The Lesson

This story originated many years ago in a dream. It was regarded as important by the dreamer, who related it to me in detail early the following morning. I too regarded it as deeply significant, and immediately wrote it down so its remarkable details could not fade from memory and be lost. I titled it The Lesson, for indeed that’s what it unquestionably was conveying. In here reproducing that original writing, I have taken great care that minor editing for clarity and brevity neither alters nor embellishes anything of substance. I re-tell it as faithfully as possible to how it was reported to me that morning. I believe its profound import stands on its own, and share it in certainty of its enormous power to influence minds and values, as it has influenced my own over nearly a half century.


Beginning…                The dreamer stands among a fairly large group of people on a grassy sward that slopes gently to the shore of a broad blue lake. All in the crowd are excited, chattering about their imminent visit to a unique and desirable amusement park that is seen gleaming on a green hillside above the distant far shore. Trolley-like tracks extend across the grassy sward, down to the lake’s edge and straight on into the water.

A big fellow, silently unmoving at the edge of the crowd, appears to be in charge of this expedition. This is confirmed when he quietly instructs all present to board a large carriage-like boat that sits on the rails. When all are presently seated, the leader takes the last seat and the boat immediately starts down the tracks toward the water, gathering momentum. The people’s happy anticipation of the amusement park is palpable.

To the dreamer’s surprise, when the boat reaches the water it does not float off the rails, but continues on down the rails so that in a moment the boat and all aboard are under water. An instant of instinctive fearfulness quickly passes as the dreamer realizes that nobody seems to be drowning, and normal breathing is miraculously unaffected. The boat quickly accelerates to a high speed in its rail-guided journey across the lake bottom.

Speeding along safe and unharmed in softly filtered light from the beautiful sunny day above the lake, the travelers—all amazed by this underwater situation—lean back to enjoy the ride. There gradually arises among them general awareness that the big leader guy understands what’s going on and how it works, but he is saying nothing to anyone.

Presently the passengers feel the boat start its ascent to the far shore. Following the tracks up a long slope, it emerges from the water and rolls to a gentle stop on the grassy slope previously seen so distantly from the shore of origin, now so far behind. Realization sweeps the crowd: We’re here! This is the hill—here’s the amusement park! All aboard quickly disembark and, looking around, exhibit amazement. The dreamer looks around too and, like the others, is amazed at what is seen.

Of roller coasters and frivolous carnival rides there are none. Instead, directly ahead, ascending the gentle hill on both sides of a broad street, are mansions, many mansions, gorgeous elegant mansions everywhere. All the mansions are unclaimed, available.

And placed right out in the middle of the street, proceeding up and over the hill out of sight, are tables—tables beyond counting—and all are piled high with exquisite stuff.  Silver tea services by the dozens, perhaps hundreds, yours for the taking. Golden candelabras, pearl necklaces, jewelry heavy with rubies and precious gems. Queen Anne couches and filigreed brass planters with curvy legs and other fine things and stuffstuffstuff.  All yours, grab it and go. Scot free, help yourself. Take all you can carry. Come back for more.

Already, the people have dispersed themselves widely up the street, over the hill, moving between the tables claiming the overflowing stuff, carrying it into the mansions, rushing back to the tables to get more, more—vastly excited, exclaiming over their good fortune.

The dreamer alone desires no look inside those mansions, for the dreamer senses what’s in there. Stuff. Nothing but the finest stuff, every mansion crammed full, with space for more. And everybody can just step right off the carriage-boat and run to those glittering treasure-laden tables and load up with all the gold and silver and pewter stuff their arms can carry and go pick out a mansion and carry all the free stuff into the free mansion that’s already crammed full of high-end stuff, and the whole works is now his-hers-theirs!

And that’s exactly what they all do. Plenitude notwithstanding, there is even a bit of bargain-basement scuffling in the general frenzy to possess especially choice items. Everybody who came over on the carriage boat is now busily gathering up armloads of stuff from the tables to carry into their new mansions…

…everybody except the dreamer, who stands tense with unease, watching this drama of out-of-control materialism. There is something the dreamer values more than mansions and stuff.

Looking around for the big guy, Leader man, Dreamer sees him standing silently over on one side, arms folded, quietly watching the scene. Dreamer runs up to Leader and pleads: Tell them to stop. We all have to go back to the other side, where we came from. We have to leave now. Leader just smiles, looking straight ahead, as if he knows something.

Please, make them come back and forget all that stuff! Distraught, Dreamer is near to screaming, for all the people are fast setting up housekeeping, moving in. They like it and are clearly planning to stay here, in their new mansions, with all their stuff. Leader stands unmoved, as if unhearing of Dreamer’s entreaties.  We all have to go back, Dreamer pleads, We have responsibilities! How can I make them understand?

Leader at last turns, acknowledging, and looks Dreamer straight in the eye. Leader asks: What is it they must understand?

Dreamer cries out, People are more important than things, than stuff. They all have to love one another more than they love this stuff, so we can all go home!

That’s one, says Leader.

One what? asks Dreamer, confused.

You are one, replies Leader. You have learned The Lesson. They all must learn The Lesson before the boat will go back. Nobody may leave here until all—every one—learns The Lesson. Their wants, he says, are way beyond adequacy. And their numbers, he says, are way too many for their wants. Their consumption, he says, is way out of hand. As soon as they escape abject poverty, Leader continues, they want stuff. Though they acquire more than their minds can imagine, they feel inadequate, they want more stuff. And they care not if their consumption harms their fellow humanity. Leader said all this.

Hearing, Dreamer’s heart sinks. Dreamer stands there, transfixed in inner turmoil with realization of the import of what has just been conveyed. Everyone must learn The Lesson before we can all leave this place and return, together. Dreamer then awakens.


What, the dreamer’s mind asks, is awake? What is conscious? What is understanding? What is responsibility? How can I possibly make them—all of them—understand? We have to love people more than we love stuff. But they are so many, wanting so much…

…the dream has no ending—it merely fades into a persistent waking anxiety, a background unease that will not go away…



2 thoughts on “The Lesson

    1. You know because I told you years ago. This important dream has been influential in my own thinking, and I’ve always known it must be shared.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *