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Levels of Lucidity: A Close Reading © Matthew Thomas. Illustrations by Riko Kusuhara

Author’s Note: This paper was first presented at the International Association for the Study of Dreams (IASD) PsiberDreaming Conference 2018. Special thanks go to my illustrator Ms. Riko Kusahara, with deep appreciation.

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The difference between most people and myself is that for me the “dividing walls” are transparent. That is my peculiarity.

Carl Jung

The conventional scientific sentiment has become that—while we don’t totally understand why dreaming happens—the dreams themselves are meaningless. They’re images and sounds we unconsciously collect, almost at random {…} Which seems like a potentially massive misjudgement.

Chuck Klosterman

I: I awake in a warehouse. The bed is against one wall–on the other is a thirty-foot mountain of cantaloupes. I realize I am dreaming. I get up and run my hands over the cantaloupes. They feel absolutely real—as tangible as in life. I remember that tangibility is not a viable reality test— I’ve made that mistake before. Now fully lucid, I decide to levitate. The room dissolves, and I float suspended in dense, colourless space. Eventually, I feel the need to come back to earth but cannot locate it. I feel something beneath me. This is my bed, and I awake back in the warehouse, relieved yet exhilarated. The cantaloupes are still there, however I don’t question them. I just happen to live in a room full of fruit. Moments later I awake again, this time in diurnal “reality.”

The most common dream experience is of waking from a dream we take to be real, only to understand that it was “just a dream.” However, a subset of dreamers, probably more than we generally imagine, have experienced lucid dreams, dreams in which, to some degree, they are aware they are dreaming. Lucid dreamers may also experience “false awakenings” (1)— the sensation of waking progressively through dream “levels.” False awakenings can be disorienting {Robert Waggoner writes that after seven successive false awakenings he “would accept … any reality … as long as it stayed put” (2)}, or sought after {Daniel Love and Keith Hearne have independently developed techniques to induce false awakenings (3)}. Regardless of the desirability of the experience, the existence of dream levels, far from a simple oddity, provides a potential window into massive metaphysical questions.

First, we need to understand how dreamers use evidence to establish whether they are dreaming or awake.

II: I am in a dreaming contest with another dreamer. The contest begins and slimy amphibians begin to appear. Some resemble frogs; others are in shapes that don’t exist in nature. Their size varies from that of a pinky to that of a fist. All are very colourful. I am not trying to dream them, rather they are spilling everywhere around my feet. I sense this is a dream, and check on the other dreamer. He is standing to my right in empty space, yet to begin his dream.

This dream is non-lucid at first and becomes lucid because of the bright color and absurd number of the amphibians. An awareness beyond the dream senses a non-natural situation.

III: I am picking out fruit at a fruit stand. There are some huge avocados, almost too good looking. I wonder if I am in a dream, and touch an avocado to check. The one I choose is ripe and soft—I squeeze it a little. There is no doubt that I am having a tactile experience, and I conclude I am not dreaming. Of course, I am.

Two dreams, two types of evidence. In Dream II, I correctly identify the amphibians as anomalous, and become lucid. In Dream III, my attempt to test the lifelikeness of the avocado as an indicator fails. Simply put, realistic sensation is not sufficiently indicative of reality. Love agrees: “we are not looking for a qualitative difference in how realistic the experience feels {…} we are {…} on the lookout for issues with stability and plausibility” (4). In Dream I, at first the huge pile of melons in my bedroom appears implausible and triggers lucidity; after moving up a dream level, my mind overrides the implausibility and “justifies” (5) the anomaly.

Because we awake from sleep and dreams every morning, we are very familiar with the experience of awakening. It is therefore unsurprising that when we wake inside a dream we accept the new reality as the waking world, even if it contains anomalous elements.

IV: I am in a huge house where a large group of families on motorcycles arrive. The families are making noise all night. I realize I am dreaming and levitate to where the families are. Later I decide to wake up. I ease myself out of bed, bumping my nose into an ironing board. The room looks and feels exactly like my room. I don’t recall the ironing board being there, but whatever. Moments later I awake again—the scene is identical, only, the ironing board is gone. I feel a pit in my stomach, wondering what is ultimately real.

Dream IV is a good example of how dream levels can become increasingly realistic level by level. An ironing board in front of the bed is (for me) more plausible than a house full of bikers. Dreams such as this beg the question of how we can ever be sure we are awake. I have dreamt of getting up, walking to the front door, opening it, and emerging into the sunshine in my neighbourhood. At every point, this dream felt entirely realistic with no anomalies. After experiences like this, is it wholly unrealistic that we could dream an entire morning? An entire day?(6)

There are different ways to approach this kind of question. The first is to use rigorous reality tests (7). Using reality tests after each fresh awakening can help us filter anomalies in what may be an increasingly realistic dream state. The second is to open ourselves to a wider set of questions. Although space limitations make full exploration of these questions impossible, modern dreamers would do well to recall that throughout recorded history people have speculated on the meaning of the dream state and what it can tell us about space, time, life after death, and the nature of reality.

