Electric Dreams

Philosophy, Mysticism, and the Lucid Dreaming Experience

John Mott 

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Mott, John (1995 October2). Philosophy, Mysticism, and the Lucid Dreaming Experience. Electric Dreams 2(12). Retrieved July 31, 2000 from Electric Dreams on the World Wide Web: http://www.dreamgate.com/electric-dreams  

I'm a regular reader of the alt.dreams.lucid usenet newsgroup. Its an interesting forum where kooks and scientists collide and the messages range from boring to stimulating concerning the subject of lucid dreaming.

Lucid dreams are shifty sorts of things and as a discipline we're in the early stages of trying to sort out the rules about how to proceed with discussing them with each other. There is still a lot of argument about matters which are not strictly related to lucid dreaming but which attempt to stake a claim at being important.

The first matter relates to essentially philosophical discussions of the "nature of consciousness" and the "what is reality" flavor. Another is a distinctly mystical perspective on the whole matter, in which lucid dreams are perceived to be evidence of other "planes" of existence or some such.

First I thought I would tackle the purely philosophical angle. The study of dreams brings out the philosopher in many people. A lucid dream, for those who have experienced it, is a conscious experience involving a significant chunk of our daily self awareness. It does not involve all of it because we do not readily have access to all of our normal daily memories and associations.

The fact that so much makes sense in dreams that isn't part of our daily world is a testimony to the way in which we are separated from our daily memories. Occasionally when I have been lucid I have been unable to remember my address nor have I been able to remember what my house looks like as well as many other ordinary details of my life.

There are huge holes, and when we dream we seem to draw upon a different set of memories and associations. I call these different memories and associations the "dream brain". Its an intuitive handle, not meant to imply an actual organ of any kind.

Nonetheless it is a conscious experience containing the essential "I-ness" with which we identify as being ourselves. Its us in there, in other words. Now, I had to suffer through freshmen philosophy in college as I'm sure many others did and I know I speak for many others in recalling the complete sense of futility I felt at the discussions that took place, many of which took the form of "prove you exist" or something equally inane. I apologize to anyone who takes it seriously but its just impossible for me to get anything out of it.

The discussions on the net continue in this great tradition by trying to define what "I" means in the phrase "I think, therefore I am", for instance, or worrying about whether reality exists outside of ourselves, which of course leads to an argument about what "we" are and what we mean by "reality". Its so tedious.

They go into great detail with lots of big words but the discussions essentially come down to bickering over semantics and are marked with a complete inability to even establish a common frame of reference in which to have a discussion.

The reason that they're doing this is because this conscious experience implies something about the nature of consciousness, the nature of "us-ness" and they, in a well meaning way, want to define what this is.

However, this argument has been going on as long as there has been language before lucid dreaming even came onto the scene.

I do not question the fact of my existence, nor do I use language to justify my presence here, nor do I bother to define "here". The casual everyday use of the words have an obvious intuitive meaning and I will take no time in defending the use of them.

My efforts at learning more about lucid dreams have been an exploration of the transition between wake and sleep. I believe that this fringe area is the place to study because it readily contains elements of both states. Learning the transition has been difficult and has taken a lot of time and is an ongoing project. I do make progress, though.

It has never been the case that learning about this transition required that I question the nature of "I-ness". It has meant learning new skills, learning to sort of catch yourself in the act of thinking for the purposes of learning to be more quiet but this was not a philosophical effort guided by ideas and concepts, it was an in-the-trenches effort at finding and learning a discipline, a discipline not unlike the discipline of learning a skill or a body of knowledge, pure application of self towards a goal in the way that everyone already knows how to do and has done in other areas of life.

When lucid in the dream environment we are aware of ourselves just as surely as we can be aware of ourselves in the daily world. This is an experience in life, a life experience, just as surely as going to a wedding is or reading the paper is. It does not occur in the daily physical world, though, and this sticky matter is what causes a lot of problems for people. The question "where do dreams occur" hints, to the philosopher, that "place" and "I-ness" may perhaps be intertwined.

For me its enough that the images and scenes and dream events do occur. I have found that simply accepting this without concern for a model of where or why is really quite easy, as easy as the fact that rolling out of bed every day to face the world does not require that I have a model either.

While the philosophers argue about terminology, many people post with a religious or mystical bent, seeking to associate the experience with their world view, world views which seem to invariably involve self denial or submission to their authority. These mystical legions insist that dreams are a link with something else, a path to God perhaps.

Lucid dreams are even farther "up" on the scale but of course these posts come frequently with warnings that there are dangers lurking which can only be warded off by (guess what) following their beliefs or rituals.

Many religions and systems use these experiences as part of their world view. There is actually a Eckankar center here in Nashville which I drive by on the way to a recycling center. The sign out front says "Religion in the sight and sound of God".

The logic behind that, I suppose, is that because lucid experiences are not physical they MUST, by process of elimination, be closer to God, where God is the remotest non-physical part of the picture and where the physical world is the lowest of the low in the universal pecking order, a place to get far away from, to hear them and their ilk talk.

Eck is but one of many systems which take advantage of the relative rarity of the lucid experience and cloak it in a mystique, keeping it tightly reigned in as a part of a whole package which, as you can expect, has as part and parcel rituals and beliefs and complete world views which you must adopt in order to have the experience.

Here I'll talk some about myself and my own approach and history because I think I can make a better point by talking about my own experience rather than simply critiquing what others say.

In some ways I could be called a fundamentalist New-Ager, if the essence of the New Age seeks a direct relationship with the life experience and its mysteries with no intervening systems or beliefs. I won't have any that nonsense of certain beliefs, rituals, writings, or ideas interfering with me and life. No crystals, no spacey music, no drums, no books, no kooky ideas outside of my personal experience, no meetings with others of a like mind, no nothing. If its true in my personal experience then its true, period. I am very careful about inferences or interpretations but my experiences are my guide. The life experience says it, I believe it, and that settles it, to paraphrase my fundamentalist Christian brethren, and I smile as the irony of the comparison is not lost on me.

I do not belong to any religion or follow any teachings because I've always been resistant to the idea that any formal body of ideas could be considered correct and exclusively true. That does not diminish my sense of wonder about life, though, it just keeps me from shaving my head and wearing orange or giving my possessions to some kook.

For me life is wonderful and mysterious but I'm a rugged individualist when it comes to my relationship with life or God, if you will. I don't let anything in between me and it, and I do not seek to contain it or define it with my own set of ideas and beliefs about things I don't directly experience.

With that as an introduction, I used to interpret my lucid dreams as mystical. When I say that I interpreted them as mystical I mean that they were not part of my daily life, they were a hint at the "something greater" aspect which we all feel from time to time. In that regard I was no different than the Ecksters or others. I assigned to lucid dreams the role of mystical experience and therefore when I would have lucid dreams I would have very deep and very strong feelings. I would frequently experience what can only be termed religious ecstasy after these experiences.

Now, religious ecstasy is a part of the life experience. I'm glad that I've had a chance to get my fill of it. You would think that this is a sort of state that one would seek out all the time, being bliss and all, but believe it or not that's not the case. Its very sweet as it occurs but its difficult to make the transition back from bliss into daily affairs, its distracting and leads to "bliss hangovers". You think I'm joking and there is a humorous aspect to it which is not lost on me but this was a real phenomenon and became a problem for me.

I would have lucid dreams frequently on the weekends when I could sleep later. Especially on Sunday mornings a few years ago in the fall they were becoming more prevalent and I would take long walks in the park alone just filled with joy and sweetness. It was so intense, though, that when I got back to the house it became very difficult to just sit down and watch football, something I enjoy, because I was drained in a way. This could last for a couple of days and extend into work where it was difficult to make the transition back into the workaday world. As I said the experiences became more frequent and this was occurring more and more.

It finally came to a head when I realized that in order to begin making real progress with dreams I was going to have to "un-mystify" them, to stop treating them like mystical experiences. I simply couldn't function in a healthy way being blissed out or recovering from it so frequently.

Isn't that interesting? I learned something from that. By overdosing on bliss I came to see it as a part of life, and something that can be part of a good life, but nonetheless something which could be overdone. It was NOT the case that this state was where we were supposed to all end up, it was just one of the life experiences laid out on the table for us to sample from. I learned in a very deep and profound way that the best of life is NOT a state of bliss. It is NOT the place we should all be trying to get to. Its like being high, and when you get high you must come down again. Its a great high, but its still a high. Of course, in moderation it can be very enriching.

Anyway, I had several long talks with myself in which I realized that something was going to have to change, that I was going to have to start treating lucid experiences as being more ordinary if I was going to learn more about them. The act of having these conversations and being honest with myself was all it took, a lesson I've since seen repeated. By simply focusing on and being sincere about the desire to de-mystify the experience I simply began to not treat them that way and so I stopped reacting to them in that way.

They lost their mystical quality, and I gained. I gained because I saw that treating them as casual everyday , things is ok, their function or nature did not change a bit. In fact I could really start a more earnest effort because the whole effort became less emotional, more casual, more of a hobby. I still had to make the same efforts as before, they did not all of a sudden start happening with greater frequency but I removed one of the roadblocks which I had placed there and I could now pursue them with more efficiency.

That transition was an important building block. Now I work with dream material every day and it isn't a big deal to me. Its just part of the same mysterious and wondrous life I lead every day, just as casual and frustrating and rewarding and painful. Part of the same thing. Not different. Not alien. Not part of another dimension. Not another "plane of existence". Part of this place. Part of the same place where we worry about amperage ratings on air conditioning units and are surprised and frustrated by the actions of our family members and are gleeful about how deliciously bad-to-the-bone Clint Eastwood is in "For a Few Dollars More".

The same place where we wake up and find that we're out of coffee so we drive to the store before work just to get some. The same place that we watch our friendships deepen over time and become so easy. The same place where we watch the first few leaves fall from trees as the summer draws to a close and find renewal in the never ending cycles in this place, this life.

I talked about all of that to show that I'm not dry and serious but also to show that we have a choice about how this experience can be treated. The experience itself is not affected by our view of it, just as the stars didn't care when we stopped seeing them as holes in the firmament and started seeing them as burning balls of hydrogen.

When I read posts by people pushing a mystical perspective on lucid experiences I remember my experiences and history and I think "they're missing out on something". They think that they're being respectful but they're placing something on a pedestal which does not ask to be there, and as we know things on a pedestal are harder to reach. Why not just keep it here on the counter next to the flour and sugar?

It is so sweet to have these experiences be just part of the daily mix, not tagged as requiring extra mental effort to process or deal with. Not things which take away from our lives and require an emotional price but which instead add to our life, experiences which become dependable and counted upon and form a new leg to stand upon.