Dream Lucidity as Self-Rescuing



Alex shared the following dream:

“I am in a jail.  I have to take care of people on death row.  I’m not a prisoner but I’m not a caretaker.  I’m something in-between.  I am taking care of people in the last hours before they go to the electric chair.  One of them is a former male friend.  He knows that he will die in a few hours.  I have to cheer him up.  (Crying).  It’s not a good time for me.  It’s dark with all the fear of losing him.  I have to tell him that I love him and that he’s a good guy.  I have to cheer him up for his last hours.    It’s awful.  Then they take him out of the room and take him to kill him.  I have to stay there until they bring him back dead.  I try to wake up because I realize it’s a nightmare, but I can’t stop dreaming.  I knew I was dreaming but I couldn’t wake up; I couldn’t stop it. The next person is my grandmother.  I have to take care of her.  They take her and kill her and I have to wait for the body to come back on a stretcher.  Then I woke up, went back to sleep and the same thing was happening to other people. Even with waking up I couldn’t stop this nightmare.”

Alex could see that the grip of this “dream” was so powerful that, as with a post-traumatic stress nightmare, he could not “awaken” from it, even after he was fully awake. Alex recognized that his attempts to wake up out of his nightmare were self-rescuing attempts at avoidance.

Alex knew, as soon as he woke up, that these people who were getting murdered were parts of himself. He recognized that he was remorseful about the death of parts of himself and that in his dream he was responsible for their murders. He could also see that his unsuccessful attempts at going lucid within the dream or in awakening from it were attempts at self-rescuing.

Most of us have had this experience; we want to wake up, we fight to wake up, but we can’t. What’s going on? On one level, this is a mirroring of our waking experience: we are caught in some self-rescuing addiction and cannot escape. It may be chronic worrying, an explosive temper, pornography, eating, wasting our time surfing the internet, or self-criticism. Whatever it is, if we try to break it, to escape from it, the experience is very much an attempt to arouse ourselves out of a dreamlike repetitive life pattern and failing to do so.

What would going lucid accomplish for this dreamer? Would it create insight into his fear or self-abuse or simply a change to a more comfortable theme, subject or context? Would it result in enlightenment or mere relief?  Wouldn’t it be counter-productive, because it would merely serve to avoid, repress, and deny the nightmare?  In such lucidity, in such “enlightenment,” there is no freedom, no control, no autonomy, no ability to change that which created, and may well re-create in the future, a nightmare that embraces everyday consciousness.

Clearly, this nightmare is demanding that it be heard, not ignored, repressed, or changed into something else. Isn’t going lucid in the nightmare a failed attempt by Alex to rescue himself from the Drama Triangle roles of self-persecution, self-victimization, and self-rescuing by waking up?  The “reality” of the nightmare is experienced as a source of persecution; the dreamer experiences himself as the victim of that persecution. He seeks rescuing through lucidity, changing the dream, or waking up.

“Self-rescuing” is not the same thing as helping yourself. It is more akin to addiction, in which you do something that feels good or relieves your stress but which keeps you struck in self-persecution, self-abuse, and self-victimization.

The nature of the Drama Triangle is such that if you play one role, you eventually play them all. Therefore, by rescuing himself from the nightmare in some fashion Alex becomes his own persecutor; his nightmares are only likely to become louder and ever more pervasive.

This is an excellent example of why lucidity, waking up, freedom, and enlightenment are not ends in themselves. For example, in traditional Hindu and Buddhist metaphysics, the world is maya, a delusional realm of ignorance and suffering, from which one seeks freedom as samadhi in Hinduism and nirvana in Buddhism. No one ever stops to think that this puts earthly existence in the role of persecutor, oneself in the role of victim, simply by the fact that you are alive, and freedom in the role of rescuer. This is not merely a critique of Buddhism and Hinduism, or even of all religions, but of all forms of self-rescuing.

Many people associate lucid dreaming with spirituality, when in fact children and criminals can lucid dream. Is lucid dreaming about higher levels of personal development? Is there any correlation between someone’s ability to lucid dream and their empathy, altruism, or compassion? While there are legitimate reasons to lucid dream, you are wise to learn to ask, both awake and dreaming, “Is what I am doing, or wanting to do, a form of self-rescuing within the Drama Triangle?” If you look at your life in this context it is not difficult to find self-rescuing aspects in everything you do: the foods you choose to eat and not eat, who you spend time with, when and why you answer and write emails or use the internet, why you go to work, why you pay your bills, why you meditate and do other spiritual practices, and why you exercise. Again, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with any of these activities; it is only when they are done within the Drama Triangle that they create misery and suffering in your life. If you attempt to wake up out of them by self-rescuing, you put yourself in a position similar to that of Alex in his nightmare.

Are there any activities undertaken in pursuit of enlightenment, including lucid dreaming,  that are never attempts at self-rescue? Of course there are, but the assumption of self-rescue is a reasonable and wise default position. Are there any situations in which self-rescue can be done without keeping you stuck in the Drama Triangle? When you “wake up,” when are you not contaminating a wider realm, whether it be dream sleep, dreamless sleep, near death, or mystical experience with the delusional assumptions inherent in your waking worldview? Why and how is it reasonable to assume that it becomes free or liberated from its own assumptions and perceptual prison simply because it has shifted to a broader context? Is it not still asleep, dreaming, sleepwalking, and delusional within its particular perceptual framework?

This is often very difficult to identify because the experience of freedom, expansiveness, unconditional love, and timelessness are so overwhelming that we feel transformed. But are we? Is there anything inherently transformative about moving into a relatively unconditioned context? A mundane analogy is going on vacation. If you go to the Mediterranean for a vacation the freedom from your normal routines combined with a host of new sights, sounds, and places is experienced as liberating. Is it? Well, yes and no. For most people, most of the time, they quickly discover one of two things. Either they cannot integrate the “otherness” of the Mediterranean into their everyday life and so either forget about it or live a split life, always missing it and longing for it, or they import all their bad habits into it. They continue to smoke, drink, worry, nag, or whatever.

Ken Wilber discusses this in terms of the grandiosity of an amplified sense of self, which can appear in advanced meditators experiencing oneness with nature, deity, or formlessness. Integral Deep Listening honors the nightmares of your life by giving them the respect that follows from suspending judgments, listening, and applying what makes sense.  Instead of changing the nightmare to conform to your assumptions of happiness, both the nightmare and your waking identity learn to conform to the culture of multi-perspectival contexts that transcend and include your own.

Self-rescuing needs to be compared to its healthy alternative, helping. When you help yourself you are not reacting to your compulsive behaviors and addictions out of a desire to escape from them. Instead, you develop a plan, check with sources of objectivity to see if it is realistic, engage whatever support systems are necessary for it to succeed, monitor your progress, and check again with those sources of objectivity to see if your progress is genuine or whether you are fooling yourself, such as by replacing one addiction with another. You begin this process of helping yourself in your dreams and nightmares, not by attempting to go lucid, but by asking questions. “Who are you?” “Are you a part of me? If so, what parts of me do you most closely represent?” “Are you attempting to scare me?” “If so, why?”

If you remembered to ask such questions of your experience, what do you think would be the most likely result? Wouldn’t you wake up in your awareness, in your consciousness, within the dream or nightmare? Isn’t this what life is wanting to do in and through us? If the object was to escape, why be alive in the first place? Why not just die? Instead of attempting to go lucid, why not attempt to be lucid?

Do you see any self-rescuing component in lucid dreaming in general and in your lucid dreams in particular? Whether you do or not, share your experiences with us.

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