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To sleep perchance to dream

Lucid Dreaming – step into your mind and explore!

As a child I always struggled to get to sleep and it would take ages before I was finally exhausted enough slowly to sink into sleep. As a result I was very aware of entering sleep and I could hear the dream scape as I started to rest into the first stage of sleep, known as the hypnagogic state. Whilst still aware of my room and that I was laying in my bed, I would also hear voices and sounds at a distance, as if a radio were playing at a distance – but it was inside my head! I loved this sound as it meant I knew sleep was near after hours of rolling this way and that in my bed unable to sleep. Then the images appeared, flickering into life like a magic lantern show at a fair as dusk falls. It wouldn’t be long before I was then fully immersed in a dream.

Frequently as I dreamt I would be aware that I was dreaming, and when this happened I used to sit down in the dream and cross my legs as if going into meditation. I knew that if I focused in a certain way I could then rise up into the sky and once there I would stretch out horizontal to the ground and fly. I loved these flying dreams, and the feeling of awareness in the dream. They stopped once I became a teenager, but I remembered them fondly.

There was one curious experience that accompanied these flying dreams throughout my childhood – probably from the age of around 8 to 10. After dreaming of flying and the feeling of awareness in the dream started to pass I would wake up, dress, have breakfast. The day would proceed as normal until at some point something happened that was not as it should be. Often I would go to turn on a light and it would not work, after flicking the switch a few times I would realise I was still dreaming – and so the morning would start again as I was once more in my bed waking up! Sometimes I got all the way to school before this waking would happen! It tended to happen about three times before I was finally properly awake.

The result of this was that I never knew if I were really awake! Or if in a moment something would happen to make me aware that I was still dreaming. Even now I sometimes wonder if this has all been one long dream and in a moment I may wake up as a child again in my bed at 108 Cambridge Road!

A few years ago I became interested in lucid dreaming and started going to an evening workshop where people would share thier experiences of lucid dreaming. If you have not experienced this, it is the state where you become conscious whilst dreaming that you are in a dream. Once conscious you can continue to dream, but are able to decide what will happen in the dream rather than just have it happen to you. One common theme in lucid dreams is for people to choose to fly.

As I listend to people talk and read more about lucid dreaming I realised my childhood experiences were all related to lucid dreaming. A common experience for people who have had a lucid dream is to have a series of what are called ‘false awakenings’, where they wake up and go through their day until something does not follow the laws of physics as we know them in the waking world and there is the realisation that one is still dreaming.

I felt very excited to realise that I had had so many lucid dreams as a child and it made it feel more possible to reconnect with it as an experience as an adult. It was also good to know that my confusion over regular multiple awakenings was simply a result of becoming lucid.

In a significant way these false awakening prepared me to embrace Buddhism. I had spent my childhood with the feeling that life was just one long dream that one might wake up from at any time….so when I then came across a teaching that basically says just that, then it fitted with this experience.

 

 

 

 

Lucid Dreaming and Awakening

Why should this be of any relevance in a mindfulness email? The dream group I attend is run by a Buddhist who practices in the Tibetan tradition, and for Tibetan Buddhism the dream world is as important as the waking world for practice. It is taught that if you can take mindful awareness into sleep and become lucid you can make great progress in learning the true nature of your mind and you have all night to meditate, so if you cannot find time in the day you can still meditate whilst you sleep! In fact meditating in your sleep is said to be a lot more powerful than whilst awake, as there are no distractions of aching body parts or time constraints. Unfortunately I cannot say if this is true as it is one thing I have not done in a lucid dream!

I’ve found that lucid dreaming offers a chance to explore the shadow side of one’s subconscious. I had a nightmare one night where an old man tried to kill me. The following night as I fell asleep I determined that I would become lucid and meet him again. As I slept that night I did become lucid and as I was flying through the air I remembered that I had had a nightmare the previous night and that I wanted to meet the man from it. In a moment I was no longer flying, but was in a visitors room in what I knew was a prison. I heard footsteps and a metal door opened. Two guards were holding the man and they looked at me as if to say “are you sure?”. I nodded and they released him. The man ran at me and grabbed me, his fingers had become metal talons ripping into my back. But I held him and thought “do what you like, this is a dream and you cannot hurt me, and I have you now…it’s you who are not going anywhere.” As I held him he eventually exhausted his rage and started to shrink. Eventually he was a small boy and he started to cry as I held him.

I do not know what this was related to, but on waking I felt so full of energy and alive. Talking with my dream teacher, Charlie Morley, he said that after resolving shadow issues in a dream there is often a feeling of energy, as all the effort of keeping something hidden and locked away could now be let go of.

