In the late eighties, I was the book service manager at the C. G. Jung Foundation in New York. I would oftentimes meet the major Jungian analysts in the world. One day, one of the most famed Jungians of England was in the bookstore. Taking advantage of one of the perks of the job – the chance to pick the brains of the leading Jungian thinkers – I began a dialogue with him about a major interest of mine: lucid dreaming.
Lucid dreaming is when we recognize we are dreaming and continue the dream with this recognition. A few years before this conversation, I had begun having profoundly significant lucid dreams – dreams which had exponentially catapulted my own process of healing and awakening. I was curious what a traditional Jungian elder would say about the phenomena.
Much to my dismay and disappointment, this highly esteemed Jungian author pooh-poohed the practice of lucid dreaming, saying it was just hypnagogic imagery, emphatically stating his opinion that it was not a good thing for the conscious ego to interfere with the unconscious. For a traditional Jungian, the unconscious was the font of wisdom, and we shouldn’t try to direct or control it. From the Jungian point of view, we should learn from, dialogue with, and get into relationship with the unconscious. Dreams speak in the language of symbols, which from the Jungian point of view compensate an overly one-sided attitude of consciousness. In essence, to a Jungian, dreams are a self-balancing mechanism of the psyche which serve to integrate the conscious and the unconscious. Who can disagree or argue with any of this?
This particular Jungian scholar was of the opinion, however, that it was a mistake to intervene in the dream with the conscious ego, as to do so would be getting in the way of a deeper process of guidance that needed to be kept pure. I have since learned that he wasn’t speaking for Jung, though he thought he was, as Jung himself was much more turned on to the dreamlike nature of experience.
The Jungian, perhaps due to lack of first-hand experience in lucid dreaming, misunderstood that lucid dreaming meant that the conscious ego, a sort of command center of the dream, would then control the dream upon the arising of lucidity. This is a fallacious understanding of both what lucid dreaming is and what lucid dreaming is revealing to us about ourselves. Lucid dreaming is a perfect metaphor, expression, and vehicle for realizing the dreamlike nature of both our experience of ourselves and the world around us. Just like we can become lucid in our night dreams, we can wake up in our waking dream and see how we are all collaboratively “dreaming up” our world into materialization, a realization which empowers us to co-operatively change the collective dream we are having.
When we become lucid in a dream, we realize that who we’ve imagined we are, what is called the “dream ego,” is not who we actually are, but is merely a model of who we are. To identify with the dream ego is to become bewitched, fixated on and absorbed into a particularized stance which ultimately is illusory in that it has no substantial existence. Entrancing ourselves into imagining we exist in a way in which we simply do not is simultaneously a cause and result of a self-generating, auto-hypnotic self-constriction in consciousness which, ultimately speaking, we are doing to ourselves. It is what I call ME disease, whose root is a mis-identification of who we imagine we are (please see my book, The Madness of George W. Bush: A Reflection of our Collective Psychosis).
When we become lucid in a dream, we realize that who we were imagining we are – the dream ego – is being dreamed by a deeper part of ourselves…what I call the “deeper, dreaming Self.” Jung himself had this realization in a dream he had during the last years of his life. In the dream he entered a church, and much to his surprise saw a meditating yogi sitting in front of the church. Upon closer inspection, Jung saw that the yogi had his face, and Jung then realized that the yogi was not Jung’s dream, but that he was the yogi’s dream.
In full-blown lucidity, we have an expansion of identity. We discover our inseparability and co-extensiveness with all parts of the dream. This is not a realization that belongs to the egoic, separate self, which is moment by moment contracting against itself, continually trying to strategize and manipulate the dream so as to full-fill its imagined sense of lack. The egoic, separate self is itself the very seeming obscuration to our natural lucidity, so how can it possibly become lucid? Rather, lucidity is an expression that we’ve seen through our self-created illusion and recognized the true nature of our situation, of who we actually are.
