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Gateway to the Inner Self
By Robert Waggoner
Moment Point PressCopyright © 2009 Robert Waggoner
All rights reserved.
STEPPING THROUGH THE GATE
Like many children, I had an intense dream life. Dreams were an amazing theater of the mind featuring both glorious adventures and moments of sheer terror. In one dream, a songbird, a meadowlark, I believe, landed on my chest and sang me its simple song, which I immediately understood and woke up singing. In another dream, I found myself on a fifteen-foot Pogo stick bouncing down the deserted streets, almost flying. On occasion I seemed to be an animal—a dog or coyote, for example—trotting along the dark night's sidewalks in a four-legged gait, totally at peace, seeing the neighborhood from a canine's drooping-headed, tongue-wagging perspective.
With dreams like these, I was a child who had to drag himself out of bed.
In those early years, I remember clearly only one spontaneous lucid dream. In it, I was wandering the local library and suddenly saw a dinosaur stomping through the stacks. Somehow it dawned on me: If all dinosaurs are extinct—this must be a dream! Now consciously aware that I was dreaming, I reasoned further: Since this was a dream—I could wake up! I reasoned correctly and awoke safe in my bed.
That youthful experience illuminates the essential element of lucid dreaming: the conscious awareness of being in a dream while you're dreaming. In this unique state of awareness, you can consider and carry out deliberate actions such as talking to dream figures, flying in the dream space, walking through the walls of dream buildings, creating any object desired, or making them disappear. More important, an experienced lucid dreamer can conduct experiments in the subconscious or seek information from the apparently conscious unconscious.
But I'm getting ahead of myself ...
In those preteen days, before I began lucid dreaming regularly, three experiences kept alive my interest in dreaming and the psyche: occasional dreams that seemed to be precognitive, an unexpected "vision experience," and the very real sense of having access to an inner knowing. Like many, I found life's deepest mysteries in the mind.
For me, the occasional precognitive dream often appeared as small events, like dreaming of someone making an odd statement in a dream, only to hear a real person make the same odd statement a few hours later, or to have a voice in the dream announce an observation that later would be proven correct. Once, the voice explained that the dream symbols meant the dream events would take three years to transpire. I kept track of that date and something incredible did indeed happen in the waking world, directly related to the dream from three years earlier.
Precognitive dreams challenged my budding scientific worldview and disrupted my traditional religious and spiritual views. Strange coincidences, self-fulfilling prophecies, or unknown information? How was one to tell?
One day in my preteen, church-going mind, I had a mini-epiphany. It occurred to me that if God was the same "yesterday, today, and forever," as they said in the Old Testament, then God must exist outside of time, apart from time, in a place where time had no meaning. And, if that were true, then perhaps dreams were the gateway to a place without time, where time existed in one glorious Now. Yet my young science-educated mind balked at this notion. A dreamt event followed by a waking event could be nothing more than sheer coincidence and didn't necessarily entail any foreknowing. Or perhaps it was like a self-fulfilling prophecy, in which I unknowingly helped bring about the event that I dreamt. And even when a dream voice made an observation that later turned out to be true, perhaps my creative unconscious had simply noticed things and, by calculating the likely outcome of those things, made a clever announcement.
As this spiritual questioning was going on, another fascinating incident occurred. One Sunday evening when I was eleven or twelve, I lay on my bed reading a book and stopped for a moment to think. As I absentmindedly looked up at the ceiling, my head suddenly turned north and I began to see a vision of a Native American setting overlaying the physical scene. I struggled to free myself from this unexpected experience while another part of me took in the vision. Finally it stopped.
At that young age, what do you do with something like this? In my case, I went to the library. I flipped through a number of books about the Old Testament containing commentary on visions but found little of value for me there. I also checked out a few books on Native American culture and discovered the vision quest, a traditional practice by which youth gain insight into their lives. Normally a vision quest occurs in a ritual fashion. The young person is obligated to leave the tribe and travel alone for a period of days of fasting, praying, and waiting for the visionary experience. Yet why would something like that happen to me? Only years later did I discover that our family had Native American ancestry.
Somewhere in this time period, I also recognized the presence of an "inner advisor," for lack of a better term. At certain times, when I considered things deeply, an inner knowing appeared in my mind. It was such a natural thing, I assumed everyone experienced this. It was like having the services of a wise old man inside. For example, after a very simple incident that most anyone would ignore, the inner knowing would make an observation about life or suggest the prosaic incident as a living parable. The comments seemed intelligent, even remarkable. I began to sense that all around me life had meaning, if I only cared to look. Since I lived in the middle of Kansas, far from the centers of world power, the pace of life was slower and perhaps simpler, yet below the surface, at another level, I knew we had everything, all the lessons of life.
