Lucidity: Awakening from the Dream

“Those who have compared our life to a dream were right…We sleeping wake, and waking sleep.”

~ Michel de Montaigne, Essays 1580

Can you be certain that right now, at this very moment, you are not dreaming? During the dream state, everything appears just as solid, concrete, and real as it does while you read this. Self-realized masters, those who have awakened spiritually, would say that the overwhelming majority of us are, in fact, asleep. Maya is a Sanskrit term that refers to the veiling power in nature which makes the unlimited, beginningless reality appear limited and conditioned by time and space. Yet according to Vedic philosophy, even as the endless sky is unaffected by the innumerable shapes and patterns of the clouds that pass through it, the Self remains unaffected by the limitless forms and universes that appear to rise and fall in it…the infinite ocean of consciousness.

We have all at some time or other witnessed a loved one in the throes of a nightmare. Perhaps we even felt compassion for them, aware that the experience they were undergoing seemed quite real. Despite this, we also knew that when they awakened, the object of their fear and suffering would vanish into the nothingness from whence it came. Sages and saints through the ages have oft communicated that spiritual awakening is the key to the cessation of our suffering from the dream of life, even as it is from the dream state during sleep.

In 1989, after reading Dr. Stephen LaBerge’s landmark book on the subject of lucid dreaming entitled [I]Lucid Dreaming: The Power of Being Aware and Awake in your Dreams[/I] (first published in 1985), I began experimenting with the techniques which aim at inducing full awareness during the dream state. LaBerge, who was a psychologist at Stanford University, was keenly aware of the implications of using the dream state for improving one’s psychological, physical, and spiritual health and well-being. Because our experiences while dreaming are just as real to us as they are during the waking state, the opportunities for people wrestling with certain crippling phobias to overcome their fears are enormous. One can also use lucid dreaming to put an end to destructive health habits such as smoking or overeating, among others. But perhaps the most profound implication for the application of lucid dreaming is the potential to awaken us to higher consciousness. In fact, lucid dreaming has been used since ancient times as a primary yogic technique in many traditions for the attainment of enlightenment.

In his book, LaBerge outlined a number of techniques for the induction of lucidity, or awareness, during the dream state. Having already been in the habit of journal writing, I recorded the results of my early experiments with many of theses techniques in my early 20s. Some examples of techniques I utilized prior to experiencing success at lucid dreaming include:

• Affirming over and over, “The next time I dream, I want to be aware
that I’m dreaming,” while drifting off to sleep at night (also known as
MILD, or Mnemonic Induced Lucid Dreaming).

• Getting in the habit, as often as possible, of inquiring as to whether or
not one is dreaming. The idea here is to ask this question as often as
possible during the course of the day so as to overcome the trap that
most of us fall into in most of our dreams - that of constantly assuming
that we are awake. It is because most of us take for granted at any
given time that we are awake that we fail to realize when this is not the
case and we are, in fact, dreaming.

• Trying to maintain awareness during the transition from wakefulness to
sleep (this one can be particularly challenging).

These are just a few of the techniques that I employed prior to having some success, and I used all of them at varying intervals in my practice. There exists a wealth of information now available on the subject for those who are interested in exploring it further.

So what exactly are the implications of lucid dreaming as it relates to spiritual awakening?

At the time that I had been practicing La Berge’s techniques for the induction of lucid dreaming, I was also actively engaged in the practice of Buddhist mindfulness techniques which I am certain aided me greatly, not only in my ability to become conscious during the dream state, but also in my ability to become familiar with the content of my dreams; something that is indispensable if one is to recognize the inconsistencies and anomalies that can clue one in to the fact that one is dreaming. In the practice of mindfulness, one seeks to maintain objective awareness of one’s own thoughts and actions. It is by constantly observing one’s thoughts that one becomes aware that he or she is separate from these thoughts. The awareness of a kind of witness conscious gradually emerges which is free from thinking, the end result of which is ultimately nirvana.

The realization that one is actually dreaming is simply astonishing and exhilarating beyond words. I am reminded of the scene in the recent movie, [I]Inception[/I], in which Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is sitting at a caf? with Ariadne (Ellen Page) and calmly tells her not to panic after disclosing that they are currently dreaming. Ariadne struggles to maintain her composure as suddenly, the windows and walls of buildings; the very structure of the world around them, begins to erupt, explode, and come apart. Indeed, this realization that one is dreaming, while accompanied by a feeling of utter euphoria, can also be somewhat overwhelming and if one is not careful, the intensity can jar one out of the sleep state. But if one is able to retain this awareness, suddenly the sky is not even the limit. Like an awakened master, one is able to perform “miracles” and play with the atoms of dream consciousness as if they were mere bubbles. The laws of gravity instantly lose their hold and no longer apply.

For me, the onset of lucidity during sleep usually came during a nightmare (not the most enjoyable method!) It is as if the raw intensity of the dream content, the sheer terror, “awakened” me to the fact that it was too terrifying to be real. One of my journal entries clearly illustrates the exhilaration and excitement of a lucid dream. In this particular dream, a dream I recorded as Lucid Dream #16, I was living in a post-apocalyptic time when most cities had been destroyed by a great cataclysm (some kind of axial shift of the earth had occurred). I had been storing food and water prior to the event, yet soon after, roving bands of scavengers found me and discovered my stash. My tormentors, armed with guns, were preparing to kill me for my food and supplies.

