I have been exploring darkness for over forty years. Whether it’s the darkness of the night, the blackout of death, or the blindness of the unconscious mind, I’m fascinated with all things deep and shadowy. The nocturnal meditations of dream yoga, sleep yoga, and bardo yoga (defined below) have been my trustworthy guides. They have led me safely into the dark and opened my eyes to entirely new ways of seeing.
With dream yoga as my escort, I have been blessed with hyper-lucid dreams, experiences so vivid that waking reality becomes the foggy dream. Some of these dreams occurred decades ago and continue to inform my life today. The upper bandwidths of dream yoga have introduced me to shady dimensions of my being, allowing me to integrate nightmares, resolve insomnia, and process a host of undigested experience. The deeper bandwidths have pointed out wondrous subterranean dimensions of my life, allowing me to become familiar with domains of my unconscious mind, liberating me from their terrestrial constraints.
With sleep yoga, also known as luminosity yoga, I plunged deeper into the dark. This practice has allowed me to glance at awareness in deep dreamless sleep. With this yoga, I have come to know the formless dimensions of mind, experiences that have shattered my limited notions of conventional reality. With luminosity yoga, I have been able to differentiate myself from the world of form, while not dissociating from it. I now find myself in the physical world, but not of it. Like so many who engage this yoga, I have seen the light — the luminosity that is within each of us — and continue to practice keeping this nightlight on as I enter my day. What I’ve seen in the dark has vastly improved my daytime vision.
And with bardo yoga I continue to take the closing steps into the densest blackness. With this practice I have journeyed through dark retreats and glimpsed strata of being that have removed all fear of death. Dark retreat erases me. And points out the un-erasable. There is part of me — and you — that does not die. This partless part is the basis of the world of form, but itself does not enter the world of form. It is untouchable, utterly indestructible, yet explosively radiant, even divine. It is the sun of an awareness that never sets. For this deepest part of me and you, death has no meaning. I can think of no greater gift than discovering the death of death, and that present can be unwrapped in the furthest recesses of the night.
As a dedicated spelunker of the mind, some of my most profound experiences continue to occur in the mysterious nether land below waking consciousness. I am far from mastering any of these practices, but I have seen enough to be passionate about their ability to wake me up. As the naturalist Chet Raymo writes, “The night is our window on the Infinite.”
Hello darkness, my old friend / I’ve come to talk with you again
I am a child of darkness. Literally and allegorically. It is that from which I arise – day-to-day, moment-to-moment, and life-to-life – and that to which I return. In this book I want to share what I’ve seen in the dark and point out the untapped natural resources that await us every night. My infatuation with darkness and the practices that penetrate it have led me – and they can surely lead you — to the most dazzling light.
These yogas have revealed countless blind (dark) spots and have brought many unconscious processes into the light of consciousness. Pointing out these blind spots is a central theme of our journey. One such revelation that we need to illuminate at the outset is that we’re all suffering from an insidious form of discrimination, an unconscious prejudice that borders on bigotry. It’s a segregation of consciousness that rules, and severely restricts, every aspect of our lives.
The most damaging forms of discrimination are those we don’t even know we’re afflicted by. These are the true blind spots, and they do real damage. As Mark Twain put it, “It’s not what you don’t know that gets you in trouble. It’s what you do know that just ain’t so.” Hidden biases and blind spots are nasty hard to detect. The Buddha understood the power of blind spots, which is why he was more interested in questioning our answers than in answering our questions. In the spirit of Socrates, whose focus on critical thinking gave students the proper questions rather than definitive answers, the rebel Buddha questioned the status quo — and revealed that it’s just not so.
The fundamental “answer” or axiom that we live by is that we feel we’re awake during the day. It’s a given. But that truism is untrue. We just don’t know that we don’t know. The real answer is that nearly all of us are spiritually asleep. If you see this world as solid, lasting, and independent, in other words if you perceive reality dualistically – you’re asleep. So the fact that you’re awake right now “just ain’t so.” In the world of lucid dreaming, this is called a “false awakening,” which is when you wake up from a dream, only to make the unnerving discovery that what you’ve woken up to is itself just another dream. You’re still dreaming. You just don’t know it. False awakenings show us that we can’t confirm we’re awake just by thinking that we are, a theme we’ll explore throughout the book.
