Tami Simon: You’re listening to Insights at the Edge. Today my guest is Andrew Holecek. Andrew is an author, a spiritual teacher, and a humanitarian. As a longtime student of Buddhism, he frequently presents this tradition from a contemporary perspective, blending the ancient wisdom of the East with modern knowledge from the West. He’s the author of The Power and the Pain: Transforming Spiritual Hardship into Joy and also a book called Preparing to Die: Practical Advice and Spiritual Wisdom from the Tibetan Buddhist Tradition. With Sounds True, Andrew has created a new audio learning course called Dream Yoga: The Tibetan Path of Awakening Through Lucid Dreaming.
In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Andrew and I spoke about stabilizing lucidity in a dream and what it means to be an “oneironaut.” We talked about stages of dream yoga practice and how to begin the process by having a lucid dream tonight. We also talked about how dream yoga is complimented by a daytime practice called the Lucery Form Practice, and finally, what dream yoga can teach us about ourselves, about working with fear, and about how to see through the solidity of all forms. Here’s my converation with Andrew Holecek.
Andrew, to begin with, I’d love it if you could help orient our listeners to what is Tibetan dream yoga and how does that relate to lucid dreaming?
Andrew Holecek: Yeah, there are a lot of similarities and obviously some differences. Lucid dreaming is the ability for a person in the middle of a dream—they’re fully in the middle of a dream—and through either a particular technique or serendipity, they awaken within the dream and they actually realize that they are dreaming. So the dream continues. They are awake within the dream. And then within the context of lucid dreaming proper, the invitation is one initially of exploration, even indulgence.
I remember when I started my own dream career some 40 years ago, I didn’t know anything about dream yoga. Lucid dreaming was just the fantastic way to live out my wildest fantasies. It’s even sold that way. It’s marketed that way. So there’s no particular kind of spiritual component to lucid dreaming per say. There are psychological aspects. You can refine your lucid dreaming skills so that you can really work with psychological issues within the context of a lucid dream. The biggest difference between lucid dreaming and dream yoga is that in dream yoga it really becomes a yoga. It becomes a practice. Yoga in the deepest sense of the word is that which unites or yokes, or in this case, I like to talk about it as that which stretches the mind.
So it’s a mental yoga. There are yogas obviously associated with the physical body, but there are also mental yogas. Dream yoga is a fantastic mind yoga where when you wake up within the dream, the lucid dream techniques and methodologies themselves actually trigger you into lucidity. Then it’s like a platform. From there, the dream yoga practitioner comes in and says, “OK, now I’m awake within this dream,” instead of just indulging it, which according to Buddhist tradition—as long as intention is involved, Karma is created.
Lucid dreaming isn’t tax free, karmically. You can actually create negative karma if you’re indulging your wildest fantasies, which may or may not be to benefit all sentient beings. It might be to indulge some of your own desires. In dream yoga, that is completely curtailed. There’s more a sense of discipline involved.
There are a regimented set of practices, stages of practice, where a practitioner awakens within the dream, they are lucid, and then they go to work. They start working with their mind, allowing it to, first of all, become more and more stable and familiar with this exquisite kind of mental laboratory. And then [move to] a progressive series of practices of increased ability and increased refinement to the point where some of the esoteric practices are really quite out of this world.
TS: It’s a pretty big leap, I think, for most people and for me, to be able to say, “Oh, I can just have a lucid dream tonight. I can awaken in the dream.” We’re going to talk about that some. But let’s just stay with the idea that “I can do it! I’m awake in the dream.” What am I going to do now? What kind of practices? You talked about working with the mind. What am I doing?
AH: So now we’re talking about dream yoga?
AH: There are several stages that one can go through. The traditions actually put them forth this way. This tradition of dream yoga comes from three principle streams within Tibetan Buddhism. One is the Six of Yogas of Naropa, one is the Sai Baba teachings, and then one is the Bon Buddhist teaching. Within these, what I did when I presented this material, is I tried to extract from all three lineages and then conjoin them with my own practice and understanding, because I was engaged with dream yoga practice for many, many years.
The first thing that one can do is, obviously, [have] a sense of celebration within the dream. You wake up and there is this wonderful euphoria that “Oh my goodness, I’m awake within a dream.” The first thing to do with the invitation here is to gain some stability. You want to maintain your level of awareness. You want to stabilize your sense of involvement and participation in the lucid dream. When that develops to a certain extent, then what you can do is you can start to actually manipulate the dreamscape, because when you manipulate the dreamscape what you’re actually doing is working with the mindscape.
You’re literally working with your mind as it’s manifesting in this other world. So in a very real sense, mind becomes reality in the dream world, which of course is why these teachings—fundamentally the dream yoga tradition came about originally as a preparation for death. There are tremendous similarities, according to the Tibetans, between the type of mindscape that unfolds for one in the after death states—high resonance with the type of mindscape that unfolds in the dream stage.
Parenthetically, if one can gain control, some masters say in as little as seven stable lucid dreams—whether that’s taken literally or metaphorically is open for debate—but if you can gain stability in the dream state, that stability naturally transposes into the after dream state.
TS: And how are you defining stability?
AH: Stability is really the ability to control the dream without being swept away by it. In other words, in a normal non-lucid dream, it’s defined by a lack of control.
AH: You are not the writer, director, or producer of this movie. You are being swept away by it. This is why nightmares become nightmares and this is why we get simply blown around by the winds of our own mind. In a lucid dream—and this is what makes it so powerful—in an instant the tables are completely turned. What previously had such control over you, now you have complete control over it—which is your mind.
