Have you ever wondered about the power and meaning of dreams? Have you ever realized in a dream that you were dreaming? Have you ever been able to "control" your dream? Have you ever wanted to?
If so and if you're in the Bay Area, join me Saturday, December 5th on a journey to understand yourself better and grow through the practice of dream yoga and lucid dreaming (based on Tibetan dream yoga as well the works of Westerners Stephen LaBerge and Robert Waggoner.)
The history of lucid dreaming and Tibetan dream yoga
The philosophy of lucid dreaming and Tibetan dream yoga
Practical "how to" methods for inducing lucid dreaming
Practical "how to" methods for play and personal growth through your dreams
As a bonus, learn about yoga sequencing to prepare yourself for a better night's sleep.
Prework: Please record all your dreams (as soon as you wake up each morning) for at least two weeks preceding the workshop in a notebook and bring this notebook to the workshop. The longer and more diligently you work on your dream recall ability the more prepared you will be for the practice of lucid dreaming.
Now, as I alluded to in my previous post, I had a legendary lucid dream this weekend while away on retreat on a farm in the Sonoma Mountains. It was so powerful that I'm planning to write a novel based on the world I visited and what I experienced there. You'll have to wait for the book to find out what happens (and it could be a while), but here's a teaser:
My boyfriend and I were flying through the sky. I realized I was dreaming and announced this to him. He was controlling how fast we were going (which made me believe I was actually in HIS dream) & he kept making us go faster & faster. I had never flown as fast as we were flying before, and I had the uneasy feeling we were being watched. "I think this is dangerous," I said. "Let's slow down."
He complied and we began descending back to the ground, finally arriving before some kind of government building emblazoned with a bold, hollow triangle, yellow with black stripes. We went it.
It was warm inside, with soft light, maroon walls and the ambiance of a busy, high-end restaurant at dinner, but full of bright young people in futuristic garb. It felt a bit like a non-magic Hogwarts, but corporate. Institutional, maybe scientific. It was a grand building, perhaps a world of its own.
But before I could take full stock of where we were and what was taking place around us, two seemingly executive characters in lab coats approached. I was quickly separated from my boyfriend and ushered by these characters into a small interrogation-like room.
They closed the door and smiled at me. "We know what you're doing," they said. "And we don't like it."
Stay tuned for more. If I'm lucky my dreams will continue to bring me inspiration and plot ideas for the book. But if not, I'll have to let my imagination run wild. Either way, it's the same source right? Or is it...?
This past weekend was one for the books. I revisited Taylor Maid Farms, this time for Jonathan's second retreat of the year (Shasta was the first). The yoga was strong, the stars were bright and the magic was palpable. I have returned to The Real World (which is not a separate world) with a renewed sense of the present moment's potential. And let me tell you: I've got plans, baby. Big plans.
Retreat highlights (with photos below):
The enchanted land we were on, a hilly expanse of mossy forrest and curvy vineyards
The farm-fresh food, especially the woodfire-baked pizzas!!!
Reading and writing in the outdoor hanging bed
Exploring the neighboring woods and farms
Hearing and smelling the rain in the dark early morning from my yurt
Trying "bulletproof" heavy-smooth supercoffee. We used salted butter instead of unsalted so it was a bit like drinking buttered toast but not terrible. I felt pretty invincible for a few hours after drinking it. Coffee machine and MCT oil already ordered upon my return.
The outdoor shower (and the giant slug I met in it)
The bonfire jam sessions
Pranayama in the shivery mornings
Realizing my own physical power. One of the reasons I love yoga asana is that it makes me feel strong, but not all teachers emphasize strength much and none have helped me find my strength like Jonathan has!
Last but not least - an epic lucid dream (in tradition with last year's). More to come on this.
To kick off this listicle, I want to clarify yoga philosophy discourages labelling. Labelling reinforces a sense of separation (between this and that, us and them, you and me) and thus reinforces ego. However, one way to soften the shell of ego is to poke fun at ourselves. So please note I've created this list purely for kicks, without any intention of judgement. As my teacher says, it's only yoga, people!
Now, without further ado, here are the nine "types" of student you'll find in your typical San Francisco public yoga class:
1. The girl with designer yoga pants and matching headband. She practices in full makeup and she's got dat "yoga butt." Her breathing is...dramatic...and so are her lunges.
