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.