Stability here is the ability to maintain lucidity for longer and longer periods. When people first start to lucid dream, one of the first things is that they are so excited that usually within a minute or so they wake themselves up. So stability would be, “OK, I’m going to see how long I can stay in this dream.”
As one approaches, in the latter stages of the night, the prime time dreamtime, it’s not uncommon for these dream oneironauts—those who explore the inner space of the mind—the inner analogs for astronauts...
AH: Oneironauts, yes.
TS: That’s a cool word.
AH: It’s from oneirology, which is the study of the dream. Oneironauts are those who explore the inner space of the mind. Once the stability is there, in the latter stages of the night, when REM sleep—which is predominately associated with dreaming—you can actually be in a full-blown lucid dream for 45-50 minutes at a time. That gives you actually quite a bit of time to practice. There’s a lot you can do, which is why I’m so thrilled about these practices, because I lead a pretty busy life. Instead of spending a third of my life in virtual unconsciousness, I can at least take part in it when I engage in these practices and really use at it as a profound and fascinating way to work with the mind at this inner level.
TS: So here I am and I’m through this mindscape in the dream controlling the—I’m the producer, the director, the actor, the whole thing. Am I doing whatever I want in dream yoga, being the producer, the actor, and maintaining stability or am I meditating or doing a specific practice?
AH: Well, it’s a little bit of both. You don’t want to do as much—I shouldn’t say, “You don’t want.” You can do whatever you want. But that’s really, again, the difference between classic lucid dreaming and dream yoga. In classic lucid dreaming, you really do do whatever you want, and that’s what makes it so much fun. That’s why it sells. It’s sexy. It’s fascinating. Wildest imaginations can really be fulfilled. But that’s not necessarily going to wake you up. And in a certain sense, it’s what we call super samsara. It’s super confusion because you’re basically just indulging your mind in an environment where no one can see you.
This is actually very revealing and one reason why, both from a psychological and a spiritual perspective, dreams are referred to as the truth tellers. They really are the truth tellers, because you are working with levels of the unconscious mind that are usually mediated and suppressed by the conscious mind. Freud talked about it. All of the classic psychologists talked about dreams as truth tellers.
This also works in the level of dream yoga as well. Here the truth teller—and this is an invitation for the listeners who are engaging in lucid dreaming—it’s like asking yourself what would you do if you were invisible. Would you work to benefit all sentient beings, or would you work to fulfill your wildest fantasies? There’s no judgment here, but what would be the display of your mind if no one could see you?
For a lot of people, myself included—when I first started lucid dreaming, I just had a lot of fun. I just fulfilled all my fantasies. Then, when I was introduced to the dream yoga practices, it was like, OK now there’s really a way where I can use this state as a way to help wake me up—really as a way to work with a very subtle level of my mind in a spiritual capacity. Again, that’s one of the deep differences between lucid dreaming and dream yoga.
TS: I’m still trying to get a sense of what exactly you’re doing in dream yoga.
AH: Let me give you some examples. There are about 10 classic steps, going from relatively accessible things going to really quite wildly esoteric things. For instance, there’s some stability in the dream. I’m going to participate in this dream. I’m going to try to stay as long as I can in the dream. Secondly, then you would say, “OK, I want to fly.” This is a kind of a bridge between lucid dreaming and dream yoga, because it’s fun. And I love doing this. You kind of just take off and you’re just kind of tooling around and it’s really great.
A second stage from that would be something like “OK, I want to walk through this dream wall,” or “I want to put my hand through this dream wall.” It’s a fascinating invitation for a practitioner of dream yoga to actually do, because what happens— certainly in my experience and with other yoga practitioners I’ve talked to—is that you will come up against habitual patterns being displayed without mediation.
In other words, how it is that you take everything to be solid, lasting, real, and independent, even when you’re within a dream. For instance, here’s what you would do. The invitation for step two of this would be to come up to a dream wall and try to put your hand through it. Very often what happens—and I’ve been doing this for 40 years—I still have this. I’ll come up to the wall. I know it’s a dream wall. My hand will still meet something solid. And again, here’s another kind of instance dreams as truth tellers. They still reveal to me how I believe the things really do exist.
AH: Then as I’m pressing up against the wall, sooner or later the wall turns into Jell-O and I can put my hand through the wall. That’s actually a form of practice. I’m working with this—the word is “reification.” If there’s an original sin in the Buddhist tradition, it’s reification, which is this propensity we all have to make things solid and real. That, of course, is what constitutes a non-lucid dream. You think the dream is real. A lucid dream is you wake up to the illusory nature of it, but you are still constrained by your habitual tendencies towards reification. So these are revealed in the dream. Again, dreams as truth tellers—so you’re working with that.
A third step would be you start to multiply things. For instance, what I will do is put my dream hand in front of me, which is a wonderful induction technique from Carlos Castaneda in The Art of Dreaming. And I will look at this dream hand and I will say, “OK, I want five of these things.” Even though I know I’m dreaming and it’s just my mind, I still can’t just instantaneously generate five hands. But if I work with it, if I stay with it, and I realize where my mind is, eventually I’ll be able to pop up these different hands. Or I’ll be looking at a table and I’ll say “I want to turn that into a car,” or “I want to turn that glass into a rabbit.”
You might ask, “Well, why would you want to do that?” Well, because what you’re doing is you’re actually working with transforming the contents of your own mind. And as one develops facility with this practice, then what it allows you to do is work more skillfully with transforming experiences in your own life, in other words, unwanted experiences. So you’re in the middle of having an intense attack of anger, and because you’ve developed more control over your mind, in the medium of the dream, it might just flash into you that, “I do not have to relate to this particular situation in this particular way.”