As dreamers, we know that dreamtime behaves very differently than waking time. Robert Moss distinguishes between Chronos (“linear time”) and Kairos (the “spacious now”). He writes that when Kairos operates in waking life, “ordinary time is {…} suspended or elastic,” and the world can “quiver or shimmer” (8). Moss’ Kairos time sounds a great deal like dreamtime.

Jung in his memoir writes “our concepts of space and time have only approximate validity,” (9) and “there are indications that at least a part of the psyche is not subject to the laws of space and time” (10). Jung makes multiple connections between dreams and life after death, suggesting that our waking world, in which we are “conscious,” may in fact be a projection of a more “real” and permanent, even timeless, unconscious (11).

In the Tibetan tradition of dream yoga, the yogi prepares for death through dreams and meditation, entering death consciously by releasing bodily energy in such a way that the body partially or entirely dissolves into pure light. This “rainbow body” is well documented in Tibet and China, and cases of this phenomenon have been reported across multiple religious traditions (12). Finally, Moss connects dreams with the much discussed Many Worlds theory, as does, in popular culture, Richard Linklater (13).

V: I am among a large group of people on the top floor of a building. We lie down on our backs and form bundles. As the molecular structure of these bundles dissolves we become lighter, then totally empty. This process is dictated by a power outside of us which doesn’t speak. Once empty, we have the choice to become anything we want. I choose to become white light. Suddenly I am transported through space in a burst of pure white light, my old body left entirely behind. This is the most peaceful and thrilling feeling in the world. Then, I am back into a new bundle, trying again to become empty. I make progress, but it is hard and I am over-concentrating. Progress ceases; I wake up.

Although I have thought at length about dreams, I am a normal person, with a normal job, dreaming anonymously night after night. I do not belong to a spiritual tradition, am not a yogi or a meditating hermit. As a lucid dreamer, like many of us, I am self-taught. While we anonymous dreamers are wise to suspend judgement about the particularities of a theory as mind-boggling as dreams as an interface to infinite parallel universes, it is perhaps not by chance that my dreams of ascending to a state of pure white light bear close resemblance to innumerable near-death experiences or the reported manifestations of a lifetime of dream yoga. Although admittedly outside of our normal rational mode of apprehension, the experience of journeying through multiple dream levels, and the energy and amazement which often accompany these experiences, may point toward worlds far above, below, or beyond our own.

Who are we in our trek through life? Are we the maker, or the made? The writer, or the page? The actor, or the stage? The happening, or the happened to? Perhaps our ability to exercise agency in the vastness of forever depends in part on learning to navigate levels of “reality,” however we encounter them. Or perhaps, journeying to the far side of the dream can bring us face to face with that which is actually dreaming us.

Citations:

1 Waggoner, 61

2 Ibid., 63

3 Love, 131

4 Love, 71

5 Love cites “poor reasoning skills” as one common reason for failing to recognize dream signs and achieve lucidity. Love, 73.

6 Cf. Klosterman, 141

7 Love, 78-79; Waggoner, 259. (Wagonner uses the term “reality check” instead of “reality test.”)

8 Moss, 49

9 Jung, 300

10 ibid., 304

11 ibid., 324

12 Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, 314; Gyalwai Nyugu Rinpoche

13 Moss, 74-74; Linklater

Bibliography:

Jung, Carl. Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Vintage Books, 1989.

Klosterman, Chuck. But What If We’re Wrong? Blue Rider Press. 2016.

Linklater, Richard, director. Slacker. Orion Classics, 1990.

Love, Daniel. Are you Dreaming? Enchanted Loom Publishing, 2013.

Moss, Robert. Sidewalk Oracles. New World Library, 2015.

Rinpoche, Gyalwai Nyugu. “About Rainbow Body.” http://www.gyalwai-nyugu.com/about- rainbow-body/. Accessed 24 July 2018.

Rinpoche, Tenzin Wangyal. The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep. Snow Lion Publications, 1998.

Thomas, Matthew. “On Coming Through”: A New Meditation on Intention. https://craftfollowsconcept.com/2013/05/13/on-coming-through-statement-of-intent-on-the- approach-of-my-39th-birthday/#more-11. Accessed 24 July 2018.

Waggoner, Robert. Lucid Dreaming. Moment Point Press, 2009.

IASD PsiberDreaming Conference 2018 Matthew Thomas: Levels of Lucidity: A Close Reading

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