the ritual complex of lucid dreaming

For December, we have another guest writer. I hope you enjoy this piece by Ryan Hurd.

You can reach him at https://dreamstudies.com/

Despite the snake oil pitch that lucid dreaming is all about “controlling your dreams,” the real value of lucid dreaming is to interact with the deep mind. Otherwise, we would just close our eyes and have a fantasy daydream. Done! But that’s not what we really want.

Lucid dreaming at its best invites something dynamic, unknown, or potentially ecstatic. With greater consciousness, the dreamer can dance with the dream, gaze into the bright eyes of mystery, and move with new power in a mythic world.

So let’s agree to use a simple definition for lucid dreaming: a dream in which the dreamer knows this is a dream. I do not talk a lot about “dream control” as it is not a big part of my dream life. I’m more interested in choice and meeting the dream where it stands.

Controlled aspects of lucid dreaming do come in handy, though, don’t get me wrong. Especially when calling the dream forth, when setting the stage.

Indeed, when viewed from a practical perspective, lucid dreaming induction can be seen as a controlled ritual used in order to stir up the unconscious mind and its visionary effects. By ritual, I mean an act or series of acts regularly repeated in a set or precise manner according to a social custom (1). Reframing lucid dreaming as a ritual complex is the hidden structure behind our forgotten lore, and the key to getting the most out of the Lucid Talisman.

Induction = Incubation

The ritual aspects of lucid dreaming can be seen every step of the process, and I would argue they are inseparable from the culture of lucid dreaming.

To begin with, the daily practices that bring on lucid dreams—also known as lucid dreaming induction—are a modern take on the ancient skill of dream incubation. The term comes from the Latin incubare, which means to lie down upon, or as we say today: just sleep on it. Dream incubation is about calling dreams, asking for guidance or clarity.

Anthropologist Charles Laughlin has noted that, while dream incubation is largely a lost art, many people have participated in dream rituals without knowing it when attempting to have a lucid dream (2). In fact, lucid dreaming can be thought of a specific form of dream incubation in which we are not looking for a dream message, but a specific form of dream thinking: being aware of being aware.

Ritual Drivers for Lucidity

In its weakest form, dream incubation can be represented by a wish for a certain kind of dream while lying down before sleep. This is the idea behind autosuggestion, one of the first lucid dreaming techniques popularized in the 1970s by lucid pioneer Patricia Garfield (3). 

In stronger variations, common ritual drivers can include affirmations said throughout the day, meditation, prayer, fasting, seclusion, drumming, and the ingestion of a tonic, pill or smoked herbs. Sound familiar to the “new tactics” posted on lucid dreaming forums? All of these techniques have been used for millennia across the world and in many cultures to ignite altered states of consciousness.

Neurologically, lucid dreaming is associated with increased activation of the frontal and parietal lobes (bringing waking-like awareness) during dreaming, a state of consciousness that comes with intense emotionality, vivid imagery and deep access to long-term memory (4). In this way, lucid dreaming is a bridge between the imagination of the dream state and the focused and intentional thinking that comes with being awake. However, the emphasis on waking-like consciousness in sleep (applying reason, testing memory skills, signaling to scientists in a lab) is a modern preoccupation.

In contrast, Anthropologist Michael Winkelman has called lucid dreaming a shamanic state of consciousness, because it “integrates the potentials of dreaming and waking consciousness.” This integrative mode of consciousness invites the classical markers of visionary awareness seen in other altered states, including abstract geometric imagery, encounters with animal-human hybrids, emotional catharsis and ecstasy, and finally, experiences of white light and nonduality (5).

That doesn’t make every lucid dreamer a shaman—heck no—but it sets up lucid dreaming as a vital bridge into the visionary worlds that have long been explored for the aims of shamanism around the world (healing, uncanny information, and personal insight).

The bridge, this transfer of knowledge, can go both ways: it is not just about bringing waking life-levels of self-awareness into the dream, but also bringing the imaginal realm back into the waking world.

This is the true potential of lucid dreaming: not the ability to change the dream, but our allowance to be changed… perhaps transformed.

This article is adapted from Ryan’s new book Lucid talisman: Forgotten lore, a book about using amulets and other liminal objects to empower your life with more lucidity.

Notes

1 Hayden, Brian (2003). Shamans, sorcerers and saints: A prehistory of religion. Washington: Smithsonian Books, p. 359.

2 Laughlin, Charles (2011).  Communing with the Gods. Brisbane: Daily Grail Press, p. 140

3 Garfield, Patricia (1974). Creative Dreaming. New York: Simon and Schuster.

4 Dresler, M., Wehrle, R., Spoormaker, V., Koch, K., Holsboer, F., Steiger, A., Obrig, H., Sämann, P., and Czisch, M. (2012). “Neural Correlates of Dream Lucidity Obtained from Contrasting Lucid versus Non-Lucid REM Sleep: A Combined EEG/fMRI Case Study.” Sleep. 35(07), 1017-1020.

5 Winkelman, Michael (2010). Shamanism: A biopsychosocial paradigm of consciousness and healing, 2nd edition. Santa Barbara: Praeger, p. 141.

THANK YOU, RYAN, FOR YOUR CONTRIBUTION to Conscious Chimera!

About the Author

Ryan Dungan Hurd (he/him) is an educator, author and dream researcher. He is interested in consciousness studies at the intersections of ecology, spirituality and material culture. Ryan has been featured on NPR, CNN, Coast to Coast, Psychology Today, and many more. With a background in both archaeology and dream research, Ryan currently teaches graduate level courses at University for Peace in Costa Rica and National University in California. Ryan is a member of the International Association for the Study of Dreams and abides by their ethical guidelines. His website DreamStudies.org has been going strong since 2007. He currently lives in Philadelphia, PA.

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