The Buddhist approach to lucid dreaming is that it enables one to see that the nature of all phenomena is that they are mind made. In our waking state we feel as if we are looking out at an objective reality – although in fact it is a world created by our brain in response to the light waves entering our eyes. We are looking at a picture created by our brain to make sense of this information. But in a dream we see this directly – we look at an object and see it simply as something made by the mind. As such dream objects in a lucid dream can be fascinating as they seem to glow with light and be so real they look almost more real than anything seen in waking life.

Central to the Buddha’s teaching was that conditioned things are impermanent but in some of his teachings the Buddha also seems to suggest that this conditioned reality that we live in is itself an illusion.  This is evident in the way he describes our psychophysical body, which is often referred to as the five skandhas or aggregates: form, feeling, perception, volition and consciousness:

“Form is like a lump of foam, feeling like a water bubble; perception is like a mirage; volitions like a plantain trunk, and consciousness like a magic trick, so explained the Kinsman of the Sun (a name used to refer to the Buddha)” ( S. iii. 142).

From the Diamond Sūtra or in Sanskrit, Vajracchedikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra, we find this verse:

Thus shall you think of this fleeting world:

A star at dawn, a bubble in a stream,

A flash of lightning in a summer cloud,

A flickering lamp, a phantom, and a dream.

In the Samādhirājasūtra we find the following:

Know all things to be like this:

A mirage, a cloud castle,

A dream, an apparition,

Without essence, but with qualities that can be seen.

Being able to observe the mind made nature of phenomena in the dream state is said to help one to then recognise the same process of the mind creating an appearance of reality in our waking state. Tibetan Buddhism also teaches that there is the unborn and uncreated nature of mind that is intrinsically clear, luminous and pure. This nature of mind is timeless and always here – we just forget to experience it. It is said that it is easier to awaken to this in a lucid dream, letting our usual sense of self dissolve away and instead resting in our true nature.

Or you might just like the idea of being able to go flying!


How to Lucid Dream

If you are intrested in lucid dreaming the flowing few tips may help:

1.  If you notice anything unusual in the day look at your hand and turn it over quickly or flex your fingers, asking yourself “am I dreaming” If you do this regularly you may start to do it in a dream when something unusual happens, at which point your hand will change as the dream mind cannot recreate a hand making quick movements, so it will gain extra fingers, or the fingers will grow, at which point you will know you are dreaming.

2. Start keeping a note book by your bed. When you wake up jot down any dream fragments you remember. Over a few weeks you’ll start to remember full dreams.

3. As you become more familiar with your dreams you’ll recognise certain familiar themes that recur. For me it is looking at my mobile  in the dream but it not working. As a general rule technology does not work in dreams – looking at a phone the numbers will not make sense, or a television will not turn on. Light switches do not work either, as it is too hard for the dreaming brain to create the effect of light suddenly flooding a space. So any time things do not work you can ask if you are dreaming – if it is a dream you may then have the realisation that it is a dream. I became lucid several times thorugh looking at my mobile and asking myself why it wasn’t working, I then had the thought “ah, of course this must be a dream!” and then became lucid.

4. Following on from this, as you fall asleep you can remind yourself that when you dream of a particular event that you have recognised as part of your regular dream world you will recognise that you are dreaming. I used to regularly have dreams of being on a train or going to the Palace to have tea with the Queen…well why not!!? 🙂 So as I fall asleep I can say to myself ” tonight as I dream if I am having tea with the Queen I am going to recognise that I am dreaming”….or whatever your familiar dream scape might be.

5. Another way is to practice staying in the hypnogogic state for as long as possible. Rest attention on your breath, slowly ease into sleep, keep awareness focused on the breath, and notice the sounds and images as they start to appear – if you do this with relaxed focus you’ll be able to then take this awareness into the dream state. I’ve not been able to this as an adult, but it’s what I did as a child.

6. As you fall asleep decide what you will do when you become lucid. The most common reason for loosing lucidity is that you have no clear intention once lucidity arises and it slips back into being an ordinary dream. Perhaps you would like to meet with the Dali Lama. Or fly with a flock of swans. Or visit an emerald city at the bottom of the ocean. You can create whatever you want in a lucid dream, so feel in to what would excite you. You can also invite the subconscious to meet you: speaking into the dream space something like: “what do I most need to know right now”. A character may then appear and you can have a conscious conversation with them – perhaps they will represent something you are working with right now….if you are not sure, ask them who they are or what they represent and have a conversation with your subconscious!