When we become lucid in a dream, we don’t “control” what happens in the dream from any sort of personal agency, but rather we change our relationship to the dream. Stabilizing our lucidity, we are able to fluidly dance and flow with the dream so as to co-create with it, instead of fighting, resisting, damning and cursing it. Aligning with the dream, we become open channels for a more refined “order” to incarnate itself through us. We are truly instrumental instrumentalists of a greater symphonic orchestra thankfully conducted by someone other than our own ego.
Recognizing the nature of our situation and becoming lucid, we recognize that the seemingly externalized dreamscape, the universe we were experiencing as outside of ourselves, is actually a mirrored reflection of our own inner landscape. Our lucidity is instantaneously reflected back by the dream, which shape-shifts in no-time, as the dream is nothing other than a projection of our own mind.
I had an amazing lucid dream that night after my conversation with the Jungian professor. In the dream, I was working at the bookstore, and I began to float up in the air and realized I was dreaming. I started flying in the air, circling the aforementioned Jungian, who just happened to be in the bookstore at the time. All the while I was saying to him that this was a dream, and I asked him if he realized he was dreaming. He paid no attention, as if he didn’t find my reflections of any value, having seemingly more important things to attend to. After a little while, I woke up.
My dream was my unconscious’ way of symbolically expressing what I had experienced with the Jungian earlier in the day. My dream was also showing me different aspects of myself, all simultaneously encoded in the fabric of the dream. Being a dream character, the figure of the Jungian, though a brilliant scholar, was a re-presentation of an asleep aspect of myself. In my dream, he symbolized a part of me that was so absorbed in the dream (and in his head) that he was asleep to the fact that he was inside of a dream, not knowing the true nature of his experience. The dream was actually prompting him to wake up, and he was so asleep that he didn’t recognize what was being offered. As if under a spell, his attention was fixated in a limited way that wasn’t open to what was happening right in front of him. As a figure in my dream, he is a reflection of this part of myself.
In my night dream with the Jungian, I was trying to wake up this asleep part of myself, which on one hand is a great thing to do, a seemingly bodhisattvic act. Who can argue with the merit of trying to help awaken another being? At the same time that the dream was an expression of my lucidity, however, it was also showing me an asleep part of myself, not only “objectively” in the dreamed-up figure of the Jungian, but “subjectively,” in what I was doing in the dream. For if I’m trying to wake up someone else in a dream, then who is the one who is asleep but me?
It is important to differentiate the many different nuances and degrees of meaning in the word “lucid.” It is possible to have a high degree of lucidity and still be identifying with a certain fixed perspective that is itself fundamentally insubstantial and has no inherent reality.
To wake up in a dream, night or waking, and to be thinking there are “other” beings to save is still to be somewhat asleep. If one is fully lucid in a dream, one realizes there are no separate “others,” but rather, that all of one’s dream characters are reflections of oneself. In a full-blown lucid dream, the boundary dissolves between inner and outer, between waking and dreaming, between matter and spirit, and between Self and other.
If I’m lucid in a dream, the dream reflects back my own lucidity. When someone wakes up in a dream, they see through, and don’t get hooked by, the sometimes very convincing display that other people are asleep (what I call their “Halloween costume”), but rather see everyone as being an unmediated expression of the awakened one (him or herself). In essence, when one person wakes up, the whole universe wakes up with them, or to say it differently, when we wake up we recognize that the universe has always been awake.
From the lucid perspective, there is no one who needs to be awakened, for everyone equally shares in the awakened nature. Paradoxically, this realization that no one needs awakening inspires us to ceaselessly work for the awakening of all beings. Recognizing our life as a mass shared dream, we compassionately cultivate skillful means to help all the seemingly asleep and apparently other parts of ourselves to awaken to our always existing, already perfected true nature.