That is the great gift. And this is another differentiating factor between lucid dreaming and dream yoga, because really where dream yoga takes you is transposing the insights you glean in the medium of the dream, and bringing them into your waking life. Eventually, at the highest levels of dream yoga practice— and in fact it’s one thing that actually constitutes waking up altogether—you realize that there is fundamentally no inherent difference between so-called waking reality and so-called dreaming reality. Lucid dreaming doesn’t have that—the word is “soteriology.” It doesn’t have the spiritual trajectory towards salvation.
The idea with dream yoga is that you take these insights—and there are many more that we can talk about. Another step would be creating intentionally in your dream— intentionally creating fearful situations, creating a fire, an abyss, a cliff, or whatever, and then working with the fear, actually walking through the fire, for instance. What this allows you to do is have a very profound and intimate relationship, which, in many ways, is the primordial emotion of samsara. If there’s one thing in—fear and reification are almost synonymous. If there’s one thing that drives us into rebirth, whether it’s moment-to-moment, day-to-day or life-to-life, it’s fear—fear of the truth of our own non-existence and fear of the truth of our own power. We’re actually afraid of ourselves.
As we start to work very directly with fear, by creating it in a dream—literally creating a mindscape, creating an environment in the dream that is fear-inducing—and then establishing a sane and healthy relationship to that fear. That’s monumental. Even though it may seem somewhat contrived at this level, you actually are starting to work with this fundamental ground of confused existence, which hurls us into involuntary form, moment-to-moment, day-to-day, life-to-life.
Then, from there, depending on where you want to go with this, there are other stages that are more refined that we can talk about. But the fundamental idea is that if you can gain control over the contents of your own mind, then basically you are no longer at the whims of your experience—the vicissitudes of your experience. The tables are switched. Instead of being blown around by emotional difficulties in your life or challenges because you have worked with your mind in this very intimate way, you start to realize that you can transpose those insights into the waking world. And that’s no small thing.
TS: You’ve said a lot of big things Andrew. There’s one particularly that I want to be sure to tease out, which is that you said you discover, through dream yoga, that there’s no difference between waking reality and sleeping reality. Does that mean that you can make five hands appear in front of you, or should I ask you to—or if you can do this in the dream state, but doing it in the waking state—I need to understand more, because I don’t think most people will.
AH: Yes, it’s a big leap. In the spiritual traditions, and in particular Buddhism—there are many traditions, as you know, that work with dreams, but the only one that I’m aware of that works with dreams and has a yoga to the extent to which I have practiced, is really the Tibetan tradition. Within the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, they assert repeatedly that there’s no fundamental difference between the nature of waking experience and the nature of sleeping experience. It’s just a difference in degree.
To directly refer to your question, yes, it is actually said that those who gain complete mastery over the dream state—for instance, the Buddha himself, the great historical Buddha, 2,600 years ago—he actually, literally never fell asleep. Those who are truly awakened, it’s more than just a metaphor. Their bodies may lie in repose, but the mind of a Buddha never falls asleep. They maintain a 24/7 type of constant consciousness, or constant awareness. They never lose the ability to maintain awareness.
What the historical Buddha did, you may know, is that in the evening, when his body was in repose, he was able to emanate— it’s called a special dream body— and again, I know this may seem wildly esoteric to some people, but it’s in the tradition. His Holiness the Dalai Lama also speaks about this, and he was able to send his special dream body, which is not dissimilar from what, perhaps, we might know in the West as astral projection. I cannot speak with total authority about that, but a very subtle body/mind made of prana can be actually differentiated from a body and sent to different locations.
The tradition is very clear that this particular power—what we know as siddhi, psychic power— relative siddhi is the ability to work and manipulate this so-called external world. But one of the great fruitions of dream yoga—and this is not that hard, even from a waking state, to examine. If you look from your perspective of waking consciousness, if you look back onto your dream, you may initially have the sensation that there’s subject in the dream (you), that there’s an object in the dream (the dream content), and that there’s some active perception taking place between those two poles. But it doesn’t take much reflection to realize that that’s not the case there. That’s not what’s happening there.
In the context of a dream, there is no subject. There is no object. There is just the dream content arising and being aware of itself. This is what the Buddhist tradition talks about as Mind Only. It’s just the display of the mind. So if this insight can be brought to utter stability and fruition, then a dream yoga (or even further a sleep yoga practitioner maintaining awareness through deep dreamless sleep), they will rise into this so called waking reality, they realize simply that it’s simply Mind Only taking on this particular display and they then have the same type of power over this world that they do over the mental world in the dreamscape and the tradition has many, many great stories of great siddhas, great masters who through the power, the proficiency of their dream yoga, were able to manipulate. I may not be able to do it...
TS: Well let’s talk a little bit about your experience, because here I was, I was completely tracking with you in terms of being in the dream state and being able to fly for example, and being able to fly faster and farther and cool, I can do it. I would not try that right now when I want to get home tonight from work. I’m not going to do that. I’m not going to jump off the building and see if it’s going to work. I’m not going to do that.
AH: Not a good idea.
TS: So for me there’s a huge gap between what I might be able to explore in the dream state and what I would try to explore here. So I’m curious just, to help us mere mortals, not what they say in the tradition, but to help us mere mortals make sense of this.