The account, dated January 21, 1990, 4:26 am reads:

[I]“…I dropped the bat I had been holding for protection as there were too many of them; it was futile to try and overpower them. I started to make a break for it, but one of them blocked my path. Panic-stricken, I suddenly realized I was dreaming. It was such a simple yet unimaginable relief to realize this. I reasoned with myself that these people were merely dream images who could do me no harm. I proceeded to levitate above them….”[/I]

I distinctly remember the tremendous relief I felt on realizing that this was only a dream and that everything was going to be okay. I imagine it would be akin to hearing one’s doctor say that one had terminal cancer…only for him to realize moments later that he had pulled the wrong patient’s chart. But not only was I not going to die, I was conscious while dreaming and had total freedom. The account continues:

[I]“The band of brutes simply stood and watched me, transfixed. I proceeded to walk right through the wall of the building like a God-tuned master as I laughingly said to myself, ‘I’ve always wanted to do that.’”[/I]

Herein lies the significance of lucid dreaming as it relates to spiritual awareness and realization. It was literally at this point in the dream that I remembered contemplating that the yogis, masters, and saints, past and present, who become God-realized are like lucid dreamers – only their awakening occurred in the waking rather than the dream state. Like the lucid dreamer, they have awakened to the reality that everything in their environment, in the world around them, is pure consciousness. In [I]Autobiography of a Yogi[/I], Paramahamsa Yogananda writes:

[I]“In man’s dream-consciousness, where he has loosened in sleep his clutch on the egoistic limitations that daily hem him round, the omnipotence of his mind has a nightly demonstration. Lo! there in the dream stand the long-dead friends, the remotest continents, the resurrected scenes of his childhood. With that free and unconditioned consciousness, known to all men in the phenomena of dreams, the God-tuned master has forged a never-severed link. Innocent of all personal motives, and employing the creative will bestowed on him by the Creator, a yogi rearranges the light atoms of the universe to satisfy any sincere prayer of a devotee. For this purpose were man and creation made: that he should rise up as master of maya, knowing his dominion over the cosmos.”[/I]

(Chapter 30: The Law of Miracles)

It is one thing to discuss and contemplate the similarities between awakening in the dream and waking states, but it is quite another thing to actually experience it. It is this very experience that illustrates to the seeker that even as gold that has taken the form of a bracelet ever remains gold, this universe with its myriad of apparent names and forms ever remains consciousness, formless, unbound, and infinite.

After walking through the wall and out into the world, my lucid dream continues…

[I]“As I stand outside, I am literally overcome with awe as I witness the most spectacular sunset I have ever seen. I am utterly spellbound as I gaze out into the horizon and see a kaleidoscope combination of orange, yellow, pink, and light blue – each successive hue blending into the other from the horizon into the heavens. As I gaze into the upper atmosphere which is brilliantly speckled with stars, I am overcome by a powerful urge to fly. Momentarily forgetting that I am dreaming, I ponder how wonderful that would be – before remembering that I CAN fly into the sky, for I am dreaming! With this exciting realization, I proceed to take a running start and quickly feel the ground drop away beneath my feet. This feeling was so exhilarating that I cannot describe it in words. I continued to ascend higher and higher, flying westward into the sunset. I feel the sun’s receding rays warm my body. I then stop, suspended miles in the sky, to admire the beauty of it all before allowing myself to drop like a military jet about 1,000 feet, and then resumed my flight. The knowledge that you can’t die in a dream is just awesome…”[/I]

Despite that fact that I wrote the preceding account 21 years ago, I remember the experience like it was yesterday. The ensuing euphoria made it impossible for me to return to sleep, so I documented the details of the experience while it was fresh in my mind. I went on to have additional success in the realm of lucid dreaming, but ultimately turned my gaze to more direct practices in my spiritual quest. For me, lucid dreaming became a kind of stepping-stone on the spiritual path. Yet interestingly, these experiences, despite having occurred during the dream state, illumined for me what was possible outside of it.

The Sanskrit term for one who is awakened, or freed while living, is “jivanmukta.” The word jiva refers to the living being, and mukta means freed. Even as the lucid dreamer is a jivanmukta during the dream state, the spiritually awakened master has earned this freedom during the waking state. While dogma-addicted religious zealots would have us believe that miracles only occurred during the time of Jesus Christ, and that those of us living today are spiritually inferior sinners, they conveniently forget his enigmatic and soul-empowering statement that we are all children of God; that “Greater things than I do ye shall do.” Although a God-realized being is rare, owing to the soul-bewitching attraction and power of this magical dream, one can find them even in this current age. Contemporary texts are replete with the law-defying miracles performed by the enlightened. Having said this, it is important that we not view the attainment and display of siddhis, or supernormal powers, as the hallmark of Self-realization; for they are not, and many a seeker has been mislead by charlatans seeking to exploit those who are in search of a guru or teacher to guide them along the spiritual path.

The power that exists within each and every one of us is limitless and incomprehensible, and it is only up to us how far we wish to go in our exploration of the spiritual path and the realization of our true nature. Many are held back by their fear of the unknown, but when they come to understand that death, like this shining world-appearance, is but an illusion, their awareness will blissfully expand as they come to truly realize the veracity of Lord Christ’s statement regarding our inherent omniscience:

“Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.”

~ Luke 9:58

About the Author:
Chris has been a practitioner of Kriya Yoga for 14 years and runs