i dream of nerges
A 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!
In another mind games of freakiness, last night I was in the middle of a non-lucid dream when I said out loud, “You know, I don’t even really exist. I’m just a construct of my own mind.” What happened next is I basically faded away until I was nothing. My body just vanished and then my thoughts and then it was just… blank. Well, almost because there was still enough of me left to say, “Oh shit! Who cares if I’m a construct!” and then I faded back into “existence”.
Now, remember, I didn’t know I was dreaming so this was freakier than it sounds. I thought I had really almost annihilated myself through my thoughts. Yikes.
You may think this song has nothing to do with this post, but you’re wrong.
I recently had a dream that I owned a baby miniature hippopotamus (even smaller than a Pygmy) named Sapphire. Throughout the dream I kept commenting on how smart she was.
Today, days later, I remembered that this is not the first dream I have had about a baby hippo. In fact, I already wrote about it hear.
I have no idea why I dream about cute tiny hippopotami.
My latest adventure inside my brain was both frustrating and productive.
I was dreaming that I was at a conference when I became lucid. I thought, okay, time to float up, but it actually took a few times before I could float. This seemed ridiculous as I knew I was dreaming and capable of doing this. When I eventually succeeded, I floated over to the window and stood on the ledge. Even though I knew nothing was real, I still felt fearful jumping out the window. When I did, I had a hell of a time trying to fly up to the sky. First there was the inevitable power lines, but once I got through them, these nonsensical iron bars kept reappearing in front of me as I tried to ascend. I kept pushing them aside, and they kept reappearing. Finally, I got tired of fighting them, and just went back to the conference, where I just kept floating around the room. I thought, I should think of something else fun to do when I’m lucid for when flying doesn’t work out. Maybe I could study some Ruby somehow (yes, a fun thing to do for a nerd).
After I woke up, I thought that maybe fighting back the iron bars was the wrong approach. Maybe I could somehow ask them nicely to let me through? I don’t know why my brain is fighting my having fun while asleep. Seems weird.
The good thing is that I was lucid for longer than previous experiences, perhaps several minutes, where it had only been a few seconds or a minute before. So some progress was made.
At this point, every time I realize I’m dreaming, I immediately try to fly. Part of me feels this is incredibly unoriginal, but it is so fun that I can’t seem to think of something else to try.
I had another weird experience recently which involved lucid dreaming and flying. I dreamt I was at my office, which, as always happens in my dreams, was much larger than it is in reality. I dropped something on the floor, but when I looked down, it was nowhere in sight. I thought… “that can’t be, things just don’t disappear… Hey, I’m dreaming!” At this point I decided to get up and jump out the window and fly. My coworkers just stood by in a huddle as I rushed to the window. When I got to the window and looked out, something strange happened. I guess I had realized I was dreaming so fast that my subconscious mind hadn’t bothered to draw in all of the view outside. So what I saw was a partially-drawn urban landscape that just faded along the right side into nothingness. The “nothingness” was just a blank, light-gray fog, something one often sees around here in the Bay Area. My brain just hadn’t bothered to draw in that part of the scene, and I guess since I already knew I was dreaming, it just left it that way.
After I was done being amused by the nothingness, I did indeed leap out the window and fly around for a brief time. Every time I noticed the lucidity fading, I was chant the line “I’m dreaming” over and over again. This did help me stay lucid for a little longer than usual, but I find it’s still hard to stay lucid for more than a minute or two at this point.
In the dream I had last night, I was talking to my sister when I realized I had just talked to her just behind me… that there were two of her. When this thought occurred to me, I said to her, “Wait, there can’t be two of you, I’m dreaming!” I grabbed her hand and said, “Come on, let’s float up!” and we did, laughing.
After a few moments, as we tried to go higher, there began to be obstacles in our way. This is another common problem I’ve been re-experiencing when trying to fly up: that suddenly there are telephone lines, overhanging roofs, and all sorts of weird shit suddenly appearing for the sole purpose of keeping me from flying up “too high.” Why my brain feels a need to do this, I don’t know.
This time I kept climbing through the obstacles and knocking them out of the way, over and over, until the way was clear. Somewhere in the melée I ended up on my own. By that time I was floating very far above the earth and I laid down on my back and looked up. Above me were the stars, and I was looking straight up at Orion. I couldn’t believe I had made it this for, it was yet another level of euphoria. As I just laying there, floating, staring at the stars, I slowly starting falling back down. And here was another great thing: although I was falling, I was not afraid, because I knew I was never going to hit bottom. I could just enjoy the feeling of falling. Eventually this scene and my lucidity vanished and I was on to the next dream.
So, I guess it’ll still be a while until I try to do anything else when I’m lucid, because the feeling of flying of dreams is just too amazing.
In my first post where I talked about lucid dreaming, I mentioned that there was a strong recommendation by experienced lucid dreamers to try flying in dreams. I expressed that I thought it sounded very juvenile, but in my second post I let myself float up and found the experience enjoyable.
Since then I have, from time to time, suggested to myself at bedtime that I would like to try floating or flying again in my dreams, but it did not happen for several months until last night. I climbed up a tree, and seeing I that I was already up in the tree, I thought perhaps I could launch myself into space and fly. And I did. Not just float, but really fly, arms outstretched Superman-style, over a European-looking city, for a very long time. I discovered that stretching my arms out this way is some sort of dream code for “keep on flying.”
While I was flying, I had the most amazing euphoric feeling, to the point that I was almost in tears. I just couldn’t believe how great it felt, which is why I kept doing it for as long as I could. And as wonderful as that is, there’s part of me that can’t help but wonder, but why does it feel so wonderful? Is it just because it’s something I can’t do in reality? If so, would I get the same experience from scuba diving in my dreams? Hmm, I see another experiment coming up…
In other dreaming news, I have had a series of lucid dreams where I just sit back and observe how incredibly detailed everything is. I am just in awe of all that my brain is creating while I sleep. After some discussion with K, we’ve concluded a couple of things about this phenomenom. That is, one’s brain must have to keep working while you sleep, just like your heart has to keep beating. So, without outside stimuli, it just goes to town with creating whatever it can. Secondly, one’s brain has a vested interest in keeping you asleep, because you need to rest. So, if it’s going to be cranking along anyway, why not create worlds that convince you that your awake, so that you don’t try to get up? (Of course, there’s insomnia, but that’s a whole other discussion).
I had a dream recently where I observed all the crazy details, and then thought, “Well, enough of this, I’d like to get up and go back to reality now.” I really wanted to wake up, but my brain was having none of it. I kept trying different things to wake up, and it kept countering me like a great chess opponent. At one point, I decided to stare into a mirror but my reflection kept disappearing. I mean, it was so obvious I was dreaming, but apparently the obviousness is just not enough to wake up. I found this whole endeavor frustrating, but I learned my lesson. You cannot will yourself to wake up when you are deeply asleep. Just forget it. In a battle between your conscious and subconscious mind, the subconscious mind wins. Which, I think, is a good thing to ponder in general.
Speaking of subconscious, as silly as this intro is, there’s still a part of me that gets excited when I watch this. When I was 3 I loved Superman more than anything.
I’ve continued with my sleep experiments as found in Exploring the World Lucid Dreaming. I’ve come to realize that if I had no hobbies, I might possibly try all the experiments suggested. However, since I have 50,000 hobbies (count ’em!), I’m going to have to skip ahead in the book.
I did follow through with the exercise of trying to remember a preset list of ordinary tasks or cue while going through the day. This was fairly difficult, and often I would realize the cue — phone ringing, seeing my face in the mirror — had already happened an hour ago. I was going to do this exercise for a second week but realized that that would bore me stiff.
I mentioned in my previous post that I had written on a card “Am I Dreaming?” and now carry it in my wallet to practice reality testing when I’m awake. I recently had a dream where I felt I was dreaming, so I took the card out of my wallet. I’ll be damned if it wasn’t 100% accurate. As usual, my brain was trying to outsmart me. I just looked at the card and thought “Well, that didn’t work.” So I went off to find something else to read to see if it mutated. It did, and so I confirmed I was dreaming DESPITE my mischievous brain.
Then I had another dream with the cue or “dreamsign” that I was walking around in public topless, hoping no one would notice. Although I hadn’t consciously identified this as one of my dreamsigns, I still managed to do so in the dream. I thought, “Wait, I must be dreaming, I never just forget to put my shirt on. So… I could probably make a shirt just appear.” Sure enough, one did show up in my hand, and I put it on. Oddly enough, it was a shirt I used to own but go rid of many years ago. After I put the shirt on I thought, “That dreaming book keeps harping on how fun it is to fly on me. It seems dumb, but maybe I should try it.” So I floated up a few feet. And it was REALLY FUN. So I spent several minutes floating around, about ten or fifteen feet up in the air, before the dream ended.
I have more questions now I hope this book will answer. Such as, why is flying so fun in dreams? Why are dreams so hard to remember? And why is my brain always trying to trick me?
For a long time, I have had dreams where I realized that I was dreaming. I didn’t try to invoke this state of mind — it just happened spontaneously. I’ve conducted a very non-scientific survey and found that most people I know have never had this experience.
Recently I borrowed a book from the library, Exploring the World Lucid Dreaming by Stephen LaBerge & Howard Rheingold. This book was written in 1990, but a quick look around the internet shows that the lucid dreaming field has not changed significantly since this book was written. Other than you can now go on LaBerge dreaming workshops in Hawaii which sounds just about as hippy-dippy as you can get.
LaBerge is a pioneer in the field of lucid dreaming, as he not only devised ways to prove he was aware that he was dreaming in a laboratory setting, but also came up with proven methods to induce lucid dreams in just about anyone. Despite the kooky new-agey feel to a lot of his ideas, many are evidence based. I decided to be open-minded at try some of these methods.