AH: Yes exactly. What I would do, as you know Tami, these psychic powers as they’re called, the relative siddhi, they are inconsequential in the true spiritual scheme of things. In fact they are somewhat dangerous because they can be distractions or they can just be detours. And so a much more important way, and this is where I’d like to take the conversation...
AH: because it’s very easy to spin off and even dismiss dream yoga as just this wildly esoteric thing. What I want to try to drive home, and I do this with the program, is that it’s intensely practical. It’s a way to work with mind and heart in everyday experience. So a wonderful aphorism or jingle that I received from my teacher Kinpo Rinpoche, that’s a wonderful relationship between relative siddhi and absolute siddhi. Kinpo Rinpoche once told me relative power, relative siddhi is when you have power over the world. And that’s what we were talking about. You can fly. You can walk through walls. It’s entertaining but it’s really not that important. What’s much more important, and this is what people can take home, is absolute siddhi. And absolute siddhi, or absolute power, is when the world no longer has power over you. So it’s not you having power over the world, it’s the world no longer has power over you.
That’s very practical and that’s something that can be worked with immediately and I was alluding to it earlier. So again, you develop this sense of the world being dreamlike. The reason the world has so much power over us right now is because we make it so solid. We are the ones, we are not victims of reality. We are victims of our own attitudes and projections towards a reality that we actually create. We don’t create it in a solipsistic sense. You know it’s not just my mind out here. But it’s a deep psychological and spiritual ability that we have to constantly color the world in our image—you know, this idea of King Midas. We are the King Midas of our world. Everything we touch with our senses, transforms into our version of gold. So we don’t see the world the way it is, we see the way the world we is. We see it the way we are.
TS: Or probably for a lot of people a lot of time, it’s not King Midas it’s like King Shit.
TS: To be blunt about it. Our pain is what we see everywhere.
AH: Yeah. So this is what this particular practice allows you to see in exquisitely intimate detail, because you start to see, clothed in the light of the dream, how it is [that] you know, in the dreamscape, you literally create your reality, and you work with those insights. You wake up into this so-called external waking reality, and you start to bring those insights with you. You start to see how it is that you paint the world in your image. And then by doing that, the world no longer has this kind of power—the world no longer is so solid, lasting and independent.
This is one of the great ironies of the spiritual path as I’ve come to understand it, and it was really put into my heart through the practice of dream yoga and that is that when we wake up, on a spiritual path, which is of course is what the word the “buddha,” the buddha is the awakened one. And so I’ve asked myself for many years, what did he awaken from and what did he awaken to? Well, he woke up from a world that is solid, lasting, and independent. In other words, he woke up from a dualistic world, a reified world of self and other, and he woke up to a world that was illusory, to a world that was dreamlike. And that is the source of tremendous liberation. If you can wake up to a world that is dreamlike—and there’s some issues here that I think may be helpful to talk about here, some of the mirror enemies, like nihilism and things, it’s very to spin off and get lost in that—but if we can wake up to a world that, in essence—and this is the way the awakened ones see the world, the world is rainbow-like and infused with emptiness, infused with light. If you can wake up to a world like that, and of course the natural consequence, that’s a nondual experience, then the world no longer has power over you. You are no longer the victim of the world. And that’s really the fundamental source of freedom.
So what the dream yoga practices do, it’s just another way to bring the spiritual path into a practice medium that we normally have no relationship too. So in a certain sense, there’s not that much new going on here. It’s just a way to explore heart and mind, stability, kindness, and compassion in the medium of the night, in an expression when most of us just check out. So instead of just blacking out, we can wake up.
TS: OK. Now let’s circle back around to the beginning of our conversation. Let’s say somebody is listening, and they’ve not successfully ever had lucidity in a dream. It’s never happened. Maybe they’ve heard a little bit about it, they’ve tried a little bit, it didn’t happen, and they gave up because it seemed too hard. How can you help them with this very first step, which is to begin lucid dreaming?
AH: Yes, right. No that’s really great. First and foremost is the view behind the practice. The view is of paramount importance because even if someone never has a single lucid dream, just the fundamental insights, just the view of the dream yoga path altogether can be profoundly insightful. So even if you’ve never had one, just realizing even at the level of the map, even at the level of spiritual theory—realizing that this world fundamentally is illusory, this world isn’t what we think it is, the basic tenets of dream yoga can be of profound benefit in changing a relationship to that world. In terms of how can a practitioner cultivate...
TS: I want to have a lucid dream tonight!
AH: Perfect yes! There are a number of things they can do. In fact you just did the most important one, and that is intention, intention, intention. So if you go into the dream—and during the course of the day this is one of the best ways to prepare for dream yoga, and throughout the day you are constantly driving home this intention. Not just flapping your lips, but meaning it. You know, “Tonight I’m going to have many dreams. Tonight I’m going to have good dreams. I’m going to have clear dreams. I’m going to wake up in my dream.” What you are doing is you’re actually seeding the dream. Most of the dreams that we have at night anyway are seeded by the experiences we have during the day. The unconscious mind is just being revealed to us.
So if you stuff the ballot box, so to speak, if you start to drive the intention that I want to have these dreams, you’re starting to project that awakened quality. And you’re working with one of the fundamental laws of habitual pattern, or in this context, karma. In particular, this law of karma is called the law of approximate karma, which is where the last thought that you have on your mind at any moment of transition is often the first thought that will take birth in the next moment of transition. That’s just the way the mind works. So the first thing you can do is have this constant intention, like, “Tonight’s the night,” especially when you’re lying in bed. You’re going to sleep, you’re lying down and you’re ramping it up. You know, “Tonight’s the night. I’m going to wake up in my dreams, I’m going to have my lucid dream.” That’s extremely helpful to do.
