Challenges…Lucid Dreaming

Space Birds

Some Challenges to Common
 Assumptions about Dream Yogas

(From the text Dream Yoga)

There is Nothing Intrinsically Transpersonal About Lucid Dreaming

It is amazing how many people who can wake up in dreams think that lucid dreaming is a sign of higher spiritual development. However, five year olds can recall lucid dreams.  (See Deborah Armstrong-Hickey’s “A Validation of Lucid Dreaming in School Age Children, Lucidity Letter, Dec 1988; Vol. 7, no. 2) In fact, almost anyone at just about any level of development may report having lucid dreams.  Criminals in jails can lucid dream. Does this mean they are spiritual adepts?  The accessibility of lucid dreaming to all levels of development indicates that it is best thought of more as an aptitude or talent than as a mark of transpersonal competency. It is best given its own developmental line, called the “Dream Self” line, along with such things as cognition, empathy, interpersonal communication, moral development, artistic ability, and the self-line. We can then consider lucidity on a continuum: from unconsciousness to awareness of self in a dream, to non-conscious intervention in dreams, to lucidity, to different levels of lucidity within dreams, to both lucidity and pellucidity.  Consequently, what you do in your lucid dreams reveals a good deal about your level of development, and you can learn a good deal about just how narcissistic a particular lucid dreamer is or is not by the content of the lucid dreams that he or she reports.

Correlating Lucid Dreaming With Levels of Development

Normally when we dream we do not question the cultural and physical assumptions presented by our circumstances. We participate in a consensus reality.  While lucidity can be a response to trauma or boredom, it is probably best understood, from a developmental perspective, as an expansion of waking curiosity into the dreaming state.  Waking up in a dream begins to occur whenever we start to question consensus reality. While developmentally this normally begins very early in waking life, with children driving their parents crazy asking “why,” such questioning does not seem to naturally carry into the dream state unless it becomes desirable or important. Historically, this has rarely been the case, since parents normally emphasize the learning of reality testing, life skills, and social communication. Because of the importance of a questioning, doubting, challenging attitude to the cultivation of dream lucidity, lucid dreaming is better framed as a mid prepersonal to mid personal waking competency that is transferred into the dream state rather than being a transpersonal phenomena.  The cultivation of curiosity, questioning, skepticism, and doubt in waking life builds a foundation for a greater potential to wake up in a dream. While such abilities are important, they are not sufficient. A person can be a great skeptic or cynic and still never remember a lucid dream.  This is because they have never developed either the interest in or the ability to transfer such mental attitudes into their dreams.

Most casual lucid dreamers are simply into expanding waking control and pleasure without concern for the interests of other dream characters. These are clearly prepersonal priorities. Shamans in traditional cultures have historically been immersed in pre-rational mythological world views. They know the sun rises and that rocks and sticks are alive.  Their lucid dreams are therefore likely to reflect pre-rational agendas: bringing dances and totems back to the tribe, defeating enemies, hunting game, or passing tests in dream visionquests.

If most lucid dreamers are developmentally at prepersonal or personal levels of overall development, that does not at all detract from how momentous an event it is to expand waking awareness into an entirely new state of consciousness.  The potentials and opportunities inherent in this step, as well as the challenges and pitfalls, need to be considered so that overall development is aided, rather than simply that of one line, that of dream lucidity.

Problems with Tibetan Dream Yoga

Tibetan dream yoga uses waking up in dreams to accomplish several aims. It wants to establish radical freedom for waking identity.  It wants waking identity be awake continuously, whether dreaming, deeply asleep, and while “awake.” It wants this wakefulness to be transferrable to the after death state so that one has control over their incarnational destiny. Tibetan dream yoga begins with a strong background in serious, ongoing, daily meditational practice under the direction of a spiritual master. It then sets a strong waking intention to recognize that one is dreaming. It also uses the visualization of different Sanskrit letters in association with various chakras while falling asleep.  For Tibetans these letters and chakras have important sacred associations that increase focus and intention.  In addition, particular breathing exercises are recommended in conjunction with certain postures and mudras, or hand positions, including the covering of one nostril or the other while falling asleep and sleeping on one side.  Once one wakes up in a dream the object is to learn to change any dream event in any way, according to one’s wishes. It does so by teaching waking identity to create any dream object or character it wishes.  The problem here is that the interests of the dream characters themselves are rarely considered. This implies a prepersonal dream perspective, as the interests of others only start to be seriously considered at early personal levels of development.  This is a beginning level of instruction in dream yoga within Tibetan Buddhism.  One is expected to advance and follow the example of saints and adepts like Milarepa, who reported lucid dreams in which they listened to the teachings of masters and brought them back for the edification of mankind. Such dreams may not involve changing anything; they may simply report what happened while one was lucid. In such a case, this sort of dream is much more pellucid than lucid. But what is it about such events that makes them more than early personal experiences? Don’t people at early personal levels of development respectfully listen to authorities and report what they have heard for the benefit of their family, tribe, religion, sports team, political party, army, or country? If such lucid dreams are to be transpersonal, then they have to convey transpersonal content. Examples of such content would include radical freedom, compassion, wisdom, acceptance, equanimity, witnessing, experiences of unity with nature or deity, or experiences of no self.  Because each of these is interpreted in terms of the level of development of the recipient, and we always think that we are highly evolved, we have to look closely at how one defines “wisdom” or “compassion,” or “acceptance.”   It is often found that there is less to these definitions than meets the eye. For example, “wise” can often turn out to mean “smart,” “compassion” to mean “loving toward believers only,” and acceptance to mean “only of the Dharma.”

