Guest Writer for Wake Up World
Ayahuasca is an ancient shamanic brew that can take those who imbibe it on universe-spanning visionary experiences. The mystical ayahuasca ceremony has the potential to help treat conditions such as depression, eating disorders, and PTSD.
Lucid dreaming is the art of taking control of your dreams. People can learn to wake themselves up from nightmares, extend pleasant fantasies, or even practice a skill while they’re asleep.
Reports of visionary ayahuasca experiences can sometimes read like dream reports (although with some important differences). So would expert lucid dreamers be able to take control of the mystical visions of an ayahuasca ceremony, just like they do with their dreams? And what benefits could this have for their spiritual exploration?
You May Already Be a Lucid Dreamer
Have you ever been in a dream, when suddenly you realize how absurd everything is?
Maybe without warning, you become aware that it’s not normal for humans to be flying. Or perhaps you think twice about that giraffe you saw walking on its hind legs a few blocks earlier…
Whatever triggers this moment of awareness, many people have had it. And this could lead to them figuring out that not everything is what it seems, and that they might be in a dream.
For most people who aren’t used to it, this sudden “aha!” moment causes them to wake up. But by learning and practicing lucid dreaming techniques, people can learn to ride these “aha!” moments into full-blown lucid dreams.
Some people are even natural lucid dreamers; able to control the flow of their dreams with minimal effort, from a young age. These people are usually surprised to learn that most people can’t actually control their dreams!
Why Lucid Dream?
People learn to lucid dream for many reasons. Some may be suffering from recurring nightmares or sleep paralysis, and want to learn techniques for breaking out of these patterns. Some people may just want to explore their fantasies. Anecdotal reports suggest that lucid dreaming could also help you conquer phobias, or solve personal issues.
Scientific research is also starting to show that there are some concrete benefits to lucid dreaming. For example, people who are more experienced lucid dreamers are better at solving cognitive tasks than non-dreamers. We also know that it’s possible to practice a physical skill in a lucid dream and have better performance at the skill when you wake up. So lucid dreaming could even help you improve at specific tasks and activities!
Lucid Dreaming Techniques
There are many ways of training yourself to take control of your dreams. Depending on your preferences and natural tendencies, some techniques may work very well for you, while others may not work at all!
A basic first step is keeping a dream journal. Writing down your dreams each morning will gradually help you remember them more clearly and vividly – and this is a crucial part of learning lucidity.
One technique you can try without much preparation is the “Reality Check” method. This involves carrying out several Reality Checks every day. To do this, you just need to deeply and mindfully ask yourself if you’re dreaming, and really pay attention to your surroundings. Some people try to hover a few feet off the ground, or simply look at their hands or their watch to see if anything is unusual. Eventually, these checks will become such a normal part of your life that you’ll start to dream about them too. And when you do a Reality Check in your dream, hopefully you’ll realize that things aren’t as they seem… and you will trigger lucidity!
Another popular technique is the “Wake Back To Bed” method, or WBTB for short. This technique aims to take advantage of your natural sleep cycle. It involves setting an alarm to wake you up when you are most likely to be in the middle of REM sleep (the phase of sleep where most dreaming occurs). You will then spend a few minutes setting an intention to lucid dream, before falling back to sleep. Ideally you’ll enter straight back into REM sleep, and your chances to have a lucid dream are much higher.
Once you manage to achieve lucidity, you have to start learning how to sustain it. Many people, upon becoming lucid for the first time, are so surprised or shocked that they wake up straight away! It can take some practice to get used to the feeling of being in a dream while being fully aware that you’re really lying in bed asleep.
People use all sorts of interesting tricks to enhance their lucidity, once they’ve managed to achieve it. When you get really good at staying lucid in your dreams, then you can deeply explore your own mind and its capabilities.
What is Tibetan Dream Yoga?
Like with many other human endeavors, lucid dreaming has also already been explored in Eastern traditions long before it reached the West.
Tibetan dream yoga, or milam, is a series of advanced techniques based in tantra, meditation, and mantras. People have been practicing and teaching dream yoga for over a thousand years.