You can assume a particular posture, according to the inner yoga traditions. The outer body is just the expression of a more subtle body. You can assume a position, it’s called the sleeping lion position, it’s the way the Buddha died. [You] lie down on your right side. It’s perhaps beyond the scope of what we want to explore here in terms of the anatomy and physiology of the subtle body but it’s highly conducive to closing off certain subtle aspects of our body that are designed to block awakening within sleep and dream, and opening channel or parts of the body that are conducive to it. So you can lie down on your right side, that will certainly help.
And as you’re going to sleep, you can do a sort of visualization where you bring your, this is conjoining the technology of the East and the West, so this again would be more inner yoga practice, so this is more Eastern approach.You bring your awareness to your throat, and you visualize either a red pearl or a red four-petaled lotus, and as you maintain you awareness there, lying down on your right side, you continue to reinforce this momentum, this heartfelt desire that tonight I want to wake up in my dreams.
Then two other things, very helpful: primetime dream time is two hours before when you would normally wake up. That’s when most of your dreams cycle switch, from mostly deeper states of sleep which are non-dream to dream states. This is why we tend to remember our dreams the later we go. So primetime dream time starts about two hours before you wake up. The idea here is you set your alarm to go off about two hours before you would wake up. Studies have shown, and it’s certainly my experience bears it out, that there’s a two thousand percent increase in the likelihood of having a lucid dream just by doing that!
So when I do my dream yoga practices, unless I’m in strict retreat where I wake myself constantly through the night and I take naps through the day—I can’t do that during the week. So what I do is I set my alarm two hours before I normally get up. I go to the bathroom, splash some water on my face, I stay up for 15 minutes, and then I go back to sleep. That’s a very, very opportune time to work with these subtle states of transition between waking and dreaming. It’s very easy to start to play with the dream state. And then one final thing that’s extremely helpful, is you take an herbal substance called galantamine. It’s a substance that you can order. I take it in the form of what’s called GalantaMind. You take 4-8 milligrams and it’s kind of prescription strength This is a medication that’s used for memory enhancement and things like Alzheimer’s. What it does is it inhibits the breakdown of a neurotransmitter that’s very high in activity during the dream state, so it helps you maintain longer, clearer, sharper dreams. The first time I started playing with this, I was delightfully surprised at how powerful it was.
So wake up two hours before you normally wake up, get the galantamine, take 4-8 milligrams, and then go back to sleep using some of these motivations to wake up. Usually when I do my programs, and the programs that I’ve attended with other lucid dream instructors, within the course of two to three weeks almost everybody that I’ve been aware with will have at least one lucid dream.
TS: So the only part that I’m not clear on in terms of how I’m going to use this in my life is the visualization part. So I’m visualizing a red pearl or a four-petaled flower at the throat. What am I doing with this visualization and why?
AH: This is again, this is the blend, this is where we go into the inner yoga world again. So we can step into that for a little while because I know you have an interest in it. According to the inner yoga teachings, and as we know this is a large part of many spiritual traditions, working with the channels, the chi, the meridians, many different traditions talk about it. According to the workings of the mind, in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, what actually dictates our level of consciousness, how it is that we perceive our world. From a subtle body point of view, that is dictated by what are called the “mind pearls,” The mind essences. They’re called bindu, or thikle in Tibetan, where these mind pearls accrete.
So during the day, like right now, hopefully we are awake, seemingly. Those mind pearls, those bindus, are collected in the head chakra, they are right now in the center of our heads. The winds are therefore associated with that too, by the way, which parenthetically, when we go to sleep at night, what we’re doing is we’re unwinding. We’re un-winding. We’re taking the wind from the top of our head, which is waking consciousness, and when we fall into deep dreamless sleep, or very deep meditation or death, these mind essences collect at the level of the heart. The tradition is replete with stories of heat around the heart center of people who have died, that are still in meditative absorption and whatnot. So when we’re in waking consciousness, the winds and the mind drop through the top of the head, in deep dreamless sleep they gather at the heart. And in dream, they gather at the throat.
So what a very skilled dream yoga practitioner can do, they can bring about what Stephen LaBerge—who’s really kind of the dean of academic lucid dreaming in the West—he refers to this particular practice using the acronym W.I.L.D.: waking, induced, lucid dreaming. And it really is wild. What someone can do in a waking induced lucid dream is they can literally go from waking consciousness to dreaming consciousness within a matter of a minute or two, or very proficient practitioners can even go there within a few seconds. It’s through the power of directing their mind essences is toward the throat. Again this is a bit esoteric, but where the mind gathers its attention, where the mind goes, the subtle winds go. Where the subtle winds go, the pranas go—I mean, the bindus go. And where the bindus go, consciousness goes.
So right now, we’re kind of moved around by the natural movements of the day, the natural movements of sleeping and dreaming and waking consciousness, and by working with the inner yoga systems, either though inner yoga proper, or through dream yoga, which is kind of a subset of the inner yogas in this regard, one can become so proficient that they can drop from waking consciousness into dreaming consciousness within a matter of a few minutes, and that’s what’s referred to as waking induced lucid dreaming.
