Part II: Lucidity and Related States
<1. IntroductionHarry Hunt
Section A-1: Altered States - Near-Death Experiences
2. Dream Lucidity and Near-Death Experience: A Personal Report John Wren-Lewis
3. Near Death, Near Dream George Gillespie
<4. CODE BLUE: A New Beginning Mark Block
Section A-2: Altered States - Out-of-Body Experiences
5. Reflections on Lucid Dreaming and Out-of-Body Experiences Father "X"
6. Comments on OBEs and Lucid Dreams Stephen LaBerge
7. Lucid Dreams and OBEs Susan Blackmore
Section B: Meditation
8. Lucid Dreams and Meditation Harry Hunt
9. Discussion Between Charles Tart and Lucidity Letter Editor, Jayne Gackenbach, Examining Similarities Between Dream Lucidity Witnessing and Self-RememberingCharles Tart & Jayne Gackenbach
10. A Conceptual and Phenomenological Analysis of Pure Consciousness During Sleep Charles Alexander
11. Psychological Content of "Consciousness" During Sleep in a TM Practitioner Jayne Gackenbach & William Moorecroft
12. A Buddhist Perspective on Lucid Dreaming Tarab Tulku XI
Section C: Mystical and Divine Experiences
13. Differences Between Lucid and Nonlucid Ecstatic Dreaming Elinor Gebremedhin
14. Dream Light: Categories of Visual Experience During Lucid Dreaming George Gillespie
15. Experiencing the Divine in the Lucid Dream State Farib Bogzaran
16. East Meets West, Buddhism Meets Christianity: The Lucid Dream as a Path for Union Kenneth Kelzer
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Back to Lucidity Letter 10th Anniversary Issue
Brock University, St. Catherines, Ontario, Canada
One of the things that has made the study of lucid dreaming more insular than it needed to be is the tendency among enthusiasts and critics alike to treat lucid dream-ing as totally unique and unparalleled. A major and contributing virtue of Lucidity Letter has been its editorial heeding of early reports from Oliver Fox and Celia Green that lucid dreaming is part of a continuum of transformations of consciousness oc-curring in settings broader than ordinary night dreaming. The following articles make clear that there is an overlap in both phenomenology and neuro-cognitive processes between the varieties of lucidity and prelucidity, on the one hand, and out-of-body experience, UFO abduction accounts, near death experience, meditation and mysti-cal experience, on the other. It becomes more and more clear that lucid dreaming is one variant of a family of consciousness transformations open to the mind.
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2. Dream Lucidity and Near-Death Experience: A Personal Report
Clovelly, New South Wales, Australia
Attempts to investigate correlations between the incidence of lucid dreaming and near-death experiences (NDEs) have so far been inconclusive (Lucidity Letter, Vol. 1, Nos. 2 and 3, 1982). The following are some observations following my own NDE in November, 1983, which suggests a new approach.
My NDE itself, which I have described elsewhere (Wren-Lewis, 1985), lacked almost all the dramatic features emphasized in the now voluminous literature on the subject (Lundahl, 1982). I had no "out-of-body" vision of myself in the hospital bed, no review of my life, no experience of hurtling through a tunnel towards a heavenly landscape and no encounter with supernatural figures urging me to return to bodily existence. I simply dissolved into an apparently spaceless and timeless void which was total "no-thing-ness" yet at the same time the most intense, blissful aliveness I have ever known.
The after-effects of the experience, however, were dramatic indeed, and I have found no account of anything comparable in the NDE literature. I have been left with a change of consciousness so palpable that in the early days I kept putting my hand up to the back of my head, feeling for all the world as if the doctors had removed the top of my skull and exposed my brain to the infinite darkness of space. In fact the Living Void is still with me as a kind of background to my consciousness. The effect is that I experience everything, including this sixty-year-old body-mind, as a continuous outpouring of Being, wherein every part is simultaneously the whole, manifesting afresh moment by moment from that infinite Dark. As "John" I seem to have no separate existence, but am simply the Void knowing itself in mani-festation, and in that process of continuous creation everything seems to celebrate coming into being with a shout of joy—"Behold, it is very good!" Yet the exper-ience is in no sense a high, for its feeling-tone is one of gentle equanimity. My impression is rather that I am now knowing the true ordinariness of everything for the first time, and that what I used to call normal consciousness was in fact clouded.
I still slip back into that old clouded state frequently, but this is not a process of "coming down." What happens is something I would have found unbelievable had I heard of it second-hand—namely, I again and again simply forget about the pearl of great price. I drift off into all kinds of preoccupations, mostly trivial, and become my old self, cut off from the Void-Background. Then, after a while, there begins to dawn on me a sense of something missing, at which point I recall the Void and usu-ally click back into the new consciousness almost immediately, with no effort at all.
I think this is what is meant by the mystical notion that so-called normal human life is really a state of chronic forgetfulness of "who we really are," and I suppose my NDE must somehow have shocked me into recognizing my identity with the Void, with the result that my forgetfulness is now spasmodic rather than chronic. Needless to say, I was bowled over by all this at first, and spent many weeks coming to terms with it. I soon found that the new consciousness did not seem to demand any drastic changes of life-style. In keeping with its sense of utter ordinariness, I remained recognizably John, and neither my tendency to drift out of the new consciousness nor my ability to click back into it seemed affected in any way by variations in diet, environment, or activities such as meditation.
Changes in Dreaming Patterns
One change that did impress me, however, was that to begin with my sleep seemed to become quite dreamless. Hitherto I had always been a big dreamer. In fact I seemed no longer to experience sleep as unconsciousness, but rather as with-drawal into something like the pure void-state of the original NDE. Then, after about two weeks, I woke one morning with a dream, and was very disappointed to find it a rather "boring" scenario totally lacking in mystical consciousness. My disappoint-ment grew as this experience was repeated several times over the following weeks, and I wondered if it meant my new consciousness was somehow superficial, doomed to fade before long. In fact, however, the consciousness remained undiminished in waking hours and at sleep onset; with a scientist’s hankering after quantification, I estimated that I stayed in it between 30% and 50% of my waking time.
The explanation of its absence from dreams became apparent as soon as I put aside disappointment and resumed regular dream-work, using the approach devel-oped by my wife, Dr. Ann Faraday (Faraday, 1973; 1976). I found that my dreams now, just as in my pre-NDE life, were working over, in their own distinctive dramatic-symbolic mode, various specific unresolved concerns of the day—and I immediately recognized these as the very preoccupations that had obscured mystical consciousness during my "drifts into forgetfulness." In fact my disappointment came from not taking our own dream theory seriously enough.
In the Faraday view, most dreams—even happy, creative, numinous, archetypal and transpersonal ones—derive from waking concerns requiring further attention, mainly thoughts, feelings or subliminal vibes passed over during the day because we were either too busy or unwilling to examine them. The essence of my mystical consciousness, on the other hand, is that each moment is enjoyed with full feeling-attention—not because I stop thinking or imagining, but because I am coming from a state of complete satisfaction with whatever is in the moment, irrespective of what has to be completed along the line of time. The clouds descend when consciousness gets caught up in some concern, high or low, and forgets its identity with the Void-Ground —and normal dreaming, in which the self is completely involved in whatever dream-drama is going on, is an exact reflection of this state of preoccupied forgetfulness.
Realizing this, I understood why many mystics have referred to unenlightened human life as a kind of waking dream. I also recalled the claim often made by J. Krishnamurti that he had "no need to dream" because he completes each waking moment in fully satisfied feeling-attention. He awakens each morning, he says, to a world completely new and fresh, having spent the night in a state beyond both dream and dreamlessness—perhaps the same state which Tibetan yoga describes as transcending the state between sleep and waking (Chang, 1963). Could this have been what I experienced in the first two weeks after the NDE?
What About Lucidity?
I remained very puzzled, however, about where lucid dreams fit into this picture, and tried several experiments to induce them by pre-sleep suggestion, without suc-cess. And then, at Easter 1984, I got my answer, and also my first dream that did include mystical consciousness, through an entirely unforeseen circumstance.
The occasion was a dinner party in Sydney at which my host continued unob-trusively to fill my glass with superb Australian wine to the point where I had drunk more than is my custom. All my Puritan Christian conditioning, reinforced by my studies in Eastern mysticism since the NDE, closed in on me with the fear that I might have sabotaged my mystical consciousness. In actual fact I could not detect any clouding at all—the party, and the streets on the way home after, were full of the usual blissful "Isness." But my worrying Topdog voices wouldn’t be shaken off, and I went to bed half convinced that I would wake next day to find I had betrayed my gift of grace, dissolved the pearl of great price in a mess of alcohol. Instead, I had the most remarkable dream of my life. Since it occupies seven pages of my dream diary, I can only give a bare summary here. It began as an ordinary dream.
I was wandering around Sydney and gradually becoming aware that most people couldn’t see me because I was dead. Of the few who could, one was Ann, and another the real-life President of the Australian Institute for Psychical Research, Eric Wedell. He seemed to have a special responsibility for instructing me in how to handle this strange post-mortem existence, and when he mentioned wine I suddenly became lucid. I knew this was a dream, in which my ghostly invisibility symbolized my post-NDE state and the dream-characters who could see me were the people who in waking life recognized that I was living in heaven here on earth, dead to "this world." I also knew I was creating this dream to explore my concern about drink and mystical consciousness, and I became aware of lying in bed in our apartment overlooking Sydney Harbor Bridge with my mouth dry from mild alcoholic dehydration.
Still in the dream, I recalled the discussion in Lucidity Letter following Charles Tart’s proposal (Tart, 1984) to restrict the term "lucid" to dreams in which there is full rational consciousness, including awareness of lying in a particular bed asleep. I thought to myself, ‘Well, here’s one for you Charlie!’, and continued with the dream, main-taining simultaneous consciousness of lying in bed in one room while talking to Eric in a quite different dream-room. I asked him outright what were the heavenly rules about drinking, to which he replied that "here," drink just wasn’t available for people likely to abuse it—and wouldn’t I like to try this new vintage? With a flash I saw that the real threat to my mystical consciousness lay not in drink itself but in getting caught up into an internal dialogue about drink, and to celebrate this "break" in dream-terms, I walked straight through the wall of the dream-room.
As I emerged into the street by the harbor my dream was flooded with mystical consciousness, not as something new, but as a simple recognition of what had actually been there all along, the exact same sense I have when I click back into the conscious-ness in waking life. I flew over the water, borne by a wind I knew to be the breath of God on creation’s first morning, and fainted at the beauty of it all—to wake in bed, my eyes brimming with tears of gratitude.
The gratitude has returned many times since, for I have used the insight again and again in waking life to break out of internal Topdog/Underdog dialogues (of many different kinds) and click back into mystical consciousness far sooner than I would otherwise have done. Largely thanks to this particular piece of dream-work, I am now enjoying the mystical state for well over half of most days, sometimes much more, and this has been accompanied by some quite astonishing effects—for example, an ability to take even quite unpleasant experiences like pain into the consciousness and find them, too, "very good" as I have described elsewhere (Wren-Lewis, 1985).
For the record here, I must state that I have not noticed any decrease in my dreaming, but this is no surprise. Dreams deal with specific unresolved concerns, any one of which can sometimes be worked over by several dreams of the same night, so even a small amount of time caught up in preoccupation during the day could still generate as much "need to dream" as a whole day of clouding. The "Krishnamurti phenomenon," if it occurs, would represent a quantum jump to com-plete dreamlessness when daily drifting into preoccupation is reduced to zero, and I am a long way from that yet.
Interpreting Lucid Dreams
Meantime, my main concern here is to report what I have learned from all this about lucid dreaming, and once again I must necessarily resort to summary. My dream described above completely confirms Faraday’s view (Faraday, 1976) that the contents of lucid dreams, including breakthroughs, flying and even the act of "awakening" to lucidity, can be interpreted in the same way as the contents of non-lucid dreams. Faraday links varying degrees of self-reflection or lucidity in dream-ing to occasions of comparable "awakening" during the day, when we catch our-selves out (albeit only partially or fleetingly) getting lost in some internal drama of our own making. In my case, the fleeting moment of waking lucidity must have occurred on the drive home from the party, when I looked around the Sydney streets and found them still full of blissful "Isness," despite my Topdog trying to persuade me otherwise.
The dream very clearly portrayed mystical consciousness as beyond the "awakening" to lucidity. Following the logic of a Faraday interpretation, I see this as a reflection of the fact that mystical consciousness includes but goes beyond psy-chological "awakening" to one’s internal dramas. This jibes with Ken Wilber’s repeated insistence (Wilber, 1981; 1983) that psychotherapy and human potential work can never themselves bring fulfillment or liberation, which is transpersonal, though they provide an essential foundation for it. In Wilber’s paradigm, mystical consciousness is presented as a separate stage of development, requiring yogic or Zen techniques, after psychological self-awareness has been attained; in my case, having been catapulted into mystical consciousness by the shock of the NDE, I now find myself having to use the self-therapy of dream-work to claim fully what I already have much of the time.
Because my NDE has given me this foothold beyond psychological self-awareness, I would expect, on Faraday principles, to have fewer spontaneous lucid dreams than I did before, since any time I catch myself out in an internal drama during the day I normally click straight back into mystical consciousness with no opportunity for the self-awareness to become an unfinished concern. I think lucid dreams are likely to arise for me now only in rather special circumstances like the Easter party, and so far I have had no further instances. For anyone without a mystical foothold beyond psychological self-awareness, on the other hand, I would expect the practice of regular dream-work of other human potential disciplines to be accompanied by an increase in all the stages of lucidity in dreams, just as Faraday reports (Faraday, 1976; 1978).
I suspect that my Archimedean foothold beyond self-awareness was also in some way responsible for the fact that my Easter 1984 dream gave me full "Tart-style" lucidity for the first time in my life, though the precise logic of this is not yet clear to me. I think Tart is wise to emphasize (Tart, 1984) that there could be some-thing like a difference of kind, rather than merely of degree, between knowing clearly in a dream that one is its author and actually being aware of sleeping in bed and of dreaming simultaneously. While the former would seem, on Faraday’s prin-ciple, to reflect some unacknowledged moment of self-awareness during the day, Tart’s lucidity seems to imply a state of consciousness transcending the distinction between sleep and waking, as envisaged in Tibetan dream yoga. I should therefore be extremely interested to know if Tart or anyone else who has experienced what he wants to call lucidity in dreams has ever done it spontaneously, or whether it is the result of some special exercise, as would be expected on Wilber’s paradigm.
In the light of all the above I would expect no simple correlation between NDEs and the incidence of lucid dreaming. There might even be a negative correlation if NDEs regularly produced mystical consciousness with full feeling-attention and complete satisfaction in each waking moment. Most NDEs, however, seem only to produce conversion-experiences, which, if they involve an impulse towards greater self-awareness, might bring an increase in lucid dreaming according to Faraday’s paradigm.
Chang, G. (1963). Teachings of Tibetan yoga. New York: University Books.
Faraday, A. (1973). Dream power. New York: Berkeley Books.
Faraday, A. (1976). The dream game. New York: Harper & Row (Perennial Library).
Faraday, A. (1978). Once upon a dream. Voices (Spring).
Lundahl, C.R. (Ed.) (1982). A collection of near-death findings. Chicago: Nelson-Hall.
Tart, C. (1984). Terminology in lucid dream research. Lucidity Letter, 3(1), 4–6.
Wilber, K. (1981). No boundary. Los Angeles: Shambhala.
Wilber, K. (1983). Eye to eye. Garden City, New York: Doubleday/Anchor.
Wren-Lewis, J. (1985). The darkness of God. Bulletin of the Australian Institute for Psychical Research, No. 5.
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3. Near Death, Near Dream
University of Pennsylvania
I will describe here an experience of mine which was in all its characteristics a near-death experience (NDE) except that ultimately there was no evidence that I had been near death, and which, except for my believing I had died, was similar to a number of earlier experiences of mine which had always occurred only in context of lucid dreams, that is dreams in which I know I am dreaming.
I have been a frequent lucid dreamer since 1976 and have experienced many "out-of-body" (OBEs) both in the context of lucid dreams and between dreaming and awakening, though never with verification that I had left the body. Before this "NDE," if I may call it such, I had experienced a number of times a brilliant light in which I felt God was present. This has always been in continuity from ordinary lucid dreaming, and has occasionally grown out of an experience of darkness (see Gillespie, 1985).
At least six years before my "NDE" I had read some excerpts from Moody’s Life after Life. Otherwise, I had not read much about NDEs, although I was familiar with Tibetan material on death experience. My "NDE" happened in the early morn-ing of February 18, 1985 in Calcutta. I wrote it down immediately afterward.
In an ordinary dream I was explaining to some people about death. Our interest was not simply theoretical, but related to real possibilities. I said, "You will see both darkness and light at the same time," meaning they would pass out of darkness into light.
After a transition that I don’t remember, I was floating in darkness wondering what was happening to me. I was going through some personal crisis I did not understand. Though I was not particularly aware of my (dreamed) body, I felt myself drift up. Sud-denly I entered the light, which I happily recognized. I knew then that I was again in the presence of God, and that this time I had died. The light was brilliant and filled my vision. There was a point above the level of my eyes from which the light appeared to radiate.
I did not remember waking life, nor did I know the circumstances of my death. I had some regrets at first, but my joy was greater than any regrets. I was spontaneously prayerful, calm and extremely happy. As I floated for some time in the light I repeated over and over with great feeling, "Thank you, Father." I was not thankful for dying, but for being in the presence of God and the light.
Then slowly I became aware that I was in bed. I woke up tingling and very much surprised to find that I had not died.
My "NDE" did not, to my knowledge, have a physiological base, nor an ob-vious psychological precipitant. The experience did continue the themes of death, darkness and light of the preceding ordinary dream. A possible factor is that a close friend died a few days later in the United States. I knew he had been in serious con-dition for some months, but being in India I did not know that he was close to death at the time.
The characteristics of my experience that are common to NDE accounts are: the feeling of crisis, floating up as in an OBE, passage through darkness, entry into a brilliant light, awareness of having died, consciousness of a presence in the light—in my case God, devotion, extreme joy, and resignation to having died. It was all very real to me and even upon waking reflection, very convincing.
All these elements I had experienced before in continuity from ordinary lucid dreaming, except the feeling of crisis and the "knowledge" that I had died. This knowledge came to me as a knowledge comes in dreams—I simply "knew it, as in an ordinary dream I may "know" I am in Hong Kong without any evidence in the dream environment. In a similar manner a near-death experiencer may "know" that she is dead, "know" that something good waits for her at the end of the tunnel, or "know" that the presence wants her to return to life (see Lundahl, 1982).
The experience of "dying," in continuity from an ordinary dream, contained elements of NDE, OBE, and mystical phenomena, while duplicating previous lucid dream-related experiences. It was not like an ordinary dream, nor like an ordinary lucid dream. But I find lucid dreams OBEs, mystical phenomena, and NDEs to be in a continuum with dream experience, and to be experienced as dreams are exper-ienced. When happening in the context of dreams, as lucid dreams do and OBEs sometimes do the connection with dreaming is more apparent. When happening apart from dreams, as mystical phenomena, NDEs, and OBEs usually do, the con-nection with dreams is not obvious. All these experiences have a commonality in that each is a kind of awareness-that-not-awake (ANA, can I say?) that is distin-guished from ordinary dreaming. While the lucid dreamer generally accepts the unreality of what is being experienced, those who experience OBEs, mystical phe-nomena, and NDEs generally accept the experience as really happening.
To see these experiences as dream-related or as in continuity from dreaming only partially explains them. There is a lot that we do not know about dreams, and these phenomena all have elements that take them decidedly beyond ordinary dreaming.
Gillespie, G. (1985). Ordinary dreams, lucid dreams and mystical experience. A paper pre-sented at the annual Lucid Dream Preconvention Symposium at the international con-ference of the Association for the Study of Dreams, Charlottesville, Virginia (June).
Lundahl, C.R. (Ed.) (1982). A collection of near-death research readings. Chicago: Nelson Hall.
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4. CODE BLUE: A New Beginning
Fort Dodge, Iowa
My story begins on the warm, star-lit night of August 3, 1986—a night destined to stand alone from all the others that preceded it as suddenly it became isolated in time. The night was calm and tranquil, yet it held within it the power to change my life forever.
Prior to this time, during my college years, I had begun a period of my life in which I progressively abandoned everything that had previously served to structure my life and instill it with direction and purpose. I found myself wandering aimlessly through those years as I desperately sought to regain the direction and contentment I had once known. I became more dissatisfied with my life as I drifted from one in-terest to another, draining the excitement and enthusiasm from each before moving on to the next. I exhausted my options one by one as I closed door after door behind me, each taking me one phase farther away from my true self. I felt lost, no longer knowing who I was or where to turn, as I prayed for an answer that would turn my life around and once again structure it with the proper meaning I was then missing.
On the night of August 3, I had just arrived home after withdrawing from the summer-school term at the University of Northern Iowa and was without the use of a car. My father lent me his for the evening: a two-door Toyota sports car which was smaller and lighter than what I was accustomed to driving. My long-time friend John and I, who was just married the previous month, had spent the evening together cooking hamburgers on the grill and watching movies on television. Having reached some decisions about how I planned to turn my life around, we discussed what was to happen over the course of the next few days as I prepared to join the service. I was no longer in school and had completed all preliminary requirements after I had enlisted and had only to have a physical examination the next day, at which time I would be flown away to begin my training. As the evening passed, I began to express some reluctance and uncertainty about my decision to leave school. We decided to continue our conversation while we relaxed in my car and drove in the country.
Shortly before 2:00 a.m. we turned down a large hill behind my house leading us out into the countryside on the River Road, so called because of the way in which it paralleled the Des Moines River which passed through Fort Dodge, where I was raised. It was a road that I knew well (perhaps too well) from the countless miles that I had spent on it training for my hobby and talent, which was running.
As we drove on, still less than one mile from my home, I commented on how peaceful and calm it was overlooking the river below with the stars shining in the sky above and the airport lights glistening in the distance as they broke through the shroud of darkness which blanketed the horizon. The night seemed unusually dark and still as the darkness enveloped the road, encompassing everything within it and smothering all movement and sound. As we continued our descent down the hill into the darkness, which would serve as an ominous reminder of that night, my friend turned to me and acknowledged a strange feeling that came over him and in turn reached across and locked his seat belt into its fastened position. I felt that same feeling as shivers tingled up my back, chilling my body while I reached across and pulled my seat belt toward its fastened position, but then hesitated and released it back to its resting position.
As we continued on, still less than one mile from my house, we approached a curve in the road which had recently been resurfaced after sliding into the river far below during a rainstorm. I braked and slowed as we approached the turn, but sud-denly the car was jolted as we crossed a dip in the road which separated the old from the new pavement. The impact caused the car to sway from side to side offsetting our momentum, and the car was forced to the right. It was as though we were sliding on ice as the front wheels of the car hit the shoulder, causing us to fishtail back across the road. The car then veered to a cliff on the left, where a guard rail outlined the edge of the road separating it from the drop to the river below. I was able to avoid striking the guard rail, but was sent skidding back again to the right. Everything became a blur as I saw the guard rail and reflectors go flying by. The headlights illuminated so clearly the many reflectors that outlined the road, each like a conductor’s lantern swaying back and forth in the night radiating the most brilliant and distinctive light. The brightness of the car’s lights turned the shroud of darkness into the crisp white-ness of day, encompassed in a strange heavenly radiance. The trees sketched within the headlights came to life as they danced grotesquely back and forth ahead of me like puppets on a string. I felt as though I was witnessing the many toys of a toy shop come to life to torment and mesmer [sic] me as they mesmerized me with their play. I became dizzy and fearful as I swelled with nausea, as though I was on some type of sickening and demented carnival ride, but this ride would take me where no carnival ride had before. Was this the "point of no return"? Seconds seemed like minutes as my stomach sickened with nausea and dread. Would we ever stop?
The stars in the sky above blurred through the windshield as they spun round and round like a swarm of fireflies swirling around their nest. Everything seemed to stand still as that small fragment of time became so vivid and suspended. The song playing on the radio faded away as I became lost in the stars as they danced through the windshield intriguing me with their enchanting serenade, as if calling me to come dance with them. No longer did they seem so distant in the sky as they swirled around me seemingly within my grasp. The speedometer, which was violently thrashing back and forth within its confinement, struggling to free itself, was then frozen as if captured within a picture. The fluorescence of the dashboard lights became three-dimensional as they flared with radiance but suddenly subsided, like a bonfire when doused with gasoline. The landscape was still as if frozen and no longer seemed real.
I could no longer feel my hands against the steering wheel as my body seemed to go numb. I could no longer feel the seat and I felt separate from my body. I felt airy and lightheaded as I rose out of my seat and looked down upon my hands which were frozen with terror as they clutched at the steering wheel, causing the tendons to protrude with tension. I felt as though I had disappeared as the stars carried me away to their heavenly playground far above and left my body frozen with strain and terror within the car. It seemed so peaceful as I floated away and became lost within the stars.
That was the last I was to remember of that night for quite some time. I didn’t remember the car being thrown from the road into the ditch and against an embankment. I didn’t remember the car nosing into a culvert as it buckled the car. I didn’t remember the sound of glass breaking and metal being torn as the car slammed into a tree during mid-roll. I didn’t remember my ear being ripped away as my head collided with the windshield. Nor did I remember the sound of my neck as it snapped under the weight of the car like that of a twig under foot.
The car came to rest on its top, pinned between two trees, with John and I trapped and unconscious beneath its weight. Approximately forty minutes lapsed before John became conscious and oriented. Trapped beneath the twisted wreckage, he panicked to free himself but was unable to open the door which was pinned shut by a tree. Eventually, despite the limited space due to the flattened and smashed roof, he was able to crawl through a shattered window. He was still very disoriented, but managed to reach a nearby farmhouse and get help.
Having difficulty locating the car as it lay hidden within the woods, the authorities began their search for me upon arrival. Soon after they began their search, John became more oriented and remembered the location of the car.
Help appeared beyond use for me as the Webster County Sheriff found the car at 3:15 with me unconscious inside. Upon arrival, the sheriff reached his hand inside the car, but was unable to register my pulse. Apparently absent of vital signs, the proper medical authorities were notified of my fatality and called to the scene. The paramedics and Fort Dodge fire department soon arrived, followed by the Webster County Coroner, but were unable to reach me in the car. As they began their struggle to reach me and resuscitate me, the Jaws of Life were used to force open several parts of the car to allow the paramedics and coroner to crawl inside and help me. At that time my vital signs were still absent, but after several resuscitation attempts my pulse was registered. I was left within the car until my condition warranted safe extraction. After my pulse stabilized and my injuries were protected and my neck secured, I was removed from the car and taken to a nearby hospital where the staff struggled to keep me alive.
Both John and I were taken to Trinity Regional Hospital in Fort Dodge and our parents were notified. Mine, however, received different news than did John’s. John was being treated and held for numerous body lacerations, a concussion, facial and head lacerations, and several cracked ribs. It was evident, however, that my needs could not be met there. The main interest at that time was to perform life-sustaining measures. The hospital staff then faced a critical decision. Could they risk trans-porting me to the care I was in need of?
Iowa Methodist Medical Center (IMMC) in Des Moines received notification of my condition and dispatched the Life Flight helicopter en route to Trinity Re-gional Hospital where I awaited its arrival. My survival then became a test of time. Would I survive long enough for the arrival of the helicopter? Would I survive the trip to Des Moines? I was still within the "golden hour," those first minutes that would determine whether I would live.
By the time my parents had arrived at the hospital, I had already begun my journey to IMMC in Des Moines where emergency and trauma room staff were put on standby awaiting my arrival. It was crucial to my survival that I make it to Des Moines before such processes as spinal shock (trauma and shock to my spinal cord due to spinal cord damage) and brain trauma (trauma and shock to my brain due to a closed head injury) began to set in. These processes cause swelling and can cause life-sustaining functions to cease working. The Life Flight crew, qualified as they were, were not prepared and set up to handle such things as this. They would be in need of more qualified equipment than was found on the helicopter.
As my parents continued their long and agonizing travel to Des Moines, still not knowing much of what to expect, I completed my life-determining journey as my conditioned yet worsened. By the time they arrived in Des Moines, spinal shock and head trauma had set in. My spinal cord and brain began to swell, which caused my respiratory system to shut down. At that time, I was put on a life support respirator system which did my breathing for me, and thus maintained my vital signs—my life was being sustained by mechanical and artificial means of respiration.
My condition was such that any surgery to relieve the pressure upon my spinal cord was not possible, but was necessary. I was far from being stable enough to un-dergo any such surgery. The doctors then had to wait for my condition to improve.
Then, breathing with aid of the respirator, other minor injuries sustained in the accident became the major focus. While being thrown within the car, my head collided with the broken windshield which buckled inward when the roof was flattened. I sustained a severe laceration on the right side of my head, beginning at my temple continuing back and down through my ear. This left a great deal of glass embedded in my skull and my ear almost totally severed and avulsed (torn and ripped off). Plastic and reconstructive surgery were later performed on both as well as other various cuts to my forehead. During the impact of my chest with the steering wheel, my lungs sustained slight damage (contusions and crushing). Such things as broken toes, sprained fingers, and various stresses placed on my joints were left alone. Until I could undergo further testing such as X-rays and CAT scans, much of these would go undetected.
Soon following, I underwent the CAT scans and X-rays which revealed that I had sustained a fracture and dislocation of my third and fourth cervical vertebrae (C3-4 FxD), and a closed head injury (CHI) type of brain damage along with various types of lung and soft tissue damage. Until I grew stable enough to undergo surgery, there was no way to know exactly to what extent my spinal cord had been injured. The doctors did know, however, that I was "incomplete" (meaning the spinal cord was not totally severed) because with my level of injury, which was very high and very compound, had I been "complete" (spinal cord totally severed) I would have been dead instantly. Yet, there was no way of knowing what the extent of the brain damage and paralysis would be.
I was placed in an intensive care unit (ICU) under close supervision and put in cervical traction. I was still dependent upon artificial respiration. Holes were drilled on either side of my head just behind and below both temples. These holes were to accommodate the "Angel Tongs" which were then screwed into both holes. These tongs resembled ice-tong calipers and were attached to the bed by a spring-cable device with twelve pounds of traction weights. They resisted any movement and pulled my head away from my body in order to align and secure my damaged neck. I was placed on a kinetic bed which molded around my body much like a ginger-bread man cookie cutout. I lay within this cutout while the kinetic bed rotated from side to side. This bed completed one turn every five minutes and could be stopped for caring needs. The reason for the rotation was to aid circulation and prevent decu-bitus ulcers (bed sores) on my pressure points. Nasogastric (NG) tubes were inserted into my stomach through my nose from which I would receive liquid nourishment. Endotracheal (ET) tubes were inserted into my lungs through my nose and throat so that I could be ventilated and my lungs, which were then filling with fluids and phlegm, could be suctioned out. Intravenous (IV) tubes were inserted into my arms to help keep me hydrated and to maintain a fluid balance as well as to allow admin-istration of medication.
