Shamanic Dreaming: The Art of Conscious Sleep

November 18, 2018

To begin this section on shamanic dreaming, I will first explain the modern term and experience of lucid dreaming. For us modern folks lucid dreaming and shamanic dreaming will share consistencies in the beginning stages simply because the initial goal of both is simply to become aware you are dreaming while you are dreaming. Learning to do this in the culture of my dreaming teachers—the Wirrarika—is very natural and nothing like what we modern people must go through.

Unlike our culture, dream recall is simply a part of everyday life for the Wirrarika. From a very early age, every morning a Wirrarika child is asked by her mom or grandfather, by the shaman or even many people: “What did you dream last night?” This Wirrarika custom of asking about and recounting dreams continues throughout life.

This dream recollection is key to beginning to learn lucid dreaming. Moving from intentionally remembering dreams in high detail to realizing you are dreaming while you are dreaming is a natural progression. For Westerners the best way to learn the highly advanced techniques of shamanic dreaming is to first become proficient at lucid dreaming. We are going to dive into this most important subject soon.

Most modern dream researchers agree on a simple definition for lucid dreaming: in a lucid dream the dreamer knows that he is dreaming while he is dreaming. For those of you proficient in lucid dreaming, I suggest you stick around anyway because you might learn something new.

A Brief History of Dreaming

We all have dreams that upon our wakening startle us with their clarity: the dream felt so real that while we were dreaming it didn’t feel or seem like a dream at all. Many, if not all of us, have also experienced a lucid dream (LD) in which we somehow knew we were dreaming while we were dreaming it, and upon awakening we remember that we knew we were dreaming while dreaming. Recent polls conducted by dream researchers suggest that around 80 percent of people have three to five lucid dreams per year. That’s a really small percentage—1 to 2 percent of dreams for a whole year. After people participate in a weeklong class on how to induce LD, the percentage rises to 10 to 40 percent. After many months of practice inducing LD, many participants report 80 percent frequency, and there are highly experienced oneironauts (lucid dreamers) who, after many years of practice, report 100 percent frequency when they intend to lucid dream.

Lucid dreaming and shamanic dreaming share many themes and processes, but shamanic dreaming takes everything to another whole level. So now you may be wondering why we should practice LD. Good question. The easiest answer is also the simplest: because we spend around a third of our lives asleep, why wouldn’t we want to have access to that part of our life instead of being in a state that resembles a coma? Below are some of the potentials lucid dreaming offers. Later, I’ll get into the whys of shamanic dreaming.

+ Gain control. Explore your dream world with total clarity, and direct and manipulate dream themes, settings, and plots at will.

+ Get inspired. Collect ideas and creative motivation for the waking world from your subconscious.

+ Fulfill fantasies. During LD you can do whatever you want.

+ Therapy. While lucid dreaming you can face your fears, phobias, anxieties, past traumas, and even nightmares.

+ Gain energy and power. Lucid dreamers have shown that proficiency in lucid dreaming carries over many positive changes in the waking world.

What Is and What Is Not Lucid Dreaming

There are two states of consciousness before and after sleep that are often confused with lucid dreaming. The hypnagogic state and the hypnopompic state are terms used to describe the borderline state between wakefulness and falling asleep and being asleep and waking up, respectively. Both states may tap into the subconscious mind in a similar way and sometimes in an even more powerful way to normal dreams, although hypnagogia (falling asleep) is usually more pronounced than hypnopompia (waking up).

Common experiences during hypnagogia include visualizations such as phosphenes (colored specks of light), geometric patterns, kaleidoscopic imagery, and flashing dream scenes similar to an ongoing dream. Since we are still partially awake, we often consciously decide to hold a scene or image or to let it go and pass to another. Personally, I find it quite enjoyable and peaceful to see phosphenes and to be able to control their movements while transitioning to sleep and have found this to be very conducive to evoking lucid dreaming once asleep.

Hypnagogia and lucid dreaming share some qualities, but they are not the same state of consciousness. During the hypnagogic state I can to a certain extent direct the images that I see, in a similar way to lucid dreaming, but I am not asleep yet. Being aware of the hypnagogic state can be a very valuable to lucid dreaming technique. It is an effective technique to “carry over” an image or scene into a lucid dream. More about that later.

A second state of consciousness often confused with lucid dreaming is the prelucid dream state. Although we can at times move from hypnagogia to lucid dreaming, especially with training and practice, normally we pass into normal sleep and then through a prelucid dream state first. The prelucid state is in most cases a very important bridge to becoming fully lucid. While in a prelucid state our dream seems utterly real, and many times we are astonished at the clarity.

It’s quite common in this state to say to oneself, “This can’t be a dream.” Or to ask, “Am I really dreaming?” If you are making statements or asking questions to yourself about your dream, you have arrived at a state of consciousness where you could easily cross the bridge to lucid dreaming; however, this is not always the case. Often we stay in this dream state, it fades away, or we wake up without experiencing lucidity.

While dreaming we can often feel, or actually be, in charge of what is going on in our dream without being aware we are dreaming. Our unconscious is a tricky animal and is basically in charge of what we are dreaming. If you are in some form connected to your subconscious, it may seem like you are consciously in charge of your dream when actually you are not. Many times, especially for novices, this also occurs even when you are fully aware you are dreaming (LD). For the vast majority of people, it takes a lot of practice to be consciously in charge of your dream even when you know you are dreaming.

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