So this is just another way, and this is what I try to present, all these different skillful means, some of which may work for some people and some of which may be inapplicable for certain people. It’s not like you have to do every single one. I try to present as many different methods as I can from both the East and the West so that people can explore, so that they become their own meditation instructor in the dream state. They try these out. What is it that works for you, what doesn’t work for you? It doesn’t mean you have to be exhaustive in these techniques. If visualizing something in your throat doesn’t seem to work for you, just forget about it. If getting up two hours before and taking galantamine works, that’s your way in. So the trick is not so much getting caught up with what it is that takes us into the lucid dream state, but basically just how do we get in. By having all these different options, more often than not, something will work for you. Something will be your gateway in and that’s what you stick to. You don’t have to do the other ones.
So Stephen LaBerge and his books, and Tenzin Wangyal and others—Allan Wallace, and their books, they talk about wonderful different ways, different means, different strokes for different folks that can get you in, and I try to present as many as possible so that people can explore and see what works for them.
TS: OK Andrew, how did you become the Tibetan dream yoga guy? What’s your story behind this?
AH: [Laughs] Well, it goes back quite a way, Tami. It goes back to my early twenties, with a really transformative life experience that really launched the whole thing for me and then I’ll tell you how I eventually stumbled into the Tibetan thing. I took a year off of college, I think I was about 23, to just sort out my life and see what I wanted to do. I worked in hospitals as a surgical orderly. This was quite awhile ago, when there wasn’t much going on in the meditative or spiritual arena in the Western world yet.
I started reading all the literature that was available in the developing new age: Edgar Cayce, The Seth Material. My spiritual path started in the new age. I started having a number of very interesting dreams, dreams that seemed to anticipate or portend something. And I think it was about eight months in the middle of this sabbatical year, I just stumbled into this altered state of consciousness. I’m very reluctant to say too much about it because I think it’s a little bit tricky to share too much about spiritual experiences. Spiritual experiences, they mostly arise in the sanctuary of silence and I believe they should be maintained with the integrity of silence, but because this happened so long ago and I think it happens to a lot of people, I can share a little bit about it.
Fundamentally what happened was for a period of about a week or two, I just stumbled into this altered state of consciousness where I was having incredibly powerful dreams every night, spontaneous lucid dreams. I knew nothing about dream yoga at this point. I kept what became a large dream diary next to my bed recording all these dreams. And I also noticed that what started happening was this kind of bleed-through where not only were my dreams during the night becoming more pronounced—lasting longer, more clear—but as I woke up during the day, my day experience became more fluid, more illusory, more metaphorical, more dreamlike.
And about a week into the experience, it was quite profound; I started having a hard time telling whether I was awake or asleep or not. It was like these worlds really were bleeding into each other. Then I really started getting afraid. I started to freak out, because I was losing my sense of stability, my sense of reality. I had a hard time determining what was real anymore. I mean, am I dreaming right now? I mean really, ask yourself sometimes, “Am I awake right now?” How do you really know?
So in my young twenties, I started to panic a little bit. I was like, “I’m not sure I can control this experience anymore,” so I shut it down. And as best I could, I tried to keep it repressed, but something...
TS: How did you do that? I mean, did you eat a lot of hamburgers or something?
AH: I...very close! Yeah, I was living in Michigan so I got in my VW bug and I drove out here to Colorado to ski and I hung out with all my ski buddies and I drank a lot, and I did all the things a crazy 20-year-old would do. I successfully kind of snuffed it for awhile but something had fundamentally changed for me. It was a kind of transmission—I had seen the world in a different way. And trust me, this was not a particularly, utterly, legitimate awakening experience but it was a tectonic shift in my worldview. Something had fundamentally changed. It challenged the status of my world, and it really made me really question, what is it that’s real? What is it that’s actually real in this world?
So that really triggered my spiritual quest in a very real way. I wanted to understand what happened to me. I systematically started reading about the world’s traditions, and really by process of elimination, one day I started reading about Buddhism. And lo and behold, when I discovered what the word “buddha” meant—you know, “the Awakened One” — immediately I was attracted. “Well, this is very interesting to me.” You know, “What does this mean?” So that launched me into my burgeoning career as a student of the Buddha because I wanted to understand what it mean to wake up.
Through that study, eventually I become interested in Tibetan Buddhism, and as I alluded to earlier in this interview, an integral part of Tibetan Buddhist practice and the six yogas of Naropa is dream yoga and illusory form—those are kind of reciprocating daytime and nighttime practices. Then when I went into really long retreat, I had the extraordinary luxury to practice both illusory form and dream yoga to quite an extensive degree. It allowed me to step back into that world that I experienced as a 20-year-old, but now with a complete sense of understanding, and a sense of, “OK, I can work with this. I don’t have to let it freak me out. I can use this dissolution of my traditional worldly framework as a way to really start to expand my horizons and see the world in a whole different way.”
TS: Now, can you help me understand more what the illusory form daytime practice is that goes along with the dream yoga practice?
AH: Yes because that’s a really great because it’s another way to talk about how to trigger lucid dreams. And this is another differentiating factor between lucid dreaming and dream yoga altogether because lucid dreaming does not have this daytime component. Dream yoga, the daytime component is illusory form. It’s referred to, and you may know this Tibetan word as a ngöndro. It’s the preliminary practice to dream yoga. It’s really the same. They are called reciprocating practices because it’s basically the same practice applied to two different states of consciousness. So what one does in illusory form practice is almost patronizingly simple.
