Tag: The Practice

Which Mind Knows Best?

952px-Braun_&_Hogenberg_'Castrum_Puellarum'_(Edinburgh_Castle)_c.1581

Most of us have probably seen them by this point, the lists and summaries out there of all the incredible mentally (and sometimes physically) beneficial things one can do in a lucid dream. Some of the highlights include:

  • Adventure and Fantasy
  • Overcoming Nightmares
  • Rehearsal
  • Creativity and Problem Solving
  • Healing (Physical and Emotional)
  • Spiritual Insight and Transcendance

I’ve written before on how appealing this can be to someone at a low point in life, and in interviews since, I’ve been increasingly open about the fact that this was what drew me to lucid dreaming. Obviously, the first step towards having these incredible experiences is to start becoming lucid in your dreams. What follows for many people in those early stages are dreams in which you know you are dreaming, but may find yourself in rather mundane environments unable to exert much control over the dream or over yourself within the dream. You may not even catch a glimpse of the relevant people, places, or things you were hoping to interact with.

This is all perfectly normal by the way. It seems to be part of the process for most of us. As you continue having lucid dreams, dream control and self-control within dreams can be developed. Experimenting with dream incubation or learning how to have WILDs can also help you find yourself in the desired environments and situations you feel are best for accomplishing your lucid dream goals.

I’ve been at this a little while, and I feel I’ve experienced and thought enough about lucid dreaming to at least overcome my imposter syndrome to blog and speak on the topic. So it’s second nature for me to have lucid dreams about the things I want to dream about on a regular basis right? Well… no.

My dream control has steadily improved over the years, but I don’t think I’m a very good dream incubator. I have a tendency to lay in bed too uptight about it. I will wake up in the middle of the night, create an elaborate plan for what I want to dream about and what I want to occur, and get so serious and determined about it that I can’t fall back asleep. Clearly, I need to cultivate a different kind of relationship with effort moving forward. I will definitely continue working on that, but I’ve discovered a kind of non-approach in the meantime that has proved paradoxically effective.

Initially, the mind’s habit of creating dreams for us that bear little resemblance to what we actually want to be doing in our lucid dreams is an irritating obstacle to be overcome. However, as you become more familiar with the contents of your own mind and a more adept lucid dreamer, you may have lucid and non-lucid dreams where the unconscious mind seems like it has a better sense of what you need than the conscious planning mind does. Two examples in particular come to mind from my recent dreams.

Given the unplanned, improvised nature of these examples, it’s hard to say what prompts these lucid dreams or makes them possible. My best guess is it’s primarily a matter of being in touch with one’s self. Yoga, meditation, and other contemplative practices can help in that respect.  Lucid dreaming itself can also help expand self-knowledge and self-attunement. Perhaps the act of having a lucid dream itself develops certain mental “muscles,” creating a positive feedback loop where the moments of lucidity you have now help to develop the “muscles” required to have the lucid dreams you need in the future.

My Literal Worst Nightmare

Last December, I had a dream so bad that the sheer volume of all the awful things that happened in it verges on comical. Let’s run through some of them:

  1. A painful overdose on junk food.
  2. The death and funeral of a family member.
  3. The last people I would ever want to see showed up for the funeral.
  4. I felt guilty about my efforts to avoid those people being more important to me than grieving and paying my respects.
  5. I was naked and going to the bathroom in front of people.
  6. While still on the toilet, my Dad confronted me with his suspicions that I’ve got a cocaine problem.
  7. The deceased family member rose from the dead to call me a failure to my face… I was still on the toilet of course.
  8. Instead of serving as a sign I was dreaming, seeing the dead person made me think I was having a psychotic break.

The list actually continues, but you get the idea. Also, I don’t have a cocaine problem, not in waking life at least. The dream was bad. It felt bad, and when I shot awake in bed at 5:00 AM in the morning, I kept on feeling bad. Compounding everything, it was a Wednesday morning and I had work in a few hours. With no grand plan or vision of how I would have preferred things to go in that dream, I tried to fall back asleep. I tried to focus on physical relaxation and to stay with the emotions I was feeling as best I could without getting wrapped up in the storyline I’d just experienced or what it all might mean.

