The dream had been a subject of fascination since the very distant past of civilizations. The same is the case with lucid dreaming and meditation. In Indian, Greek, Persian civilizations, much more value was attached to the interpretation of dreams. The dream interpreters had a place of respect not only in society as a whole but also among the kings and queens, generals and peasants alike. The Greek mythological character Xerxes took counsel from one of the dream interpreters before venturing into his campaign to Troy. The Book Of Revelation of the Holy Bible is an account of dreams which have symbolic significance.
The great emphasis assigned to dreams and the interpretation of dreams definitely suggests its importance. With the advancement of medical science, and scientific temper, systematic study regarding the interpretation of dreams developed. People with a thinking mind began to realize the reflection of one’s true self through dream interpretations. The reflection of one’s true self on one’s psyche noticeable in a waking state could hardly be ignored.
Very deep psychoanalysis has shown that waking as well as sleeping consciousness are the two aspects of one consciousness. The subconscious mind is activated during our sleep hours, which majorly regulates our ordinary activities in our waking state. That is why it is necessary for us to understand our dreams so that we can have a clear idea of our own mind.
Many of us have the problem of nightmares during our sleep. Almost all of us have had nightmares at some time in our lives. In nightmares, we dream about dreadful things. In dreams, we see wild animals chasing us, violent people pursuing us, we are about to fall in the midst of the fire, or a ghost from the graveyard approaches to kill us. These kinds of bad dreams might become chronic, and won’t let us sleep night after night! This turns out to be pathetic for whoever suffers from chronic nightmares.
But the good news is that the problem of nightmares and all other dream and sleep-related problems can be solved through mindfulness meditation.
Before we proceed to discuss the remedy of dream issues, let us understand what dream is all about. Interpretation of dreams is a very big topic so elaboration of the topic is not possible in this article. However, we can summarize the topic.
Dream theory has been explained by several persons, including Maury, Strumpell, Delboeuf etc. Among them, Sigmund Freud and Karl Jung are the most prominent ones. I will summarize the theory of Freud for practical purposes.
Dream material is made of all thoughts during our waking state of the mind. But there is a strange fact about dreams which is that we do not see things in dreams that are distinctly related to us. Minor and unnoticed objects or events can reappear in dreams in larger or seemingly important forms.
In his book The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud described many such incidents. Once he dreamt of a church spire many a time up to the limit of irritation. Then after many years, he was able to remember that he saw that church in Italy while he visited that country. The notable thing is that in his dream, he saw that church in dreams with a maze of other things.
The seemingly unimportant and unnoticed things form fertile dream content that is buried in our subconscious mind. Our brain groups different memories into different categories. In each group, even remotely related memory records are stored. These memories resurface in our dreams, sometimes instigated by external factors.
The above discussion establishes the fact that our subconscious mind is at work while we sleep. Here the interesting truth is that our activities of waking consciousness are mostly directed and motivated by our subconscious mind. This, in brief, is the interpretation of a dream summary.
Lucid Dreaming and Meditation
Before we discuss lucid dreaming, we should get a general idea about mindfulness meditation in relation to our subconscious mind. Generally speaking, we tend to pass information to our subconscious mind. This happens involuntarily most of the time. In this process, much negative information passes down to our subconscious.
We tend to show our undue attachment to negative emotions too. Most of the time, emotions are so minute that we tend to forget to pay attention to them. Consequently, these emotions also get accumulated in the subconscious mind.
In mindfulness meditation, we pay attention to every incoming and outgoing breath. In that process of breathing, different thoughts and emotions arise and vanish. We have to be just aware that thoughts and emotions arise and fade away. We should not develop an attachment to them. Thus, we can become the controller of our subconscious mind.
As a part of mindfulness meditation, we also pay razor-sharp attention to our body vibration and sensations, and in that process, we do not develop any attachment to any sensation whatsoever, whether pleasant or unpleasant. Again we are in the drivers’ seat of our subconscious mind by not letting attachment to abode in our subconscious mind.
While we are in control of the subconscious mind, we still dream. But now we are in control of the sequence of dream events. This is called lucid dreaming. In a state of lucid dreaming, we are conscious that we are dreaming as if we are the actors and directors of the act of dreaming. We can control the dream sequences. We can change our direction from the mouth of hell or from going into the tiger den. Thus, we save ourselves from the worst nightmares through the power of mindfulness meditation.
A new genre of sleep meditation developed in the Tibetan system of mindfulness meditation. People say that the purpose of this kind of meditation is to induce lucid dreaming. But sleep meditation is beyond that. In truth, lucid dreaming is the bridge between the conscious and the subconscious mind. Sleep meditation is just a vehicle on which we can travel through the bridges. This is very important for our mental sanity.
The sleep meditation technique was developed by the Bon tradition of Tibetan Buddhism based on the teaching of the Buddha himself. The credit for popularizing the relation of lucid dreaming and mindfulness goes to the Tibetan meditators.
Lucid Dreaming and Enlightenment
The Buddha regarded life as a dream, impermanent and fleeting. Things do not appear as it is yet there is something in it! If we understand lucid dreaming through mindfulness meditation, we know the illusory nature of consciousness. In our waking state, we are not fully conscious of what is going on at the present moment. Scientifically speaking, It is impossible on our part to focus on millions of information that our brain takes per second. We are largely unaware of them.
In a state of lucid dreaming, we consciously control the stream of dream sequences. Considering this, and the above discussion, we can say that we become conscious in our sleep (lucid dreaming) and remain largely unconscious during our waking state!
Our subconscious mind becomes active in our dreams, and it controls our activities that are carried out in a waking conscious state. Please note that we can manipulate our subconscious mind through mindfulness meditation which can be called managing the subconscious mind. In such a situation, we should question the nature of consciousness as to which is the real consciousness – Waking consciousness or dreaming consciousness!
If sleep symbolizes death and consciousness symbolizes life then life and death are the two aspects of the same reality of existence. Moreover, both are marked by impermanence. This is like we become awake from a dead sleep and slip into drowsiness to fall asleep. Just imagine a condition if we go to sleep and never wake up again. Can we be awake in a different realm of existence? This realization is called enlightenment in the literature of mindfulness meditation.
Do meditators Dream? As mentioned above, the greatest meditator of all time, the Buddha considered life a dream because of life’s illusory nature. What seems real, seems illusory and devoid of reality from another perspective. From a very broad perspective, we are nothing in essence as everything is related to each other. From an extremely broad perspective, nothingness and something seems one aspect of the same reality because something may be created out of nothing. In that case, what about life and death?
The Buddha became awake after a long period of dedication in the practice of meditation. That means he was ‘asleep’ even when he was awake! After enlightenment, he awoke! This awakening is the awakening from ignorance. Before awakening, he was asleep with ignorance of reality. What a mysterious reality of life!!
Looking from the angle of a real-life situation, It is normal for the meditators to have dreams. According to psychology, having dreams is a sign of good mental health. Meditation enhances mental health. As a bonus, mindfulness meditation shows us a portal to our subconscious mind. This is the reason why we lucid dream.
We have given a brief account of the interpretation of dreams. At the same time, we have provided a description of a tool through which we can creatively use the dream content for our mental welfare. However, there remains more scope as far as a detailed account of lucid dreaming is concerned. I will come up with that in my next write-up.