But the sinister discrimination I want to point out now is our extreme bias for waking consciousness and the limited reality it perceives. In other words, we’re all afflicted with an acute “wake-centric” prejudice. And like all closed-mindedness, wake-centricity is highly restricting, a total eclipse of the mind. It reduces mind and reality to what we perceive during the day. Wake-centricity leaves out two other states of consciousness (or “two-thirds” of reality), and therefore a more complete understanding of mind and reality. The other two states, of course, are what we perceive in sleep and dream.
Why do we have this prejudice? There are several reasons. The first is shared by the dream researcher Stephen LaBerge
Remember the story in which the character Nasrudin is under a streetlight outside his house searching for his lost key? A neighbor helps him look for a while – fruitlessly – then asks, “Where, exactly, did you lose your key?” Nasrudin answers, “In my house.” The neighbor exclaims, “Then why in the world are we looking outhere!” Coolly logical, Nasrudin replies, “Because there’s more light here.” The outside world may have more light, but it isn’t where the Key was lost and hence might be found: that is, inside, in the darkness within, our innermost home, beyond the self, in the beginning of all.
We tend to look where the looking is easy, even if it’s in a totally wrong place. We’re ironically blinded by external light, which seduces us out and away from that which we truly seek. If unrecognized, outside light turns into a thermonuclear weapon of mass distraction. And with the advent of artificial light, the damage is getting worse. Earth is losing its darkness, and we are losing our way.
Satellite data has revealed that artificial light is spreading and growing brighter, producing more light pollution and a “widespread loss of the night.” Because of electric light, outdoor illumination has grown three to six percent annually in the second half of the twentieth century. “While this has benefited productivity and safety, it has come with a dark side. The night is no longer dark enough.” We’re suffering from a darkness deficit disorder. Franz Hölker, one of the authors of a recent study, warns, “From an evolutionary perspective, now, artificial light is a very new stressor. The problem is that light has been introduced in places, times and intensities at which it does not naturally occur, and many organisms have had no chance to adapt to this new stressor.” It has devastating implications for human health, the environment — and most importantly for us, spiritual evolution.
Because of all this external light, we are constantly drawn out of ourselves and distracted as never before. This is the principal signature of what the Vedas call the Kali Yuga, or Dark Age. Artificial light is at the heart of this Dark Age. Kali is a Hindu demon, “the black one,” whose name in this context means “strife, discord, quarrel, or contention” (and not to be confused with the goddess Kali). We can see Kali working overtime today, his products manifesting as ecological devastation, global warming, political unrest, and the litany of modern ailments. But what makes the Dark Age so dark is its insidious undercurrents, which manifest in covert distraction. It’s deadly, because distracted people don’t notice things.
When I engage in the nocturnal meditations, or meditate in the dark, it is to recover the night, and to restore my sight. In dark retreat, with absolutely nothing to seduce me out, with no trace of light pollution, I’m drawn deeply within and see things never seen before. These retreats reestablish the natural curfew of the night. They keep me from getting into discursive trouble, the inevitable turmoil that accompanies an insatiably outward-bound mind. Barbara Brown Taylor, author of Learning to Walk in the Dark,writes, “I have learned things in the dark that I could never have learned in the light, things that have saved my life over and over again, so that there is really only one logical conclusion. I need darkness as much as I need light.”
I love the light and follow it as much as I follow my bliss. But if I only track the light I tend to get blinded by it; if I only follow my bliss I tend to get blissed out. Perhaps there’s a symbolic reason we have two eyes. I have discovered that to really grow in this life, I need to keep one eye on the dark and follow my fear. Fear is the minion of ignorance, and in order to transform this insidious obstacle I need to relate to its active expression. I entered three-year retreat many years ago because nothing scared me more than having to face my mind so directly, and for so long. I started doing dark retreats after that, because nothing frightened me more than having to relate to my mind without any distractions. In both instances, I was able to relate to fear in a highly concentrated way and use it for the deepest psychological and spiritual growth.
