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  LUCID DREAMING

Dzogchen (Tibetan Buddhism) and Toltec (Native American) lucid dreaming techniques and methods.  Freudian and Jungian psychological dream interpretation.  Dream incubation, conscious control of dream elements and other lucid dreaming practices.

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GENERAL

THE INVISIBLE SELF

The dreaming process is one of the most fascinating and mysterious aspects of awareness.  As it is typically a rather murky, relatively unconscious affair, we tend to overlook its significance.  It is this very element of differing, and subtler awareness, however, that makes this dreaming process of particular use to us when pursuing the path of mindfulness.  In "turning off" or at least sidestepping our normal, waking consciousness, the states of dream and sleep allow access to deeper, hidden aspects of the self.  To the degree that we learn to work skillfully with dream material, we are able to understand and integrate otherwise "invisible" aspects of our personalities and psyches.

Dreamwork has a variety of uses and techniques, including those related to psychology, meditation, spirituality and creativity.  A few of these dreamwork aspects are listed below:

  • increased retention of dream material

  • analyzing dream content to better understand the organization of the Freudian personal unconscious

  • analyzing dream content to better understand the Jungian "collective unconscious"

  • increased dream awareness, eventually leading to full lucidity—or a kind of waking awareness—in the dream state

  • conscious control of dream content

  • resolution of unconscious, or otherwise hidden, psychological and spiritual tensions

  • deepening of meditation practice

  • realization of the "clear light" and other mystical states of oneness

  • relief from insomnia and other sleep-related difficulties

  • increased compassion for, and understanding of, others

  • working through of phobias, anxieties and other deeply-imbedded conflicts

  • remote viewing, clairvoyance, inner plane teachings and other aspects of so-called paranormal experience

In addition to being essential to the many traditions of Western depth psychology and psychotherapy, dreamwork works hand-in-hand with the meditative practices of concentration and contemplation.  In the same way these practices calm the mind and thereby bring more and more understanding and awareness to its habitual movements, they also allow for a greater integration of the sleeping and dreaming mind.  Ultimately, the processes of sleep and dream are simply aspects of our ordinary minds, facets of our ordinary selves and personalities, which are no more, nor less, important than the workings of our waking mind.  Consequently, if we are to ever truly realize the totality of the self, we must learn to "wake up" to these subtle avenues of awareness.  Inversely, progress in dreamwork leads to a significant deepening of meditative states. 

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LUCID DREAMING

WHAT IS LUCID DREAMING?

Simply put, lucid dreaming is the process of "waking up" within a dream and, ultimately, gaining conscious control of its elements.  Lucid dreaming is sometimes referred to as astral travel and out-of-body experience.  Typically, dream lucidity develops through a combination of meditation practice and dream yoga—a discipline particularly refined by the Tibetans and Native Americans.  With increased capacity for lucid dreaming, we may begin to consciously share the dream space of others, benefit from very high, abstract teachings from "inner plane" teachers, access the akashic records and enjoy any other number of esoteric or mystical experiences.

Although lucid dreaming practice may initially sound rather exotic and intimidating, its ultimate goals are extremely practical.  Once we begin to achieve varying degrees of lucidity within the dream state, various practices are suggested.  There is a tradition practice, for instance, for overcoming fears and phobias.  Suppose I have a fear of snakes.  One I have achieved lucidity in the dream state, I consciously manifest a pit of snakes and, overcoming my habitual fear, lie down in this pit.  If our dream lucidity is stable, these snakes feel absolutely real and our old fear will likely arise.  In this way, we provide ourselves an entirely safe "training" environment for stretching our behavioral and emotional limits.   

To examine the many practices for cultivating dream lucidity is simply not within the scope of this site.  The basic structure for the majority of lucid dreaming techniques is a very simple one.  We can compare it to the practice of concentration.  In this practice, we attend to a single object of focus—the breath, for instance—and note the ways in which we get distracted from this object by various thoughts, feelings, sensations, etc., all the while gently returning our focus to our breath.  Similarly, in dream practice, we would follow some object of focus into sleep.  If we are accustomed to working with our breath in concentration, we might try to follow our breath into sleep, noticing when we lose our focus and simply fall asleep, etc., essentially learning to integrate our practice of concentration with the natural process of sleep and dream.  For this reason, stability in concentration and contemplation is essential to success in dream yoga.

