One of the things I’m working on in my practice is dream yoga, otherwise known as lucid dreaming. The idea behind it is that if you can wake up in your dreams, then you can do all this cool stuff while you’re asleep. You can meditate, seeking teachings from the Buddha, or other deities, past masters, your own guru, etc. You have the opportunity to use those hours of sleep as additional practice, and there are also applications for making the transition through the bardos when you are dying- sort of like practicing for the final exam ahead of time.
I am using a text called “The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep” by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche as my guidebook.
I freakin’ love it.
Now, there are a lot of kind of esoteric visualization exercises he recommends, and he says right up front that the traditional view is that this kind of practice is reserved for very experienced practitioners, so it’s not super approachable in all aspects, and I’m only tackling the initial steps of the practice right now. But I love his clear teaching style, I think he’s really an amazing teacher. And I love the idea of exploring my own mind in such an in-depth way. It doesn’t make sense to only use those few minutes of meditation each day as the only time that appropriate for self-examination. It makes sense that since you are using your mind all the time, awake and dreaming, that you study both aspects if you want to understand it better.
So what I’m doing is sort of setting my intention as I’m falling asleep that I will remember my dreams, and that I will try to realize during the dream that I am dreaming. I tell myself I am going to experience a lucid dream and during the dream I will seek a teaching and sit meditation. This aspect, so far, has not met with much success. Still, I find it valuable and it doesn’t do any harm.
The other thing I do is walk around all day telling myself this is all a dream. “You are dreaming right now. Can you see that? This isn’t real. This is a very vivid, very powerful dream state. You are awake inside your dream, and now you can do whatever you want.” The idea behind this is that once I’m in the habit of doing this, I’m more likely to keep doing it in my dream state, and when I hear this in the dream state I can “wake up” to the fact that I’m dreaming and then try to do the practice stuff.
This has been working pretty well for me, and I’ve had a handful of lucid dreams in the month that I’ve been trying to do the practice. I have not yet gotten any real practice in when I do have a lucid dream. Usually I just start flying around and jumping off of high things and stupid shit like that. Which, you know, is pretty fun.
But what I like best of all is that instead of becoming lucid during my dream state, what I’m really learning how to do is to be lucid while I’m awake.
Even better than the other way around.
By telling myself that every experience I have is a dream, I am aware, vividly aware, of what I’m seeing and experiencing- kind of like dropping half a tab of acid, everything gets turned up to eleven. I feel enlivened and interested in what’s going on, how the dream is manifesting. And the Tibetans will tell you that this is actually pretty close to the way things really are, that the world around us is actually an illusion that is manifested by our minds, and that the quality of our minds determines the nature of the reality we experience. And I’m in agreement. I mean, I think that the dream state and the waking state are different, there are different sets of rules for each state- but I don’t think that it’s harmful or being willfully stupid to experiment with treating the waking state as much more fluid and changeable and as something that is actually being determined by my own mind- at least my experience of it is.
Then the movement between the two states becomes an exercise in trying to maintain awareness throughout the process. Lucid dreaming, lucid waking life, and eventually maybe even lucid unconsciousness- although I admit that this is a big reach for me and not anything I’ll be trying to get to any time soon. But lucid wakefulness is pretty awesome.
The Tibetans say that the transition from the bardo of living to the bardo of dying and the bardo of rebirth is quite similar to the transition from wakefulness to sleep, to dreaming, and then back to awakening. If we can practice awareness during these transitions in life, and become proficient at noticing when we’re dreaming that what we’re seeing and experiencing is only the projections of our minds, then we will have a good chance of recognizing the bardo state of transition and can use that opportunity to become enlightened. Which is supposedly pretty easy when you’ve cast off the body and are only mind activity anyway- you’re closer to your true nature and if you recognize that true nature in the bardo, you can leap right into the enlightened state.
I don’t know about all that, but I think there’s a big benefit to this practice while I’m still in this bardo of living.
So. Lucid wakefulness. How about that?
You know those times when the veil falls away, when the glory of the present moment stands before you and utterly transfixes you with its astounding, heart-breaking beauty? Imagine seeing that all the time.
It can happen.
And you? Are you well? Are you happy? Are your disasters teaching you everything you need to learn? Are you dancing enough? Getting enough chocolate?