I dream a lot, as we all do. Lucid dreaming, though -- very rarely. That's when you're aware that you're dreaming, while still in a dream.
Maybe I've had a couple of lucid dreams in my entire life. Three years ago I blogged about a semi-lucid dream experience in "I dreamed within a dream. Felt a lot like reality."
The title of that post points to a notion Evan Thompson talks about in his book, "Waking, Dreaming, Being." It's the familiar philosophical conundrum: how can we be sure that we're not dreaming in everyday life, since dreaming while we're asleep seems real while we're in that state of consciousness?
(See another post, "On waking up twice," for more along this line.)
Thompson writes about how being mindful while awake can be viewed as akin to lucid dreaming. In each case, a part of us becomes aware of what and how is being experienced.
How the world shows up for us depends on how we imaginatively perceive and conceptualize things. What we experience cannot be separated from how we experience.
The thoughts, images, and emotions we bring to whatever we encounter, as well as the meanings we mentally impose, condition what "reality" can mean to us. In this way, the waking world is mind-involving and mind-dependent.
Realizing this fact -- waking up to our participation in the creation of our world -- resembles becoming lucid in a dream. Dream yoga encourages us to cultivate this critical mindfulness in waking life and to carry it into dreaming.
Well, I'm sure this approach works for some people. I'm just not one of them. Not so much because I feel that I can't be mindful while awake and learn how to dream lucidly; it's more that I don't want to.
Seems like too much work.
Also, habitually looking upon myself looking upon the world strikes me as unnatural, unnecessary, and unappealing. How about if I just experience things, and not worry about being aware of how I'm experiencing?
For me, I'm happiest when I lose myself in doing something.
This is the feeling of flow that's prized by athletes, musicians, dancers, and ordinary folks. Raking leaves here in leaf-strewn Oregon this time of year is much more pleasant when, as the saying goes, I just do it, rather than observing myself being the raker.
Taoism seems to have the edge over Buddhism in this regard. I resonate with the non-religious side of both philosophies. But Taoist writings urge naturalness and letting go, whereas Buddhist teachings usually strike me as being overly serious and disciplined.
Thus I was pleased when I got to a part in Thompson's Imagining: Are We Real? chapter where he says:
The view that lucid dreams are better than nonlucid dreams, however, isn't empirical; it's evaluative or normative. It places different values on different kinds of human experience. I find myself unable to accept this. It seem to diminish the worth of something natural in our experience; it seems to go against the grain.
He then relates the famous Butterfly Dream parable of the classical Taoist/Daoist philosopher Zhuang Zi, also known as Chuang Tzu.
Once Zhuang Zhou dreamt -- and then he was a butterfly, a fluttering butterfly, self-content and in accord with its intentions. The butterfly did not know about Zhou. Suddenly it awoke -- and then it was fully and completely Zhou.
One does not know whether there is a Zhou becoming a butterfly in a dream or whether there is a butterfly becoming a Zhou in a dream. There is a Zhou and there is a butterfly, so there is necessarily a distinction between them. This is called: the changing of things.
See, Taoists are fine with being one thing, then being another thing, without being continuously mindful or lucid about the transitions between the experiences of "one thing" and "another thing."
Now I'm awake. Now I'm dreaming. Now I'm mindful of being awake. Now I'm lucidly dreaming. To a Taoist, there's no higher or lower here. It's just the changing of things. A Buddhist, though, would be inclined to look upon mindful awareness or lucid dreaming as a more elevated state of consciousness.
I like how Thompson puts it:
In this Daoist version, accepting each phase as equally real, along with accepting the natural distinction between waking and dreaming, is what enables one to be fully present in the here and now.
Being aware of the butterfly dream as only a dream would prevent its being an experience of being fully and completely a butterfly, "self-content and in accord with its intentions." Remembering the dream -- thinking back to it -- would prevent the waking state from being an experience of being fully and completely human.
The fullness of each experience requires not violating the natural borders between dreaming and waking, not supplanting forgetting with remembering. Transgressing these borders means fighting against change ("the change of things") -- a losing battle that detracts from reality rather than bringing about a higher reality.
Detracting from reality inevitably leads to suffering, not happiness. Thus the Daoist, in a gesture of radical acceptance, embraces dreaming and forgetfulness without judgment or qualification.
...Lucid dreaming belongs to human experience, so for the Daoist, it's something we should embrace too. Instead, the moral is that our experience necessarily includes forgetting as well as remembering, dreaming as well as lucid dreaming, and so we devalue our experience and distort our nature if we set one kind of experience above the other.
...We need to be able to let go of lucidity and release ourselves to the full presence of the dream. If we can't, then we deprive ourselves of certain natural and valuable experiences. The point isn't to make a forced choice between lucidity or nonlucidity according to some imposed standard; it's to be able to move flexibly between them without attachment.
The Daoist sage embodies this flexibility. The sage doesn't go against the grain and make distinctions between high and low; he responds fluidly and effortlessly according to the circumstances and what's appropriate.
Along this line...
My Tai Chi class is made up of people with a Taoist mentality. Tai Chi, after all, basically is Taoism in motion. This is a big reason why I've enjoyed Tai Chi so much during the ten years I've been practicing it: we don't take ourselves or Tai Chi seriously, neither the students nor our instructor.
Yesterday we were doing the Yang Long Form.
I was on the far left side, so when we headed to the left I couldn't see everyone else very well. Since I know the form quite well, I just assumed that I was doing the correct moves when the rest of the class was out of my vision, and they were doing the same -- per usual.
But when I got to an early three-kick sequence, I realized that "usual" had turned into "unusual." I was doing one thing; the rest of the class was following the instructor (who was behind me) and was doing a different thing.
No problem. This happens occasionally. I just gave up my idea of the Long Form and went with what everybody else was doing.
When we finished the form, our instructor light-heartedly said that he'd had a brain freeze at that point in the form and left out the sequence that I'd started doing. Again, no big deal. This led to a discussion about how there's no right or wrong in Tai Chi, and how doing a form differently can lead to fresh insights.
Meaning, the 108 moves in the Long Form weren't given by God on stone tablets.
They were made up by human beings. The moves can be changed, as we did yesterday via some forgetfulness. My instructor encourages us to play around with the traditional forms on our own -- adding new moves, leaving out old ones, since the goal of Tai Chi is flexibility, openness, flow.
There wasn't any sense that we'd done anything wrong by screwing up part of the Long Form. It was just something that happened, a new experience. A few minutes later we did the form again. Correctly this time.
But it wasn't a better or higher form the second time around. Just a different form.