Like any teenager, I'd pester this inner advisor—What am I? Who am I? To these questions I was given two answers and then never visited the issue again (although the answers rolled around my mind for decades). In one instance, to my "Who am I?" the inner advisor responded, "Everything and nothing." Okay, I thought, any person in a sense has the potential capabilities of all, but in having them also has nothing, for time or the fates will sweep it all away. In those words, too, I sensed a hidden connection between the rich lavishness of Being and the complete freedom of Nothing. But still not entirely content with being a place marker between two extremes, I continued to pester myself and, by extension, the inner advisor with the question of identity until, one day, an answer came that laid all further questions to rest. "You are what you let yourself become," said the inner advisor. That answer satisfied me completely: The living of life was an allowing of self.
Altogether, the precognitive dreams, the vision experience, and my search for spiritual meaning kept me probing for satisfying and complete answers. Obviously, my intense inner life, sparked by thought provoking dreams, created a persistent desire to accept, abandon, or perhaps bridge one of the two worldviews: the scientific and the spiritual. Which is why in 1975, at age sixteen, I picked up one of my oldest brother's books, Journey to Ixtlan: The Lessons of Don Juan by Carlos Castaneda, and embarked on my first lesson in lucid dreaming.
As some readers may know, Carlos Castaneda was an anthropology graduate student at UCLA in the 1960s who sought to learn from native shamans about psychotropic plants in the southwestern United States and Mexico. According to his story, he met a Yaqui Indian sorcerer, don Juan, who agreed to teach him about hallucinogenic plants. In the process, don Juan provided Castaneda with a unique view of the world. Even more important, perhaps, don Juan supplied techniques to experience this new worldview.
The philosophy of don Juan might be summed up in these words, spoken to Castaneda: "[Y]our idea of the world ... is everything; and when that changes, the world itself changes." Don Juan constantly pushed Castaneda to consider new and world-changing ideas and to become more mentally flexible.
Castaneda has recounted in numerous books his decade-long association with don Juan. While many have openly questioned Castaneda's veracity in storytelling, his many books nevertheless contain a number of provocative ideas and, like many young people, I was intrigued. I read Journey to Ixtlan and decided to try just one of the ideas, never imagining how transformative an idea could be.
Don Juan suggests to Castaneda a simple technique to "set up dreaming" or become conscious in the dream state. "Tonight in your dreams you must look at your hands," don Juan instructs Castaneda. After some discussion about the meaning of dreaming and the choice of hands as an object to dream about, don Juan continues. "You don't have to look at your hands," he says. "Like I've said, pick anything at all. But pick one thing in advance and find it in your dreams. I said your hands because they will always be there."
Don Juan further advised Castaneda that whenever an object or scene that he was looking at began to shift or waver in the dream, he should consciously look back at his hands to stabilize the dream and renew the power of dreaming.
Simple enough, I thought. So, before going to sleep each night, I sat cross-legged in bed and began looking at the palms of my hands. Mentally, I quietly told myself, "Tonight, I will see my hands in my dream and realize I'm dreaming." I repeated the suggestion over and over, until I became too tired and decided to go to sleep.
Waking up in the middle of the night, I reviewed my last dream. Had I seen my hands? No. But still hopeful, I fell back asleep remembering my goal. Within a few nights of trying this technique, it happened. I had my first actively sought lucid dream:
I'm walking in the busy hallways of my high school at the junction of B and C halls. As I prepare to push the door open, my hands spontaneously fly up in front of my face! They literally pop up in front of me! I stare in wonder at them. Suddenly, I consciously realize, "My hands! This is a dream! I'm dreaming this!"
I look around me, amazed that I am aware within a dream. All around me is a dream. Incredible! Everything looks so vivid and real.
I walk through the doors a few feet toward the administration building while a great feeling of euphoria and energy wells up inside. As I stop and look at the brick wall, the dream seems a bit wobbly. I lucidly remember don Juan's advice and decide to look back down at my hands to stabilize the dream when something incredible happens. As I look at my hands, I become totally absorbed in them. "I" now see each fingerprint, each line, as a giant flesh-toned canyon that I float within and through. The world has become my palm print, and I'm moving about its vast canyons and gullies and whorls as a floating speck of awareness. I no longer see my hand; I see cream-colored, canyon-like walls of varying undulations surrounding and towering above me, which some part of me knows as my fingerprints or palm prints! As for me, "I" seem to be a dot of aware perception floating through all of this—joyous, aware, and full of awe.
I'm wondering how this could be, when suddenly my vision pops back to normal proportions and I see again that I am standing, hands outstretched, in front of the administration building. Still consciously aware, I think about what to do next. I walk a few feet but feel an incredible urge to fly—I want to fly! I become airborne heading straight up for the intense blue sky. As my feeling of overwhelming joy reaches maximum pitch, the lucid dream ends.