The fundamental teaching with at least the first—there are three or four different levels of illusory form, some of which are quite refined—but the most accessible form of illusory form practice is continually reminding yourself as often as you possibly can [that] this is a dream. Or even more importantly, challenging the status of this reality by saying, “Is this a dream? Is this a dream?” So what you’re doing is using the inherent power of the mind to project. We’re always projecting anyway—we’re always projecting out to the world in ways that make us suffer—but here what we’re doing is we’re projecting or imputing onto reality a view of reality that’s actually a template of the way reality is. In other words, what I mean by that and what I mentioned this earlier, that if you see the world through the eyes of the awakened ones, through the eyes of the clear light mind of the buddhas, the world appears to be an illusion, maya. It appears to be like a dream. So when you engage in illusory form practice it’s a “fake it till you make it” practice. Throughout the course of the day—it’s a form of mindfulness practice really—throughout the course of the day, you say to yourself, “This is a dream. I really am dreaming. This is a dream.” It may seem like utter silliness, but again you’re creating...
TS: So I say in this moment, “This is a dream,” but then I pinch myself and then I think, “That hurts!” So how do I work with that? Am I like saying an affirmation?
AH: But you know it’s very interesting, if you wake up—and I did a series of experiments in my own dream yoga around this because I wanted to explore some of these things. I wanted to see, can I experience pain in a dream. So in a dream, I conjured up a rose bush and I put my dream thumb into the dream thorn and it hurt. So what’s the difference?
So, what you would do, to return to your issue, you would say to yourself, “This is a dream,” you pinch yourself, it hurts. Then the invitation here is, explore the nature of the pain. Go into that pain. What is the nature of that pain> What is it that make it real, and what is it that makes me suffer? You’re not negating—and this is what I started to allude to earlier as one of the near enemies of seeing the world as illusory—one of the near enemies of seeing the world as dream is nihilism. “Oh it’s all dream, it doesn’t matter what I do.” That’s not going to get you very far. So you always have to acknowledge the relative truth component here. What you’re doing is challenging the status of that relative appearance with these things. So here in the relationship to the dream, you pinch yourself, you say, “Am I dreaming? Am I dreaming right now?” You feel yourself pinch yourself. You feel pain. So the invitation here is to go into that pain. What is that pain made of? How real is that pain? How and why does that pain have to hurt me? Who is it hurting? And what it does is it tends to interrupt, or frustrate, intentional frustration of a habitual pattern we have that always tortures us. So it’s a way to break these less-than-skillful habits that really cause us so much anguish in this life.
TS: Now you mentioned this topic of the “near enemies,” and nihilism is clearly one, it seems to me thought that being super spacey, like, “Oh everything’s a dream,” not taking responsibility for things—it seems like there are a lot of near enemies for being “dreaming” all the time.
AH: Yes there are. Spiritual bypassing is one. You know, you can just say to yourself, “Well, it’s all just a dream so why bother?” Why bother paying the bills, why bother paying attention to so-called relative reality? So then what one has to do, as I started to suggest earlier, is that you always have to understand the relationship between relative and absolute truth. So when we’re working with the dream yoga and in a particular, even deeper sleep yoga, we’re working with a more absolute truth level. We’re talking about things like emptiness. You know really, the foundation tenets of all spiritual practice and all awakened reality. So the idea is to take the view provided by these lofty tenets and then kind of ground them in human experience.
If you take not just dream yoga but any spiritual practice, and you use it as a way to default responsibilities for conditioned life, then it really is just a form of escapism. You’re just wanting to run away. You’re not really waking up, you’re basically running away. That’s why the view behind these practices is so important because you have to understand that yes, the world is illusory in this regard, but there is a relative reality that allows us to operate and connect to other human beings and we always have to pay homage to that without buying into it. And that’s the difference. So you still have an awakened Buddha, the awakened one, still has complete access and relationship to this so-called conditioned world. In fact they see it so much more clearly and accurately than we do but they don’t buy into it. They are no longer seduced by worldly solid realities, they’re liberated from them. So there’s this really skillful dance between the relative and the absolute that has to take place here. As it does, really, with so many aspects of the spiritual path altogether; if you don’t balance the lofty view of the sky with the fine grain of your daily experience, you’re just running away from reality instead of trying to discover it.
TS: So do you practice dream yoga every night, or only some nights? When you don’t have a big work day, or does it matter?
AH: Yes, a little bit of both. I often talk about, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, is that one of the great aspects of the gift of dream yoga, and it’s also one of the truth teller, is that anyone who is engaged with lucid dreaming practice for more than a year or two will discover is that it really will expose your passion for ignorance, because sleep is just a code word for ignorance. What I mean by that is that you’ll be doing these practices—you kind of get excited, you want to do them, you’ll take the posture, you’re doing the breathing thing, you’re doing this for maybe 15-20 minutes, half an hour—and at a certain point, if you’re leaning into these practices too hard, for one thing, you’ll never fall asleep. You have to kind of release the practice at a certain point. But there definitely will come a point when every dream yoga practitioner will just say, “Screw it. I’d rather be stupid.” And that’s totally OK.
So in my experience, what I do is on weekends when I have time to sleep in, I lean into my practice more. I’m more willing to be a little groggy in the morning. During the week when I have to get up early and go for work, I may do some gentle induction techniques just to kind of maintain the momentum, but I don’t invest in them very much, because if you don’t enjoy the practice, you’re not going to do it. If you tie yourself in knots to do it, it’s no fun. So you have to become your own meditation instructor with these practices, you have to see what works for you—not too tight, not too loose.