Tibetan Dream Yoga wants to demonstrate that all dream events and entities are illusions, on the assumption that by doing so one can and will grasp that all waking events and entities are likewise illusions. This waking up out of the assumption that dream and waking reality are real will hasten the coming of the “clear light,” or radical enlightenment.  The problem here is, as Wilber has pointed out in Integral Spirituality, that one is always waking up into a larger dream, determined at the very least by the level of development of one’s society.  This is the post-modern realization of the inescapability of contexts. So the issue becomes acting with integrity within some dream.  It may be this dream or it may be that dream, it may be a waking dream or a sleeping dream, but it will be some dream.  You may want to stop incarnating on Earth because you think your opportunities in the Pliades are better, but you’ll still be dreaming up there, just in the context of conditions in the Pliades rather than the conditions here. However, you are still experiencing self-conditioned reality, and it’s still your dream.  Maybe Jesus did stop incarnating here on Earth, but it is likely he’s locked in the context of some dream somewhere, if he still exists.

The way Buddhism attempts to deal with this problem is to say that if you get rid of the dreamer, you get rid of the dream.  However, getting rid of the dreamer is experienced differently in Bronze age India than it is in 21st century world culture, and it will mean something entirely different in the 23rd century from what it means now. What it means to be enlightened in a non-dual reality differs based on the cultural context in which you awaken. If you disagree with this then the burden of proof is on you to demonstrate why and how experience can ever hope to transcend all contexts.  This is the postmodern argument, and while it must be balanced by other perspectives, it remains a legitimate consideration that impacts what it means to wake up, whether in a dream or in our waking lives.

Lucidity is not Pellucidity

As Wilber has pointed out, lucidity is not pellucidity, and the difference is not trifling. While lucid dreaming is waking up while you are dreaming, it is most broadly and more commonly understood to include all actions by your dream self that control and change the dream.  On the other hand, pellucidy is pure lucidity: being awake while dreaming or deeply asleep and simply witnessing; not attempting to change or control anything. Therefore, lucid dreaming, as it is commonly understood, is not pure witnessing; it is moving out of the position of witnessing and into immersion in dream drama, only one that is fashioned according to your desires.  It is this definition that will be used here, and it will be distinguished from pellucidity.  It is also assumed that it is better to be able to be both lucid and pellucid than it is to only be able to do one or the other, simply because you then have more options and therefore experience more freedom.

Dream Self is Waking Self Unconstrained by Matter

Your sense of who you are when you dream is the same as your waking self, in that it shares the same world view.  Your dream self thinks it is your waking self, and it is, in that it shares the same assumptions about what is real, good, and true.  The difference is that your dream self can do things that your waking self cannot, like turn into a mongoose, fly, fall off a cliff and not die, or resurrect.   Your dream self is your waking self without the constraints of matter. Therefore it has available to it any possibility that it thinks of. What it does with such unbounded possibilities depends on the level of development of the self line, that is, of your waking identity.  While your waking life is built around your sense of self, your dream life when you are lucid is even more so.   You get to alter matter according to your whim.  The problem with this is that if waking narcissism – thinking that you and your wants are the center of the known universe – is a problem, dream lucidity is waking narcissism manifesting as dream self grandiosity. Might this simply compound the delusions of waking identity?

