Ancient Tibetan Practices For Tapping Into Dream Consciousness During Waking Reality
By Joel and Michelle Levey
Posted by Empress Evolution on January 18, 2021
The ancient Tibetan practice of dream yoga is designed to give you access to dream consciousness in waking reality, which has the effect of powerfully expanding your spiritual awareness.
Dream Yoga: The Practice of Waking Up
Many people say their lives are so busy that they don’t have time for meditation. Yet every living being must sleep. During sleep time, we don’t schedule meetings or have appointments to keep. The time is ours, and is usually subject to the mindless, random chaos of our undisciplined minds. We
spend nearly one-third of our life sleeping and dreaming. That means that if we live to be ninety, we would have spent thirty years of our life asleep. Can you imagine what it would mean if you were able to understand what is going on during those lost years of your life and to tap that mental power and creativity as a source of spiritual awakening?
In many of the great wisdom traditions of the world, there are traditions of “dream yoga” meditations that cultivate a sense of lucid wakefulness within the dream state. The profound practices of Tibetan dream yoga blend the lucid clarity of mindful presence with the boundless creativity of the mind. And they combine elements of creative, reflective, and receptive meditation practices. Before you go to sleep, hold the clear intention to wake up and be conscious within your dreams. In some Native American traditions, dreamers are advised to remember to look at their hands within a dream, or to raise their hands to the sky in a prayer for rain to bless the earth. Holding a simple intent like this is a good place to begin a dream yoga practice.
Dreams have much to teach us about how we “construct” our experiences and sense of identity or self in our waking life. During mindless daily life, we seldom look deeply enough into our perceptions, conceptions, and projections to recognize that our selective attention, biases, preconceptions, and assumptions are actually weaving together to construct our experience. Properly understood as expounded in the philosophy of Tibetan dream yoga, our ordinary life is seen to be a “waking dream” subject to many of the same conditions of our “sleeping dreams.” Learning to wake up within our dreams, and see and understand deeply and clearly what is going on, can be a profound path of awakening. As Thoreau said, “Our truest life is when we are in our dreams awake.”
Ask yourself, “How do I know what reality is? In my dream last night, I believed it was reality, I felt it, I experienced it, I was moved by it. Then I woke up and discarded these beliefs. How do I distinguish the real from the unreal? Where is last night’s dream now? Where is yesterday’s experience?” In a similar way, you can reflect upon the waking state as a dream. If you see that nighttime dreams and daytime illusions are the same, this can reduce compulsiveness and suffering and is also one of the keys to practicing dream yoga.
As you begin to understand the relativity of your waking life and to experience it more as a dream that is “relatively” true, you will become more receptive to new possibilities and interpretations and move more deeply into dream yoga consciousness. Dreams are partial realities, ultimately unreal, illusory. You can see that your situation may not be quite as serious as you thought. This may shift your sense of self, improve your relationships, and help you to live with greater freedom, compassion, and creativity. There are different ways to go from the unquestioned delusions of ordinary life to a state of spiritual maturity, but learning to regard existence as being dreamlike is one of the most enjoyable and interesting paths.
For most of our lives we have viewed the world as real, solid, and concrete. Learning to see it in a whole different light can be very enlightening. Everything becomes easier. This helps us to lighten up, to be kinder, to hold both the good and the bad more lightly as fleeting, insubstantial, dreamlike experiences. We begin to sense what infinity may be—infinite time, infinite space, infinite consciousness, infinite possibilities. All of these are the benefits of practicing dream yoga. As you learn to look, listen, and reflect more deeply, you penetrate and deconstruct the layers of illusion and begin to behold reality in its true mystery and magnificence. Approaching life in this way, everyday experience becomes a source of endless joy and delight.
Dream yoga practice begins with the understanding that the more present and awake you are in your life, the more present and awake you can become in your sleeping dreams. If in your waking life you allow your mind to be undisciplined, impulsive, driven by mindless habit, what do you expect to find in your dreams? As you develop greater mindfulness and self-discipline, and learn to focus and understand your mind, it will be more likely that in your dreams you will be better able to harness the power of your mind to gain deeper insight into the nature of reality.
The Four Foundational Practices of Dream Yoga
There are four foundations of Tibetan dream yoga meditation that are practiced while you are awake:
The first foundational practice of dream yoga is to regard your waking perceptions—what you see, hear, smell, taste, and touch—as a dream. It’s as if you say to yourself, “Isn’t this an interesting dream experience!” and really believe it to be so. This sets up an inclination in the mind that can be activated in your dreams to regard ordinary and dream experiences as ephemeral, illusory, insubstantial projections and constructions of the mind. Recognizing this within a dream will awaken a strong experience of lucidity and presence. So the first foundation is to regard waking life as a dream.
The second foundational practice of dream yoga is to begin to reduce the reactivity of your mind—your tendency toward attraction and repulsion while you are awake. When you notice your mind is drawn toward a pleasant sound, smell, taste, touch, or sight, remind yourself that the object, your reaction to the object, and your very sense of self are all a dream, a construction of the mind. Beginning to demagnetize your compulsiveness and reactivity in waking life will free you to be more awake, open, and creative in your dreams.
