"Am I a man dreaming I am a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming I am a man?"
Chuang-Tzu: Chinese sage
Yuang-Li woke up. Again. Just like every day on this goddamn island; surrounded by the crashing of waves, the twitting of birds and the constant drone of the grasshoppers up on the grassy fells. "Enough to drive anyone crazy", thought Yuang-Li. "I don't believe a more aggravating island could exist". A soft wind blew through the open doorway, kicking up dust from the floor. "I don't believe that even this place exists!" he thought out loud as the dust crept into his eyes, making them water.
He had been sent here on meditation, in furtherance of his goal, but the blinding heat and mind-boring noise had made deep thought all but impossible. He was obliged to work in the fields all day, cutting the long grass for the weaving of mats, roofs, and for grinding into bread. That only left the cool shady night for meditation, although the toils of the day often left no energy for anything other than sleep.
The night before, when he had fallen asleep, he had dreamt, something which fatigue normally impeded. This night was not a normal night for Yuang-Li. He had dreamt of a forest, a cool moist forest, completely the opposite from the harsh rock he was imprisoned on now. He dreamt of flight, of light and of happiness. He dreamt of Birth, Death, and Rebirth. But most of all he dreamt of himself, not himself on the island, but himself as he was there and then.
Yuang-Li woke up. Again. Just like every day in this beautiful jungle of trees, with the soft tinkle of the stream in the distance, and the singing of the birds overhead. He struggled out of his cocoon, and splayed his delicate blue wings. Standing for a while, he dryed in the sun, before launching himself and in pure ecstasy flying off into the undergrowth, sensing every branch, every leaf as it passed.
He could not believe in this, nothing could be this good, this calm, this beautiful. He had time to think here, time to revel in the purity of the un-altered world around him, live for him, totally free and rejoicing in energy.
His days he spent flitting around, showing off his wings, at night he would ascend into the verdant canopy where he would sleep at will and wake totally refreshed here in paradise.
Except for that night, for that night when he slept, the monsters came unbidden from his mind to interrupt the tranquillity of the forest night, nightmares he could not understand, of toil and fatigue, of heat and tiredness, of monotony and of need. In his dreams, he dreamt of himself. Not himself in the forest, but himself as he was there and then.
In both his dreams he thought "Is this what I yearn for? Is this my dream? Or is this reality?" In one dream he reached for reality, and in one, he reached for his home. The only trouble, he realised, was that he could in no way tell which was which...
Other stories by same author: Permanence