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Excerpt from "Dreaming Yourself Awake"

Lucid Dreaming and Tibetan Dream Yoga for Insight and Transformation

by B. Alan Wallace

In all the great spiritual traditions where meditation plays an important role, the watchword is “Awaken!” This call is echoed in the Western science of psychology. The implication is that throughout our lives we’ve been asleep—in essence, dreaming. Of course if we sleepwalk through life we will invariably stub our toes on unseen realities. Given life’s uncertainties, we need to be as awake as possible to its opportunities and dangers. Dreaming Yourself Awake is directed as much to our awakening from life-as-a-dream as it is to our becoming lucidly aware as we dream at night. Both situations, and our awakening within them, are inti­mately connected. Such an awakening brings with it the clarity and freedom that form the basis for genuine happiness.

How are spiritual awakening and lucid dreaming connected? In both cases you are poignantly aware of the unfolding of your experiences in the present moment. You are not carried away by distractive thoughts and emotions. You can observe their ap­pearance, continuity, transformation, and fading with perfect clarity. Like a chess grand master, your mind is fully focused—sure and unclouded. Such clarity is a gateway to inner freedom. Awake to the potential of every situation, you become the mas­ter of your destiny. Dream practice can heighten creativity, solve problems, heal emotions, or provide scintillating inner theater—the ultimate in entertainment. It can also be a valuable aid to the attainment of spiritual awakening.

What is it like to be lucidly aware that you are dreaming? The seventeenth-century English philosopher and physician Sir Thomas Browne, who could witness and control his dreams like a movie director, said, “In one dream I can compose a whole Comedy, behold the action, apprehend the jests and laugh my self awake. . . .” Another seventeenth-century Englishman, Samuel Pepys, described the erotic potential of lucid dreaming: “I had my Lady Castlemayne in my arms and was admitted to use all the dalliance I desired with her, and then dreamt that this could not be awake, but that it was only a dream.” The anthro­pologist-shaman and best-selling author Carlos Casteneda was instructed by his teacher to look at his hands while dreaming. When he first accomplished this he found himself in a surreal and forbidding landscape. Casteneda claimed he mastered the “art of dreaming” to the point that he could visit other worlds.

Dreaming Yourself Awake integrates the two most effective approaches to dream practice—lucid dreaming, as developed and enhanced by the science of psychology, and the dream yoga of Tibetan Buddhism. Together they will bring you to a life-changing awakening.

Lucid Dreaming

Lucid dreaming is simply being conscious that you are dream­ing. Many people, especially in childhood, have had lucid dreams and have described them. Often in lucid dreaming there is a sense of exhilaration on discovering you are dreaming right now—an excitement so intense that it may cause you to awaken. If you are able to maintain both the dream and your awareness of it, there comes a great sense of freedom. Knowing that the dream images are insubstantial, you can walk through dreamed walls or escape the law of gravity, flying over vivid, imagined landscapes. With training you can shape the dream environ­ment according to your wishes. Small things can be made large, large objects shrunk at will. The only limit is your imagination.

Once greater control has been developed you can use the dream space as a laboratory to achieve psychological insights, over­come fears, do creative work, entertain yourself, or meditate in the virtual environment of your choosing.

The science of lucid dreaming is a recently developed system of theory and practice within the field of psychology. Although he had important predecessors, Stephen LaBerge, who received his PhD in psychology from Stanford University, is the foremost exponent of lucid dreaming. In the late 1980s, LaBerge, while doing graduate research at Stanford, became the first to prove to the scientific community that one can be consciously aware while dreaming. Although many people had reported lucid dreams through the ages, psychologists assumed these were false memories—that people had actually awakened at night and in the morning mistakenly believed they had been con­scious of dreaming. LaBerge is extremely gifted as a lucid dreamer and is able to have lucid dreams at will, an ability he had naturally as a child but which was lost during adolescence, then deliberately regained as a graduate student. As part of his research he devised a method of making specific eye movements while he dreamed so that his fellow researchers would know he was awake within his dreams. This method proved the existence of lucid dreaming.

While at Stanford, LaBerge developed more effective means of awakening in his dreams and sustaining and vivifying them. Continued research, including interaction with interested lay persons, led to the publication of several popular books on lucid dreaming (including Lucid Dreaming, Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming, and Lucid Dreaming: A Concise Guide to Awak­ening in Your Dreams and in Your Life). Due in large part to La­Berge’s work, the reality of lucid dreaming has been generally acknowledged in the field of psychology. I met Stephen LaBerge in 1992 when I was a graduate student in religious studies at Stanford. My research centered on the contemplative development of attention. When Stephen and I talked about our research, we both saw immediately that our work was comple­mentary. Beginning in the late 1990s I began collaborating with Stephen in ten-day public workshops that included training of the attention and dream practice.

Dream Yoga

Historically, Tibetan Buddhists seem to have explored the yoga of dreaming and sleep more deeply than other contemplative traditions. Dream yoga is part of a spiritual tradition whose goal is the complete awakening called “enlightenment.” An experi­ence beyond our normal, rational way of understanding, full enlightenment is said to include knowledge of all reality in both breadth and depth. And it is wedded to an all-embracing com­passion, a profound love for all beings. Sometimes enlighten­ment is described as a nondual experience of wisdom and bliss. As to the actual flavor of enlightenment, such portrayals leave us with more questions than answers, but it must be an awe­some achievement.

