The Waking Lucid Dream
In January of 1972, two friends, Mike Tanner, Sheila Johns, and myself formed an experimental group. We wanted to research into the probability of the dream process breaking through into waking consciousness with ourselves as the subjects. Our main reason at that time was to see if the therapeutic functions of dreaming could then be more fully exploited. I for one was seeking personal healing from depression and psychosomatic pain.
Mike Tanner and Sheila Johns
I had started my own interest in dreams six years earlier, and had explored, individually and with others, various methods of working on dreams, their symbols and meaning. I had particularly worked with yoga – not just the postures or yoga – I had dug into my dreams vigorously and studied and practised Jung’s active imagination, and had discovered the power of spontaneous fantasy erupting into consciousness. My book, Do You Dream? was written around the work of those early years.
My interest led me to study the work of Franz Mesmer. Subjects placed by him in a relaxed condition experienced spontaneous movements, fantasy eruption, vocalisation and abreaction of trauma. All of these connect with the dream process, in that during the dream we spontaneously experience a dramatic fantasy, movements, vocalisation and sometimes the abreaction of trauma. Having watched humans and animals move while dreaming, I theorised that during the dream, in most people the movements being experienced only partially express through the motor nerves and muscles. I had watched a dog, for instance, make obvious running and barking movements and sounds while it dreamt. But the movements and sounds were faint. Yet in sleepwalking, the spontaneous movements and vocalisation are much more complete. So I wondered what connections existed between dreaming, sleepwalking and Mesmer’s subjects. See Functions of dreams
I found other mentions of these phenomena in as diverse places as early Christianity, in which during the Pentecostal phase, worshippers allowed spontaneous movements, vocalisation and connected phenomena. In Indonesia a group called Subud had started, that exhibited the same type of experience. And Dr. Wilhelm Reich, a student of Freud, had similarly found that patients who were helped to relax muscular tension and hold an open emotional state, experienced spontaneous physical movements, fantasy, vocalisation and abreaction. During a visit to Japan I found there a traditional practice called Seitai that has the same format. The modern teacher, Noguchi, even connects the spontaneous movements with the movements made during sleep; the original Quakers, Shakers and Shaktipat also allowed spontaneous movements – in other words to allow the dream process to break through into waking consciousness. See: Opening to Life; Mind and Movement; Hallucinations and Hallucinogens
Our problem as an experimental group was to find a way to allow this type of breakthrough for ourselves. To start with we tried two approaches. Jung had already suggested that to break the intellectual resistance against the eruption of fantasy from the unconscious, it was helpful to let the hands start moving where they wished. It is also a fairly well established fact that nightmares frequently reproduce the movements or postures that had been experienced during past trauma. So we tried a form of fantasy that would allow, not just hands, but the whole body to take part. Also we used the technique of reproducing the position experienced in a nightmare to see if the dream would rise into consciousness and continue. See Seed Meditation; Arm Circling Meditation; Opening to Life
My own experience in these first experiments was based on a nightmare I had of being strangled. My head was pulled back. Also, prior to the experiment I had noticed that as I fell asleep, a powerful neck tension pulled my head back. So I reproduced the posture in which my head was pulled back by tension and left my body, emotions and voice free to express spontaneously. My body soon began to tremble. This was something we were intellectually ready for, as it was described often in cases of this type. Then the trembling developed into powerful movements. My head pulled back hard, my mouth locked open, and my voice, quite without attempt on my part, cried out for my mother. I then relived my tonsil operation I had as a six year old. It was an amazing experience, rather like a record being played, only my body, voice, mind and feelings were the amplifier.
This began a process which we entered more deeply into over the years, and with it my personal journey to healing – but also to waking up in and exploring the world of the unconscious. Not only did I find childhood trauma, but also a vast unity of minds of which I was a part. It was a unity that spilled into my life as visions and insight. See Beyond Dreaming
Waking up the dream process
So that was the beginning. The dream process could break through into waking consciousness. But it was clearer and it was healing. A long standing neck tension and feeling of loneliness disappeared. It wasn’t a nightmare – like Mesmer’s subjects, and Reich’s – it was an abreaction or catharsis.
So one of the keys we used to unlock the dream process into consciousness was the release of muscular tension. I discovered that most people have unconscious muscular tension. If this is made conscious by having the person become aware of it, what was unconscious is already emerging into consciousness. If the tension is then given time to release, with a body and mental attitude of acceptance, spontaneous movements begin. See: Life’s Little Secrets and Dreams are Like a Computer Game
With further research with numerous people we found abreaction was only one of the many aspects that spontaneously emerged into consciousness. The range was as wide as the subjects covered by dreaming. i.e. sexual pleasure; experimental consideration of a life problem; creative fantasy; ESP; happy play; the exploration of the depths and heights of the mind and body, etc.
I suspected as our experience grew, that in normal dreaming, there is a suppression of motor impulses to the body. I also felt that the people we worked with, ourselves included, learned to relax this suppresser, so that full movement could emerge from the dream maker in us, along with often amazingly rich emotional and mental experience too.
Later I came across the work of Adrian Morrison and his research team at the University of Pennsylvania. They found that a small area in the brain, the pons of mammals, acts as a suppresser stopping the limbs responding to signals from the brain during dreams. When this tiny area of the pons was damaged, the animal lived out its dream fully in physical movement.
From this, researchers have been able to observe what the animals – cats – were dreaming from the movements they made during REM sleep. The cats played with dream toys, attacked or pounced on invisible adversaries, and expressed aggression.
In our own research, our observations of what emerged during periods of conscious dreaming were aided by the subjects themselves being able to give information on what they were experiencing. From these descriptions and from the privileged standpoint of being able to look directly into the dream as it happens, three main functions were observable.
Firstly, the dream process is an expression of the self-regulatory or compensatory function active throughout our being. So dreaming provides an attempt at maintaining health of body and mind. In normal dreams this may be interfered with because we interiorise fears, restraints and goals. During waking dreaming one can recognise and choose to drop the fears and restraints and thus allow the self-regulating action to complete itself. This may sound rather uninteresting, but there is nothing dull about the process which constantly keeps our body in balance and dealing with the environment and food we eat, as well as managing to spontaneously lead us through growth of body and mind.
Secondly the dream process is an expression of the growth process at the psychological level. The dream can be observed to feed upon experience and integrate it into wider understanding and a freer identity. i.e. freer from anxieties, rigid viewpoints, etc.
Thirdly dreams express a contact between ones individual sense of identity and the living consciousness of our total environment. So the dream process is creative in that the individual experiences contact with the process of life, and can learn to relate to it more effectively. Also out of this contact emerges a creative response in action, emotion, art, speech, music, dance etc. In this area the dream acts like a microscope or telescope, through which the dreamer can literally explore the cosmos, or the depths of their psychobiological being. This has all the characteristics of the deepest of spiritual experiences.
We have noticed that as people learn the way of dropping the suppression of their ability to dream consciously, they can begin to tap the functions of dreaming when they wish. For instance, the dream process has a much fuller access to total memory and subliminal impressions than normal waking awareness. So once one has learnt to dream consciously, one can actually ask a question and have a direct response from the process.
People who use this technique, which I now call LifeStream, have said it is like a very accessible intuition. As an example of using it, my wife and I located where she had dropped her glasses on moorland seventy miles from our home. People dealing with the public can much more easily discover what impressions their unconscious is picking up from the person, without having to sleep on it.
The more I observe this process, the more it seems to me that past cultures used it, but did not recognise it as being an extension of the dream. They considered such movements and vocalisation or intuition as being the work of God, Spirit or spirits. (I am not disagreeing with it being a holy experience at times, but want to stress that through understanding its connections with the dream process, one can avoid many pitfalls and misunderstandings.) It was violently crushed in some ages, being so feared. In our own culture, which has a fairly recent record of terror and persecution regarding any spontaneous expression of the unconscious, we are only now beginning a wider exploration of its potential. Having closely observed the very direct connection between the process of dreaming and the experience of ESP, religious experience, spontaneous healing, racial memory and cosmic consciousness, it seems the dream, and especially this conscious lucid dreaming, is one of the richest areas to explore.
I also feel that any investigator of lucid dreaming is limiting themselves if they hold the concept this can only occur during sleep. Consciousness can enter into the dream state in such a way as to bring about lucidity. But dreaming can also enter into consciousness in such a way as to bring about the same result.
My observation is that after practising waking dreaming for some time, the quality of sleep and dreams changes. One of the observable changes is the total vibration of the body while sleeping. As our group has never been able to afford the equipment to monitor this, we only have a subjective and physical experience of it. Also, the process in some cases leads towards lucidity, first within the symbols of the dream then the awakening beyond any images or symbols.
To myself as observer of this, and avid follower of the work being done by other researchers, I feel we are on the edge of opening a territory – consciousness – which had never been scientifically explored before. Have other human beings in the past created a bridgehead in the dimension of sleep and death, in which they now live, just as we live in the physical world? Can we learn to wake up there and develop, not simply a few minutes of excitement, but a dwelling place, a work within the realm of consciousness, and an exploration?
These questions I hope the years ahead will unfold to us. If we work together on pushing back the boundaries of human awareness, it might be we who answer them. See - People’s Experience of LifeStream
It Responds to Us
As you become more lucid in dreams and waking, you will gradually become aware of the connections you have, at this level, with those you love, and with those you are linked to by affinities, interests and common goals such as the spiritual work you undertake. Sometimes this arises as deeply felt understanding of particular past cultures and their way of life and the wisdom they arrived at. Sometimes the connections you develop lead you to do specific work in your waking life. Finding love at that level is also extraordinary. You meet someone in your dream life who may live half the world away from you, and who yet has deep links of understanding and love with you. Then gradually you find each other in waking life. That is a very special thing.
The most enduring aspect of such connections is that your life develops meaning and dimensions it never had previously. You sense great depths in yourself. You feel more complete and whole as a person. You know you have a meaningful place in the world, and are more capable of living and loving in it.
This is a process that arises from the unconscious that most people do not know how to allow or work with, though Jung has described it well enough, and ancient cultures knew and used it. (2) It is the action of the dream–forming process emerging into waking consciousness. It emerges because the conscious mind takes on a listening and non–interfering attitude. Just as the dream process, while active in sleep produces spontaneous speech, movements and drama, so, by taking on a passive receptive attitude of body and mind, this process is allowed while awake, and produces similar actions. This involves spontaneous body movements, feelings and vocalisation, expressing themes and drama just as dreams do. It is a form of waking lucid dreaming. It is by no means something only known in present times. If you consider the function of the dream process in the light of what has just been described, what was the Pentecostal experience if not a breakthrough of unconscious material into awareness? It was a breakthrough occurring because the group took on a surrendered and receptive attitude to what they called the Holy Spirit.
What many people do not realise is they can interact with waking lucid dreams, by asking a question and then allowing a response to arise spontaneously. See Intuition – Using It for fuller instructions
In fact, over twenty five years of my experience have been gathered from personal use of, and through teaching, a technique described in my books Mind And Movement and Liberating The Body,1 in which one can explore the unconscious while awake and without drugs, by allowing spontaneous movement and feelings, much as Carl Jung describes in his commentary in the book Secret of the Golden Flower.
I have observed hundreds of people using this breakthrough into consciousness of unconscious material from 1972 onwards, and it greatly enriched my experience of how the dream process expresses, and the usually untapped perceptions we all have emerge into waking awareness. (4)
From these years of observation I believe each of us have a way of organising information and experience that is extraordinarily different to what we usually describe as ‘normal’. In fact ‘normal’ perception, in which our attention is focused on a narrow range of physical sensory impressions, ideas and memories, or what one might call a narrow–beam view of life, is the polar opposite of a wide or global beam view active unconsciously in all of us. The research into right brain and left brain perceptions has given us clearer ways of thinking about this, and made it possible for people to believe there is an aspect of their own mental functioning that is non–dominant and pushed into the background of their awareness. If this can be accepted, the ideas and viewpoints within the book can be better understood.
Lastly, I believe this polar opposite of mental activity, this non–dominant function of perception, is like an extraordinary aid to our gathering of information. Just as a telescope or microscope extends the ability of our normal senses and perceptions, but do not replace the normal sensory and mental action, so this global view acts as an amazing synthesiser of experience, and throws into relief aspects of what we have learned from our gathered experience that we usually totally miss in our normal mode. It is not however, a replacement for normal perceptions.
Because of this, I see the ideas and views presented here as having an effect on our personality and mind, helping us to balance the one–sided action of our rational mind, and lead us toward wholeness.
The technique uses a form of a deep relaxation to enter a dream like state. From that condition you allow your unconscious to spontaneously express, but you can watch the process without being asleep. 22 Here is my description of what happened:
I had a waking dream in which I lived in a world in which there was a huge multinational organisation or ‘company’. The company influenced everything and everybody. I appeared to be about sixteen, approaching manhood, and facing the question of whether to join the company or not.
My feelings at first were that if I did I would be another cog in the huge machinery of its massive workings. I felt threatened by this, as if I would lose my identity. But the organisation would not go away simply because I tried to ignore it. It was everywhere and in everything, so where was there to hide? This led me to feel ready to join. Still feeling a bit threatened I met the manager – not God – but someone experienced in the place. He welcomed me and assured me that there was going to be no attempt to take away my identity as Tony. In fact it would be useful to the organisation if I continued to live and work in my accustomed manner. The only change would be that I was given a gadget like a bleeper. It represented intuition. Through intuition I could link with the Whole – the united being of the organisation of Life. This link would guide, not control, my individual activities to help them harmonise with the overall working of Life. This felt wonderful and so simple and clear. Behind the smallness of my personal being lay the immensity of Life, of which I was a linked part, living my individual life yet working with the whole.
I had an extraordinary lucid experience that involved some imagery. One of the clearest of these images was of me in a maze. The walls of the maze were made of hedges, as the whole thing was outdoors. But I realised, because I was lucid in the experience, that I had purposely created the maze as an experiment.
The point of the experiment was that the maze was complicated enough to make it difficult for me to find my way out. So, confronted by the difficulty of emerging from this dream maze, because of the lucidity, I could understand that this was a dream image, and in doing so I simply realised myself as pure awareness and transcended the maze.
I then experimented again and again with this, moving beyond the imagery into pure awareness. This was such an extraordinary experience and realisation it is difficult to put into words with enough impact to make it real.
What it led me to become clear about was that all dreams involve our personal awareness in an environment or imagery of one sort or another. Usually we feel the dream imagery to be so real, and the feelings we experience because of the imagery to also be real, that in a very concrete sense we are trapped. So if we were in a prison cell in a dream, then there would be no way out of that cell without a key. But realising oneself as pure awareness means there is no prison, there is no entrapment, there are no walls to hold you. The imagery of the dream is then seen as simply that – imagery – stuff of the mind that we have conjured and become identified with and lost or trapped in. Even imagery with positive feelings is a form of trap if we identify with them.
I repeat again, this was an extraordinary experience. And of course it relates to everyday life. The more I look at the experience the more I realise that virtually everybody on our planet is trapped in a prison of their own emotions, thoughts and ideas. To recognise this in any reasonable degree leads to an extraordinary sense of freedom. To see that we live our life trapped in the world of thoughts, of emotions, of sexual drives, of fears or beliefs, is astonishing.
This is so like the ending scenes in the film Matrix, that I am sure whoever wrote the script had a profound awareness of this. The hero of Matrix breaks through the surface appearance of things and enters into the very programming of the apparent world around him. This is what happens when we wake up to what underlies all our experience whether as a physically external world, or as our own dream world.