Buddhism advances a maxim about the immediacy of spiritual awakening, coined in the phrase, “Buddha in the palm of your hand.” Simply relax your grip, and enlightenment is right here and now. In this Dark Age, with lit-up smart phones always in hand, the Buddha has been bumped. It’s now “Mara in the palm of your hand.” Mara symbolizes the passions that overwhelm us and is the closest thing in Buddhism to the devil. Distraction, or in our terms, non-lucidity, is the devil – and he’s hiding in plain sight. Do a psychic palm reading and see for yourself: what lies in the palm of yourhand?
In this Dark Age, humanity has been seduced away from the center of itself and as far away as possible from the divine. This divinity, which in Buddhism lies at the core of our body-mind, is the irreducible bed of mind that we plop into every night when we fall into the depths of dreamless sleep. In that deep silence and stillness we will find the exalted. But silence and stillness, held under the cover of darkness, scare us. So we jump out of this bed, literally and metaphorically, and search outside of ourselves for our version of the divine.  In countless ways we are solar powered beings, and ours is a solar spirituality. We venerate the sun and sometimes get burned by it.
Mine is a lunar spirituality. I worship the night and am soothed by it. I have spent my life exploring the origins of life, the beginning of consciousness, the basis of all. And this always leads me back to the dark. In Greek mythology and the book of Genesis, darkness precedes light. In Hinduism the darkness of dreamless sleep is called “causal consciousness,” which means that both dreaming and waking consciousness arise from it. Neuroscientist and sleep researcher Matthew Walker suggests that, “Sleep was the first state of life on this planet, and it was from sleep that wakefulness emerged.” The flash of the Big Bang arose from a womb of darkness. Seeds germinate in the dark. I was probably conceived in the dark, spent nine months bathed in it, and was then born from it. The poet Christopher Dewdney writes, “It is always night inside the body.” Sunlight only penetrates about three centimeters past the skin, beyond that it is pitch black inside. “The perpetual night of the body is where each of us began, so we are truly children of the physical night.”
One day my body will dissolve back into the black. Every morning I arise from darkness and then return exhausted to it. Every flash of insight or flicker of thought arises from the background darkness of the mind and returns to it like a campfire spark melting into the nighttime sky. Whether I like it or not, darkness is my primal home where the lost Key is to be found. It behooves me to become familiar with it. Barbara Brown Taylor writes:
“A bed, in short, is where you face your nearness to or farness from God. Whether you are in pain or not, whether you are an anxious person or not – even, I think, whether you are a religious person or not – a bed is where you come face to face with what really matters because it is too dark for most of your usual, shallowing distractions to work. You can turn on the lights if you want, but they are all artificial. The most they can do is postpone your encounter with what really matters. They cannot save you from that reckoning forever . . . Today’s seekers seem more interested in getting God to turn the lights on than in allowing God to turn them off. 
The other main reason for our wake-centric favoritism is that wake-centric means ego-centric. Ego is only fully operational and online in waking consciousness and loses its footing as it slips and falls into sleep. The ego therefore appropriates gross waking consciousness as the only way to see things, which then colonizes, dominates, and dismisses other subtle states it can’t fully experience. “It’s just a dream” is a dismissive comment after all. Ego is drunk with daylight, or outward-bound waking consciousness.
My favorite definition of meditation is “habituation to openness,” which with the nocturnal meditations means opening to, and then engaging with, all states of consciousness as viable means for exploring the nature of mind and reality. This open-mindedness replaces wake-centric with poly-centric, which is the same as non-centric. And non-centricity (emptiness) is the paradoxical center of this book, as we will see.
A non-centric approach allows us to see things from the much larger perspective of waking, dreaming, and sleeping consciousness. It’s an integral approach to awareness. Integral Theory professes that evolution is about increasing perspectives. When the Buddha taught the eightfold noble path,the first of the eight factors is right view.In the context of the nocturnal practices, right view means complete view, a view free of all bias, a view that includes all states of mind. The realization born from this complete view is beautifully expressed by Ramana Maharshi: “The sage dreams but he knows it to be a dream, in the same way he knows the waking state to be a dream. Established in the state of supreme reality, the sage detachedly witnesses the other three states – waking, dreaming, and dreamless sleep – as pictures superimposed onto it. For the sage, all three states are equally unreal. Most people are unable to comprehend this, because for them the standard of reality is the waking state, whereas for the sage the standard is reality itself.