In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition—the style of contempla­tive spirituality with which I am most familiar—dream yoga comprises a set of advanced spiritual practices that act as a pow­erful aid to awakening from samsara. Samsara may be briefly described as a dreamlike experience of life after life, propelled by ignorance. This, according to Buddhism (and other spiritual traditions), is our normal modus operandi. Ignorance and the distorted views woven from it are, for Buddhism, the source of all suffering. True and ultimate happiness, on the other hand, results from the elimination of ignorance, from awakening from the dream of samsara. A buddha, an enlightened one, lit­erally means “one who is awake.”

The practices of dream yoga are based upon a three-tiered theory of consciousness. According to this view, the most coarse and superficial level of consciousness is what we in the West call the psyche. The psyche comprises the five physical senses along with conscious and unconscious mental phenomena—thoughts, feelings, sensations, and so forth. This is our ordi­nary, conditioned mind. The psyche emanates from a deeper, intermediate level, the substrate consciousness. This is described as a subtle mind stream containing latent habits, tendencies, and attitudes tracing back to previous lifetimes. The deepest and most fundamental layer, primordial consciousness—encompassing both the psyche and the substrate consciousness—is an ulti­mate level of pure wisdom where the “inner” (mind) and “outer” (phenomenal world) are nondual. The realization of primordial consciousness is the gateway to full enlightenment.

Dream yoga seeks to gradually penetrate to primordial con­sciousness by way of realizing that everything, oneself included, emerges from and is of the nature of this primordial, enlight­ened ground. The specific practices of dream yoga enable one to explore and deeply understand the nature and origin of the mental phenomena of the psyche, to penetrate to its source—the substrate consciousness, or ground of the ordinary mind—and finally to recognize and dwell in primordial consciousness. Although it initiates this process during sleep and dreams, dream yoga involves practices employed during the daytime and aims to awaken our entire life—day and night—from the sleep of samsara.

My first encounter with dream yoga came in 1978, when I acted as a translator for Westerners attending teachings on dream yoga by Zong Rinpoche, an eminent Tibetan lama. He explained that dream yoga is one of a group of advanced prac­tices called the Six Yogas of Naropa and that it requires a strong foundation in meditation. Following that advice, I engaged in foundational practices before attempting dream yoga. In 1990 I received dream yoga instruction from another revered Tibetan teacher, Gyatrul Rinpoche. Two years later a friend requested that I teach him dream yoga. I asked Gyatrul Rinpoche if I should teach it, and he gave me his permission. Over the years that I have practiced and taught dream yoga, my sense of reverence and respect for this practice has only grown. This is one of the core traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, and it has enormous implica­tions for both our understanding of reality and our spiritual ad­vancement.

Balancing Dream Yoga and Lucid Dreaming

It has been my experience as both a practitioner and teacher of dream yoga and lucid dreaming that the two complement one another. That will be the approach taken in this book. Perhaps the most important key to developing the skills of lucid dream­ing, as well as for reaching a plateau where the more advanced techniques of dream yoga can be incorporated, is shamatha, or meditative quiescence. Comprised of a superb range of methods for training the attention, shamatha is not a uniquely Buddhist practice. It is found in a wide variety of contemplative traditions and does not require adherence to any religious or philosophical creed. Moreover, it is extremely beneficial for both the body and the mind, providing relaxation, relief from stress, and healing, along with the sharpening of attentional skills.

With shamatha, the basic idea is to increase one’s relaxed concentration to a point where one can easily sustain the atten­tion on a chosen object. Concentration on the inflow and out­flow of the breath—a method favored by the Buddha—is one such technique. One can also concentrate on a real or imagined visual image, bodily sensations, mental phenomena, or aware­ness itself. Once having attained a degree of stability in sha­matha, the skills required for successful lucid dreaming and dream yoga come much more easily.

Individualized Practice

Finally, it is important to adapt the information and techniques contained in Dreaming Yourself Awake to your own needs and abilities. Each of us is unique. No single strategy will work well for everyone. Some of us fall asleep easily. Some don’t. Some of us can remember our dreams more easily than others. Al­though a general sleep cycle for human beings has been discov­ered by psychologists, there are subtle differences among individuals. Practices and points of view that work well with one personality may be confusing and inappropriate for an­other. Therefore, woven into this text, I provide guidance in this area by illustrating some of these differences and proposing al­ternative practices—fine-tuning that will help you maximize your effectiveness as a dream yogi, a lucid dreamer. In addition to this I provide a chapter with questions and responses drawn from my retreats on lucid dreaming and dream yoga.

The good news is that whatever our limitations, awakening within dreams can be learned by anyone willing to make the effort. The key to both lucid dreaming and dream yoga—the essential ingredient that will propel us beyond the murky som­nambulance of our habits—is motivation. If we become in­spired to practice and committed to this inner exploration, we will succeed.

B. Alan Wallace has authored, translated, edited, and contributed to more than forty books on Tibetan Buddhism, science, and culture. With fourteen years as a Buddhist monk, he earned a BA in physics and the philosophy of science and then a PhD in religious studies. After teaching in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, he founded the Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies (http://sbinstitute.com) to explore the integration of scientific approaches and contemplative methods.

Available at www.shambhala.com

Full link to buy: http://www.shambhala.com/dreaming-yourself-awake.html

Excerpted from DREAMING YOURSELF AWAKE by B. Alan Wallace, (c)

2012. Published by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc., Boston.


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