As the hours passed and I continued my struggle to hold on, my condition continued to worsen and I went into a deep comatose state. At that time, the neurologists advised my ever confused and agonized parents that if I survived I would be quadriplegic, and it was quite likely that I would be restricted to bed and be respirator dependent for the rest of my life.
While to the world I was initially in a coma, I can find no words to sufficiently express the beauty and magnificence of what I was to experience during the next weeks. Any attempt to capture or convey the experience in words serve only to fall short. What I was to experience was something beyond this world and cannot adequately be described in worldly terms. I was to encounter the most mysterious yet peaceful occurrence of feelings and sensations which continue to overwhelm me and influence my life with contentment, love, and joy.
Having no remembrance of the night of the accident and the events which were to follow, I awoke within myself seemingly suspended in the midst of a dark void to encounter the most shocking combination of pain and confusion. I felt lost within a nightmare as I struggled to awaken and free myself from the grasp of this horrifying dream. I felt as though my eyelids had been sewn shut as I struggled to open my eyes but could not. I was aware of the radiant glow of the lights external to my body as they passed though my eyelids far above me, like that of the sun as it pierces the eyelids of sunbathers on a beach. I looked above from down within myself and saw the holes where my eyes were; they seemed like keyholes in a door as the light radiated through them like a movie projector with its stream of light piercing the darkness of a theater.
Feeling trapped beneath a blanket of ice with the current carrying me helplessly downstream, I panicked to reach the surface but could not oppose the current’s powerful but gentle flow. I feared that surely I would suffocate if I did not reach the surface to breathe. I continued to be pulled away into this nightmare by the steady stream beneath the ice, like an astronaut severed from the life-sustaining ship, float-ing eternally into the nothingness of space. Filled with terror, I struggled to resist as I waited for someone to awaken me before I had drifted too far away to return. I was filled with horror as I could not awaken from this dream. As I panicked to free my-self, I thought of my family. How simple it would be for then to awaken me, but I could not call to them through this nightmare which isolated me from them.
Soon the pain overcame my horror and confusion as it continued to grow more agonizing and unbearable. I sought desperately to awaken and free myself from its excruciating sting, but could not. As the pain continued to grow and overcome my confusion and I realized the futility of my struggle to awaken, I sought to escape the pain by seeking shelter deep within my body. No longer did I resist the pull of the current as I ceased my struggle and allowed the current to carry me away deep within my body to safety.
As I sought to shelter from the pain and drifted deeper within my body to escape, I felt as though my physical mind and body knew instinctively what to do while they pushed my inner "self" to safety and endured the pain and confusion for me. Like an electrical fuse box, my body released its protective circuit breaker when overwhelmed by the pain too powerful to endure safely. When my body was confronted with the painful overload caused by my injuries, its protective circuit breaker prevented further damage to the inner "self," the core of my "being." My physical body was the autopilot as my inner self bailed out to safety, avoiding the pain which was too overwhelming to endure. Like a bomber pilot jumping to safety with a parachute just before the maimed airplane came crashing to the ground, I jumped to safety as well. As a person who seeks shelter within the security of a fruit cellar beneath a basement floor during a storm, so did I seek shelter far down within my body. Once there, I closed the door behind me and sat huddled within its safety in darkness and silence waiting for the storm to pass. My empty body around me became a hollow shell from which I hung suspended in weightlessness in the middle, like a large abandoned airplane hanger: hollow and dark.
Then safe within the security of the current, my journey downward within my body became a series of shelters where I rested and sought refuge within its safety. There I waited and gathered strength, until the pain lingering ominously behind which I had crawled deep within my body to escape, caught up with me and pene-trated the walls of my shelter, forcing me to go deeper within my body seeking the next shelter. There again, I waited and gathered strength until the pain caught up with me forcing me to go deeper yet to elude it. This journey downward was like that of a soldier in a war, retreating from the chaos of the front lines to avoid the tor-rents of bombshells raining down upon him, threatening his life, and seeking shelter within one foxhole and another, hesitating within one before moving on to the next, progressively getting farther from danger and closer to safety. This journey was like a pedestrian running from one doorway to another during a rainstorm, getting closer and closer to the warmth of home.
Then, passive, I felt a gentle current overcome me with its flow, as it carried me away within its security. No longer did I resist its pull, and I wondered to where I was drifting. No longer did I feel the urgency to breathe, and I realized that it was not necessary. No longer did I feel the panic to awaken or struggle or resist the flow. No longer did I experience the pain and uncontrollable nightmares and feelings that came with them. No longer did I sense the movement of my physical body around me or the uncontrollable gagging, and the choking noises I had previously identified as being my own had ceased. The degree to which I had previously struggled to resist, I then desired to go on in search of an answer to my questions of what was happening to me. I looked far above to the surface, and I saw the light which passed through my eyelids slowly fade away. I felt the security of a young child cradled in its mother’s arms as the warmth of the current encompassed me within its safety.
Still safe within the pull of the current as it carried me to safety deep within my body, I attempted to rationalize what was happening to me. I did not know where I was, how I had gotten there, or where I was going, but somehow found great safety and security. I could not explain the unbearable pain I had previously felt and strug-gled to escape, or the gentle isolation of the blackness which surrounded me. I could not comprehend why it was not necessary for me to breathe and why I did not suffo-cate as earlier I had feared. I soon thought that I was home in bed and deep asleep, but I had no remembrance of this and I could not explain how I could be "awake" and talking and thinking and yet asleep at the same time. Was this a dream? If so, why was I unable to awaken from the grasp of this nightmare? When would I awak-en? I found no justifiable answer to my questions and soon came to the worst of all possible explanations. Was I dead? If so, why was I talking to myself and why could I feel pain? I thought of my family and friends and of their sadness. I had left with-out saying good-bye. I felt sorrow for the many things I had not yet done while alive. The pain that I had gone deep inside myself to escape caught up with me and again I was forced to go deeper yet within myself to escape it.
When I reached my last and final shelter, I felt as though I could go no deeper as I locked the door behind me and waited within the security of my refuge. Somehow I "knew" that there I would remain and had reached the end of my journey. This last refuge became a fortress different than those before it. It seemed more calm and tran-quil there than that of my previous shelters. The pain which I had desperately sought to elude was never able to penetrate the walls of this refuge as it had been able to before. I left all contacts with my physical body far behind and above me where they would remain. There I left all physical ties behind, leaving only my inner "self," the core of my "being," then separated from the external world far above and outside the new world of my "self." Before I entered this refuge, which was a fortress stronger than those before it, I shed all contacts with my physical body, leaving only my inner "self" to pass through the walls of this fortress. My pain remained tied to my physical body, which was unable to pass through the walls of this fortress. The pain remained like a fierce dog leashed to a tree outside my fortress, unable to deliver its bite. I shed my pain before entering this fortress like a workman removing his soiled boots on the doorstep before entering the cleanliness of home. This refuge was a barrier protecting me from the pain which lingered outside its walls. Somehow, I "knew" that there I would be safe and would remain to ride out the storm. My pre-vious feelings of fear, confusion, and pain dissipated into feelings of peace, tranquil-ity, and safety like I had never known before. Moreover, despite the absolute silence of this refuge I was able to "hear" the sounds to be heard, yet I could "hear" the many feelings that emanated within my refuge. I became "aware" of the absolute darkness yet was never blinded by it nor did it hinder my vision. There was nothing to see, yet I could "see" like never before. There I remained "alive" and was never lonely as something, someone, somehow instilled me with safety and well-being. I grew con-tent with the feelings of peace and tranquility that surrounded me. "Warmth" radi-ated within my refuge and there I had no answers to my questions, but yet I had no questions either. While there, I lost touch with all constructs of time and order. I did not grow tired or hungry. All physical needs and drives were left behind, leaving the mental "self" separated from the world far above and outside the new world of my "self." I had no rationalization of where I was nor how I got there, but somehow found a great deal of security and safety. What I was experiencing was like a dream but without mental illusion: everything seemed real and conscious but nothing like I had ever experienced. I did not know where I was or what was happening to me, but I no longer cared as all my questions disappeared. I did know, however, that I was safe and there I would ride out the storm.
As I waited there and gathered strength, the storm began to pass and soon I had the feeling it was time to go. Something, someone, somewhere, who had instilled me with a sense of well-being, stood behind me reassuring me of my safety. As I left my dark corner towards the hatch-door securing my refuge, I stopped to gather the courage to open the door. As I did so, I looked far ahead of me toward the front lines from which I had previously escaped.
The first few steps were very awakening and shocking as I felt the sting of the pain which I had previously eluded. Leaving my refuge was like a school boy’s first few steps out of a warm house in the morning during a cold snowstorm, beginning his walk to school. However, like a mother bird pushing the young birds out of the nest to learn to fly while she overlooks with a watchful and protective eye, so too was I pushed out with a gentle hand. The reassurance and security that I had learned to feel within my refuge went with me, and although I did not know what was awaiting me, I knew from this that I could face it.
My journey to consciousness was like that of a coal miner’s journey from deep within the mine, getting closer and closer to the surface. As I climbed closer to consciousness, I was able to sense the fresh air, like that of a refreshing summer breeze on the coal miner’s face when he reached the surface and gathered in the warm sunshine of the day.
My refuge was gone, but the feelings stayed within me. These feelings of safety allowed me to begin the road to recovery.
I opened my eyes on Wednesday, nearly five days after the accident. At that time it appeared I was going to live, although I still had difficulty maintaining consciousness. At that time, I still required the aid of a respirator and was yet unable to undergo surgery.
As the days passed, I slipped in and out of consciousness more readily, but when awake was extremely disoriented and confused, both from the trauma of the acci-dent and from the brain damage which at that time was quite evident. I spent the next few weeks drifting between my unconscious refuge of tranquility and the waking state of confusion and pain. As I struggled to come to terms with what was awaiting me in my waking state, I found myself seeking the safety I had previously felt while in my refuge from within myself. I was able to withdraw from my waking state as I slipped back into my hidden world of peace. With each transition between waking and my refuge I progressively started my journey upward from deep within myself. Each transition brought me one step closer to the surface. Although very frightened and confused, I was able to summon the courage and contentment which I had felt while in my refuge, which remained within me. While in my shelter far below, I learned to foster great feelings of warmth and peace, which I was able to bring to the surface with me. Although I was no longer within the safety of my refuge, the feel-ings of security, peace, and contentment remained with me as I began my journey toward the surface. I was not certain of what awaited me as I approached my waking state, but I knew that I could face it with the feelings of security and well-being that I fostered while in my refuge. As I approached what then seemed inevitable, I felt great contentment that I had never experienced before except in my refuge.
Upon each awakening, the doctors told me over and over that I was in a car accident and was paralyzed. They told me I was a quadriplegic and that I would be in a wheelchair for the rest of my life—hopefully, an electric wheelchair if I had use of a hand to operate it. I would require assistance in all activities of daily living (ADL). After a few days, I was transferred to a recovery floor for spinal cord damaged and head trauma patients when my condition warranted that I was no longer dependent upon a respirator.
After undergoing further CAT scans and X-rays, the doctors decided to perform a cervical fusion on my neck to give me added stability when being moved and when sitting upright in a wheelchair. When my respiratory system began to function and clear, the doctors received authorization to perform the operation.
My neck consisted of seven cervical vertebrae and in an injury such as mine, the higher the injury the worse the damage and subsequent paralysis. Consequently, the more vertebrae damaged the more severe the extent of spinal cord damage. I sustained a fracture-dislocation of my third and fourth cervical vertebrae, requiring that my second through fifth vertebrae be fused together as one. Several bones were cut from my hip and fused into my neck with wires and pins. The added bones acted as a bridge for new bone to grow across and become permanent. The surgery took seven hours to complete and four of the seven vertebrae were fused. After the surgery was completed, I was transferred back to the intensive care unit for recovery for two days.
At that time, the neurologists advised my parents that I would never have use of my arms or legs; I would be a quadriplegic for the remainder of my life. Further-more, they said the next two weeks would be crucial in determining if I would get any movement whatsoever.
The safety and contentment of my refuge remained within me in my waking state and allowed me to put the fear, pain, and confusion aside as I focused on the external world around me. I did not know what the future would hold for me, but I did know that I was safe and whatever awaited me I could accept and overcome.
As I began the physical demands of therapy, I often seemed "absent" as I clicked back into my new "awareness" which I then experienced while conscious. My refuge acted as a well of "warmth" which supplied my body with the necessary nutrients for life—a well which continued to grow and overflow within me, drain-ing off to other areas of my body as I directed its flow. Each night, as I began my struggle to repair my damaged body from within myself, I focused upon a different area of my body. I concentrated upon the warmth deep within me and became one with it. Then deep within the warmth at that point of very focusing, I concentrated upon bypassing the damaged circuitry of my spinal cord. As I flowed with the warmth throughout my body, I concentrated upon the circuit. My every extremity drew upon the warmth flowing deep within my body as it was filled with the life of the warmth that supported it. I was filled with a great feeling of "aliveness," as I continually expressed to those around me the true joy of life that I then felt. Insistent as I was, doctors, nurses, and friends were skeptical to believe the genuineness of my feelings, as they labeled me as "confused," "experiencing denial," and having "unrealistic optimism for being alive." As they waited for my spirit to subside and for me to "come to grips" with my problem, my spirit grew all the more stronger as my spirit ordered. They could not understand how I could feel "alive" and yet be without the use of my body. Feeling "alive" is not a state of body, but of "self" and this they could not grasp. How tied to the material they were!
I was able to find joy and contentment in my present situation. I did not know how I knew what I did. I simply "knew," and trusted that feeling within me. Two weeks after the surgery which aligned my vertebral column and consequently re-lieved the pressure on my spinal cord, while conducting my personal care needs, the attending nurse noticed the toe moving on my right foot. Thinking it was a muscle spasm, she ignored it. Another nurse came into the room and then called for the doctor who was astonished when I started moving the toe on command.
On December 12, nearly five months of prayers and hard work later, I walked into my new life as I left Iowa Methodist Medical Center with the use of a cane.
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5. Reflections on Lucid Dreaming and
A Catholic Monk
Note from Guest Editor, Kathryn Belicki: The following are excerpts from a series of letters written primarily to Charles Tart, with a few to Stephen LaBerge, by Father "X" from 1982 to 1988. In them, he describes his lucid dreams and OBEs, which commenced in 1974 and have occurred sometimes as frequently as three to four times per week. These experiences were not deliberately sought but occurred spon-taneously. In fact, initially Father "X" underwent extensive neurological testing because he assumed a neurological problem was causing his experiences. When he discovered that he was not alone in having them, he began his fascinating correspon-dence with Tart and LaBerge, always sending copies to Jayne Gackenbach. In these letters he details his experiences, struggles with their possible meaning or signifi-cance, and speculates about their origin. With Father "X"’s permission, I have or-ganized the following excerpts around several themes which emerge from his letters.
On the Need for More Investigation Into These Phenomena, and, More Generally, for Greater Understanding about Them by Both Professionals and the Public
January, 1982. I delayed writing to you because I am a Catholic monk, and I feared that if my experiences were made public I might possibly wind up becoming an embarrassment to my monastic community. This would grieve me deeply. On the other hand, I felt a strong obligation to reveal my experiences to some professional psychologist who is investigating this field, in the hope that my experiences might make some contribution to understanding this phenomenon.
I better say right at the beginning that my lucid dream experiences are tied up with another, even stranger phenomenon, which I can only describe as "out-of-body" experiences. I realize that the mere mention of this phenomenon raises smiles and sneers on the faces of a great many people, and believe me, there was no greater skeptic than myself until I began to have my own out-of-body experiences.
. . . I did not reveal my experiences to anyone, for fear they would give me the same answer I was giving myself: that I was having hallucinations. Instead, I began prowling through the psychology section of our library to try to find some scientific or non-scientific explanation for these weird experiences. Finally, I came across a book entitled Altered States of Consciousness, edited by Charles Tart of the Univer-sity of California at Davis. . . . I can’t tell you how reassuring it was to know that instead of hallucinating myself into a nervous breakdown, I could possibly be hav-ing a legitimate psychological experience, albeit highly unusual. As I began to have more and more of these experiences, my fear of them decreased sharply, because just as in the paralysis attacks, neither my physical nor my mental health seemed to suffer from them; consequently, my intellectual curiosity was aroused and I began a concerted effort to glean as much information from these experiences as possible.
October, 1982. I wonder if he realized how hard it was for me to write that letter: I agonized over it for months before I mailed it. It was not easy for a person who al-ways thought of himself as being a fairly normal, well-adjusted adult, to have to con-fess that he was having experiences that defied rational explanation. Finally I became firmly convinced that my experiences were significant, but it would take a trained scientist to interpret them, and this was the motivating factor that caused me to write the letter. Any embarrassment I might encounter is surely a small price to pay.
March, 1983. The trouble with having frequent out-of-body experiences is that they force you to walk a very lonely road; you would like to talk to someone about them but where can you find someone who won’t think that you are a prime candidate for a mental institution? Orthodox medicine would be of little help: some of the doctors I know think it is rather strange for modern men to be living as celibate monks, so it would not be too difficult to imagine their reactions if I revealed my experiences to them—lack of normal sex life has obviously unhinged my mind. Many of my broth-er monks are loving, generous men but they would not know how to incorporate this sort of thing into their world; it would be completely foreign to their training unless it had spiritual overtones, which my experiences do not seem to have, at least not of a positive kind. . . . I have often tried to put myself in the position of the third person listening to someone telling me of his out-of-body experiences, without ever having experienced them myself; and as open-minded as I would hope to be, I would prob-ably conclude that this person was a good candidate for extensive psychotherapy. It is really terrible the way we have all been programmed by our culture into believing that any psychological experience that deviated from the accepted norm must be labeled as an illness. I often wonder how many of us realize that the root meaning of that often ill-used word "hallucination" is "wandering in the mind." What greater ex-periences can a person have than to explore the depths of his own mind?
March, 1988. But my major disappointment about my visits to this sleep laboratory was that nobody there seemed to know anything about lucid dreaming or the research that was being done on it. One of my motivations for going there was the hope I might find someone knowledgeable in the field who I could talk to about my exper-iences. Therefore it was a real disappointment that no one knew what I was talking about when I used the term "lucid dream." I’m sure the psychiatrist thought I was talking about some vivid, unconscious dream; and when I started talking about out-of-body experiences and a possible demonic aspect to some of my experiences—well, I suspect that any possibility of my being taken as a rational person probably went out the window right there.
On the Relationship Between Lucid Dreaming and Out-Of-Body Experiences
January, 1982. After undergoing hundreds of these experiences, covering a period of seven years, I came to the conclusion that lucid dreams (or any type of dream) and out-of-body experiences are one and the same, which means, I suppose, that when we dream, we are actually undergoing an out-of-body experience; we have released some sort of "dream-body." This is, of course, all speculation on my part, based solely on my own subjective experiences and not on any hard psychological facts.
I believe that these experiences did not just come upon me "out of the blue," but were the end product of a strange paralysis which afflicted me for years. It was back in the early 60’s when I began to have sudden attacks of this paralysis during the evening as I lay in bed. It was right at that point when consciousness has let go and sleep is about to take over. The attacks seemed to last some ten or fifteen seconds, and although I was aware of my surroundings, I could not move a muscle from head to toe. The attacks kept coming, and along with them came a great deal of noise—sounds similar to an engine cranking up, . . . or the screeching of railroad wheels. If this were not enough, my body was trembling from head to foot with severe vibra-tions, and sometimes (not always) there were voices that seemed to be making small talk far off in the distance. . . . That is how it went from year to year until a night in late 1974 when something happened that gave me the scare of my life. I was lying in bed waiting for sleep to come on when I felt the paralysis beginning to take hold of me; sometimes I can fight the paralysis off if I catch it in time, but this time it swept over me too fast, so I just settled back to let it run its course:
. . . when the vibrations began, they were stronger than I have ever felt them and all of a sudden I felt myself being lifted off my bed and flung through the ceiling; the next thing I knew, I was floating in the air about 500 feet above the ground; but I was not outside my monastery; it looked like I was flying over a typical outlying suburb of any American city. After flying around for a few minutes I finally "landed." It was around dusk, and I started walking up a street which had houses on either side of it. I reached a house where there was a young girl sitting on a porch; I noticed she had a bruise on her leg; as I had no idea of what to say I just blurted out the first thing that came to my mind: "Is there a church around here?" I asked. "Yes," she replied, "there is one on the campus of National University." "Is it a Catholic church?" I asked. "Yes," she replied. She gave me directions, and as I resumed walking I could see the headlights of cars coming down the street, but before I reached the corner, I found myself back in bed.
Little did I know then that this was to be the first of hundreds of similar exper-iences which I refer to as "out-of-body" experiences for want of a better term.
. . . The lucid dreams began the week following my first out-of-body exper-ience; I was having a normal dream (by this I mean a dream in which I have no awareness that I am dreaming unless I wake up and reflect upon it) when all of a sudden something triggered complete consciousness in me:
I was now fully aware that my body was lying in bed and here I was in this "dream-world." Recalling my out-of-body experience from the previous week, I jumped up in the air to see if I could float around, and sure enough, there I was, floating around like an astronaut in his weightless environment.
October, 1982. The reason that I made the supposition that out-of-body experiences and lucid dreams were one and same was because the only difference I could see between them was the way I entered them. The world I was entering appeared to be the same for both phenomena. My out-of-body experiences always began with a period of paralysis and vibrations throughout my whole body; next, I would feel myself leaving my body, and off I would go. The lucid dreams always began with a normal dream (possibly a better term would be "non-lucid dream") which turned into a lucid dream. In some mysterious way my subconscious mind (which I assume is controlling my non-lucid dream) relinquished control of my thoughts and actions back to my day-conscious mind. But what about the dream-world environment that I am still in? Who or what is controlling that? Surely it could not still be my subcon-scious mind, unless it relinquished only a portion of control and still manifested control over the environment; but could this be so? Well, as I said, I am only a nov-ice when it comes to understanding psychology of the mind.
January, 1986. I believe you (LaBerge) are absolutely right when you suggest that out-of-body experiences should be more accurately described as "Wake-initiated" lucid dreams (WILDs) because the people having these experiences are not travel-ing in physical space but in mental space, and consequently, have not left their bod-ies. I am sure that your idea will meet with a lot of resistance since most of us are so conditioned into thinking in terms of three-dimensional physical space, that the con-cept of mental space would be difficult to conceive.
I have always been uncomfortable with describing some of my experiences as "out-of-body" experiences for the following reasons:
1. Even when these experiences were extremely lucid and I had the vivid bodily sensation of moving around with the utmost ease, I always had this vague physical sense that I was still lying in my bed.
2. Then there was always the question of why I had never observed my body lying in my bed as Monroe and others have reported; even in those experiences where I found myself in a room similar to my own with a bed in it, the bed was always empty: on a few occasions the blankets were pulled back and there was an impres-sion on the bed that a body had been lying there, but there was never any body.
3. Finally, and this is the most important one, there were always those even stranger experiences when I had returned from an experience (either an out-of-body exper-ience or a lucid dream, it didn’t matter which). If I could feel the paralysis and vibrations still active in my body, all I had to so was just lie there and about sixty percent of the time I would reenter the experience I had just left or enter a complete-ly new one. It was totally without the sensation of leaving my body—it was instan-taneous. One second I would be lying on my bed and the next second I would be back in this strange dream world. I couldn’t call these experiences "lucid dreams" as they were not preceded by a normal dream, nor could I label them "out-of-body" experiences because I did not have the sensation of leaving my body, so what could I call them? It would seem that they would fall perfectly within your category of "Wake-initiated" lucid dreams.
So, even though I would place my "out-of-body" experiences within your cate-gory of "WILDs," I am not sure that Monroe’s experiences could also be placed in that category, specifically because of his having observed his body lying in his bed, which would seem to indicate something other than a lucid dream; but I am getting out of my depth here so I will leave that question to you and other researchers.
On the Relationship Between Lucidity and Dream Control
October, 1982. Although it is true that in these experiences the environment does occasionally change, it is not due to any conscious effort on my part that I am aware of. In A New Model of the Universe by the Russian scientist, P.D. Ouspensky, the chapter on dreams makes for fascinating reading, especially where he describes his attempts at changing the environment of his dreams while in what he calls a "half-dream state." He apparently was successful more times than not. I have made sim-ilar attempts in some of my experiences, but I have never been successful; conse-quently, I am led to conclude that the environment my experiences take me into is under the control of a source other than my own mind—conscious or subconscious.
. . . During most of his experiences, Monroe seems to have full control over his "Second Body," as he calls it, but this is not always the case with me. There have been many times when I could move around as freely as I do in our world, but there have been other times when I felt like I was walking through a sea of glue, with any movement painstakingly difficult. And there are varying degrees between these two extremes. Sight also can be a problem; again, sometimes I can see as well as I do in our world, but other times it is as if I am looking through a dirty windshield.
September, 1984. I can corroborate some of Dr. Tholey’s findings from my own experiences, but some of his other findings are contrary to mine. For example, I can support totally his supposition that the dream world seems to possess, at times, (more often than not in my case) an "inertia" or "lawfulness" all its own rather than being the dreamer’s subjective creation; in fact, I offered this suggestion in my original letter to Dr. LaBerge—that part of this world I entered seemed to be connected to my past history, but most of it was totally foreign to my experiences. Also, on any number of occasions I have tried to change the scene that I was confronted with but was totally unsuccessful, scenes do change and people do decrease in size but it is completely outside of my control.
There is something to his theory that fixing one’s gaze on some stationary ob-ject while in the lucid dream experience helps to dissolve the experience; on any number of occasions in my experiences while I was attempting to read some sign or paper, or concentrating heavily on the scene so as to impress it on my memory so I could write about it later, the scene began to fade and I found myself back in my bed. In a recent experience I tried his suggested technique of restabilizing the dream by glancing about, but it did not help at all, in fact I am convinced that it only helped to dissolve the dream. It is my feeling that if one could only just "flow" with the exper-ience and not try to concentrate too heavily on it, the experience would probably last longer. But these experiencers are so extraordinary, how can you not concentrate on them in an effort to understand them? It is something like walking on thin ice; if you can keep your mind off how thin the ice is, it may not break, but how can not think about it?
On Unpleasant Experiences in Lucid Dreaming, OBEs and Related Experiences
October, 1982. One of the most stunning similarities between Monroe’s experiences and mine is that we have both experienced "the man on our back." It has happened to me several times, and all were equally frightening. They usually happen to me when I am literally pulled out of my body and propelled through the sky above the clouds at a terrific rate of speed; if it is daytime, I can see the ground through the breaks in the clouds; if it is evening, I can see lights below. It is when I start to slow down and descend that I begin to feel a heaviness on my back. When I reach the ground, I usually regain control over my body and am able to shake him off. The first time it was a young white male who said his name was Alan; another time it was, again, an young white male who asked me for an aspirin. The latest one was the most unusual because I was not taken outside and driven through the sky, but was kept inside and propelled through a series of strange rooms until I was finally depos-ited in a room with three young women, and a short, fat, smiling, middle-aged man with glasses jumped off my back. In all these experiences the conversations was hard to pick up and the experience was very short.
. . . Another aspect of this world is that there don’t seem to be too many people smiling and laughing; and when you study some of their faces, there seems to be a hard cast to them, and sometimes there is a strange light in their eyes which is, to say the least, very unsettling.
. . . Monroe, at times, also seems to have had the same difficulty that I had in attempting to read any printed matter—it is either out of focus or unintelligible. He also has met with the same wariness and caution that I have met, while endeavoring to obtain information about dates and localities from the residents of this world. If I persist in my questioning they get angry and sometimes downright hostile. . . . An atmosphere of menace can come about in different ways; sometimes just by the very fact of a non-lucid dream becoming lucid. Let me cite a recent experience which is a good example of this type: About a month ago in a nonlucid dream:
I found myself in some sort of restaurant having dinner with two acquaintances. After finishing our dinner we got up to leave; it was then I noticed my jacket, which had been hanging on the back of my chair, was missing. I became very upset, and we began looking for it. The other restaurant patrons, about seven or eight, also helped; even the cook came out of the kitchen to lend a hand. Then, all of a sudden, in some mysterious way, complete lucidity came over me; I now had my complete day-conscious mind about me. I knew everything about myself, my past, my present—that my body was in my bed asleep and I was in a dream. I spoke in a loud voice, "My God! I’m in a dream again!" (No matter how many times this has happened to me, it still astonishes me). My acquaintances and the other patron of the restaurant looked at me with what I can only describe as a malevolent look in their eyes, and a few of them said in a menacing voice, "Yes, you are in a dream, aren’t you?" Then the cook walked towards me with what looked like a saw in his hand and said, "Now we will show you what it is like to be in a dream." He then proceeded to try to saw my head off; the next thing I knew I was back in my bed, head intact, I’m glad to say.
. . . In another experience, a few years ago, a middle-aged man with a sinister face came up to me and said, again in a disdainful voice, "Whey don’t you people give up that old supper of yours?" His reference to "old supper" I took to mean the Christian Eucharist we celebrate at mass. There is another aspect to this particular experience which makes it unusual, and that is the fact that he initiated the contact with me; in the great majority of my experiences, I am usually the one who has to make the first move at conversation.
If I related these experiences to some of my brother monks, they would have no doubt as to what is going on here—it is obviously the work of the demonic, and there is a good possibility that I have been selected to be a candidate for demonic possession. I hardly think I am worth the trouble, but if some diabolical powers are planning to do some nasty things to me, they are certainly going about it in a very curious way. As I said previously, when I enter this strange world, the people I meet are usually completely indifferent towards me; I have a sense that they know I am there, but, apparently, they couldn’t care less. I am usually the one who has to ini-tiate the conversation, and it is only when I start to pump them for information that they get angry and hostile.
. . . I was deeply touched by Mr. Monroe’s very personal account of the col-lapse of any religious faith he once had in a purposeful universe, watched over by a wise God, full of compassion and love for his creatures. I know how devastating it can be when the values of a lifetime begin to slip away and are found to be, if not entirely untrue, at least to be standing on a very shaky foundation. As you may have guessed, I now exist (partly because of my experiences) on a knife-edge between belief and doubt. But so far I have not succumbed to the temptation to view my experiences as opening the door to the ultimate reality; rather, it may only be a way-station to a further, deeper reality which is still closed to us; at least, this is what I hope and pray for.
March, 1983. I was forever searching for a mirror to see what my reflection looked like; finally in one experience I found one, and to this day it still gives me chills up my back when I think of it. The experience began as a normal dream which turned into a lucid dream:
I found myself in what looked like a motel room as it had all the furnishings asso-ciated with that type of room; I spotted a dresser with a large mirror on it, and I imme-diately walked over to it and looked into the mirror. The reflection that I saw was me all right; I was wearing a monastic robe, and the face that looked back at me was my face, but it had a sinister, almost evil cast to it and my eyeballs were revolving in their sockets and I could see the whites of my eyes.