Against all odds, not only was I able to fall back asleep, I had a lucid dream that felt like the polar opposite of the nightmare I’d just experienced: I ate nourishing food, I had constructive conversations with my parents about what was bothering me in the last dream, I flew through the sky and basked in the rising sun before waking up. Needless to say, I had a pretty great Wednesday after waking up.

What I’m trying to get across by sharing this is that miraculously instant relief from all the negativity dredged up by that nightmare was accessible without the need for focused dream incubation or consciously scripting out what I would have done differently had I been lucid in that nightmare. If I was a skillful dream incubator, I’m sure doing those things would also have helped, but don’t underestimate the momentum of diligent day-time mindfulness practice and the ingenuity of the unconscious dreaming mind either. I have another example to illustrate this as well.

Changing the Mind’s Broken Record

Last month the sheer scope of all the projects I was involved in and committed to started to really weigh on me. The real flashpoint was getting dinner and drinks with some friends after hearing the introductory pitch of yet another organization I was considering joining. It was just too much.  Working with this group was absolutely something I was interested in doing, but how could I ever make all the pieces fit with the rest of my life? Panic and shortness of breath started to creep in. I did what I think was a smart thing by letting my friends know what was going on for me in that moment and laughing about it with them. I still went to bed a bit anxious and with no clue what I was going to do or if I could make it all work. Lucid dreaming was not top of mind, let alone what I would want to dream about.

And yet, again, the momentum of being a diligent dream journaler and meditator must have taken over because I found myself lucid floating through the hallways of my office building. Jesus Christ, what is that awful, tense music playing? It sounds like the shit that would play while James Bond shoots people and leaps off a nuclear warhead-equipped train. Fuuuuuuuck that, no wonder I’m so anxious. I’m changing the song. What’s the most soothing thing I can think of?

 

The pot lights in the ceiling swell and fade green to the beat.

It’s been a month and a half since that dream. My schedule is probably still overstuffed, and all the activities in my life still don’t quite fit together. The anxiety surrounding these issues however, remains drastically reduced. Without any planning, and in a rather instinctual and spontaneous way, my dreaming mind again seemed to know what I needed better than my conscious mind did.

My Life Is In Shambles, Is This A Good Time To Learn Lucid Dreaming?

hannibal

It’s easy to see why lucid dreaming can become wildly appealing to someone in crisis. It’s a state in which it’s possible to: speak with lost or estranged loved ones, heal ourselves emotionally and physically, do whatever we want unconstrained by physical laws and social norms, or face down our greatest fears in a safe environment. Antidotes for many strains of human suffering can be found in lucid dreams. When going through hard times, an experienced lucid dreamer can adjust their practice to address whatever issues they are currently facing. Lucid dreams can even assist us in determining what those issues are if this is not clear.

What about someone in crisis who isn’t a very experienced lucid dreamer, or someone who has come across lucid dreaming for the first time as a potential way to work through their suffering? Can hard times be good times to learn lucid dreaming? In most cases, I think they can be. Just keep in mind that there are some obvious, but important, exceptions, as well as some snags that can loom larger during periods of above-average stress or sorrow.

Before anything else, if you are experiencing suicidal thoughts seek professional help immediately. There’s no shame in letting professionals work with us to gain a healthier perspective on our lives and sorrows. Seriously, if this is what you’re dealing with, look into help now. If you are having trouble distinguishing reality from constructions of your imagination then, again, professional help needs to come first. If this is something you have struggled with, any experimentations with lucid dreaming should only be attempted after being cleared with a mental health professional.

Apart from those particular situations, developing a lucid dreaming practice in response to hard times is often a far better alternative to hitting the bottle or getting stoned regularly. It may seem like escapism to pay so much attention to dreams (literal figments of our imaginations), but I would argue otherwise. Having lucid dreams requires a familiarity with our minds, especially our habits of perception. Learning how to lucid dream cultivates a familiarity with who we are and how we work at some very basic levels. This kind of inner work is the opposite of escapism; we end up getting reacquainted with ourselves.

