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Sunday, April 8, 2018

A Dakota Perspective

Last night I dreamed I was interviewing a newspaper photo editor.  She was telling me about her first week on the job working for a major paper in Washington DC.  What a strange dream it was, so detailed in some ways.  The editor explained to me even though she was new on the job she decided to assign a free lance photographer to take a picture of a large monument in Washington.  I think it was the Lincoln Memorial.  The photographer told her that he wanted to take the picture as a Dakota shot, which would be twice as expensive as taking a regular photo. I asked the editor if she had any misgivings about approving such a costly project her first week on the job.  Of course not, she said, and then I woke up.

Lying in bed early this morning I thought about this most curious conversation.  A Dakota shot - what could this possibly mean?  Not that I had ever heard this term before.  But in a sudden flash of insight I could see the Dakota perspective and understood the meaning of the dream.  It didn't have much to do with photography or newspaper editing, I realized.  Instead, it was a dream about meditation.

I have no idea if a Dakota shot is a term actually used by photo editors.  It very well could be a phrase I had come across in one of those long boring articles in The New Yorker or in cocktail party conversation with Carrie and some of her friends.  But as used in my dream I realized the term was meant to refer to the challenge of reversing one's ordinary perspective -- seeing a monument the way the monument usually sees you.  The Dakota perspective is the view seen from the upper 48 states looking down on the rest of the country - something of an all encompassing vision.  In that sense it does entail an enlargement of our usual way of seeing and thinking.  And this, I realized, is precisely what meditation allows us to do.  It gives us a Dakota perspective on our own lives, so we can better see ourselves through this over the shoulder view.  It does entail a reversal or turning around of our ordinary way of looking at the world.  It calls for us to rise above our every day subjective point of view and to see what the monument sees when it is looking down at you.

This idea has been expressed far more eloquently in the Chinese wisdom text and meditation instruction manual called the Secret of the Golden Flower - a book I have been reading and translating recently for my own edification. 

Turning the light around
Is where merit is found
The whole benefit is achieved
Through the method of reversal
By focusing your attention on
The most exalted of feelings
Residing there in the very
Center of your being


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