The nocturnal meditations establish you in the state of supreme reality — what Buddhism calls emptiness – where you can then detachedly, but compassionately, witness all manifest states, all form, but without being seduced into those forms.
As another instance of our unconscious bias for wake-centricity, anthropologist Charles D. Laughlin says that the whole idea “lucid dreaming” itself is misguided. It’s an insidious ethnocentric concept: “There is a lot wrong with this definition of lucidity from an anthropological point of view, not the least being its ethnocentricity. It assumes a culture in which waking states and dreaming states are distinct, one being associated with active awareness and the other not. We would hardly expect that kind of distinction to be made by folks brought up in a fully polyphasic [poly-centric] culture.” Laughlin then states that aside from Western European societies, there are over 4000 cultures on earth, and about ninety percent of them value experiences from altered states of consciousness, especially those that come from dreams.
It’s a radical claim, but both Advaita Vedanta in Hinduism and Vajrayana Buddhism assert that our wake-centric (mono-phasic) view of reality is actually backwards. Author H. P. Lovecraft writes, “I have frequently wondered if the majority of mankind ever pause to reflect upon the occasionally titanic significance of dreams, and of the obscure world to which they belong. . . . Sometimes I believe that this less material life is our truer life, and that our vain presence on the terraqueous globe is itself the secondary or merely virtual phenomenon.” Or as Henry David Thoreau put it, “Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.”
In other words, our normal waking state is the most dualistic, reified, and asleep state, with the least potential for transformation. If we are lucid to it, open enough for it, we’re actually the most spiritually awake in the nonduality of deep dreamless sleep, the state with the most potential for transformation. Which is precisely why Ramana Maharshi could say, “That which does not exist in deep dreamless sleep is not real.”
Our excessive familiarity with waking consciousness has a kind of blinding effect on other states of consciousness, like when a flash bulb goes off and we’re temporarily blinded. With intense light our pupils contract or shrink down to a virtual point. This contraction is symbolic of how our sense of identity during the day shrinks down to the “point” of the ego and a very limited sense of identity. It’s the contraction of wake-centricity.
When our eyes accommodate to the dark, our pupils relax and dilate. They open. To see in the dark, we literally have to open our eyes – and keep them open. The nocturnal meditations are progressive stages of opening these inner eyes. This relaxation is symbolic of the openness that is required to see our deeper Self, a “dilation” or expansion of awareness that allows us to see further into the dark, and into previously unconscious domains, where our deepest Self resides. A non-centric view is therefore a “dilated” view, an open-eyed and enlarged view of mind and reality that doesn’t contract when exposed to light, or reduce itself to the forms that are illuminated by that light.
With close reading and in the spirit of shadedness, you will discover that this book is a form of stealth help. There’s more going on than meets the outbound eye. You may think you’re just dealing with sleep and dream in the pages ahead, but you’re actually exploring the nature of mind and reality – and waking up to both. “Darkness,” for example, is a code word for ignorance, and “lucidity” is code for awareness. “Dream” is secret language for any manifestation of mind, and “non-lucidity” is a cipher for how we get lost in the manifestations of mind or how we fall asleep in the world of form and get lost in our projections.
So this book is fundamentally about replacing the darkness of ignorance with the light of awareness as a way to understand mind and its display. For you see, we’re all sputtering along with an outdated operating system, one that only functions during the day. It’s clunky, slow, and obsolete. This book is about upgrading antiquated software and downloading a new paradigm of perception, so that we can enter the age of full-spectrum awareness. It’s also about extending your life, adding years by becoming fully alive to states that are otherwise lost in the dark. As Thoreau wrote, “The light which puts out our eyes is darkness to us. Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn.”
 Someone might proclaim they have no racial prejudice, for example, but when presented with a reaction time test where pleasant and unpleasant words are paired with the words white or black, the words with pleasant connotations are more rapidly paired with the word white,while words with unpleasant overtones are quickly paired with the word black. A.J. Greenwald and M.R. Banaji, “Implicit Social Cognition: Attitudes, Self-Esteem, and Stereotypes,” Psychological Review, 102:1 (1995): 4-27; doi:10.1037/0033-295x.102.1.4.
