Dreams and Consciousness

Lucid dreams. I have had them almost every night, for as long as I can remember. The dreams themselves are vivid, life-like, and intense. I can’t even tell you how many mornings I have woken up feeling as though I haven’t slept at all because of how much happened in my dream. In most of these dreams, I am completely aware that I am actually asleep in my bed and not participating in this alternate reality. I’ll even wake up sometimes, then immediately go right back into the dream once I fall back asleep. I had an incredibly real lucid dream last night, which is why I have these thoughts in the forefront of my mind this morning. It wasn’t about flying or battling scary creatures or winning the lottery, going to work naked, or anything absurd. In fact, it was a completely normal experience, going about in what seemed like “real time” except for one odd thing. Here is a loose interpretation of what I dreamt.

I lost a close friend of mine to suicide eight years ago (true story) and in this dream, I was walking around in a neighborhood of large, old-fashioned, mansion-like houses that were all very close together (think of any neighborhood in California). I can’t remember exactly how it happened, but my friend appeared and we went into one of the houses (all the way up to the third floor in fact) and just started catching up. We made jokes about things that happened to us in the past, relived some experiences we had shared, and even went as far as to discuss his funeral. We both knew he was dead. He looked like he had the last time I had seen him, but a little different, maybe even a little older. I remember myself making a joke that I looked different from the last time I had seen him. He and I had grown apart about a year before he died (true story) and in the dream, we talked about rekindling this friendship and brought up some of the reasons why we drifted apart in the first place. Inside, I knew this was something I had been wishing for a long time, but I even surprised myself when dream-me told him that there was no pressure to be friends again. We both seemed very happy just to be talking. In the background, other people were moving about the house, including my friend’s older brother (who is still alive) and one of his aunts (also still alive as far I know). The dream ended with us (scene change) walking through the woods, an activity we had done often while he was still alive. Then I woke up.

I admit that I felt weird upon waking up. Not quite unsettled, not quite relieved. I sat down at my laptop and, just out of curiosity, googled “visitation dreams.” I am not a religious person, but do hold a sense of my own spirituality. Many of the articles that came up spoke of “angels” and other interpretations that I just rolled my eyes at. I was a little excited to see one of the articles was from Om Times Magazine, which is an interesting publication that I have perused before, dedicated to “co-creating a more conscious life-style.” The article itself, which you can read here, didn’t really answer any questions for me and I found myself again rolling my eyes. Here was the mumbo-jumbo I had expected: “the dreamer is in need of guidance”; “the dead need resolution”; “looking for forgiveness”; and so on. I didn’t feel as though my dream reflected any of this. My friend and I were simply having a conversation as though we had sat down in a cafe to catch up after many years. There were no apologies, no remorsefulness, no accusations. In fact, I’m hard pressed to find any sort of hidden spiritual meaning in the dream at all and am more inclined to put it down as a subconscious rendering of an experience with someone who was once my friend.

Now that I’ve been awake for a few hours and the dream has started to fade, I find myself less interested in the significance of the dream and more curious about how it is I find myself in this lucid state night after night. This curiosity lead me to researching more about lucid dreams and then imagine my surprise as I came across an ancient tradition known as “dream yoga”.  I seem to recall hearing the phrase before, but never sat down to learn about what it is. Charlie Morley, who is a Buddhist and Lucid Dreaming Teacher (whatever that is) defines dream yoga as “a collection of transformational lucid dreaming, conscious sleeping and what in the West we refer to as out-of-body experience practices aimed at spiritual growth and mind training. Lucid dreaming may form the foundation of dream yoga, but through the use of advanced tantric energy work, visualizations of Tibetan iconography and the integration of psycho-spiritual archetypes or yidams, dream yoga goes way beyond our Western notion of lucid dreaming. If we translate the Sanksrit word yoga as meaning ‘union’, we get a clue as to what dream yoga is about: the union of consciousness within the dream state. It is a yoga of the mind that uses advanced lucid dreaming methods to utilize sleep on the path to spiritual awakening.”

This kind of blew my mind when I first read about it. I mean, I’ve considered the notion of being able to take control within a dream, but in all my years of lucid dreaming, I’ve never tried. Usually, I just recognize that I am dreaming and let the events unfold around me. Imagine the possibilities of having control within your dreams. (Which of course reminds me of the movie Inception where lucid dreaming is used by spies to infiltrate the minds of others to attain secrets… starring Leo, it’s great!). The practice of dream yoga is most prevalent among Buddhists, but can be found in many different esoteric practices of religions or belief systems. It can be used to heal phobias (similar to hypnotherapy, except the practitioner is also the patient), for examination of the psyche, for preparation and acceptance of death and the afterlife, and simply because it is fun. To quote Charlie Morley again, “In Buddhism, dream yoga is an opportunity to explore emptiness, and to explore beyond the mind. Meditation is how we do this in waking life, but the Tibetan Buddhists say just one minute of meditation in a dream is the equivalent of a 30-day retreat.” I can see now how it is possible for one to need a Lucid Dreaming Teacher. Meditation while awake, being able to release the senses and submit to a state of nothingness, can be a very involved process when one is first learning. I imagine it to be even more of a challenge to do so while asleep. Especially for those, like my boyfriend, who aren’t sure if they’ve ever even had a lucid dream before.

In yoga, we talk a lot about mindfulness, positive affirmations, and release. These are the elements of yoga that go beyond the physical asanas. During my teacher training last spring, I was humbled to learn that the practicing of the yoga asanas were simply to prepare the body to endure long stretches of time for sitting in meditation. Now I am tickled to learn that conscious meditation can be used to prepare the mind for deliberate action during dreams.
The Wanderlust website has a great article on developing a dream yoga practice. They recommend five actions that one can take to do so: keeping a dream journal, repeating dream remembrance affirmations before bed, avoiding over-stimulation before going to sleep by creating a calm environment, indulging in foods rich in Vitamin B, and throat chakra based yoga practices and meditations.

The psychology of the mind has always been a fascinating subject to me; vision quests, hypnotism, meditation, even the use of Rorschach ink blots. We’ve always been told the average person only uses ten percent of their brain capability. According to an article I found in Scientific American, this is a myth. In fact, neurologist John Henley tells us, “Evidence would show over a day you use 100 percent of the brain. Even in sleep, areas such as the frontal cortex, which controls things like higher level thinking and self-awareness, or the somatosensory areas, which help people sense their surroundings are active.” The author of this article, Robynne Boyd, concludes with a thought-provoking statement, “Ultimately, it’s not that we use ten percent of our brains, merely that we only understand about ten percent of how it functions.”

The goal of dream yoga does not seem to be the search for the answer of how the brain functions, but rather how we can attain and control self-awareness in its most abstract sense. Self-awareness that goes beyond being able to navigate about a crowded room or knowing when to refrain from saying something sensitive to a sensitive person, but instead self-awareness that exists even in a state of sleep and maybe even after physical life itself is gone.

Sweet dreams.