Waking up into Waking Dream is Waking up into Delusion

When you become lucid in a dream you are waking up into your waking identity. Before your dream self thought it was your waking self but it wasn’t, because it chronically confused self-created experience with objective, waking experience.  When this distinction is made, your waking self is making it.  It, not your dream self, differentiates between dream and waking reality and determines if you are awake or asleep. It, not dream self, has the objectivity to make this distinction.  When it does so, your dream self and your waking identity then merge.  Your waking delusions are combined with an unlimited ability to manipulate reality according to your current desires, rationalizations, or justifications.  What this means is that you have incredible opportunities to rehearse and expand waking competencies, create new relationships, and consciously continue your development during your sleeping hours. It also means that your dream self is no longer victimized by dream events.  Instead, aspects of your dream self are now victimized by your waking dream.  Think about that for a minute.  If you were not enlightened in your waking life, is putting that unenlightened self in charge of dreaming wise? Is it healthy?  You are now free to consciously victimize yourself in an entirely new realm of consciousness.

Do You Really Know What’s Best for You?

Changing dreams while lucid is predicated on the assumption that you know better than your dreaming mind what is best for you.  So what is your track record at knowing what is best for you? As you survey your life history, are you happy with your ability to know what’s best for you?  Of course it would be better for you to make a monster disappear or to be able to fly or to have sex with whomever you want, right?   You know this because fear and victimization are bad, freedom is good, and pleasure is well, pleasurable. But what if fear and victimization are wake up calls which, when they are changed, are not heard? Isn’t that an opportunity for self-development that has been missed via repression? What if you already misuse or abuse the freedom you have?  Won’t having more freedom in your dreams just compound the problem? What if your idea of pleasure is simply self-centered hedonism? What does that have to do with spirituality? What if your goals for your life as well as your goals for lucid dreaming are well-intended but limited, short-sighted, and not supportive of the intentions of spirit within you, despite your fervent beliefs that they are? What then? How would you know if they were or not?  This is where Integral Deep Listening comes in.  It is designed to support your adventures in dream lucidity by keeping them aligned with the innate intentions of spirit within you as you continue to grow and develop.

Dream Lucidity Can Suppress Wake-Up Calls

Integral Deep Listening assumes that whatever happens to us, awake or asleep, is best understood as a wake up call.  Are we listening? If we change a wake-up call or avoid it instead of listening to it, can we say that we have accurately heard it?  Have we understood what it is saying to us? If we have not, might it not simply get louder or express itself in another form, more difficult to ignore, like disease or waking drama?   So when a monster is chasing you and you change it into your idea of an ideal lover, are you listening to the monster? Have you missed any wake-up call it may have for you?

Lucid Dreaming Can Be Waking Manipulation

What if the manipulation of lucid dreams is not transpersonal anything? What if it is mostly a prepersonal developmental experience?  What if it is well-meant, innocent yet naive, grandiosity?  What if it is you wanting what you want when you want it because you want it?  Only, you want it for the highest good of spirit, of all, or because you view the competency as proof that you are somebody special? While we all have to become somebody before we can become nobody, even in our dreams, becoming somebody special in your dreams is not the goal of Tibetan dream yoga, nor does it have much of anything to do with becoming nobody. Could waking manipulation of dreams be the colonization of one entire state of consciousness, dreaming, by another, the waking state? Could it be a form of waking authoritarianism and totalitarianism expanding into another realm of consciousness?

Can Lucid Dreaming Suppress the Rights of Your Dream Characters?

Instead of Integral Deep Listening lucid dreaming may be Prepersonal Deep Forcing.  This is a distinct possibility if it turns dream characters into slaves for waking identity. From the perspective of your dream characters themselves, might that be experienced as the suppression of their inherent rights and liberties?  How you treat other parts of yourself is how you are treating yourself. If you abuse your dream characters by ignoring, repressing, or changing them without their consent are you abusing them?  Are you operating anything above a late prepersonal level of development?  In what sense are you transpersonal anything?

Compounding Self-Delusion

When you lucid dream, under what circumstances are you not trading your dream delusion for your current waking one, as if that is somehow superior?  You might be able to make the case that your waking dream is superior if it takes into account the perspectives of yourself that manifest in your dreams.  But if you do not consult them, whether awake or while dreaming, how is your lucid dream not prepersonal?  What about it makes it personal, much less transpersonal?

What is an Appropriate Approach to Lucid Dreaming?

Integral Deep Listening has developed an approach to lucid dreaming that is based on the priority of dream characters rather than those of any waking identity.  Dream characters that have been consulted express three basic interests. They appreciate being consulted about issues that concern them.  They place emphasis on waking up out of the drama triangle, both while awake and asleep. They encourage and support those activities and modes of thinking and feeling that support the development of six core transpersonal qualities. If one does these things, dream characters are supportive because these priorities are associated with waking identity waking up out of its waking dream.  Lucid dreaming does not seem to be a priority for most interviewed dream characters.  Lucid living seems to be of much greater interest to them.  The pursuit of lucid dreaming within such a context will make it more likely that awakening in dreams is at least a personal level activity, if not a transpersonal one.