2. The former ballerina. No matter how many times you tell her to keep her hips square in three-legged dog, she's got to have those toes to the sky. She loves Malasana and Goddess, but Warrior 1 is decidedly NOT her favorite pose. Arm balances are hard for her, but making herself flex her feet is harder.
3. The acro bro. You saw him earlier in Dolores Park flippin' tricks with his friends. He doesn't jump back to chaturanga in class. He handstands back. He handstands back with one arm tied behind his back, chugging a coconut water with the other.
4. The expecting momma. She's making lots of room for baby. If she has yet to announce her pregnancy she might try to be sneaky about the fact there's a baby on board, but her twist-avoidance will give her away every time. That, or her lack of fart shyness.
5. The true hippy. Her parents met on a silent yoga retreat in India and buried her placenta when she was born. She grew up on yoga philosophy but is pretty new to asana. She's wearing glasses but no bra and has boxers on as her yoga pants. When she introduces herself at the beginning of class, try not to double-take when she says her name is "Petal."
6. The Kundalini gal. You'll recognize her from her white top on white bottom getup. She's all about nadis, bandhas, mudras, prana and - most importantly - awakening that sleeping kundalini energy, yo. Sat NAM!
7. The Castro dude. He's always front row center in booty shorts. You would have never believed someone so muscular could be so flexible until you met this guy. His hanumanasana gives the former ballerina a run for her money. He comes for the sweat but often leaves with a number or two.
8. The tattooed yogini. She's obviously in yoga teacher training and she's had more spiritual experiences than you've had ujiyi breaths in your life. If you practice next to her you might get lost in decoding her tattoos and what they might say about her and her past.
9. Last but not least, you've got The Husband. He gets dragged along for yoga retreats - or comes of his own accord to make sure his yogini wife doesn't fall in love with the retreat leader or an exotic local. He's got major manstrings inside his cargo "yoga shorts" and you might recognize him from the "When's Savasana?" T-shirt. He'd rather be watching football or MMA, but he does love the mini maps he gets in child's pose.
I'm gonna soak up the sun While it's still free I'm gonna soak up the sun Before it goes out on me - Sheryl Crow
The sun's still shining, but the end is near. Every third day or so the wind stirs along the streets of the Mission and I wish I had a scarf wrapped up to my nose. At night my wet hair chills next to the window I should have closed. For a few weeks already, the flower stand along my morning commute has been selling pumpkins instead of roses. Any day now, it seems, the cold will renounce for good our lingering honeymoon with summer and the sun will take back its generosity. So I'm savoring summery ales, sweaty Sunday strolls and the freckles on my face while I can. While they're still in season, thanks to San Francisco stretching this one.
It's so easy to miss something when it's gone, but it takes a greater awareness to appreciate relationships and experiences in the moment. I recently read an inspiring article in Mantra Magazine about living fervently. In essence, the takeaway was that if you're going to say "yes" to something, you better make it a "Hell yes!" This idea, the idea that when we choose to do something why not choose to do it with our full soul, really resonated with me. How often do you RSVP to a social event, for example, only to spend most of your time on your phone or wishing you were somewhere else? What if instead you really committed to being where you were at all times, dialing in rather than checking out? What would that be like?
Back in my Idaho days, I competed with students from other schools in Idaho and its surrounding states in both speech and debate. The realm of speech comprised many categories, including humor and improv. My favorite category though, the category I competed in, was Original Oratory. In "OO," as we called it, the topic was up to the participant who was also responsible for composing, memorizing and performing a ten-minute speech on said topic. My 15 minutes of speech fame came in the ten minutes I performed "Live It Up," a motivational speech inspired by the wild adventures of my best friend Lacey and myself. In this oration I encouraged dancing with abandon, embarking on spontaneous road trips and playing elaborate pranks on teachers. These were examples of how one might live life more fully, I explained.
Now, despite what one might guess upon seeing the hairdo in my current corporate headshot, I'm still a young person. But even a decade ago I was already contemplating the fleeting nature of our days in this life (or at least this lifetime). The difference is now I understand "living it up" doesn't mean doing anything drastic or even doing anything at all. It's both easier and more difficult than that. To live fully is to live presently. To savor what's there when it's there.
Meditation is helping me do this more consistently. I used to be THE poster child for FOMO but, thanks to the work I've been putting into strengthening my presence muscle, I'm getting better at following Sheryl Crow's advice and "wanting what I've got." (And I'm much happier for it.)
And on the mat I've been trying something simple that has made a significant impact in terms of enabling me to stay present. I've keep closing my eyes as I flow. I'll open them through jumps back to chaturanga and during balancing poses, but I try to keep them closed (or almost closed) more often than not. As a result, I feel like I'm savoring the breath and the movement and the sensations like I'd savor a rare cheese. It's blissful to practice this way and it's my version of saying "Hell yes!" to the practice. It lets me squeeze all the benefits out like I'm squeezing the remains of summer out of SF.
Soon I'll be savoring fall. I bought a pair of cold weather boots this week. I'll start getting pumpkin ales when summer ales are off the shelf, and I'll enjoy them. But while I've got it, I'm, I'm guna soak up the sun (with my eyes closed). I've got my 45 so on I...can rock on!
Last night's lucid dream shook me hard. I remember few details, but I woke up this morning with the weighty realization that the grasp I thought I had on what dreams are is shaky at best. The work I still have ahead of me is staggering.
Throughout last night's dream I encountered not one, but many characters that seemed to be conscious, aware, independent beings like myself. I got the impression that we were all lucid dreaming together. The first character I encountered was a young red-headed girl stepping down from a bus. Recognizing something about her, I exclaimed, "You're here too!" and she gave me bright-eyed hug.
In fact, Only about 10% of the characters (people?) in my dream (our dream?) seemed to be aware. Those of us who were tried to keep it hidden from the rest of the characters, but we were all acutely excited about what appeared to be a mutual experience.
The dream was long, with three distinct parts, and that towards the end I examined my palms several times for stabilization and to prevent losing lucidity. But throughout the dream as I came across more and more familiar faces and knowing eyes, I was sure I was on to something.
Then I remembered I could ask the Dreaming itself. "How can it be that so many people in my dream seem to also recognize they're dreaming too?" I yelled up at the ceiling. "What's going on?" The dream didn't answer. Instead, all the characters in my dream turned to look at me, which in turn made me self-conscious and paranoid. I could not understand what was going on. One dream character came over to me looking exasperated. I instantly felt she had some greater insight into what was happening. I could also tell I was in trouble.
"We should talk," I said to her. "But I have to go now or I'll forget all of this." At that point I looked down and noticed my feet were floating off the floor. "I'm going to fly and, by flying, wake myself up!" I announced.
I shot up and found myself waking up in bed. It was still dark out. I grabbed my computer and started writing down the dream. However, this was only a false awakening. By the time I woke up in real life, most of the dream details had slipped away from me.
Perhaps the events of last night's dream were a result of my internal paranoia about dream characters, but - I can't help but leave the possibility open - what if in fact I've uncovered something deeper about dreaming? If not, at least I've acquired some solid material for a sci-fi novel.
Yesterday was one of my favorite days of summer so far. I started it off with Amanda Moran at Yoga Tree Hayes. The theme was sound and the flow was rhythmic. I got so in the zone of my practice that during savasana I began experiencing hypnogogic imagery and was moments away from falling into a very deep sleep. I stumbled into La Boulange in a daze afterwards for a mini prosciutto sandwich on olive bread with a side of fruit and a cup of coffee. In the corner of the cafe, I read the first few pages of "The Book of Strange New Things" over breakfast, and then I walked home in the warm August San Francisco sun.
The rest of the day was spent at Ocean Beach with my fellow lucid dreamer Nick and his friend Barbara. We enjoyed a picnic of Parisian baguettes and Big Sur jams and cheeses as we talked about lucid dreams. The more we discussed, the more excited we all got.
We asked the big questions."What ARE dream characters?" "Is there really a cosmic consciousness and can we tap into it through lucid dreaming?" "Do you think we could visit each other's dreams?" As I looked from Nick to Barbara and back with the backdrop of the Pacific Ocean and the airplanes skimming overhead, I knew I'd have a lucid dream last night. In fact, it felt like we were already there. We joked as we did a few reality checks together, but I don't think I would have been surprised to discover we were, actually, in a dream.
At the beach, Nick and I agreed to attempt dream telepathy last night. We each were to go home and draw an object for the other to find in a lucid dream. No hints.
At the end of the night after hours spent on the beach I went home sunburnt and ready to dream. I drew my object for Nick (which I won't reveal until he has had a chance to go lucid and look for it), watched a few episodes of "Wet Hot American Summer" on Netflix and passed out.
