drivers seatIn haiku, a glimpse of an immediate experience becomes an opening into the spaciousness of the infinite present. Natural images evoke paradoxical emotions and sensations, conveying meaning without creating meaning. The meaning is the moment itself. There’s something dream-like about the images in haiku, and also something haiku-like in the images of dreams.

while I’m gone
my dog
takes the driver’s seat
-Christopher Herold

This haiku by Christopher Herold really says it all! As with most haiku, it’s easy to take it quite literally. Perhaps I’ve gone into the grocery store, leaving my dog in the car—while I’m gone, the dog takes the driver’s seat. I can picture this scene with delightful clarity: the dog (a setter?) sitting earnestly upright , looking straight ahead over the steering wheel, waiting. Maybe the dog considers beeping the horn (or driving off without me?), but shows restraint and patience instead. If I dreamed this scene, it would make me smile. The situation just is what it is. The nature of the relationship between dog and human being, in a nutshell (or in a small car).

Generally, a haiku doesn’t draw attention to metaphor—yet the metaphor is implicit in the moment. When “I” (my ego-self) is absent (distracted, preoccupied, sleeping), “my dog” (another aspect of myself—someone innocently authentic and pragmatic, but not entirely rational) takes charge of my vehicle (the thing that carries me through life), and this creates an ambiguous situation. On the one hand, it’s delightful to experience the dog in this position; on the other hand, dogs can’t drive. There’s no problem with the dog taking the driver’s seat, but let’s hope the engine isn’t running…

When I’m dreaming, my dog takes the driver’s seat. Or sometimes it’s my chicken, my elephant, my inner child, my mother, my muse, my upset stomach, my wise soul or my foolish moods. Or, all of the above. My everyday identity steps away for the moment, and somebody else slips into my still-warm spot. She is happy to be there, though maybe a little nervous about where I’ve gone and when I’ll be coming back. Okay, it’s time to roll! Let’s see what gets dreamed up when someone else is driving…

This happens every night in dreams. We start with something ordinary and familiar—getting into bed, going to sleep, experiencing dreaming as if it were all real—then look closely, and find that what’s happening could turn our assumptions upside down. In the dream world, it might be fine for the dog to drive the car. Or, it might be frightening, or might make somebody angry, or might lead to an accident or a miraculous birth or a world war. Whew.

So, getting back to haiku. Instead of seeing a dream in all its rich complexity, with all of its metaphorical implications and levels of meaning—it’s sometimes refreshing just to see that, like waking life, the dream is made up of an infinite number of haiku moments. Each momentary experience stands for itself, or sits in the driver’s seat and gets my attention.

while the dog
takes the driver’s seat
where am I?

Answer: In the driver’s seat. Right here. Looking at everything with fresh eyes, wagging my tail.