“In most of our dreams, our inner eye of reflection is shut and we sleep within our sleep. The exception takes place when we seem to awake within our dreams, without disturbing or ending the dream state, and learn to recognize that we are dreaming while the dream is still happening”. Stephen LaBerge
Most of us have heard of the phrase “lucid dreaming” but have not been aware of the intricacies of it. It has become an increasingly popular concept however, and Wikipedia told me that a smartphone app for it was downloaded half a million times within six weeks in 2012. A lucid dream has been defined as any dream within which we are aware that we are dreaming. To be lucid while dreaming implies being “awake” or conscious while asleep (sort of an oxymoron), and then to be able to control or direct what happens inside the dream. (While my blog title is “Awake To Your Dreams”, lucid dreaming can be thought of as being awake in your dreams).
Until recently I was somewhat prejudiced against this as a worthwhile goal, given that I believe that it makes more sense to dream all the way through a dream that we are given, and then to work with it. In other words, not to interfere with our wise unconscious dreaming self from doing the work that it does best: Taking our unarticulated dilemmas, longings, desires, wishes, issues, pains, and struggles and then present them to us in dreamtime with as much metaphor and symbol as it thinks we need in order to be able to begin processing them. Pictures, images, emotions, storylines, fragments, a single word or a whole epic- let ‘em role – and then go back and find the layers of meanings. But as I have been giving the concept more thought, I have been coming to see other options available in lucid dreaming that do not necessarily hijack our innate processing systems.
So as a modern adult with a teenager to learn from, I Googled “lucid”. It was defined as “articulate, rational, or luminous”, with additional synonyms of thought through, clear, eloquent, and silver tongued (the later being my personal favorite). Not what I actually had expected, given how it is commonly used in the dreaming world. And yet, it makes sense. I especially liked the use of the word “luminous”: implying otherworldly, shining and glowing, and yet clear and eloquent- all hallmarks of a dream well dreamt from our souls’ warehouse of dreams.
There seem to be two kinds of lucid dreams: 1.) “Dream initiated lucid dreams” that begin as a regular dream, and then turn lucid, and 2.) “Wake initiated lucid dreams (or “W.I.L.D.”). These can occur a.) while we are drifting off to sleep but are still technically awake and we are aware immediately that we ‘re dreaming, or b.) when we incubate a dream before going to sleep. To incubate a dream, we purposely journal, think, or pray to journey into a dream on some issue or dilemma while we are awake, and then dream on it in the subsequent dream. This later method is a form of lucid dreaming that combines inside and outside worlds- focusing our attention on what we hope to have a dream about while awake, and then having the dream on that topic while asleep. This seems to be one way not to interfere with the wisdom of our dreaming mind- we kind of point our radio frequency dial in the direction we want, and then our dream mind picks up on the right signal and we make contact.
Both kinds of lucidity can be useful for nightmare sufferers. The ability to point our dreams in the direction of healing while awake, and the ability to purposefully change course in the middle of a distressing dream to avoid a pitfall or disaster can greatly alleviate the distress of chronic nightmares. If we don’t misuse the method to bypass the inner work we need to get through, this skill can be a gift and a short cut to relief. No one gets extra points for prolonged suffering! I once had a dream in which I was being assaulted. I somehow knew it was a dream and that I didn’t want the assault to continue, so I remember deciding to get out of there. I knew I had to swim upwards to get out. Then I had the sensation of straining my way up and out of the dream like swimming through sticky molasses, aiming for the light at the top. I could feel the pulling and kicking feelings in my arms and legs, and when I got to the top I was awake. I still recall the feeling of relief and self power that I got myself out of there.
The ability to lucid dream is both innate and can get better by practice, much as exercising any other kind of muscle gets stronger with practice.
Here are a few popular methods of getting more lucid:
1. “Am I Dreaming?”
Ask yourself periodically during the day “Am I dreaming?” and perform some kind of reality check. If you do it often enough you will remember to do in in your dream as well. For example, if you lean against a wall and ask yourself “Am I dreaming?” and you don’t fall through the wall you are awake; since in a dream you are more likely to fall through. Jump up in the air: if you land you are awake; you are more likely to be able to hover or fly if you are dreaming. Clap your hands together or snap your fingers- if you can hear, see and feel it, you are awake. If you are missing any of those sense awarenesses, you are asleep.
2. Journal It
Keep a dream journal. As you build up a dream lexicon of re-occuring images and themes, they will become easier to recognize in your dreams. Make a list of your common images and themes and review them before going to sleep.