It can also be incredibly empowering to know that there is a learnable skill that offers the possibility of relating to grief, sorrow, and anger in more fruitful and creative ways. This was the main appeal of lucid dreaming for me when I started: that I didn’t have to sit around and be a victim of my own sadness, there were steps I could take to improve my own inner experience. I became driven to make the positive changes to my life and shifts in attitude necessary to be a proficient lucid dreamer because of the potential to confront and untangle my dissatisfactions at a very deep level.

Strong motivation is good, because developing the capacity to become aware in our dreams can require a lot: patience, dedication, some background knowledge, and the right attitude. All of this hard work can seem like an insurmountable barrier when all we are looking for is some closure, but think about how important that list of qualities is in every aspect of life. Putting the work in and cultivating these qualities within ourselves often starts the healing process before we have even a single lucid dream. In Exploring The World of Lucid Dreaming, Stephen LaBerge defines health as “a condition of adaptive responsiveness to the challenges of life.” Simply cultivating greater awareness and performing reality checks with lucid dreaming in mind on a regular basis can greatly expand our capacity for adaptive response well before the lucid dreams start flowing.

Just be wary of these potential sandtraps when trying to have lucid dreams during life’s rough patches:

Relax, Your Future Happiness Is Not Entirely Dependent On You Getting Lucid Tonight

The potential pitfall of taking lucid dreaming seriously as a tool for overcoming difficulties in our lives is putting way too much pressure on ourselves to pull it off. Too much pressure when we’re in bed, and we’ll be lucky to fall asleep at all. If we do somehow manage to sleep and dream under that kind of pressure, a tidal wave of disappointment awaits in the morning if the dreams don’t go exactly as planned. Take it from someone who has been through the insomnia and the mopey mornings, neither are productive.

With a healthier attitude, the potential disappointments of not getting lucid, or getting lucid but the dream not going according to plan will not overshadow the potential for immense healing through lucid dreaming. There is a saying that I like, commonly attributed to Zen monk Suzuki Roshi:

“Enlightenment is an accident. Spiritual Practice simply makes us accident prone.”

While there are plenty of stories to be found of people who heal themselves of something after just one relevant lucid dream, it’s going to take more than that in some cases. It’s best to think of healing lucid dreams as happy accidents, and all the work we put into having them as the process of making ourselves accident prone. Putting work into your lucid dreaming practice is never a waste of time, but there are no guarantees as to when you finally trip over the exposed root of your own wisdom. There comes a point every night where the best thing to do is to let it all go and fall asleep.

What Are We Really Trying to Accomplish Through Our Lucid Dreams?

It could be that some people have the kinds of healing dreams they are incubating more quickly than others because they begin with a clearer understanding of their underlying issue. Let’s say I’m hurt and embarrassed because I just lost a job I enjoyed. Incubating lucid dreams where I can work to uncover the underlying reasons for my job loss, or work through my feelings towards it is more likely to be fruitful than trying to have a lucid dream that shows me exactly what I need to do to get my job back. That latter may be possible and worth trying in some rare cases, but would likely be dependent on both your conscious and unconscious minds being in agreement that you truly need that job back.

Disharmony between the conscious and unconscious mind on the major issues of our lives is not uncommon. Bringing them into harmony is often the exact kind of healing we need. For example, let’s say I was dismissed from this job unfairly. On a conscious level, I could want the job back because of my comfort with it, its familiarity, and the material security it brought. However, on an unconscious level, I may recognize how poorly I was treated  and have serious doubts about my ability to be content working for those same people again.

It is hard to imagine my unconscious mind constructing my dreams in ways that will encourage me to get my job back under these circumstances. That deeper part of me feels strongly that getting the job back isn’t what I need. What would be possible though, are dreams on this subject that unfold in ways that reveals to me how much better off I am moving on. They could even provide ideas for a future career. Dreams along these lines could facilitate greater harmony between my conscious and unconscious mind, whether they’re lucid or not.