The following is adapted from a presentation given by Robert Waggoner at the
Association for the Study of Dreams conference held in July 2001.
Lucid Dreaming and the Deceased
by Robert Waggoner
Over the years I have noticed that when experienced lucid dreamers are asked,
"How has lucid dreaming changed you or your view of the world?", many
of them respond by saying that lucid dreaming has completely reduced their fear
of death. In fact, some lucid dreamers respond that they have virtually no fear
At first glance, the connection between lucid dreaming and losing the fear of
death seems to be a very tenuous one at best. But it is a connection that comes
via deep experience, as lucid dreamers discover that their conscious awareness,
curiosity, personal focus and intent can exist in a wonderfully alive and active
mental form and a fascinating mental environment of deep sensation and meaning.
As lucid dreamers uncover deeper and broader lucid experiences, they often
question that "IF" one can exist in a mental form in a mental
environment, then upon Death (the physical event) when one obviously loses any
physical function, is it possible that they would adopt something like this
mental form which exists in the mental environment? And would their identity
continue in this afterdeath state, similar to its existence as a mental form
existing in a mental environment of lucid dreaming?
Tibetan Buddhists have asserted a clear connection between lucid dreaming and
the afterdeath experience. In his book, The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and
Sleep,Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche states repeatedly that "All the dream and
sleep practices are, on one level, preparations for death." (p.181).
Similarly, a close reading of The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal
Rinpoche in Chapter 18 "The Bardo of Becoming" with a subsection
entitled "The Mental Body" shows significant parallels between the
state of lucid dreaming and a lucid dreamer's abilities and that of a deceased
person in the state of the bardo.
But even if one concurs that there are striking similarities between lucid
dreaming and the bardo of becoming, how could one investigate the possible
linkage between lucid dreaming and the after death experience further and see if
there is a deeper basis than historical anecdotes, religious traditions, and
correlation of experience? The answer is, when lucid, set up an experiment and
try to obtain information from the deceased. This is what I did in lucid dream
about 18 months after my father's passing.
April 20-21, 1999 "Talking To My Dead Father" -- Lucid Dream.
"The dream scene is basically like a dark stage. Suddenly I see a golden
wood ladder right in front of me, hanging in the air. I can see the polished
wood gleaming and the thin grain lines on the wood. Suddenly I see a foot and
then another and look up -- I recognize my dad is coming down the gold ladder. I
realize, "Hey, Dad is dead" and think, "well, then this is a
dream". In my lucidity, I am a bit surprised by his bad haircut, and grin
at the absurdity of not getting a good haircut in the afterdeath state! He looks
about 60 years old and very healthy, even though he passed on at 82.
I think that since he's dead, I'll ask him some questions about death. He
tells me that he is doing fine. Then I ask, "Dad. Tell me, when do you
think Mrs. X will die?" He looks at me and says "Oh, she will probably
die in 2 to 6 years." (In my dream journal, I have written 'heart' but I
can't recall if he said she'd have heart problems. To the best of my knowledge
she has never been bothered by heart problems.) I ask him some other questions.
He says something like the coming months may be challenging for our family, but
that we can make it. I get the feeling that August will be the most difficult.
He also tells me firmly that I need to be more compassionate and understanding
of one family member (as if to say that I know better). He has some other advice
but upon awakening, this is all I recall. I felt very pleased to see him."
As a postscript, the information provided about Mrs. X was very interesting.
Almost two years later, Mrs. X went to the hospital in March 2001, complaining
of shortness of breath. It took the doctors a few weeks to diagnose the problem,
and they told her she had a rare, heart problem, in which the muscles of the
heart begin to thicken and can't keep up with the supply of blood, so the blood
backs up into the lungs and creates a shortness of breath. They said her veins
and arteries were very healthy, and prescribed medication to help her heart.
Prior to this, she had never evidenced heart problems.
Similarly, within a month or two of this dream, my sister's house in Kansas
was barely missed by a tornado that destroyed nearby houses and severely damaged
her roof. And I took seriously his admonition to be more compassionate and
understanding to a family member, resulting in a much healthier relationship.
My point in writing this is to express the solace and warmth that I felt from
my dreams, as they prepared me for my father's death, and then helped me
afterwards in the realization that some part of his spirit carries on and
continues to care for our family. For me, lucidity is a wonderful platform from
which to experiment on the deep questions of life. Lucidity has the ability to
show us that we can happily exist in a mental form in a mental environment and
find meaning, joy and wonder in the lucid state. If upon our physical death and
the loss of our physical functions, we adopt this mental form of our lucid
dreams, then what? Though I may grieve that the deceased and I are no longer
sharing the same environment, I can not grieve that one's consciousness has been
forever extinguished. The light of that consciousness lingers on, and I feel
that we can meet it in the beautiful and awesome world of dreams.
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