The third foundation for dream yoga practice takes place just before you go to sleep. It has two phases. First, review the day by allowing memories and images of the day to arise in your mind. As they do, regard all of these memories as being like a dream. Then, on the basis of this recognition, shift to phase two and generate a strong determination to vividly and clearly recognize your sleeping dreams as also being dreams. As you go to sleep, hold this strong intention to be mindful of your dreaming, and pray for help and inspiration to remember your intention.
The fourth foundation of dream yoga is to rejoice and be grateful upon waking up if you were actually able to have a clear and lucid dream. Let your successes deepen your confidence and rejoice. Let your failures to be mindful of your dreams help you to strengthen your determination to recognize your dreams, and strengthen your prayers that you might awaken within your dreams.
It can also be helpful before you go to sleep to do some meditation to clear the mind and purify some of the negativity or emotional turbulence that has accumulated during the day. Practice deep relaxation and the loving-kindness meditation, or the radiant being meditation, or any other practices that are helpful to calm and clear the mind.
The actual practice of Tibetan dream yoga is to recognize and transform the ordinary habits of the mind and to release the mind from its limitations into a wholesome and boundless display of our innate creativity and compassion. One technique is to practice multiplying things in a dream. If in a dream you see a flower or a tree, mentally multiply it so that there are a dozen, or a thousand, or a limitless number of flowers or trees filling the vastness of space.
The classic texts outline eleven categories of ordinary mental experience that are transformed through the practice of dream yoga. These involve the multiplication of objects; the “morphing” of the size of an object—making it bigger or smaller; changing the quantity or quality of the objects in the dream; modulating the experience of movement by speeding things up and slowing things down within the dream; transforming things into other things; emanating rays of light and other things from one’s body; traveling from place to place; and generating a boundless array of extraordinary experiences. All of these are ways of stretching the mind to realize its infinite creative potential which is normally eclipsed by habit. As the mind becomes more open, flexible, and supple, we discover a new freedom of mind and come to better understand how we construct the illusion of our ordinary experiences.
A word of caution: Remember that developing the foundations for dream yoga in your waking life can protect you from getting too fascinated and attached to the experiences you create in your dreams. This is especially important as some people who practice less grounded traditions of lucid dreaming run the risk of being seduced by their own creations, and actually reinforcing some of the negative habits of the mind.
Tibetan dream yoga is a very profound practice that is also regarded as a training in staying conscious at the time of death and in making the transition from this life onto the path of awakening to your True Nature. It is said that to awaken to your True Nature at death, you must first learn to awaken fully within deep, dreamless sleep. To awaken within dreamless sleep, you must learn to awaken within your dreams. And to awaken with your dreams, you must learn to be mindfully present and awake to the illusory display of your daily life. Taken to heart, this advice helps us recognize that the practice of mindfulness itself opens the way for us to be present in every experience of our life, and perhaps beyond.
Exercise: Sleeping Meditation Practice
Once upon a time, I, Chuang Tzu, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of following my fancies as a butterfly, and was unconscious of my individuality as a man. Suddenly I awakened, and there I lay, myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly dreaming I am a man.
— Chuang Tzu
There are numerous approaches to sleeping meditatively that tie in beautifully with the art of Tibetan dream yoga. One method is to simply meditate and relax before you go to bed. Take a few minutes to center and calm your mind, then review the day. Appreciate your day and as you notice moments about which you might feel some regret, appreciate the positive lessons these mistakes may hold for your actions in the days to come. In your heart say “thank you” to everyone who contributed to your learning and growth today. In your heart, give and ask forgiveness where needed, and feel as though you can sleep in peace. For optimum “recharging” of your energy system as you rest, many traditions recommend you sleep with your head to the north—to be in alignment with the electromagnetic field of the earth and that you lie on your right side to minimize pressure on your heart, freeing up the circulation so the heart doesn’t have to pump as hard.
Another technique for sleeping and enhancing your dream yoga practice is to imagine that your bed is within a large luminous lotus bud or a small temple with a healing and regenerating light that infuses you as you sleep. Imagine that the resonance and light of this space surrounds you with a buffer zone against any harsh interference from the outer world. Imagine that it draws into itself all of the positive energy of the universe that may be helpful for you. Rest deeply, and upon awakening simply dissolve this visualization into rainbow light and absorb its essence into you.
Another method is to imagine that as you sleep you rest your head in the lap of a special teacher or protector who watches over you. Let all of your thoughts and cares be dissolved by their presence. Receive their love, strength, and inspiration as you sleep. Upon awakening, dissolve them into rainbow light and melt them into space, or into your heart. This technique can be combined with the previous method and integrated into your overall dream yoga practice.
Yet another technique: as you lie in bed, imagine that with each breath you become filled with more and more light and space. As you exhale, you and everything in the universe melt into an ocean of light and space. Let your mind completely open like a drop falling into a luminous ocean. Rest deeply and powerfully. Upon awakening, let body and world appear fresh and new.
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This article on Tibetan dream yoga is excerpted with permission from Mindfulness, Meditation, and Mind Fitness by Joel and Michelle Levey.
About The Author
Joel and Michelle Levey were among the very first to bring mindfulness teachings to mainstream groups and organizations beginning in the 1970s. They have taught tens of thousands of people in hundreds of leading corporations, medical centers, universities, sports, government, and military arenas. They are the founders of Wisdom at Work. Find out more at wisdomatwork.com