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Lecture 3: Lucid Dreaming

We spend one third of our lives without any use for the country, economics, society, or family, and without much use for ourselves either. What a waste! Even if you are going to live some ninety years, as many as thirty of them will be spent in that useless state. You know what I am talking about. It's sleeping.

We dream some 20% of the sleeping time. And the sorcerers and yogis of ancient times learned how to use this state practically. They became conscious in their dream—retained the awareness that they were sleeping. As they did this, they realized that the dream ceased and some tremendous real new world came before their eyes which did not resemble at all the usual dream with its shifty unreal nature. They discovered that in the usual dream, you're controlled by it because you don't doubt its realness. All the persons in your dream have control over you and you're afraid of them. In the lucid dream, on the contrary, you achieve dream control because you realize it's just a dream and you're no longer afraid of the persons and objects in your dream.

So lucid dreaming is not a modern discovery. Even though it has only come to the attention of the general public in the last few decades, we have a report of them from as early as the fifth century: the Epistle of St. Augustine in 415 A.D.

The term "Lucid Dreams" was introduced in 1913 by Van Eeden, a Dutch psychotherapist, to denote a kind of sleep where the sleeper fully realizes the fact that he is asleep. Although the phenomenon itself had been known much earlier, he had to rediscover many points because at that time (late 19th – early 20th century) the knowledge of Indian religions was just beginning to reach the Western world. What's worse, there was no Internet around.

Tibetan Dream Yoga

One of the oldest practices of lucid dreaming was implemented in ancient Tibet as part of Tibetan Buddhism. This branch of Buddhism is unique in this regard because no other branches of Buddhism pay close attention to the techniques of lucid dreaming. These days the practice survives within Dzogchen tradition. One has to spend long hours in meditation concentrating on Tibetan letter A to purify his soul, reach the state of tranquility, detachment from the worldly valuables, from one's own negative emotions, and then only he can begin to enter into the states of consciousness during his sleep. The dream yogis retreat more and more deeply into themselves until they start to dream, and they do so without ever losing conscious awareness. According to the Tibetan Book of the Dead, the yogis had almost total control over broad aspects of these "waking dreams".

At about the same time (late 1st – early 2nd millennium A.D.) in India, similar practices were being carried out. There are various tantric texts that describe methods of retaining consciousness while falling asleep, but their description is too obscure to be of any use to the uninitiated today.

There were various other references to lucid dreaming in history around that time, including one in the twelfth century by the Spanish sufi, Ibn El-Arabi, and another a century after that, where St. Thomas Aquinas mentions the subject briefly. Neither of them were that detailed though, and the next significant mention does not come before the nineteenth century. The reason of this long gap is that the Dark Ages, as I mentioned in my 1st lecture, suppressed and punished any spiritual search for centuries.

In the nineteenth century, dreams were no longer seen as deriving from the underworld of the dead or the work of gods. People now accepted that dreams took place in the unconscious mind, and this rendered an opportunity for scientific research of the lucid dreams to begin.

But the controversy between the mainstream psychology and psychiatry and the lucid dreams investigators continued from the beginning of the reports on the lucid dreams. Sigmund Freud does not say one word about lucid dreams in his famous book "On interpretation of dreams", although the phenomenon had been known by then: in 1867, Marquis d'Hervey de Saint-Denys first published his book Dreams and how to Guide Them, in which he documented more than twenty years of his own research into dreams. However, several years later Freud did add a paragraph about people who claimed they could be conscious during their dreams. In Van Eeden's report to the Society for Psychical Research, he says he had 352 cases of these dreams during 14 years. Van Eeden was the first one in our era who came up with the following observation leading him to the concept of the dream body:

In the night of January 19-20, I dreamt that I was lying in the garden before the windows of my study, and saw the eyes of my dog through the glass pane. I was lying on my chest and observing the dog very keenly. At the same time, however, I knew with perfect certainty that I was dreaming and lying on my back in my bed. And then I resolved to wake up slowly and carefully and observe how my sensation of lying on my chest would change into the sensation of lying on my back. And so I did, slowly and deliberately, and the transition--which I have since undergone many times--is most wonderful. It is like the feeling of slipping from one body into another, and there is distinctly a double recollection of the two bodies. I remembered what I felt in my dream, lying on my chest; but returning into the day-life, I remembered also that my physical body had been quietly lying on its back all the while. This observation of a double memory I have had many times since. It is so indubitable that it leads almost unavoidably to the conception of a dream-body.

Celia Green, a parapsychologist, published a book entitled Lucid Dreams in 1968, which was based mainly upon the work of those I mentioned earlier, as well as information she herself had collected on the subject. She was the first one to indicate that the lucid dreams take place during the REM phase of sleep. But the official science of psychology denied these phenomena their existence from the outset (from the second half of the 19th century), maintaining that "lucid dreaming" or "conscious dreaming" is a contradiction in terminology: how can anyone be conscious during his sleep, which is unconsciousness by definition? Similar very much to how the official circles resisted the discovery that the earth was a globe, in their time.

Then in 1974, Patricia Garfield published a book entitled Lucid Dreaming which is still today regarded as one of the best general works on dreaming and lucid dreaming around. Among other things, she describes the practices of lucid dreaming of Ancient Greece, ancient yogis in India, Ancient Assyria, those of Senoi tribe in Indonesia, etc.

Robert Monroe (1915-1995) was a successful Virginia businessman who had his first lucid dream in 1958. he wasn't religious or given to any mystics at all—one day it just happened to him. Like Van Eeden, he began to realize that during the lucid dream we actually use another body—not the physical one, the one that Van Eeden called the dream-body. In his experiments he ascertained the doubtless reality of that body. He was the one who later coined the term "out-of-body experiences". Later he founded The Monroe Institute in Virginia to research the out-of-body experiences. There, hundreds of volunteers underwent the experiments that corroborated the reality of another body and another worlds where the lucid dreamer travels.

Stephen LaBerge from Stanford University was probably the first one to try and bring lucid dreaming closer to the scientific realm. He developed techniques (REM cues) to enable entering a lucid dream state at will. In 1987, he founded The Lucidity Institute, an organization that promotes research into lucid dreaming, as well as running courses for the general public on how to achieve lucid dreaming.

Carlos Castaneda "The Art of Dreaming". In his 9th volume, he goes into details of the training Don Juan, his Indian sorcery teacher, gave him on the lucid dreaming. He described the so-called 4 gates of dreaming:

1st Gate (reaching the dreaming body): One realizes that he's asleep in his dream. He is able to shift the focus from his hands to another dream object and return it to the hands, repeatedly.

2nd Gate (utilizing the dreaming body): One is able to wake up from one dream world into another at will. Realized when one is able to isolate an inorganic being and follow it to the realm of Inorganic Beings. Also, one is able to fall asleep without losing consciousness.

3rd Gate (traveling): Arrived at when one dreams of looking at his own physical body sleeping. Realized when the dreaming and physical bodies become one. Crossed when one is able to control the Dreaming Emissary.

4th Gate (Seeing): One is able to perceive the energetic essence of every dream item, fall asleep in a dream, in the same position in which one has gone to sleep. Also, one wakes up in this reality, only not in the physical but in the energy body. At this stage the dreamer actually becomes the sorcerer—he mingles the waking world and the astral plane and becomes a master at handling his energy body. Many of such people become legendary; these are the ones that myths and legends are later told about.

All the authors writing about this phenomenon seem to fall under 1 category out of the 2: 1st, practicing this for a sheer self-indulging experiment. All such books begin with the opening words like "do you want to expand your world of daily life? do you want your wildest dreams come true? do you want to be able to fly across the sky like a superman from the famous movie? would you like to have sex with the movie star you adore?" etc. There has been a boom of such literature in recent years now that all the pioneers such as R. Monroe had gone ahead and researched this unexplored realm. The second category is comprised by such disciplines as Tibetan Buddhism and the teaching of Castaneda. They are not so much in indulging one's self; instead, they realize that lucid dreaming is not the goal—but a stepping stone toward reaching spiritual freedom, developing the body of energy, and resolving the matters of life and death.

What are the spiritual benefits of this practice?

The more conscious you are in your dream, the more you are so in your waking life, and vice versa. Lao Tzu fell asleep and dreamt he was a butterfly. Upon wakening he asked, "Am I a man who has just been dreaming he was a butterfly? Or a sleeping butterfly now dreaming he is a man?"

My own experience of initiation into the out-of-the body experience: in 1996 I didn't read any esoteric literature (except maybe volume 1 by Castaneda, and a few chapters from the New Testament, but they don't mention lucid dreams). One day my friend Lyosha the satanist gave me a book by Stephen LaBerge to read. It was on the lucid dreams. I just flipped through the pages and didn't understand much. I have to say that at that time I didn't take alcohol (except maybe a beer once every 2 weeks) and didn't smoke (I never smoked), neither did I ever take any narcotic drugs. The night after reading that book I woke up because someone turned on the light in the corridor (the door to the corridor had this frosted glass pane). I sat on my bed, angry at whoever turned on the light, and was going to stand up and go turn it off. And then a horrible something attacked me from the door. It was big, black, and massive. I experienced the moment of sheer terror and the sharp realization "I am going to die NOW". The next thing I know—I am waking up in my bed, again, just the same! but there is no light in the corridor. Then I had hard time falling asleep again. I was shaken by fear. Now I can't explain this away in rational terms, but in the morning I remembered clearly that there was also another consequence of events: I was woken up not because of the light in the corridor, but because in my sleep I began to feel that someone heavy was sitting on my bed next to my legs. Although there were absolutely no persons available who could possibly do that. The continuation in this line of events was similar: wake up, attack, wake up again. It seems like there were 2 of me experiencing different scenarios in two separate time tunnels. For some 2 weeks afterwards I was afraid to sleep. That was scary. If I had read any of the books I mentioned I would have known that I didn't have to be scared, instead, I had to just look that creature in the face calmly and talk to me. According to these authors, this action has a therapeutical effect upon waking.

It wasn't until the year 2000 when I began to really read all the books I mentioned and consciously practice and experience the lucid dreams proper.

Even until now, in 21st century, this phenomenon hasn't become part of the official science, because these experiments are hard to carry out with enough of statistical basis. The reports of lucid dreamers are highly personal and often obscured by personal interpretation, as Robert Monroe found out in his first experiments. It's difficult to provide valid control of the experimental results to make them scientifically trustworthy.

How can you do it practically? Very easy: get a determination in your mind to look at your hands tonight as you sleep. Tell yourself: "I AM going to find my hands in my sleep at night!" The moment you find your hands, the dream will stop, and you'll end up in a very real unchanging world.

Sometimes poetry tells more than any scientific facts. There's a song by the band Queensryche about lucid dreaming:

Silent Lucidity

Hush now don't you cry
Wipe away the teardrop from your eye
You're lying safe in bed
It was all a bad dream
Spinning in your head
Your mind tricked you to feel the pain
Of someone close to you leaving the game of life
So here it is, another chance
Wide awake you face the day
Your dream is over...or has it just begun?
There's a place I like to hide
A doorway that I run to in the night
Relax child, you were there
But only didn't realize it and you were scared
It's a place where you will learn
To face your fears, retrace the years
And ride the whims of your mind
Commanding in another world
Suddenly, you hear and see
This magic new dimension
I—will be watching over you
I—am gonna help you see it through
I—will protect you in the night
I—am smiling next to you...in silent lucidity
If you open your mind for me
You won't rely on open eyes to see
The walls you built within
Come tumbling down, and a new world will begin
Living twice at once you learn
You’re safe from pain in the dream domain
A soul set free to fly
A round trip journey in your head
Master of illusion, can you realize
Your dream's alive, you can be the guide but...

Visualize your dream
Record it in the present tense
If you persist in your efforts
You can achieve dream control

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