Lucid dreaming is a practice that can take us into the realm of soul and spirit. But while we may hope for ecstatic experiences in our dreams, sometimes a different sort of scene arrives: one that tests our resolve, and leads us into dark places and emotional challenges. This is not a failure of the lucid dream, or an impurity of the dreamer. It’s the dream doing its work.
Soul and spirit
Usually, the terms soul and spirit are used interchangeably, but I like psychotherapist Bill Plotkin’s distinction: “Where soul is associated with the many earthly mysteries, spirit is associated with the one heavenly bliss. Soul opens the door to the unknown or the not-yet-known, while spirit is the realm beyond knowledge of any kind, consciousness without an object.”1
Similarly, depth psychologist James Hillman called the dream realm the underworld: the realm where we contact dark emotions and the existential truths of death and decay.
These processes of the soul have nothing to do with our connectedness to other living creatures, but rather the unique distinctiveness of the personality. It reflects our personal path through life.
This may be why those attracted to the light are so uncomfortable with dreaming. The path towards soul, towards inner nature and emotional truths, has been historically associated with evil, the pagan gods, and earthly sins.
That’s our Western heritage speaking.
It plays out still in a polite society that still actively fears the power of the feminine, the body, and our animal instincts.
Lucidity as neurognosis
Anthropologist Charles Laughlin coined the term neurognosis to describe innate knowledge we have about the world. These are internal, self-generating patterns of thought related to our brains and our bodies. Lucid dreaming is a forum for this kind of knowing due to the biological constraints on this altered state.
Lucidity reflects an ancient style of cognition
As neurognosis, lucid dream content around the world (and throughout history) showcases extreme emotions, initiation, and contact with the deceased as well as the oft-reported white light experiences and non-dual bliss.
Even if you are interested in becoming one with the light, or contacting the divine–however you conceive of it–chances are you will run into these more difficult themes as well.
Transcendence and transformation
Similar to Plotkin’s analysis, and with Laughlin’s neurognosis in mind, Sparrow suggests that transformation in dreams is about delving into emotions and initiation-style experiences—encounters that parallel Tantra and the almost forgotten Western culture of alchemy.
Transformation is a process of decay, of breaking down, and ultimately the growth of something new.
Sparrow writes eloquently how the pursuit of white light and non-dual experiences in lucid dreaming can actually distance us from the spirit of non-attachment. In the transformative path, he suggests, “instead of pursuing a transcendent goal, our goal becomes meaningful engagement with ourselves and the world, giving way to a flowering of a myriad of creative forms and possibilities.”
Fear is not a failure. It’s the way to deeper participation.
With courage and compassion, self-awareness brings opportunities to face those mortal fears, those dirty bodily truths, and those emotional frailities that tend to get washed over by the waking ego and its quest for positivity and bliss.
Competency in this realm is necessary for some lucid dreamers, based on individual motivations and, perhaps, personal destiny.
For myself, this was a process of facing lucid nightmares, learning how to fight and knowing when to surrender.
A dream to illustrate this underworld:
Throwing nails and throwing up
A group of boys throw nails at me. I run away. Then I approach them again and they have calmed down. I’m very uneasy. One of them directs his attention at me. We walk off together; he is volatile, angry. I’m lucid; I know I’m dreaming. I want to run but decide to stick with him. We sit on a bench and I know he hates me and thinks I am weak. I realize I don’t have to hate him back. I fight the urge to flee again. I struggle and then accept him fully in my heart. With this, I suddenly need to throw up. I do so, barfing all over myself. I see that he is sweating profusely too; his expression is that of someone who is doing hard work. I tell him I love him, and I know we just have to accept each other as we are; we don’t even have to embrace. He gets it and visibly relaxes. I wake up, invigorated, full of energy. (6/10/2008)
Like for all dreams, I measure it by its fruits: I awoke with renewed energy and courage. The transformative path of lucid dreaming is not a popular way to go, but it needs to be acknowledged if you’re serious about lucid dreaming as a path to knowledge. Descent is not a slippery slope into corruption, but an ancient way of knowing that purifies the soul.
Or the spirit, whatever. I don’t think we have to choose.
1 Plotkin, Bill. Soulcraft: crossing into the mysteries and nature and psyche. 2003: p 29.
First Image: Stairs by spaceyJessie