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Don't Go Back to Sleep: A Beginner's Guide to Lucid Dreaming

Ted E. Tollefson

Spirits are crossing back and forth at the doorway where the two worlds meet.
Don't go back to sleep!

-- Rumi

For thousands of years wise wo/men from many cultures have found in the Dreamtime a storehouse of images for knowledge, healing and power. Indigenous shamans, like Carols Castaneda's "Don Juan", use dreaming to be-friend spirit guides, find healing plants or mediate between the living and the dead. Tibetan Buddhism, which artfully combines Buddhist philosophy with indigenous Tibetan Bon shamanism, regards dreaming as a gateway to the "clear light" of our Buddha Nature. Australian Aboriginies have preserved a 30,000 year heritage in which the meaning of every act and place is informed by its origins in the "Dreamtime."

For many archaic traditions lucid dreaming is the key to unlock the treasure-house of the night. In lucid dreams, we become aware that we are dreaming and can influence or shape our dreams. Often the awareness that we are dreaming is triggered by incongruity: the clock on the wall runs backwards, a familiar face is strangely hybridized. The dreamer can accelerate this process by reality -testing: if you can fly, change your shape or push your hand through a solid wall without doing harm you're probably dreaming. The ability to influence or shape the dream allows allows the dreamer to fly, seek pleasure, consult spirit-guides, or heal old wounds. Much that we have regarded as religious revelation may have originated in lucid dreams.

In the last 20 years, several western authors have attempted to make lucid dreaming available to the rest of us. Carlos Castaneda's books, including The Art of Dreaming, speak of several methods for invoking lucid dreams and also demonstrate the power of dreaming to create stories which hover between fact and fiction. An insider's guide to Tibetan dream yoga is to provided in Dream Yoga and the Practice of Natural Light by Namkhai Norbu. Perhaps the most stunning compendium on the theory and practice of lucid dreaming is Malcom Godwin's lavishly illustrated The Lucid Dreamer: A Waking Guide for the Traveler Between the Worlds. Those seeking a more general guidebook which places lucid dreaming in the context of a comprehensive approach to dreamwork will find it in Strephon Kaplan-William's Dreamworking.

The limitations of lucid dreaming are suggested by a dream I had many years ago while in graduate school:

I am welcomed into a room by the principals for whom I have taught. As they are about to speak, I wake up and announce that I am the dreamer of this dream. If I don't like what they say, I may change it. They smile and bow. One says: "We can see that you are not yet ready to receive our guidance.î The doors open, I am outside their office . I lose consciousness in the dream.


Lucidity without wisdom and compassion could turn the Dreamtime into another Megamall filled with alluring but empty pleasures. If as Carl Jung
suggested the dreamer is a child conversing with a 30,000 year old Teacher, we ought to think carefully about who's in charge of our dreaming.

A Took-Kit for Lucid Dreamers

Here are some of the tools I have found most useful for inviting lucid dreams.

  1. As you go to sleep, review the day's events. Watch without judging. Cultivate a fair witness to your life. As you drift off to sleep, picture yourself awakening in your dream.
  2. When dreaming, look for incongruity. Try to fly or test the rules of physics. When you awaken, look for your hands or feel your breath.
  3. Once awake , say aloud "I am the dreamer of this dream". Reach out with your hands to make contact with other dream-characters. Thank them. Ask for their guidance.
  4. Look for or create a mirror in your dream. Watch without judgment or expectation. Be present.
  5. Think twice before using other dream-characters for your pleasure. When in doubt, apply the "Golden Rule".
  6. Forgive yourself for not awakening or not remembering your dreams.

Several recent books offer excellent guidance for Lucid Dreaming.

  1. The Lucid Dreamer: A Waking Guide for the Traveler Between the Worlds, Malcolm Godwin. A stunning compendium on the theory and practice of lucid dreaming. Lavishly illustrated, cross-culturally saavy, hands-on techniques.
  2. The Art of Dreaming, Carlos Castaneda (HarperCollins,1994). Alluring accounts of Yaqui dream practices hovering between fact and fiction.
  3. Lucid Dreaming, Stephen LaBerge (Tarcher, 1985). The best scientific approach to lucid dreaming.
  4. Dream Yoga and the Practice of Natural Light, Namkhai Norbu (Snow Lion, 1992). Insights and techniques from the Tibetan tradition.
  5. Dreamworking, Strephon Kaplan-Williams (Journey Press, 1991). Everything you need to set lucid dreaming in the context of waking and dreaming.