Friday, April 10, 2015

Like the road to enlightenment through meditation, shortcuts aren't an option for Lucid Dreaming

   My dreams are getting longer and less fragmented. Like an old muscle getting worked out again my mind is recalling more much faster than the first time I set myself on the path of lucidity. Most people think you can just get yourself in the habit of performing reality checks. The idea is that you'll eventually just start catching yourself in dreams and that's what it takes to become a lucid dreamer. While for some that may be true, most will find that something more is needed.

   The problem with lucid dreams is that they're exciting. The first few I had I was so excited my heart started racing in real life and I woke myself up! It was like being handed infinite power only to have it snatched away. My first thought was to find a way relax so I could stabilize the dream. I found a tip that rubbing your hands together and really focusing on them will bring things into focus and calm yourself down but that doesn't address the real problem.

   It wasn't until later that year I came across a book called Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche that I not only identified the real problem but I found a real way to address it. Mr. Rinpoche explains that it is a matter of steadying the mind (more on that below).

   The book itself is amazing and I highly suggest you head over to amazon and buy it immediately. It deals with consciousness, both waking and asleep, and different ways to increase your mind's "flexibility" in the dream state. The book also emphasizes the fact that just as the mind drifts into dreams after the sleeping state, so does the mind move into bardo (the intermediate state between death and rebirth) at the moment of death. The significance being that if you can train yourself in the ways of lucid dreaming you can also train yourself to recognize that you are in the bardo state and possibly use the time there to liberate yourself from your karmic cycles and perhaps receive transcendental insight as you engage with reality in it's most true and pure state. The alternative being your karmic traces from life conjuring up terrifying hallucinations to torture you until your consciousness is once again attached to a physical form.

   But you're not reading this for Buddhist wisdom or practice are you? You're here to learn how to lucid dream so you can sex up Jennifer Lawrence or go Super Saiyan all over your bosses ass! So enough of the background info, I'm gonna lay some tips on you that have led me to the lucid dream state before and soon will again (granted I keep up with my practice).

1. The Dream Journal

   I know, I know, my first post emphasized this but it really is that important. A lot of people out there just don't do it. It's hard because we all like to hit that snooze button as many times as possible and then rush out the door to work or school or whatever you have going on that day but there's a reason this is always the first step in every how-to-lucid-dream list. Not only does it ensure you get the most details about your dreams (assuming of course this is done when it should be; first thing after waking up), but it also gives you something to read before bed (great way to spark dreams that night) AND it's the easiest way to get you to really think about dreams more. Which is key to having more dreams.

2. Mental Fixation Meditation

   DON'T SKIP THIS STEP! I know, meditation is a scary word (especially for you conservative Christians afraid to betray your god or whatever) but this isn't an attempt to get you to clean your chakras or attain enlightenment. What I'm talking about here is actually just a practice to help you steady your mind and not get caught up in the winds of your mind's constant babble. If you've ever sat in silence, even for a few moments, you know what I'm talking about. Your mind has a way of jumping from one thing to another constantly shifting gears flooding you with different emotions and using those emotions to sweep you along the ever changing course of it's thought-river.

   Why focus on steadying the mind? For me there are two main reasons this is important. One, like I described above, it's easy to get over stimulated by everything around you and the sheer excitement of lucid dreaming. The meditation naturally calms your mind without any extra training. Two, dreams are distracting. I recall one dream I became fully lucid and began to manipulate matter all around me, like one does, when a dream character came to me and told me a friend of mine was in trouble. I told him "No way, it's just a dream!" but when he told me my friend was going to get hurt, I dropped what I was doing and continued along the dream plot. I gave up my lucidity because I wasn't able to bring my awareness into the moment to see that I was being swept along by the dream rather than taking control of it.

   The practice I'm suggesting here is inspired from the book I mentioned above. Specifically Calm Abiding: Zhiné. The idea is to sit in a lotus or half lotus with your back straight but not tense, one hand held loosely within the other resting on your legs and your eyes open but relaxed (so not wide eyed) and focused on an external object. In the book it suggests using the Tibetan A for it's sacred significance but anything will do. You can focus on your breathe, pure white light on your crown, etc. There are two things the book suggests that I highly recommend as well. The first is that you use something sacred. No matter what your spiritual alignment or religion, if the object holds a sacred significance to you it will, as the book says, "serve to inspire you". The second, is that you focus on something external. This is because that is what you're training for. You wish to perceive something outside of you, dream objects, without them being able to force you along a habitual karmic cycle tearing your awareness from the moment.

   Once you're in position and focusing on your object,  breathe naturally and do your best not let your focus stray from the object to other things in the room or to thoughts that arise in the mind's eye. However, don't beat yourself up when this does happen. It was one of my biggest mistakes when I started to meditate. I would become angry with myself that I couldn't stay focused and that would start a chain reaction that would distract me further. Instead of thinking of it as failing, you have to think of it like training up a muscle. Every time you can't do anymore reps do you get infuriated? No you take a moment of rest before going at it again, just as you should do with this practice. You need only do this for 5-15 minutes a night to see effects on your dreams. They should become longer and less fragmented literally the week you start doing this. If you can do it for longer I highly recommend it because meditation has so many positive effects outside of this and it doesn't matter what type of meditation you do.

3. Reality Checks

   Yes, I did say by themselves they'll only get you so far, but combined with the above two practices reality checks can increase your likelihood of spotting a dream many times over. However, you should change the way you think about reality checks. They shouldn't be a quick check to make sure things around you are real. Instead you should imagine this as an extended practice of the Mental Fixation Meditation brought into your day. Once you really grasp the idea of bringing your awareness to the moment you wont have to count your fingers or try to find small print to read. You simply need to bring awareness to where you are, who you are and what you are doing. Be in the moment. Observe your actions and don't be just swept away in the waking state's habitual cycles. In Buddhism this is a way to try and put an end to the karmic cycles we continuously ride but you can use it to observe your habits as well and determine if you are in a dream or not.

   That being said, it is hard to actually question your reality. For some people asking yourself if you are in a dream is a really hard thing to do. You have to take it very seriously. Look around you. Is this waking reality? Are you really sure? Make sure to really stop yourself and be sure. I've asked myself once only to awaken later and become very mad at myself that I wasn't taking my practice seriously.

   So here's a list of a few different reality checks that have worked for me. Get in the habit of doing one or more of these any time you have a free moment to take a few deep breathes and question your reality.

  1. Count your fingers. Often in dreams these types of details wont be accurate and having seventeen fingers is a pretty obvious clue you're in a dream. 
  2. Find a book with small print and try to read it a few sentences. Either it will be nonsense or there wont be any words at all. Just scribbles. Again, small details the dream wont bother filling in.
  3. Ask yourself what you're doing, and what you have done today. If you can't remember how you got where you are or how your day started, you're probably dreaming. 
  4. Plug your nose and try to breathe with it. It's only worked for me once but it was quite shocking and really snapped me into lucid dream mode.

   So what are you waiting for? It's not that difficult! Do you really want to lucid dream? Then practice! These practices are truly yoga for the mind and your mind can only be as flexible as the training you give it. If you follow just these three practices you will see incredible dream recall extensions and soon you'll find yourself in a dream.

"This is the sequence: awareness in the first moment of experience, in response, in dream, and then in death. One cannot just start at the end. You can determine for yourself how mature your practice is: as you encounter the phenomena of experience, examine your feelings and your reactions to the feelings. Are you controlled by your interactions with the objects of experience or do you control your reactions to them?" - Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche

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