It was many weeks before I got over this experience, and I am not too eager to search for any more mirrors. . . .
September, 1984. Another puzzle I began encountering in these experiences was that of conflicting dates. In one experience,
I found myself in some sort of business office; I noticed that there were three calen-dars on the wall and each one had a different year printed on it—1970, 1971, and 1975—and when I pointed out to him the different dates on the wall calendars, I was met with sly, sneering looks and threatening gestures from him and the other office workers. This is another facet of my experiences which keeps popping up—if I question the accuracy of these statements, these people become angry and hostile.
January, 1986. There was one early experience that I related to him which I never told you about, primarily because I was afraid that you might be turned off by its re-ligious overtones. It preceded all my out-of-body experiences and lucid dreams, and in terms of fear and terror it was the granddaddy of them all. What makes it so myste-rious is the fact that it was neither a lucid dream nor an out-of-body experience. In the monastery we lived in cells or cubicles in a dormitory. One night late in the evening as I was lying in my bed trying to go to sleep, but as usual, being unsuccessful:
I suddenly became aware that the normal sounds that one hears in a dormitory at night—people moving in their beds, snoring, coughing, wood creaking, overhead fan blowing, etc.—all these sounds had ceased, there was absolute, total, dead, silence. My bed was facing a window and I found myself staring at the top of the window; there was nothing there but I just couldn’t move my eyes away from it. Then all of a sudden, a tidal wave of fear swept over me, the likes of which I have never before or since felt. For the life of me I couldn’t understand what was happening; it was so irrational as there didn’t seem to be anything to fear, but there I was, lying in my bed literally paralyzed with fear. I couldn’t move a hair, I just kept staring at the top of the window. Then the air around me stared to take on a strange heaviness as if some intangible force was pressing down on me. Suddenly, out of the blue, a thought flashed into my mind: it was a passage from a book I had read a few months before; a biography about one of our Catholic saints, a little French nun, St. Theresa of Lisieu, who died in the early part of this century. At the end of the book when she is on her death-bed, she asked one of the nuns standing by her bed to move the crucifix as close to her as possible because she was feeling the power of evil so intensely; and that is the thought that flashed into my mind and could not be dislodged no matter how hard I tried. How long did this experience last? It is hard to measure these sorts of things but I would guess that it was at least fifteen minutes or longer. Finally, as quickly as the fear came over me, so did it vanish and along with it the heavy air that seemed to surround me. Then I started to hear the normal sounds of the dormitory and I was able to move my eyes away from the top of the window.
As you may imagine, I didn’t go to sleep the rest of that night. I just lay there trying to come up with some rational explanation as to what had happened, but no rational explanation was forthcoming. About a week later I moved out of the dormi-tory and into one of the small rooms for snorers which had become vacated, then a few nights later my out-of-body experiences and lucid dreams began.
It has been almost fifteen years since I had that experience and I can still re-member it vividly. As I said, I have had a number of subsequent experiences where I was terrified, but they were nothing quite like the fear I experienced that night. I realize that there are few, if any, psychologists around nowadays who believe in the reality of the demonic. As I have stated in a previous letter, even I am somewhat dubious about it, but I am still not totally convinced that it does not have some subtle influence, however small, over my experiences.
Reflections on the Origin or Nature of Lucid Dreams and OBEs
October, 1982. I realized that some people see out-of-body experiences as confirm-ing the existence of a soul, but I believe that they are making a mistake; whether a person has an immortal soul (in the theological sense) or not, is solely a matter of religious belief; you either believe it or you don’t, and that is all one can really say about it.
. . . What could this "unknown source" be? Could it be the "Collective Uncon-scious" that some people have speculated about, an unconscious which we all share in, or could it be an even stranger phenomenon, some sort of "Parallel Reality" which impinges on our sense-world and occasionally a "crack" opens and some of us are able to peer into this strange world with our conscious minds. Please under-stand that I am not speaking from a religious point of view; religion to me is a matter of faith, not of science; I am simply trying to make some sense out of these bizarre experiences which I have been undergoing for the past seven years.
. . . Every day for the past several years I have been facing a question that seems to have only one of two possible answers. One is that my experiences are nothing more than wild hallucinations brought on by a subconscious mind that has somehow slipped its moorings and run amuck, firing off unknown neurons in my brain; there-fore, I had better get myself to a psychiatrist, posthaste, to restore my disordered mind back to the normality, whatever that may be. The second is that this world I have entered is real, that it does exist, possibly in some other space-time continuum, and it does have some relationship to our world.
As I stated in the opening of this letter, after pondering this question for several years, I still don’t know which answer is the correct one. As a resident of this hectic century, I have no doubt that I have my share of neurosis, but I cannot believe that my mind, no matter how disordered, could have created this world. Every time I re-turn from an experience, I am absolutely and totally convinced that this world exists. But after the passage of a few days, and I become involved in my day-to-day activ-ities, doubts will start creeping in, especially the enormous one of what the impact would be on our religions and, possibly, our science—surely it would be immense.
Monroe’s idea that this world may be the anti-matter world existing on the other side of a black hole is intriguing, and certainly no crazier than what many reputable scientists have suggested what may exist behind those mysterious holes. One time I had the wild idea of trying to "bring something back with me" from this world to assure myself of positive proof of its existence. It happened about three years ago:
I found myself sitting around a conference table with a group of men. I couldn’t hear what they were talking about so I began fiddling with a pencil that was lying on my table; I could feel myself leaving the conference room and begin to see the vague out-lines of my room; I also began to sense myself on my bed, but as I looked at the pencil, I could see that it was getting smaller and smaller, so I gripped it as hard as I could, and it seemed to stop shrinking, but I could now see that I wasn’t going anywhere; I seemed to be suspended between two worlds. Reluctantly, I released the pencil, and the con-ference room scene disappeared, and I was completely back in my body, without, alas, my pencil.
. . . I was totally fascinated by Robert Monroe’s book primarily because some of his experiences were not unlike my own. It is very reassuring to know that a suc-cessful middle-class businessman and family man, whose lifestyle must be the polar opposite of my own—a celibate monk, has had out-of-body experiences similar to mine. I dare say any psychiatrist searching for the cause of our "affliction" would have to look somewhere other than our chosen lifestyle.
March, 1983. I have always been troubled by the thought that I might go to my grave without anyone knowing about my experiences, for I sincerely believe that some-where among all my out-of-body experiences must lie clues to the mystery of our human consciousness, but it will take a wiser man than I to uncover them. If, however, in the final analysis, my experiences are found to be nothing more than hallu-cination (using the term in its most pejorative sense) brought on by a disordered sub-conscious mind, they still might be of some interest to some Freudian psychologist. Although my experiences may not be unique, I rather suspect that they belong in a special psychological category.
. . . As I said earlier, I don’t know why I am able to enter this other state of con-sciousness—if that is what it is—there is certainly nothing special about me. I am about as average a person as you could find. However, I do have a number of unre-solved conflicts stirring within me which could well have put enough pressure on my subconscious mind to kick open the door to this strange world. If the good doc-tors at Topeka VA Hospital put me under their microscope the way they did Robert Monroe, I fear a far different picture would emerge than the clean bill of health they gave to Mr. Monroe. I am sure they would zero in on these conflicts as the root cause of my "hallucinations," and, as I say, they may very well be right. But if the price for resolving my conflicts is the closing of the door to this other world, I’m not sure I would want to pay that price. Please understand me; I don’t get any emotional or sensual satisfaction from traveling in this other world; as a matter of fact, more times than not, it can be extremely frustrating—but the intellectual challenge that it presents is just too great to let pass by.
September, 1984. One problem I have in trying to understand these experiences is that so many of them seem to be totally foreign to any events in my past life. For example, in one of my earliest experiences:
I found myself in what looked like an airline terminal; as I was wandering around, a black soldier in uniform came up to me and pointed to an insignia on his uniform which read "1921 Nicaragua." He said that "it was the best thing that anyone could have" and then he walked away.
Now this happened back in 1975 before Nicaragua was in the news and I was at a loss to try to find any experience in my life to relate to it. In another experience:
I was passing what looked like a movie theatre and on he marquee I could read part of the advertisement (which is unusual because as I have said many times it is most difficult for me to understand any writing I come in contact with in these experience), the advertisement read: ". . . based on books by Robert Louis Stevenson." It must be thirty years since I picked up a book by Stevenson.
. . . So why am I going through all this? Mainly, I suppose, to convince myself what I have always thought and suggested to you in one of my early letters—that underlying all my experiences is some subtle demonic force at work. I realize how hard it is for scientists to accept this premise. It is equally hard for me to accept it, but there have been times in some of my experiences in which I felt a presence that literally froze my blood, and if I could have seen myself I’m sure that my hair was standing straight up. Therefore, since I am only a simple monk and not a reputable scholar, I would like to make the following wild speculations. Could it be that one of the individuals I met in my out-of-body experience was indeed one of Henry James’ creations and by giving him life on the printed page, James also gave him life in another level of consciousness; or could it be that James simply delved into his own subconscious realm where many spirits abide and plucked one out to give it life on the printed page?
I have also been doing some reading on the life of Emanuel Swedenborg, spe-cifically a book on his work by Wilson Van Dusen, entitled The Presence of Other Worlds. But I must confess that I don’t understand a lot of what Swedenborg is talking about; and the little I do understand, a lot of that I find hard to swallow. But I do believe (and can corroborate from my own experiences) Swedenborg’s main premise; than man’s life involves an interaction with a hierarchy of spirits.
. . . It is really tragic that science with all its vast resources refuses to acknow-ledge the existence of any other realm of being outside our own known world. How-ever, if my reading of the scientific journals we get is correct, that attitude may be changing; a few brave physicists are now maintaining that modern physics has reached a new way of looking at things; they are saying that the classical idea of a world divided into separately existing parts which interact is no longer valid.
. . . Another possible explanation for my experiences that I have been thinking about might lie in that mysterious concept of the Fourth Dimension. I understand that with the advent of computer graphics, scientists are now able to do some amaz-ing things; and for not a few reputable scientists, the possible existence of a fourth dimension is no longer considered as absurd. Well, in any event, I am no longer ob-sessed with the need to find an explanation for my experiences. I simply regard them as another facet of my existence.
March, 1988. If we believe that the mind is nothing more than a process emanating from the electrical and chemical reactions in the brain, then where else would lucid-ity be triggered except in the brain? Possibly we will have to wait for more sophisti-cated machines of the future before that question is answered. It might also be help-ful if we could develop a new vocabulary for describing these types of experiences, especially for that term, "out-of-body," which I have never been comfortable with, since there is so much metaphysical baggage attached to it. Even though that is how the experience feels, it is very unlikely that anything really leaves the body. But on the other hand, I don’t think that I can still accept LaBerge’s idea that it all happens in the mind (brain?). Then what does that leave us with? I suspect that we are in a situation similar to that of the physicists when they began probing deeper into the subatomic world and found that the customary terms like "subject-object," "cause-effect," "space-time," "observer-observed," etc. didn’t seem to carry much meaning in that strange new world. Well, I will let the professional researchers worry about that as it is way beyond my capacity.
. . . And that brings me to another facet of my experiences which I fear will make you as a scientist a bit uncomfortable; but the title of your newsletter, "The Open Mind," encourages me that you will give it a fair hearing. I am talking about what I refer to as the demonic. These types of experiences seem to be increasing of late, particularly in the last couple of years. One in particular I would like to draw your attention to, because it shook me up so much I had to talk to someone about it.
. . . This experience occurred just before the bell rang for the 7:00 a.m. office.
I was just lying in my bed wide awake waiting for the bell to ring when I began to feel these strange chills throughout my body. This usually means that the vibrations are not far behind, and after that an out-of-body experience; but the vibrations did not come, just these strange chills getting colder and colder. Then I began to hear some mumbling off to my right, and when I looked over there, I saw this little man, looking like a ventriloquist’s dummy, smiling at me and chatting away in some incoherent language. When I asked him who he was and what was he doing in my room, he just kept smiling at me and mumbling away in that strange language. I got out of bed and grabbed him by his foot, then I bounced him off the ceiling like a rubber ball; when he came down I tried to grab him again but he scooted under my bed and came up on the other side. He then turned his face away from me so that I could only see his profile, and then he spoke these three short sentences which I heard as clear as a bell and had no trouble understanding, "We have Him. Christ is burning. The hummingbird men have Him!" When I tried to grab him again he disappeared and I was back in my bed.
I just lay there in bed, literally terrified by what I had just seen and heard, and trying in some rational way to understand what had happened. . . .
. . . As for myself, prior to my experiences, I counted myself among those "modern" religious believers who saw the devil as nothing more than a quaint sym-bol for my own disordered passions, but now, after all these strange experiences—well, now I’m not so sure about that any more. It is really mind-boggling—the fel-low that we thought we had ridiculed into oblivion may actually exist. He is, after all, the second-most important figure in the New Testament.
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6. Comments on OBEs and Lucid Dreams
Stanford University, California
In Chapter 9 of Lucid Dreaming (LaBerge, 1985), I argue that the only neces-sary feature distinguishing lucid dreams and OBEs is how the person interprets the experience. In order to have an OBE you must merely believe that you have in some sense "left your body." Of course, the subjective sensations of being out-of-body provide no proof as to whether and in what way you actually have "left your body." Those interested in the details of my reasoning should read the original.
Here I will confine myself to clarifying some misconceptions. Rogo (1985) argues that OBEs cannot be a form of lucid dreaming on the grounds that the two experiences are accompanied by different physiologies. Rogo cites evidence sug-gesting that lucid dreams occur only during REM sleep, whereas OBEs occur from almost any state except REM. Even if both of these claims were true, OBEs still could be dreams, since dreaming takes place in a variety of physiological states, not just REM. However, careful reading of my book reveals evidence proving both assertions false.
As to the first point, a variety of studies have demonstrated that lucid dreams characteristically occur during REM sleep. However, in my dissertation (LaBerge, 1980), I described the NREM Stage-1 sleep-onset lucid dreams of a single subject, a phenomenon later verified by Dane (1984). As to the second point, in the very chap-ter criticized by Rogo, I clearly stated that our laboratory subjects "frequently de-scribe lucid dreams initiated from brief awakenings within REM periods as ‘leaving their bodies’" (LaBerge, 1985, p. 216). In fact five out of the 14 subjects who have signaled lucid dreams in the laboratory have reported this experience. Two exam-ples are recounted in my book; perhaps it will clarify matters to quote one of them (my own):
It was the middle of the night, and I had evidently just awakened from a REM per-iod since I effortlessly recalled a dream. I was lying face down in bed drowsily review-ing the story of my dream, when suddenly I experienced a very curious sensation of tin-gling and heaviness in my arms. They became so heavy, in fact, that one of them seemed to melt over the side of the bed! I recognized this distortion of my body image as a sign that I was reentering REM sleep. As I relaxed more deeply, I felt my entire body become paralyzed, although I could still seem to feel its position in bed. I reasoned that this feel-ing was most likely a memory image, and that actual sensory input was cut off just as much as motor output was. I was in short, asleep. At this point I imagined raising my arm and experienced this imagined movement as if I had separated an equally real arm from the physical one I knew to be paralyzed. Then with a similar imagined movement, I "rolled" out of my physical body entirely. I was now, according to my understanding, wholly in a dream body in a dream of my bedroom. The body I had seemed to leave, and which I now dreamed I saw lying on the bed, I quite lucidly realized to be a dream repre-sentation of my physical body; indeed, it evaporated as soon as I put my attention else-where. From here, I flew off into the dawn. . . .
I would say that having awakened from REM sleep, I was (as always) experiencing my body image in a position calculated by my brain. Since this calculation was based on accurate information about the physical world obtained through my awake, and there-fore functional senses, the body position I experienced corresponded to my actual posi-tion of lying in bed. Since during sleep (particularly REM), sensory input from the ex-ternal world is actively suppressed my sensory systems at this point no longer provided my brain with information regarding the physical world. Thus, my brain’s representation of my body image was no longer constrained by sensory information concerning my body’s actual orientation in physical space and I was free to move it in mental space to any new position that I chose. With no sensory input to contradict me, I could freely "travel" anywhere in mental space (pp. 217–218).
I doubt if most people think about their OBEs in such an analytical manner; they are more inclined to believe that if it felt like they were out of their bodies, they were. Sometimes the distinction between lucid dreams and OBEs is very fine in-deed. For example, Father X writes that "the only essential difference between [my OBEs] and my lucid dreams is that I am totally conscious when I enter this other state of consciousness, whereas my lucid dreams always begin with a non-lucid dream and then it becomes lucid." This is, of course, exactly the distinction I have repeatedly drawn between "Wake-initiated" lucid dreams (WILDs) and "Dream-initiated" lucid dreams (DILDs) (e.g., LaBerge, 1980, 1985). WILDs comprise about 25% of our laboratory sample of lucid dreams (LaBerge, 1985) and as I have said, they frequently take the form of "leaving one’s body."
I am making an appeal for a more scientific, critical-minded approach to the relationship of OBEs to lucid dreams. It is not enough to claim, as Monroe (1985) does, that OBEs are simply not dreams or that "those who have actively participated in [research at the Monroe Institute] have inescaped [sic], and conclusively accepted the reality of the out-of-body experience." Monroe asserts that "the protocols, meth-odology, and measurement systems may be different from conventional scientific process, by necessity. Physiologic parameters are not necessarily the major gauge of non-physical events." Unfortunately, Monroe appears to simply assume that the OBE is non-physical, occurring "without the support mechanism of a physical body and physical sensory stimulants [sic]." If this is science, where is the evidence? If it is not, as I fear, it may be like—Monroe’s words—"trying to measure and analyze electricity with a coffee cup." Incidentally, what psychophysiology is trying to do is correlate mental events with brain physiology, not an altogether absurd undertaking unless you believe your brain is nothing more than a cooling system. Anyone more than "somewhat aware" of the recent developments in the study of lucid dreaming will know how successful the psychophysiological approach has been in shedding light on a phenomenon previously no better understood than the OBE. I see no reason why OBEs could not be efficiently studied by the same signal-verification methodology that is now standard for laboratory investigations of lucid dreaming.
I would like to leave readers with something to think about regarding what it might mean to "leave your body." First of all, what exactly does "being in your body" mean?
Being in the body means constructing a mental body image. Because it is based on sensory information, it accurately represents the body’s position in physical space. While dreaming, we are out of touch with our bodies and consequently liberated from the physical constraints imposed by waking perception. Thus, no awkward sensory facts are present to limit our movement in mental space, and we are free to move out of the spatial orientation defined by "being in the (physical) body." The part of us that "leaves the body" travels in mental, not physical, space. Consequently, it would seem reasonable to suppose that we never "leave our bodies" because we are never in them. Where "we" are when we experience anything at all—OBEs included—is in mental space. Milton’s famous phrase, "The Mind is its own place," goes not quite far enough. The mind is not merely its own place, the mind is its only place (LaBerge, 1985, pp. 220–221).
Dane, J. (1984). A comparison of waking instructions and post hypnotic suggestion for lucid dream induction. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Georgia State University, of Atlanta.
LaBerge, S. (1980). Lucid dreaming: An exploratory study of consciousness during sleep. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Stanford University.
LaBerge, S. (1985). Lucid dreaming. Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher.
Rogo, S. (1985). Out-of-body experience as lucid dreams: A critique. Lucidity Letter, 4(2).
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7. Lucid Dreams And OBEs
University of Bristol, Great Britain
I was recently at a conference on vision—real vision that is, not the vision of mystics or lucid dreamers. There, over a few litres of Bulgarian beer, I got talking about lucid dreams and out-of-body experiences (OBEs).
"But why are they interesting?" asked one of the visual scientists. I began muttering about how nice they are; how difficult to induce; how exhilarating if you succeed; about the clarity of consciousness. . . .
The trouble I had answering the question made me realise how unclear is my thinking about lucid dreams and OBEs. So what I would like to do today is to try answer that man’s question more effectively. Lucid dream research will be of interest to other scientists only if we can develop better theories, better integration with the rest of psychology and better experiments to test those theories.
So why are lucid dreams and OBEs interesting?
Why Link Lucid Dreams and OBEs?
First, since I mention them together, I had better explain the reasons why the two are linked.
1. The same people tend to report both (see Irwin, 1988; Blackmore, 1988).
2. Some lucid dreams lead directly into an OBE. In other words a person is asleep and dreaming and then, when lucid, dreams of leaving the body and flying around.
3. In both consciousness is reported as specially clear and vivid.
4. In both the world experienced is more like that of imagination than of perception.
5. Flying is common in both.
On the other hand the major differences are that most OBEs occur during wak-ing while most lucid dreams occur during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. This division is obscured by the fact that some experiences resembling OBEs occur in sleep. Some researchers count these as OBEs while others do not.
Finally OBEs (perhaps only by convention or definition) occur in a setting closely resembling the physical world while lucid dreams can occur in any imagined setting. In other words if I were having an OBE now I would see the tops of all your heads and be able to fly around this room (or what appeared to be this room) but if I had a lucid dream there might be monsters coming out of the curtains or a gigantic hole opening up in the wall.
It is possible that OBEs and lucid dreams are best looked on as two aspects of the same underlying experience. I prefer to take them as independent, largely be-cause of OBEs occurring during waking activity. But either way I think any account of one must shed light on the other.
So now let me try to answer the question—why are they interesting?
I could think of a few starting replies to offer: either personal ones or general ones.
1. They provide a means of access to ordinary dreaming.
2. They feel wonderful.
3. They are very hard to induce voluntarily.
4. They seem more memorable than ordinary dreams.
5. I feel more "myself" when lucid. (I think this did not go down too well!)
6. They provide insight into the nature of self and its apparent continuity
7. They are relevant to the problem of consciousness.
The first of these answers I gave mainly to appease the visual scientists. It is certainly true. The work of Hearne, LaBerge and Gackenbach among others shows that through studying lucid dreaming we can learn important things about all kinds of dreaming (e.g. Gackenbach and LaBerge, 1988). But I won’t say more about that here, partly because others will do so and partly because it does not, for me, address the real question about lucid dreams themselves. Why are they intrinsically interesting?
They are nice! Well, this answer didn’t go down too well. Why are they nice and what does that tell us? It is perhaps the hardest question of all and maybe even the most interesting. So I shall come back to it at the end.
They are hard to have. Yes they are. To anyone who has not tried to induce them this may seem far from interesting, but to most people who have, the sheer frustration of not being able to bring an intention to bear upon one’s dreams is sufficient to inspire either total rejection, or long fascination with lucid dreams.
Hard to Induce
So let us address this question. Why are lucid dreams hard to have? I would like to simplify it by assuming that the crux of lucid dreaming is to be able to ask, in the dream, "Am I dreaming?" and to be able to answer affirmatively, "Yes, I am dreaming." The following hypotheses suggest themselves.
3a. It is actually no more difficult to ask this question when asleep than when awake. However, it is hard to answer affirmatively whether awake or asleep.
3b. There is something about the dream state which makes it especially hard to ask the question or to answer it. (e.g. low arousal, no opportunity for testing against sensory input).
3c. It is a problem of State Specific Memory—that is getting the intention across from one state to another.
It would be very useful to know this both for developing methods of lucid dream induction and for understanding the nature of the state.
Let us try to test the first hypothesis. One approach is to use Tholey’s method of induction by asking the question, during waking, "Am I dreaming?"
Tholey suggests asking this question about fifteen times a day. Now it is pos-sible that if you do this, and do it at the same rate during dreaming sleep, the chances of having a lucid dream are still quite low. Let us assume that the average night includes at most two hours of REM sleep. If you ask yourself the question fifteen times during the day that is only averaging once an hour. And of course the estimate of two available hours for lucid dreaming is likely to be far too high. So it is possible that the problem is no worse by night than by day. To test this one could train people to ask Tholey’s question either five times, fifteen times, or hundreds of times a day and plot the incidence of lucid dreams and compare the presumed rate of question-ing in waking and dreaming.
The high rate of questioning case is particularly interesting. Asking this question so often, indeed eventually making it a continuous questioning attitude, seems similar to the practices of mindfulness or self-remembering. I once practiced mindfulness consistently for seven weeks and unexpectedly found that I started having lucid dreams. They were still only few but I had lots of near-lucid and high dreams. My impression was that the dreaming and waking states were coming closer together.
This proposed experiment might tell us whether the question is harder to ask in waking or sleeping but is complicated by what answer is given.
In waking life you are likely to give the answer "No, I’m awake." Indeed the tests you might perform, trying to read or to fly, etc., are all designed to lead to this conclusion. This habit might carry over into dreaming when in fact you want to answer, "Yes." So perhaps practice is needed in answering, "Yes, I’m dreaming."
If this sounds daft consider the statement used in Tibetan dream yoga: "All things are of the substance of dreams" or the notion of the world of illusion. Indeed we know that the perceived world is a kind of mental construction so perhaps in asking the question we need practice in answering "Yes, it is all a dream." This could also be tested by training two groups to give themselves the different answers. The effects of this can of course be deeper than inducing lucid dreams but I shall not pursue that one for the moment.
My guess (since I haven’t done the experiments) is that the hypothesis will be re-jected. It will prove harder to ask the question in a dream than when awake. But why?
One possibility is that of state specific memory. The intention to remember one’s dreams comes from waking and has to be got across to the dreaming state. An ideal test would be to initiate an intention in dreaming, to be carried out in waking, but this looks impossible to me. As a next best what if one tried to get such a question across into other states, for example by using hypnosis, or with some kind of intoxication. The subject could try to ask Tholey’s question (or for that matter some other ques-tion) in normal waking, and then in the other state. It would presumably (and I have some personal experience to confirm this!) be harder to remember to ask the question in the other state. This could either be because of state specific memory or something to do with the state itself. Now the intention has to be started from the other state and transferred to waking to test which is the case. Two possible outcomes are shown in Figure 1. If the effect is due to state specific memory we should expect outcome A. and if recall is intrinsically better in the waking state, outcome B. Of course what is so for drunkenness might not be the case for dreaming but it would be a start.
Lucidity More Memorable
My fourth statement was that lucid dreams are more memorable than ordinary dreams. Certainly they seem to be so but has this been tested?
It could be tested by training people differentially in dream recall and in lucid dreaming (say by asking Tholey’s question). One could start with three groups of subjects all of whom had low dream recall and very occasional lucid dreams—a typical starting point for some 30–40% of people.
One group are trained only in dream recall, by keeping a dream journal etc. The second group is given the same training but also have to ask Tholey’s question fif-teen times a day. The third group only ask themselves the question. Of course there will be interference, by the increased motivation, attention to dreams and so on, but the trend should still be clear. If lucid dreams are recalled only as well as ordinary dreams then groups one and two should have equal increase in lucid dreams and group three less. On the other hand if they are recalled perfectly (or at least much better than ordinary dreams) then groups two and three will have far more and not group one.
More "Ourselves" in Lucid Dreams
Finally we come to the reasons which make lucid dreams seem very special to those who have them. Perhaps the most impressive thing to lucid dreamers is that in some sense we seem to be more "ourselves" than in an ordinary dream, perhaps even than in waking life. The lucid dreams seems to have more continuity with wak-ing life than an ordinary dream does. Something similar is true for the OBE which is one of the reasons I have long been interested in it. It is also true of certain states induced during meditation and perhaps, prototypically so of mystical experiences. It is these experiences which bring people to say things like, "Now I know who I really am (or am not!)" or, "Now I know why I am here." Often afterwards they can only remember that they thought it and cannot reconstruct why. The training of the mys-tic is perhaps one of being able to integrate these insights into everyday life. It may also involve creating greater continuity instead of the fragmentary awareness that most of us have.
What Makes Anything Real?
From all of this it is tempting to imagine that there may be some hierarchy, or other structured progression, of experiences varying in what we might call "realness of self" or the "continuity with self." Add this to the fact that in mystical traditions "there is no self" and you have a fine starting muddle! However, I think, with the aid of a little cognitive psychology and a few thought experiments we may be able to penetrate this muddle a little bit.
What makes anything seem real? This is a question well worth asking. By try-ing to answer it (in many different states of consciousness) I developed a general ap-proach to altered states which casts some light on lucid dreams and OBEs. I think a lot of the work of seeing things this way had to be done in altered states of con-sciousness (ASCs). This may make it sound like State Specific Science (SSS) but in fact Tart’s (1972) idea of SSS was that everything had to be communicated to other scientists in the altered state. Unless you (and I) are all lucid dreaming now, then I cannot do this. So it is something else, and something I think we shall see more of, that is work which comes out of a knowledge and facility with altered states.
So why does anything seem real? I suggest the following.
Let us take the reasonable assumption that most of the brain’s task is modelling. That is, it constructs models or representations of the world around and the self with-in it. These models are closely based on perceptual input and information from mem-ory. Indeed the work of much of artificial intelligence, and of cognitive science is to understand the ways in which perceptual systems construct representations of the world. This is what the visual scientists at that conference wanted to understand. Pre-sumably during a lifetime the cognitive system learns to produce ever better models.
Of course we have to ask what we mean by better, and generally that means better at predicting. The models of the world constructed by the cognitive systems are very efficient at predicting what will happen next and bringing about actions consistent with those predictions. That is part of the business of living, procreating and surviving.
Self or Selves?
Now, what about the self? Who is that? Is it a little something (a spirit, soul or homunculus) looking at those models? Clearly not, for that would then raise the familiar problem of the necessity for a second perceptual system to perceive the models and so on to an infinite regress.
No, the self cannot be outside of the system. So what is it? I shall make some suggestions.
First it might be the whole system. Now this is important to talk about because we do refer to self and others that way. "This is where I live. Yesterday I met my friend Suzi. She is the one with green hair. We went on holiday last year." In these statements we refer to the whole system. However, this is clearly not what we mean when we talk about who has pains or emotions.
Second we might say the self was just one of the many models. In a sense this is so. From social psychology we know about the socially constructed nature of the self. We represent self as having lots of attributes. We have a self-image and a body image. Yes, the self is a model. But again there is a problem. We must assume that the information for constructing that model is always there in memory. And yet "I" am not really "myself" in deep sleep and sometimes (perhaps in meditation or other ASCs) I seem to be perfectly myself without any of the attributes of a self image and body image.
So there seems to be an experiencer which is not identical with the self-model. Again we cannot use a homunculus or spirit or soul to solve this one.
Finally there seems to be a self who takes decisions and initiates actions. Can a model initiate actions? Is the whole system really responsible for "my" deciding to stop work and go out into the garden? Is the experiencer the same as the actor? Clear-ly not for many recent experiments show that actions are initiated unconsciously.
There seems to be a paradox here, but I think it is only apparent. The paradox is caused by assuming that there is only one self. Rather I think we should listen to those who say "there is no (one) self." There are, rather, lots of things we mean by self. In the rest of this talk I shall be specific about them. In particular I want to distinguish:
1. I—the whole system;
2. I—the self model; and
3. I—the experiencer.
Now before I go any further I must emphasize that none of these are separate entities. They are all aspects of, or ways of describing, the whole cognitive system and its interactions with the world. I am not talking about three or more things inside a person.
Now imagine the whole system—a brain constructing models. There are lots of them, from the retina up through visual processing in the cortex, in the midbrain or cerebellum, in other parts of the cortex, there are lots and lots of different represen-tations. The funny thing is that "I" am aware of some of these models and not others. For example I am aware of the model concerning what I shall do at dinner tonight, or how I shall answer the questions which follow this talk. I am not aware of the repre-sentation of orientations of lines in visual cortex. Why not?
Again we cannot have recourse to any homunculus who sits in some parts of the brain and not others. We have to try to understand consciousness in terms of this whole modelling system.
Consciousness as Representation
Note that I have raised the problem of consciousness, the final item on my list of seven. This, I think, is ultimately what it’s all about for lucid dreams. The thing which makes them interesting to people who have them is the feeling of being "more conscious"—whatever that means! So we need to tackle this problem too!
I resolve the problem this way (though some of you may not think it resolved when I have told you!).
In a famous paper, the American philosopher Thomas Nagel (1974) said, "An organism has conscious mental states if and only if there is something that it is like to be that organism" (p. 43). I do not think we need to restrict the statement on or-ganisms. One might say instead—a thing is conscious if there is something it is like to be that thing.
Nagel went on to ask his well-known question "What is it like to be a bat?" I would ask what it is like to be all manner of things, just to get us going.
What is it like to be a piece of mud in a field? I should say not much. There is nothing which makes that piece of mud even separable from other pieces of mud except that some person might look at it and interpret it as so. Unless one believes in natural kinds this is so of any thing you may choose—like this acetate sheet or this table. It takes someone to think of it as a separate thing before you can even ask the question of it.
Now this gives us a clue. For perhaps it is the very act of representing some-thing which brings about its status as a thing. It is in a representation that qualities and similarities and differences are expressed. And it is similarity and difference which differentiate the world. So I shall ask Nagel’s question again. This time in the form, "What is it like to be a mental model?"
This is the whole crux of my argument. For I believe that it is meaningless to ask, "What it is like to be stone?" because a stone, of itself, has no qualities, attri-butes, or (therefore) changes. On the other hand it is meaningful to ask, "What is it like to be someone’s model of a stone?" For the very act of modelling something is one which creates or constructs features, attributes, changes and so on. And so I say—it is the fact that human systems build representations which makes it possible to ask, "What is it like to be a person?"
Now we can go back and see that it cannot be the whole system which is conscious. Rather it is each of the many representations constructed by that system which can be. But why should some seem to be conscious and not others?
I suggest this too is an illusion. All the models in the whole system are con-scious (you can ask what it is like to be them). What makes "me" aware of any of them at any time is only one thing—whether or not they are a part of the model which includes my self-model or self image. Thus we can imagine a system creating multiple models only some of which make sense to, or are part of, the self model. "I" am conscious of those parts and not the rest. Alternatively you could say that they were not conscious of me. For "I" am only another model. So when we talk about a conscious self I suggest we are referring to just one model in the system. I shall call this "I."
Consciousness, External Reality and OBEs
I began with the question, "What makes anything seem real?" This is not the same question as what makes things be "in consciousness." At any time "I" may be aware of all sorts of things, both imagined and "real." I suggest there is a pragmatic process going on in the system. It needs to know which of its models refer to the external world and which to imagined or constructed things. A safe bet (and a useful constraint for the system) is that there is only one external world. So, I suggest, it takes the best model it has got at any given time and calls that "reality." Normally the best model will be the most stable, coherent and predictable. It will be that based on sensory input. All other models in awareness will be labelled, by contrast, as "thinking" or "imagination." So the system always has a good "model of reality."
Where does this get us with ASCs, and in particular OBEs and lucid dreams? First it provides a theory of the OBE.
In ordinary waking life the input-based model is the one that is real. But what if input is disturbed, or the system is damaged in such a way that a good input model cannot be constructed? What if it is very tired and not up to doing good predictions. In other words what would happen in just those circumstances which tend to favour the OBE? I suggest that the system will lose input control. Then, if it is determined to survive, it will try to reconstruct a decent model of reality on the basis of what information it has available. Since (we have hypothesized) there is not much input, it will have to use information from memory—doing the equivalent of thinking, "Where am I? Who am I?" etc. One thing we do know about memory models is that often (though far from always) they are constructed in a bird’s eye view. It is a convenient way of representing complex information. If this sort of model is con-structed and is the best the system has got at the time then it will, according to my theory, come to seem real. Hence an OBE has occurred. The person is aware and in a world which seems real, but that world is a bird’s eye view from memory. In the OBE nothing much has changed except for the apparent viewing position. Instead of looking out from the eyes "I" am looking down from the ceiling, but I may seem to be the same self because there has been no great change in self-image. The OBE seems real not only at the time, but when looking back, for a similar self (model of self) looks back on it as the one being used at the time. So the OBE seems more or less continuous with ordinary waking life.
Self-Models, Dreams, and State-Specific Memory
What now of the lucid dream, or for that matter of ordinary dreams?
Sleep is the archetypal situation in which input is cut off. But there is more than that. In most of sleep, arousal is extremely low. The system cannot support complex models and there is therefore no good model of self of which to ask "What it is like to be that model?" In other words there is no, or very rudimentary, consciousness.
In REM sleep, things change. Arousal is much higher, the system can support some quite complex modelling. One can ask, "What is it like to be those models?" and the answer tells us what it is like to be dreaming. Things happen, people come and go, events turn into other events. The models, free of input control, shift about and transmute one into the other. At the time they seem perfectly real—they are the best model the system has going at the time. However, afterwards they don’t seem so real anymore. When you wake up a new model of self is reconstructed. It is sim-ilar to the one from yesterday. It allows access to recall of yesterday’s events. There seems to be continuity between now and yesterday, but not between now and the dream. It was a different self (model) who experienced the two times.
But there are other possibilities in dreaming. Let us suppose that arousal is tem-porarily increased during dreaming and more complex models are built. In this case a model of self may be constructed which is rather similar to the usual waking ones. This model might include things like the person’s name, the day of the week and so on. With this information available the contents of the dream may seem bizarre. The obvious differences from normal life will be more obvious. In other words the question is more likely to arise "What is going on? Is this a dream?" In this same state things will seem real. They might also seem more complex and interesting than in an ordinary dream. But the real difference is afterwards. Because the model of self is similar to the waking model the lucid dream will seem more continuous with waking life. In other words it will feel more like "me." "I" will remember it as being part of "my" experience.
I am suggesting here a very general effect of state-specific memory. In altered states of consciousness you can recall things better when learning and recall occur in a similar state. I am suggesting that this depends on the similarity between the models of self in the two states. In other words the apparent continuity of life is only because of the similarity of our day to day models of self. Altered states appear to involve other worlds (the dream world, the trip, etc.) because different models of self are constructed. Most of them happen by force of accident or drug effects on the nervous system but controlled change is possible. Even integration of the different models is possible. The importance for lucid dreams is that they are more memor-able than ordinary dreams only because the model of self which is constructed is more similar to the usual waking one.
Looking at altered states this way I think we can gain insight into the nature of lucid dreams and OBEs. However, more than that is needed. If the theory is to be useful it must provide testable predictions.
According to this approach, the OBE involves the construction of the world from a different viewpoint. People who have OBEs should be those who are better able to switch viewpoints in their imagery. This I tested by asking people to imagine the room they were in from a variety of different viewpoints and to switch back and forth between them. The OBErs were better at this switching (Blackmore, 1987). I also predicted that OBErs should be those who tend to remember things using a bird’s eye view rather than eye-level view. This I confirmed for dream recall but not for recall of waking events (Blackmore, 1987). I also predicted that OBErs should be those who tend to remember things using a bird’s eye view rather than eye-level view. This I confirmed for dream recall but not for recall of waking events (Blackmore, 1987). Irwin found the same effect and has argued that it supports his somaesthetic theory of the OBE (Irwin, 1986). So this is providing an interesting point for further testing.
Induction of Lucid Dreams and OBEs
Another approach concerns how the experiences are induced—and this high-lights the difference between OBEs and lucid dreams. It is difficult to have an OBE deliberately because you have to get the normal model of self out of the way first. Spontaneous OBEs occur only because an accident, drug or coming close to death, has disrupted that model and made it easy. This leads to the prediction that sponta-neous and deliberate OBEs should come about in quite different ways and happen to different people who have different skills. In a survey (Blackmore, 1986) I found that the people who had spontaneous OBEs tended also to have flying dreams and mystical experiences while those who had deliberate OBEs were the ones with good dream control skills; able to stop and start dreams at will, wake themselves up out of dreams or choose dreams.
Having a lucid dream requires something else again. The problem is not to get a solid model of self out of the way but rather to create a good enough one in the first place. Only with a reasonable model of self can you realise that you are asleep and dreaming. This makes clear the greatest difference between the waking OBE and the lucid dream—for all their superficial resemblance. In the OBE the state is con-strained by the constant danger of the normal model of self reasserting itself. It will then take over again as "reality" and the world of imagination is lost. In contrast the lucid dream is constrained by the danger of falling back into deeper sleep and losing the tentative model of self which made the lucidity possible.
The potential of the two states is then quite different. The OBEr is really in a deeper illusion. She imagines that the world she sees is the physical world as it would be seen with her eyes open, that is, she is misled into mistaking a memory model for a sensory one. Research which seeks for actual astral bodies or para-normal effects in the OBE is just perpetuating this confusion.
By contrast the lucid dreamer is well aware of the illusory nature of the dream —indeed it is this which defines the lucidity. However the OBEr has the greater potential. If only she can see through the illusion and realise that this is a world of the imagination then anything is possible. Once free of the constraints of the normal self-model, it is possible to explore everything the mind is capable of, from complex scenes to complete openness or emptiness. Meanwhile, the lucid dreamer, however lucid, is forever limited by being asleep. The sleeping brain can achieve only so much without waking up. Perhaps what is needed is greater lucidity throughout life, waking and sleeping. Only then can we see through the pervasive illusion that we are unitary conscious beings inhabiting a solid and real world.
Finally, I put off answering the question, "Why is it so nice?" The answer should now be obvious. Of course it is nice to be free of input control; to be a model of a self, free floating and exploring the creations of an information processing system. It is a rare chance to feel perfectly conscious while experiencing the con-tents of your imagination. If you only have the skills to do so you can experience anything you can imagine as real.
In conclusion I think I can now explain better why OBEs and lucid dreams are so interesting. It is because they tell us so much about ourselves, about conscious-ness and about the illusions within which we live most of our lives.
Blackmore, S.J. (1986). Spontaneous and deliberate OBEs: A questionnaire survey. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 53, 218–224.
Blackmore, S.J. (1987). Where am I? Perspectives in imagery and the out-of- body exper-ience. Journal of Mental Imagery, 11, 53–66.
Blackmore, S.J. (1988). A theory of lucid dreams and OBEs. In J.I. Gackenbach and S. LaBerge (Eds.), Conscious mind, sleeping brain: Perspectives on lucid dreaming. New York: Plenum.
Gackenbach, J.I. & LaBerge, S. (Eds.) (1988). Conscious mind, sleeping brain: Perspectives on lucid dreaming. NY: Plenum.
Irwin, H.J. Perceptual perspective of visual imagery in OBEs, dreams and reminiscence. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 53, 210– 217.
Irwin, H.J. (1988). Out-of-the-body experiences and dream lucidity: Empirical perspectives. In J.I. Gackenbach and S. LaBerge (Eds.), Conscious mind, sleeping brain: Perspectives on lucid dreaming. New York: Plenum.
Nagel, T. (1974). What is it like to be a bat? Philosophical Review, 83, 435–450.
Tart, C.T. (1972). States of consciousness and state-specific sciences. Science, 176, 1203–1210.
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8. Lucid Dreams and Meditation
HARRY T. HUNT
Brock University, St. Catherines, Ontario, Canada
A problem with many studies of lucid dreams is their theoretical and empirical insularity—a lucid dream, apparently, is a lucid dream is a lucid dream. Of course things are always uniquely themselves, but to see what something means, it is necessary to try to place it in the broader context of its natural series with related phenomena.
So it is with lucid dreams. A lucid dream, of course, is knowing you dream while the dream is actually going on. It is sometimes seen as an approximation in the dream to our waking cognitive faculties, but that is doubtful since it makes it sound like lucidity is necessarily unique to dreaming and since experienced lucid dreamers do report confusions of thought and memory that are characteristic of the rest of dreaming. Rather, lucid dreams are as different from ninety percent of waking exper-ience as they are from ninety percent of dreaming. They share with out-of-body experience, near-death experience, and especially with meditation, a special sense of clarity, exhilaration, and freedom (reminiscent of Maslow on "peak experience") that comes with emergence of a detached receptive attitude in the midst of our more narrow everyday involvements—whether dreamt or real. Lucid dreams are a spon-taneous form of the state of mind sought within the so called "insight" or "mindful-ness" meditative traditions. They transform dreams in the same way that meditation transforms wakefulness. Meditation is privileged in this comparative series because we know so much about it from the point of view of very different theories and methods. If this comparison is useful, then not only will meditation cast a uniquely clarifying light on lucid dreams, but lucid dreams will help us with otherwise ob-scure points about the nature and goals of meditation.
For instance, the first problem we come to is that we do commonly associate meditative practice not with a balance between what Deikman calls the receptive or observing self and ongoing involvements, but with isolation and withdrawal. But only in its early stages. The "mindfulness" or "basic witness" set is so hard to devel-op and goes so against the grain of ordinary participations that most traditions begin in the maximally simplified context of "just sitting." Once stabilized, however, many traditions try to extend mindfulness practice into first simple, then more complex activities—as well as into ordinary dreaming and sleep. Accordingly, more and more of the meditator’s life approximates the qualities of a lucid dream—involved, yet detached and observing at once, with the resultant subjective sense of "clarity" and "being." The best illustration of this attempt to be "lucid" during normal waking ac-tivities is found in the Gurdjieff-Ouspensky teachings—which reject ordinary "with-drawn" meditation altogether and cultivate a continuous sense of "self-remembering" in the midst of everyday settings, where otherwise we lose ourselves and forget we are alive. That is, the full context to which successful "self-remembering" wakes us up in the form of a "being" or "I am" experience does sound like dream lucidity.
Of course some of the best evidence for equating lucidity and meditation comes from the development of lucid dreams in advanced Tibetan Buddhist practice—which they understand as the form of meditation available during sleep. The recog-nized dream is to be transmuted in various ways and one also attempts to understand ongoing waking experience as itself a dream—both of these being an aid to realiz-ing the nonsubstantial, open bases of all experience (Chang, 1963). Dream medita-tion on the immediate thatness of the dream experience leads to a direct insight into the way that things are at once definitely formed and clear, yet open, empty, and illusory—which is not so much the expression of a metaphysic as a phenomeno-logical description of what results from "turning around" on immediate experience for its own sake. For instance, similar descriptions come from the early introspec-tionists’ studies of William James, Titchener, and Carl Rahn.
My colleagues and I at Brock have recently reported phenomenological, psy-chophysiological, and correlational links between lucid dreaming and meditation. With Bob Ogilvie and Paul Tyson, we found heightened EEG alpha with prelucid, relatively bizarre dreams and evidence that experienced lucid dreamers may show a mixed organismic state—transitional between the states of sleep and waking (Ogilvie et al., 1982).
But I concentrate here on a study with Barbara McLeod in which we found sig-nificantly more lucidity in long term meditators and its correlation with years of meditative practice (Hunt and Ogilvie, 1988). Along these lines, my student Roc Villeneuve has just found a correlation between lucid-control dreams and intensity of response to a meditative technique taught to them within the experiment. In the same study with long term meditators we also found that just as waking meditative practice eventually leads to the release of major alterations of consciousness, such as white light or luminosity experiences, so there were significant associations between degree of lucidity and archetypal/psychedelic dream content rarely seen in norma-tive samples—such as geometric/mandala patterns, encounters with archetypal fig-ures, and various luminosity phenomena of the kind described by George Gillespie (1985) and Scott Sparrow (1976). Since there is no association at all between degree of lucidity and deliberate attempts to change one’s dreaming toward lucidity, it may well be that dream lucidity and control develop automatically as the result of long term meditation. We were especially interested to find that some of our subjects were not sure themselves how to categorize their highly unusual dreams—they sometimes could not tell whether they had awakened and were spontaneously medi-tating or whether they were asleep and having what we had defined for them as a lucid dream.
Now that I’ve worked to define lucid dreams as a form of meditative state—in terms of their double awareness of context and specific involvements, and the re-sulting sense of clarity and exhilaration, I should return to the relativities of defining anything in its essence—because one of my own dreams recently showed me that as important as such attempts at generic classification may be, a dream could fit all these descriptive criteria and still not actually be lucid.
I dreamt I had returned to a small house full of sleeping-cots called the "rest house." I was about to lie down when a disembodied but familiar voice said "You’re acting like you really think you’re in the rest house, but you’re not, you know. Try and figure out where you really are." Fascinated, I looked about me with the sharpened sense of clarity and excitement that I associate with my own, all too few lucid dreams. I knew things weren’t as they seemed and I stared at the walls waiting for them to collapse into my "real" surroundings. But they just got more and more crystalline and radiating until I woke up.
Slightly chastened, I realized that it had never occurred to me that I might be dreaming, although it was a spontaneous meditative-like state. Now there is no getting around the fact that lucidity has to be defined as knowing you dream, but I would still suggest that this is not why we study lucid dreams. We study them be-cause of the valued subjective effects usually (but not always) released by lucidity control. A common underlying cognition between lucid dreams and meditation is implied by the way that meditation gradually extends itself into dreaming as lucidity and by the way that developed lucid dreams become more and more visionary and oriented toward a spiritual interpretation of life.
In fact I would argue that part of the traditional "function" of any seriously held spiritual belief is to create the "lucid" sense that we are simultaneously part of this world and its doings and yet detached from it by virtue of a broader intelligence of context—which does normally elude us. Consider what we call the "belief" in reincarnation. One is in a particular life but it is as if a dream when sensed as one in a long series of such lives, and yet it is also utterly important in determining how those future lives will be lived. Even secular existentialism creates much the same dual awareness. Such beliefs help to convey the experience of "being," while lucid dreams and meditative states can directly elicit this same sense of context—one which clearly requires its own specific cognitive psychology.
Chang, G. (1963). Teachings of Tibetan yoga. New York: University Books.
Deikman, A. (1982). The observing self. Boston: Beacon Press.
Hunt, H.T. (1987). Lucidity as a meditative state. Lucidity Letter, 6(2), 105–112.
Hunt, H. & Ogilvie, R. (1988). Lucid dreams in their natural series. In J. Gackenbach and S. LaBerge (Eds.), Conscious mind, sleeping brain: Perspectives on lucid dreaming. New York: Plenum.
Ogilvie, R., Hunt, H., Tyson, P., Lucescu, M. & Jeakins, D. (1982). Lucid dreaming and alpha activity. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 55, 795–808.
Sparrow, G.S. (1976). Lucid dreaming: Dawning of the clear light. Virginia Beach, Virginia: ARE Press.
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9. A Discussion Between Charles Tart and Lucidity Letter Editor, Jayne Gackenbach, Examining Similarities Between Dream Lucidity, Witnessing and Self-Remembering
CHARLES TART and JAYNE GACKENBACH
University of California, Davis;Athabasca University and University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada
Gackenbach: In a recent review of your book Waking Up, John Wren-Lewis said it was very relevant to those interested in lucid dreaming.
Tart: I was very honored that he would say that it is must reading for people who are into lucid dreams since lucid dreaming is mentioned only once in the book. You see, lucid waking is the topic of greatest interest to me nowadays.
Some spiritual traditions use an analogy that we live in a dream. In many dreams, you get pushed around by events. You’re not very smart. You don’t re-member important, relevant knowledge. You’re inconsistent. You don’t call on all your resources. You get in these terrible situations, but then you wake up! Not only does the dream problem disappear, but you’re so much smarter by comparison. Smarter from the point of view of the waking state, right?
Now some spiritual traditions have used this as an analogy. They say that in our waking state (where we think we’re so smart and intelligent), we’re just as stupid compared to what could be. So that, in a sense, there’s a kind of lucidity that could happen in ordinary waking. My Waking Up book is really about lucid waking; that would have been a good title. . .
Gackenbach: What’s your dream recall like these days?
Tart: I’ve given my unconscious the instruction, "If it’s important, please make me remember it." Otherwise there are other things I’m more interested in. I used to be an extremely high recaller. I used to wake up, and if I bothered to write my dreams down, I’d spend an hour a morning at it! Now I typically recall part of a dream on waking. I scan it quickly to see if there’s some kind of message or something exciting: if not, I let it go. Lucid waking is much more important to me than the lucid dreaming.
Gackenbach: As I understand the Ouspensky-Gurdjieff material, upon which your book is based, there’s essentially an asking of a critical question, a self-reflectiveness, an attempt, purposely, to reflect on what you’re saying and doing as much as pos-sible through the day.
Tart: It’s not usually expressed as a question, but if you did, it would be asking yourself something like, "What am I doing right now, what am I feeling right now, what am I perceiving right now, what’s my state right now?" You could do it that way, but it’s usually not done in such a verbal formation.
Gackenbach: How is it usually done?
Tart: It’s an immediate shift of attention to being conscious of the normally uncon-scious. Once you do it, you realize that our ordinary state is that we’re "lost." We don’t know what’s going on much of the time. We’re just as passive in ordinary life as we are in dreams. Events happen and our mental processes react. Buttons get pushed, to use that wonderful old sixties language and our conditioned responses occur. A set of mental scenarios begin. Normally you’re just running on automatic with these things all the time. Becoming self-reflective, you consciously see your-self doing these things. As you pay enhanced attention more and more, you begin to get an option to be present to your experience more continuously, and to both have more control and be more open to new experience.
Gackenbach: Is there a distinction between being (I like the term) "present to your experience," and the concept of "witnessing" while awake, sleeping, dreaming—twenty-four hours?
Tart: Witnessing is a concept I’d be very happy to use. There are a number of ways to observe yourself. Some ways are biased or have built-in preferences. For exam-ple, lots of people observe themselves from their superego. Your superego has a listing of what is good and bad. It watches you and gives you a shot of anxiety when it thinks you are doing something bad. That’s not what I’m talking about. In the first place, superego witnessing is automated. In the second place it’s not yours, it was conditioned into you by outside forces—society, your parents and so forth.
There’s another kind of witnessing where you look at everything from a spe-cific point of view. For instance, you could get into some spiritual system that said, you should recite this mantra all day long and you will go to heaven or achieve bliss or something like that. So you are intellectually interpreting everything that comes in in terms of keeping the mantra as an organizing core. But you’ve still got a par-ticular point of view.
Behavior therapy is a kind of self-observation, usually of a rather limited sort. Write down every time you do a certain thing. It’s a very specific kind of self ob-servation. The kind of self-remembering I’m talking about says, in the most abstract sense to be fully present to everything that happens and be fully aware of being present there.
Gackenbach: So the "effort" aspect is not there?
Tart: There is an effort but it is a small effort. It’s not much . . . The effort is to remember to do it, because what you discover is that you’re constantly swept away by phenomena. Gurdjieff once put it that the idea we automatically have self-consciousness must be a cruel joke played upon us. In point of fact, most of the time we are not fully conscious. I can say from my experience, unfortunately, it’s true. Most of the time there’s nobody home. Gurdjieff put it very strongly. We’re machines; we’re running on automatic. You know the East has a similar sort of idea that we live in samsara or maya. It’s translated to mean the world isn’t real, but that’s not the correct translation. It’s a recognition that we’re constantly filtering our experiences through an automated psychological superstructure that distorts our per-ceptions of reality. In that sense we live in illusion. You know the thing that really amuses me? The East has the idea that we live in a state of illusion, but western psychology has the nuts and bolts of just how we live in illusion down to a very fine degree of precision. We know the way we construct what we call reality and we know about defense mechanisms. We just don’t put it together somehow. We don’t question our idea that we’re conscious and have free will.
Gackenbach: What about the new work in perception and imagery? It deals with the inner interplay at higher levels—one affects the other—it’s not just that one is the other.
Tart: That’s clarifying the nuts and bolts issues. The reality is that we open our eyes and assume there’s a real world out there. It’s a very handy working assumption. Some stimuli hit our sense organs. Some neural impulses are produced, and we as-sume that we see things as they are. But I think psychology now makes it clear that there are all sorts of abstractive, constructive, additive processes that interfere with a realistic perception of the world.
One of the analogies that I use in the Waking Up book is that we live in a world simulator, like a flight simulator. When you’re in one of those things you think you’re in the cockpit of a plane. It does all the appropriate things [and the view from the window looks "real"]. We live inside our world simulator. Not only that, we love it. Not only that, we don’t know we’re in it, which is a dangerous thing. Once you get the idea that you might be distorting things, there’s an obvious moral. Pay more at-tention, dummy! Check up on yourself! But until you get that idea, you don’t check up on yourself. You don’t make the effort to know it. I look a little more clearly. I watch my reactions while I’m looking to see if they’re distorting things.
For example, you’re making the effort to be more present to experience: you look at someone, and it’s immediately unpleasant. You notice you turned away. Wait a minute, who turned away? I didn’t decide to turn away. My God, I’ve got some automatic reaction: when I see such and such, I automatically turn my head. Who’s running this show? Maybe you make yourself look back, and you feel sick. Can you stay present to exactly what the experience of feeling sick is like? Can you learn to stay in reality and study yourself? Watch your reactions? And eventually get back to seeing reality? Eventually you see that this actual person doesn’t make you sick at all, but he really reminds you of this [other] guy who pisses you off no end. Your mind is just automatically turning anybody who’s tall into this guy, or some-thing like that.
Gackenbach: Paul Tholey has a strong viewpoint which most people in lucidity work agree with. The crucial way to obtain lucidity, he’s decided, is to ask the critical question, "Am I awake, or am I asleep?" and while awake, force an aware-ness of the state, of the nature of the state. Eventually it will translate into sleeping. That’s a view we see a lot in the lucidity literature. Is this what you’re speaking of?
Tart: I lecture on it to my students all the time, advising them to observe themselves.
Gackenbach: I’ve learned from people I’ve been working with at the Maharishi International University (MIU) that the Maharishi some 30 years ago met a few of Gurdjieff’s students in England. What he felt (I gather to some extent based on those experiences, although it may be that there are other reasons) was that the Gurdjieff method was too forced. Witnessing, he feels, is a natural state of the organism. It will emerge naturally. His technique, of course, is through the practice of Transcen-dental Meditation. The witness will emerge at various times in the cycle of sleep, dream, waking, hypnagogic, whatever. It will naturally emerge. The problem with the other technique, as he understood it, was that there was a force element. And that’s of course exactly what Paul’s saying. Can you respond to that?
Tart: There certainly is a forced element. There’s several things I could say about that. One is that Eastern teachers tend to come from cultures that have much more faith than we do, that things will happen, right? Just say your mantra and things will eventually happen. We Westerners, we’re impatient. We don’t have that much faith and we want to make sure we do it right. So we tend to force.
Now I’m quite aware that forcing can ruin a technique. I’ve ruined experience many times by adding a too forced quality. "Force" does something useful, but it too easily puts a tension and a constriction in there. It doesn’t need to be in the process; you can use just the right amount. One of the things I’m personally working on now is to get the "superego" as it were, out of the self-remembering process.
Gackenbach: I’ve been interviewing long-term meditators who witness and I’m try-ing to identify to what extent it is like lucidity. It seems that an active/passive model is a pretty good one for distinguishing between them. Lucidity basically [involves] a physically and psychologically aroused, actively involved participant. With wit-nessing there’s more of the predominance of the observer. It’s non-involved—almost like a movie screen. It can go either way, from lucidity to witnessing or from witnessing to lucidity. Some will argue that lucidity is a first step to witnessing, that it’s a developmental sequence. I wonder if it can flip back and forth.
Tart: I’d be more inclined toward that.
Gackenbach: I think, in fact, that you can probably call witnessing, "lucidity" as well. Quiet lucidity versus active lucidity.
Tart: Based on all the literature I’ve read and on my own experience of it, I would say that lucidity in a dream is an altered state of consciousness. Whether or not there is self-remembering in a lucid dream is an entirely separate dimension. In a lucid dream a person experiences a shift in the qualities of consciousness. So the way my mind is operating feels more like waking than sleeping, and includes factual know-ledge: I’m actually in bed dreaming, still, or I remember how to operate this kind of equipment in real life so I can operate it in dreams. Lucidity brings an ordinary level of conscious knowledge into the dream, which in a sense is a higher state phenom-enon. You, your ability, your freedom of operation throughout the dream world clearly goes up when it becomes lucid—when you know you’re dreaming.
Now, the kind of lucid waking I’m talking about, self-remembering, involves a big jump up from the ordinary waking state. So, you could have a lucid dream that did not involve self-remembering, but in theory (I haven’t done it and I don’t know anybody who has) someone who’s good at self-remembering could have an ordinary dream, turn it into a lucid dream, and still not be self-remembering. They could then begin to self-remember within the lucid dream itself and go up to another level.
Gackenbach: To paraphrase then: When you know you’re dreaming then either it follows or simultaneously you have full recall of your memories, you have volition and control at much higher level. Is that self-remembering or is self-remembering even beyond that?
Tart: Self-remembering is beyond that stage. Right now, here I am in the ordinary state not doing the process of self-remembering. Here in my ordinary state I have a certain vantage point with lots of knowledge, but my knowledge. My ordinary identity carries a framework, an emotional-cognitive framework, that organizes everything going on—what’s important to me, what’s not important. Things are being processed through my personality. That also happens in the lucid dream: your ordinary waking personality now becomes the processing center rather than the usual greatly "shrunken" dream personality center.
If I’m self-remembering, by contrast, when you ask me who am I, I could give you a conventional answer if I think that’s what you want to hear: all the facilities of ordinary waking consciousness are available. But the truth of who I am is that I’m not my personality anymore. It’s hard to express in words, but I am a process that can know. That process has a tremendous amount of freedom compared to my ordi-nary personality. It’s far more open-minded, it has far more access to possibilities.
Gackenbach: Is there a sense of separateness?
Tart: "Separateness" is a poor word to use for this. It’s not like I’m standing behind myself. Or that I’m "detached" in the sense of not caring about what’s going on. I may be more vividly aware of ordinary experiences than I normally am. The ordinary world becomes a little more real. But simultaneously it seems it is just a particular flux of phenomena at this time. I’m not identifying with it.
Gackenbach: As I understand it, that’s what my colleagues at MIU call "witnessing." It naturally emerges as a function of meditation. This is almost identical to the kinds of things you’re saying.
Tart: Possibly meditation does produce very similar results.
Gackenbach: Then in sleep, and specifically in dreams, how are these states the same or different? I’m beginning to wonder if you can’t be both lucid and witnessing or self-remembering simultaneously. Or one or the other.
Tart: You lost me.
Gackenbach: By way of explanation, let me tell you about this interview I had with this mathematics professor who’s been meditating for seventeen years and has very clear experiences. I think because he’s not a behavioral scientist, he’s able to com-municate better, without jargon. He described how he conceptualizes the continuum from the stage of dream lucidity to the stage of witnessing. First he saw them in de-velopmental sequence. The first step is consciousness; you know you’re dreaming. It’s minimal lucidity, as we would name it. The actor-observer roles change in the sequence. In lucidity you know you’re dreaming; the actor’s very dominant. The observer’s there but it’s not as dominant a role. Then, as you move into witnessing, the actor becomes more suppressed and the observer role more dominant.
Tart: So in a paradoxical way you lose the freedom to change things that occur in lucid dreams and you let the dream run passively again?
Gackenbach: Yes, the passivity is the big dynamic. Not only that, the dream begins to fade. You realize you’re dreaming—everything out there is my fantasy, is me. Everything goes very naturally. I’m not going to make it go away, but rather let it continue. You still have a self-representation of the body. That goes. You still have a representation of the self but it’s not a "physical" self. Then that goes. You’re left with awareness of awareness. Then you go into that and the experience opens again, but it is not "sensory" experience; rather it is conceptually based. So he talks about living mathematical constructs at that point.
Tart: He probably goes to the world of Platonic forms. Where else—what would a mathematician’s idea of nirvana be—Platonic forms, formulas!
Gackenbach: He sees it as some kind of abstract algebra, that’s his area. It goes further. But after that, I had no idea what the guy was talkin’ about.
Tart: Let me distinguish two categories now in terms of self observation and self-remembering. One is what I’ve been describing to you. It’s very prominent in the Gurdjieff tradition, and the place it’s almost exclusively done is in the midst of ordi-nary life. We’re being bombarded with sensory impressions, we’re socially inter-acting, the phone could ring, there’s lots and lots of input. Now let’s operate on a model which I find works well for a lot of things, namely that the total amount of attention available to us is fixed, but we can divide it up. With self-remembering, instead of your attention becoming all absorbed in either outside events or the inter-nal processes triggered off by them, you keep a part of it free to observe the rest. Instead of letting a hundred percent get lost in phenomena, you keep, say, ten per-cent in self-remembering. Paradoxically, this makes the other ninety percent more vivid, but at the same time, you’re not so trapped in the particulars of experience.
Now let’s look at Buddhist vipasana meditation, which I’m trying to learn to do well. In vipasana meditation you sit down in a place that’s extremely quiet com-pared to ordinary life. Nobody’s going to talk to you; there’s nothing you have to do. It’s a reasonably undisturbed place. You sit still. All the body stuff is greatly re-duced. You just try to clearly observe whatever happens in your mind—you make no attempt to control it. There’s no good or bad thing you try for, there’s no control you exert. You just try to be clearly aware of whatever is happening. Now you’re doing something that’s much like self-remembering. But, in a sense, the "noise level" is way down, so instead of self-remembering where it’s all terribly agitated by external events, vipasana is self-remembering down here where there’s much less confusion. Thus you can begin to observe much subtler aspects of mental function. So this process, carried out from two different places, could lead to different things.
Now, let’s follow the vipasana meditation model. I may be sitting with my mind wandering (which is usually what happens, because it’s hard to do!) But then I focus for a moment, I’m paying clear attention to whatever sensations come and go in my body. There’s a line of sensations in my leg, e.g. it comes and goes. That starts to raise a thought and I see how the thought starts to rise. I watch the process but then it just fades. I’m tuning into the finer, subtler thought. Vipasana can become much deeper as your perception of a thought becomes finer and finer. It’s like you turn a microscope on your sensations, and, as you zoom and focus the microscope, the power gets higher and higher. There comes a point where, when you look at any-thing, it dissolves into nothing but vibrations. A friend of mine who’s a very experienced meditator describes it this way. Any sensation—a painful sensation, a pleasant sensation, whatever—that he looks at closely in this vipasana way dis-solves into vibration. You can then reach a kind of psychological state where all the usual objects of the world we experience, including your body and your sense of self, just become vibratory waves. A lot of people would call that a highly enlightened state.
Gackenbach: But there’s still more.
Tart: Yes, I don’t think that’s the only way it can go. In the Tibetan tradition of Dzogchen meditation, that kind of thing can happen in meditation, and then you in-tentionally destroy it because you’re getting caught up in it, which is a form of sub-jectivity. If you become proficient, you’re able to simultaneously contact that in-credibly expanded, nonverbal, holistic view of reality while in the midst and flux of everyday life, being good at living everyday life. So there’s various directions you can go in.
Gackenbach: I have talked about this at length with my colleagues at MIU, partic-ularly the concept of the quiet, and the subtleties.
Tart: Let me give you a view of either lucidity or witnessing. It’s a totally relative view. There’s a continuum. At one extreme you are totally caught up in whatever’s happening. The other opposite end is that you are totally out of it. Now there are varying degrees of [lucidity along this continuum]. For instance, even simple ani-mals make cognitive maps of their environment. In a sense, that’s a kind of lucidity. It may be a very mechanical kind of thing, like a conditioned response. But there’s a sense in which lucidity or witnessing gives us some perspective on experience while it’s happening. Even in ordinary consciousness we bring some perspective, some cognitive maps.
Self-remembering, which I’m talking about, introduces a new dimension. Self-remembering does not mean you have some point of view that you claim is higher. It means you exercise a bit of volition to try to be totally open to whatever is hap-pening at the moment. It’s very different from all our ordinary acts of cognition using the conceptual tools already given you.
Gackenbach: So it’s passive?
Tart: No, no. Self-remembering is not passive. It’s definitely active in a sense that you must make a small effort to do it. It’s not automatic. It’s always a certain kind of effort. But it’s not the usual kind of effort. Usual efforts not only have force behind them, they have a direction and goal. Here the effort is simply to pay attention openly but not force it in any particular direction. I’m saying you can use "lucidity" or "wit-nessing" to describe two levels of an operation. You have immediate experience and another level of perspective on experience. This can be purely mechanically-operated kinds of perspectives. But there’s another kind of lucidity or witnessing whose goal is the transcendence of all concepts, all dualities, all formulations and it involves simply an effort toward openness.
Gackenbach: It’s active in the sense of doing, it’s happening, and in the sense that there’s some effort. It’s passive in the sense that, if you start to act on what you’re experiencing, you lose the experience: mood making.
Tart: Now that’s an important difference. To me, looking at it from a Gurdjieff perspective, losing it means you haven’t learned how to do it very well. There are techniques that are essentially passive—more witnessing and the universe will be revealed to you, right? And there are techniques that bring full knowledge and are not totally passive; there are times that require action by you.
Gackenbach: That’s it exactly. According to my colleagues at MIU you take time to cultivate the state through meditation, but that for most of the day you go about your business. The self-remembering or witness perspective spontaneously emerges from time to time.
Tart: Is it supposed to happen by itself as a result of your meditation periods?
Gackenbach: Yes, you don’t force it.
Tart: This is a traditional model, but I don’t think it is completely adequate. Let me illustrate. Recently I was in a Buddhist group meeting and a woman there was com-plaining that after she’d been to a retreat for a couple of weeks, where she’d been so mindful, that it all faded within a few hours of going home! She just couldn’t be mindful at home. That’s a very common experience. Now the traditions usually say just keep up your meditation mindfulness practice, do your sitting every day and eventually it will start to transfer. Indeed, all of them admonish you to transfer it to everyday life, but, the classic Eastern traditions that I know actually don’t have much in the way of skillful means for transferring mindfulness to everyday life. They don’t have much technology for how you do it. The Gurdjieff tradition, on the other hand, by and large doesn’t teach people passive sitting meditation. It starts you right off practicing mindfulness in the midst of life. So I’m writing a paper for the Journal of Humanistic Psychology comparing these two traditions and suggesting some ways to take this mindfulness and start practicing it in situations closer to ordinary life. Then it’ll transfer to the everyday life we lead—it will give us "lucid waking."
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10. A Conceptual and Phenomenological Analysis of Pure Consciousness During Sleep
Maharishi International University, Fairfield, Iowa
While most accounts of "awareness" during sleep have focused on the phenom-enon of "dream lucidity," in this presentation I will discuss a qualitatively distinct state of consciousness beyond ordinary lucidity that can be experienced along with dreaming and deep sleep. This state is referred to in the ancient Vedic tradition as samadhi or "pure consciousness." When this state is maintained during dreaming or sleep, it is said to serve as a silent "witness" or observer to these changing relative states.
Distinguishing Between Pure Consciousness and Dream Lucidity
Let us begin by distinguishing between ordinary lucidity and witnessing. Dream lucidity appears to involve a commingling of the ordinary waking state with the dream state. During the process of dreaming, it is as if the cognitive capacities of the ordinary waking state become activated, and one can now function volitionally from within the dream world. One’s awareness typically remains identified (or asso-ciated) with that of the dream ego, but an arsenal of additional waking state abilities are added (e.g., rational decision processes, memory of having been awake). In lucid dreaming, though one can now actively think about the fact that one is dreaming, one still remains relatively absorbed in the dream world.
In contrast, the experience of pure consciousness is said to totally transcend the activities of both ordinary waking and sleeping. Whereas dream lucidity is typically associated with an increase in cognitive processing and possibly somatic arousal, pure consciousness is described as a heightened state of content-free awareness ac-companied by deep silence, a state in which all ordinary activity of thinking, feeling and perceiving has come to a complete rest, yet awareness remains wide awake within itself. What wakes up in lucid dreaming is the localized, active individual ego of the ordinary waking state, the bounded "I" of experience with which we typically identify—albeit now transported into a dream landscape. In contrast, what wakes up during witnessing is the silent, unified state of pure consciousness, said to lie at the basis of all active states of mind and changing states of consciousness. In this state, awareness becomes fully "self-referral," capable of knowing itself directly without conceptual mediation of any kind. The boundaries of the active, localized self are transcended and awareness is said to become identified with a silent inner unbounded Self at the origin of mind, which is experienced as "I-ness," "amness of "Being." Maharishi describes this experience of the Self:
Self has two connotations: lower self and higher Self. The lower self is that aspect of the personality that deals only with the relative aspect of existence. It comprises the mind that thinks, the intellect that decides, the ego that experiences. This lower self func-tions only in the relative states of existence—waking, dreaming, and deep sleep. . . . The higher Self is that aspect of the personality which never changes, absolute Being [pure consciousness], which is the very basis of the entire field of relativity, including the lower self.
In "witnessing," the Self becomes fully differentiated from and an observer to the changing states of waking, dreaming and sleep and the functioning of the local-ized self which is embedded in those states. Thus, unlike the typical lucid state in which the localized waking-state self can now function from within the dream, in witnessing, an unbounded Self silently observes from outside of the dream state.
According to Maharishi’s Vedic tradition, witnessing can become a constant reality experienced throughout the 24-hour waking/sleeping cycle and not just experienced during rare moments while dreaming. The goal of Transcendental Meditation (TM) is to provide systematic experience of the pure consciousness state. Maharishi explains:
The Transcendental Meditation technique is an effortless procedure for allowing the excitation of the mind to gradually settle down until the least excited state of mind is reached. This is a state of inner wakefulness with no object or thought or perception, just pure consciousness, aware of its own unbounded nature. It is wholeness, aware of itself, devoid of difference, beyond the division of subject and object—transcendental consciousness.
During this experience knower, known, and the process of knowing converge in one wholeness of experience. This is described as a self-referral state. Because there is only the awareness of awareness. You are aware that you are. There is no active processing of mental contents; it is just a state of pure "knowing-ness," or being. It is a very gratifying kind of existential reconnection with your basic self.
The goal of meditation, of the TM program, is to maintain this pure conscious-ness state outside of meditation. On the basis of the deep state of rest experienced during TM, tension and stress is released that otherwise blocks one from this silent experience of the Self. Gradually, over years of meditating, this pure consciousness begins to adhere to you, or you adhere to it, and you begin to maintain this silent state during waking, dreaming, and sleeping. Pure consciousness then functions as a witness to ordinary daily activity. You still may engage in ordinary thought, but the silent state is as a backdrop to active states of consciousness. The advantage of this silent state is that it is a state of complete harmony, peace, and inner fulfillment, and cannot be disrupted. Because it doesn’t get disrupted, you don’t lose this "inner lifeline" to Being within.
A substantial body of research has been conducted on the psychophysiological correlates of pure consciousness. Maharishi predicted that pure consciousness would prove to be a distinctive state of restful alertness qualitatively different from ordinary waking, dreaming and sleeping. On the one hand, a deep state of inner silence would be experienced. On the other hand, one is said to become increasingly alert or aware. Indeed, enlightenment is sometimes referred to as simply being fully awake. Thus, this state is said to have a dual character of being both very silent yet more awake, but not aroused. It is both together in one condition.
It has now been repeatedly shown that in the experience of pure consciousness during TM (as indicated by button pressing immediately after the experience) res-piration rate often drops to virtually zero for as long as a few seconds up to minute. For some advanced practitioners of TM, their respiration is virtually absent for over half of their meditation. On the other hand, during these experiences, EEG alpha and theta power increased substantially. Also, EEG patterns became more "coherent"—i.e., brain waves (especially in the frontal and central regions), thus suggesting a simultaneous increase in alertness and functional integration.
Now that I have conceptually described the pure consciousness state and how it may differ from lucidity, let me provide some phenomenological descriptions of this state. I’ll begin with experiences of pure consciousness in isolation during exper-iences of TM, as reported by subjects. Their reports are bolstered by the fact that they also displayed substantial periods of respiratory suspension and increased EEG coherence associated with these experiences. The first subject says,
When I experience pure consciousness, it is a state in which I am awake and aware, but not aware of anything except awareness itself. As I merge into the experience, outer-relatedness lessens and inner peace and self-sufficiency remains. It is not an intellectual experience. It is by far the most intimate and simple experience in my life.
A second experience:
I experience pure consciousness as a state of unboundedness and total ease and deep relaxation. There are no thoughts, no feelings, or any other sensations like weight or temperature. I just know I am. There is no notion of time or space, but my mind is fully awake and perfectly clear. It is a very simple and natural state.
This quote clarifies that this is "pure" in that it is content-free. There is no ob-ject of thought. It is not qualified by any particular thought or feeling. It is awareness awake to its own nature, but without any content. That is why the experience has been described as "being" or just "am-ness."
These experiences, of course, don’t just take place in meditators, they occur in non-meditators as well. The purpose of meditation is to stimulate more frequent occurrence of this experience. In "Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey . . . ," written by the nineteenth-century poet Wordsworth (1904 edition), a spontaneous experience of pure consciousness seemed to be described:
. . . —that serene and blessed mood,
In which the affections gently lead us on,—
Until the breath of this corporeal frame
And even the motion of our human blood
Almost suspended, we are laid asleep
In body, and become a living soul: . . .
This poem clearly describes the dual character of pure consciousness. He describes this experience of attention spontaneously settling down as it does during meditation, until the breath becomes "almost suspended." Yet at the same time we "become a living soul."
We have begun to conduct research to determine if pure consciousness can be maintained outside of meditation—especially during sleep. In a pilot study of an advanced TM meditator who claimed to be having this witnessing experience of a serene inner state throughout waking, dreaming, and sleeping, we found when com-pared to the sleep of two lucid dreamers and a non-lucid dreamer, that this particular subject seemed to physiologically maintain a deeper state of rest. He had lower res-piration rate, lower heart rate, and less REM density, but he also appeared to be alert and could signal from REM sleep, Stage I, and Stage II sleep with strong lateral eye movements. This suggests that he may be experiencing the restfully alert state of pure consciousness during sleep.
Through the efforts of Jayne Gackenbach and Robert Cranson we also now have some preliminary content analyses of the pure conscious experience during sleep. A very advanced group of meditators at an in-residence meditation facility in upstate New York filled out questionnaires on their frequency of experiencing three types of consciousness in sleep: lucid dreaming (which we defined as actively think-ing about the fact that you are dreaming); witnessing dreaming (while dreaming you experience a quiet, peaceful inner awareness or wakefulness completely separate from the dream); or witnessing deep sleep (during dreamless sleep you experience a quiet, peaceful, inner state of awareness of wakefulness). These subjects were then required for validation purposes to provide a detailed description of these exper-iences. Gackenbach then performed a content analysis by first identifying categories that may discriminate among these experiences and then assigning the different ex-periences into each category. There were 55 lucid dreams, 41 witnessing dreams, and 47 witnessing in deep sleep experiences reported by these 66 advanced male meditators. The content categories showing distinctions between them are depicted in Table 1.
Most revealing of these categories was the one on feelings of separateness. In lucid dreaming only 7 percent of the cases were those in which people reported feel-ing separateness. In the witnessing dream experience, 73 percent of the cases spon-taneously reported in their dream description that the dream went on, but they were separate from it. These reports are consistent with our conceptual descriptions of witnessing as involving the complete differentiation of pure consciousness from the dream state—functions as a silent witness completely distinct from or outside of the dreaming state.
Following are examples of maintaining the silent experience of pure conscious-ness along with but separate from the dream state: "Sometimes no matter what comes into the dream, I feel an inner tranquil awareness that is removed from the dreaming. Sometimes I may even be caught up in the dream but the inner awareness of peace remains." Another example: "I watch it as it is going on separate from me. . . . There are parts, me and the dream, two different realities." These are exam-ples of this feeling of separateness.
Another category which is interesting is that of emotion. There seem to be pos-itive emotions associated with all three states, but extremely positive emotion was reported more frequently for witnessing dreaming and witnessing deep sleep as were feelings of lightness. This is reminiscent of, according to Maharishi’s Vedic tradi-tion, an experience of profound bliss or ananda experience of the inner Self or Being.
On the other hand, dream control was much more frequent during lucid dream-ing than witnessing dreams. This is consistent with the claims that dream lucidity typically involves active information processes, manipulation of dream content. As it were, the "will" or volitional capacity of the individual ego can act on its thoughts and desires. This is in contrast to the experience of pure consciousness which is said to be one of complete inner fulfillment or contentment. The Self does not act, but silently observes the changes occurring within waking, dreaming, and sleep.
Also over half the time lucid dreaming was triggered by incongruent mental events in the dreams that appeared to stimulate or awaken intellectual or discrim-inative processes typical of the waking state. On the other hand, witnessing dream-ing and sleep were virtually never triggered by such mental events. The most unam-biguous criterion of witnessing is maintenance of pure consciousness even during deep sleep. Because lucidity involves active thinking and deep sleep is generally, although not always, without mentation, it is not surprising that lucidity (as typically experienced) drops out during deep sleep. However, after long-term practice, TM practitioners gradually begin to report experiences of "witnessing," or maintenance of pure consciousness, even during dreamless sleep.
Here are a few examples:
It is a feeling of infinite expansion and bliss and nothing else. . . . First, it is like an abstract experience of bliss. There is no identity at all. Then I become aware that I exist, but there is no individual personality. Then I become aware that I am an individual, but no details of who, where, or what or when. Eventually these details fill in, and I might then wake up. Sometimes I’m lying there very quietly enjoying the silence, and then I will gradually become aware that I am snoring.
How do you describe an unmanifest experience? It has only happened a half dozen times in 15 years, but when it occurs, it’s crystal clear. Silence, wakefulness. Dark/clear and open. Silent/lively—like an amplifier turned on, but no sound. The experience fades as boundaries of dreams or waking state gather, gain definition and overshadow.
From the perspective of Maharishi’s Vedic Science, the significance of the ex-perience of pure consciousness is that it provides the foundation for the develop-ment of stable higher stages of consciousness or "enlightenment." Witnessing of deep sleep indicates that the inner wakefulness of pure consciousness is now begin-ning to be maintained even during the most extreme conditions of mental inertia—dreamless sleep. Indeed, according to Maharishi, the first stable higher stage of con-sciousness, termed "cosmic consciousness"—is defined as the maintenance of pure consciousness throughout the 24-hour cycle of waking, dreaming, and deep sleep.
One final consideration, in the growth of the first stage of enlightenment, pure consciousness is said to become a silent observer or witness to the changing states of waking, dreaming, and sleeping. However, this development of inner self-sufficiency should not be confused with a state of compassionless detachment. In accordance with Erik Erikson’s injunction that identity provides the basis of inti-macy, it is also when one establishes one’s ultimate inner identity, "Being" or Self that a truly profound foundation for intimacy with others is achieved. Unless you fully know who you are through the self-referral of Being, you are not in an ideal position to know and help others. The unbounded Self is classically described as "nonattached" not because it is withdrawn but because it can no longer be disrupted or overshadowed by the boundaries or changing values of thoughts, perceptions and actions. The blissful experience of inner Being thus provides a natural basis for sharing. The sharing of one’s happiness and inner resources with others.
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11. Psychological Content of "Consciousness" During Sleep in a TM Practitioner
JAYNE GACKENBACH and WILLIAM MOORECROFT>
Athabasca University and University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada;
Luther College, Iowa
Gackenbach (1988) recently concluded a review of the research examining differences in content between lucid and nonlucid dreams. It covered two types of data, self-evaluations of the content by the dreamer, as well as content evaluations by independent judges. Both approaches were largely descriptive of the manifest level of content, although the self-evaluations involve some part of the latent content through the subjects’ need to describe their own experience.
She concluded that although there were differences between lucid and nonlucid dreams, lucid dreams were more like nonlucid dreams than they were different. However, she also noted that although the differences were few they were not due to chance variations but were consistent across a variety of studies.
Specifically, consistent differences from the self-evaluations research on con-tent involve auditory and kinesthetic dream sensations and dream control as partic-ularly characteristic of the lucid dream. Consistent with these self-observations are the findings from independent judges of dream lucidity as having more auditory and cognitive activities. Not evaluated in the self-observation studies, Gackenbach pointed out, was the role of characters. In the judges evaluations across samples, sex, and dream collection method, lucid dreams had fewer characters. Although other dreamer type differences emerged in the various studies, the most compelling differences are clearly in the auditory/cognitive domain.
An experience related to the lucid dream experience is a continuation of con-sciousness from the waking state into the sleep state that claimed to be a key aspect of the experience of "Transcendental Consciousness," which is developed by the prac-tice of Transcendental Meditation (TM) (Banquet & Sailhan, 1974). This study in-vestigated the psychological content of the dream experiences of a single advanced practitioner of TM who reported maintaining "Transcendental Consciousness" throughout the 24-hour cycle.
The state produced by TM practice is characterized by low levels of autonomic arousal and TM practitioners are discouraged from attending to their dreams. Since the possibly related state of "lucid dreaming" (i.e., related in that both states claim "consciousness" during dreaming) is associated with increased autonomic arousal (LaBerge, Levitan & Dement, 1986) and, as noted, meaningfully differs from non-lucid dreams, we addressed the question of whether experiences of "Transcendental Consciousness" would show dream content distinct from lucid or nonlucid dreaming.
The TM subject (TMS) was a 28-year-old male who had been meditating for 5.8 years and received one of the highest scores thus far recorded on an inventory designed to assess self reports of the attainment of higher states of consciousness (Stage of Consciousness Inventory (SCI); Alexander, Davis, Dillbeck, Dixon, Oetzel & Muehlman, in press). Further, he received low scores on the SCI scales which assess psychopathology and tendency to endorse misleading, grandiose sounding statements. During TM practice he displayed exceptionally high ampli-tude alpha spindles across all EEG channels and periods of respiratory suspension (Kesterson, 1985).
Four subjects, the TMS and three others, two who reported frequent lucid dreams and one who had never had a lucid dream, were studied in a sleep laboratory for two to seven nights. Standard polysomnograms (EEG, EOG, and EMG as well as pulse and respiration) were recorded. Prior to coming to the sleep laboratory all subjects kept dream diaries at home for a two week period. Midway through this period they were instructed to attempt the eye movement signaling task at home. Both lucid dreamers and the TM subject were able to do this task at home while the nonlucid subject could not.
During the sleep laboratory experience (which was a seven-night experience for the TMS and a two-night experience for all others), dreams were collected after each REM episode. As in Gackenbach’s content study first published in 1988, work diary and laboratory dreams were then content-analyzed using the Hall and Van de Castle (1966) system and a few additional scales (i.e., bizarreness, palpable sensations, bal-ance and control). The TMS had 35 diary and laboratory collected "lucid" dreams to be analyzed (Group 1) while the two lucid dreamers had 12 diary collected lucid dreams (Group 2) and 21 diary and laboratory collected nonlucid dreams for analyses (Group 3). The nonlucid dreamer had 24 diary and laboratory collected nonlucid dreams (Group 4).
Results and Conclusion
One-way analyses of covariance were computed on 140 content scales from Hall and Van de Castle with number of words in the dream transcript as the covariate. The four groups of dreams compared were as noted above. All significant findings (means and F-ratios) are portrayed in Tables 1 to 4.
As with Gackenbach (1988), the content analysis of lucid vs. nonlucid dreams for these four groups of dreams (two lucid groups and two nonlucid groups) were more alike than different. That is, only 27% of the analyses showed significant dif-ferences. However, this figure (38 significant differences) is considerably higher than what one would expect by chance alone. Consequently, although there are few differences they can not be accounted for by chance factors alone.
As to the nature of the differences, in 27 of the 38 significant findings the TMS had the lowest incidence. He had the highest incidence in only four scales (i.e., male characters; "old" modifiers; references to dream control; and sense of intellectual, emotional and body balance).
Consistent with the electrophysiological findings with this same TM subject (Gackenbach, Moorecroft, Alexander & LaBerge, 1987), he demonstrated both lower physiological arousal (even though he was able to signal with prearranged eye movements) and lower psychological "arousal." That is, there were fewer thought elements in his sleep mentation experiences.
Alexander, C.N., Davies, J., Dillbeck, M., Dixon, C., Oetzel, R. & Muehlman, J.M. (in press). Higher stages of consciousness beyond formal operations: The Vedic psychology of human development. In C.N. Alexander, E. Oxford University Press.
Banquet, Jean-Paul & Sailhan, M. (1974, April). Quantified EEG spectral analysis of sleep and Transcendental Meditation. Paper presented at the second European Congress on Sleep Research, Rome, Italy.
Gackenbach, J. (1988). Psychological content of lucid vs. nonlucid dreams. In J. Gackenbach & S. LaBerge (Eds.), Conscious mind, sleeping brain: Perspectives on lucid dreaming. New York: Plenum.
Gackenbach, J., Moorecroft, W., Alexander, C. & LaBerge, S. (1987). "Consciousness" dur-ing sleep in a TM practitioner: Heart rate, respiration and eye movement. Paper pre-sented at the annual meeting of the Association for the Study of Dreams, Arlington, VA.
Hall, C. & Van de Castle, R. (1966). The content analysis of dreams. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.
Kesterson, J. (1985). Respiratory changes during the Transcendental Meditation technique. Society for Neuroscience Abstracts, 1144, 334.8.
LaBerge, S., Levitan, L. & Dement, W. (1986). Lucid dreaming: Physiological correlates of consciousness during REM sleep. The Journal of Mind and Behavior: Special Issue: Cognition and Dream Research. 7(2&3), 251–258.
Research supported by grants to the authors from their respective institutions.
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12. A Buddhist Perspective on Lucid Dreaming
TARAB TULKU XI
Copenhagen University, Denmark
Editor’s Note: Tarab Tulku, L.R.G.S, Dr.Phil., is a Tibetan lama, the eleventh in-carnation of the Tarab Tulku. Tarab is an abbreviation of the much longer name of a monastery in Tibet. Tulku means "reborn." He has been educated in Tibet at the University of Drepung Monastery, where he received the highest degree, Lharampa Geshe, in Buddhist philosophy and metaphysics, as well as in meditation disciplines (including Tantra). At present Tarab Tulku is the head of the Tibetan section of the Royal Library and of the Tibetan department of Copenhagen University. On the basis of his own profound experience and accumulated knowledge, Tarab Tulku has modified the original Tibetan Buddhist techniques and developed therapeutic meth-ods adapted to Western approaches, still integrating the essence of the esoteric meditation practices of Tibetan Buddhism.
Within the Buddhist Tantric tradition there is great emphasis on using the dream state of being for developmental ends. There exists a special practice called "dream yoga," which in the West has been presented as one of the "Six Doctrines of Naropa." The dream yoga is a high meditation practice which is performed by the practitioner within the so-called lucid dream state.
However, working directly and consciously in the lucid dream state is not ac-cessible to very many people. As the dream yoga methods are very strong and direct methods for development, I have committed myself to developing ways of dealing with dreams, which on the one hand provide training towards actual dream yoga practice—the practicing within the lucid dream state—and on the other hand can fruitfully be used to confront and dissolve problematic psychological structures more effectively than by dealing with these in the ordinary waking state. Therefore, it is appropriate to talk about two different levels of purposes, a surface level of psychological observance, and a more subtle level of spiritual observance.
Psychologically-oriented practices are concerned mainly with changing our general psychological structures with the purpose of decreasing our everyday prob-lems in relation to self and others. In contrast, the spiritual observance level is a practice level mainly concerned with changing our existential existence, with the purpose of decreasing the distance between, and thus uniting, our rational and non-rational abilities, or our feminine and masculine energies, or our body and mind or substance and consciousness. By healing the gaps and finally uniting subject and object we break the dualistic determination and entrapment of our existence, thus entering into the nature of existence, the essential nature of the universe.
It should be noted that distinguishing these two practice levels is provisional. The two levels follow each other sequentially. One must solve one’s major problems on a psychological level before being able to successfully enter the more subtle spir-itual level where changing one’s existential structures in relation to reality occurs.
One of the main concerns on a psychological level is to obtain a balance be-tween our ordinary coarse-rational contact with and/or interpretation of reality and a nonrational relation with reality. This balance can be obtained, and has traditionally within Buddhism been obtained, from two alternately used angles:
1. One can use methods to awaken and train the nonrational contact, whereby the coarse-rational contact naturally will be softened, and become less rigid and projec-tive and thus more open and clear; or
2. One can use methods to directly reduce the coarse, rationally created reality, to touch upon and be able to perceive and appreciate a more direct and nonmanipulated relationship with reality, a step which in itself will further a nonrational contact with reality.
During the process of establishing a balance between our ordinary, coarse-rational and the nonrational contact with reality our psychological problems change as they are part and parcel of the coarse-rational creations.
In dealing with dreams, in the dream state in particular, we initially train the nonrational way of contacting reality, using our dream body/mind abilities. With this basis we deal with the dream object—and later again with the dream subject—in different ways, slowly breaking the coarse-rational beliefs as well as many other layers of our dualistic way of existence.
Before I talk about the way I work with dreams, I will briefly be concerned with the creation and dynamism of our ordinary way of being, i.e. the ordinary coarse-rational way in which we contact reality. For this purpose, the foundation of the Buddhist psychology of perception/cognition, characterized by "the five skandhas" is useful. This system describes our psychophysical dynamic being from the per-spective of the meeting of subject and object. In other words it is a detailed breaking down of the moments of perception. We also need to concern ourselves with the question of why the dream state is particularly useful for our purposes. Finally, I will present how I find it useful to deal with dreams within the dream state and within the imaginary dream state—methods based on the traditional dream yoga practice.
The Coarse-Rational Way of Contacting Reality
Elucidated Through a Presentation of the Five Skandhas
The first skandha relates the corporeality of the object in terms of the qualities of form/color, sound, smell, taste and tactility, and, the corporeality of the subject, in terms of our body and especially in terms of the physical sense organs and faculties. The first moment of contact or perception of the object, within the ordinary waking state, is through the functional dynamism of the first skandha, our physical body. Our five senses individually contact with the related qualities of the object. From the senses the sense impressions go to the five respective sense consciousnesses. Neither the senses nor the sense consciousnesses have intellectual abilities.
Immediately after the sense contact, the second skandha, the basic feeling-evaluation (Tibetan tsor-ba; Sanskrit vedana) which differentiates into attraction and rejection, sets in. The middle part of the "wheel of existence," symbolized by a pig, a doe, and a snake, refers to lack of intrinsic awareness (Tibetan ma rig-pa) and to this basic feeling differentiating attraction and rejection (Tibetan ’dod-chags for attraction, zhe-sdang for rejection).
The third moment of perception can roughly be described as the "taking in" of the sense-impressions by consciousness. In the ordinary waking state the sense-impressions are not just "taken in" but, especially within our modern, Western, highly materialistic cultures, the sense-impressions are almost simultaneously "tak-en over" by a consciousness dominated by a coarse-rational approach. This leaves the person with very little if any conscious awareness of the pure sense-impressions.
The coarse-rational consciousness refers to the consciousness which establishes that the perceived object is in accordance with the stored image, and with the name/ connotations of similar, already perceived, objects. All this is created within a cer-tain complex cultural/individual view of reality.
The image we create of an object has first been singled out of its natural inter-connectedness with the whole and given a name. This image, when it is first created, will most often come between oneself and future similar objects "perceived." There-fore, instead of actually perceiving the object, in the ordinary waking state, we mainly perceive our already created image of a similar object, and seldom meet the object more intimately than that.
The naming/language part in itself is most useful. However, in the coarse-rational approach the name/language has a tendency to take over reality, i.e., we give the language more meaning than reality itself. Ontologically, we exchange reality with the map of reality.
Following the "taking in" or "taking over" of the sense-impressions by con-sciousness, the feeling-discrimination between attraction and rejection referred to above now arises. Pleasant feelings arise when the object in focus seems to nourish and/or protect our image of ourself, and unpleasant feelings arise when our image of ourself is endangered. The coarse-rational contact gives the direction for the feeling-evaluation of oneself and the feeling-evaluation increases one’s belief in the coarse-rational perception/cognition. In general, the feeling-evaluation has the last word in reality proof and in decisions.
When the feeling-evaluation of oneself in relation to the object thus arises, it enhances the further building of a coarse-rational interpretation of the object. For instance, if one first evaluates the object as good and supportive of oneself, one naturally approaches and contacts more or less solely its "positive" sides. If, how-ever, one first evaluates the object as confronting or undermining with regard to one’s image of oneself, one’s interpretation and contact is skewed toward its nega-tive aspects. This description may sound trivial, but it has a great impact on our perception/cognition of reality.
Due to the dynamism between the coarse-rational interpretation and the feeling-evaluation of the object, the different emotions accordingly arise. Here we enter the domain of the fourth skandha, the skandha pertaining, among other things, to men-tation/emotion. In this way, we create our coarse-rational emotional reality, which we automatically and more or less subconsciously superimpose of the actual sense impression of the object in focus. This, our creation of reality, is to a great extent fictional, and has often very little in common with the basic "pure" sense-reality.
The fifth skandha, the aggregate pertaining to our basic, consciousness energy refers to the main essence of being. This rnam-shes type of consciousness energy is underlying and gives energy to any psychological/mental function. That is, any kind of perception depends on the rnam-shes basic consciousness energy; the sensing, the coarse-rational perception/cognition, the feeling-evaluation, the emotions, etc. If we take away all the above mentioned psychological/mental functions of the first four skandhas, the consciousness energy as such is still maintained, continuing in and throughout all other states of being. Any of our mental/physical acts pertaining to the first four skandhas leave bag-chags, mental imprints in the basic psycho-physical energy of consciousness. These are carried through into any other state of being, for instance into the dream state of being, from whence they again emerge, being part of the manifest dream.
The coarse-rational, perception/cognition of reality is thus, as pointed out above, not "pure," but gives us a projected view of reality, which always is mixed up with our beliefs, fears, self-protective tendencies, emotional states, etc.
In the beginning of this paper, the importance of first obtaining a balance be-tween the coarse-rational and the nonrational relation with reality was stressed. I referred to "a state of being in relation with reality," which is not so corrupted by the coarse-rational approach, but is in closer connection to the basic psychophysical energy of consciousness, that is, closer to the actual nature of being.
In order to diminish and break coarse-rational creations, we have to use an ap-propriate kind of consciousness, which works in a different manner. For our purpose we have different natural states: the deep meditation state, the dream/bardo state or the deep sleep/death state of being.
Why the Dream State Is Particularly Useful
for Psychological As Well As Spiritual Observations
The dream state is useful for our purposes due to its subtle qualities. In psycho-logically changing ourselves, it is stronger and more effective to work with our dif-ficulties from a level of "being," which circumvents the coarse-rational domination —as our psychological problems most often are bound up with or are part and par-cel with the coarse-rational approach to reality—and also circumvents the limita-tions of our contact with reality due to our bondage within the rough physical body. If we want to progress in a spiritual direction, change ourselves existentially, change the relation between subject and object towards their unity, then one must transcend both types of limitations.
As we have just shown, our ordinary perception/cognition has a limited contact with the object. This is manifest in different ways. First of all, the perceptive/cogni-tive process of our ordinary waking state is strongly dispersed. The actual percep-tion through the five distinct senses, though they can have direct contact with the five object qualities correlating with the senses, have no unity in themselves and no intellectual abilities. Further, the coarse-rational consciousness, belonging to the sixth-sense consciousness, has no direct perceptive tools by itself. It has to rely on the sense impressions of the five physical senses and the five sense consciousnesses, on top of which it has a strong tendency to create its own individual reality, differing radically from the ordinary "surface reality" as such. Secondly, the perception/cog-nition is bound within the physical body and limited accordingly, i.e., it is space- and time-limited.
In the dream state, as well as in the deep meditation state, perception and cog-nition are united. The sense-impressions are not functionally distinct. They are not dependent on the physical sense organs, but operate directly from within the sixth-sense consciousness. That is to say, the five sense consciousnesses and the sixth-sense consciousness operate naturally in union in the dream/meditation states of being—implying a natural basis for uniting body/mind and subject/object. In gen-eral, within the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, body and consciousness always need to work together. A body doesn’t work without a consciousness, and a consciousness doesn’t work without a body.
In the dream state and deep meditation state, we also have/are a body. However, the dream body and the body in the deep meditation state, often named the subtle body, are not of coarse physical nature, but are energy bodies, and have therefore the ability to go beyond the ordinary limitations and bondage of the physical body, i.e. beyond space and time fixations.
An energy body can be characterized as a unity of the basic energy of our phys-ical body and the basic mental energy of consciousness. In the ordinary waking state we naturally also have the energy body, but we are normally unaware of it. In gen-eral, we only use our coarse physical body in cooperation with our coarse-rational consciousness, in which state our physical and mental aspects of being are strongly separated.
In any Tantric meditation, we try to awaken and train an energy body—for example, through awakening the energy in the chakras, etc. In the Six Doctrines of Naropa there is a specific Tantric practice where you train the "illusory body" (Tibetan sGyu-lus). The illusory body is a very subtle energy body, which can be established through deep meditation. Through the sGyu-lus practice one can leave the rough physical body, enabling one to use the subtle body without interference. However, it takes a long time and is very difficult to be able to awaken and train the sGyu-lus from the waking state of being. In general, when we try to awaken and train our energy body from the waking state, the physical body constantly interferes. It is very difficult not to take notice of the physical body, as we are used to identi-fying with and greatly caring about it.
However, in the dream state we have already parted from the rough physical body and we naturally have an energy body (the dream body). Because the dream state naturally occurs in every sleeping period, the Tantrics therefore make use of the dream state in order to develop and practice use of the subtle body.
However, though our more subtle abilities are naturally present in the dream state, we are ordinarily, in this state, still dominated by our normal, coarse-rational and dualistic views and beliefs of separation between body and consciousness. So in order to be aware of and be able to use the abilities of the dream state, we need to train our dream body and dream consciousness. We will now turn to this training.
Dreamwork Within the Dream State and Within the Imaginary State of Being—
Methods Based on the Traditional Dream Yoga Practice
Preliminary to dream yoga, the practitioner must be acquainted with the dream world, remembering dreams and having clear dreams. For psychological reasons it is also very important to remember one’s dreams. In the waking state we reject re-pressed conflicts and fears which we find difficult to deal with. However, these con-flicts and fears, among all acts pertaining to the first four skandhas, leave imprints in the basic psychophysical energy of our consciousness, and reappear in the manifest dream in order to be lived through in this level of being. I find that living through psychological difficulties is the natural psychological function of dreams.
The first stage of dream yoga is "holding the dream." This stage implies the training of lucid dreaming—to know the dream is a dream while dreaming.
In order to experience lucid dreams whenever desired—not just at random—the practitioner has to train her will power to be able to go consciously into the dream state. Also she needs to awaken and balance her subtle energies.
Roughly we can talk about three "chakra" energies. The qualities of the chakra energies can be respectively expressed and distinguished in the following way:
1. An active type of energy, the rational-intellectual, the birth-creation, male type of energy.
2. A nonactive, nonoutgoing type of energy, nonrational, like the Death energy, which is female. The Death-consciousness is the subtlest form of consciousness.
3. The third energy type balances between the active and nonactive.
People who mainly use the intellect or rational energy while asleep have to use methods of first getting into the nonrational (Type 2) energy. Getting into the non-rational energy on the threshold of sleep has different effects in the dream state, among which the most important for now are:
1. The sleeping state comes at rest and will therefore function naturally, fulfilling its function, i.e., the mental imprints (which for the reason of our mental health/healing need to come out and be lived through or worked through in the dream state);
2. Through nonrational energy one can develop lucidity and train to use one’s pow-ers in the lucid dream state.
However, when the dream state is at rest and the will-power created, the practi-tioner needs to get more into the active (Type 1) energy in order to create the clear dream and in order to be more consciously aware in the dream state experiencing the lucid dreaming.
But if the practitioner gets too much into active energy, she will wake up. She therefore needs to hold a fine balance between the non-active and the active energy, using the Type 3 energy in order to stay in the lucid dream, neither waking up nor falling back into the ordinary dream flow.
The second stage is "mastering the dream." In this stage, knowing the dream is a dream while dreaming, the practitioner develops his own power of using his dream body with volition. This enables him to deal actively with the dream object in a way, which is similar to the way we deal with the object while awake.
The first step in obtaining the power of mastering the dream body is to con-sciously be the dream body, as ordinarily we are being our physical bodies. Being the dream body still requires training the practitioner how to use it. He needs to get all the senses to work properly and to be able to move the dream body at will.
Next the practitioner trains his willpower through the dream body in order to further investigate that which captures his interest. When this step is mastered he has the ability to acknowledge disturbing psychological structures emerging in the dream, and further, he has the ability to work directly in the dream state with them.
In this context, I will mention some methods the practitioner can use to work directly with fear when confronted with negative aspects in the dream scene (the dream object), and discuss how/why these methods work. The practitioner is ad-vised never to flee the negativity, but to either fight it, or better still, to let the nega-tivity destroy himself. In other words, unite with negativity. In order to understand why these methods work, we must understand the dynamic between negativity and the subject being confronted by it. Here we have to reach back to the basic psychol-ogy presented earlier under the third skandha, where we found that pleasant feelings arise in contact with the object when the object seems to nourish and/or protect our image of ourself, and unpleasant feelings arise when our image of ourself is endan-gered. Thus, within my interpretation and experience, the negativity frightening the practitioner in the dream is a picture/representation of the practitioner’s fear of hav-ing his self-image destroyed.
If a practitioner flees a negativity, he misses the opportunity to work with his self-image and with the fear of having it destroyed. Instead, through this action he manifests his self-image even further. Secondly, if the practitioner fights that which will destroy his self-image, he creates a feeling of being protected in himself, and he will therefore feel stronger both in the dream, and also, it would seem, in waking reality. Thirdly, the practitioner can let a negativity destroy himself in the dream, i.e. he can unite with the negativity. When a negativity destroys the dream subject, it destroys that which the practitioner identifies with and therefore wants/needs to pro-tect, his self-image. However, when this is destroyed the practitioner goes beyond this image of himself and reaches a more authentic layer of his being. No longer identifying with the image, there is nothing to maintain the game of fear and nega-tivity, which is why there no longer is any fear or negativity. The practitioner has united himself with his fear and negativity. Through this act, it seems to me, he has resolved underlying psychological problems.
Having obtained the ability to "master the dream" it is possible for a practi-tioner to do many different and possibly unusual things within the dream. If, for instance, the practitioner wants to understand certain things, it could be within the sciences or within philosophy, psychology, the arts, he can—through various meth-ods—contact or tune into "energy-lines" of the knowledge he wants to acquire. The dream state gives special possibilities to do so, due to its naturally stronger unity between body/mind and subject/object.
The third stage is "changing the dream." I mentioned above that the core point in the dream yoga was to break or go beyond our dualistic way of existence. In this stage the practitioner is supposed to start directly breaking some of our strongest beliefs: the belief in the solidness and absoluteness of the object, the belief in our separateness from the object, the belief in time linearity and space fixation. Thus, in order to change the dream object, a practitioner has to train herself to go within the will power of her dream body/mind, contacting the basic structuring energy through which she can contact the dream object of the same energy level. On this very subtle structuring level of being, there is a correspondence between the energy of the sub-ject and the object, through which direct contact is possible. Through this direct en-ergy contact the practitioner can change the object, and/or can create objects at will.
In order to learn how to go into this subtle structuring level of being, the practi-tioner is traditionally instructed to use different deity-meditations in the dream state. However, to use these, certain initiations are required. When the practitioner can tune into this subtle structuring energy of the subject and the object, and use it for changing the object, she is breaking the ordinary natural laws of separateness. After obtaining this ability, a practitioner is able, by her will power and unity abilities, to transcend ordinary space and time limitations.
When the practitioner was working with the dream object, she had to work from her more rational/active chakra energy side, still keeping a balance in order not to awake from the dream state. But approaching the training of the unity abilities of subject/object, the practitioner is advised to work more through the nonrational, nonactive, feminine energy side.
As I have mentioned before, different levels of imprints, of more or less prob-lematic observances, give rise to the main part of the dream. Having sufficiently mastered the dream, the practitioner naturally and spontaneously does seem to know which method to use in successfully dealing with dream appearances, and through these with the underlying consciousness energy. These needed to come out to be lived or worked through. After having mastered the methods of changing dream ap-pearances, the practitioner can now change unwanted, unpleasant dream situations or her dream being. This act seems to have a direct healing impact on the underlying psychological difficulties associated with her waking life.
The fourth and last stage of dream yoga is to "merge with the unity of the subtle body/mind." Here the practitioner is no longer working with the dream object/ap-pearances. He now works directly through the unity of the subtle feminine and mas-culine energies of his dream subject, going beyond dream appearances. From this state of being, which is closely connected with the above mentioned state of "the illu-sory body," the practitioner works directly with his relationship to the waking state reality, also breaking the ordinary natural laws of the reality of the waking state.
As mentioned in the beginning, it is not so easy to traverse the steps of knowing the dream is a dream, being able to create lucid dreams at will, or going consciously into the dream state of being.
Instead of working directly in the dream state, I have found it useful for the practitioner first to work with the same methods in the imaginary dream state of being. The imaginary dream state is a deeply relaxed state from which the practi-tioner enters a recalled dream with which she wishes to work. However, it is much more effective to work with the dream from the dream state than to work with the recalled dream from the imaginary dream state. The dream state is more subtle than the imaginary dream state. The imaginary dream state is more easily influenced by the view of the coarse-rational consciousness. However, psychologically speaking, if the practitioner is able to enter the imaginary state and not be disturbed or influ-enced by the coarse-rational view, then it seems fruitful for her to train and apply the dream yoga methods in the imaginary dream state.
To advance on the spiritual levels, i.e., existentially changing the dualistic way of existence, breaking the natural laws, etc., it is, of course, difficult to work from the imaginary dream level due to the possible interference of the ordinary coarse-rational dualistic view. However, some progress certainly takes place when the methods are properly used.
In general, it should be clear that any practice towards awakening and develop-ing the subtle energies of body/mind, whether through the imaginary dream state, training the imaginary dream state or training the chakra energies, has a great impact on the ability of a practitioner to create clear dreams, and to further the dream power necessary for creating lucid dreams at will, and to work directly with the dream appearances in the dream.
Ajitamitragupta (1981). The Tibetan Tripitaka, D.G. edition, no. 2832: Rmi-lam dri-ma med-pa bsgom-pa. Dharma Press USA. [Note: Provides information on Rmi-lam bsgom-pa, the "Dream Yoga."]
Dharmakirti (1981). The Tibetan Tripitaka, D.G. edition, no. 4210: Tshad-ma rnam-hgrel gyi tshig-lehur byas-pa (The Tibetan translation of Pramanavarttikakarika.) Dharma Press USA. [Note: Provides information on ’Du-shes (the rational/coarse-rational conscious-ness) and mNgon-sum (the nonrational consciousness with respect to direct perception of the yogi mind).]
Dignaga (1981). The Tibetan Tripitaka, D.G. edition, no. 4204: Tshad-ma kun-las btus-pahi hgrel-pa (The Tibetan translation of Pramanasamuccayavrtti). Dharma Press USA. [Note: Provides information on ’Du-shes (the rational/ coarse-rational consciousness) and mNgon-sum (the nonrational consciousness with respect to direct perception of the yogi mind).]
rGyal-tshab dar-ma rin-chen (1974–1975). Tson-kha pa’s collected works, vol. ca: Rnam-hgrel gyi bsdus-don, Thar-lam gyi de-ñid gsal-byed. Printed in Barasasi, India. [Note: Provides information on ’Du-shes (the rational/coarse-rational consciousness) and mNgon-sum (the nonrational consciousness with respect to direct perception of the yogi mind).]
Tson-kha pa (1979). Tson-kha pa’s collected works, vol. ta: Zab-lam na-rohi chos-drug gi sgo-nas hkhrid-pahri rim-pa, yid-ches gsum Idan & Na- rohi chos-drug gi dmigs-skor lag-tu len tshul bsdus-pa. New Delhi, India. [Note: Provides information on Rmi-lam bsgom-pa, the "Dream Yoga," and the sGyulus, the "Illusory Body."]
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13. Differences Between Lucid and Nonlucid Ecstatic Dreaming
In 1976, after a few years of occasionally dreaming lucid dreams which I did not differentiate from other dreams, there came a lengthy dream that announced itself as distinctive while I was dreaming it. Not only did I appear to myself to be distinctly "conscious" but the character of this consciousness was permeated with an ecstatic feeling of balance which changed my conception of what I could be in waking life, as well as in dreaming. Even though this dream was not the first one in which I made comments that made me appear to be aware that I was dreaming, it was the first one in which my dreaming "I" was initiated into a sharp awareness of a new state, and new possibilities for conscious development.
It was the distinctive balanced quality of the ecstatic element which particularly marked this dream as different than all its predecessors. The lucid ecstatic exper-ience had a holistic clear-minded joy that was unlike the vibrant but mindless joy of nonlucid "high" dreams. Since it was new, I had no vocabulary to distinguish this kind of joy from all the other kinds I had thought were the sum total of what was possible. The following excerpts from the original write-up shows what a challenge it was to explain this experience to myself.
Four Judges In A Ball Court (August 8, 1976)
Dreamed I was walking down a corridor into a "basketball court" with tiled walls. There was a narrow walkway above the walls, and no bleachers for an audience, so later, when I woke, I realized it really looked more like a swimming pool. In the dream I as-sumed it was a basketball court.
Abruptly, with a feeling like the pop of a bubble breaking, the nature of my aware-ness changed from the usual dreaming kind to something like the normal everyday type of awareness, except that I was still asleep and dreaming. For some reason, this was de-lightful. There was a certain unmixed clarity of mind, as if all my thoughts and feelings were in their proper places, and I was conscious in the way I really ought to be in the daytime, all the time.
"I’m awake," I said out loud (in the dream) and just the clarity of the sensation of being conscious made me ecstatic. I went and ran my hands over the tiles on the wall; they were very hard, very smooth, and exquisitely cool. I was very interested to see how REAL they seemed. There was absolutely no confusion in my mind that I was dreaming, and yet somehow I was awake without having departed from the dream state. So it was fascinating to me how my mind had conjured up this wall that felt so real to my dream fingers.
Then I turned and saw four men sitting around a card table, dressed in black robes like judges. [There were a few interchanges, and then the chief judge asked,] "How is she doing?" to one with a book.
"She must be doing all right, because she is still here," was the reply. Whereupon the chief judge disappeared, leaving his empty clothes sitting there in the chair. . . .
"What’s that supposed to mean—that you’re full of hot air?" I said, very exas-perated. Then the whole group disappeared, card table and all. This startled me, and I felt as though my consciousness was slipping back into ordinary dreaming, even though I felt I had "passed the test" and would be allowed to stay this way (i.e., lucid). I went unsteadily over to the side of the court and felt the tile wall, still cool and hard. This steadied me, and I said, "I guess this dream is still holding up." After running my hand over the wall a little longer to make sure, and waiting for something to happen, I got bored and decided to explore.
[Several lucid episodes followed. . . .]
This excerpt from the "Four Judges" dream contained many features charac-teristic of lucid dreams that were to follow over the next fourteen years. Among them was a distinct sense of "shift" (like a bubble popping) or an image of delinea-tion (door closing, window opening, stepping down a stair) that divides the previous sleeping or dreaming state from the lucid state; a leap of joy followed by an intense sense of enjoyment of quite ordinary objects and situations; much conjecturing about everything "without" and "within"; much curiosity and desire to experiment; the exercising of choosing and judging abilities usually associated with waking consciousness; vivid tactile sensations, especially cool sensations; lulls in the plot which required me to take the initiative in order for the dream to get moving again; a strong, relatively effortless grip on my sense of identity, and especially, a struggle to maintain "balance" (sometimes on bicycles or motorcycles) and move with the flow, instead of getting "upset."
The most distinctive element, however, was that these dreams often included an ecstatic experience of a new type. Up to that point, I had always associated ecstatic experience with an opening of the "heart" and a thoughtless kind of merging with something "out there" that was felt to be intensely beautiful. The focus was on the wonderful or beautiful thing that was "out there." The ecstatic experience that was distinctly lucid combined a similarly heartfelt but somewhat less intense emotion with very clear mental activity and no loss of identity or ability to act in a variety of situations. Though less intense emotionally, it felt more exquisite, "higher," and less likely to burn out, and there was a substrata or background of self awareness.
Both nonlucid dreaming and waking ecstatic experiences up to that point had always been associated with a passive attitude of taking it all in—to the point where "it" filled me—so plot, action, reasoning, identity, or anything else that required even a partial self awareness tended to destroy the ecstatic state. Perhaps this is the reason that most of my experiences have occurred while intensely absorbed playing complex music, or during childhood, or while dreaming; at other times, my waking ego has had enough energy to unbalance the merger.
In nonlucid dreams something out there seems to be beautiful in itself and I dis-appear into it, participating in the beauty which "it" has. It does not occur to me to recognize that "it" is something which I have created in every sense of the word, since it is an image in a dream. In lucid dreams, "I" am ecstatic and all of that "out there" is a dream which I can enjoy no matter what it is, because I have come together in the right way. I know what I am really doing (i.e., dreaming), and it is my dream. It is not because "it is beautiful" but because "I can experience things (almost any-thing) as beautiful."
After the ecstatic experience of the "Four Judges" initiated me into a sense of the lucid dream state as being important, without explaining exactly why it was, I began to notice these dreams—whether I liked it or not! After a few years passed, I had discovered that lucidity and ecstasy came in several related guises. First, lucid-ity itself felt like some type of laid-back ecstatic state so that even if the dream was frustrating, boring, anxious, or even nightmarish, there tended to be a leftover feel-ing of elation the next day simply because of having functioned in a lucid manner, however briefly. Some dreams just had a wonderfully "clear" feeling to them; only a few rose to the level of being really "high," or ecstatic as the Four Judges dream had been.
Most of the dreams that had distinctly "high" episodes fit a pattern. The "high" most commonly flared up at recognizing that I was lucid, although in the beginning I used other labels for this recognition, like "conscious" and "aware." Since many of my lucid dreams start out with simply realizing my state of mind, rather than deduc-ing it from some anomaly, many lucid dreams started out with the ecstatic peak right at the beginning, or close to the beginning. The intensity might fade after a bit, but, unlike waking life experience, it tended not to completely disappear . . . that is, as long as I remained lucid. Furthermore, I did not stand around just being ecstatic, but usually ecstatically participated in the plot which means the write-ups don’t ade-quately portray the ecstasy as a background.
As it turned out, most of the lucid dreams I had over the fourteen years that fol-lowed the initiation dream of the Four Judges, were much shorter. During this ear-lier period of naive spontaneity, before I had heard about lucid dreaming research, more than half of the lucid dreams started out with or included at least a few mo-ments of the unified ecstatic state of the first dream. It was clear that a lift of the heart combined with a sense of balanced, clarified mental activity was triggered by the recognition that I was lucid, not by something beautiful "out there."
Hanging In There
What makes me able to remain lucid and ecstatic over a long time in a dream, once it has started? The answer to this question is still not clear to me, although the dream-making component of my mind often sets the stage for what will happen at the beginning by means of images of balance. Intentional review and practice in waking life appears to help induce the type of lucidity with low-level background-ecstatic characteristics, but what calls up and maintains the really high highs is a mystery to me. Saying that a heartfelt response combined with clear thinking and steady balance are characteristic ingredients does not help me call up the heartfelt response, or steady me when I feel uncertain. Compare, for instance, the following three dreams, which are arranged in order of how "high" they went. The first dream collapsed as soon as I encountered my sister in the second scene, whereas the other two continued over a number of apparently unrelated but continuously lucid episodes.
My Sister Has Holes In Her Socks (October 28, 1976)
Dreamed I was walking up the walk toward a big Victorian house, with my young-est daughter, age four, following me. I opened the front door and pop! I was suddenly aware—feeling fully conscious again like in the daytime, but still without leaving the dream. I felt a tremendous lift in spirits, but stepped forward very cautiously, because for some reason my grip on this state of mind seemed fragile. I felt that if I didn’t walk very carefully . . . I would fall back into regular dreaming. . . . I put one foot in front of an-other in a line so as "not to jiggle the dream . . ." [but shortly I awoke in the next scene].
Honored By An Iris (July 15, 1984)
. . . [After several nonlucid episodes] I stood still and looked down this path [a short-cut through a swamp], listening to the wind in the reeds, and reflected. Then I backed off and turned around with a sense of patience, so as to take a longer way home where I was less likely to get mired in mud.
Immediately, I was riding a bicycle down the upper hall of a school. I approached a wide staircase, and heard beautiful music coming up. I parked the bicycle, and went to hear it. As soon as I set foot on the stairs, I became fully lucid, simultaneously pervaded with a large, solid happiness. Everything was so real-seeming and clear, and there was such a sense of immediate contact with my environment, that for a moment I doubted I was dreaming, and in the next moment wondered if I might be on the verge of physically waking up. I went down the wide staircase, happily drinking in my surroundings, but at the same time being very very careful not to stumble and fall [because I didn’t want to do anything that would wake me up].
I sat down in the audience and heard an unfamiliar piece of string music. "I wonder, does this mean I made this piece of music up myself, or have I just heard it once before, so it is in my unconscious memory even though I can’t remember it?" I asked myself . . . [and went on to several more lucid episodes].
Jumping High On the Pier (May 15, 1984)
Dreamed that I was riding a two-wheeled vehicle like a motorcycle or bicycle, toward a pier, and I had to navigate very very carefully and attentively over a pile of dirt and debris in the way. I did so, feeling very clear-headed. I came to a halt, took a deep breath of the lovely clear air, and knew with a deep steady joy that I was dreaming. I looked around and saw a deep blue sky with a few white clouds, and sparkling water, like a bay at the edge of an ocean, and a quaint waterfront scene, like a cozy New England resort. Everything was very clear; my seeing was completely without effort, and I looked around for a few moments just savoring the sparkling clarity and my own sense of being whole and solidly there.
I felt so good to be having this kind of dream that I jumped high, high into the air several times, and landed perfectly balanced, like a dancer. I felt very sure of my footing, and full of a solid confidence, the way I feel when doing something I have had a lot of practice in. Then I was walked into the quaint town . . . [and several more lucid episodes followed].
Obviously, the sense of certainty in the second and third dreams was a key in-gredient to maintaining length, but this is not saying much. The initiation dream of the Four Judges had this sense of certainty even though I had never been fully aware in my dreams before, so why would the feeling of steadiness disappear and reappear from one dream to another over the years? I have no answer to this, other than to conjecture that there may be a physical rather than a psychological factor to the issue of "balance" [Editor’s Note: this was originally published before the writer had read Jayne Gackenbach’s research on the relation of balance and lucidity].
Nonlucid Ecstatic Dreams
For a period of a little more than a year before the initiating lucid dream of the "Four Judges," I had periodically had ecstatic nonlucid dreams which were different from lucid highs, and ordinary "happy" dreams. They were not only intense, but they also included a distinctive "vibrant" sensation, and a sense of merging and res-onating with whatever it was that had suddenly seemed so beautiful. These features made me feel they were mystical in some sense.
Regardless, there were only a few of them. For the most part, they disappeared as a separate type after the onset of lucid dreaming. They probably fit the conven-tional conception of an ecstatic state better than lucid dreams do. As Table 1 shows, there are a surprising number of differences between lucid and nonlucid types.
Sparrows Dancing On The Water (May 25, 1975)
Dreamed I was walking though a hilly wooded green area, and came to a beautiful lake in a clearing. The day was lovely. The sky was blue, the sun was shining and the air was comfortably cool.
I looked into the clear waters of the lake and saw a dozen or so sparrows sleeping in the bottom of the lake. As I watched, one woke up, floated to the surface, and began dancing on its toes. Instead of there being spread-out bird-like feet, each of the sparrow’s feet came down to a single toe, in a shape like that of a dancer’s toe slipper. Although sparrows are pretty drab, and this kind of a foot on a sparrow sounds grotesque, the bird’s dance immediately became absolutely exquisite to me. I was totally caught up in it, so there seemed to be nobody or nothing left that wasn’t part of the beauty that vi-brated out of the dancing bird. The dance was stately, graceful, very composed; my feel-ings danced with every movement of the bird. The luminous sense of dancing seemed to go on for a long time. It wasn’t that I thought of dancing, or knew the bird was dancing, or saw the bird dancing in the dream . . . it was as if the dancing happened completely everywhere. Every element of the dream turned into the dance, the trees, the clear lake, and my own feelings. It’s hard to convey this.
When it finished the dance, the bird sank down and went back to sleep. Immedi-ately, another one woke up and did the same thing. As soon as it broke the surface and began to dance, I was totally charmed again, and my attention, feelings, vision, every-thing, vibrated in a slow, cool, lovely dance—a kind of steady ecstasy, except "ecstasy" gives the wrong impression of rising to a peak and then crashing afterwards. The dance of the birds was so quiet and unhurried. . . .
Sparrows are not usually thought of as images of power, but this is one of the most memorable nonlucid dreams I have ever had. Like the "Eyes In The River" quoted later, the sparrows themselves were like the movement of individual thoughts rising up and falling back into unconscious levels of the mind. However, I don’t really care what they might represent. Like most of the ecstatic dreams, it was not the meaning of the dream that remained with me, but the seductive nature of the experience itself. I wanted to relive it, or at least remember its ecstatic flavor, not decode it and dig out a message. The message felt glued to the envelope.
Two more examples of the nonlucid type follow, both of which have a more deistically-oriented content, but not much difference in flavor. In the second dream, the usual sense of "vibrant" natural imagery was translated into experiences of re-verberating sounds.
Into The Boiling Sun (May 17, 1976)
Dreamed that . . . [a transparent] door let me out into a beautiful green countryside in the early evening. There were rolling hills, lush greenery, farmland, trees all with a kind of shimmering beauty that took hold of me and seemed to flow in and around me. I walked down a straight road with all this beauty to the right and to the left. Straight ahead was an even more gripping sight: the evening sun had grown huge and red, hang-ing just above the horizon. It seemed to shimmer and shift and boil in the sky with great intensity, sending a beautiful but fierce shimmering light down on the landscape, which in turn sent up its own beautiful shimmering waves of beauty.
I walked with unaverted eyes straight down into the sun.
Glory Song (June 20, 1988)
Dreamed I bought school land as an investment, and then thought maybe I should sell it and invest in something else. It had a day care center on it . . . [after several changes of mind], I came into the day care center and saw that one of the children was the Christ child. He was surrounded by a number of other children.
|Then there was a big sound, not like an imagined dream-sound, but like an actually heard sound from the waking world reverberating through the dream, of a HUGE choir of men’s voices, singing that chorus that starts "Glory, glory, resounds on high, voices of love, echo above; Choirs of angels their adoration show . . ." and so on (I forget the com-poser). The sound, a huge marvelous sound actually heard in the dream, filled up my mind, my body, my bones, until it became what I was thinking and feeling, shifting me away from all that think-think-think that had been going on in the beginning of the dream. I was completely ecstatic.
Mixed Mode Problem Dreams
There have been a number of times where dreams appeared that appeared to give the lie to the tidy differentiations I’ve been establishing here between lucid ecstatic dreams and nonlucid ecstatic dreams. It is interesting that so far, either specific patterns or some probable explanations have emerged for these deviants.
The first example is a dream which clearly has the nonlucid type of ecstatic episode imbedded in a dream which appears to be lucid. The only problem with this description is that the dream may look that way from the write-up, but there was no felt-sense of a lucid dream. It preceded the initiation dream in which my dreaming "I" recognized those types of dreams as being something unique. The ecstatic por-tion of this very long dream is as follows.
Eyes In The River (August 10, 1975)
[After several scenes], I was in a room in the upper story of a house. . . . With my arms held over my head, I looked out the window and there I saw something very beau-tiful. As soon as I saw it, the nature of the dream changed in such a way that the whole dream seemed luminous and full of a wide eerie atmosphere of beauty. The image of the outside scene seemed to fill my consciousness, so that the sense of myself diminished to nearly nothing—as if I were the outside scene as well as the inside watcher (which is strictly speaking true since this was a dream). The way this shift felt is difficult to de-scribe. In a way I was ecstatic, but without the sense of being individually emotional. Rather, everything expanded so that the beauty seemed to beat, or vibrate, through the whole dream and the dreamer.
What I saw was a river, misting upwards, much like the Cooper River does on a cool morning, steaming like an elongated cup of coffee or tea. Hippopotamuses swam underwater, great shadows moving to and fro. One by one, here and there, they would rise slowly to the surface, and their great luminous eyes would rise up and serenely peer through the mist from underneath protective ridges of bone. Only the eye-ridges and their eyes would break above the surface of the water. After a few moments of gazing about, the eyes and head would tip slowly sideways, and slide back under. I was en-tranced. The misty surface of the river shifted back and forth with the movement of the luminous eyes rising up above the dark shadows of their bodies and then sliding back under the water again. But, as I stood looking at them, my forgotten arms still over my head, danger came into the house. People began to panic. They ran past me, out onto the porch roof and jumped to the ground as if fire had blocked the usual exits. It didn’t occur to me that what-ever the danger was, it would also be a danger to me; I just kept on looking at the eyes in the water, forgetting about all else. They were so very, very beautiful, with a gentle, femi-nine aspect. Soon I was musing there, alone. I said to myself, I must remember this when I wake up.
Then abruptly, the scene changed. . . .
The second example is clearly a lucid dream, but in addition to the usual steady-state background of joy, there is a section that looks like it is moving toward the type of passive ecstatic merging that goes on once in a while in my nonlucid dreams. There have been several dreams like this, and they share three characteristics. First, the sense of identity is not lost. Second, a sensation of cold, or chill is present. Third, there is an atmosphere of quiet that may include a whispering sound, as well as visual imagery of snow. An example of this follows.
Dancer With a Changing Face (January 12, 1982)
. . . I woke up in a daze and reached over into my pocketbook, which was next to my bed as usual, and found my bottle of pills. I sat up with the pill bottle in hand, took off the top, took out the wad of cotton, and started to reach for one of the red and grey pills. But, before I gripped the pill, I stopped, and looked at the piece of cotton in my hand and said, "Hey, wait a minute, I didn’t have any cotton in the top of this pill bottle."
Then, with a leap of joy I realized that I hadn’t woken up at all. I was dreaming and I was having one of these "fully aware" dreams for the first time in several years.
'I must be getting better; maybe this medicine is doing me good,’ I thought. I experimentally threw the cotton away, and instead of falling to the floor, it went sailing slowly in a straight line outwards, defying the laws of gravity. I was overjoyed to see this, because I knew for sure that I must be in the land of dreams.
I looked around at my new world to see what there was to see. It was very very interesting to me. The corner I was in was an exact replica of my bedroom. . . . The most interesting feature of the room was the bank of windows opposite the door. These ran the entire length of the room and were covered by a wooden latticework that was very attractive. I got up and walked across a distinctly cold cement floor in my bare feet and looked out.
I was gripped by the sight of a beautiful, luminous, quiet scene: snow falling in the whisper-quiet fashion it assumes when the flakes are fat and there is no wind. Neat houses sat across the way, with a little dip of the land in between. Evergreens here and there were all edged with snow. The snow whispered to me. I quietly enjoyed this for a while, drinking it in and drinking it in, and then finally let it go to turn to the door. . . .
The third type of dream that does not tidily fit the lucid pattern belongs to a group that has only arisen in the last six years. This pattern emerged when I started to read more about lucid dreaming per se in the 1983–1984 time frame, and partici-pated in some studies by Scott Sparrow that encouraged more lucid dreaming. As the numbers of my lucid dreams rose, my dreaming mind wanted to refine its opinion of what state was going on. (It seemed to do this by itself before I made up my daytime mind that this might be interesting to think about.) When it would re-cognize that I was asleep, and must therefore be dreaming, it would sometime object to the "lucid dream" label, because the felt-sense was different. The lucid "dream" that didn’t feel like a dream often seemed to slide into and out of other types of dreaming. The following example is an experience which probably is a mixture of dream and hypnopompic image as far as the research world is concerned, but since my bedroom lacks a sleep lab, there is no way of my knowing how much of which is what. By this time in my dreaming career, many of my ordinary middle-of-the-night lucid and nonlucid dreams have passages with a lot of reflective verbiage like this one does, so that is definitely no criterion.
In the past, I could have had more of an opinion as to the type of dream this is, because hypnagogic/hypnopompic images would wink on in full color, and, like a snapshot, would lack the plot or the sense of inherent symbolism that is characteris-tic of most of my dreams. They could easily be distinguished from dreams. Howev-er, over the years, hypnagogic possibilities have developed to include dream-like "movies" which feel more like hypnagogic images than dreams, lucid-like exper-iences in which I know I’m not awake but feel like I’m in an altered state that is somehow different than lucid dreaming OR hypnagogic/hypnopompic imaging, sliding scale experiences which move from static images to "movies" to full-blown dreams or vice versa, and so on.
Whatever this experience should be called, it was certainly ecstatic.
Light And The Ivory City (February 22, 1988)
Shifting abruptly out of dreamless sleep into lucid dreaming, I found myself view-ing a static pattern of dusty white lines and rectangles as if looking across the roofs and streets of a deserted Middle-Eastern city. Everything was a soft, clean, white color . . . even the "dust" in the "streets." Although I knew without a doubt that I was in my bed in the dark night, a soft ivory "daylight," filled the image from end to end.
As I strained with my eyes, trying to get this picture in better focus, something dis-tinctly in my throat and upper chest region was also breathing in the sense of how beau-tiful the ivory city was. This steady taking-in was like a low-keyed ecstasy that just went on and on regardless of what I thought.
Nothing much happened "out there" at first, yet my mind became very busy-busy, trying to figure out how "I" was related to what I was "looking at." I knew I was not awake in any normal sense of the word, and therefore ought to assume I was dreaming a lucid dream, but this experience didn’t feel like a dream. Something seemed to be really "out there" in front of my open eyes . . . yet I was absolutely convinced I was asleep, lying on my back in bed with my real eyes closed.
My busy-busy mind then saw matters as even more complex. A faint conflicting feeling in the background said "I" was "really" somewhere else altogether. According to this faint felt-sense, whatever there was in me that was seeing, was hovering over a real city, but the whatever wasn’t focusing it quite right.
Regardless, I couldn’t quite focus. My busy-busy mind struggled quite a bit to focus better, to see whether this was really an unfocused vision of a real city, or just an abstract pattern that reminded me of a city.
Suddenly I felt a kind of clenching movement of the upper spine, around shoulder-blade level, a distinctly physical nerve/muscle sensation accompanied by a sense of certainty that at least THIS event took place "out there" in my real physical spine, not "in here" in a mental world. The bodily sensation rose once, then subsided, followed by a wonderful clearing and spreading of my mind space, as if my inner space had suddenly grown much larger and all the mental "dust" and "humidity" had dropped out of the air.
This change in the sense of mind "size" was a new (and short-lived) experience. Everything grew marvelously wide and "unclouded" all by itself, but the extra capacity didn’t help. I still didn’t "get it," grasp it, focus, or feel sure about how the pattern/city related to me.
Suddenly I just gave up grappling with this trying-to-perceive and decided arbi-trarily that whatever the lovely thing was, all of ME was still in bed, reacting to an image before my inner vision. In spite of the way it felt, it was NOT "out there." I asserted to myself that I was NOT wandering about the earth in a second body viewing a real city; the OBE "remote location" idea was just a tiresome idea from a book somewhere.
In other words, I discarded these multiple conflicting idea patterns because of some kind of mental tiring, not because of a satisfying resolution.
While all this busy-busy mental activity was going on, the delicately lit ivory city/ pattern still sat before my eyes, and a wonderful, low-keyed feeling-response kept going on and on, not peaking, but just steady, with no burnout.
After a time, however, the steady glow of the city image itself began to bother me. Its pattern felt like it was burning through the back of my "dream eyes" into real nerves in the real eyes in my real head.
Then I was seized with curiosity, just FILLED with it, wondering if this so-steady image would remain before my vision even if I opened my real physical eyes. I decided to try it out, reasoning that this would be all right because eyelids are not paralyzed in the dream state.
When I carefully opened my eyes, the image did stay there clearly for just a moment, then slowly began to fade, until I could see the dim outline of the bedroom window near the foot of my bed. Quickly I closed my eyes and the image instantly came back, just as strong and glowing as it was before. The soft, spreading light and the utterly pure white-ness of everything was so beautiful; I was so glad I hadn’t lost it.
With a feeling of great interest, I concluded that part of my mind could project an image "that wasn’t really there," with such vividness that the image could block out seeing the real window, even if it lasted only briefly. I thought this faculty could be strengthened (it didn’t occur to me to wonder if I might be dreaming the eye opening, or to wonder why anyone would want to develop such an hallucinatory capacity!).
As I continued to inwardly "look at" and "take in" the image of the city in the ivory light, I remembered reading a long time ago about a woman with blood sugar problems. This woman had gone into her bathroom, and hallucinated four tiny men playing poker while seated around a tiny card table floating in her toilet bowl. She shut her eyes, think-ing that this would cause the illusion to vanish, and then grew hysterical when she opened her eyes and saw the tiny men still there playing cards. A feeling of warmth and compas-sion toward her rose up and filled my chest. My dream-mind thought to itself how sad it was that she had experienced all that agony because she didn’t know how images worked, and especially how they could be retained for a while after you opened your eyes.
As this thought faded away, there appeared to the right of my "visual" field a ball of pure light, purest, purest light, so intense that part of the ivory city was overpowered and blurred. The ball of light, unlike the ivory pattern, had the atmosphere of being a person; it gave out a healing kind of warmth that seemed both emotional and physical. My right cheek was distinctly heated by it. Later, this feeling of heat in my right cheek would return when I remembered the dream, but faded after a week or so.
There was an immediate sense of recognition for this ball of light. It didn’t have to do with names identifying who or what it was. It was an overall bodily kind of recog-nition like meeting a very good friend unexpectedly in a crowd of strangers. My whole mind-sense ceased its busy-busy activity and turned itself slowly toward the ball of light in a composed, formal movement, as if all of me were participating in a Japanese tea ceremony.
I calmly thought that I was epileptic, so it might be better to do such things in small doses. [This is true.] Without haste or regret for this brevity, I bent my mind as if it were bowing, and briefly touched the light with my mind. Then I slowly climbed up through layers of sleep into full wakening, still ecstatic.
This write-up is particularly apt for pointing out the problems of trying to express multifaceted dreams that place their emphasis on an element other than the dream’s plot. Language does not work very well, because it doesn’t convey the strongest element, which was not the linear stream of ideas and events, but rather the aura of beauty and ecstasy that remained a steady substrata all the way through. Since this dominating element did not change much and is hard to convey anyway, there’s not much to be said after a sentence or two in the beginning. How many times should I have repeated "By the way, that was still going on while this other thing was happening"? The preponderance of the description is spent explaining the shifts in visual imagery and ideation, which were the less dominant elements, but are more amenable to expression in verbal language, especially English. Reading this write-up is like watching a film where somebody turned off the sound.
This problem is probably experienced by anyone trying to convey how an ecstatic state felt.
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14. Dream Light: Categories of Visual Experience During Lucid Dreaming
University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
I have put into sixteen categories visual experiences associated with my lucid dreaming. The basic difference between lucid dreaming and ordinary dreaming is that in lucid dreaming I know I am dreaming, and in ordinary dreaming I do not. Lucid dreaming often has the visual characteristics of ordinary dreaming. On the other hand, lucid dreaming may lead to some experiences of light similar to what is reported in mystical or supposed mystical accounts (Gillespie, 1986). Therefore, the categories actually apply to a continuum from ordinary dreaming through lucid dreaming to phenomena associated with mystical experience.
I have tried to make as few categories as possible. The inclusion of a category is based on a decision that something essentially different happens in that category that does not happen in the other categories. Each category has a pure form, but not every visual phenomenon is a pure form of a category. The categories are set against the norm of ordinary visual dream experience. The categories are:
1. Ordinary dream light. Often lucid dreams have the same visual quality as ordinary dreams. In ordinary dreams I see people and other creatures, places, and objects, perhaps strange or exaggerated, but basically in forms that copy my waking experience. My surroundings appear to have the normal brightness of everyday life or at times less. My visual experience is coordinated with my movement and other sense experience. If I move my dreamed eyes or head or body, I experience new visual content relevant to my new position.
2. Bright, clear dreams. A prominent characteristic of lucid dreams is that they are often much brighter and clearer than ordinary dreams. This brightness and clarity may precede my realization that I am dreaming. In lucid dreams the colors are often intense and varied, at times even more than in waking life. The extra brightness and clarity are often noted during the dream itself.
3. Areas of bright light. Often there is a particularly bright and colorless light in one part of the visual environment. When this ill-defined bright area appears in the context of a scene, the light may appear to coincide with something in the scene, such as a hole in the sidewalk. I have often seen a general ill-defined area of light not coinciding with anything in the environment and partly obscuring the view. This light has always been to the left and center of my view. My reaction, until I trained myself differently, was to believe I was waking up and seeing the light of my room. Sometimes I see a vague area of bright light against darkness, as after I have closed my dreamed eyes. This has usually been on the left side of my view. Patricia Garfield (1979) has reported seeing light as coming from underneath a closed door or shining through a window, in lucid dreams.
I have occasionally seen bright light on the periphery of my vision, so far off to the side that I cannot tell whether it has a particular shape or not. I cannot look at it directly. The effect is as though this intense light is sitting in the left corner of my left eye. It remains there no matter what movement I make.
Certain areas of light appear to play no part in the ongoing dream. They appear to be something else happening in the visual field. They can be taken as part of the dream scene if they happen to look like they fit in.
4. Room light. Room light is light from outside me carried into the dream in the images or outlines of objects in the room. At night, when only the bedroom window has light, the shape of the lit window may become a part of the dream, presenting the general perspective in the dream that is given to my sleeping eyes. If there is com-plete daylight in the room, some of the room objects may be seen though to some extent transformed. In none of these experiences have I awakened to find my eyes already open.
In one lucid dream I saw a green towel hanging from a bar on the wall in front of me. But instead of hanging down from the bar, it stuck out from the bar towards me. This utterly confused me. After I woke up, I found that I had seen in detail the towel that was hanging towards me from above the bed. Another lucid dream led to the "out-of-body" sensation. As I projected through space, stomach downward, I watched a large square of light to my left. It remained still as I sped forward. When I awoke directly from that experience, I was lying on my back. I saw that the square of light was the light of my room window. It had the same relation to my eyes that it had had in the dream. Thus I was assured that I had not really projected anywhere.
In the two cases just described, I did not realize at the time that what I was seeing actually belonged to my room. But sometimes I have seen doors or windows in a lucid dream and understood at the time (correctly) that they were the actual doors or windows of the bedroom.
5. Imprecise visual environment. There are times when no specific visual environ-ment can be discerned, yet the visual field is not empty. What I see is unclear, blurred, confused, and/or changing. Imprecise visual environment seems to be the initiation of imaging without resolution as to its content. In lucid dreaming, when I interact less with my environment and anticipate less, upon turning my head I tend to see either nothing or this nonresolution of image. In one lucid dream I saw a building. I willed it to change into something, but I had not decided what to change it to. It became imprecise and its elements moved constantly until I looked away.
6. Memory and imagination. This category is not a visual experience in the sense that the other categories are. When awake, I can look about me while voluntarily recalling or imagining what another place looks like. While dreaming lucidly, I can likewise keep my attention on what is presented to me visually, while I picture something in my mind. I was able to bring to mind specifically to some degree correctly the general layout of my grandmother’s house. This I did in a number of dream contexts. The visual memory or imagined scene does not appear as if before the eyes. It does not replace what I am seeing.
7. Uniform darkness. Although in a sense nothing is before me when my visual field is dark, darkness is a visual experience, for it is seen. When lucid, I often choose to close my dreamed eyes, and my view becomes dark. There are degrees and kinds of darkness. There is darkness comparable to what I see with my eyes closed while awake. There is what looks like a dark night sk y or a moonlit night sky. There is dull darkness. There can also be shiny darkness, such as of black lacquer.
8. Textures in darkness. Sometimes I notice faint and formless textures in the dark-ness. These variations in the darkness are usually difficult to identify or describe. There are no patterns or definite shapes. This mottling is perhaps little different from common waking closed-eye darkness when a faint and formless light of entoptic origin may be seen.
9. Patterns in darkness. Although I have often seen darkness in a dream, it was not until I began to examine darkness closely that at times I came across faintly-seen patterns. The time I saw the patterns most distinctly, I was also tossing about in the air. I saw a collection of patterns that remained before me in a fixed position in spite of my tumbling about. My view was divided into possibly eight to twelve irregularly shaped sections. Each contained its own pattern. Each section of pattern seemed to vibrate or twitch within itself, though the section divisions remained stable. I was able to examine the whole display, scanning right to left and back again.
Most of the sections had line or herring bone designs; one had all dots close together; and one had a chess board pattern. The chess board and dot designs I have seen often in hypnopompic experiences, though not the parallel lines. The overall effect is roughly as illustrated by Shepard (1978, plate I:E. and F.), where he labels them "entoptic images." My patterns were all in shades of grey and did not contain the brightness shown in his illustrations.
10. Hypnagogic-type images. The term "hypnagogic image" properly refers to an image that appears while I am falling asleep. I have seen the same type of image while studying the darkness before me while dreaming. After closing my dreamed eyes I have seen before me faintly a series of briefly-appearing, small, still scenes that never had the brightness, clarity, or size of dream images. For example, these were of a series of row houses, then a little statue of a Buddha in an alcove, then a storefront window. I saw these as though through darkness. The scenes were unre-lated to the dream in which I had closed my eyes. I was definitely asleep. After this I noticeably woke up.
11. Minor lights. Minor lights are small bright lights appearing against a dark or blank background. They may be points of light, small lines, a crack of light, or other forms. They normally lack color and are not representational, though points of light can be taken for stars, or a flash of light can be taken for lightning. They show no pattern or regularity. Normally I see these after eliminating the visual dream envi-ronment and starting to float, fall or fly in the dark or blankness. They shift in and out of view with my movement.
12. Disks of light. The disk of light is a perfectly round bright light, with a well-defined circumference. It appears in a variety of sizes. Its light is perfectly white and uniform, and not visually overwhelming like the sun. It is not accompanied by rays and is always seen against darkness. If a dream has been in progress, the disk may be seen against what is taken for night sky and be thought of as a moon, if it is the right size. Sparrow (1976) mentions seeing a moon at times in lucid dreams and has re-ported that once one appeared to move. I cannot say I have seen a disk of light move. Although I may spin about while I see a disk, it maintains a fixed location before my eyes. One such light appeared to be as though about ten inches away from me, about three or four inches to the left of my point of concentration, and about four inches in diameter. Naturally, no such distances can be involved.
13. Patterns of light. Sometimes I see only swiftly moving patterns covering my vis-ual field and appearing to surround me. They are constantly changing versions of lattices, lines, dots, and colors. I am usually moving quickly when I see these, as when I have eliminated my normal environment and begin to toss about. These pat-terns are basically variations of elementary hallucinatory form constants (Siegel & Jarvic, 1975) seen from different perspectives. They contrast with the patterns in darkness (described above) by their brightness, their appearance at other perspec-tives than face on, and their constant change. Moss (1985a, 1985b) reports many variations of moving patterns such as of tunnels, funnels, lattices, and particularly of what he calls the vortex effect.
14. Contentless light only. Sometimes I see nothing before me except light. It may appear to be the sky and may vary from almost dark to very bright. The color is uniform and clear. When I have eliminated visual dream content or am flying, falling, or tossing about, I may not think of the view as sky, but as being blank. In ordinary dreams I experience contentless light less, because I tend to remain in in-teraction with what is in view and I do not try to free myself from what I am seeing.
15. Light with sun only. The appearance of a sun in contentless light marks an inten-sification of light. The appearance of the sun is uncommon in my ordinary dreams, and like the view of contentless light, usually marks the cessation of interaction with ordinary dream images. I am usually falling or floating when I see the sun and am greatly exhilarated. The sun varies in size and intensity, often seeming to be at a distance. I may or may not be aware of a defined circumference. As I fall or float, the sun moves in and out of view. van Eeden (1969) reports having seen the disk of the sun. A variation, which I consider to be a greater form of the sun, is the appearance of multiple suns. On one occasion I saw six or seven suns, each gold and bright, with rays. The suns were not located in any obvious relationship to each other. They re-mained in a fixed position before my eyes though I was spinning. Most often I see the sun without other visual dream content. Sometimes I see it when I desire to see the fullness of light (the last category). Although the sun is much less than the fullness of light, it is also as different from the disk of light as the actual sun is from the moon.
16. Fullness of light. There is a light that fills the visual field with overwhelming brilliance. It usually has the whiteness and intensity of the light that is next to the sun high in a clear sky, though it is not difficult to look at. Whereas the milder appear-ances of the sun seem to be "out there," in the fullness of light a vivid white fire appears to come upon me and surround me. I am normally in darkness when the light first appears, though twice I was in an ongoing visual dream. Often I notice the sun first to be above my head. It then appears to descend to a place high before me, and I am overcome by light. I may or may not continue to be aware of the sun’s circumference. If I see the orb of the sun, it remains in a stable location before my eyes even while I move or dance. While I keep my attention on the fullness of light, my awareness of my dreamed body decreases.
The fullness of light is accompanied by intense spontaneous feelings of joy and devotion. I feel that God is present in the light. There is nothing like these feelings with the lesser sun. There would appear to be a continuum from the mildest appearance of the sun to the greatest fullness of light. But the fullness of light is incomparably brighter than a simple view of the sun. And the exhilaration that may accompany the view of the lesser sun is nothing like the intense feelings of devotion and joy in the fullness of light.
Garfield, P. (1979). Pathway to ecstasy: The way of the dream mandala. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
Gillespie, G. (1986). Ordinary dreams, lucid dreams, and mystical experience. Lucidity Letter, 5(1), 27–31.
Moss, K. (1985a). Experimentation with the vortex phenomenon in lucid dreams. Lucidity Letter, 4(1), 131–132.
Moss, K. (1985b). Photographic and cinematographic applications in lucid dream control. Lucidity Letter, 4(2), 98–103.
Shepard, R.N. (1978). Externalization of mental images and the act of creation. In B.S. Randhawa and W.E. Coffman (Eds.). Visual learning, thinking, and communication (pp. 133–189). New York: Academic Press.
Siegel, R.K. & Jarvic, M.E. (1975). Drug-induced hallucinations in animals and man. In R.K. Siegel and L.J. West (Eds.). Hallucinations: Behavior, experience, and theory (pp. 81–161). New York: John Wiley & Sons.
Sparrow, G.S. (1976). Lucid dreaming: Dawning of the clear light. Virginia Beach, Virginia: ARE Press.
van Eeden, F. (1969). A study of dreams. In C.T. Tart (Ed.). Altered states of consciousness(pp. 147–160). Garden City, New York: Anchor Books.
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15. Experiencing the Divine in the Lucid Dream State
California Institute of Integral Studies, San Francisco, California
Having personally experienced numerous lucid dreams following incubation tasks centered around wanting to be in the presence of the Great Spirit, I realized that in every lucid dream I experienced the Divine differently. If I were looking for the Divine, my dream ego was actively searching, and usually found a Divine pres-ence; however, if I let go of control, a Divine presence appeared to me. Since I didn’t have any expectation as to the form of the Divine, the outcome of my experiences was often unexpected. Thus I became very curious how other people experienced the Great Spirit in their lucid dreams.
I struggled with many different topics for a Master’s thesis, but my heart was drawn to this one. Since I had to conduct an experimental study, I knew I would be facing many challenges and limitations. In view of my doubts about conducting such a project, I decided to incubate a dream to assist me. I prepared myself for a few days and waited. My incubation query was, "Should I do research about lucidity and the Divine?" The following is the account of my dream.
I am standing on top of a mountain looking over a panoramic forest. I see a large hawk swirling around. I tell myself that if this were a dream I could fly like this hawk. As soon as I say this the hawk comes straight towards me. As it comes closer it becomes smaller and changes into a hummingbird flapping its wings fast, smiling at me. I smile back and at the same time I know this must be a dream. I start imitating the hummingbird and start to fly. As I am in the air, my intention comes to me. "Should I write my thesis on lucidity and the Divine?" Suddenly, I see a dot of purple green color expanding in the sky. It keeps getting bigger, filling the landscape and moving towards me, changing into different rings of colors. The space in which this is occurring is so vast that it is beyond my visual ability. As the rings come closer they change into particles of light moving extremely fast, creating lines that cover everything, everywhere. Strong energy starts to move inside me and my body is changing its form into these particles of light. I don’t see my body any longer but I know I am still there!
These particles slowly change into a night sky with stars.The sky moves like a movie screen from left to right with different planets on display. As the planets move they change into different colored bubbles. There is no landscape anymore, just a vast space with giant air bubbles of different colors, with light shining through them. The bubbles transform into halos covering the infinite and vast space. I know that I am be-coming a witness to different layers of the universe. Suddenly everything turns black for a few minutes. I don’t see anything, I don’t feel anything and in the moment of nothing happening, everything happens. Soon, I become aware of my body, I take some deep breaths and slowly the first landscape appears again and I am in the air floating. . . .
I become more conscious of my body sensations but I don’t feel I have a body any longer. It is as if my body has dissipated in the experience. Suddenly, I hear noises, I think I have awoken but I have entered into a false awakening . . . [in it] I wake up and write in my journal. Then as I stand up I feel extremely dizzy. I walk out of the door and go on the deck and knock at my housemate’s (Tish) office door. She is sitting in her office with a box full of beads on her lap and on the rocking chair in front of her, an old white haired woman is sitting. I tell Tish I am having an important lucid dream and ask her not to come and wake me up. I walk back to my room but have a hard time keeping my balance. I go back to sleep trying to continue with the lucid dream but I wake up.
I was very confused and disoriented when I actually awoke. I looked at my journal, but it was blank. I wrote down some parts of the dream and went outside on the deck. Tish was on the lower deck. I asked her about the event. She said, "You must have been dreaming!" However, she said she had been in her office the past hour looking through some old beads that were given to her by her grandmother. We found out that the time she was going through the old beads corresponded to the time I was having my false awakening!
I still feel unable to verbalize the experience fully, but it left me with an incredible feeling of focus and purpose. I took the experience as an initiation, a permission to partake in my project. There was no choice but to dedicate my time to explore that aspect of lucidity.
