As a child, Buddhist practitioner Leslie Davis escaped her painful reality by daydreaming. Through meditation, she’s learned to resist the urge to escape into her mind and focus on the present moment.
In the Plum Village Buddhist tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh, during our evening sitting meditation practice, we recite an Evening Chant:
With posture upright and stable,
We are seated at the foot of The Bodhi tree.
Body speech and mind, are one, in stillness;
There is no more thought of right and wrong.
Our mind and body dwell in perfect mindfulness.
We discover our original nature, leaving the shore of illusion behind.
Noble Sangha, diligently bring your mind into meditation.
Namo Shakyamunaye Buddhaya
This one line always jumps out at me: We discover our original nature, leaving the shore of illusion behind. What? Leave the shore of illusion behind? Who said anything about leaving? I want to stay on the shore of illusion, set up camp there, bask in the sun, and party hard. I’d rather leave the shore of reality behind and make myself at home on an island of delusion.
Daydreaming became my ever-present and trustworthy ally.
As a child, I relied on my ability to create a safe place in my mind to escape reality because I didn’t feel safe in my world. My alcoholic father moved out when I was 10, but he continued to show up unexpectedly. I feared weekends because I never knew if and when he would appear, expecting us to spend time with him, and pretend to be a happy family again.
When he did show up, he’d watch TV all day, filling our family room with cigarette smoke and the smell of booze. I would sit with him, feeling trapped, and escape to a place in my mind where Dads took kids on hikes, to the beach, and on camping trips. Daydreaming — fantasizing, planning, wondering, and worrying — quickly became my ever-present and trustworthy ally.
When I became an adult, I developed a deep fear of the future. I always wanted to know what would happen next. I thought my anxiety could be soothed if I had all the facts, all the information. When I became a mother, I developed a deep fear of the present. How could I stay at home with my two young children and be present for them, without slipping into my fantasies or alternate realities?
After meditating for a couple of years, I learned that daydreaming leads to a false sense of hope for a past or a future that isn’t real. I had to work hard to develop a sitting and walking meditation practice because daydreaming was my default — my comfort zone, and my best survival skill.
If I don’t pay attention to my breath, my mind will scurry off to the nearest fantasy.
Over time I developed a strong relationship with my breath, I found a mental solidity that helped me stay in the present moment. If I don’t pay attention to my breath, my mind will scurry off to the nearest fantasy, or create a new one to cling to. When I’m with my breath, I don’t need to escape reality. When I’m with my breath, I can handle what is.
When we connect with our breath, we have the opportunity to discover our original nature, our truest self. Fantasies and mental distractions melt away. This awareness brings us into the here and now — the opposite of illusion.
The shore of illusion is a trickster. It tricks us into thinking that we’re safe on its shore. In actuality, if we learn to trust our breath and connect with the present moment, we can leave the shore of illusion behind, finding our true home within ourselves — a place we are always safe.