It is more important to wake up within a dream than to wake up out of one

When you become lucid you wake up out of a dream while remaining in one.  You substitute one consensus reality for another. The dream consensus reality is being replaced by that consensus reality assumed, implied, imparted, instilled, and required by your waking identity, now within the dream.  You will experience the exhilaration of freedom. It is intoxicating! But what are your other self-aspects experiencing at the same time? Are they experiencing the exhilaration of your freedom?  Are they rejoicing?  Are they encouraging this change?  How would you know?  Have you stopped to ask them?  If not, why not?  Do you even want to ask them?  What would it mean if they expressed a different agenda? If they scored high and still expressed a different agenda, and you ignored them, wouldn’t that pretty much indicate that you are stuck at a late pre-personal level of development, at least as far as lucid dreaming is concerned?

If dream lucidity is really just substituting one dream for another, what does it mean to wake up within a dream?  Think of every state of consciousness as a context. We experience four major contexts, called states of consciousness: waking, dreaming, deep sleep, and non-physical existence. Each of these are contexts in which consciousness arises and exists with some degree of awareness.  In deep sleep, objective consciousness is normally deeply asleep.  It is the unconscious causal, prior to any image, thought, or feeling.  In dream sleep intentions create an “objective” subjective reality. These source intentions may be waking, unconscious, or transpersonal, and their confluence creates dreams. The reason we cannot understand them is that we are identified with only one of those three intentional sources, waking. If we want to understand them we must identify with the other two sources.  When we do so, we wake up.

When you wake up in a dream in this sense you empathize with the perspectives of other self-aspects rather than simply accept the consensus reality of the dream at face value. In some important respects, this is more powerful than lucid dreaming because it amplifies the six core qualities.  It is compassionate, in that it strives to empathize with the perspectives of other sentient beings appearing in your dream.  It is wise, because it intends to take into account the agendas of other invested perspectives of your larger self. It is accepting, because it is receptive and non-judgmental toward those other perspectives. It is confident because it is not threatened by sharing power with other self-aspects.  It deepens inner peace because it reduces internal conflict.  It is a more powerful form of the witness, because it is not simply about waking identity witnessing the dream while it knows it is dreaming.  It is waking identity witnessing itself from multiple legitimate invested perspectives within the dream.

Acting on the Golden Rule

The Golden Rule, “Do to others as you would have them do to you,” Is a moral precept.  As such it can be learned and followed as a social rule from early childhood.  This, however, is a very superficial and relatively mindless understanding of the principle.  Any application of it from this perspective will be rote and unquestioning.  It is unlikely to consider such questions as, “What if what I want others to do to me is selfish, cruel, or sadistic?  Does that mean it is OK to do it to them?”  “What if I want others to treat me nice in certain situations, ignore me in others, and to discipline me in yet other situations?  How do I know that is how other people want or need me to treat them?”  “What if others have different needs from my own?”  For example, what if I need to be treated like a homosexual and you want to be treated like a heterosexual?  What then?  These are questions that Pittacus, Thales, Epictitus, Jesus, Buddha, Confucius, Brihaspati, Mohammad, Baha’u’llah, and other advocates of this principle did not seem to consider.

When we interview characters in our dreams we not only learn how they wish to be treated but experience the absence of that treatment.  Once we begin to look at life as a self-created dream our understanding of this principle deepens profoundly because we start to understand that how we are treating others is how we are treating those parts of ourselves that they represent.  This takes a moral precept and turns it into an experiential reality.   When this occurs we follow the Golden Rule not because our parents, teachers, sacred books, or spiritual guides tell us to, but because it is common sense.  We do it because it is the only rational thing to do.  It also means that we inquire into and respect the needs and wants of others and treat them accordingly. There are many occasions where we run into self-aspects who want things that we may not want ourselves, for instance to die or to no longer exist.  We can respect and accommodate those differences and in the process be true to our greater identity.

Practicing Deep Listening

Integral Deep Listening is more than interviewing self-aspects. It involves a phenomenological shift of identity, a detachment and dissociation from your normal, waking sense of self without going into trance or surrendering your sense of self.  It is instead an expansion of identity to include another self aspect in the present moment in your sense of self.  Your waking sense of self, normally in the foreground of your consciousness, voluntarily takes a back seat and another self-aspect is invited to come into the foreground and be heard.  This is a fundamental act of respect toward yourself.  It generates intimacy and authenticity as well as a tolerance for internal ambiguity and autonomy.  You become big enough to contain all of these things.  None of this is required by lucid dreaming.  Historically, lucid dreaming has rarely emphasized any of this.  Lucid dreaming tends to be all about me: all about me waking up, all about what I want, all about how long I can sustain it, all about whether I recognize dream signals and wake up, all about what I can do while I am lucid. None of this has anything much to do with Integral Deep Listening.

That having been said, lucidity is a natural outgrowth of the practice of Integral Deep Listening.  The more that you listen to other aspects of yourself the more aware you become. The more aware you become, the more awake you are.  However, the emphasis is upon first waking up out of your waking dream so that you do not import your psychopathology into your dream reality, contaminate it, suppress it, and repress it.  Still, developing the capacity to lucid dream is relatively harmless and will expand your sense of self.  It will allow you to rehearse waking situations in your dreams and play out different scenarios or consequences for this or that course of action. All of that can be tremendously valuable.  Consequently, the stance you will find here is not either/or but both/and: you need to develop both Integral Deep Listening and your ability to be lucid in all states. They go hand in hand and support each other.

Practicing Assertiveness

What does assertiveness have to do with lucid dreaming? Assertiveness in dreams is a pre-lucid form of waking up.  After becoming lucid, assertiveness is a way to make sure your dream actions are not coming from a prepersonal level of consciousness.

If aggressiveness is putting your needs before the needs of the other and passivity is putting the needs of the other before your own, then assertiveness involves taking both into consideration in your decision making. Most lucid dreaming is not assertive.  It is aggressive.  We can say this with confidence because there are few accounts of lucid dreams in which lucid dreamers stop and ask other dream characters what they want or need before taking action.  It is not assertive in dreams to change them without considering the interests of other self aspects; it is aggressive.

We can be assertive in our waking lives and still be passive in our dreams.  This is because we generally learn to question waking consensus reality before we learn to question dream consensus reality. For example, we can question consensus reality in our waking lives and not be lucid dreamers.  In addition, we can be awake in a dream and still not question the consensus reality of our own presuppositions.  This is a “consensus” reality because our waking identity is itself far from monolithic.  While it is experienced as unitary, it passes off identity from one orientation or feeling or role to another continuously and for the most part seamlessly even though these different attitudes, behaviors, and feelings may directly contradict each other.  It is rare for lucid dreamers to stop dreaming their waking dream, to stop assuming their waking perspective is the superior perspective from which to experience a dream. Again, such an approach is basically aggressive to the extent that it does not take into account the wants and needs of other self-aspects represented in the dream.

A more assertive approach involves interviewing other self-aspects once you wake up in a dream.  If you do so, the dream changes that you make will be more likely to reflect a consensus reality that transcends and includes that of your own waking consensus reality.

Avoiding the Drama Triangle

When we are aggressive we are usually in the role of persecutor, one of the three roles of the Drama Triangle.   We play persecutor in lucid dreams when we change them without consulting other self-aspects regarding those changes. We may either think that they do not care or that we are making changes for their own good, or it may be that we simply do not care what they think.  In any of those cases, we are generally playing the persecutor, when our actions are considered from the perspective of other self-aspects.  An exception is when we see abuse in a lucid dream and confront it. As long as that confrontation is not reactive but instead is an expression of intolerance of an abusive consensus reality, we are not in the role of persecutor.

We play rescuer when we assume what is best for other self-aspects in a lucid dream and take action without consulting them. We also play rescuer to ourselves in a dream by changing it or jumping in without asking questions.

We play victim in a lucid dream when we are awake but experience ourselves as being persecuted in some way or in need of rescuing. It may be that we are not getting what we want or become scared. In any case, victims make poor decisions; they merely jump into the role of rescuer or persecutor, thereby perpetuating the samsara of the Drama Triangle.

Respecting the Six Core Qualities

To act confidently in a lucid dream is to not be afraid that you will lose power, control, or autonomy by sharing power with other self-aspects by asking their opinion. To be compassionate in a lucid dream is to take into account the perspectives of other self-aspects.    To be wise in a lucid dream is to recognize that since the other characters in the dream are all aspects of yourself, autonomous action is impossible; the interests of other self-aspects must be considered.  To be accepting in a lucid dream is to be receptive and non judgmental toward all other perspectives.  To be at peace in a lucid dream means not to be in conflict with other self aspects. Enlightened dream lucidity is a more powerful form of the witness, because it is not simply about waking identity witnessing the dream while it knows it is dreaming. It is waking identity witnessing itself from multiple legitimate invested perspectives within the dream.


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