Beginning Stages of Dream Yoga
Let’s discuss dream yoga and its stages. The idea here is that once we’re in a lucid dream, what do we do? What is it that differentiates lucid dreaming from dream yoga? What’s the actual nighttime practice of dream yoga? What are the stages? So the following list I’m going to offer for you, it’s my own list. You won’t find this in any traditional text. This is something that works for me, and it is simply an invitation to see if it works for you. You don’t have to do all these stages, and you surely don’t have to do them in the order I present them. Again, do what works for you. Be your own meditation instructor. Do what interests you, what challenges you, what speaks to you. The stages are somewhat progressive. I start with things that I think are a little bit easier. But you’re different from me, and perhaps you have a stronger connection to some of the more latter stages of this progression. But in my experience, especially being a pianist, before you can play a Beethoven piano concerto, it really does help to learn some scales.
Learning to Fly in Your Dreams
The first thing that I do, and it’s such a gas, is I fly. It’s relatively easy and it’s really fun. This often happens in my experience when I do the state check. Remember that I mentioned earlier, I’ll be jumping up in my dream, and holy moly I ain’t coming down. So bang, I just take off. And I love, love, love this part. I just kinda fly around, I put my arms out just like a bird. And I’m like tooling around my mindscape, flying here, flying there, checking things out. It’s really, really fun. So, I invite you like I mentioned earlier, even with lucid dreaming practices, enjoy yourself. Because your volition is involved because you have the intention to fly, and even though this may not be the deepest spiritual practice, there is still some intent to do it. And this is that very subtle kind of fuzzy boundary between lucid dreaming and dream yoga because you’d probably be doing this on just a standard lucid dream anyway. But why not start from there? Why not enjoy it? And if you want to spend most of your time here, you’re not gonna create a lot of negative karma just flying around, unless you start dropping things on people.
Learning to Walk Through Walls in Your Dreams
Things start to get really interesting here, at least for me. What I do is I will walk up into a dream wall. So I know I’m dreaming. I’m within a dream. I’m lucid to it. And I’ll do something like this. I’ll come up to my dream wall, I know I’m dreaming, and I’ll either try to walk through it or I’ll try to put my hand through it, or maybe just for variety, I’ll just kinda drop into the earth like a mole. What’s going on underneath this kind of dream earth? I also really enjoy this one, and it’s also very revealing. It’s another one of these truth tellers because what it does it reveals the power of my habit because even though I know I’m dreaming, I still come up to this dream wall and almost always I still bump into it. It’s like that crazy, wonderful scene in the movie “Men Who Stare at Goats.” You remember that? Where the CIA operative, whoever it is, tries to jump through the wall. It’s that kind of thing. So it reveals to me no matter how much I’ve studied and practiced these teachings on emptiness, on illusory form, this habit of existence, this fundamental habit of reification is so deep that I still bump up against things. It’s a real kicker.
Walk Through the Wall Backwards
So what I do is I come up to the wall, put my hand against it, and lo and behold yeah, I can’t go through it. But if I stay with it, kinda play with it, sooner or later like jello my hand will actually slip through the wall. If I try to walk through it, I usually end up banging my dream nose. And here’s a really cool trick to work with this one. Back away from the wall and then walk through the wall backwards. Because you don’t know when you’re gonna hit it, you don’t know when you should make it real. And usually what happens for me is I find myself kind of walking through this jello wall and the wall, in other words, it started behind me and now it starts to come in front of me. And even in the dream state, invariably I start to laugh. It’s so ridiculous and really it’s kind of pathetic. But so be it, those are my habitual patterns and I’m working with them.
Change Objects in Your Dreams
This one is also really cool. It’s really fun. Change things in your dreams. This gets a little bit harder, at least for me. So let’s say you have a table in your dream. Turn it into a flower. Turn a car into a boat. Multiply things. I do this one a lot. I’ll put my had in front of my face because this is also a tip that Carlos Castaneda uses in his book “The Art of Dreaming.” He actually uses this almost like a state check. So I picked this up from him, and I do this at this stage. So I’ll bring my hand up, I’ll be looking at my hand and I’ll say, “Okay, I want five of these babies.” And it doesn’t happen right away, you know. Even though I know I’m dreaming and I know I can do this, it still doesn’t happen right away. Even though mind is reality here and I know it, the power of my daily habits still transposing to the dream state. But if I am patient, I play with it, bing, bing, bing, four or five hands pop up. Pretty cool. You can also shift the size of things. Make things big, make them small, all this kind of stuff.
Why do you want to do this? Well, this is one of the great boon masters Tenzin Wangyal talking to this,
“Just as dream images can be transformed in dream, so emotional states and conceptual limitations can be transformed in waking life. With experience of the dreamy and malleable nature of our experience, we can transform depression into happiness, fear into courage, anger into love, hopelessness into faith, distraction into presence. What is unwholesome we can change to wholesome. What is dark we can change to light. What is restricted and solid we can change into the open and spacious. Challenge the boundaries that constrict you. The purpose of these practices is to integrate lucidity and flexibility with every moment of life, and to let go of the heavily conditioned way we have of ordering reality, of making meaning, of being trapped in delusion.”