LaBerge feels that as long as we are going to sleep for one-third of our lives, we may as well use that time for mind expansion. I only half agree with this premise, mostly because I enjoy sleeping. I think most people do. I know there’s lots of folks who get a warm, happy feeling just thinking about their bed. So I don’t think sleep is a waste of time because it is very pleasant, and probably the only thing I do that is pleasant for a full eight hours straight. However, I am all for exploration on all levels, and already spend a good deal of time exploring my mind. Perhaps a new method would be good.
Now, one problem I have with discussions of lucid dreams is that many folks feel that once you realize you’re dreaming you should do something wild like fly to the stars. Let me tell you, not only do I have no interest in such shenanigans, but they sound pretty juvenile too me. This is probably because the reality-checking part of my brain is overactive. Even in a dream state, I couldn’t fly to stars because I’d be saying “You know, you aren’t really flying to stars. You’re just dreaming that you’re flying to stars. They aren’t really the stars. This isn’t real.” It’s pathetic, really, but that’s how my mind works. So I’m not interested in play time for the brain. I’m interested in further investigations as to what is reality.
In my post “grief, dreams, permanence“, I alluded to the dreams I have where I end up in an argument with others that we are in a dream. I was delighted to read in Exploring the World that this is a common experience. In fact, a lot of the methods I have read about so far are all about reality testing.
One of the first concepts introduced in the book is that what we do while awake, we also do while asleep. Therefore, it’s unlikely we are going to ask ourselves if we are dreaming while we are asleep if we never do while we are awake. We first start with asking ourselves “Am I dreaming?” while we are awake. At first this seemed silly when I tried it (he mentions that it will feel silly), but then I realized that I do have to establish certain criteria to show I am NOT dreaming. Just saying “Because it looks different” or “feels different” is not concrete enough. K says that his dreams are not nearly as detailed as reality, so that dreams and reality clearly look different, but that is not at all the case with me.
LaBerge pointed out there are a few simple things that are always true in dreams. If you look at any text in a dream, look away, and then look at it again, it will not stay the same. It will warp or mutate in some way, or somehow conditions will suddenly change so it is no longer possible to read it. This NEVER happens in reality (other than in a sudden power outage). So, one can starts conducting reading tests in reality. LaBerge suggest carrying a card with you that simply says, “Am I dreaming?” on it. You can pull it out, read it, read it again, and it will always be the same.
I have begun this simple practice, and it’s really pretty interesting. Recently I have been in a variety of situations that were far from my normal experience, for instance, being suddenly backstage at a Lady Gaga performance. That sure seemed like a dream. It was interesting to look around for specific, concrete examples* as to why I wasn’t dreaming.
It’s amazing that something that’s puzzled me for years — the ability to discern dreams from reality — is really easy when reduced to a few simple cues. It’s one of those ideas which was there all along but somehow I couldn’t put my finger on it. Now that I know about it, I feel perplexed (and a little annoyed) as to why I couldn’t have figured this out for myself.
I have continued on to the next set of exercises in the book. One is to read a set of four mundane events that may occur in your day. There is a week’s worth of sets of four. Each day you try keep these in mind and test reality when they occur. They are such things as “Next time the telephone rings” or “Next time I check the time”. The point is to train yourself to keep cues in mind while going through your day, so that you can keep cues in mind while asleep.
Another exercise is to find a pattern of cues in your dreams, the things the only occur in your dreams. Everyone’s dream world is different. I often dream that I am with my family members, whereas in reality I am almost never with them. One cue I have set up is that if I dream about my family, I should test whether I am dreaming. Another pattern is being on public transportation about becoming hopelessly lost, so now when I ride BART or the bus I pay attention to how consistent the experience is in reality so that it will be more obvious when I am dreaming.
Another interesting thing that LaBerge discovered in his research that, contrary to the myth that dreams occur in some sped-up time warp, the events in them occur in real time. It’s just that you jump from scene to scene, as in a movie. This has lead me to another discovery that makes reality different from most dreams: the long spells of the mundane. I am at work for hours on end, doing boring tasks, on and on. That level of continuous non-event does not occur in my dreams. I do occasionally dream that I have gotten up and am getting ready for work with a bunch of mundane details (getting dressed, brushing teeth), but it’s pretty rare.
I’m curious what these reality testing experiences will lead to. I’ll write more if and when I discover anything interesting.
This question — “Am I dreaming?” has led me to develop another question — “Am I acting?” during the day, I spend a lot of time smiling and making nice to those around me. I believe that this is good manners, and how one functions in society. By the amount of rude people I encounter, I realize not everyone adheres to the ideology. I realized, though, I should think about when I am acting nice out of politeness and when I really mean it. I think I can easily get into a gray area where I can’t discern how I actually feel about a person or a situation until after it is over, because I am too busy pouring my energies into being polite. At times it seems I have too much energy being externalized i.e. focusing on others, and not enough energy focused internally. It’s all fine and well to be polite, but not to the point where later I realize that I have suppressed myself to no end — just out of habit.
*Another cue LaBerge mentioned is digital clocks or watches. In a dream, you can never look at them twice without their changing the time non-sequentially. (He points out the analog watches in dreams are a little trickier).