When you do become lucid you’ll feel such a buzz of adrenalin and excitement you may wake up after a few seconds. To counteract this as you recognise that you are dreaming and start to feel excited, focus your attention on your feet and feel the ground underneath you. At the same time take slow deep breaths. This will slow your heart beat down and stop you getting so excited, as breathing deep in your dream body also makes you breathe slowly in you actual body. As this happens you’ll find your dream body really comes alive and instead of being a slightly disembodied ‘seeing’ which is often the sense of oneself in a non lucid dream, your body will start to tingle and feel amazingly vibrant and alive as if it is made of energy and not flesh – which in the dream state it is!

I recommend Charlies monthly meeting for discussing dreams. I am going this Sunday. You can see details here

You can also buy his books here

Effective Communication

The last three essays have been a summary of the information about attachment models in adult relationships from the book Attached. In this essay I’ll continue to explore this dynamic.

To summarise the three types of attachment:

1. Anxious people are often preoccupied with thier relationships and tend to worry about their partner’s ability to love them back.
2. Avoidant people equate intimacy with a loss of independence and commonly try to minimise closeness.
3. Secure people feel comfortable with intimacy and are usually warm and loving.

Effective Communication

A few weeks ago I was with a friend having dinner. We were talking about relationships and the dynamics of attachment. My friend made a comment about how he would seek to talk with someone if something seemed amiss in the communication or their behaviour. It seemed quite clear to him that the way to deal with a conflict was to talk and arrive at an understanding of what was going on rather than withdraw  and blame the other or take the blame and fear being abandoned. Not surpassingly, when he took the test latter he came out as securely attached!

What about those of us who do not have as a first recourse the belief that we deserve to be heard, that our needs matter or that conversation will clarify the position? What if we either go in to protest behaviour of being silent, ignoring our partner due to a perceived slight or withdrawing from what we see as their demanding and needy attempts to talk to us? The hardest dynamic of any relationship is the avoidant/anxious, as they will cause each other to go into their coping mechanism: the distance of the avoidant partner will cause the anxious partner to become more eager to get reassurance that they matter – texts, calls, attempts to meet or talk. In contrast the avoidant partner will want space and solitude, and will withdraw from their anxious partners attempts to create intimacy.

The final chapter of the book Attached is devoted to Effective Communication. This is a summary of what is discussed there.

What is effective communication? It is a way of speaking that communicates our needs, rather than leaving our partner to guess what is bothering us. It is an important tool in dating as it will help us to choose a compatible partner. An anxious person will often feel they need to be other than how they are. Relationship advice may tell an anxious person “play it cool, don’t be needy, appear confident and strong to attract a mate”. Whilst it may be true that a self confident secure type who does not need another’s reassurance in order to feel valid is an attractive quality in a partner, if it is not who we are then we will risk attracting someone who is not then able to hold us when we finally reveal our true vulnerability and need.

In contrast, if we are ready to show our vulnerability when we date and name our needs those who withdraw from this would never have been able to give us the support we need, and thus leaves us free to focus our dating attention on those who can. The same applies in friendships.

An example given in the book is of turning a perceived weakness into a strength. If you know you need to be reassured a lot that your partner loves you and is attracted to you, instead of trying to conceal this out of a fear of appearing needy you state it as a given. This will paradoxically make you appear self-confident and assertive, rather than relying on covert means of trying to get this reassurance without being direct about your need for it – sending texts asking how your partner is when really you just want them to reply and ask how things are with you. In using effective communication from the start you also set the tone for the relationship as one where you can both be honest and share responsibility to look out for each other’s well being.

The difficulty of expressing one’s needs as an anxious person is that we often don’t know what they are! Instead we tend to get overwhelmed by emotion and lash out. Ask my ex, I had very un-Buddhist moments with him! Followed by shame for having got angry. In contrast people with a secure attachment style don’t react so strongly, don’t get overwhelmed as easily, and can thus calmly and effectively communicate their own feelings and needs. Secure people also believe they are worthy of love and affection and expect thier partner to be responsive and caring. With these self beliefs they find it easier not to let negative thoughts take over.

What to do then if you are anxious?

Unlike a secure person you’ll be easily flooded by emotions, will fear that the relationship is fragile and easily broken and don’t expect your partner to to respond positively. Fearing the fragility of the relationship you’ll find it harder to express your needs effectively. When you do try to talk, if you have an avoidant partner, rather than giving you the reassurance you seek they may well withdraw. This is  one reason why effective communication in dating is important. As an anxious attachment person one will quickly decide that the person we have met is the one we have to have. It will feel that we stand no chance with anyone else and we will do all we can to make it work with this person, even ignoring the red flags that might make another question a person’s suitability. When we do communicate our needs, if it results in the person backing of or loosing interest it will be easy to feel that we have ruined things, “if only I had played it more cool, I’ve lost the only one who could have made me happy”. In truth it has just saved us from a relationship in which we would have always been trying to be right for our partner, or fearing their loss of love.

