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Several years ago, I started spontaneously having lucid dreams, dreams in which you become aware that you are dreaming, consciously interacting with dream characters, choosing what to say and how to react, and steering the dream in directions desired.
Lucid dreaming allows one to explore the dynamics of consciousness at a level seemingly impossible in our less-pliable waking life. For many lucid dreamers, the process can become deeply spiritual. The doors of perception open, allowing one to glimpse into the "many rooms in our Father's house." Once you start, there is no going home again. Entrenched paradigms start crumbling like the walls of Jericho, giving access to vistas of consciousness previously blocked off by our beliefs and convictions.
First-time lucid dreamers often experience euphoric highs, crowding out the depression, angst, and malaise generated from the slings and arrows of everyday life. Associated with shifts in brain chemistry, such highs fade over time, but appreciation for lucid-dream transcendence never does.
In this article, I'll provide an overview of lucid dreaming, including methods for cultivating such dreams, their potential for accessing information and creative problem-solving, and, most importantly, their capability to tap into new mind-body-spirit healing energies.
Dream Healing throughout the Ages
Dream healing is not just New Age malarkey but a process valued by numerous cultures and spiritual traditions throughout history. Although couched in different contexts, many common elements and themes flow through them.
For example, as discussed in Edward Tick's The Practice of Dream Healing: Bringing Ancient Greek Mysteries into Modern Medicine, ancient Greeks would ritually enter sleep in a sacred healing temple dedicated to Asclepius, the god of medicine. The goal was to incubate a healing dream in which Asclepius would appear in some form, touching the afflicted body part or providing healing advice.
Likewise, Kenneth Cohen notes in Honoring the Medicine: The Essential Guide to Native American Healing that Native Americans viewed dreaming as an important therapeutic modality used by the healer or patient to retrieve information, guidance, or a solution to ailments, as well as communicating with helping spirits and spiritual forces.
As reviewed by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche in The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep, Buddhists consult dreams to diagnose illness and generate the wisdom needed to enhance health through the understanding of the issues surrounding sickness. Through these dreams, connections can be made to masters and guides who are otherwise distant in time and space.
Even after death, lucid-dream experience can be critical in soul direction, including the physical conditions manifested in future lives. Ultimately, to attain liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth, you need to tame your consciousness in the turbulent bardo state entered into after dying so you can recognize the illusory nature of after-death visions. Experience to do so can be gained by learning how to lucidly control consciousness in turbulent dreams. So to speak, lucid dreams are the "training wheels" for the bumpy, big ride after death.
Today's Eckankar spiritual tradition also emphasizes dream guidance. As outlined by Harold Klemp in The Art of Spiritual Dreaming, Eckankar believes that dream guides can direct you to insights concerning many issues, including health. Like various Eastern religions, Eckankar believes that all conditions are due to cause-and-effect karma accrued in this or a past life. Basically, under karmic principles, your past actions serve as seeds that will bear future fruit when the conditions are right. Spiritual dreaming allows you to access insights from even past lives, helping you understand and address health-affecting karmic issues.
The resources listed in the bibliography provide numerous techniques for cultivating lucid dreams. For example, lucid-dream author Robert Waggoner got started by using a meditative technique suggested in one of Carlos Castaneda's books (discussed in Waggoner's Lucid Dreaming: Gateway to the Inner Self). Specifically, before falling asleep, Waggoner would meditatively stare at his hands, repeating the phrase: "Tonight when I see my hands in my dream, I'll realize I'm dreaming." Eventually, the suggestion took hold, his hands popped in front of his face, and he recognized that he was dreaming.
Dream journaling: It doesn't do much good to have lucid dreams if you can't remember them. To develop better recall, record as many dreams as possible. Even jotting down a few notes soon after a dream before drifting back to sleep will greatly enhance memory of it in the morning. Because dreaming seems to be more of a function of the visual-emphasizing right brain, you need an activity of the more analytical left brain, such as writing, to anchor dream recollection in waking memory
One helpful tip when you wake up in the night is not to move immediately, just remain in the same position. If you don't have the distracting physical sensations associated with rolling over and so on, the elusive dream memory may drift back into your consciousness. When it does, record it.