In the middle of the night I had a bizarre dream:
Some man (that I seemed to be working for) had killed a young girl. I discovered her on the bottom floor of a multi-storied building in a bathtub soaking in her own blood. I can't recall the details, but it soon became clear to me that there was a strong chance I'd be framed for her death. Since I had been the one to discover her there my fingerprints were everywhere and I was convinced my employer would blame me.
Once I realized this, I determined to flee the building as quickly as possible. I was scaling the stairs up from one floor to another, attempting to reach the top of the building where I'd somehow escape. At the base of one of the stair sets, though, I noticed an unusually large gap between the floor and the first step. "This isn't right," I thought. "This has got to be a dream! Thank goodness! Now let's fly out of here."
I failed to fly through the ceiling - damn expectation effect - so I looked for a window instead. The window worked. I squeezed through then shot up and up through the atmosphere to finally find myself uncomfortably high above an industrial city. I felt like a god, floating so far above a dream world of miniature warehouses and bright-colored transport trucks. I looked at my hands to stabilize the dream and then, joyfully, I remembered my task. "Bring me to the dream symbol Nick drew for me!" I yelled.
I immediately found myself in the floor of an office that could have been an old public high school. I seemed to have been transported into one of the warehouses I had seen from above. Papers were stacked from floor to ceiling. "Where's Nick's stuff?" I asked the young dream characters that I assumed worked there. Someone walked me to a new room.
The first thing I noticed upon walking in was a couple of basketballs next to each other on a shelf. "Basketball," I said to myself. "Nick's sign for me is a basketball!" There were other artifacts in the room - animal horns and wadded balls of paper - but nothing stood out to me like the basketballs did. Through experience, I've learned I tend to overestimate during lucid dreams how much I'll actually be able to remember upon waking so I continued repeating to myself throughout the rest of the dream: "It's a basketball."
The dream didn't last much longer, though. Before I could make my next lucid dream move, my boyfriend shifted next to me and I woke up.
Lucid dreaming is fascinating and imbued with potential. Through lucid dreaming, I believe we have the power to unlock immense creativity, resolve complex problems, and even perform self-healing. Telepathy, however, I'm not so sure about yet. But I can't and won't write it off. I'm still just setting out on my dream journey and I plan to continue this journey for the rest of my life. There is much left to try and much left to learn.
I texted Nick this morning to test my guess. "Close," he texted back. "Same shape and color." Coincidence? Maybe...but maybe not. I'm ready for another round of this game.
On Saturday I came hope after a friend's birthday BBQ a bit tipsy. I was reading the forums on the lucid dream site LD4all.com in bed and came across a post in which someone mentioned that eating potato starch has the effect of making one's dreams vivid and movie like. In my floaty head state, of course I immediately ordered some on Amazon.
Yesterday my potato starch arrived. I mixed some into my evening smoothie, and, lo and behold, last night I had a lucid dream:
I'm in a classroom, sitting at the front of the room in a shopping cart. Sandra Bullock is going to be lecturing in just a couple minutes but I really have to pee so I sneak out. It turns out we are actually in some kind of church and I have to navigate my way through people dressed up in elaborate ceremonial costumes in attempt to find a restroom. A girl in a headdress apparently knows me and yells that I have no business interrupting their proceedings and need to get the hell out. "You psycho!" I yell. "I was just trying to get to the bathroom!"
I turn around and start running (in case she chases me) and it's at this point I become fully lucid. I've never run while lucid before (but it seems to be a great alternative to spinning in terms of getting to a new scene.) I feel like a cartoon character with machinelike arms and legs going round and round. The only limit to how fast I can go is my imagination.
I end up somewhere dark, with tiny bubbles. As soon as I decide I must be underwater, fish big and small begin swimming around me. A great sharklike shadow skims below me and I think, "Alright - enough of this. Land now!" I'm immediately pulled up out of the water and plopped onto an island.
The island is the size of a restaurant and there's only one other person on it with me: a man on a cellphone. I can't recall now what he was talking about but, since he was occupied, I busied myself with concentrating on keeping my lucidity, recognizing that the dream had gotten pretty long at that point.
I examine my hands and repeat, "Lucid, lucid, lucid" to myself. My hands look so realistic that I question if I'm really dreaming. Suddenly I see someone else on the island: the girl who had confronted me in the church. "Oh crap!" I think. "I gotta get outta here!" And just then, the alarm wakes me up.