3. Set Your Clocks
Try a variation on Stephen LeBerge’s method. Set an alarm clock to wake you up at periodic intervals of several hours duration during the night, and record the dreams you have then. We are most likely to have lucid dreams during our deepest REM sleep. So after recording as much as you can remember, lie back down to the position you were just in, and tell yourself “I am aware that I was dreaming”, and you will be more likely to know that inside of your next sleep/dream phase. (Personally I can’t imagine wanting this badly enough to wake myself up for it on purpose, but that’s just me- there are those who do it.)
4. “Look At Your Hands”
a.) As you get into bed, look at your hands, and say to yourself over and over “I will dream and I will see my hands” until you are tired and go to sleep.
b.) If you wake in the night, look at your hands and repeat the phrase.
c.) With practice, you will see your hands in the dream and can say in the dream “Wow- here are my hands- I am dreaming!”
5. The Diamond Method
While you meditate, try to visual your whole life, both waking and sleeping as facets of a diamond: All is one, just different aspects of the same whole, a synthesis of the spiritual and the psychological. (A. H. Almaas). Our dreams and our waking selves are thus just two facets of the same human consciousness. Almaas calls this diamond the Universe, or God, or the Soul. The key is to recognize that all of life is happening at once, and it is only our limitations and perceptions that separate it out into its different facets or dimensions. Once we recognize this, it then becomes easy to see dreams and waking as simply different facets of the diamond, and therefor easier to be “awake in your dreams” with little effort.
Of course, as Robert Waggoner points out in his book on lucid dreaming, we can’t control everything in a dream, or in life – not the color of the sea, or the height of the waves. But when we develop a relationship with our Inner Guide, our inner Wise Woman or Wise Man, our clear cut Diamond Self, then we can direct the ship of our life more confidently and with more resources.
(photo credit to http://lakesidepottery.com/Pages/kintsugi-repairing-ceramic-with-gold-and-lacquer-better-than-new.htm)
“…and we are strong at the broken places”, Ernest Hemingway
The previous post looked at synchronicities and opening channels to receive knowledge in uncanny, intuitive or non-linear ways. We continue here with a history of dream incubation and how to use this method now to ask for and receive wisdom from the universal Source. In addition to being open, we can also play a role in priming the intuitive pump.
Dream incubation; the first step in asking for guidance in this way; comes with preparation as well as intention. Kimberly Patton speaks of 3 elements common to the topography of incubation in ancestral times:
For our ancestors, having a proper frame of mind and making the proper Sacrifices were necessary components of asking for help from the Dream Source. The sacrifices often included burnt offerings, usually of a sheep or goat; and the supplicant would then sleep on the skin of the sacrificed animal. According to Patton, the burning of the animal transformed the material earthly world into the world of vapor and air, thus allowing the gods to smell the pleasing odor as the burnt offering went up in the smoke. If we recall that the Four Worlds in many mystic, pagan, indigenous (and Jungian) traditions are Earth, Air, Fire and Water; then having a ritual that connect us with each of these worlds in some way makes intuitive and as well as logical sense.
Second, some form of Purification was also part of the ritual: a sacred bath in clear or flowing waters was a common element. Interestingly, according to Patton, tears or weeping were also frequently part of the purification process: perhaps this invoked our own internal salt water cleansing; a way of making ourselves vulnerable and thus open to receiving (l’kabel). Teachers in both Sufi (Hefetz) and Kabbalist (Reb Nachman) traditions teach that when our hearts are broken open, there God is able to enter.
(Connected to this concept, the Japanese art of Kintsugi consists of repairing a cracked piece of pottery with gold or silver filling in the cracks; thus the repaired piece is actually more valuable than the original un-cracked piece. What a wonderful metaphor for healing- that we are more valuable for having repaired the places where we have been cracked open than for never having been cracked at all. )
The third step in ancient times is that of Pilgrimage– this is about locality, “location, location, location.” An outward journey was taken to imitate the inward journey one hoped would happen. Anthropologist James Frazer (his classic text is “The Golden Bough”) spoke of several kinds of magical practices he found in his studies, and one of the most common was imitative magic. The pilgrimage is part of the external manifestation we hope our dream journey will imitate. Where one sleeps for this kind of journey was in a sacred place set apart. Our ancestors traveled in order to incubate their dreams on holy ground. Alternately, the ground on which the ritual is created becomes holy by virtue of having accessed the Divine in that place. Frequently, though not always, it was a high place- on a hill, or a mound: where the membrane between worlds perhaps is thinner, just as the air is thinner atop high mountains. (i.e. tall standing stones of Druidic or Celtic lore, Mt. Sinai, Mecca, any “castle on a hill” seen so often in fairy tales).