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THREE CATEGORIES OF DREAMS

As our dream practice develops, we begin to experience various levels or layers of the latent self.  Consequently, systems of dream yoga tend to classify our dreams according to their varying levels of depth.  The Tibetans conceptualize dream and sleep experience within the following three categories:

Loosely speaking, our dream awareness gradually develops from a relative state of ignorance—the state in which ordinary dreams arise—to states of very stable, refined and non-dualistic awareness—states in which experiences of the clear light manifest.  The three categories which mark, more or less distinctly, our progress along this path are described below:

Ordinary dreams:  These are the sorts of dreams the vast majority of us experience on a nightly basis.  For this reason, Western psychology has so far dealt almost exclusively with this layer of dream awareness.  In such a dream, the individual essentially encounters coded or symbolic aspects of his or her personality most typically those aspects which are unwanted or unacceptable within the conscious confines of his or her ego.

According to Freud, this sort of dream centers around the personal unconscious, which is the storehouse for repressed wishes and emotions.  Suppose some unconscious part of me, based on early life experience, has somehow "stored" an irrational, childish anger at my mother.  This anger would typically be released in an ordinary dreamalbeit in a coded way.  I might dream of yelling at some famous actress which physically resembles my mother, orsubtler stilldream of trampling a garden of yellow roses, which are my mother's favorite flower.  Freud emphasizes that there is no "secret decoder ring" for unraveling these cryptic unconscious symbols.  Rather, the individual learns to freely and openly associate to such dream elements, allowing unconscious emotions to arise naturally.

Dreams of clarity: Carl Jung, another pioneering depth psychologist, believed dreams to be a somewhat less personal affair.  Although a dream involving the Jungian "collective unconscious" is not yet a full-blown dream of clarity, Jung's ideas provide us a logical "way in" to the conceptualizing of dreams of clarity.  Let's re-examine a dream image from aboveone in which the dreamer is trampling a bed of yellow roses.  Jung would likely agree with Freud that this image represents, in part, the individual's repressed anger toward his or her mother (whose favorite flower happens to be yellow roses).  In this case, however, let's imagine that the flowers are carefully arranged in a circle. 

THE JUNGIAN ARCHETYPE

For Jung, the circle is an "archetype," a fundamental theme which occurs throughout history and across various cultures.  More specifically, the circle of flowers is a representation of a mandala ("magic circle" in Sanskrit), a prominent symbol of divine organization found throughout the world's religions.  In our example dream, then, the dreamer is not just angry at mother—now he or she is angry at the universe itself.  Through Jungian analysis, the individual would explore his or her existential misgivings, struggles with the meaning of life, human isolation, etc. 

Jung's idea of a collectively shared unconscious space or mold which stores universal archetypes is, taken to its furthest implications, a way of recognizing the ultimate interrelatedness of all individuals.  Once I begin to let go some of my tightly-clutched personality hang-ups, conflicts, judgments and so forth, say the Tibetans, I begin to experience this much broader space of hidden awareness.  Now my dreams are no longer simply "all about me"—now they include direct, objective, real-world aspects of other individuals and events.  I may even begin to directly share nightly dreams with other individuals.  Within this context, dreams of clairvoyance begin to arise, as do dreams of authentic teaching and other sorts of esoteric knowledge.  Most significantly, at this layer of dream awareness, we are beginning to prepare the way for experiences of the clear light state. 

Clear light states:  These are states of awareness which can be realized both in REM (dream) and non-REM sleep, and therefore need not be proper dreams at all.  There are a variety of forms the clear light state can take, all of which share one essential aspect: non-duality.  Whereas in the above categories of dream experience there was a central observer somehow interacting with an external scene, there is no such split or duality in clear light states.  To illustrate, let's suppose that ordinary dreams and dreams of clarity are much like an individual watching events on a movie screen.  In a clear light state, however, the movie screen is somehow watching itself.  There is no external witness, that is to say, no center of awareness outside of the events themselves.  The dreamer has become a verb rather than a noun, we might say, a dynamic event rather than a fixed observer.

When clear light dreams first begin to manifest, they tend to take the form of colorful, abstract geometric shapes.  These shapes shift fluidly, emerging from, and dissolving into, one another—much like the shapes of a kaleidoscope.  Typically, this movement of shapes contains a sound, a kind of energetic hum or buzz, which is somehow inseparable from the visual play of color and form. 

RECOGNIZING THE ELEMENTS

With increased stability within the clear light state, the dream practitioner begins to recognize him or herself very directly within this odd sort of kaleidoscope.  He or she begins to realize that what is being observed is nothing other than the fundamental building blocks—what the Tibetans call the elements—of both the individual and collective self, the mold for all internal and external experience.

 

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