The Hammock Swing

Written By Johanne Bernard

Johanne is a scriptwriter for cinema and television, and author of books for youth. She has been practicing Buddhist meditation and Dzogchen for more than ten years.

Blog | Culture and tradition | Reflections on life

In “The Hammock Swing”, Johanne tackles the central existential question: is life a hammock? And what does the Dzogchen have to say about it?

The Hammock Swing

Cicadas sing. The scent of the surrounding garrigue fills the air. A light breeze rustles through the trees. In my hanging hammock, my eyes closed, I let myself be lulled by this summer languor. The breeze gently swings my hammock. A swing to the right, a swing to the left… My head is slowly drooping. A swing to the right, a swing to the left… I start to fall asleep, my mouth slightly open. Right, left… I fall into what we call ‘the afternoon nap’.

A swing to the right… I dream that the space around me becomes an immense ocean. On the horizon, a gigantic wave, as high as a building, breaks right over me. No fear! Like a cat, I jump on my surfboard and, as I glide along, I brush the foam with the tip of my hand… What sensations, what mastery! A jerk to the left… I wake up as if I’d been hit in the face by a building, one leg out of the hammock, the other trying to keep the rest of my body in a precarious balance. Hammocks are nice, but you can’t move! Just something to hold on to…

One side, then the other. The swinging resumes… A swing to the right and the ocean has become a vast sky. Like a superhero, I fly through the air above towering mountains. Arm in front of me, I accelerate like a racing car. Oops, I missed a loop… A jerk to the left and here I am, arm in the air, head down, twisted in the hammock, the fabric barely holding me in place. Just something to pick up?

A movement on one side, a movement on the other. One movement is desire, the next is anger. One minute appearance, the next minute disappearance. You could call it the swing of existence.

One side, then the other, and I’m off again… A quick turn to the right, the sky has turned back into an ocean, and I’m back on my surfboard with my heroin cape, admittedly a little damaged by my botched loop… My mind is lost in what is known in the Dzogchen tradition as the dream bardo, that intermediate state between falling asleep and waking up… A quick left, something stings my leg badly: what’s that piece of iron at the bottom of the hammock? Now awake and in a bit of a bad mood, I’m in the so-called bardo of existence, the waking state between birth and death, which for me represents “my reality”.

Bardo of dreams, bardo of existence, being thrown from one to the other, I’m getting a bit annoyed. But you have to choose one or the other, because the bardos [1], which can be translated as ‘intervals’ or ‘spaces’, can overlap, but they can’t unite. It’s either one or the other. Dream, reality; dream, reality. One on one side, one on the other. It reminds me of that little hourglass-shaped drum, the damaru, that the god Shiva, in his form as the dance king Nataraja, waved to symbolize the dance of reality: a beat on one side, a beat on the other, in Hindu tradition it’s the alternation of creation and destruction.

A movement on one side, a movement on the other. One movement is desire, the next is anger. One minute appearance, the next minute disappearance. You could call it the swing of existence. It’s actually our human condition that makes us perceive everything in a dual way.

As it happens, this alternation between dream and ‘reality’ is beginning to get on my nerves. How about getting out of this damn hammock? At least I’ll have both feet on the ground.

Here I am, ready to jump, when I realize, stunned by the emptiness that opens up before me, that my hammock is almost 20 meters above the ground. How is this possible? If someone had placed it so high, how could I have climbed in? I’m full of doubt. Which bardo am I in right now? The Bardo of dreams or the Bardo of existence? If I’m dreaming, then I can jump out of this hammock and fly… If I’m not dreaming, then it’s a risky business…


dzogchentoday-the-hammock-swing-2-©Maréva Bernard

I tried to stay calm, but my whole body gave way to panic. A lurch to one side. A lurch to the other. The image of the damaru comes back to me. In Tibetan Buddhism, this type of drum, albeit larger, is used in the practice of Chöd [2] to cut through the obstacles of attachment to the concept of self. “Stay in the relaxed state and remember that everything is illusory,” my master keeps telling me. Okay. I don’t have a drum, but I can concentrate.

Bardo of dreams? Bardo of existence?… I balance myself as best I can in the meditation posture, and enter into concentration.

A swing to one side, another to the other… Ocean, sky and hammock appear and disappear.

A single experience emerges, empty and luminous.

A swing to one side, a swing to the other… No more swinging within swinging.

Just the natural movement of the mind, free and limitless.

Ah… No more bardo then?

Well, no, because here again, my mind is in a bardo, that of meditation.

But it really doesn’t matter anymore.

[1] Bardo: According to Karma Lingpa‘s dzogchen termas, there are six “bardos”: from birth to death, of dream, of meditation, of the moment of death, of nature itself, of becoming.

[2] Chöd: literally “cutting through”. See here for more:öd

More Posts