How then are we to translate this for our times, since most of us aren’t about to kill a sheep or goat or spent the night alone on a mountain top. To receive this kind of knowledge, we may ask ourselves what kind of Sacrifice we are prepared to make: is it the sacrifice of some kind of comfortable place, or belief, or lifestyle? Are we willing to sacrifice the easy way of something for the higher way? Are we willing to walk our walk, as well as talk our talk? Get clear- what are you willing to give up for this portion of wisdom?
Purification: Will we cleanse ourselves with sage or incense? Will we take a long shower or a salt bath with intention to prepare ourselves to dream deeply and purely? Will we drink a bit or wash with salt water as our ancestors did?
And finally, Pilgramage: Where are we headed? Can we set a compass, or an orientation through our dream preparation for what we are seeking? Do we take a large or small retreat space from our daily life in which to open to this work? Is there an elevated space we can go to? Can we take ourselves out of ordinary time and/or space for a little while for this pilgrimage?
I’ll share with you an example of a small modern pilgrimage. A few years ago I was experiencing a lot of stress in my life; family illnesses, too much work; and I didn’t have the time to go off on retreat, even though I was craving some alone renewal time. I asked a friend if I could use her meditiation room for a day. I drove just 20 minutes away to spend seven hours in solitude resting, reading, writing, and had a dreaming nap in “designated” holy space that contained the energies of the people who had done yoga and meditated there over the years. And just now, as I am writing this, it occurs to me that this space was actually a high place- up the crawl ladder to the finished attic space! “…And I, I did not know…”.
Dreaming is a healing process…a vital means by which we bind up our wounded spirits and rekindle our hopes for the future.” (Kelly Buckeley)
Last year the Boston area held the world in horrified thrall during the terrorist attack on the Boston Marathon. Stories have appeared in the news media off and on all year about the healing and recovery of the survivors, and stories of courage and selflessness of responders. Many are planning to run or cheer on this year in honor of those who were killed or affected by the bombing and it’s aftermath. As a Watertown resident, I have walked the streets less than a mile from my home where the suspect was finally recovered. Scenes of the bombing on Boylston St., of the responders and victims that day, the lock down in many towns, the images of SWAT teams patrolling the quiet neighborhood and banging on doors, to the final recovery of the second bomber under the boat- these images have been engraved in many of our memories. For some, they have shown up as persisting nightmares in various literal or symbolic forms over the past year. While the distress has abated for most as the year unfolded and life returned to the new normal, as the first anniversary approaches the city and our psyches are revisiting that time, and we can hope to use the anniversary to mark healing and courage and our unwillingness to be bowed down to the false gods of violence and terror.
Kelley Buckeley (Dreams of Healing, 2003) tells us that we make meaning out of tragedies publicly when people build monuments (think 9/11 or the Vietnam Memorial) or set up spontaneous memorials (think piles of running shoes and flowers on Boylston Ave.). Inter-personally, we have conversations and prayer circles, and internally people dream dreams. Our dreams can guide us in the direction of hope and healing; our job becomes to pay attention to them, and to direct them toward resolution and wholeness of being.
Our dreams can be both landmarks of our internal process when “bad things happen to good people”, (to quote Kushner), and a source of healing and solace as we attend to them and use their generative powers to move forward: to creating meaning out of chaos, hope out of despair, and a forward-moving life force out of the depths of darkness and sorrow. A hallmark of a therapeutic modality called AEDP (Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy) has as some of its tenants that we are all wired for growth, that we all have the capacity to experience joy and delight, and that nothing that feels bad is ever the last step. I love these philosophies! It reminds me of what the proprietor of the hotel in the movie “The Exotic Marigold Hotel” also tells us (in his lovely Indian accent): “Everything will work out in the end. And if it hasn’t worked out, then it isn’t the end yet.”
Post-traumatic nightmares can actually be a sign of a vigorous life force that is pushing forward to bring in potential allies of deep powerful inner strength and resilience that need to be brought forward into consciousness. Dreaming in and of itself is a healing process- it is one of our system’s ways of digesting and processing information. (With the legacy of trauma, the body/mind adage “what isn’t sufficiently metabolized can become metastasized” can have great meaning).
Dreams that follow a crises do not aim to simply return the dreamer to the status quo, rather they aim to develop a whole new understanding of the self and the world that encompasses the trauma, and help the dreamer to rise out of the ashes of their broken self to find new hope, structure, and meaning for their world. (Buckeley) Dreams are one of our most powerful sources of meaning making.