From ancient times, dreams have been a source of inspiration, creativity and, in some traditions, a way to communicate with God (Genesis 28:12; Numbers 12:6; Baha’u’llah, 1945). Lucid dreaming (van Eeden, 1913), a phenomenon in which dreamers are aware in the dream that they are dreaming, has been used as a disci-pline for spiritual advancement (Evans-Wentz, 1953; Norbu, 1987; Nydal, 1988).
|Reports from many researchers in the field of lucid dreaming suggest the possibility of experiencing the Divine in the lucid dream state (Sparrow, 1976; Gillespie, 1983, 1984; LaBerge, 1985; Kelzer, 1987; Bogzaran, 1987, 1988; Hewitt, 1988; Clerc, 1988, Gackenbach & Bosveld, 1989). The word Divine in this study refers to concepts such as God, the Great Mystery, True Self, etc.
The study was designed to investigate two questions:
1. What is the relationship between the dreamer’s waking concept of the Divine and the dreamer’s experience of the Divine in the lucid dream state? The concept of the Divine may be considered the dreamer’s formulation of the Divine, God, or the equivalent.
2. What is the relationship between the nature of the dreamer’s incubation phrase and the dreamer’s subsequent experience of the Divine in a lucid dream? More specifically, does the experience of the Divine during a lucid dream bear any rela-tionship to whether the dreamer incubated a phrase involving actively "seeking" the Divine as compared to passively "experiencing" the Divine?
A total of 250 lucid dreamers were contacted and asked to participate in this study. Seventy-seven subjects (39 female, 38 male) responded to the questionnaire. Thirty-five of these remembered to do the task in their lucid dreams and constituted the sample upon which subsequent analyses were based. Thirty-one did not have lucid dreams related to the task during the experimental time. Eleven subjects re-turned only previous experiences related to this study.
The researcher developed a questionnaire specifically for this study. In addition to the general background questions, other items included the individual’s concept of the Divine as well as the formulation of the incubation question of seeking, exper-iencing and seeing the Divine in their lucid dreams.
1. The following materials were mailed to subjects: cover letter; instruction sheet; incubation task information; instructions for Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dream-ing (MILD); questionnaire; dream report form and post questionnaire.
2. An incubation phrase was formulated by the lucid dreamers as a question or a statement to ask or say in their lucid dreams. The following is a selection of some of the incubation phrases that the lucid dreamers formulated:
"I would like to see how the universe is run."
"I want to give up my power and submit to the higher self."
"I am Divine."
"I will seek the Divine."
"I wish to experience the Divine."
3. Subjects repeated the incubation phrase during the day so their intention would be clear when they became lucid in their dreams. While lucid in their dreams, they carried out their intention by voicing either their incubation phrase or question.
4. Lucid dreamers completed the Dream Report immediately after the lucid dream ended. The research materials were mailed back to the researcher at the end of the two weeks of experimental time.
In order to study the relationship between the lucid dreamers’ concepts of the Divine and their experience of the Divine in their lucid dreams, the researcher categorized both the dreamers’ concepts of the Divine as described in their questionnaire and the reports of their lucid dreams.
The concepts of the Divine were categorized as either personalized or imper-sonalized. Those subjects who indicated that their concept of a Divine is that God is manifested through a person, were categorized as personalized. Those who gave a general answer and believed that the Divine is all encompassing, energy, formless, etc. were categorized as the impersonalized Divine.
Encounters of the Divine during the lucid dream were also categorized as either personalized or impersonalized. When the lucid dreamers encountered a person as a Divine presence, their reports were categorized as personalized. Cases where the dreamer reported encountering light, color, etc. were categorized as impersonalized.
The following are some examples of concepts of a Divine figure and lucid dream reports which in this study are referred to as the personalized Divine.
My God is my Father. Though my relationship with my own father is a loving, tolerant one, I see both my father and my Father as authority figures. . .
The following is the same dreamer’s lucid dream report.
I became aware of the dream. . . . I was floating and saw a short way in front of me a large marble block. . . . I walked-floated toward it, around to the left, and saw that it was the back of a throne. A chair arm, solid and massive was cut into the side of the block. I crept around the side, saw a person’s arm on the marble chair arm. The hand was old, but firm and strong, like a carpenter’s. The sleeve was white and full. The fingers were curved downward over the edge of the arm—relaxed but full of life. I couldn’t see higher than the elbow from my position slightly behind and below. I knew it was God without any doubt.
When individuals did not specify their concept in terms of a person, the imper-sonal Divine category was selected. For instance one subject wrote, "Divinity is the animate spark which both gives form to everything and is everything. God is not a separate being but an all-encompassing Beingness." The following lucid dream reflects this person’s encounter with the Divine.
During a lucid dream I try to maintain lucidity but the scene wants to go blank. I lie very still and try not to awaken. Then I recall that I should ask to see God. I do so and before me appears a moving picture with numerous interwoven cycles—like the work-ings of a clock. It is also like patterns of pulsating light and shadow moving in cycles. No complete cycle can be seen.
The incubation phrases were also categorized according to the lucid dreamers’ formulation of the incubation task. The two predominant incubation phrases reported included a seeking/looking for the Divine or an experiencing of the Divine. Thus, in order to see the effect of the incubation task on the dream experience, two categories of active and passive were developed to classify the task. The lucid dreamers were categorized as either actively looking for the Divine or passively observing the outcome of their incubation phrase in their lucid dream.
A chi-square was conducted to determine if the paired observations obtained on the two variables of "the concept of the Divine" and "the lucid dream report" were related. The result, X2(1) = 16.688; p < .0001, revealed a substantial relationship between the subjects’ concept of the Divine and their encountering the Divine in their lucid dreams.
As can be seen in Table 1, 83% of the subjects who believed in the Divine as a person indeed experienced encountering a person as a Divine presence while as 87% percent of the subjects who believed in an impersonal Divine experienced the Di-vine in forms other than a person.
The second research question was: Does the experience of the Divine during a lucid dream bear any relationship to whether the dreamer incubated a phrase involv-ing actively seeking the Divine as compared to passively experiencing the Divine? A chi-square was also conducted to determine if the paired observations obtained on the two variables of "incubation phrase" and "dreamer’s activity in lucid dreams" are independent. The result, X2(4) = 121.039; p < .0003, showed that the two var-iables are not independent. Significantly, 92% of the persons who formulated their incubation phrase as "seeking the Divine" were actively looking for the Divine. As can be seen in Table 2, 88% who formulated the phrase as experiencing the Divine did not look for the Divine, but either passively witnessed or allowed the dream to unfold by itself.
Discussion and Conclusion
Among the many limitations of this study, perhaps the most important one is that this type of design reduces the participants’ concepts of the Divine into cate-gories. This kind of simplification into categories of personal and impersonal, which is required by quantitative research, cannot do justice to beliefs and experiences that are sacred and unique to the individual.
The results clearly indicated a significant relation between the person’s report of their preconsidered concept of the Divine as well as the formulation of their in-cubation task and their subsequent experience of the Divine in their lucid dreams.
The reports of the concept of the Divine were formulated either towards a belief that God or the Divine appears in a human form (personal concept) or is an all-encompassing energy, formless, etc. (impersonal concept). Individuals who report-ed their concept of the Divine as a religious figure, e.g., Christ, Buddha, Mother, etc., encountered a person or a religious figure in their lucid dream. On most occa-sions the encounter was reported to be of a Divine nature or an encounter with a person that the dreamer reported as God.
This research suggests that our preconception of the Divine has an effect on our experience of the Divine in lucid dreaming. In some cases of personalized concept, the Divine was referred to as He, She, Jesus Christ or to a specific person that the subject believed carried the Divine nature and consequently, in their lucid dream, they experienced this person with a Divine nature.
In the post questionnaire, subjects were asked to give feedback as to whether their concept of the Divine was validated. In one case of the personalized Divine, the subject responded:6
Yes, my concept of God is validated by the sense of [the] power of God’s love which I experienced in the dream. I believe that my experience is real and that I learned subjectively what I only believed objectively before.
With a few exceptions, the subjects who had a clear image of what or who the Divine is, experienced a Divine figure similar to their concept. This finding supports Garfield’s statement that "dreamers who have a clear conception of what to expect of a god or saint in a dream are likely to see their dream image distinctly" (Garfield, 1974, p. 34). Also the report showed that the majority of people with an imperson-alized idea of what or who the Divine is, resulted with impersonalized encounters with the Divine. Additionally, in the majority of the cases, even if the dreamer’s concept of the Divine were not so clear, the dreamer’s encounter with the Divine in a lucid dream reflected clearly the dreamer’s concept of the Divine.
The following is an example of a lucid dream from an individual who wanted to seek the Divine:
. . . In response to something just previous in the dream, I become lucid. . . . I re-member my dream task for the Bogzaran study—to seek God and the divine—and immediately fall to my knees and assume a praying posture (this would be a very unu-sual thing for me to do. . . .) Rather than praying, I begin to "seek" in some undefinable manner, reaching out with my mind and trying to contact God out there somewhere in the fabric of the dream.
Another example of actively seeking the Divine:
I become lucid. . . . I find myself in another room. . . . Then I begin to look around at my own surroundings. I peek behind a mirror attached to the wall, trying to find a doorway. . . .
In this study it was also found that the formulation of the incubation task has an effect on the dreamers' experience in the lucid dream. When the dreamers’ inten-tions were to "seek" the Divine, they actively looked for the Divine. In this active intention of looking for the Divine, some individuals were able to actually "find" the Divine in a human form or felt the presence of the Divine in other forms or sensa-tions. In his book The Sun and The Shadow, Ken Kelzer describes a lucid dream of encountering the Christ Child that he considers one of the most exceptional and powerful dreams he has ever experienced. He named the dream "The Gift Of Magi." In this lucid dream, he is travelling by camel across northern Africa in search of the Christ Child. His journey of seeking the Christ Child takes many days, and finally he arrives at the Jerusalem gate. After he leaves Herod’s court, he writes:
I quickly arrive at a small, modest home where I behold a marvelous scene. I see the small Christ Child, probably a year old, lying in his crib with Mary and Joseph sitting beside him. (Kelzer, 1987, p. 40)
Although Kelzer did not choose an incubation phrase prior to "seek[ing] the Christ Child" in his dream, he found himself travelling across Africa in search of the Christ Child. With that strong intention he actively searched and finally found Him. His experience supports the reports of many individuals in this study who are active-ly looking and find a Being that the dreamer refers to as a Divine presence. When their intention was to "experience" the Divine, they passively observed the dream event. In the majority of these cases the Divine presence appeared to them rather than the dreamer looking for the Divine. The following dreams are examples of more passive experiences.
. . . I found myself within a universe of "evil." I said to myself, "I hope I am dreaming," whereupon I became lucid. There was still the presence of evil, it was all-pervading. I was very much afraid and recalled that I wished to experience the Divine. Having thought, or uttered, the task, there was an explosion of color at the center of this "evil" universe, and I felt a shock wave of all-pervading God that seemed to reach to the core of my being. I thought to myself, ‘Good grief,’ whereupon I awoke.
In another example the dreamer writes that after he becomes lucid:
. . . My attention is drawn upward. As I look up I first see a figure quite high in the sky that is slowly descending. I immediately recognize it as Jesus. He is wearing a golden robe and there is a golden aura about him. I lower my head and am in great awe at His appearance. My first thought is to not move, but wait to see what transpires. I don’t want to do anything that might cause me to lose lucidity.
In this dream the dreamer again is allowing the experience to unfold without voluntarily looking for the Divine. Here Jesus appears to him and he remains where he is in the dream while witnessing the coming of Christ. Later in his dream he has a lengthy conversation with Jesus while remaining lucid in his dream.
It seems that the intention of wanting to be in the presence of the Divine during a lucid dream can facilitate the occurence of such an experience. Our concept of the Divine, however, might have an effect on our experience of encountering with the Divine. Thus the way in which we set and carry our intention can have an effect on how our dream ego responds in the lucid dream. Individuals who were actively seeking the Divine seemed more likely to exert a certain amount of control over the direction of the dream. On the other hand, when the dreamer allowed the experience to unfold, the dream took charge.
Although there was a significant relation found in this study between the in-cubation phrase and dream experience, the words that are used might not be so important as the intention. In his book Lucid Dreaming, Stephen LaBerge reports his experience of "seeking the highest." It is a good illustration of setting a task of seeking the Highest and also allowing the experience to unfold.
In his lucid dream he is driving a car. While lucid and in control he is confront-ed with an attractive hitchhiker. His first impulse is to pick her up, but he decides that he has done that in other dreams before. He wants to try something new. He decides to "seek the Highest." He writes:
As soon as I opened myself to guidance, my car took off into the air, flying rapidly upward, until it fell behind me like the first stage of a rocket. I continued to fly higher into the clouds, where I passed a cross on a steeple, a star of David, and other religious symbols. . . . (LaBerge, pp. 270–271)
Although he says he wants to seek the Divine (implying active control), he "opened" himself to guidance, at which point he seems to let go of control and the dream takes charge.
In the present study reports showed that, in both searching or experiencing the Divine, the Divine encounter occurred in one form or another. One implication of this research is that it is possible to experience the Divine (the Divine in which we believe) through incubating lucid dreams.
Baha’u’llah (1945). The seven valleys and the four valleys. Illinois: Baha’i Publishing Trust.
Bogzaran, F. (1988). Lucidity and meeting the unknown. Dream Network Bulletin, 7(4), 16.
Bogzaran, F. (1987). The creative process: Paintings inspired from the lucid dream. Lucidity Letter, 6(2).
Clerc, O. (1988). Lucid dreaming and the evolution of human consciousness. Lucidity Letter, 7(1).
Evans-Wentz, W.Y. (1953). Tibetan Yoga and secret doctrines. London: Oxford University Press.
Gackenbach, J.I. & Bosveld, J. (1989). Control your dreams. New York: Harper & Row.
Garfield, P. (1974). Creative dreaming. New York: Ballantine.
Gillespie, G. (1983). Lucid dreaming and mysticism: A personal observation. Lucidity Letter, 2(3).
Gillespie, G. (1984). The phenomenon of light in the lucid dreams: Personal observations. Lucidity Letter, 3(4).
Hewitt, D.E. (1988). Induction of ecstatic lucid dreams. Lucidity Letter, 7(1).
Kelzer, K. (1987). The sun and the shadow: My lucid dreaming experiment. Virginia Beach, Virginia: ARE Press.
LaBerge, S. (1985). Lucid dreaming. Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher.
Norbu, N. (1987). The dreamwork book. Amsterdam: Stichting Dzogchen.
Nydahl, O. (1988). Entering the diamond way. San Francisco: New Dimension Radio Station.
Sparrow, G.S. (1976). Lucid dreaming: Dawning of the clear light. Virginia Beach, Virginia: ARE Press.
van Eeden, F. (1913). A study of dreams. Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, 26, 431–61.
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16. East Meets West, Buddhism Meets Christianity:
The Lucid Dream as a Path for Union
When I think about lucid dreaming I think about a vast universe. In particular, I think about Christopher Columbus and regard his epic voyage as a perfect metaphor for what we are attempting to do in exploring the lucid dream state. When Columbus discovered a new world (new to Europeans) there were many ramifications of his discovery. I have always been intrigued by the maps that appear in our history books, maps of the new world that originated in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, attempts on the part of those early cartographers to begin to describe and delineate what the explorers were discovering. Some of those early maps had some degree of accuracy and some were intriguingly misshapen. I think it is important for us to keep this metaphor in mind as we approach the vast spectrum of lucid dreaming which we are beginning to explore. I would like to discuss one end of this vast spectrum, the end that constitutes one of my primary areas of interest, namely the lucid dream as mystical experience.
I have for some time been intrigued by a book written by Evans-Wentz, Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines. It contains an interesting section, fifteen or twenty pages in length, on the Yoga of the Dream State, the oldest known treatise that we have from any culture on the subject of lucid dreaming. While we have numerous brief and scattered references to lucid dreaming from other sources, Evans-Wentz’s book is the first text from any culture that attempts to talk about dream lucidity in length and in depth. I began re-reading some of his treatise, written very succinctly, just this morning, and I found that I really felt that I understood many portions of the text, and that they made a lot of sense to me. I remembered that when I had read this same material ten years ago it had felt very strange, dull and foreign. Something happens to a person in his or her capacity to understand esoteric ideas. After we’ve had certain types of experiences we are better able to understand esoteric writings that once seemed totally foreign.
Western Experiences of the Light
I was once a student for the Roman Catholic priesthood, and I spent eleven years of my life in the seminary system, a very rational analytic educational system. I am still very interested in how personal experiences of the "Light" are mentioned in the Bible, though mentioned very sparingly. One of my favorite quotations is from Ephesians, Chapter 5:14. "Awake oh sleeper, and arise from the dead, and the Christ will give you light." "The Christ" was not Jesus’ last name as we often interpret it today, but it was a Greek term meaning the anointed one, someone specifically cho-sen by God to play a prophetic role in Hebrew culture. This biblical passage and a few others indicate that in the Western world we do have a veiled tradition, a hidden tradition of references to personal light and personal encounter with the light. But now in the twentieth century many of us are trying to bring that tradition out into the open and make it more available. Let me illustrate by recounting a recent dream from a lady in one of my therapy groups.
Suzanne [a pseudonym] is an experienced lucid dreamer. She had been working on the issue of adjusting to the fact that her husband was about to retire, about which she had a lot of mixed feelings. She was in her late fifties. Her husband was just turn-ing sixty, and worked as a top-level executive for a company that allowed him and his family to travel around the world in the company jet and attend fabulous parties in exotic places several times a year. Suzanne was very attached to these parties. She really enjoyed them, and while she was looking forward to her husband’s retirement she was also already feeling incipient sadness and anticipatory grief over her forth-coming loss. This was her dream.
Suzanne is floating down a river to the ocean. As she reaches the ocean she realizes she is dreaming, and becomes lucid. As she swims out into the ocean she sees a gigantic male arm and hand reaching out to her, and someone calling and beckoning to her. It speaks to her silently and symbolically saying, "Come and help me." She feels the power of the gargantuan hand and is determined not to get caught in its grip, so she swims around it repeatedly sending it a vibration of love and peace until finally the hand and arm shrink down to a manageable size. Now she takes the hand in her own hand and goes down with it into the ocean. They go down, down and she comes to the bottom of the sea and she sees a nude male body lying on the ocean floor and approaches it. The man looks similar to her husband, though also dissimilar in certain ways. She feels a great deal of compassion for him. She approaches him and tries to send him a message of consola-tion. She makes a sexual overture but the man does not respond. Now she approaches his body from different sides and continues to make sexual advances while receiving no response, until at last she decides it is just time to move on. She peacefully floats up to the surface of the ocean and as the dream ends she feels very good.
We worked with this dream in the group using a Gestalt therapy process. Suzanne lay down on the floor of the room, acted out the role of the man, then acted her role, experiencing the dream symbols from all of their different aspects. She played with the fact that she was lucid in the dream while the man was not, and that she was calling him to awaken but he did not. That night when her husband came home from work Suzanne had a most unusual experience.
Suzanne’s husband is a very rational, linear-thinking type of man who thinks that dream work is a curiosity at best. As he entered the kitchen he said something to her that was very uncharacteristic: "Would you mind just hugging me?" She quickly complied. Then he suddenly lay down on the floor of the kitchen, and reaching up with one arm, said: "Would you just mind lying here on the floor with me and putting your arms around me?" Again she complied. But now her mind was racing with all the power of this event, which she recognized at once as both psychic and synchronistic. She comforted him physically for awhile, and when he said, "Thank you, that’s fine," they both stood up. Then she said: "I have to tell you this dream I had three days ago." She told him her dream and her experience in the group and he was amazed.
I am not sure where all of these things, these "psychic events," are leading us, but as we become more lucid they seem to be leading us into a new realm of living, similar to the "new world" that Columbus discovered. Our initial task, perhaps, is to allow ourselves to become more comfortable with, more familiar with and more knowledgeable of psychic phenomena, and the transformative experiences that burst our old models of the universe. Secondly, we need to allow ourselves to become conscious of these types of experiences on a more frequent basis. . . . These kinds of experiences don’t seem to be so rare anymore, as we open and remain open to psychic possibilities.
As a psychotherapist I am particularly interested in the process of working with potential nightmares, dream situations in which the dreamer finds himself or herself being attacked. I am sure you are all familiar with various methods of fighting back in such dreams, and familiar with the potential for becoming lucid when one is under pressure both in the dream state and in the waking state. . . . [One familiar] model . . . is to face the adversary in the dream and fight back, even to the point of killing the adversary if necessary. That method is commonly called the Senoi method. The second rather well known model is one of facing the adversary in a threatening sit-uation and fighting back verbally and psychologically with a series of forceful and pointed questions such as "Who are you?" and "What do you want?" This demanding and aggressively engaging type of interaction is generally deemed to be less violent than the first model. The third model involves facing the adversary and becoming lucid in the dream, and then consciously creating strategic departures from or trans-cending of the threatening dream image, such as flying away from the scene (which is not necessarily a form of escapism), flying over a barrier or flying through a wall, or perhaps levitating one’s body in the dream.
A few days ago I heard a fourth model presented by one of my students. Facing the adversary and becoming lucid in the dream, this dreamer allowed the adversary to kill her with a sword, knowing all the while that absolutely no harm could come from this experience. Fully lucid and looking at her dream attacker she said: "You can plunge the sword through me if you wish," whereupon the adversary did just that. Then the dreamer drew the sword out of her own dream body and very lovingly and wisely gave it back to the adversary and said: "Thank you." That model was new to me. I am always impressed by the responses that are created by people who are using dream lucidity for personal transformation.
I think the territory of dream lucidity is so vast that we will need frequent re-minders of this fact in order not to fall into some of the more popular and readily available ego traps surrounding lucid dreaming. I would like to expand on this theme for a moment. You probably remember the story of the three blind pygmies [sic] who were each touching a portion of a large elephant. After a short time each pygmy began arguing vehemently that he knew what an elephant was and each began spending a lot of energy trying to convince the others to speak of the elephant exclu-sively in his terms. I believe we are beginning to see a re-enactment of the pygmy scenario in lucid dream dialogue and lucid dream debate. Perhaps many of these de-bates originate from our collective failure to realize that the territory of this altered state is so vast—it’s much bigger than the elephant, and even much bigger than the new world that Columbus found—that many different explorers are bound to dis-cover many different things. At this stage it is important to create an explorational attitude in our dialoguing with each other so that we can compare our differing reports with equanimity, and compare and contrast our differing experiences with mutual respect.
It is far too early yet to look for any kind of a consensus on the nature and scope of lucid dreaming. Simply because some people have mystical experiences in lucid dreams does not mean that everybody will, and it certainly does not mean that everybody should. Collectively, we need to continue letting go of our expectations about what ought to happen in lucid dreams. Obviously that is one of the first ego traps that we are likely to fall into: developing expectations and models about what we think ought to happen.
The second ego trap is what I would call the "merit badge trap." Now that some of us are becoming lucid dreamers, we may be tempted to act like Eagle Scouts, parading around in public with our merit badges and focusing excessively on our emotional investment instead of focusing primarily on communicating about our experiences. I think we need to communicate about what is happening in our inner realms, but we have to let go of the specialness of it, because we can fall into an endless kind of struggle if we turn psychospiritual development into some kind of an achievement. There is a challenging paradox here because if we look at such devel-opment from a certain model it does seem to be an authentic achievement. And yet if we look at it only from the achievement model we are going to fall, I think, into the "specialness of me" trap, the merit badge trap.
Still another trap is the trap of the universal blueprint. This trap contains the assumption that some type of universal blueprint exists in which the developmental stages of personal growth in dreamwork can be discovered or deciphered. For exam-ple, I originally assumed that lucid dreaming occurred in people who were somehow more advanced in their development. I also assumed that serious students of the dream state needed to develop their basic dreamwork skills before intentionally introducing lucidity. Now, I have come to realize that these assumptions are only assumptions, and while they may be accurate in certain cases, they do not neces-sarily hold true in all cases.
But what about mystical experiences? Do they happen in lucid dreams, and if so what does that mean? In my own process of inducing lucid dreaming deliberately, which began in 1980 after working with dreams as a teacher and therapist for over 15 years, I was surprised, and in some ways shocked, to encounter certain dreams that were so powerful that they transcended all of my former experiences. They broke me out of those models of the universe, models of consciousness and models of feeling, thinking and reacting that had heretofore structured my reality. Some of this was quite alarming to me at the time. I would like to read one of those dreams to you, perhaps to give you a flavor of what some people do indeed encounter in the lucid state, and the need that I think we have to be aware of the potential of this pow-erful altered state.
Dr. Tart has talked about the low lucid dream and the high lucid dream. I like that concept very much, but I would extend it even further. I think that we need a model similar to a giant graduated cylinder that goes all the way up to the sky and beyond. I remember taking chemistry in college and working with one of those tall, glass, graduated cylinders that went from 1 cc to 100 cc’s. I think that an objective scale for the measuring of dream would have to be something like that tall, graduated cylinder except it would not stop at 100. It would go on up to 1000 or even 10,000 and the top of the scale would be beyond our vision at this point in time. I think now, that the range of such a scale would have to be infinite, implying that there are many, many degrees and gradations of lucid consciousness.
The Arrival of the Serpent Power
Let me read now an example of a dream that I have recounted in my book (Kelzer, 1987) which I consider to have been a mystical experience. I call this dream "The Arrival of the Serpent Power."
I’m standing somewhere inside a small dark room, and I see two square window frames in front of me. The frames are simple open spaces in the wall, and I see a bright light streaming in from the outside. I see someone’s hand coming in through one of the windows, reaching toward me, as it holds out some small object of art, perhaps a jewel or crystal. I only see his hand and wrist, and the beautiful small object, as the room itself is in total darkness. Suddenly I realize I am dreaming, and I feel a powerful jolt of energy shoot through my body. I rise up off the floor and enter the light, flying head first through one of the open window frames.
Instantly I enter a whole new scene. Still lucid, I am now outside in a remote area in the woods, standing beside a small log cabin. A beautiful blanket of freshly fallen white snow covers the entire scene with many trees and a lovely valley that extends before me. I am with an unknown female companion, and we are held captive by a band of Indians. As I look out across the valley below me and up the crest on the opposite side, I see two strong-willed and determined cowboys mounted on horses. Swiftly they ride through the deep snow drifts and in a matter of seconds they cover the distance between us, and they rescue us from the Indians. There is no shooting or violence. They simply arrive, emitting so much power out of their bodies that I know we are liberated.
The scene changes abruptly. Now I am lying face down on the ground somewhere on a patch of bare brown earth. Still fully aware that I am dreaming, I see a huge serpent approach me from the right. Quickly it glides over my back, then turns and passes back underneath me, silently sliding between my body and the ground. Then it rises and turns and comes back up over me again, strongly gripping me around my chest in its powerful coil. Its grey-brown body is about three to four inches thick, and about thirty feet long. Its eyes are strange yellow-green in color, and they gaze at me calmly and steadily, continuously emitting their soft, yellow-green luminescence from within. Finding its position now, the serpent pauses, its head poised in the air about three feet above me. It watches me through its glowing eyes, with a calm and amazingly neutral objectivity. Arching my neck backward and straining to lift my head, I look upward. Our eyes meet, and the impact is extremely powerful, absolutely unforgettable as I gaze for a long mo-ment into the serpent’s profound yellow-green eyes, utterly perplexed and fascinated at the same time. Now I drop my head to the ground and begin to wrestle with the serpent, trying to free myself from its grip. I discover that I am no match for its incredible strength. I feel afraid that it will crush me, and I wrestle with all my might for some time, until exhausted I decide to stop struggling. Soon I perceive that the serpent is actually very gentle, merely intent on holding me in its relentless grip. I am very surprised to feel that its body is warm blooded, and not cold blooded as I would expect. Suddenly it makes a quick jerky movement with its coil, which rotates my prone body onto its side. After a few moments it jerks me back again to a face down position. The serpent seems to be playing with me in some strange uncanny fashion, rotating me back and forth in a gradual deliberate manner. Several times it rotates me from my face down position up onto one side, then back to face down, and then up onto the other side. I feel totally sub-ject to its will, as these movements are repeated several times, each time with a quick and powerful jerk of its massive coil.
Suddenly the whole scene vanishes. I feel many confusing, swirling energies mov-ing through my body and I feel a lot of dizziness in my head. After a while my field of vision gradually becomes clear again, and I see myself lying on the same spot of bare, brown earth, face down with my body fully outstretched once again. I am still lucid, fully aware that I am dreaming. Now another large, gray-brown serpent approaches me from my right in the exact same manner as the first. This serpent is fully identical to the first in every detail of its appearance, except it is slightly smaller in size and length. Quickly and smoothly it glides over my body and passes beneath me, going between my body and the ground and coming up over the top again; making one full coil around me exactly as its predecessor had done. Though it is slightly smaller in size I can feel that this serpent too is extremely powerful. It also positions its head about three feet above me and gazes down upon me with full steadiness and inner calm with the same abun-dance of amazingly neutral, universal objectivity. Again I stare upwards for a time into the amazing powerful eyes of the serpent, trying to fathom its intent. I am entranced with the soft, yellow-green luminescence that steadily flows from somewhere deep, deep within the serpent’s eyes and even from beyond its eyes, as if from the untold reaches of another world. I feel totally in awe as I absorb the air of mystery that emanates from the serpent continuously. I return its steady gaze for a while and then I drop my head as I begin to wrestle with it, struggling with all my might to free myself from its powerful grip. I thrash and thrash about, struggling in every way that I can while the serpent remains virtually motionless, calmly gazing at me from above. Effortlessly it holds me in its single coil, exactly as the first serpent had done, until at last I finally surrender, knowing that I am no match for its incredible strength either. As I lie there quietly for several long moments, I realize that like its predecessor, this serpent, too is quite gentle toward me, in the same, strange, neutral way. I am surprised to feel that it, too, is a warm-blooded creature.
Suddenly I awaken, and I feel very dizzy and confused by multiple, swirling ener-gies surging throughout my body, flowing directly from the dream. I feel overwhelmed by the sheer power of the dream and very excited by it as well.
When the dream ended and I woke up, it was about 3:00 o’clock in the morning. I was completely overwhelmed with the indescribable power that surged through my body, originating from this dream. And now, still examining this experience, I fully believe that it was a kundalini type of initiation. Not intended, searched for, expected or planned by the dreamer, it was, however, a type of experience that can happen in certain lucid dreams, and a type of experience that I have heard about from a number of other people. Consequently, I think that we definitely need to be aware of the pos-sibility that some people may experience mystical states and spontaneous kundalini awakenings through the lucid dream state. And in spite of all confusion, doubts and struggles with such esoteric experiences, we would do well to keep our thoughts fixed on a vision of hope. As Richard Bach once wrote: "There was always light shining in the darkness for those who dare to open their eyes at night."
Kelzer, K. (1987). The sun and the shadow: My experiment with lucid dreaming. Virginia Beach, Virginia: ARE Press.
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