During unconscious mental processing, activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) decreases. “As you become more aware of being aware [more lucid], the DLPFC becomes more active. . . . Meditation can both enhance the function of the DLPFC and less unconscious bias.” (Altered Traits; Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body, by Daniel Goleman and Richard J. Davidson; Avery, New York, NY., 2017, p. 142.) In other words, meditation – diurnal or nocturnal — can bring unconscious processes into the light of consciousness; blind spots into sight; hidden biases into full view.
This division of mind (and the reality that it perceives) into three states is not temporal, but categorical. In other words, we don’t spend an equal amount of time in all three states. We’re awake the most, dream the least, and spend an intermediate amount of time in the dreamless state. In this regard, the dominance of the waking state is obvious and understandable. The categorical division is what’s important: that there are two other categories (states) of consciousness that are just as viable as the waking state. These two other states of consciousness (dreaming and dreamless sleep) – when we’re lucid to them – provide a more complete understanding of mind and reality. Waking consciousness alone is partial. It perceives only one-third of the picture. Lucid dreaming provides another third, and lucid sleep the final third. This three-part division is the simplest. Some traditions sub-divide the three states even further, generating a more nuanced picture.
From Stephen LaBerge’s foreword to Dream Yoga; Illuminating Your Life Through Lucid Dreaming and the Tibetan Yogas of Sleep, by Andrew Holecek, Sounds True, Boulder, Co., 2016, p. xi.
“Artificially Lit Surface of Earth at Night Increasing in Radiance and Extent,” by Christopher C.M. Kyba, et al, in Science Advances, 22 Nov 2017, Vol 3. No 11. Data accessed November 24th, 2017.
“Artificial lights are eating away at dark nights – and that’s not a good thing,” by Amina Kahn, Los Angeles Times, November 22, 2017.
Learning to Walk in the Dark, by Barbara Brown Taylor, Canterbury Press, Norwich, Norfolk, 2015, p. 5.
Author and columnist David Brooks suggests that for conventional growth and success we should follow our strengths. But for psycho-spiritual growth and success we should follow our weaknesses.
Dream yoga is an inner yoga, and in the inner yogas the prana that blows us out of ourselves is the extroverted, highly active, and masculine “sun poison prana” that flows through the right channel. In dream yoga it is the “bad breath” of the subtle body. The wind that flows through the left channel is “moon nectar prana,” which is more introverted, receptive, and feminine. This is the sweet breath cultivated with the nocturnal meditations.
Why We Sleep; Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreamsby Matthew Walker, PhD, Scribner, New York, NY., 2017, p. 57.
Acquainted with the Night; Excursions Through the World After Dark, by Christopher Dewdney, Bloomsbury, New York, NY., 2004, p. 138.
Learning to Walk in the Dark, by Barbara Brown Taylor, Canterbury Press, Norwich, Norfolk, 2015, p. 76, 86.
This is exactly what happens when the nobility of science slips into ignoble scientism and arrogantly dismisses all other forms of knowledge acquisition. Any form of centricity breeds intolerance and near-sightedness. In the world of Integral Theory, it’s known as quadrant absolutism.
Wake-centricity is closely allied to sight-centricity, or the dominance of vision, which we’ll explore in Chapter XXX.
Integral Theory refers to a broad-spectrum, multi-disciplinary, and therefore comprehensive approach to the study of mind and reality, one that attempts to integrate as many disciplines as possible. Integral thinkers would include Hegel, Jean Gebser, Ervin Laszlo, Don Beck, Roger Walsh, Dustin DiPerna, Ken Wilber, and a host of psychologists, philosophers, spiritual teachers, anthropologists, sociologists, historians, scientists, artists, and pop figures. The list is as comprehensive as the many fields that Integral Theory attempts to integrate.
The Second Book of the Tao, by Stephen Mitchell, Penguin, New York, 2009, p. 140.
Communing with Gods: Consciousness, Culture, and the Dreaming Brain,by Charles D. Laughlin, Daily Grail Publishing, Brisbane, Australia, 2011, p. 134.
Beyond the Wall of Sleep,by Howard P. Lovecraft, accessed August 15th, 2017.