Do you typically remember your dreams? Should you bother? Beliefs about the meaning and importance of dreams vary widely. Nowadays, if you visit a psychiatrist, you are more likely to be offered a regimen of prescription drugs than to be asked to share your dreams. Some leading neuroscientists see dreams as nothing more than the brain’s attempt to make sense of the random firing of neurons. This scientific trend toward devaluing dreams contrasts notably with the perspectives of the founders of psychoanalysis. Sigmund Freud saw dreams as important manifestations of repressed or unsatisfied desires, calling them “the royal road to the unconscious”. Carl Jung’s seminal work blended psychology and spirituality. He regarded dreams as important communications from the dreamer’s soul or larger self.
During waking hours, most of us rely heavily upon the logical thinking of the left hemisphere of our brain to get us through the day. In contrast to this, the dreaming brain seems inclined to completely bypass the filter of logical thinking. While this can cause dreams to be bizarre, the absence of logical constraints yields dreams that are highly creative and original in nature. Whatever their source, the creative power of dreams is indisputable and worthy of our attention.
In a recent dream, I was seated in a small circle of people along with Bono from U2. Bono was strumming an acoustic guitar and singing a beautiful song that I had never heard before. I’m not trained as a musician. So, when I awoke from this dream, I had no ability to record Bono’s harmonious guitar chords. But many talented musicians can do this quite easily. For example, Paul McCartney heard the melody of “Yesterday” in a dream, and then rushed to the piano to play it out before the tune escaped his memory. Sting claims that he awoke in the middle of the night with the lyrics to “Every Breath You Take” playing in his head, and then completed in the entire composition in about 30 minutes. Billy Joel once speculated to an interviewer: “My feeling is that all of this stuff exists in a different plane and we tap into it somehow and I think I do it in a dream state.”
Thank you, Unity of Charleston, for inviting me to speak yesterday about lucid dreaming and dream yoga.
“Dream Yoga” is a phrase that I borrow from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. The simplest Western phrase to describe dream yoga is the idea that “life is a dream”. When we awaken from a sleep-state dream, we understand that the dream took place in a mental environment and that symbolic meaning can be attributed to many of the people, animals, places, and events that were encountered in the dream. A “dream yoga” worldview looks upon our so-called waking reality or physical reality the same way. There is the understanding that, upon our death (or sooner, in some cases), we will “awaken” from the dream of physical life. Given this, we can interpret the animals, people, places and events that we encounter in physical life as having symbolic meaning, just like a sleep-state dream.
The Tibetan dream yoga tradition is richer and more complex than the foregoing snapshot description. You can check out some of the books quoted below if you want to explore the idea further. I also want to emphasize, however, that there are many other historical, cultural, literary and philosophical sources for the proposition that life is a dream. I’ve outlined some of these in the quotations and descriptions set forth below.
• Tibetan Buddhist “Dream Yoga” Tradition. Oral tradition goes back approximately 1,000 years.
• Greek Philosophy - The Allegory of The Cave. Plato, The Republic (380 B.C.E.)
• Taoist Tradition – The Zhuangzi (3rd Century, B.C.E.)
• Rumi, 13th Century Sufi Poet
• William Wordsworth (1770-1850)
• Edgar Alan Poe
• Nursery Rhymes
• Children’s Literature
• Carl Jung (1875 – 1961)
• Paramahansa Yogananda (1893 – 1952)
• Channeled Wisdom Teachings.
• Shamanic Traditions.
• Near Death Experience Literature.
• Some Other Contemporary Sources
In 2010, my wife and I enjoyed a two-week honeymoon adventure in New Zealand, and we have many fantastic memories from this trip. But, I also remember a stressful scene upon our arrival at the Auckland airport. The very first thing that I did after exiting the plane was to fire up my laptop as we walked toward baggage claim. There were several anticipated emails related to my real estate business that required, as I perceived my priorities at the time, my immediate attention. The Wi-Fi signal at the airport was terrible and I found myself in a prolonged state of distracted stress until I eventually found a stable internet connection several hours later. At the time, I perceived my behavior as normal. When I allowed myself to travel, which was rare, this was how I rolled.
Just over four years later, in the summer of 2014, I was able to relax and enjoy a weeklong Alaska cruise while being disconnected from emails for virtually the entire duration of the trip. What changed during the intervening years? I credit my dreams with helping me to rebalance my portfolio of beliefs, habits and priorities.
When I started to study my dreams, one of the first recurring dream symbols that emerged for me was luggage. In March of 2012, over a span of less than 3 weeks, I experienced a trilogy of stressful luggage dreams:
These dreams are amazing to me in terms of their consistent symbolism and emotional feel. They all revolve around luggage and they all involve the emotional state of worry, at times bordering on panic. The recurring luggage symbol served as a hint that the dreams might relate to travel. These dreams all had a vibe, albeit exaggerated, that was similar to the stress I felt about my work whenever took time off to travel.
In the wake of these dreams, I decided that I needed to change my beliefs about my business life and to ground these belief changes with new patterns of behavior. There was a lot involved with this shift, but the chart below will suffice as a quick summary:
As I began to implement these belief and behavior changes, I continued to dream periodically about luggage, but the dream scenarios and their vibration shifted noticeably. For one thing, the luggage in my new dreams became much lighter, manifesting in such forms as a shopping bag, a briefcase, a backpack, or a small carry-on bag.
A single lucid dream from the fall of 2013 served as the most important marker of my inner shift. It involved a clever and synchronistic weaving of my dream and waking reality luggage experiences. In waking reality, I had recently donated a large silver suitcase to Goodwill. In my dream, I find myself in a room with this very same silver suitcase. Aware that I have previously donated it, I realize that I must be dreaming!
I’m lucid and I want to fly. But my hands are like Patrick Swayze’s in Ghost and I can’t use them to manipulate the door knob! I manage to twist and slide my dream body through the door and I start flying. The scene below me is like a surreal college campus - everything is crisp, clear and bright. I decide to land near a statue. I then realize that I’ve been flying around with a backpack over one of my shoulders. I think to myself: What is the point of hauling a backpack around in this dream? This dream will be over in 5 minutes. What use will this backpack be then? I drop the backpack by the statue and resume my lucid exploration of the dreamscape.
When Ann and I started dating in 2008, I waited until our third date for the cat reveal. When she came over to my place, I picked up Shadow and held him upside down, rubbing his belly. I had started holding the cats upside down like this when they were kittens. So, as adult cats, they were like silly putty in my hands. From the deer-in-headlights look on Ann’s face, I immediately realized that my cat-putty demonstration was ill advised. Our date ended quickly and awkwardly. Thankfully, she was eventually able to see past this quirk of mine and the cats started to win her over.
I’m very interested in the concept of totem animals or animal spirit guides. As a totem symbol, the cat has many different meanings including mystery, intuition, lunar (feminine or yin) energy, dexterity, laziness, and independence of spirit. For me, however, the most interesting cat characteristic is the cat’s total disregard for ordinary borders or boundaries. Good luck trying to fence in a cat! A cat will either scale the fence or slip through small openings between the slats. For lucid dreamers like me, this cat characteristic has a deeper meaning. It represents the ability to easily overcome the “fence” that separates so-called waking reality from other parallel dimensions, including the dimension of dreams.
Like most cats, Shadow is nocturnal. He will meow at us (or paw one of us in the face) around 3:00 AM, demanding immediate doorman service. When we know we want a good night of sleep, we plan ahead and lock Shadow in the garage. Problem solved, right? Well, not really. It turns out that, for Shadow, the locked garage door is no more intimidating of a barrier than our backyard fence. Shadow knows how to slide right through that garage door -- and into my dream state.
I see your eyes rolling, so let me offer a few examples. In each of these case studies, Shadow was locked in the garage at the time I had the dream:
Fortunately for me, Shadow sometimes targets Ann instead of me. Good kitty! From my journal:
These are just a few samples from my large database of Shadow dreams where he wakes me up from a dream, seemingly in hopes that I will let him out of the garage. Another one of my dreams paints an interesting picture of how a locked door is no barrier for Shadow’s consciousness. The mail slot in this dream seems intended to serve as an analogy for the idea of dream telepathy. From my journal:
In late 2012, I had a curious dream about a cat. I occasionally assign titles to my dreams and I call this one “High Wire Act”:
What is this dream about? My intuitive conclusion was that this dream is about lucid dreaming and other altered states of consciousness. Shadow has taught me that cats are experts in the “high wire act” of manipulating their consciousness. The cat in this dream is showing me that the secret to their advanced flexibility of consciousness is fearlessness combined with a playful attitude. In another 2012 dream, Shadow showed me another example of such playful acrobatics. I dreamed that a basketball was rolling down a hallway, with Shadow on top of it. He was somehow keeping himself balanced atop this fast moving ball – an impossible balancing act.
In addition to journaling my dreams, I also journal the intriguing (some would say “trippy”) visual and auditory experiences that often happen in the hypnagogic or hypnopompic state. These are the transition periods between wakefulness and sleep (and vice-versa). I’ve found this state to be fertile ground for mind-expanding (drug free!) experiences. In the following example, Shadow was napping with me and perhaps he was helping to give me a taste of a cat’s perception of parallel realities. From my journal:
I’ve never been to see an animal communicator, but I’ve become very open to the possibility that a human medium can attune his or her consciousness to receive messages from animals. Shadow has occasionally communicated a desire or request to me via a dream. Two examples from my journal:
Shadow also once sent me a message while I was in the hypnagogic state, seemingly asking for some attention:
For many years, I was experiencing very persistent congestion in both my sinuses and in my chest. Things got to a point where my voice was constantly nasal sounding and I was coughing up phlegm throughout the day. This became a chronic condition that continued for over a year. At the same time, Shadow was going through a period where he was constantly throwing up in the house. In Shadow’s case, we would almost always find a large piece of grass in his throw-up. At the time, my sentiments toward Shadow were usually something like this: “Stupid cat! Why do you keep eating grass when you know you can’t digest it?”
Eventually, I came to learn that the largest contributor to my congestion was my diet, especially my heavy consumption of acid-forming foods. Both my dreams and some knowledgeable health advisors helped to lead me to this realization. While I’m still not a health nut, I have gradually scaled back my consumption of acid forming foods. Nowadays, I breathe a lot easier and, interestingly, Shadow almost never throws up.
I now understand that Shadow’s habit of ingesting a food (grass) that his body was unable to process was a synchronistic reflection for me – because I was consuming a lot of food that my body found challenging to process. In this way, Shadow was serving me as a loving mirror. As I was searching my journal for Shadow dreams to include in this blog post, I re-read the following dream that made this point very clearly. If I had paid greater attention to this dream at the time, I could have improved my health much sooner. From my journal:
New monument sign for my twin businesses. Blending old and new, yin and yang, left brain and right brain, etc.
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Chris Cunniffe, Dream Coach and Abundance Coach, at Lucid Coaching, LLC
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