And then when I go on my retreats, then yes, I lean into it big time. I set my alarm to go off every 90 minutes to work with the natural rhythms of the sleep cycles. I take multiple naps during the day. That’s pretty tough to do during the course of a work week, but these practices really came about as a way to allow one to use any aspect of experience as a mechanism for spiritual path. So for some people, some people actually kind of have a natural talent. It has to do with how their channels are configured; some people are just really gifted. But just because you’re having a lot of lucid dreams, doesn’t necessarily mean you’re more realized spiritually. It could simply mean that your software, so to speak, is configured for this type of lucidity. But certain people have a natural disposition to it. I seem to be one of them, but there are many others that do, and there are a ton of other people that don’t. So for me, dream yoga provides a wonderful way to work with the night. For other people it doesn’t, and that’s completely fine. It’s just another item on the menu. Let me try it, let’s see if it works for me. If it works for me, as His Holiness the Dalai Lama always says, “If it works for you, take it to heart. If it doesn’t, throw it out the window.”
TS: Just two final questions for you, Andrew. Here’s the first one. I’m curious in your own dream laboratory—what’s the term you used for the inner astronaut?
AH: The oneironauts...
TS: Yes. Mr. Andrew Oneironaut, what is your current area of dream exploration? What are you working on?
AH: Oh! Yes, what fun! I tend to go through—I tend to recapitulate a lot of the different stages to maintain stability in them. So I go through some of the other things that we were talking about. I work with walking through walls. When I wake up into a dream, I almost always start on a joyful note. Like, “I’m going to go fly; I’m just going to do it.” There’s intention involved, it doesn’t create negative karma to fly around, you know, I’m just having a good time. Then I’ll work through, I do a little bit of a cascade of repeating through some of these practices. So I’ll usually fly for a little bit, then I’ll do the multiplication thing where I’ll change one thing into many or many things into one, I’ll change a car into a tree—I can do that with some rapidity.
And then what I’ll tend to do is I’ll work with more, with deeper issues. And now for me, what I try to do is I’m trying to work—and this is a segue into the deeper phases of dream yoga practice altogether, which is working with sleep yoga. So now what I try to do is I try to develop a sense of awareness in deep dreamless sleep. and one of the best ways to do that, and it’s such an interesting thing to do, is that the next time you wake up in a lucid dream, close your dream eyes and see where it takes you. Close your dream eyes. And what that can do is it can invite you back into lucidity not only in the dream but in deep dreamless sleep. And that’s a marvelous dimension of complete freedom.
So I work with gaining some facility and stability in that. And then if that doesn’t work, I’ll come back up, and I’ll work, with—there’s a particular practice, this ties in to the writing and teaching that I do on death—there’s a particular form of practice where one can actually (I alluded to it earlier) create a special dream body (it’s not as hard as you think, really), and then the special dream body can then be transported, either into to different aspects of this so-called physical earth or even dimensions. It sounds wildly esoteric but with a little bit of stability it’s not that difficult to do. And again, his Holiness the Dalai Lama talks about it in the tradition.
Fundamentally, very often I will try to maintain a meditative stability in the dream, so I will try to maintain a meditation in the dream, which is not so simple. You would think that it would be. So I wake up in the dream and try to stabilize my mind and just meditate within the dream and just hold my mind there. It’s quite similar to the type of meditation I do during my waking consciousness. So I will kind of take some of the practices I do during the day and bring them into the night. I find that it strengthens my daily practice because as I’m working with my mind in a much more intimate environment. Teachers like Namkha Rinpoche and others have said, and this applies also to the after-death states, that if a practitioner can meditate in the dream state, it’s seven to nine times more powerful than one what can do in the waking state. So that to me is the frontier that I’m trying to work with now.
TS: Now just one final question. As you know Sounds True puts on an annual Wake Up Festival. And this term “waking up,” I think, means different things to different people, and I’m curious what it means to you?
AH: Isn’t that the $60,000 question? I think there’s a number of ways to define that. For me, it’s waking up from the nightmare of the ego, waking up from this nightmare of solidification. That’s what it means for me. This is where the dream yoga practice ties in so beautifully to illusory form, it’s the one thing that I didn’t say that I do want to say, is that with illusory form practice, it’s like you’re developing x-ray eyes. So this is what waking up means to me. X-ray eyes, the eyes of the superior man or woman, as it says in the Taoist tradition, the superman, the superwoman. That kind of x-ray vision literally in Buddhism is referred to as the path of seeing. It’s the quality of the mind/heart that can see through the facade of solidity.
So as wildly esoteric as some of this material may be—and that’s one of the dangers in this type of practice because it can seem so otherworldly, so out there—but the fundamental teaching is one that the Buddha himself made his foundation teaching. He said, “I teach one thing and one thing only: Suffering and the end of suffering.”
So for me what waking up means is taking this ability to see through the facade of solidity, the facade of the sense of self, the facade of the sense of other, cutting through that with the superior vision with these awakened eyes, which really is what the spiritual path is all about, and resting in the nonduality that is actually seeing.
So it’s penetrating through the illusion of form, the illusion of other, and all the other things as it says, I believe it’s in the Upanishads, “Where there is Other, there is fear.” So if you can cut through the illusion, the facade of other, then you break through fear and you wake up to a reality that is fundamentally compassionate and loving and suffused will love. So a long-winded answer but I think that’s what it means to me.
TS: Beautiful. I’ve been speaking with Andrew Holecek. With Sounds True he has created a six-session audio learning course on Dream Yoga: The Tibetan Path of Awakening Through Lucid Dreaming. Andrew, thank you so much.
AH: Thank you Tami. It’s been a thrill.
TS: SoundsTrue.com. Many voice, one journey. Thanks for listening.