Dream Signs: The next step is to periodically review your journal for dream signs, which can serve as future lucidity red flags. For example, if you routinely see celebrities, deceased persons, or flying dogs in your dreams, in future dreams those observations can become the indication that you are dreaming. As you amble down your dream path, dream signs are like large, flashing billboards announcing where you are, provided that you pay attention.
Reality Checks: Dovetailing with dream signs are reality checks. Throughout the day, when you do certain activities; for example, drink a glass of water, walk through a doorway, or go to the bathroom, ask yourself, is this dream? If you ask this enough in waking life, the habit will persist in your dreams.
However, the mere asking, is this a dream? within a dream may not be enough, because your dream consciousness will tend to convince you otherwise; you need proof. For example, after seeing a dream sign and asking the question, jump in the air and see if you float down, or read text twice and see if it has changed. Although it would seem obvious that if you were thinking about lucidity in a dream, you'd become lucid, this is often not the case. For example, in one dream I was walking down a street wondering whether I was dreaming and, to convince myself, I had to mentally bend nearby buildings (a dream test done in the movie Inception).
Lucid-Dream Focus: Clearly, a waking lucid-dream emphasis increases the odds of such dreaming. For example, many of us wake up in the night and can't get back to sleep for a while. Use that time to read about lucid dreaming, imprinting a lucidity focus as you later drift back to sleep in the dream-rich period near morning.
Visualizations: Tibetan Buddhists stimulate dream lucidity by meditatively visualizing images over chakras (i.e., energy centers that download higher-level energy into the body). One such visualization focuses on the throat chakra, thought to influence sleep, wakefulness, and dreaming. For example, a beautiful four-petal red lotus is envisioned in the throat chakra, and within the lotus a luminous Tibetan letter A or a flame is placed. Interestingly, the throat chakra is located near the sleep- and consciousness-regulating brainstem. Given that scientists have shown that visualizations affect physiology in many different ways, it is not surprising that a brainstem-area visualization enhances lucid dreaming.
|Tibetan Letter A
There are many levels of lucid dreaming, ranging from merely observing the dream plot unfold to being the master and creator of your dream world to conscious-raising dreams of clarity. Overall, an important distinguishing feature is the capacity of the lucid dreamer to direct his intent. At one time or another, most of us have become lucid in nightmares, choosing to wake up.
Flying: Often when I've become lucid, I start telling other dream figures, "You do realize this is a dream." Because they often look befuddled in response, I levitate to prove that it's so. Levitating or flying is a exhilarating, common lucid-dream activity. Initially, many attempt to swim through the air, bumping on the ground when abilities start being doubted. As you progress, however, instead of flying to a desired location, you consciously will yourself to be there, and, voilà, you've arrived. For those with physical disabilities, the elderly, and prisoners, the unlimited freedom of movement not possible in waking life unshackles the soul.
Accessing Information and Creativity: One of the more powerful lucid-dream activities is the seeking of information and creative problem solving. In their book Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming, Stephen LaBerge and Howard Rheingold provide an example of a software programmer who used lucid dreaming to visit Einstein. The two of them would work on the programming code together, which upon waking proved to be 99% accurate, demonstrating that lucid-dream information has worth and is not just subconscious flotsam.
With lucid dreaming, you have the potential to access all of your past, not only from this lifetime but, according to many Eastern-based spiritual traditions, previous lifetimes. Furthermore, through powerful dreams of clarity, Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung speculated that one could go beyond one's individual soul current and tap into a big-picture cultural memory called the "collective unconsciousness." It's all there if you have the skills.
The lucid-dream search process is a little like those "Where's Waldo" illustrations wherein you have to scour a crowded scene to find Waldo. (To see an example, do an Internet image search for "Where's Waldo.") Waldo is standing there in plain sight, but with the multitudes surrounding him, it's hard to zoom in on him. Likewise, the answer you seek is often already available but camouflaged by the multitude of memories, data, and mental detritus buried within your subconscious. Like finding Waldo in the crowd, lucid dreaming can help you zoom into the desired information.
To find it, Waggoner suggests asking the "awareness behind the dream," and that awareness, whatever it may reflect, will often respond. Specifically, shout out your question in a lucid dream. But note that the response can be very dependent on the exact wording of the request and may be couched in a more ambiguous symbolic or metaphorical context, reflecting dimensions of the question not initially considered and limitations in your understandings. It is the equivalent of a doing an Internet search on your greater consciousness, with the results dependent on search-term specificity.
