Thursday, May 31, 2018

False awakenings and real dreams

Have you experienced a false awakening? You wake from a dream, perhaps to write the dream down - and then wake again, to find there is nothing in your journal because you were writing in another dream. In the lucid dreaming literature, false awakenings are often called "pre-lucid" experiences, with the implication that they may be failed lucid dreams because the dreamer failed to become aware that he or she was dreaming. There are bigger things going on. In dreams, we awaken to other orders of reality. When we wake up in our regular bodies, we may have fallen asleep in another world. Sometimes, lying in the drifty state near sleep, I sense that as I grow drowsy, a second self, back to back with me on the bed, is stirring awake, ready to prowl. I'm intrigued by nights in which we slip from one dream into another, as if moving from an outer to an inner courtyard. Sometimes the shift is marked by the experience of falling asleep in one dream and waking up inside another. Or, coming back from an inner dream, we awaken inside an outer dream. When we mistake the outer dream for external reality, we talk of a "false awakening". In one of the big, life-changing dream adventures of my life, I woke from a dream in which a sea eagle, an aquatic raptor native to northern Australia, my native country, and to northern Scotland, the country of my paternal ancestors, flew me across an ocean to a profound experience of contact with Aboriginal elders and their Dreamings. In high excitement, I proceeded to recount the dream to a gathering of dream researchers at a conference of the Association for the Study of Dreams (as it was then called). I noticed, as I spoke, that the lecture theater we were in was too formal and structured for my taste, with desks bolted to the floor in steep banks. I did not notice, until I woke again in my body in the bed, that I was still dreaming. There was a double follow-up to that dream sequence. First, I checked with the ASD on the venue for a presentation I was to make at a forthcoming conference and found that I had been assigned a lecture theater very similar to the one in the outer dream; thanks to my dream advisory, I was able to have the venue changed to a more informal space more suited to dream experiencers. Second, on a visit to Australia I had not planned at the time of the dream, I found myself in contact with Aboriginal elders who confirmed things I had seen in the inner dream, and opened sacred space to me because I came to them with the right dream. Experiences of this kind can awaken us to the important fact that there are many levels of dreaming. As we develop the practices of Active Dreaming, including the ability to embark on conscious dream travels and to attain and maintain lucidity during our nocturnal excursions, we will learn that we can go with intention to successive levels of dreaming. Our design then becomes to bring back more from the innermost dreams, where the greatest treasures are to be found, but may be lost to memory as our dream selves wend their way back to the surface. In a program I led for sixth-graders, we were all seized with admiration for a lovely young girl who narrated a night in which she passed through seven successive dreams, nested inside each other, until she found herself in an epic of love and danger in the time of the American Revolution -and then traveled back, level by level, through the outer courts of dreaming, with exact and vivid memories of the whole adventure.
Part of our practice, as active dream travelers, is to learn to recognize personal markers that we are moving from one level of dreaming to another. Some dreamers have familiar places of transit; favorites include a locker room (a place of changing, when we think about it), a bathroom, an Eastern restaurant, grandma's house. Some of us have the frequent experience of going up or down successive levels in a building with many floors, or an elevator that works rather differently from a regular lift. Shifts from color to black and white and back again may denote transits between different levels of dreaming as well as different locales. Taking off or putting on clothes, or changing vehicles, may be another marker of switching levels. To get to higher levels, we may need to move beyond the astral body (in which we engage in many of our dream adventures) to a more subtle vehicle.    When you monitor jumps from one dream scene to another and get into the habit of asking "How did I get here?" in the dream as well as after it, you are on your way to becoming a traveler who can move fluidly from one level of dreaming to another. 
Back to the issue of the "false awakening", in which we wake from a dream only to find - when we wake again in the physical body - that we were still dreaming. In an evening in a class, I suggested that although I could not prove whether or not I was dreaming at that moment, I might be able to establish whether I was in a physical body. To dramatize this point, I took the candle from the center of the circle and dribbled hot wax onto the web between the thumb and forefinger of my left hand. As I felt the pain, I announced to the group, "I think I have established that whether or not I am dreaming, I am in a physical body right now." Then I woke up in my bed. I felt the residue of the heat and pain in my left hand, a dream hangover effect that is sometimes called astral repercussion. Growing consciousness and discernment about these things is a matter of practice, practice, practice. The reward is to become a more conscious citizen of the multiverse, awake to the fact that our ordinary lives are related to grander stories being played out, right now, in other orders of reality, able to draw from this the will to choose how we navigate life on all levels.

A nod to neuroscience: Like lucid dreams and vivid dreams in general, false awakenings seem to be most common in the early morning. Those who link states of consciousness to brain functioning would note that this is when there is an increase in subcortical activity associated with the circadian cycle.

Art: Salvador Dali, Figura asomada a la ventana (1925). Beyond the girl is the bay of Cadaqués in Catalonia, where Dali summered. Garcia Lorca, who also stayed here, said that life in Cadaqués was like a dream.


Patricia said...

I wonder if in the places where subtler vehicles are needed, if the mind, psyche is able to more easily create form from thought or creative wonderings? Talk about an experimental heaven for what if ers. Very interesting the neuroscience connection of subcortical with the circadian cycle activity. This is on that lovely edge of gleaning, but not knowing or understanding with any depth. I have only been able to hold my awareness a few times as I have dual attention with my astral body first waking up along side attention with my physical. Mostly I wake up in the middle of conversations or sensation cues and from there hold attention onward. I wonder if I have a subcortical response habit when trauma clicks in and I lose liminal attention? I think liminal practice is key to attention in the astral body. All this is very fun for me to grow a deeper understanding of. Thank you Robert.

Patricia said...

One last thought, I think even more now the mindful practice of growing ones liminal state is rather healing of trauma, I don't seem to have as many trauma triggers or intense responses since I have practiced active dreaming techniques. My tendency was to go way into subtle realms, so beautiful and safe, but that doesn't help me live in this world. It was like I had an over stretched psyche muscle and skipped practiced awareness of the middle part, so lusciously healing for life in the physical body.

Unknown said...

I love this! This is a very timely piece for me as I have just begun experiencing these false awakenings. Thank you so much for your work, Robert. You are an excellent mentor and guide.