My dream is simultaneously revealing both the profundity as well as the potential shadow side of being concerned with awakening an-other. On the one hand, it is the most beautiful and healing thing we can do to step out of our narcissistic fixation, forget about ourselves and put our attention on serving other beings. On the other hand, the potential shadow side of this process is that having woken up in the dream, am I becoming entranced by the forms of the dream? When I focus my energy outside of myself to try to change the dream and to improve my dream characters, am I doing this instead of being in self-referral? Putting my attention outside of myself on an-other’s state of consciousness could be an expression of an asleep part of myself, as it could be a form of avoiding relationship with myself. In this case, my actions to help are not pure, as they are being filtered through and ultimately reinforcing my narcissistic, unhealed wound.
The question is: Am I further stimulating my lucidity by helping “other” beings to awaken, or am I just en-acting my unconscious, habitual pattern of putting my awareness outside of myself under the guise of helping others, keeping myself asleep in the process?
When I do dream-work and reflect upon my dream, I see both parts of me woven in my act of trying to awaken my Jungian friend. There is a part of me that has pure intention. There is also another part of me that is unknowingly acting out a habitual pattern of wanting other people to “get something,” which is an unconscious tendency to project my own authority, my own knowing outside of myself. This is ultimately an attempt to not take responsibility for my own experience.
Dreams are multi-dimensional in that both points of view are true: I was acting from a pure, bodhisattvic intention, while simultaneously acting out an unconscious shadow element, a traumatized part of my soul. Like a symbol that contains and potentially unites the opposites, the dream is revealing and integrating these two parts of me. Dreams are an expression of our unconscious, while at the same time being an expression of, and the vehicle through which, consciousness gives birth to itself.
One aspect of the non-local nature of the unconscious is that as we contemplate the unconscious, it draws us into itself in a way where we cannot help but become involved and actively engaged with it. Our dreams are inviting us to step into them and realize our true author-ity in their creation. Whether we know it or not, we participate in the manifestation of the unconscious in each and every moment. We are affected and influenced by the unconscious. Simultaneously we affect and influence the unconscious. The unconscious is reflecting this back to us, and all that is needed is our recognition of what is being revealed.
A deeper process, the origins of which lie in the collective unconscious, is synchronistic-ally expressing itself in, through and as, collective world events. The source of what is playing out en masse on the world stage is to be found within the psyche of humanity. Are we dreaming up our collective nightmare so as to awaken ourselves?
What if our dreams are actually waking us up? I think of a dream I had a few years ago in which a dream character said to me, “Why don’t you imagine you’ve become lucid right now?” I took his advice, adopting the point of view that I was in fact dreaming, which of course helped me to become lucid. Amazingly enough, the dream itself had conspired with me to wake me up. Is this dream a reflection that the universe is always potentially awakening us, and is realizing this itself an expression of our emerging lucidity?
I literally dreamed up the dream to wake me up. The dream figure who suggested to me that I should imagine becoming lucid was an awake part of myself I had projected out and dreamed up seemingly outside of myself so as to see, relate with and take into myself. The unconscious always manifests itself through the circuitous route of projection, which is to say that the unconscious approaches us from seemingly outside of ourselves. This dream figure who suggested I imagine lucidity is what I call a “lucidity stimulator” – those endless variations of clues and reminders encoded in the fabric of the night or waking dream – helping us to remember the dreamlike nature of our experience. Maybe everything can become a lucidity stimulator if we see it as such.
We establish our residence in lucidity by recognizing the intrinsically revelatory nature of our experience. What if the unconscious is revealing itself through our dreams (both night and waking) so as to help us recognize that we ourselves are the source of our experience? Recognizing the reflex-ive and reflective nature of both our night and our waking dreams is a self-empowering realization which transforms us from being passive, detached witnesses to active collaborators and creative, participatory agents in our own dreaming process. Once enough of us connect through the open heart of lucidity, all bets are off, as the only limit is our own lack of imagination – a limit that is itself truly imaginary.
© Copyright 2008, Paul Levy
Images by h.koppdelaney used courtesy of a Creative Commons license.