An important lucid-dream activity is the ability to tap into new mind-body-spirit healing energies, perspectives, and potential. Whether through shifts in consciousness, energetic visualizations, or new insights, healing manifested at the dream level can then percolate into the physical.
In Buddhism, lucid-dream healing is based on the notion that at some level all of life is a dream, a belief centered on the Buddhist principle of emptiness. Discussing this principle in The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality, the Dalai Lama states: "Belief in an objectivereality grounded in the assumption of intrinsic, independent existence is untenable. All things and events … are devoid of objective, independent existence."
Simply stated, the world that we define as real is a function of our perceptions and consciousness; that is, empty of inherent existence. For example, we've all known people who can turn a crisis into an opportunity, while others make a mountain out of every molehill. In another example, although you perceive your father in his paternal roles, your mother views him as a husband and lover, your grandmother as a precious child, his doctor perhaps as a high-cholesterol patient, and possibly his work subordinates as an overbearing boss. Whose reality is valid?
It's the eye of the beholder that creates what or who is seen. In a lucid dream, the inherent emptiness of your dream reality is self evident because you can consciously create it, but, similarly, your consciousness and perceptions can mold your waking reality in desired directions.
Many health issues are created or aggravated by the dysfunctional reality that you mold with your consciousness. As underscored by scientific disciplines such as psychoneuroimmunology or epigenetics, the worry, fear, stress, and so on that you cumulatively take on affects you physically. In a lucid dream, you can more readily confront some of these health-affecting emotions because you recognize the dream's malleability compared with waking reality. "Hey, this a dream; what the hell." In contrast, waking consciousness perceives the situation as more fixed, viewing change like sculpting a statue out of marble instead of the pliable putty within your dream matrix.
For example, in waking life, you may be hesitant to confront your intimidating boss, whose actions combined with your cowering responses are literally making you sick. But if you have an anxiety dream about him and become lucid, you can stand up for yourself, tell him to jump into a lake, or at least share your concerns. Your dream actions will seep into your waking consciousness, influencing confidence, behaviors, and actions, and, by so doing, restoring a more health-conducive mind-body-spirit equilibrium.
Emphasizing the flexibility and freedom of the dream state, Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche suggests a variety of health-enhancing dream practices. For example, if you have a mobility limitation, exercise in your dream and the ensuing shift in your waking consciousness may loosen the shackles of your disability by seeing at some level what is possible. As above, so below; this shift may catalyze real physical improvement. If a body part or organ is having problems, focus on it, draw more attention to it, and bring more space and awareness into it. Because lucid-dream suggestions are acting closer to the source of your creativity, Tibetan Buddhists assert that they are nine times more effective than waking-state suggestions.
Because lucid-dream healing has not been studied much, data are mostly anecdotal. Some report benefits ranging from an alleviation of symptoms to more rapid healing to even the complete disappearance of the health concern. My personal experience is reported in the sidebar below.
The books referenced below suggest many techniques that lucid dreamers can use to facilitate healing at various mind-body-spirit levels. Waggoner briefly categorizes them as follows:
- Entering and manipulating the dream body; e.g., dreamer visualizes removing junk and debris from a sprained ankle.
- Directing healing intent and light; e.g., dreamer visualizes the creation of a ball of light, placing it in the feet, resulting in the rapid disappearance of plantar warts.
- Directing affirmations, chants, or sound energy; e.g., dreamer uses the healing chant: "From my hand shoots an energy beam to heal my (condition) with Power Supreme."
- Creating symbolic, healing imagery; e.g., during sinus cold, dreamer visualizes himself as an underwater diver with a bell helmet, pumping in pure oxygen.
- Seeking information about the cause or meaning of the illness; e.g., woman with a uterine cyst asks the "Source" what her condition wants her to know and what she should do.
- Seeking a dream doctor, medicine, or healing energy; e.g., dreamer visualizes the drinking of a magic healing potion.
Reflecting Jung's wisdom "Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes," lucid dreaming can forever alter your outlook on the nature of consciousness, in turn forcing new answers for the timeless, existential question, who am I? As it did for me, lucid dreaming can become a powerful, transformative experience. It only takes a few dreams to realize their potential in so many different respects, including healing.
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