(Linda will be teaching an upcoming Dreamyoga session at Karma Yoga Center
in Denver in February. See website for details.)
Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakens ~Carl Jung
“I don’t remember a lot of them,” my friend Jay told me when I asked him to tell me a recent dream. “Most of them I’m happy to forget. They’re very strange and often scary.”
Jay is a devoted practitioner of mindfulness in his waking life: he is a practiced yogi, a conscious writer, and consistent meditator. He extends awareness into his daily life, paying close attention to the details of his experience: he hears the music, sees the trees, feels his workouts as moving meditations. But the minute his head hits the pillow, the awareness stops.
Not remembering or paying attention to dreams is not at all uncommon or surprising; after all, ours is a culture that does not support dreamlife as valuable. Yet it is only recently in the context of history dreams have become inconsequential, unimportant. Overwhelmingly, dreams have been regarded as mystical, mysterious, and containing great power. In shamanic cultures, dreams were vital to both the individual dreamer and the community, as food sources could be divined in dreams. The Greeks built temples and asked the gods to gift them with a dream to address their psychological torment, or to heal their physical ills.
Many religions and cultures (Native Americans, Hindus, Sufis, Buddhist, and Tibetans perhaps most extensively of all) contain teachings related to Dreamyoga, a practice which seeks to extend our consciousness into the dreaming and sleep state, with the ultimate goal of waking up from the Big Dream, the illusion that is waking life. Tibetan traditions say awareness in the dream/sleep state prepares us for awareness in the sleep immediately following death, or the bardo.
Lucid dreaming – when you’re dreaming and you know you’re dreaming – forms a foundational practice of Dreamyoga. Chances are you’ve experienced a lucid dream spontaneously at some point in your life. If you have, you know that ‘waking up’ in the dream liberated you: you were free to choose your next action unencumbered by the laws of physics; in fact, no limits exist when you are dreaming.
You can fly or have sex (which is the first things most people do when they realize they are dreaming). You can change into various forms, travel to boundaries of experience, travel beyond them, create, mend relationships, receive teachings, inspirations for your music, your writing. Transforming, dissolving boundaries, and facing monsters all have symbolic relevance that translates to our physical lives.
These are all worthy reasons to practice dreamyoga; but simply allowing your dream ego (“you” in the dream) to pay attention to what the dream tells you without changing anything may bestow the most valuable information.
The dream world is the real world. ~Seneca Indian Healer
About ten years ago, I dreamed I took my then 2 year old son to the doctor and was told that ‘we’ had diabetes. I responded, “Oh. OK”, and carried my diaper-clad toddler out of the clinic. My emotion upon waking could best be described as neutral.
I examined the dream the next morning as I was accustomed to doing. I knew not one thing about diabetes, knew no one who had it, so I looked up the symptoms in a medical book we had on the shelf to try to ascertain some symbolic meaning of the disease relevant to my life. The best I could come up with was, “my life’s out of balance.” Big surprise. I had two toddlers. I didn’t need a dream to tell me something I was already conscious of. I promptly dropped the effort and resumed my daily life.
I cannot say if the dream was the reason I picked up the phone and hesitantly asked his pediatric nurse, “Is this anything”? I cannot say if it was because of the dream we narrowly warded off a hospitalization because his symptoms were diagnosed as Type 1 Diabetes in the nick of time, just before they became life threatening. But it seems an awfully strange synchronicity.
As you know from the psychotic nature of your own dreams, not all of them are going to seem rich with meaning. Carl Jung agrees with other traditions that say dream images arise from different levels of psyche: indeed some just seem like regurgitated chaos from the day; others arise from a person’s personal life experiences and past; and then there are those that come from a deep level of psyche we all share which Jung called the collective unconscious. Here we can receive teachings and gain vital knowledge not available to us in our waking lives.
You will be happy to learn that if you are practicing awareness in your waking life like my friend Jay, you are already practicing Dreamyoga. Anything you do in your daily life to enhance consciousness will assist your yogic efforts in your dreams. Here are some dreamyoga techniques you can practice:
Cultivate Dream Memory
Even if you haven’t remembered a dream in years, dream memory can improve quite steadily with minimal effort.
Set an intention: As with other yoga practices, this creates a powerful focus. Simply tell yourself before going to bed that you are going to remember your dreams.
Don’t move: when you wake from a dream, try not to jump out of bed right away, or even change your bodily position; linger a few moments and take note of any images you recall; perhaps you feel a lingering emotion, or see a flash of color. It’s all good.
Write it down: advice you’ve probably heard before…keep a small notepad or journal at your bedside and record any memory you have before you leave the bed or you will lose it before you reach the bathroom. You may recall more of your dream randomly later in the day…pay attention to what triggered the memory and add in this new information.
*In your entry, consider any or all of the following regarding your dream or dreams:
- Setting (indoor, outdoors, etc.)
- Characters (relatives, friends, strangers, celebrities)
- Nature of interactions (friendly, hostile, sexual, etc.)
- Action (running, jumping, flying)
- Outcome (success, failure)
- Emotions (fear, happiness, confusion)
- Relationship of the images relevant to your current life concerns
Record your dream in the present tense: “I am walking in a deep, dark canyon…” vs. “I was walking…”. This assists recall and may help you remember more details.
Give it a title: this may cut to the heart of your dream’s theme quickly and succinctly in a surprising way.
In addition to cultivating dream recall (which will enhance lucidity, or consciousness, within a dream), try the following if you catch yourself dreaming:
Give yourself a task: Tell yourself you will notice something specific in a dream, like a piece of jewelry you always wear, or something unique about your hand. This will serve as a clue that you are dreaming.
Test your consciousness: If you are able to catch yourself dreaming, stop and look around. Are things defying physical laws? For example, do the trees look real, or are they transparent, for example, or odd colors? Touch one-is it solid like you know a tree to be, or is it wavy and electric?
Reflect: To allow dreams to guide and direct your physical life, reflection on the dream while awake is essential. So take some time the next day and consider the emotions the images evoked in you (which can be quite intense). Let it speak to you about its meaning, and resist allowing the ego to put a positive slant on even the most unflattering information. Receive the dream’s message, and don’t worry if you don’t understand, or only understand a piece of the dream. Future dreams will help you with subsequent steps.
Take action in your waking life: Use your physical body in service of the dream; so, if you hear a peculiar name in your dream, for example, or see a species of animal, do a simple web search and see what comes up. If you hear a song, listen to it the next day, paying attention to the lyrics and what the melody invokes in you. If you gained relationship insights, talk to the person involved.
Everything from musical masterpieces to scientific discoveries have been credited to dreams. Einstein said it was dreams which allowed him to travel to the boundaries of science and return with new theories which transformed our thinking and our world. Breaking out of boundaries IS what allows us to collectively transform and evolve. I’d say that’s pretty important to the human race, so I invite you to wake up to your dreams for the benefit of all. Please dream strong and wise.