I awake in bed, totally astounded, my heart pounding and head reeling. Never had I felt such intense feelings of elation, energy, and utter freedom. I had done it! I had seen my hands literally fly up to face level in my dreams as if propelled by some magical force and I realized, "This is a dream!" At the age of sixteen, I had become conscious in the dream state. And suddenly, like Dorothy in Oz, I was not in Kansas any more.
Well, actually, I was in Kansas for another year, until I left for college.
THE PARADOX OF THE SENSES
My first lucid dream felt like a monumental achievement. I had actually become aware in a dream. Moreover, in the don Juan tradition, this first lucid dream seemed filled with auspicious symbols—becoming a speck of awareness floating through my palm prints, maintaining the dream, working on awareness outside of the "administration building" (symbol for my own inner authority, perhaps). I was excited.
Still, it seemed so paradoxical—becoming conscious in the unconscious. What a concept! Like some teenage magician of the dreaming realm, I had done what scientists at the time proclaimed could not be done.
Little did I know, during that same time in April of 1975, thousands of miles away at the University of Hull in England, a lucid dreamer named Alan Worsley was making the first-ever scientifically recorded signals from the lucid state to researcher Keith Hearne. By making prearranged eye movements (left to right eight times), Worsley signaled his lucid awareness from the dream state. Pads on his eyes recorded the deliberate eye movements on a polygraph's printout. At that moment, Hearne recalls, "It was like getting signals from another world. Philosophically, scientifically, it was simply mind blowing." Hearne and Worsley were the first to conceive of the idea and demonstrate that deliberate eye movements could signal the conscious awareness of the dreamer from within the dream state.
A few years later, in 1978, Stanford sleep lab researcher Stephen LaBerge, using himself as the lucid dreaming subject, devised a separate, similar experiment of signaling awareness from the dream state through eye movement. Publishing his work in more broadly read scientific journals, LaBerge became strongly identified with this exciting discovery and a leader in its continued research.
Back in Kansas, each night before I went to sleep I would look at my hands and remind myself that I wished to see my hands in my dreams. Of course anyone who tries this will soon discover that staring at your hands for more than ten seconds is quite boring. When you already feel sleepy, it takes real effort to concentrate. Your eyes cross, your hands get fuzzy, your attention wavers, within a minute or two you may even become so bored and tired as to go blank momentarily. After a few minutes, I would give up and prepare for sleep. At the time, I chastised myself for my lack of concentration and wavering focus, but later I came to feel that these natural responses were actually the best approach, since the waking ego seemed too tired to care about the game my conscious mind wanted to play. In fact, don Juan suggested that the waking ego often felt threatened by the more profound nature of our inner realm. Perhaps a sleepy ego would be less likely to interfere.
My next few lucid dreams were lessons in exquisite brevity. I would be in a dream, see my hands in the course of the dream (e.g., as I opened a door with my hand or as if by some inner prompting my hands would suddenly appear directly in front of me) and immediately realize I was in a dream. I'd experience a rush of exhilaration, joy, and energy. As I took in the dream surroundings, my feelings of joy rose to such levels that the lucid dream would begin to feel unstable and then come to an end. I would awaken, full of joy but mystified by the sudden collapse of the lucid dream.
This brought me to one of my first lessons of lucid dreaming:
To maintain the lucid dream state, you must modulate your emotions.
Too much emotional energy causes the lucid dream to collapse. Years later, I learned that virtually all lucid dreamers realize this same lesson and as a result learn to temper their emotions.
After reading don Juan's exhortation to Castaneda that he should try to stabilize the dream environment and, bit by bit, make it as sharply focused as the waking environment, this became my new goal. Don Juan advised that the dreamer should concentrate on only three or four objects in the dream, saying, "When they begin to change shape you must move your sight away from them and pick something else, and then look at your hands again. It takes a long time to perfect this technique."
In the next dream, I was walking at night and suddenly saw my hands appear directly in front of me. I immediately realized I was dreaming. Lucid, I took a few steps and noticed the colors were extremely vibrant; everything seemed so "real." I felt euphoric and knew that the dream would end unless I could regulate my feelings, so I looked back at my hands to stabilize the dream and decrease my emotional upsurge.
After a few moments, I looked around at the grassy knoll on which I was standing. I seemed to be inside a fenced enclosure that included a building, similar to a military or secured installation. I took a few steps and looked at my hands again to stabilize the dream. There were some small evergreens ten feet away, obviously recently planted. I knelt and touched the grass. It felt soft and grass-like. I marveled at how lifelike and realistic everything looked and how I could think about what I was seeing and choose what to do next. I touched myself and, Wow, even I felt real! But I knew my awareness existed within a dream and I was touching a representation of my physical body, which only felt like a real body.
Excerpted from Lucid Dreaming by Robert Waggoner. Copyright © 2009 Robert Waggoner. Excerpted by permission of Moment Point Press.
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