Tied into Eastern philosophies and religions, the main aim of dream yoga is to enhance awareness and become more present to your immediate experience. Tibetan Buddhists believe that during sleep, our awareness travels to places from our past, repeating our old experiences. Tibetan dream yoga involves helping you return to those places in a more mindful state.
Similar to lucid dream practices in the West, Tibetan dream yoga requires practitioners to remember as many details of their dreams as soon as they wake up, and spend time reflecting on the content and meaning of their dreams.
Both the Western approach to lucid dreaming, and Tibetan dream yoga, can improve your awareness of yourself, your understanding of your past experiences, and your relationship to the present moment of experience.
Are Ayahuasca Visions Anything Like Dreams?
There are definitely some similarities between ayahuasca visions and dreams. Both involve us feeling, afterwards, as if we journeyed somewhere unique and special. Both can feel intense, emotionally meaningful, and well outside our normal framework of the world.
But there are also important differences between the dream state and the visionary state brought on by ayahuasca.
Ayahuasca visions tend to be more rooted in spiritual realms than dreams are. Whereas in dreams you may often feel as if you are the driving force in a sequence of events or situations, in ayahuasca visions you are much more likely to feel as if you are being taken along on a ride.
Dreams can often be unfocused, abstract and incoherent; whereas ayahuasca visions will usually have a needle-sharp aim. When you’re getting spiritual messages through the ayahuasca vine, it’s mostly crystal clear what you’re meant to be looking at. Dreams can be much harder to interpret.
Ayahuasca visions are also much harder to change than dreams. When you become proficient at lucid dreaming, there’s really very little limit to the power you have to control your dream environment. But in ayahuasca states, you can often find that the more you try and gain control, the less you have! This is why most people recommend letting go during a visionary experience, rather than striving for control.
So is there any reason why lucid dreaming could be relevant for ayahuasca journeyers?
How Lucid Dreaming Could Enhance Your Ayahuasca Experience
Despite the complex differences between dreaming and the ayahuasca experience, there are certainly skills that are learned through lucid dreaming that could help you navigate your visionary journeying with ayahuasca.
Although psychedelic plant medicine experiences often take you along for the ride, and you are very limited in what you can control – your largest degree of control is in yourself.
You can shift your own shape, your own appearance, and your own mindset, in most ayahuasca trips. Being practiced with lucid dreaming can make this much easier. Changing yourself into an eagle could help you fly. Preventing yourself from changing into a scared child, or decrepid skeleton, could help you stay positive. Making yourself turn around to face your demons can be less daunting if you’re used to doing it in lucid dreams.
Being practiced with lucid dreaming can also help you can pay attention to your environment and the messages that are being sent to you in an ayahuasca experience. Rather than running in fear from the monster, or being seduced by the sensory richness, you can take a moment to calm yourself and learn from what you are being shown. Remembering that you are being shown visions, and that much like a dream you are not in immediate danger, can help you relax and surrender to the experience.
It’s important to avoid treating a shamanic vision as if it is a dream that you can become lucid in. Trying too much to take control, or change the things around you, can lead to the visions to dissipate – or, it could lead to the plant medicine taking complete control and taking you to unpleasant places.
The trick to using your lucid dreaming experience during an ayahuasca vision is balance. Having an effective and meaningful visionary state with ayahuasca requires keeping a wide and receptive mind; while also having enough self-awareness and control to set a clear intention, and reflect on what you’re being shown.
Life is But a Dream…
Both lucid dreaming and ayahuasca can do something really important… They can prepare you for death.
By fostering a deeper understanding of how important our minds are in crafting our realities, both ayahuasca visions and lucid dreaming can show us that death is just a transition between two very different states of consciousness.
When you become lucid in a nightmare and wake yourself up to escape it, you don’t die. When you enter a deep visionary state on ayahuasca, you don’t die, no matter how much it might feel like it. In both cases, you just dramatically transform your consciousness.
The more familiar you become with these transition states, the more ready you may be for the ultimate transition of physical death.
So when you do wake up from the intense dream of waking life, your training with visionary states and lucid dreaming could help you traverse this transition with peace, acceptance, and love.
About the author:
Patrick Smith is a writer and biologist who has been working in the psychedelic community for over five years. He currently writes for EntheoNation.