So this is what makes this practice so cool. You’re doing something that’s fun. It’s actually entertaining. It’s really enjoyable. But it transposes in your ability to work with situations in your daily life. So it’s much more than a game. It can really shape-shift not just what happens in your dream state, but what happens in your so-called waking life. This is no small thing.
Visualize Yourself in a Sacred Form in Your Dreams
You can arise as a deity. This comes out of the practice of deity yoga. You can arise… In other words you have this kind of dream body, which is actually very interesting to explore. A lot of times I’ll do things in my lucid dreams, especially in the early years, where I wanted to see, you know, can I actually feel pain with my dream body? So we create a thorn bush and I’d actually kind of put my finger into the thorn and I’ll be damned if it didn’t hurt. Again, it’s this idea of transposing our waking reality into the dream state. So you can explore with this notion of body in the dream as a kind of preliminary practice. We started that just by looking at your hands in the last step. But here what you want to do that’s a little bit more formal, maybe just a little bit more challenging is you can actually what’s called “self-generation.” In other words, you can arise, visualize yourself… This is that practice of visualization again that’s so intimately connected to these deity yoga practices. Visualize yourself as a sacred form. It may seem heretical to you but really, it shouldn’t be because these sacred deities, these beings, they’re actually the very fabric of who you are. So why not? Again, it’s just kind of fake it till you make it. You actually are the Buddha. You actually possess Christ conscious. So why not visualize yourself as a way to kind of resonate with that reality?
So Guru Rinpoche says this. Remember, he was the great master that brought Buddhism from India to Tibet. About this stage of the practice he says,
“While apprehending the dream, consider since this is now a dream body, it can be transformed in any way. Whatever arises in the dream, be it monkeys, people, etc., transform them into your chosen deity. Practice multiplying them by emanation and changing them to anything you like.”
So why do you want to do this? In addition to what I just said about nurturing and discovering the deity nature of your own being, we want to change the way we view ourselves and others, to lift us out of our pathetic sense of identity with physical form and start to identify with the divine, start to lift ourselves up into our divinity. This is called “pride of the deity” in Vajrayana Buddhism. It’s a big deal practice. Pride of the deity is taking on this healthy pride, not arrogance, but really the confidence that you actually are this deity. It’s a much more accurate of viewing yourself and then also others. So as Guru Rinpoche says, “Not only do you visualize yourself as a deity in a dream, visualize whatever arises in the dream as a deity as well.”
Seeing the Sacred Quality of Yourself and Others
I mean, take a look at your life. We’re always taking ourselves and others down, which is really kind of an infection of poverty mentality. It’s so easy to say of ourselves and others, “You know, you’re full of shit,” or “I’m full of shit.” How often do we say this of ourselves and others? This is a samsaric practice, which is why it comes so naturally to us. It is what I call the practice of profane reductionism. You’re reducing everything. You’re taking the divine and you’re reducing it to crap. What good does that do? This particular practice, seeing yourself as a deity in a dream, which again if you do this practice in daily life for Vajrayana practitioners or anyone else who does deity yoga, this is easy to transpose into the dream state. I call this practice the practice of sacred elevationism. Again, elevationism, it’s not really a word but you get the idea. You want to lift yourself and others up. So instead of being full of shit, you’re a deity that’s full of goodness and love and beauty and strength and wisdom. It’s such a central, simple idea. It’s also referred to sometimes as the practice of pure perception. You’re simply seeing things the way they actually are. It’s another one of these fake till you make it practices.
So just like with illusory form, we’re creating a template that matches reality for self and and other really is the nature of deity. And I remember a number years ago asking Ken Wilbur, who I respect enormously, this kind of annoying question that I use to run around in those days asking everybody. It was this kind of nerdy question that actually served me quite well. I used to run around and ask every teacher I could, “If you realized right now you only had a few moments left to live, what would be your irreducible expression of your teaching?” And I got a lot of fantastic answers from a lot of teachers that I remember because the bullet point question delivered bullet point answers, and I can remember these things. So I expected some really complex, labyrinthian, you know, Aristotelian type of thing from a super intellect like Ken, who by the way has a super heart. He’s an amazing guy. So instead of this really complex thing, you know what he said? He said, “Hug the person next to you and realize you’re hugging a deity.” Man, that’s a cool answer.
So working with this practice of being a deity and seeing others as a deity may seem a bit contrived and unfamiliar at first. That’s just because it’s new. If you spend some time with it, it becomes increasingly natural, and eventually lo and behold what happens? Because you practice in the dream state, you start to see yourself, you start to relate to yourself as a deity in life, and you start to see the sacred quality of others around you.