Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘sleep’

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

Miricle Morning

This morning I was reading a book about how to engage with the morning in a more creative way and the author gave six tips which I’ll share below. Some of them I’ve been doing, others are new to me, but it helped to see them outlined so clearly and I hope they will offer you some encouragement or ideas for how to enjoy your morning and engage wit it in a creative way.

1. Getting up with a sense of purpose. It’s so easy to hit the snooze button and roll over.  But the muggy sense of not quite having woken up can then hang like a fog over the morning. In another book I’ve enjoyed reading, The Chimp Paradox, by Dr Steven Peters, he talks about the conflicting agendas that can occupy the mind at this transitional time of waking.  The more instinctual brain, which he refers to as the chimp brain, simply wants warmth and comfort. It has no interest in our morning yoga routine or the super green smoothie or hot lemon water we intend drinking. It just wants to  lo lie in bed, feel warm, and quite probably have a wank to pass the time!

Dr Peters goes on to say that the less attractive side to this chimp brain is its tendency to also get lost in all of the vague worries and sense of unspecific sadness that can arise in the morning – and that wanting to stay cuddled up in bed is in part an attempt to avoid facing these. Rather than allow the chimp mind to take over with unspecific cares and worries as we lie in bed Dr Peters suggests that we make a resolve the night before: “on waking I’ll say to myself no thinking until I’ve got up and brushed my teeth”, then as we wake and the mind wants to go into its worry mode – the chimp wanting to check if there is any danger around before leaving the den – instead we say to ourselves “no thinking until I’ve brushed my teeth” and jump out of bed. Which brings us to Harv Eker’s second point.

2. Change you morning routine to increase your wake up motivation. If you imagine a scale of 1 too 10, where 10 is that you are most eager to get up, 1 least eager, where are you currently? The following points are intended to help you reach 10.

i) On going to bed affirm that you will wake feeling refreshed and ready to enjoy the day. Imagine waking and wanting to start your day in whatever way you have planned and feel the enjoyment of this. This is based on the principle that our last thought on falling asleep will likely be our first experience on waking.  If we fall asleep dreading the next day, then we likely wake up with that feeling of dread. It can help to think about what our objectives are for the next day so that the brain can reflect on these as we sleep and we wake ready to engage with them.

ii) Place your alarm clock on the other side of the room so you have to get out of bed to turn it off. This  links with Dr Peters suggestion to get straight out of bed and not succumb to the chimp mode of retreating into the den and worrying if it is safe to emerge and may help if we really can’t motivate ourselves to get up. I often find that there’s a feeling of lethargy that tells me I need more sleep, which goes as soon as I am up but with could lead to spending more time in  bed without benefiting from it and may result in not having enough time to meditate before breakfast. For me the contrast of a period of meditation on waking and laying in bed after waking has no comparison. Meditating leaves me feeling centred and refreshed and is  as if I have had a second does of deep sleep, whereas napping just leaves me feeling buggy and less refreshed.

iii) Go and brush your teeth so that you feel fresh.

iv) On waking drink a glass of water with half a lemon squeezed into it to rehydrate after a night of loosing water through breathing.

I would add a 5th suggestion: meditating for ten minutes before going to bed and then seeing how much you can keep your attention on the breath or the sensations of contact with the bed as you fall asleep to prevent going back into random thoughts. Meditating before bed is a bit like doing a system clean on the computer. You may not feel very focused, and a lot of images and thoughts from the day may drift through your mind, but by dong this before going to sleep you’ve already started the process of clearing out the detritus of the day and may be able to sleep deeper as a result. Keeping your focus on the breath or body as you fall asleep also helps you go into a deeper sleep.


3. Making time for purposeful silence each morning.  The easiest way to do this is to establish a regular mindfulness practice. Ten minutes a day of mindfulness practice has been found to be the minimum amount of time that is still effective. Any less and participants on research projects did not show the benefits of the practice. Meditating for longer but more sporadically did not show the same benefits as those who were able to do it every day for ten minutes. If you do not already have it here is a ten minute guided meditation to down load. Or you might enjoy sitting for ten minutes looking out at the garden or the sky with no other distractions. Finding your way to have some purposeful silence at the start of the day.

4. Affirmations. This is one I struggle with as I think we often use affirmations to try and escape from where we are rather than face what we are feeling. I may be about to give a public talk and notice feeling anxious. Saying “I am confident and strong” a 100 times – when in fact I need to feel that I am frightened and terrified of speaking in public – will not necessarily change the fear and may just add to the sense of failure when I still feel it on standing to talk. In contrast learning to hold the fear means it can then be felt, allowed, listen to and may change…or may not, but the relationship to it has changed. Denying that it is there only pushes it under the surface and then when we dry up on giving the public talk we just feel worse because our affirmations did not work!

