distant ice-cream truck came faintly through the open window, getting louder as it approached. Wow, he thought, nervously. This dream was so much more sluggish and solid than usual. But it must be a dream, because he could change it.

Alarmed, he realized that he had never dreamed about a whole boring day before. Then he remembered the words at the party so long ago: “One day you’ll look at your hands while you’re awake, and you’ll be able to change this dream too, proving for yourself this is a dream.” With mounting horror, he realized this was the only explanation.

This terrified him. He realized that everything he knew, everything he was, and everything he depended on, all of it was an arbitrary dream. His mother was only a dream. His sixth birthday was a dream, and everything since. “No, no, no!” Arman shrieked inside, shaking, sinking to his knees, then to the floor. “It can’t be! It mustn’t be!” he cried silently, freaking out.

“I need my life! I need it to be real! I need my family, my home and my friends.” His mind raced with fear. He needed to believe that he was who he thought he was. Otherwise he would be lost in a senseless sequence of unpredictable dreams with no mother or father or childhood, without any idea of whom or what he really was. Then with a jolt he realized the truth.

“I’d be no one at all!”

Still sitting on the floor, he stretched out his right hand uneasily, reaching down toward the bland grey carpet. He needed to touch the floor with his own finger to be sure it was really there. He pictured its solidity, its unyielding reality, praying that it was so.

And as his finger met the floor, it was just as he felt it must be: solid, firm and harshly real against his finger. Laughing, he made a fist, and struck the unyielding floor. Ha! It’s real after all, he said aloud. He laughed a little too loud and was a little too relieved.

Frightened and thankful, Arman promised himself never to look at his hands in his dreams again, and to forget about the whole thing.

But when he dreamed, he always dreamed awake. And he was deeply troubled for the rest of his life by a chilling doubt: he knew that he was Arman Carter, but only because he felt that it was so.
Mer-Amun MerAmun

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