The author suggests the following for anxious and avoidant types:

Anxious: turn to effective communication when you  feel you are starting to resort to protest behaviour (needing to text, going silent on your partner in the hope of drawing them in, not answering calls, threatening to leave etc – these were covered in last weeks email). Instead of this, feel into what your needs are right now that are not being met. Once you have calmed down, find a way to effective communicate your needs to your partner.

Avoidant: whenever you feel the need to run this is a sure sign you need to use effective comunication. Explain to your partner that you need some space and that you would like to find a way of doing so that is acceptable to them. Suggest a few alternatives, making sure the other person’s needs are taken care of.

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The Five Principles of Effective Communication

1. Wear your heart on your sleeve. Be genuine and honest about your feelings.

2. Focus on your needs. This includes your need to take your partner’s well being into account as well – comunicating in a way that hurts them will hurt you. When expressing your needs, it’s helpful to use verbs such as need, feel and want, rather than talking about your partners short comings.

Another book called Non-Violent Communication explores this in much more detail. The author, Marshal Rosenberg, describes a model of  communication based on expressing objective facts, feelings, needs and a request:

“When I sent you a text yesterday morning and you did not reply until today at lunch time I felt upset, because I need to be confident that you can make time for me. In future I would really like it if you reply when you see my message, even if its a few words to say you will reply fully later if you do not have time to text right then, would you be willing to do that?”

This is very different to saying something which blames the other or makes them wrong. Rosenberg’s central premise is that when others hear a feeling and a need they will hear what you are asking for. I used this when I was mugged 10 years ago. Luckily I remembered it all in the moment after a single punch to my face had sent me to the ground. As the man straddled me with his fist in the air time slowed down. I knew he was going to hit me more – he was so pumped with adrenalin his aim was to immobilise me without any concern for how much I might get hurt. I didn’t have time to formulate a perfect feeling/needs want statement! Bur I remember as I looked him in the eyes I said “I’m feeling scared, please don’t hurt me”. I think I forgot to express a clear need “I want to feel safe” but it worked nonetheless. In a moment his fist went down and it was the strangest experience: he spoke to me as if he were talking to a frightened child. His voice was almost reassuring as he said “It’s ok, I won’t hurt you, all I want  is your money”. He then went though my pockets and took all he could and left me laying on the pavement. I had lost a wallet and mobile phone, but I do believe it could have been worse if I had not internalised the importance of using effective communication, so that it came naturally in the moment of extreme need.

3. Be specific. This relates to Rosenberg’s encouragement to state an objective fact rather than emotive statements. Rather than “You are so inconsiderate for keeping me waiting for half an hour” which may just trigger the other person to defend themselves, rather than feel the upset you feel. Rosenberg  suggests instead we express this in a factual way: “When we arranged to meet at 1pm and you arrived at 1.30pm I felt really annoyed as I need to know I can trust people to value my time. In future please arrive at the time we agree or text me so I know you are late and I can decide what to do” You may find other ways to do this, but the principle is to keep to simple facts rather than language that suggests blame.

4. Don’t blame. Never make your partner feel selfish, incompetent, or inadequate. Effective comunication is not about finding a way to communicate your partner’s short comings or making accusations. Make sure you feel calm before trying to discuss something that has upset you.

5. Be assertive and non apologetic. As the author of Attached says: “your relationship ends are valid – period”. People with different attachment styles may not see your needs as legitimate, but they are essential for your happiness and expressing them authentically is crucial to effective communication. The author makes the point that this is especially important for people with an anxious attachment style as our culture encourages us to believe that many of these needs are illegitimate. Instead if a person feels the importance of close contact, emotional availability, loving reassurance when feeling anxious about not being wanted or valued – then these are authentic needs. Better to be honest about this and have the 99 people withdraw who cannot meet them and meet the 1 person who can, than hide them and settle with one of the 99 and have an ongoing struggle to have them meet your needs as you start to reveal them once the dating phase is over.

(The above is a summary of p.235-241 Attached)

I know from experience that knowing all of this does not make it easy to apply it! But as we practice mindfulness and being more open to our emotions and non judgemental about our thoughts and feelings it does become possible to tune in to what is going on for us and to start to take the risk to express this with honesty. The Loving Kindness practice helps us to cultivate a feeling in our heart that “I’m ok and you’re ok” so we no longer come from a place of judging ourself or the other, or of feeling we need to fix our self or the other. Instead we enter into an honest connection with how we are and how the other is. This may mean recognising that how the other is is incompatible with what we need, and rather than making it our mission to mould them into our perfect partner we leave them to find someone who loves them as they are, as we stay open to finding someone who will love us as we are.

For a detailed test taking about 15 minutes click here. To buy the book click here

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