The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and SleepA few weeks ago I saw this book on J’s coffee table and asked if I could borrow it. I had no idea what it was about other than lucid dreaming. This book has catapulted me into many new ways of thinking. This is partly because I have been seeking a new way of being. I have been fairly miserable for most of this year, and felt that new ideas, new thoughts and a new version of me was much needed to escape the despair.

The book begins with a introduction to the basic precepts of Tibetan Buddhism. I am not interested in dogma or any religion but was open to seeing what these ideas were. It said that people are caught up in a duality of grasping (desiring things) and aversion (avoiding things). I’m not keen on binary systems but I decided to do an experiment and go through a day observing how often I try to get something I want and how often I avoid things I don’t want.

I discovered something surprising which is that I spend a good deal of my time avoiding things. Even something simple like walking down the street became an exercise of avoidance. The script in my head goes something like, “There’s a person down the street approaching me. Should I look at them? Should I cross the street so I don’t have to deal with them? Should I say hello?” I feel anxious and wish the person wasn’t there. This happens A LOT because there are a lot of people in the population-dense Bay Area. I realized I spend SO MUCH ENERGY on this nonsense because I don’t feel safe in the world. Not in the sense that any physical harm will come to me, but in the sense that I distrust people.

This leads to a physical posture of holding my shoulders in, a sort of folding in on myself, that protects nothing but probably became habitual because of my angry mother (or “yelly mommy”). To counter the posture and the feeling of hiding and protecting myself it evokes, I have been trying to feel and openness in the center of my chest. I have a visual image (okay, this will sound corny or hippie) of butterflies and songbirds flying out my chest. I have been working on my posture for decades. The most effective method I have found to date was the Alexander Technique. In the last couple of days, I have found that thinking of openness has improved not only my posture but my ability to be in the world while exerting less energy, which just feels good.

Tibetan Yogas also recommends a method of meditation where you focus on an object. The book recommends the Tibetan letter A but I didn’t have that handy so I thought I’d just look out the window at a tree across the street. I’m a lousy meditator — too fidgety — but this method of visually focusing on something seemed to work very well on my initial tries. I then extended this idea to focus on something when I am walking around, such as a cloud near the horizon or a tree down the street. This focusing on an object had an amazing effect. First of all, it made me realize that most of the time when I am walking around I don’t really see anything. I’m lost in my thoughts and can barely notice the world around me. I have tried to counter this by touching plants along the way but that has only had a minor effect. Somehow focusing on one thing at a time (a time being a few minutes) made me get out of my thoughts and into the world. More importantly, it had this very interesting effect in that, by focusing on one thing somehow I could see everything. All of a sudden my peripheral vision just came alive and I saw things I never saw before even though I have walk these same streets many times. A palm tree here, a blue house there, a view of the hills — these things were always there and I had never noticed them.

As if all this weren’t interesting enough, the books also approaches lucid dreaming in a way completely opposite of the book Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming. In that book, Laberge (the author) recommends questioning yourself throughout the day with the thought, “Am I dreaming?” and then doing the same tests you would do in a dream to see if you are. The point is to prep your mind to be aware if you are dreaming while you are dreaming. Tibetan Yogas, however, instructs the reader to tell oneself that one is dreaming while awake: to tell yourself you a drinking a dream cup of coffee, driving a dream car, etc. The point here is to realize that the world is not real and only a projection of one’s mind.

I agree that the reality of the world can be challenged in many ways, but I suppose I’m not receptive to discounting the exterior world as being completely a projection. I do think realizing that one’s thoughts and feelings about the world are fabricated in one’s own mind, and can be challenged and altered, is an interesting and helpful idea to explore.

To that end, another experiment: I’ve noticed when I’m talking with someone, I will often have emotional reactions to what they are saying, often negative, which I then have to hide. In addition, these reaction cause me to not listen as well as I get caught up in my own thoughts. For the last couple of days, I’ve tried to let go of these reactions. If I feel angry or annoyed or upset by what someone is saying, I don’t ignore those feelings but try to just let them pass through me (for some reason I envision shaking them off the ends of my fingers. I’ve no idea why).

All these experiments are very exciting to me. I’m always trying to improve myself. By “improve” I mean become a kinder, more generous, and more compassionate person. I feel that these experiments of the last several weeks are very helpful in moving in this direction. I don’t know how many of these things will stick with me, it’s just too soon to tell. I do feel that these experiments are helping me to get out of the stuck and somewhat miserable mindset I have been in.

And to think I haven’t even gotten to the lucid dreaming experiments yet!