Last night I went to bed tired as can be. It was one of those juicy falling asleep experiences where you feel your body becoming numb in stages as you merge with the bed. I slept for ten hours and had a long lucid dream around 7am followed by a false awakening. I've lost many details of the lucid dream in the hours since it took place, but what I remember I've recounted below.
I can't remember what incited my lucidity, but in my dream I became lucid standing in my bedroom. Once I realized I was dreaming I flew all around my room like a frog, but expectation constraints prevented me from traveling through my walls or ceiling. I wanted to be in a more interesting setting or at least have characters to interact with but I was struggling to break through psychological barriers.
It felt like I'd be stuck in my room forever. I wasn't making progress and I was scared of losing awareness and control. To prolong lucidity, I occasionally stabilized my consciousness by staring at the criss-crossing lines on my palms and performed reality checks by pulling my fingers (which tend to lengthen like taffy in dreams).
Once when I pulled my finger, I saw open space behind a few yellow strings that I tried to travel "into." I had read about others traveling into parts of their bodies in lucid dreams and, curious about what I might find in there, decided to give it ago. I set the intention and concentrated on making it happen. No luck. (I must not have expected it to work so it didn't.) I needed a new plan for adventure. I was lucid - a rare and delicious occurrence for me - and going to take advantage of it, damnit!
Finally, I remembered to call on LaBerge's classic trick of "spinning" to change my setting. I looked at my feet and shuffled them out and out, twirling on the carpet of my bedroom. I emerged in a minimalist futuristic street scene. Success!
Not sure what I saw or did in this new setting, but at one point in the dream I ran into my boyfriend. My boyfriend is an oneironaut like myself, so I decided to take the opportunity to try an experiment. Excitedly I approached him and said, "Hey, you're in my lucid dream! You might be dreaming too right now! Try to become lucid!" (This morning when I asked him, he said he dreamt we slept next to each other but he can't remember his other dreams. Mutual lucid dreaming experiment inconclusive.)
Towards the end of my lucid dream I remembered the intention I had recently set to ask the dream itself what I should do next within the dream. "Dream! What should I do next?" I yelled up at the sky. An animated portrait of a woman on the wall drew my attention. She started talking to me, telling me about something she wanted or needed, but I couldn't quite understand what she said so I ignored her. "You want a what?" I said. "A TV?" I saw her face break out into frustration but I didn't stay back to get her response.
I kept walking and decided to try again. "Dream! Tell me what I should do next." Immediately the sky overhead turned terrifying. Angry thunder exploded, cracks of lightening broke out, and the dream collapsed.
I "woke up" in a research lab, with a woman in a white lab coat telling me I had made a mistake. "We planted that girl in the portrait," she said. "You were supposed to listen to her."
Now that I'm awake I wish I had listened to the portrait. I doubt she was an independent agent of any kind "planted" by a dream researcher or anyone else, but she could have been a dream symbol or the voice of my unconscious itself. And what if she had something important to tell me or show me?
I've experienced my mind as a lab before and I think the metaphor fits. But it's less clear to me now who the head of the lab really is. The more I meditate the more clearly I see that we are not our egos. Thankfully the ego and the mind are two different things.
So what makes up or creates the sum of our conscious, subconscious and unconscious if not our egos? Is there an overseer at all - a head of the lab? I'm starting to think we don't run our own labs, but at least through lucid dreaming (and yoga and meditation and mindfulness and psychology) we can closely observe our labs and learn what there is to learn.
The more I dream the more I question. The more I question the more I dream!
Wispy clouds crown the blazing cap shading the collective eye of Lumaria. We drink huckleberry honeywine on the train tracks underneath the stars. Between handstands and backbends, we run barefoot through the dark corridors of the old, Western hotel to pee. The light is perfect for writing in the White Mountain Cafe, where Grease Lightning plays while a young teenage boy with slicked dark hair and pristine eyebrows stands behind the "U" of the counter eating a piece of toast with both hands. This is Mount Shasta, where two years ago I began my yoga journey with a simple intention in a ballroom. This weekend I went back for some more magic.
Highlights include talking dreams with Nick, playing countless singing bowls at The Crystal Room, getting smoothies from Berryvale Groceries, hiking from Castle Lake up to Heart Lake, befriending a pilot and a Polish Buddhist, finding my serratus muscles like never before, and sleeping in a haunted room with doors that lead to nowhere and too many corners. Here are some of my favorite photos from the weekend: