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Month: January 2020

One Problem, One Solution

There’s a thing that sometimes happens to lucid dreamers—maybe a side-effect of developing lucidity—called a false awakening. I’m sure it happens under other circumstances as well, but it’s fairly common in lucid dreamers.

Here’s how a false awakening goes: You wake up in bed in the morning, stumble into the bathroom to pee, turn on the light and grab your toothbrush, but the light appears to be blown out. You flick the switch a few times. Dammit. Then you notice that there’s something funny about the bathroom. The walls are the wrong color. Or maybe you can’t find the toothpaste. Something’s off, for some reason—it’s all a little weird—and then it hits you: I’m still dreaming! This is a dream!

You wake up in bed, for real this time, whew, stumble into the bathroom and pee. The light works this time and you find the toothpaste. You shower, go down to put on the tea kettle and there’s something weird about the kitchen. The lights don’t work. Shit!

You wake up… and so on. I have had three false awakenings in a row, and that’s enough for me. It can be a very spooky experience. It’s as though reality is like a matrix of neighboring probabilities, and you keep waking up in the wrong one.

One well-known lucid dreamer wrote about having seven false awakenings in a row during a period of high focus on lucidity, and it was so scary that he swore off lucid dreaming for a while.

How do we know that we’re in Normal Waking Reality, and not still asleep and dreaming? Perhaps we don’t, really. But we can learn to distinguish between Normal Waking Reality (which may actually be a mega-dream on a larger level), and our individual nighttime dreaming, by using reality checks.

Lucid dreamers use reality checks during the day in order to cultivate the habit of using them during dreaming. I have three favorite reality checks: I pull one of my fingers to see if it stretches. In dreams your fingers stretch like taffy when you pull on them. Or I hop up in the air. In dreaming, I can stay in the air and hover. And lastly, I might find a hard surface and press on it with my fingers. In dreams I can dent or deform a hard surface with my fingers, or press right through it.

In dreams we can think from two different source-minds (and many grey areas in-between as lucidity waxes and wanes). We can think with the mind of the dream character, which is not lucid and is believing in the objective reality of the dream—faulty light switches, wrong colored walls and all—or we can think from the waking mind, if we can access it, which is saying, “something doesn’t feel right here, let’s check the reality of it.”

Changing the source of thought is the key to lucidity. 

In NWR, the thoughts in our heads, the constant internal dialogue that seems to never shut up, especially at 2 a.m., belong to the personality—our dream character in the dream of waking life. It believes that it’s a finite body, on a finite planet, with finite resources, needing to compete with other finite bodies in order to survive.

These thoughts of the human personality—the ego— have a certain feel to them, a certain subtle pain, even when they’re happy. They are conditional. They are reactive to what’s happening in the environment, in the same way that we are reactive in a non-lucid dream, believing we’re the dream character. They are victim thoughts, by and large. They have a fearful undercurrent. They fear loss. They are compulsive and incessant. They plan. They don’t believe they will be provided for. They don’t believe that the universe is necessarily a friendly place, and they’ll tell you why. They threaten and they blame. They are happy when they get what they want, and miserable when it proves to be inadequate. And so on.

The undercurrent of pain in these thoughts is caused by the nature of the personality’s existence, which has no permanent reality. The thoughts of the human character are seeking permanence in the impermanent, always arguing with what is, in an effort to make it what it is not. And they are masterful at creating a reality that accurately reflects this Sisyphean situation.

We cannot help creating a seemingly objective, projected reality with our thoughts and the emotions they generate. This is who we are as divine creators, and this is the nature of the game. Crappy thoughts, negative thoughts, chaotic, haphazard, default thoughts—they all create our reality to some extent.

But there’s another source of thought in human reality. It is as different from the usual thought-stream as the waking mind is from the mind of the dream character. 

How do we access it? Or does it access us? Or is the bridge built from both directions simultaneously?

I think it must be from both directions simultaneously. And our part in it, our part in the building of the bridge, is to love what is. To stop arguing with the dream of human life as though it were an objective reality outside of our minds. It’s as though, when we stop fighting with what is, we become available to the higher source of thought. 

It’s similar to the moment in a nighttime dream when something just feels off, and you begin to question the nature of the problem. Is the faulty light switch an electrical problem, or is it a sign that I’m dreaming? Once the notion that I might be dreaming enters the equation, all so-called problems are shown to be delusional.

At that moment, the seemingly objective reality, to which we were responding as a victim, becomes manageable. It becomes a creative medium, rather than a torture chamber. When the mind is relieved of identifying solely with the problem, the problem must transform, because it’s being robbed of the magic that gives it its reality: focused attention coupled with belief.

Deadliest Crew

I’ve been watching Deadliest Catch. It’s a long-running series about crab fishermen in the Bering Sea. Alaskan crab fishing is a brutal and dangerous job. It takes place in late fall and winter and is accompanied by arctic hurricanes, rogue waves, below zero temps, engine failures, equipment breakdowns, crew injuries, madness, and, occasionally, death.

In the last few years they’ve followed the same group of boats, so the viewer gets to know the captains and crew and to observe their differing styles of not only fishing, but of culture and leadership. Lately it’s been especially interesting as the older group of captains begins to retire or experience failing health and the younger generation begins to emerge. Watching these captains, who are in an excruciatingly stressful position—really a lot like war—manage their crew with varying degrees of skill and finesse, or the lack thereof, has been fascinating and helpful to me. 

Most of these boats run with a crew of five or six people. Each one of them is being pushed to the limits of human endurance. Characters emerge. The older, more stable boats often have the same crew from season to season—guys who’ve worked together for years and are comfortable with each other and respectful towards the captain. 

On other boats, the ones with more cantankerous captains, or new, younger, unproven captains, the crew changes more often, and may include young men who are addicts, alcoholics, violent, cruel, lazy or incapable of accepting authority. How the captains deal with these new, wildcard crew members, who can literally bring fishing to a halt and completely disrupt a trip, is what interests me.

It interests me because I’ve been going through a period in which I have some problematic crew members in my own head. Repetitive, fear-based thoughts that stop the energy flow of my life or clog it up with preoccupation about money, or business, or family, or health, or whatever. The problem imperative, which I’ve talked about before, has become more and more noticeable to me as I become increasingly aware of my own mental state from moment to moment.

Fear and preoccupation, no matter what their content, are the goals of the ego. This is how we forget that we’re dreaming and become convinced that the dream is real. Whatever the ego (the false self) can do to keep us believing our painful thoughts without questioning their truthfulness, it will do. That’s its goal. Everything that exists tends to fight for its existence—even delusions.

So in Deadliest Catch, what I’ve noticed is that when there’s a strong, positive, respectful crew culture, the crew itself will school a rogue newcomer and keep him in line. If the positive culture is not strong enough, or experienced enough, one negative, or cruel, or toxic new guy can bring the whole thing down and force the captain to take action.

It’s the same with thoughts. I can be humming along in life quite nicely and I can read something, or someone can make a comment that, for whatever reason, finds a weak spot in my mind and goes straight in with cancerous negativity and makes itself at home. It begins to gather power and proliferate like a virus, even as I try and fight it.

Captains use various methods to discipline their crew. There’s a lot of yelling on most boats. There’s public shaming. There’s isolation of the disruptive character as in “Get off the deck, now!”. There are summons to the wheelhouse for disciplining followed by, “Now get the fuck out of my wheelhouse!”

Some of the more sophisticated captains will gather everyone around for a forceful pep talk in the mode of, “This is how we do things here.” If the problematic crew member still doesn’t comply or begins to disrupt work even further, there is firing. Sometimes even that doesn’t work because they’re out at sea in the middle of a dangerous situation on every level.

When I’ve allowed myself to identify with a negative thought, I wrestle with it in similar ways. I may fight with it, or use inquiry on it, or try to ignore it, or rise above it, or continually come out of thought, but if the thought has a lot of fear behind it and has hooked me in, sometimes nothing seems to help.

There was one episode of DC that I found inspiring while I was struggling with a particularly negative thought attack. The new crew member turned out to be mentally ill and was beating up the other guys without provocation. He was terrorizing the crew and making threats against the captain. Nothing the captain did seemed to help, and he found himself becoming afraid that this guy would do something to mess with the engines and bring the whole boat down. 

So he made the decision, without telling anyone on board, to interrupt the trip, at great expense, and take the boat back to the harbor while the crew were sleeping. He alerted the police to be waiting on the dock just in case they were needed. When they got into harbor towards dawn, he woke up the other guys first and had them accompany him as backup, then woke up the bad guy, and they peaceably escorted him off the boat, with pay and a plane ticket in hand. Done and done.

I found myself wishing I could to that to this thought I’d been struggling with for weeks because, of course, the more I fought it, the stronger it got. But what I realized was that the rest of my inner crew, and myself as captain of my own mind, were not strong enough in our own positive culture to create an effective immune response to the negative thought.

So I set out to strengthen the rest of my mind and myself as leader—to empower myself as captain of my own mind. I scoured my library for heavy-hitting positive messages about self love and power. I meditated. I used various processes that had worked for me in the past. I wrote. And little by little I began to receive help from the environment in the form of positive thoughts from other people that directly countered the negative ones. 

I made sure, during the days, that I was asking myself more often, “What do I really want to be doing right now?” and obeying my impulses.

And finally the one thing that helped the most was the simplest one. Every night before I went to sleep, while I was lying in bed, I wrote down every positive thing I had experienced throughout that day. From my yummy breakfast, to a nice conversation, to a sweet email exchange, to a good sale, to a lovely walk, to the light on the snow, to a good laugh, to warm, dry sheets—everything I could think of from the day that was enjoyable and that I appreciated. 

This simple practice has seemed to be the most powerful creator of a strong inner culture for me and has given me the greatest increase in dominion over my own mind and life. I sleep better. I dream better. I wake up in a better space. And during the day I’m on the lookout for good things to add to my little journal of appreciation. It’s like an immune booster for the mind.

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