Lucid Dreaming and the Drama Triangle

Lucid dreaming is generally thought of as waking up while you are dreaming with the object of experiencing greater freedom, choice, possibilities for confronting fears, learning new skills, having new experiences such as fantastic sex, traveling to other worlds or dimensions or learning from exalted teachers. IDL expands on this definition by viewing lucidity as any process of awakening, whether awake or asleep and dreaming, with the recognition that other forms of dream awakening exist that are as important or more important than lucid dreaming, or realizing that you are dreaming while you are in a dream.

One of these forms of lucidity that is extremely important is waking up out of the Drama Triangle in whatever state of consciousness you are in. Based on years of observing the transformations of dream content of those who have worked with IDL, recognizing and neutralizing the Drama Triangle in your relationships and thinking will definitely reduce its prominence in your dreams. This is a vital form of lucidity, because lucid dreaming itself provides no guarantee that you are out of the Drama Triangle. Indeed, if you do not know how to escape it in your relationships and thoughts, it is highly likely to be carried into your dreams. There are many examples of lucid dreams that include the Drama Triangle.

When you become lucid in dreams and change or manipulate the dream, instead of waking up by listening to and learning from the dream drama, you are probably unknowingly exporting your waking biases and misperceptions into the dreamscape, conquering it and manipulating it. This is a basic problem with most approaches to lucid dreaming – they underestimate how our perceptual context frames, affects and limits lucid dream experience. With lucid dreaming we infuse the dream with greater self-awareness, which is valuable, particularly if our self-awareness is evolved enough to listen rather than merely control. However, this is generally not the case.  For most of us, the self that wakes up in a dream is itself sleepwalking through life. That “awake” self is itself developmentally arrested. It’s like putting a drunk behind the steering wheel of a car.

We might consider such a situation as self-persecution within the Drama Triangle in the context of lucid dreaming. You become lucid in a dream and change it according to your wishes without considering the interests of the other characters in the dream. To understand how this is abuse, switch roles. How do you feel when people come into your life and demand that you change to meet their expectations? Your dream lucidity ideally supports the agenda of your life compass instead of simply colonizing your dream world with your own waking agenda. However, to learn to recognize and follow the priorities of your life compass requires some methodology that differentiates them from your conscience, religious and spiritual scripting and the recommendations of teachers and gurus. This is a major objective of IDL interviewing of dream characters and the personifications of your life issues.

Lucidity will be both reinforced and speeded up in all three realms, waking relationships, thinking and dreaming, if you also take steps to reduce the Drama Triangle in your dreams. This is a form of lucid dreaming that is different from realizing while you are dreaming that you are asleep and dreaming; it is a lucidity that involves recognizing invitations into the Drama Triangle while you are dreaming and saying “no thanks.” Waking up to the presence of the Drama Triangle becomes more likely when pre-sleep suggestion is used, but more importantly, when IDL is used to interview dream Persecutors, Rescuers and Victims. This is because the Drama Triangle is thereby objectified in a way that not only reduces its frequency and intensity while dreaming, but in the other two realms of relationships and thinking. Alex shared the following dream in which he went lucid:

“I am in a jail.  I have to take care of people on death row.  I’m not a prisoner but I’m not a caretaker.  I’m something in-between.  I am taking care of people in the last hours before they go to the electric chair.  One of them is a former male friend.  He knows that he will die in a few hours.  I have to cheer him up.  It’s not a good time for me.  (Crying).  It’s dark with all the fear of losing him.  I have to tell him that I love him and that he’s a good guy.  I have to cheer him up for his last hours.    It’s awful.  Then they take him out of the room and take him to kill him.  I have to stay there until they bring him back dead.  I try to wake up because I realize it’s a nightmare, but I can’t stop dreaming.  I knew I was dreaming but I couldn’t wake up; I couldn’t stop it. The next person is my grandmother.  I have to take care of her.  They take her and kill her and I have to wait for the body to come back on a stretcher.  Then I woke up, went back to sleep and the same thing was happening to other people. Even with waking up I couldn’t stop this nightmare.”

Alex could see that the grip of this “dream” was so powerful that, as with a post-traumatic stress nightmare, he could not “awaken” from it, even after he was fully awake. Alex recognized that his attempts to wake up out of his nightmare were self-rescuing attempts at avoidance, within the context of the Drama Triangle.

Alex knew, as soon as he woke up, that these people who were getting murdered were parts of himself. He recognized that he was remorseful about the death of parts of himself and that in his dream he was responsible for their murders. He could also see that his unsuccessful attempts at going lucid within the dream or in awakening from it were attempts at self-rescuing.

Most of us have had similar experiences at one time or another; we want to wake up, we fight to wake up, but we can’t. What’s going on? On one level, this is a mirroring of our waking experience; we are caught in some self-rescuing addiction and cannot escape. It may be chronic worrying, an explosive temper, pornography, eating, a drug addiction, wasting our time surfing the internet, or self-criticism. Whatever it is, if we try to break it, to escape from it, the experience is very much an attempt to arouse ourselves out of a dreamlike repetitive life pattern and failing to do so.

What would going lucid accomplish for this dreamer? Would it create insight into his fear or self-abuse or simply a change the dream to a more comfortable theme, subject or context? Would it result in enlightenment or mere relief?  Wouldn’t it be counter-productive, because it would merely serve to avoid, repress, and deny the nightmare?  In such lucidity, in such “enlightenment,” there is little freedom, control, autonomy or ability to change that which created, and it may well in the future re-create a nightmare that embraces everyday consciousness.

Clearly, Alex’s nightmare is demanding that it be heard, not ignored, repressed, or changed into something else. Going lucid in the nightmare is a failed attempt by Alex to rescue himself from the Drama Triangle roles of self-persecution, self-victimization, and self-rescuing by waking up.  The “reality” of the nightmare is experienced as a source of persecution; Alex experiences himself as the Victim of that persecution. He seeks rescuing through lucidity, changing the dream, or waking up.

The nature of the Drama Triangle is such that if you play one role, you eventually play them all. Therefore, by rescuing himself from the nightmare in some fashion Alex becomes his own persecutor; his nightmares are only likely to become louder and ever more pervasive. “Self-rescuing” is not the same thing as helping yourself. It is more akin to addiction, in which you do something that feels good or relieves your stress but which keeps you struck in self-persecution, self-abuse, and self-victimization.

This is an excellent example of why lucidity, waking up, freedom, and enlightenment are not ends in themselves. For example, in traditional Hindu and Buddhist metaphysics, the world is maya, a delusional realm of ignorance and suffering, from which one seeks freedom as samadhi in Hinduism and nirvana in Buddhism. No one ever stops to think that this puts earthly existence in the role of Persecutor, oneself in the role of Victim, simply by the fact that you are alive, and freedom in the role of Rescuer. This is not merely a critique of Buddhism and Hinduism, or even of all religions, but of all forms of self-rescuing.

Many people associate lucid dreaming with spirituality, when in fact children and criminals can lucid dream. Is lucid dreaming about higher levels of personal development? Is there any correlation between someone’s ability to lucid dream and their empathy, altruism, or compassion? While there are many legitimate reasons to lucid dream, as we have seen, you are wise to learn to ask, both awake and dreaming, “Is what I am doing, or wanting to do, a form of self-rescuing within the Drama Triangle?” If you look at your life in this context it is not difficult to find self-rescuing aspects in everything you do: the foods you choose to eat and not eat, who you spend time with, when and why you answer and write emails or use the internet, why you go to work, why you pay your bills, why you meditate and do other spiritual practices, and why you exercise. Again, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with any of these activities; it is only when they are done within the Drama Triangle that they create misery and suffering in your life. If you attempt to wake up out of them by self-rescuing, you put yourself in a position similar to that of Alex in his nightmare.

Are there any activities undertaken in pursuit of enlightenment, including lucid dreaming,  that are never attempts at self-rescue? Of course there are, but the assumption of self-rescue is a reasonable and wise default position. Are there any situations in which self-rescue can be done without keeping you stuck in the Drama Triangle? Yes, when you “wake up,” when are you not contaminating a wider realm, whether it be dream sleep, dreamless sleep, near death, or mystical experience with the delusional assumptions inherent in your waking worldview. Why and how is it reasonable to assume that you become free or liberated from your own assumptions and perceptual prison simply because you have shifted to an awareness that you are asleep and dreaming? Are we not still asleep, dreaming, sleepwalking, and delusional within our particular perceptual framework? An example in waking life is the aliveness and relative wakefulness we experience when we fall in love, go on vacation, move into a new home, job or city, or have expanded, transformative realizations from a teaching or guru. As time passes, we find that we have two challenges: to stay awake and to integrate our new degree of wakefulness into the routines of our everyday life. Most of us find that just as with lucid dreaming, we fall back into states of habitual sleepwalking.

This is often very difficult to identify because the experience of freedom, expansiveness, unconditional love, and timelessness are so overwhelming that we feel transformed. But are we? Is there anything inherently transformative about moving into a relatively unconditioned context? If you go to the Mediterranean for a vacation the freedom from your normal routines combined with a host of new sights, sounds, and places is experienced as liberating. Is it? Well, yes and no. Most people, most of the time, quickly discover one of two things. Either they cannot integrate the “otherness” of the Mediterranean into their everyday life and so either forget about it or live a split life, always missing it and longing for it, or they import all their bad habits into their new life on the Mediterranean. They continue to smoke, drink, worry, nag, or whatever, in short, continue their lives within the tender embrace of the Drama Triangle.

Ken Wilber discusses this in terms of the grandiosity of an amplified sense of self, which can appear in advanced meditators experiencing oneness with nature, deity, or formlessness.1 IDL honors the nightmares of your life by giving them the respect that follows from suspending judgments, listening, and applying what makes sense.  Instead of changing the nightmare or dream, whether awake or dreaming, to conform to your assumptions of happiness, you experience multi-perspectival contexts that transcend and include your own.

There are many legitimate uses for dream lucidity, such as using them to develop confidence in dealing with fears, in practicing life skills in the fail-safe circumstance of a death-free dream reality, and in creating healing possibilities that do not exist in waking life. All of these are good; still more important is to learn to interview other characters in your dreams while you are dreaming in order to benefit from their perspective. Even more important than lucid dreaming is to learn to meditate in your dreams.

Self-rescuing needs to be compared to its healthy alternative, helping. When you help yourself you are not reacting to your compulsive behaviors and addictions out of a desire to escape from them. Instead, you develop a plan, check with sources of objectivity to see if it is realistic, engage whatever support systems are necessary for it to succeed, monitor your progress, and check again with those sources of objectivity to see if your progress is genuine or whether you are fooling yourself, such as by replacing one addiction with another. You begin this process of helping yourself in your dreams and nightmares, not necessarily by attempting to go lucid, but by asking questions: “Who are you?” “Are you a part of me? If so, what parts of me do you most closely represent?” “Are you attempting to scare me?” “If so, why?”

If you remembered to ask such questions of your experience, lucid or not, what do you think would be the most likely result? Wouldn’t you wake up in your awareness, in your consciousness, within the dream or nightmare? Isn’t this what life is wanting to do in and through us? If the object of life was to escape, why be alive in the first place? Why not just die? We are here to wake up, not just to ourselves or to life, but to life’s priorities and agenda. The more that we then thin ourselves and get out of the way, the more life takes on the sacred experience of oneness with life itself. While it is possible to attempt to become lucid while dreaming, our destiny is to learn how to be lucid in all states. As you wake up out of the Drama Triangle today, now in your relationships and thoughts you will find that transformational clarity reflected in your dreams, lucid and otherwise.

1 Wilber, K. Transformations of Consciousness. New Science Library, 1986.