Buckeley continues, “Nightmares are more like a vaccine than a poison.” This understanding follows the homeopathic principle of that a minute dose of a negative substance inoculates us to the disease or distress. Our dreaming selves are struggling to deal with the psychological distress and spirit anguish caused by traumatic events. “…Although dreamsharing by itself does not cure a disease, it does have the power of enhancing conscious awareness of both our deepest fears and our greatest strengths… At times of great suffering and vulnerability, this kind of enhanced self awareness can have a deeply re-vitalizing effect.”
We can assist our dreaming selves in this healing process, whether the nightmarish distress is from trauma, loss, illness or parts unknown. We can incubate dreams at night before going to sleep; spending a few moments quietly tuning in, then writing in our dream journal our desire for our dream guide to send us healing dreams in the service of our highest good and best interests. We can be general or specific, depending on what we already know about our nightmares or our day distress. We can orient ourselves, as recommended by the Talmud, to find the gift in every dream. We can hold the expectation that if it hasn’t worked out, that it is not the end yet. And you are all invited to participate in a day retreat workshop on Sunday May 4th on “Dreams of Healing: Dreamwork and Transformation” where we will learn dreamwork principles, journey together, and find our way in the nearby woods for a short waking dream journey. Click here to find the link to the flier for registration.
May we all dream together of inner and outer worlds of peace
The Temple of Asclepius
“Dreams are answers to questions we haven’t yet figured out how to ask.” ~X-Files
The Ancient Practice of Dream Incubation:
In ancient Greece, the Dream was honored as a resource and physician’s guide for healing all manner of illness, both physical and spiritual. The Greek god of medicine and healing, Asclepius, would oft-times give a “prescription” for his patients to go to sleep in the sacred dream temples in order to have a healing dream. When they got there, the patients would ritually cleanse and purify themselves, set a healing intention about which they would like to receive the dream wisdom, and then sleep the night there, often in the company of many others who were also seeking a healing. Then at night, the temple priest or priestess would set loose small non-venomous snakes among the supplicants, which then would slither about and were thought to whisper the healing dreams into the ear of the sleepers. In the morning, if the supplicant had a dream, the priestess would help the to interpret it.
Nowadays, snakes are generally no longer part of the prescription (lucky for us!). But the rest of the ritual can be easily adapted in the privacy of your own bedroom. The core of the practice is to spend a few quiet moments before going to sleep to write down the question, the dilemma, or the issue that you would like some guidance on. You can have your own personal “Q and A” with your dream guides. Spend a few minutes, or more; but try to end with as specific a question as possible. The more specific your question, the easier it will be to see how it is answered in the dream. If you want, you can also spend a little time cleansing yourself or your room to prepare a sacred space. A salt water bath, or lighting a candle or incense can help to clear the psychic space for answers to come through. If all goes as planned, you get free dream therapy every night! You can get your dreams to work for you with these simple steps. Then, when you awake, write down the dream on the same page as your question, so even if it is not clear to you right away how your question is answered in the dream, you can easily go back and remember what you were asking.
My most powerful experience with incubating a dream was when we were getting ready to adopt our daughter from China. When we originally got the referral (that’s adoption language for “your baby is waiting”) she was about nine months old. We had thought that the baby would be somewhat younger. The head of the agency said to us “If this isn’t the right baby for you, we can give you a different referral.” What a decision to have to make! After looking at my husband, I said “Can I go home and dream on it?” The director agreed, and that night I went home and wrote in my dream journal that I needed an answer to come through clearly and unambiguously, and right now! (You know how dreams can be– I didn’t want to have to decode too much symbolism to figure this one out.) I was very bossy with my dream guide, since there was so much at stake. I woke once or twice in the night– no dream yet. But in the morning I had my answer.
So – before sharing the dream I received, here is the background material the dream is referencing that you need to know in order to “get” what I immediately knew on waking. For our anniversary that year my mother-in-law had given us a garden shed to store our tools in, and the labor of the guy to build it. The spot for it was under our deck (our house is on a hill, so the yard slopes and our deck is high up.) As he began to put it in, he discovered that it wouldn’t fit under the deck. But he told us “No problem, I can dig down, and put a foundation in and it will fit just fine”, which is what happened.
OK—So here is the dream I received:
We were putting in a tool shed, and it was bigger than we expected, but it was just right and fit just fine.
Couldn’t get clearer than that! Our “just a little bigger than expected” baby is now almost 15 years old. We dug down and put in a great foundation.
Let me know your experiences with incubating dreams.