So I’ve been working on this whole lucid dreaming, using this book as my guide. Having some success, but mostly really benefitting from the mental work that has to be done in support of achieving lucidity in the dream world. This particular lucid dreaming approach, grounded in the Tibetan Buddhist practice, relies in large part on the understanding of the emptiness of phenomenon. In the Buddhist view, what we perceive as the world around us, our bodies, other people, our houses and roads and sofas and purses, telephone poles, all of it, isn’t really as solid and permanent as it appears to us to be. Everything that exists is dependent upon everything else that exists in order to exist, nothing is solid and real and permanent on its own- this is the basic view. Everything manifests, yes, it’s there, you can see it and interact with it, but it carries the nature of illusion. At its most basic, fundamental level, it is empty of anything you could call a solid, permanent, self-existing thing.
So there are a lot of things this book instructs us to do in order to prepare the mind for lucid dreaming within that context, and the one that I’m working with the most right now is this idea of talking to myself throughout the day, telling myself that what I’m experiencing in the moment is a dream. And to ask myself, too, as I do one thing and another, “Hey, is this a dream? Am I dreaming right now?”
This has a dual benefit. One thing is that by developing this habit of checking in with myself as various phenomenon arise and depart throughout the day, constantly asking myself if I’m dreaming all of this, there’s the increased chance that I will do the same thing while I’m dreaming, which will open the door for the possibility of a lucid dream. One of the hallmarks of the dreaming mind is a very strong, very durable sense of credulousness- no matter how strange the experience you’re having in the dream world, it almost never occurs to you that you are dreaming. You just think some weird shit is kicking off. So, develop the habit while awake and maybe you will ask yourself during the dream if you’re dreaming all of this, and then, pow, there you are- awake inside the dream world.
The other benefit, and one that is much more profound, is that you begin to experience waking life as if it were a dream. For me, what I find is that by telling myself that I’m dreaming right now, and really using all of my senses and imagination to support this thought, is that the world takes on this heightened feeling of strangeness, of possibility and potential. “Am I dreaming? No. Am I? No. Yeah, yeah, I am. Right? Well, what’s going on? Is that chair real? Is that woman sitting on it real?”
This experience gives me the intuitive, emotional, embodied experience of emptiness itself. It makes me see and experience the emptiness of phenomenon in the waking world. And it serves to illustrate for me the similarities between the two states of waking and dreaming. All phenomenon that arise in both states are not things themselves but only mental models and representations, right? I mean, inside my skull, there isn’t any light. There’s no color or shape or any movie screen playing “what’s out there” inside my head for me. There’s only electrical and biochemical storms going on in the brain. When I’m awake, those are a result of the input of the sensory apparatus. When I’m dreaming, they’re self initiated by the brain only- but there’s nothing in my brain that really knows the difference between the two. Dreams are every bit as compelling, often more so, than waking life.
So, that’s all by way of introducing this experience I had yesterday, which I want to explore a little bit because it was so strange, and, I think, helpful.
I was on this trail run at lunch, up in the hills overlooking San Luis Obispo. The day was hot and sunny, and I was on this trail system back in the hills, all alone, this narrow single track of red dirt and rocks winding between manzanita and chaparral, technical and demanding, but lots of fun to run. Lots of climbing, two miles of it, then up and down for a while, then back down and down and down. So, I’m running out there in the boonies, hot, sweaty, really in the groove, it’s beautiful and I’m really, really, happy. And I’m chanting some Buddhist prayers and meditating as I run, which I also really like to do. And then as I’m doing this, I’m telling myself, “This is a dream! I’m dreaming that I’m trail running, I’m dreaming that I’m meditating and trail running, saying prayers and practicing, this is AWESOME! I’m totally lucid dreaming, doing exactly what I most want to do!” And this really felt like what I was doing, it felt very much dream like. And the red dirt, the manzanita, the green serpentine rocks, the hot sun and wild blue empty sky, all seemed very dream like, hyper-real and unreal. It was a long, long, beautiful sustained dreamlike experience.
So, cool on me.
Then, last night, I did all my dreamwork preliminaries and fell asleep and while I was sleeping I had the same dream. I was trail running, on the same trail, saying the same prayers, and I was so happy, so alive, it was so incredible- but I didn’t know I was dreaming. It wasn’t a lucid dream at all, it was just very vivid and enjoyable. And it was a very faithful rendition of the run I had done before- the emotional and physical content was the same- except that when I was really awake I had the experience of being in a dream world, and when I was “really” in the dream world, I was totally convinced that I was awake.
Awake, convinced I’m dreaming.
Dreaming, convinced I’m awake.
Very, very cool.
But only a preliminary step on the path to feeling that I’m dreaming when I’m awake and knowing that I’m dreaming when I’m asleep. Tying all of experience together, maintaining the same pristine, awake, awareness throughout all displays of phenomenon.
What does it mean for me? Only that my representational model of reality is just that, a model. It has no more connection to “what’s out there” than does my dream model. I’m embedded in two layers of dream time. Until I recognize this, until I know the truth of this in my own direct experience, waking up isn’t possible.
The goal is to wake up to the fact that dreaming is all we’re doing, all the time.