But perhaps there is a way of using affirmations so that we face what is there and give ourselves a boost of confidence. Saying “I am willing to feel my fear of public speaking and be patient with it”, or we may have some affirming self talk to counter the voice saying ‘you’re going to fail’ such as:”On standing to speak I will remember to take a breath and feel my feet on the floor and however it is I’m OK, I still love myself as I am, not for how I perform.” or whatever it might be that connects us to our self-worth and self-empowerment.

The second aspect of this stage is visualisations. Here we see and feel and imagine how it will be to be doing the thing we want. So we imagine how it would be to stand and talk and feel at ease, or at least to be at ease with our unease by breathing deeply and focusing on the contact with the floor. Or if we are wanting to stop smoking we visualise how we will feel when we can breathe freely again, or engage with a sport we have had to give up. The trick is to focus on the positive outcome rather than on looking at escaping from the unwanted behaviour. This links with a research project that found that when two groups of students were given a task to help a mouse through a maze (on paper) there was a distinct difference between the group helping the mouse back to its home and some tasty cheese and those helping it run home to escape an owl. The group who were taking it home to the cheese were found to be twice as open and creative in their thinking when tested afterwards. Trying to avoid the problem by running from the owl, in contrast, led to a significant decline in creative thinking and mental agility. So notice if you are using affirmations and visualisation to escape the owl of fear or a sense of weakness or anxiety about failure and instead focus on the ‘cheese’ of the good feeling of living to your full potential, or speaking clearly despite feeling nervous.

5. Morning exercise. I have recently started doing the Five Tibetans in the morning again. They are a set of five yoga moves that take around 15 minutes to do. I’ve also returned to Freeletics – a calisthenic style of workout. But it’s so easy to let it slip. So this reminds me of the value of doing the Five Tibetans every day and Freeletics four times a week. Consider what your exercise might be: yoga, a quick walk, jog or some other form of exercise. Eban Pagan, a successful entrepreneur, was asked what the number one key to success was for him. He answered “start the morning off with a personal success ritual” and then went on to emphasise the value of moving exercise as part of this ritual, explaining that it gets his heart rate up, his blood pumping and his lungs filled with air.



6. Read and write in the morning. 

i) We all know the value of reading, but it’s so easy to let the books sit by our bed as we are busy with other things. But making a new habit of reading 10 pages a day, which roughly takes 20 minutes, would result in reading approximately 18 books a year.  The suggestion is to find books that are relevant to your interest in personal growth and self awareness, but it could include any area of interest that you want to deepen your knowledge in or novels that open you to  the insights of the author about what it is to be human. After reading and taking notes then re-read or reflect on the notes. I have books full of notes on books I’ve read but when I look back I realise I forgot so much of what seemed relevant by not taking time to re-read the notes I had made and review the book. There’s the risk of moving on to the next insightful book without having fully taken in the message from the last! So the 20 minutes reading could include returning to the book we’ve just read, or taking time to reflect on the notes we made.

The app I read the book I’m summarising here is a useful place to start. If you would like to read more details of this morning routine the book is called The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod and is available for free on an App called Blinkist. All of the books are also available as an audio book. You can browse the books for free for three days then it is a paid subscription. There’s a wide selection of titles. You don’t see the whole book, but instead read a detailed summary of the key points. So you get the central message without any thing extra but if you like it you can purchase the book elsewhere and read it all!

ii) Writing for five – ten minutes in the morning to highten self awareness. This can take various forms.  There’s The Artist Way, which I have never done but friends all speak highly of.  It consists in part of keeping a morning journal to help connect with your creativity. I keep a dream journal, so spend five minutes each morning writing down my dreams from the night before. Or you may like to write out a plan for the day. The days that I do this I tend to be much more engaged with what  my intentions are for the day and less prone to drift. It can be even more useful to do this the night before, taking a few minutes to consider what your intentions are for the next day, especially anything you’re looking forward to – then your mind is able to ponder this as you sleep and dream and is more prepared for the next day, helping in the process of jumping out of bed ready to enjoy the day rather than snuggling back down.

The suggestion in this book is to keep a morning journal reflecting on the previous day. Dividing the page in half or using two facing pages label one ‘lessons learnt’, the other ‘new commitments’. This helped Elrod to feel more grateful for his life through focusing on the things he had already learnt as well as his goals for the future. By reflecting on lesson learnt it helped him to learn from his past and by looking at future goals it committed him to the changes he wanted to make in his life. The change might be being patient with how things are! It doesn’t have to be a huge goal, but one that feels right for you.

To help with this he suggests having an accountability buddy, someone whom we tell our intentions to and with whom we check in to say how we have met them, or not.  I’ll reflect more on this next week.


%d bloggers like this: