Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Co-creative Dreamwork Group Starting in September

Hi friends, I will be starting a bi-weekly online dream group using Zoom videoconferencing. I am tentatively planning to start the group on Thursday, September 10, at 8 pm CST. The group will be comprised of 5-8 adults, and meet for 90 minutes each time. The cost will be $30 per session. If you, or anyone you know is interested, please email me at so we can set up a phone call or a Skype visit.

We will focus on co-creative dream work, which I have developed over the past 40 years. We will also practice ways to become more conscious and responsive in our dreams.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

From Lightning to Liquid Gold

I will be giving three presentations at the annual conference of the International Association for the Study of Dreams in Virginia Beach next month. One of them will on "Life Changing Dreams," and I will be presenting alongside Robert Waggoner and Rober Hoss.

My own dream was what I've called my "coming to age dream," which I have recounted in several places, most notably in my book, Healing the Fisher King: A Flyfisher's Grail Quest. In fact, it's the central dream around which the whole story revolves. It is:

 I dream I am in my childhood home in Texas with my parents. It is just before dawn, and I invite them to follow me outside onto the driveway so I can reveal to them my life purpose. I lift my arms in the air, and begin to chant a single note. As I do, powerful energy erupts in my body, and at the same time, I see lightning arcing across the sky. Finally, I lower my arms, and the lightning strikes only a short distance away. I repeat this process, all the while standing outside of myself puzzled by this demonstration, and not knowing what it means. Suddenly, I become aware that my parents, in their fear, have hurled a lance into my back. I fall to the ground, knowing that I am dying. I am not afraid, but I'm disappointed that they didn't understand and accept me. They come up and stand over me, looking frightened and worried. I say, "I was really your son. But I am the son of the unborn son, who is still to come." I know that they must eventually deal with him, even though I am dying.

As one might imagine, this dream played out over the course of many years, in which I struggled in my own zeal to bring spirit into this world, but sometimes in a way that was premature and insensitive to the forces in myself and in my relationships that were disinclined to support such efforts. To put it mildly! Overcoming one's own resistance to higher power, and becoming more humble in one's methods, has been a lifelong quest. (I can still be quite pushy.) I have compared my own journey to that of Parcifal, who, in his unconsciousness brutishness, initially failed in his quest to find the Grail, and then returned later in life as a mature and chastened man and fulfilled the requirements of the quest.

The lucid dream below (in the posting "Who is she, anyway?") intimates the solution that Parcifal finally discovered; that is, coming into right relationship with the feminine spirit, who then offers to "accompany" the self into world, thus fulfilling the incarnation of the whole person. Parsifal committed all sorts of offenses against the feminine and, as a consequence, did not have what it took when he faced the Grail in all of its splensor; that is, he didn't have the presence of heart to offer himself in service to "one it served" -- metaphorically, the Fisher King, or the son of the unborn son. Giving way to the companion in the soul, who is willing to serve rather than to dominate, is a man's ultimate attainment, in my opinion. And it does not come easy. It requires a long struggle, and necessary failures, before the opening of the warrior soul gives way to the attendant feminine companion who finally consents to accompany him in his incarnational quest. 

That is what the dream posted below intimates: that the presence of the feminine spirit transforms the male incarnational thrust from a raw, overwhelming and unsustainable effort (lightning) into a glorious manifestation of refined consciousness that renders everything golden that it touches. While the process is perhaps never complete, consummatory experiences such as the one below at least provide glimpses of what Paul Harvey once referred to as, "the other half of the story," and offer encouragement that the long journey toward meaning will finally bear its golden fruit.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Who is she, anyway?

In my peregrinations through lucid and out-of-body realms, I usually meet people who seem quite autonomous and self-possessed, as if they are "real" persons. The question of the lucid dream character's nature is one that intrigues me considerably. Indeed, it is at the forefront of my thinking about lucid dreaming, as exemplified by the chapter I wrote last year for the new lucid dream anthology, published by Praeger and edited by my colleagues Ryan Hurd and Kelley Bulkeley.

Because this question is always on my mind, I often ask dream characters who they are, or engage them in very personal exchanges in order to understand their purpose in the dream.

Last week, I had the following lucid dream, in which I encountered two unknown women, whose responses to my statements about returning to my own world prompted surprising replies. Here is the dream:

This lucid dream occurred after I had awakened around 4 AM and had taken galantamine before meditating. I meditated for about half an hour, and then returned to bed. I didn't immediately go into lucid dream without a break in consciousness, but became lucid shortly after returning to sleep... I decide to fly up into the air and seek a more refined level of consciousness. I fly up into a dark sky, praying as I go, and feeling very positive about what I will encounter. Finally, I emerge out of the top of the dark field and I see a brightly lit area nearby, as if it is an island floating above the darkness. I fly over to it and climb up the edge of the island and approach a woman who is seated on a ledge or slope, and sit down beside her. Our connection is immediately felt by me and by her, it seems, as our eyes meet. I speak to her awhile, and then aske her her name. She says her name twice without me hearing it. As has been the case before during these experiences, when a person speaks to me, it’s as if the sound is being blown away by a wind. After asking her twice to repeat her name, I finally hear her say, “Amit,” or something like that. Finally I say to her, “We will probably never meet again.” She replies, “If you do not come back here, I will come to your world.” We part at that point and I move into another level of the dream, in which I again encounter people on a hillside and a lighted area which was very beautiful. Again, I encounter a woman with whom I feel an immediate deep knowing and rapport. We talk with several other people, the details of which I have since forgotten. Soon, however, I say to her, “I must go back to my world.” I am surprised that she stands up and says, “I will go with you.” We walk to what appears to be an elevator of sorts, and begin to descend toward my own world. 

Then I seem to be "back," at least partly, witnessing and participating in the process of my return. Julie has a key that I know is essential to making the return possible. I took the key from her, and put the key into a socket. When I inserted it, I felt a subtle vibration and then saw a mist begin to develop around the socket. In the middle of the mist, I saw what appeared to be in embryonic white form, which was not fully developed. It was floating in the middle of the air. Then I looked away and saw gifts began to appear all around me all wrapped in colorful paper. A woman who is standing nearby eagerly took one and was going to open it when I said to her, "Please don't do that, yet; let's wait until the process is complete." She agrees to wait, and I look back to the area where the mist had been forming, and now instead of some protoplasmic form, I see a small gazebo that was colored white and red about 2 feet in diameter which had a spire that reached seven or 8 feet above my head. The spire is open at the top, as if the ribs of the spire are supporting the tip, allowing me to see the 1st foot or two of the space at the end of the spire before it became fully enclosed again until it opens at the base. In the space between the very tip and where it became enclosed, I see that there is a golden liquid flowing from the tip toward the base, which appears to be liquid gold. The source of it, however, is puzzling, because neither does there seem to be gold flowing from the sky into the tip, but there doesn't seem to be any way for the liquid to get there from the bottom part of the gazebo, either. I am fascinated by this riveting image, and want to touch the golden liquid. So as it emerges from the base into a pool right in front of me, I reach out and put my hands into the flow of the liquid. I then withdraw my hands and look at the back my hands, only to see that they were covered with gold liquid which has the consistency of water, not metal. I am immensely delighted, and then find myself back in bed.

I think it's interesting that the dream culminates in such glorious fashion after having the two female dream characters promise to reach out to me, or to accompany me in my world. It's as if their willingness is expressed by the bounty of the golden fluid that flows from their world into mine. There's a lot here, but regardless of what it all means, this dream is another chapter in my ongoing quest to understand the identity of lucid dream figures (or persons!).

Friday, January 9, 2015

Meeting the Master in a Lucid Dream

Many people have commented that lucidity doesn't necessarily confer right intention or lead to right action. Edgar Cayce, in commenting on the afterlife once said, "A dead Presbyterian is a dead Presbyterian," or something like that. He wasn't denigrating Presbyterians, only saying that death doesn't necessarily result in an enlightened perspective. Similarly, lucid dreamers will often exhibit the same habits and predilections that they exhibit in the waking state. So, without clarifying one's intentions, lucidity can result in a mere replication of conscious bias. Lately, I've been affirming that I will seek divine presence, and be open to the present of the Master, in whatever form that consciousness will take.  Three nights ago, I had the following experience, which shows how holding to one's intentions in the lucid dream can lead to very memorable and deep encounters.

 I meditated and was awake for about an hour. During meditation, I affirmed that once becoming lucid, I would seek the presence of the divine, and an encounter with the master. After dozing off, I found myself moving slowly away from my body into the darkness, praying as I flew for the presence of the divine. I felt very much at peace and expectant. Then a glowing area in the darkness appeared to my left and above me so I turned to that and headed that way. I continued to fly up into space thinking that I would get above the darkness, and sure enough the darkness began to recede. Then I noticed that I was with someone else who is flying beside me, apparently man whom I do not know. Finally I went back down to the ground where I began to search for someone that I could talk to. I walked along a path, looking into the faces of the people who passed me trying to catch their eyes. I was hoping that someone would look at me and feel familiar or meaningfully connected. Finally after a long period of time in which I meandered about through crowds of people, I decided to ask somebody where the master was.  I stopped by a young man and ask him, "Where is the master?" He pointed behind me to the northwest, so I thanked him and turned around and walked in that direction.  As I walked down the path, I see a young boy who seems to be dressed in a Cub Scout uniform and he passed me by. I continued walking and then looked to my left and saw a man sitting off to the left by himself. I approach him, and ask him, "Are you the master? He nodded. He took me by the shoulders and looked deeply into my eyes and called me by name. I knew that he knew me completely He then seemed to going to a swoon or a trance. His eyes shut halfway and he got very close to me and began talking about my life, my past and my future. It was all very nebulous and abstract, but I sensed that he knew me deeply. Finally, I felt the sheets move on the bed as Julie turned over, and I lost the hold on the experience, so I moved back to my body and woke up.

This dream brings to mind a lucid dream I had 30 years ago, in which I was lucid and looking for Jesus. I went up to several people, looked at them, and then turned away thinking, "That's not Jesus." Finally, I see an old man sitting by the side of the road. I ask him where Jesus is. He looks at me quizzically, and says, "You know, Jesus doesn't talk to just anyone." I was shocked by his words, and realized upon awakening that my own assumptions about the people around me had limited my ability to encounter the master. That is, by assuming that Jesus did not reside in the people I encountered, I was effectively setting myself up to be "excluded" from his presence. So it's always tricky to look for the divine outside of one's own immediate experience, isn't it? I mean, any search implies that it's not already at hand, and any search depreciates one's immediate experience. 

Going back to my recent dream, I could have seen "the master" in the first young man, or in the little boy, couldn't I? If the highest Spirit resides in the lowest forms, then if we can't see the divine in the person who stands before us, then essentially, we can't see it anywhere. So one might ask, why did I succeed in encountering "the master" after not seeing him/her in the people I'd already encountered? Perhaps it's because my tendency to isolate spirit from my everyday experience has all but given way to seeing God in everyone. Still, I long for that singular encounter with the one who knows me like no other. I suppose I will never quite exhaust the desire to be known and loved completely by one who stands above us all.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Galantamine Offers Neuroprotection

I have written about the benefits of galantamine on dream recall and lucid dream frequency. But a more important facet of the supplement has to do with what's call "neuroprotection." It protects the brain from the effects of oxygen and glucose deprivation, and stroke. Check out this Spanish study:

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Blue Ornament Finally Available

Hi Friends, If you’re looking for a Christmas gift for someone that you love, consider giving a copy of The Blue Ornament, a story that I received in meditation, and which is based on dreams and visions. It costs $16.95 in a hardbound edition, but you can get a free digital version at

Monday, September 1, 2014

Explorations of Extended Reality: Conscious Encounters with the Anima

I have had three extremely vivid and dramatic lucid dream/out-of-body experiences in the past two weeks, each of them following the ingestion of the memory-enhancing supplement, galantamine, and meditating for 30-60 minutes in the middle of the night. I should note that neither meditation nor galantamine precipitates lucidity with any regularity, but the combination is dramatic.

Each one lasted from 45 minutes to an hour and a half, which I have found to be common. I think these experiences contribute to a growing body of knowledge, in which I have encountered and interacted directly with a "person" whom Jung might identify (in a non-lucid dream, at least) as the anima. Jeremy Taylor, for his part, has argued that the term anima lacks something, and I agree, especially as it pertains to lucid dreams and out-of-body experiences. He suggests using the term "consort," but I think that conveys sexual overtones, which are rarely present in my encounters. I would prefer "companion." I have found over the last several years that she presents herself not as a "symbol" or "just" the other half of oneself, but someone who is deeply personal, autonomous, and mysterious. Jung might smile and nod as this description, but I would not call her "my" anything, but rather a person whose identity cannot be reduced to labels or "parts" of oneself.

In the first experience, I become lucid, apparently only moments after dozing off. I see a woman in an indoor setting to whom I announce that I am dreaming. Though I don't know her, I sense that she is my guide in the dream. We hold hands and fly out of the window of the building. We are immediately immersed in darkness. So I/we (she doesn't seem involved in this decision) decide to fly lower in an attempt to emerge from the darkness. We then realize that the best thing to do is to go up instead, so we fly up into the sky hoping to emerge from the darkness. Then, suddenly, we are in a very brilliantly lit, beautiful place. Apparently, we are in another world--another planet in another star system. The world is similar to Earth, but there are some exceptions. For instance, the vegetation looks slightly different and I even see some cactus-like plants along the walkway floating above the ground. I walk with my companion who tells me about world we are in. (Although later, I conclude that I spent over an hour in the experience, I do not remember much of what we talked about.) We come upon some male youth who are outside in a park-like setting beneath beautiful deciduous trees that glow golden in the light. 

They realize that I am from another system and tell me more about their home planet. I notice that they are wearing some form of headgear, much like a headband, which I am told is an extension of their cognitive capacities (such as Ray Kurtzwell has predicted is in store for us in a few years). I know that each headband is fitted to the individual, and cannot be used by anyone else, so I am unable to simply borrow one to see how it works. We continue to talk and visit about a numerous subjects. I know that I cannot stay there, but I want to learn everything I can about the planet on which they live. The woman is very beautiful, and looks androgynous, without discernible breasts. I am not even sure it's a woman. Regardless, the person is especially warm and caring as if he/she knows me on a deep soulful level.

The problem with these experiences, if it can be called a problem at all, is that as soon as I awaken from the experience, it is as though they are draining from my memory. I don't get a sense that I'm supposed to forget them, only that they are state-specific forms of knowing, the fulness of which is hard to translate into words and consolidate into memory. I mean, dreams are hard enough to retain, but these experiences--however more vivid and detailed--are just as hard to retain.

A second experience occurred about for five days later. Again I had meditated for about 30 minutes. When I went back to sleep almost immediately I found myself flying through darkness and hearing the winds and hissing sounds of the out-of-body experience. I was not afraid at all but I reached out in the darkness expecting to feel someone take my hands, which is usual during these experiences. But instead, I feel hands on my lower back pushing me forward, so I reach around with my left hand and take the hand of the person, and turn around to face him or her. Suddenly the darkness recedes, and I am face-to-face with an unknown woman. She is someone I have never met, but I immediately sense that she possesses with a deep knowledge of who I am. We continue to hold hands and to fly into the sky and explore the domain I am in. Instead of being on another planet and a different star system, I seem to have entered an alternative domain with its own people, and stable world. Although I spend what seems to be over an hour exploring many places, as soon as I awaken, I feel the memory draining from my mind. One of the last things I said was to ask if I should I spend more time there. She said no it wasn't a good idea for me to spend too much time there, because I had to attend to two events that were going to be happening in my world near the city of San Antonio. this immediately seemed seemed odd (perhaps symbolic?) because it did not make any sense, at least not yet.

The most recent experience was last night, and it was without doubt the most vivid, beautiful, and thoroughly uplifting lucid dream/out-of-body experience that I've had in many years, if not ever. While there was no ecstasy or religious component common to my early lucid dreams, it was as fulfilling as any experience--interpersonally and emotionally--I have ever had. 

It started as usual with me flying into darkness and praying for divine presence. I call upon Jesus to be present and I reach out in the darkness expecting some presence that would correspond with with the spirit of my prayers. Soon, the darkness recedes, and I find myself in a fully lit beautiful setting in the presence of two dignified looking Indian men who have set a table for me. The most exquisite presentation of Indian food is before me and they invite me to partake of it. I feel a little klutzy at first because I start eating standing up rather than seating myself properly at the table. However, I became self-conscious and realize that I need to seat myself. I then proceed to taste the delectable array of food that they had prepared for me. The tastes are exquisite! Some of it is pastry, some cheese-based, and another dish seems to be steamed vegetables, but everything is flavored with a master chef’s touch. I seemed to recognize one of the men from some previous time or place, but he does confirm that we've known each other. Both men look upon with obvious pleasure as I eat the food. Suddenly, the door opens and several people come into the the rather intimate setting. The men seemed to be a bit disappointed that our quiet exchange had been interrupted by the encroachment of a crowd, but the group was pleasant and festive. After a while I looked up from my delectable feast, and the men seemed to have disappeared. I get up to look for them and I can not find them at the various tables in the small restaurant-like setting. In the absence of the men, I look around and see a woman at the adjoining table, who is very friendly. She begins to talk with a American accent, describing an Indian prince and his family and showing me some photos of the children that are related to the wedding party, which has just entered the setting. I mention to her that she sounds like an American (she has a New York accent) and she's laughs and said, “I am!” Then she says that she is marrying the prince! So I know that she was a well-respected and high-up individual in this society, even though she is American by birth.

Eventually, I get up and leave the area and decide to fly through the window and up into the sky. As I pass through the window, I find myself to be very buoyant and able to fly quickly straight up into the sky. As I pass the people in the courtyard below, some of them look up and waive, and there are beautiful trees with golden flowers below me. I go up into the sky and then find myself suddenly in a new setting which is, if it is possible, even richer and more beautiful. We seem to be in a private home that is of such beauty and quality that it appears to be a museum. People are all around, and I find myself primarily with a woman who again seems to know me with depth and intensity. I spend time with her and relish every moment of our conversation. I realize that in one sense she is my anima, and so I refer to her that way. She does not dispute this assessment, but goes on to say that she wants more from me and for me. She says that I've never done two things, one of which is to bake a cake, of all things! I've since forgotten the other thing was but I gather it was something that I need to do to expand my actualization/fulfillment in life. We spend quite a bit time together and finally I say to her, “I'll probably never see you in this form again.” There was a wistful, existential feeling about this, as if I was saying, nothing is constant. She does not dispute that assessment either, but neither does she seem concerned by that fact. Instead, she conveys the idea that we will be together throughout all time. 

At some point we go into a room where music is playing. It appeared to be Faure’s Requiem, specifically the final movement called Sanctus. She is so moved by it that she bends over and becomes entranced by the music. Her lips move to the music, and I try to catch your eye, but she is too entranced by the music to notice anything else. Suddenly, the music changes from the Requiem mass to a more spirited modern rendition. I am pleased by the novelty of the piece, and I’m moved by it (even though I love Faure’s Requiem). Then, I go into the adjoining room and begin to dance, thinking that she would be pleased that I am breaking out of my usual shell. In the room, there are many sculptures of glass arranged on individual pedestals. Realizing that I am surrounded by delicate sculptures, I think better of dancing so I stop just as a young man walks into the room. He can see that I have been moved by the music, and he says that he, too, loves music by the composer who is a woman by the last name of Roan or Roehn. At that point I take leave of him and I walk through the incredibly rich and beautiful setting into an area where they are apparently serving food. I've been chewing gum (as usual) and decide to dispose the gum by throwing it into the trash  basket in the food serving area, but it misses the trash and lands on the floor. I feel sheepish that I've been so clumsy, but a woman picks the gum up and smiles at me and comments that the gum smells good. I then smile back and take leave of her and decide to leave the area again. I fly out the door up into the sky, finding that it is effortless to fly fast. I am so enthralled by the experience and so impressed by its brilliance and vividness that I wonder if, by chance, I have died. I am not afraid, but I want to know if death has made this experience so extraordinary. So I try to tune into my body and force my eyes open. After a great deal of effort, I finally succeed in seeing that my body is indeed in bed. Just at that moment, Julie moves, thus further extracting me from the experience. 

I was disappointed in myself for having experimented to find out if I was dreaming, because the experience was so stable that it would have continued much longer even even in the context of Julie moving the bed. All in all, this was a most extraordinary and memorable experience. I should note that I drank very little coffee the previous day (because the coffee maker broke at the trailer on the Arroyo where I was guiding flyfishers this past weekend). So I had very little caffeine in my system. In addition, I didn't drink alcohol yesterday evening, which then resulted in being completely free of mind-altering substances by the time that I meditated at 5:30 in the morning, except for the galantamine, which is hardly mind altering.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Meditating on the Symptom

One of the most powerful concepts in psychotherapy is as ancient as humanity itself, but it's something that we quickly forget--that when we resist something, it usually gets stronger. Jesus said, "Resist not evil," which isn't exactly a winning position in politics, or in war for that matter. But in the realm of intrapersonal dynamics––that is, our relationship with ourselves––healing usually commences only once "lay it down," to use the words of Waylon Jennings. In Ericksonian hypnotherapy (i.e. the work of Milton Erickson), this profound truth is represented by the "principle of utilization," in which the hypnotherapist essentially tells the client to "hang onto to that symptom," or even to "make it bigger." Of course, it's counterintuitive that one must first yield to a symptom in order to defeat it, but it works so very well that most master psychotherapists are firmly established in this practice, and will rarely be caught fighting symptoms, or telling a person to change directly--unless it's a matter of life and death. Indeed, they are much more inclined to lean forward and listen when a person is battling something, looking for ways to positively reframe the symptom, and encourage positive engagement with it, so that the relationship with the symptom will become useful, and the battle will subside.

This stance requires a radically inclusive spirit, in which most of what we consider "bad" is explored for its value. There are practical, ethical, and moral limits to considering everything useful, but most of us stop far short of that limit, and end up doing battle with a lot of would-be allies.

One of the most direct and fruitful ways to explore the power of embracing the symptom, is to meditate on a negative feeling. Sometimes I feel anxious or afraid, or depressed, and the typical reflexive thing for me to do is to struggle against the feeling, and to try to make it go away. I'm not even aware that I'm fighting the feeling until I "go into" it, and discover that the level of distress is largely a function of the tension between my reaction and the feeling; and that when I move toward the feeling, the battle subsides, and the feeling transforms into something totally different. 

So try this. The next time you feel a significant negative emotion, for whatever reason, close your eyes and go into whatever form or meditation or prayer that feels comfortable to you, and then enter more fully into the feeling itself. Allow it a place, and welcome it. See if you can put the thoughts that provoke the feeling aside, and simply attend to the feeling itself. You may find, as I have, that the intensity of the negative emotion subsides, and the feeling begins to reveal unacknowledged layers of subtlety that were hidden by the struggle. You may find that you can completely let go of the struggle and enter more deeply into communion with your deeper self. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Stopping and Seeing

On two consecutive Friday evenings, Julie and I have taken a boat ride to the sand with her kayak.

There, she takes her kayak downwind while I wade further east into bootie deep water where a "few good fish" can often be found coming upwind in the low sunlight, visible as dark shadows in the clear water. Then, after half an hour or more, I return to the boat and drift downwind and pick up Julie for our ride home. On the way, I have stopped in a favorite muddy lagoon for just a few minutes, to see if the laughing gulls were working over pods of redfish. We have entered the lagoon on both Friday evenings, and stopped immediately in front of several pods of fish feeding visibly under birds. However, the pods have been comprised wholly of saltwater catfish--not a very desirable catch, since they have poisonous fins that often wound an unwitting angler. Knowing that the reds were probably there, too, but not so conveniently marked in the muddy waters, I stepped off the boat and simply observed the melee of mullet, catfish, and barely discernible signs of larger fish. 

On my first visit to the lagoon over a week ago, while standing and watching, I saw a vague wake and made my first cast. Ten minutes later, I landed a 27+" redfish after dragging it back to the boat for a photo. I released it and we headed home.

A week later, just this past Friday, we returned to the same spot and found the same roily conditions with balls of catfish feeding under crazed laughing gulls. There were no obvious signs of redfish, but again I simply stepped off the boat and walked 50 yards and stopped. After a few minutes, I saw the tip of a tail that I thought was a catfish. But not knowing for sure, I casted to it, and stripped the fly slowly past where its head could have been. I felt a tug, and grimaced, thinking that I would soon have to deal with a spiny catfish at the end of my line. But instead, a fish with considerable authority ripped my line and drove a huge wake in the 9" water. Fifteen minutes later, I landed a 30" red at the boat, took a photo, and released him.

I'm not telling you this as a way of bragging. I am telling you because I was amazed, and believe there's something to be learned from these successes. Both felt, from one perspective, like miracles. But from another perspective, they felt as easy and as natural as a laugh. It happens all the time, as Julie has observed time and again. Why is this possible, you might ask?

What I experience on the water is what I want my clients and friends to experience: To immerse oneself fully in the context in order to perceive what's there, but unseen. 
The Buddhists refer to this meditative process as "stopping and seeing." Both are natural components of experiencing fully.

When all agitations have ceased and not a single wave arises, myriad phenomena are clear, without confusion, without obstruction. Thus seeing is not separate from stopping. Once the layers of obscurity have been cleared and no clouding occurs, the ten directions are empty, without stirring, without agitation.

The "stopping" involves allowing all of the perceptual information into your awareness by surrendering the assumptions that filter the information into biased observations. For example, an angler can stand on an open flat, and say, "There's nothing here," and he will see nothing because he has failed to "stop" his limiting assumptions. Or he can stand there and open himself to the full array of information that normally gets constricted by assumptions. Then, once the full array of information is flowing into one's awareness, one can begin a process of "seeing" -- that is, concentrating on emergent phenomena that may have been invisible beforehand. The "signal" that one is looking for often becomes evident only once all of the data is considered. I have often heard master anglers say, "I can see fish even when there's nothing there." What they're saying is that they are permitting subtle information to pass into deep awareness without the usual biased and constricted filtering. They see things that others don't see, simply because they are more open to the fullness of their experience.

But one cannot be aggressive or ambitious to allow this process to unfold. That shuts down seeing, and it prevents the "stopping" by being attached to crude measures of success. Indeed, the paradox inherent in this process is that, fundamentally, one cannot have much ambition in order to succeed. For myself, I don't much care if I catch a big fish or not, because the richness of the experience means more to me than that. When a person with sufficient skill and experience surrenders one's assumptions and becomes open to the moment, everything becomes possible, but nothing is really needed. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Skyping with Ryan Hurd

About once every two months, Ryan Hurd and I catch up on dream-related topics via Skype. It is one of the richest, most enjoyable exchanges that I have with my colleagues and friends. Ryan's has become the clearinghouse for all dream-related research, lucid dream induction and theory, as well as a place where thousands of dreamers meet for seminal exchanges on a variety of topics. Ryan is positioned at the center of dream studies, and thus is a perfect choice for the IASD Board and IASD's chair of the social networking committee.

One thing that Ryan and I share is a deep respect for the dream characters. Neither of us feels comfortable relegating the felt-personhood and otherness of dream characters, especially in lucid dreams, to the traditional "self-created" dustbin. Instead, we elect to suspend our judgment about the ultimate nature of dream characters. Three years ago, I debated with Stephen LaBerge at the Nonduality Conference in San Rafael on the ontological status of dream characters. I argued that, in the absence of knowing, we had to extend personhood to the dream character; for otherwise, we would be committing the fundamental solipsistic error of rendering ourselves as the only living thing in the dream. LaBerge, as a scientist, was understandably loathe to go there, but the consequences of reducing dream characters to psychological extensions of the self are equally disturbing. Tarnas comments on this problem in The Passion of the Western Mind, in which he discusses the impact of Newton's brilliance on the scientific field; that is, to reduce everything in the known  universe to mathematics, thus "de-animating" the universe and leaving ourselves essentially alone.

We can commit the same unwitting error by reducing everything to an extension of ourselves. What self? Now that's an interesting conversation. Perhaps there's a meeting ground in redefining what we mean by the "self." But if the self to which we refer is "larger" than the conscious self, we have effectively creating a realm of "ownership" without commensurate awareness of what we have created. For all practical purposes, this is exactly the same as granting our dream characters a separate ontological status, but "feels better" because we imagine that they exist within an as-yet unconscious domain of our destined greatness. Let me know what you think about this thread.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Presentations on Lucid Dreaming Available

To my dream-interested friends, I've just posted my three presentations that I gave at IASD at Berkeley in early June:

  • “The Phenomenon of Light and Darkness on the Lucid Dream Journey," 
  • “Underhill’s Three Stages of the Mystic’s Journey as Reflected in My Lucid Dreams" 
  • “A New Method of Dream Analysis Congruent with Contemporary Counseling Approaches.
These postings include links to the audio, powerpoints, and text support.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Two visions in meditation

Being in the woods here in northern Pennsylvania has really deepened my meditations. I go home in two days, but in the last couple of days, I have had two visions in meditation that were not only beautiful, but deeply meaningful. In the first, I am with a woman from a different realm, or a different world. She is here in this world, but in order to enter this plane more fully, she lies down and places her feet against a beautiful young tree, with delicate limbs that make a symmetrical canopy. By touching the tree, she can have a greater influence in this world.

In the second, which occurred in this morning's meditation, I see a large wooden water wheel. Water pours into the top of it from an aqueduct that runs from right to left. As the water flows downward onto the wheel, it turns counterclockwise slowly. Then the water runs off the wheel into the ocean's edge.

These visions capture something true and objective, and "arrive" fully formed and with all of the awarenesses and feelings available without reflecting on them. They are precious gifts, even though, frankly, when I'm that deep in meditation, I usually don't pay much attention to them, and often forget them before the end of my period of silence.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Deep Immersion and A Vision in Meditation

People often ask me about my approach to meditation. It has evolved over the years, and is currently hard to describe. Suffice to say that my goal is to get beyond thinking, and to experience an immersion. At that point, my ego is "gone," and I lose my awareness of the here and now. I think this resembles what the Tibetans refer to as "chopping down the tree," in which the meditator endeavors to defeat each thought until thought ceases altogether. It comes fairly easily to me, and I'm not sure why. I know that's very different from mindfulness, in which one focuses on the breath and maintains an awareness of the here and now. But my problem is thinking and worrying about things that don't really matter, or over which I have no control. Also, if I can reach the state of immersion in spirit, I am immediately recharged and less attached to whatever is on my list of anxious worries.

Also, I often experience visions in the state of immersion that inform me of the "deeper track" of my life. For instance, this morning, I reached the state of alert immersion, and experienced this vivid, spontaneous "dream":

I am standing with a woman between two causeways, one old and one new (like to two joining Port Isabel to Padre Island in south Texas). The old one is broken, and no longer used for cars, and the new one is fully functional. I hear the phrase, "They are peers." When I came out of meditation and shared this with Julie, I realized that "peers" could be "piers." I then though of how the old causeway is used as a pier, and has become useful again.

There was a lot in the short experience, but I realized as I emerged from the experience that the dynamic or active work we do will come to a halt due to aging or natural cycles, but can then provide a "passive" and supportive foundation for others. It is so easy to value the current, dynamic work more highly than the past efforts, but as aging sets in, it's important to be able to shift to a sense of gratitude for the enduring contributions of one's life rather than the new efforts, which of course, in time, will also come to quiescence. At this stage in my life, both are quite evident--three presentations well received last week attest to the fully functional causeway, but that, too, must pass in time. It's always good to have a metaphor that compensates for the sense of decline. I am always impressed by the genius and generosity of the deeper self. Who could have rationally constructed such an experience that said so much in the span of mere seconds? Not my conscious mind, that's for sure.

Using lucidity to learn a language

A woman wrote me this morning and asked the following question:

For many years, I have been successfully dreaming with lucidity, which is joyous and life changing. I am able to focus enough to fall in and out of the same dream, creating my own canvas. I recently tried to learn words with a dictionary during sleep, but wasn't quite able to. Got the book off the shelf and opened it, but then woke up. Is it possible to utilize this ability to learn another language, in your experience?

My response was as follows:

An intriguing idea, but in my experience I have not found the lucid state to be a place where I try to learn new things that are immediately available to me in the waking state. I tend to approach it as a frontier, where I can become available to higher power and deep healing, and then have more energy and clarity for doing the hard work in my waking life. I think trying to learn a language there is like trying to learn to ride a bicycle by going swimming. You might feel more like riding that bicycle once you swim, but you'd be using the wrong context for learning the right thing.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Dreams of Darkness: Explorations into Extended Reality

This is the text of one of three presentations I will be delivering at the June, 2014 IASD conference. This presentation will be part of a panel on lucid dreaming, in which Craig Webb and Dale Graff will also make presentations.

Journey into the Darkness: Explorations of Extended Reality
G. Scott Sparrow
About five years ago, I had my first dream of being in total darkness. It was as follows: I am walking along an ancient, sunken cobblestone arena. I realize that the arena has recently been rebuilt for the third time. There is a cave in a hillside at the end of the road, so I go inside. Looking up, I see a man with a golden body crouching on a ledge atop a stone wall. He leans over the edge and hurls a hammer toward the stone floor beside me. It hits the ground a few feet away with resounding impact, and the earth begins to shake.  I sense that an earthquake has been set in motion, and will soon open a hidden chamber in which some treasure has been hidden for a long time, but I leave the cave, hoping to avoid the collapsing walls. As I walk away, I encounter a being who is half deer and half man. Feeling his power, I skirt him respectfully and pass through a doorway into a pitch-black setting. I grope forward blindly, and awaken.
Most would probably agree that this dream signifies an auspicious new phase in my life at the expense of considerable upheaval, and accompanied--as usual--by a requisite degree of ego resistance. My marriage was going downhill at the time, and I was divorced within 18 months of the dream, to give you some idea of the outward events of my life. But regardless, dreams of darkness have continued into a relatively stable and harmonious period of my life. Indeed, this dream was the first of dozens of non-lucid and lucid dreams in which I have found myself trying to find my way through darkness. 
At first the dreams of darkness concerned me, and I thought that they might signify a physical problem, even a foreshadowing of death. But given the passage of time since the first dream, I have come to see the darkness as a transitional state of unknowing leading to a new phase in my life. As Dante said in his opening lines of The Divine Comedy, “In the middle of the road of my life, I awoke in a dark wood, and the true way was wholly lost.” I’ve a spent a great deal in that dark wood. Further, I believe that from to time, I must re-enter the darkness and lose my way before finding it again. I have come to accept it as part of the deep journey.
In the next few minutes, I want to describe the current state of my exploration of “extended reality,” of which the experience of darkness has been one feature. I prefer this term “extended reality” because the lucid dream and out-of-body experience labels reflect different paradigms, as I suggested in my little book, Lucid Dreaming: Dawning of the Clear Light back in the late 70s. The term “extended reality” remains true to the experience without implying, as much, a constraining paradigm.  
I experienced lucid dreams as often as several times a week as a young man, but the frequency began to fall off in my 30s and 40s, and nearly came to halt in mid-life.  But recently, in the context of a harmonious marriage and a relatively stress-free work life, I have resumed the spiritual practice that had been an almost nightly observance when I was in my 20s--that is, the practice of meditating in the middle of the night, and then returning to sleep. I soon discovered that, once again, middle-of-the-night meditation would catalyze deep, often lucid dreams. But I also discovered that the combination of ingesting the supplement galantamine and engaging in middle-of-the-night meditation resulted in an even greater frequency of lucid dreaming. In fact, the combination results in an experience of extended reality nearly 100% of the time--that is, if I get enough sleep ahead of time, and spend enough time in meditation.
For those of you who are not familiar with galantamine––which has become known as “the lucid dream pill”––it is an over-the-counter supplement derived from the snow drop lily, and increases the availability of acetylcholine, a necessary neurotransmitter associated with cognitive processing. Older brains tend to be deficient in acetylcholine, so supplements like lecithin––a source of choline––and galantamine, both of which increase the availability of acetylcholine, have been shown to help older people recover some of their original cognitive processing power. Not surprisingly, it is used as a treatment, especially in Eurpope, for mild to moderate Alzheimers disease. A poster presentation at last year’s conference, by Stephen LaBerge and Kristen LaMarca, reported that galantamine resulted in approximately five-fold increase in lucid dreaming. However, very little research on galantamine has been conducted to date.
While speculating on why galantamine catalyzes experiences of extended reality is beyond the scope of this presentation. But suffice to say that I believe a wealth of discovery awaits us in the simple premise articulated by Ebon Alexander at last year’s keynote address in Virginia Beach––that the brain is a reducing filter. If the brain effectively degrades reality to make it possible to deal with physical life, then boosting the brain’s processing power with meditation and galantamine may be a way to come into alignment with higher frequencies, and thus extend our perception into ordinarily obscured dimensions of experience. But that’s a topic for later!
The spectrum of phenomena that I have encountered during this new exploration into extended reality includes: the arousal of energy and sound in the state between waking and sleep, a felt sensation of separation of from the body and passage into a fully conscious state, flight through total darkness, contact with a companion who holds onto me as we pass through the darkness or appears as I emerge from it; and finally exploring a vivid and brilliantly lit phenomenal realm.
Even before I resumed my middle-of-the-night meditations, I started noticing upon awakening in the night an old friend: a sound that I’d heard a lot when I was a young man. As I swung my legs over the edge of the bed and moved my head from the pillow, I would hear a “whoosh,” as if something was lagging behind the movement of my body. I recognized the sound as the precursor to my early out-of-body experiences, and I surmised that the door to extended reality was beginning to open again.  The sound is the probably the same phenomenon referred to in the Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines as “the gift waves,” which have been traditionally associated with the presence of the guru.It is simply the sound of hissing or wind that initially comes in waves, but may become a sustained sound and vibration. In my own experience, meditation intensifies it to the point of flattening out and becoming a constant roar. At that point, it sometimes surges into a full kundalini awakening and white light experience; but that’s not as common as it used to be. Regardless, the presence of the energy literally makes it hard to stay in my body. Robert Monroe in Journeys Out of the Body said that this energetic phenomenon was a necessary prerequisite to his OOBEs, and many other writers have confirmed this link. 
Let me recount a series of extended reality experiences that began about a year and a half ago. It my hope that these experiences may contribute to mapping out of some of the universal elements of the extended reality experience. While my experiences surely bear idiosyncratic features, I think that there are common elements and themes that may assist others in understanding their own journey into extended reality. 
In one experience, which was the first in which I encountered a “companion,” I had taken galantamine, and then meditated for over half an hour. After returning to bed and drifting in and out of sleep, I suddenly heard the gift waves and began to meditate on the energy. It intensified I endeavored to let it have its way. The intensity of the energy perfectly mirrors my state of surrender, so no matter what happens I learn something from its response to my efforts. In this instance, it gradually flattened out into a sustained flow of energy and sound, and my vision started to brighten. Suddenly, I felt someone or something grab me from behind, and hold onto me. I couldn’t see who or what it was, but I turned my head slightly and said truthfully, “I am not afraid of you.” I heard a voice respond, but I couldn’t make out the words in the midst of the hissing sound. I then reached over my shoulder and grabbed the presence, and pulled it onto the floor beside the bed. I fell onto the floor, as well. I looked up, and saw the vague outlines of a dark being in the darkness, who immediately disappeared. 
This experience bears the earmarks of what happens during the sleep paralysis nightmare, as reported in Ryan Hurd’s book, Sleep Paralysis. But I wasn’t paralyzed, nor was I afraid. In retrospect, this experience seemed to represent a test of sorts, because my absence of fear seemed to permit the subsequent experiences to evolve further. About a week later, I was again meditating on the “gift waves,” but lost consciousness and entered a non-lucid dream, in which I was in a primitive village surrounded by a forest. Soon, I realized I was dreaming, so I flew up into the air and headed south, looking for the master. I entered an old abandoned castle, and finding no one, I passed through the walls and found myself in emerald green-tinted darkness. I couldn’t see an inch ahead of me, but I flew into the darkness, feeling warm wind as I moved ahead. I held my arms out in front of me, praying for the master’s presence. Again, I felt no fear. Suddenly, I felt someone’s hands grab my arms. The darkness receded, and I found myself face to face with a woman dressed in a blue jump suit, standing between me and my sleeping wife, Julie. 
I asked, “Who are you? Why are you here?” The woman said her name, and then told me that she was from another star system, and had come to earth to arrest a destructive trend. I asked her if I could go with her and visit her home. She said, “Your work is here, and it’s best to stay here for now.” 
This was the first of several experiences of extended reality in which a stranger took hold of me in the darkness. Shortly after the “star woman” dream, I was returning to sleep following meditation and again became aware of the gift waves, but lost consciousness before separating from my body. The next thing I remembered, I was in a completely dark space. I groped my way through darkness, and felt a stone wall with a ledge about four feet from the floor. So I climbed onto the ledge and ran my fingers up the wall, only to find that the wall was open at the top. I stepped down from the ledge and laid down beside a woman in the darkness. We said nothing to each other: all we did was to lie quietly side by side. I felt an immense and knowing, as if we’d known each other since the beginning of time, and would be together for all eternity. The darkness receded, and I saw that she was wearing a black leather mask that was molded to her face. I could not tell what she looked like, but I didn’t care, because the feeling of connection was so profound. 
I left the room and began exploring the realm. Another woman, who was wearing a blue veil appeared, and she guided me from one scene to the next. I felt deeply connected to her, as well. At one point, she led me into a room that was filled with beautiful lights and radiant sculptures. She left me there to meditate on the light, but whenever I focused directly on a source of the light, it dimmed; so I turned away and meditated without looking directly at the light. I could see with my peripheral vision that the light was growing brighter. Eventually, I felt it against my head, infusing me.
Later I was alone, sitting among many people, thinking that the experience had gone on for at least an hour. The veiled woman reappeared. I asked her if the veil got in the way. She laughed and said, “No, I can still eat and I can still kiss!” At that point, the people around me begin singing a dirge-like song, and they became pale and gray. I knew the experiences was ending. The veiled woman bent down, kissed me on the lips, and said goodbye as I became aware again of my bed.
One might ask, who are these companions? And why are they veiled? Are they an extension of the dreamer--the anima, or a subpersonality? Or are they persons in their own right? I have long thought that we conclude too quickly that the characters that we encounter in extended reality are merely “parts of ourselves.” Taken to the extreme, believing that the dream is “self-created” denies the independent agency of those characters whom we encounter in extended reality, and we might fail to learn what they have to give us, and to experience the intimacy of a true “other.” But the other extreme also has its hazards. That is, believing in the independent agency of dream characters can lead to a disavowal of responsibility, and an idealization or demonization of the dream characters. 
My current position, expressed in a chapter I’ve written for Ryan Hurd and Kelley Bulkeley’s upcoming lucid dreaming anthology, is simply to acknowledge that there is no way to ascertain the ontological status of lucid dream characters. And, if I cannot verify that the dream character are parts of myself, then I must allow them the possibility of personhood, and treat them accordingly. This stance is not only true to the dreamer’s subjective experience, but it facilitates a serious dialogue between ourselves and the intrusive novelty of our dreams, and thus fosters deep experiences of intimacy, integration, and wholeness.
While there are errors attached to any one-sided perspective on the status of dream characters, I have found that the dream itself will “correct” or compensate for this one-sideness whenever necessary, as Jung would have predicted. Indeed, I have come to see the darkness, the veil over the companion, and the dimming of the light in the lucid state, are all related to a counterbalancing mechanism that prevents the over-externalization of the goal or destination. In one dream, for example,  in which I was searching for the light, only to have every light source dim upon inspection, I heard the words, “The light is in your eye.” This pithy message supports the idea that the phenomenal realm of the dream is a projection of the soul, which a premise close to the heart of Eastern philosophers, which by and large espouse a constructed or self-created view of reality. But in my dreams of the companion, the felt sense of love and intimacy has been nearly overwhelming at times. In one, I was meditating on the energy, and once again became aware that a woman was lying behind me. I turned in the darkness, and could smell the skin of her bare shoulder. A complex array of subtle scents awakened in me a profound sense of soulful, timeless connection. However, when I tried to see her, I could tell that she was hesitant to be revealed, as if her function had little to do with a personal relationship. Nonetheless, she consented to be seen, and the darkness receded to reveal an unknown dark-haired woman of nondescript features. We went on to spend about an hour in extended reality with a group of people discussing philosophical and spiritual topics beside a beautiful swift-running river. In time, however, I became concerned that the experience was so stable that I would not be able to get back to my ordinary life. Indeed, I had to separate from the group and meditate alone in order to reconnect with my physical body, after considerable effort. 
If Jung were alive and reviewed these experiences, he might marvel at the intensity of the encounters with the unknown feminine presence, but he might also caution me about forging a too-intimate relationship with her. Hence the importance of the darkness, the mask, and the veil. Robert Johnson builds on this cautionary theme in his explanation of the Tristan and Isolde myth in his book, We.  Johnson argues that the relationship with the anima (or animus for the woman) must remain forever chaste, or otherwise the ego will betray its commitment to incarnated life, and become subject to the destabilization that occurs when the ego is directly exposed to raw archetypal power.
It is probably true that our other half, referred to by the Greeks as the daemon is, as Plato believed, a spiritual being who watches over each person, and is his higher self. In some primitive myths, the self if split just prior to birth, and the incarnated half forgets the daemon, and has to recover this awareness through the journey of life. This view of the daemon corresponds to my phenomenological experience in extended reality. Indeed, in one experience while I was flying through the darkness, I suddenly came face to face with a woman, who took me by the hands and told me that I had lost my way. She escorted me to a nearby location, and left me there to continue on my journey. I have had other similar experiences where the companion assists me briefly before sending me on my way. And so, while I am intrigued by the power and intimacy that I have felt expressed by this inner companion, I am also sensitive to the need to look upon the face of the daemon, or anima if you prefer, with a certain respectful indirectness, in order to feel its power without becoming distracted by it, and attached to it.
What does the dream companion herself say about her ultimate nature? In my personal exploration, I have endeavored to ask her on a couple of occasions. In one recent experience, I became aware of the energy after returning to bed, and meditated on it to the point where I separated from my body. I flew into the warm darkness, and after a few moments, I felt the companion take hold of me from behind. I turned and saw her face--again, an unknown woman of mid-length black hair. We flew out of the darkness into a beautiful blue sky, and below I could see green hills and lush fields. We went down to the ground, and sat on a bench in a crowded village square. I finally turned to her and asked, “Are you part of me?” She nodded, and said, “Yes, kind of.” Then I asked, “Are my soul mate?” Again she nodded and said, “Yes.” But I could tell from her hesitant response to both questions that my words were inadequate to define her and the nature of our relationship. I then said goodbye and flew in the direction of my body.
Ultimately, my journeys into “extended reality” have raised more questions than answers. In a recent experience, I emerged from my flight through the darkness into a brightly lit room, where a woman was standing. I asked her, “Are you a real person?” She laughed and turned into a little girl with a white dress on, and with flowers in her hair, and she ran away with another little girl, laughing.
I am reminded of one of my favorite poems, the “Song of Wondering Aengus,” in which Yeats was similarly surprised. Yeats says, 
“I went out to the hazel wood because a fire was in my head, 
and cut and peeled a hazel wand and hooked a berry to a thread. 
And when white moths were on the wing, and moth-like stars were flickering out, 
I dropped the berry in a stream, and caught a little silver trout. 
And when I had laid it on the floor, I went to blow the fire a-flame, 
But something rustled on the floor, and someone called me by my name. 
It had become a glimmering girl with apple blossom in her hair, 
who called me by my name and ran, and faded through the brightening air.”
The sense of mystery remains unbroken in these experiences, and I consider that good. The energy, the darkness, the light that dims when sought, and the companions whose veiled nature cannot be ascertained. It’s all worth it, in my opinion; for where else can you find genuine mystery today that will lure you beyond the known horizons. Yeats’ final words of his poem captures a noble agenda going forward from midlife and beyond. 
“Though I am old from wandering through hollow lands and hilly lands, 
I will find out where’s she’s gone, And kiss her lips and take her hands; 
And walk among long, dappled grass,
And pluck til time and times are done, 
The silver apples of the moon, 
The golden apples of the sun.”
I cannot say it any better than that. I hope to see you out there, or in there, or wherever the path is taking us. 
Thank you.

LaBerge, S., LaMarca, K. (2013). Pre-sleep treatment with acetylcholinesterase inhibitors enhances memory, cognition and metaconsciousness (lucidity) during dreaming. (Accessed 5/7/14)
Sparrow, G. S. (1976). Lucid dreaming: dawning of the clear light. Virginia Beach, ARE.
Sparrow, G. S., Thurston, M. A., Carlson, R.. (2013). Dream reliving and meditation as a way to enhance reflectiveness and constructive engagement in dreams. International Journal of Dream Research, 6, 2.
Sparrow, G. S. (2014). To control or not to control: The nature of dream imagery from the standpoint of lucidity. Refereed chapter for publication in Lucid Dreaming Anthology, Hurd, R. and Bulkeley, K. (eds.). New York: Praeger. Accepted, 10/13.
Yeats, W. B. The Wind Among the Reeds. New York: J. Lane, The Bodley Head, 1899;, 1999. [2014]

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Analyzing Chronic Responses
in Co-creative Dream Analysis


With the advent of the co-creative dream paradigm, which is based on the principle that dreams are indeterminate from the outset, and co-created through the reciprocal exchanges between the ego and emergent dream content, the analysis of the dreamer’s responses becomes an important new dimension in dream analysis. In this paper, the author develops the hypothesis that chronic dream ego responses can be traced to two sources in the individual’s prior experience: 1) trauma and loss, and 2) introjected parental and cultural ideals. The individual’s efforts to prevent trauma and loss from recurring accounts for “reactive adaptive responses,” and attempts to emulate introjected ideals results in “compliant adaptive responses.” Both of these types of chronic responses can be identified with the dreamer’s help in dream analysis, and facilitative alternatives can be formulated in dialogue with the dreamer. The author presents a sequence of steps that can be used as a standalone method, or incorporated into existing dream work methods.

Keywords: co-creative dream analysis, lucid dreaming, adaptive response, dreamer response analysis, imagery change analysis
Analyzing Chronic Responses in Co-creative Dream Analysis


            In The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Kuhn says that “when paradigms change, the world itself changes with them," and that "scientists see new and different things when places they have looked before” (1962, p. 110). Thus, operating from within a new paradigm, a researcher will become aware of new phenomena, raise new questions, and be able to solve problems that have remained heretofore unsolved.
            Co-creative dream theory (Rossi, 1972, 2000; Sparrow, 2013; Sparrow and Thurston, 2010) represents a paradigm that accounts for the formation, development, and outcome of the dream experience.  It posits that the dream experience is indeterminate from the outset, and unfolds according to the real-time reciprocal interplay between the dream ego and the dream content.  Rossi captured the essence of this relationship when he stated, “there is "a continuum of all possible balances of control between the autonomous process and the dreamer’s self-awareness and consciously directed effort" (1972, p. 163). As for the purpose that this interactive process fulfills, Rossi (1972; 2000) anticipated Hartmann (1998) by suggesting that it serves an integrative function, but went further to assert that the dreamer-dream interactive process either facilitates or retards that aim.
            The co-creative paradigm has been slow to take hold in dream analysis, perhaps because until recently it has lacked a sufficient foundation in research to challenge the “deficiency hypothesis,” which holds that the dream ego is deficient in self-reflectiveness and volition (Rechschaffen, 1978), and that the manifest dream is “strictly determined” (Freud, 1900; Kramer, 1993). While the lucid dream phenomenon suggests that the dream ego can, at least in the lucid state,  reflect upon, and modify the dream content, the categorical distinction of “lucid” vs. “non-lucid” has continued to support the view that the non-lucid dream ego is largely deficient in higher mental functions. More recently, however, empirical studies have established the presence of waking-style metacognition in non-lucid dreams, as well (Kahan, 2001; Kahan and LaBerge, 1994, 2010;  Kasmova and Wolman (2006). Thus it is now reasonable to assume that the nonlucid dream ego continuously reflects upon, and responds to the dream imagery throughout the dream. Thus the most significant objection to the co-creative paradigm––that non-lucid dreamers are deficient in self-reflectiveness and volition––has been largely dispelled.
            While traditional content-oriented dream inquiry treats the dream imagery as “strictly determined” (Freud, 1900; Kramer, 1996) and proceeds to analyze the images apart from the dream ego, the co-creative paradigm looks at how the dream ego’s moment-to-moment responses impact the dream imagery, and vice versa, in a circular, synchronous exchange that results in one of many possible contingent outcomes. Family therapists have referred to this reciprocal process as “the governing principle in relationships” (Nichols,p. 8), but this level of assessment is relatively new to dream analysis. Once adopted, however, it leads naturally to a comparison of the dream’s interactive process with waking relationship parallels. Thus, in the co-creative model, the search for process parallels supplements the traditional search for content parallels, thus serving as an encompassing, relational lens through which one can analyze the overall dream experience.
The Emerging Importance of Dreamer Response Style
            In co-creative dream theory, it follows that the dream ego’s style of relating becomes an important new dimension in dream analysis. When analyzing the interactive process, the dream ego’s responses can be viewed as either facilitative or obstructive in an unfolding relationship with the dream content. LaBerge uses the term “adaptive response” to denote when dreamers respond in ways that facilitate psychological integration and overall health within the dream.
In general terms, health can be conceived of as a condition of adaptive responsiveness to the challenges of life. For responses to be adaptive, they must at least favorably resolve the situation in a way that does not disrupt the individual’s integrity or wholeness. Adaptive responses also improve the individual’s relationship with the environment. There are degrees of adaptiveness, with the optimum being what we have defined as health. (LaBerge, 2009)
            LaBerge also uses the term “maladaptive response” to signify reactions that impede the integrity and health of the individual. He says, “maladaptive responses are unhealthy ones and....any healthy response by definition leads to improved systemic integration, and hence is a healing process” (LaBerge, 2014). The adaptive/maladaptive dichotomy is a useful construct in co-creative dream analysis, but in practice it becomes difficult to determine if a particular dream ego response is adaptive or maladaptive without inquiring into an individual’s unique history. That is, what may appear to be “adaptive” may actually represent something that comes too easily for the dream ego, and which may actually arrest a developmental process. Conversely, what may appear to be destructive and harmful may represent a necessary expression of autonomy and power. For instance, LaBerge considered the following dream indicative of a significant positive transformation:
 Having returned from a journey, I am carrying a bundle of bedding and clothes down the street when a taxi pulls up and blocks my way. Two men in the taxi and one outside it are threatening me with robbery and violence. . . . Somehow I realize that I’m dreaming and at this I attack the three muggers, heaping them in a formless pile and setting fire to them. Then out of the ashes I arrange for flowers to grow. My body is filled with vibrant energy as I awaken. (La Berge, 2014)
             While the lucid dreamer seems to have asserted his or her own power, such “success” begs the question of whether true growth can proceed for long on the basis of merely destroying dream characters, and by implication suppressing whatever the dream imagery represented.  Commenting on the futility of destroying dream characters, Rossi flatly states, “Kill a man once and his physical body remains permanently dead; kill a fantasy image once and the battle has just begun” (1972, p. 47).   LaBerge acknowledges that while attacking threatening dream characters may be therapeutic for dreamers who have suffered at the hands of abusers, in most cases a more conciliatory, engaging response effects a positive, and perhaps more lasting transformation of the dream character. Drawing on Tholey’s (1983) work, LaBerge suggests that  ”when the dream ego looks courageously and openly at hostile dream figures, their appearance often becomes less threatening” (LaBerge, 2014). Citing Rossi (1972; 2000), I have suggested that the dream ego’s responses can be viewed on a developmental continuum, whereby flight, expressing power, or even destroying dream characters, can serve as interim achievements that may progress eventually to dialogue and reconciliation (Sparrow, 2014).  Clearly, one’s attempts to identify adaptive and maladaptive dream ego responses should proceed on the basis of a careful and sensitive consideration of the dreamer’s psychodynamic and interpersonal history.  In practice, a dream worker can assist a dreamer in discriminating between adaptive and maladaptive responses by determining whether a specific response represents a habitual response, or a creative departure from the status quo, and  “at least favorably resolve[s] the situation in a way that does not disrupt the individual’s integrity or wholeness.” (LaBerge, 2009, p.107-108).

The Development of the Theory of Chronic Adaptive Responses

            It is useful, in and of itself, to help dreamers identify chronic responses and to encourage the formulation of new ones. However, such efforts are even more useful if the origins of the chronic responses can be understood, as well. By tracing the dream ego’s responses to their origins, and developing an empathic understanding of how such feelings, thoughts, and behaviors may have once fulfilled an adaptive function in earlier contexts we can conceivably assist the dreamer in considering whether such responses are still useful in contemporary contexts.

            I developed the theory of chronic adaptive responses through teaching group therapy to graduate counseling students, and conducting therapeutic groups in private practice. One might ask, what does group therapy have to do with dream analysis? Once one adopts the co-creative paradigm––with its emphasis on interactive process––then knowledge of relationship dynamics in other fields, such as group therapy and family systems therapy, can potentially shed light on heretofore unacknowledged relational dynamics in the dream.
            Specifically, it is widely accepted that therapy groups pass through an unstable stage of adjustment immediately following the initial meetings. This stage is called by various terms, including the "storming" stage (Bormann, 1975) and the "transitional" stage (Corey, Corey, and Corey, 2014; Gladding, 2012). Lasting until the group achieves sufficient cohesion to enable passage into deeper work, this problematic stage is characterized by an array of behaviors that come about, according to most theorists, as a way to resist the growing intimacy and interpersonal risks inherent in group work. Most of these behaviors are not disruptive in and of themselves, but become problematic over time as members resort to them again and again as idiosyncratic and predictable ways of responding to interpersonal challenges. For instance, a member may initially receive accolades for asking incisive questions of other members, but this same behavior may eventually provoke the group’s annoyance as they become aware of how the questioning behavior hides the questioner’s own feelings and thoughts.  Behaviors that are cited in the literature (Corey, Corey, & Corey, 2014) as resistive or disruptive include excessive questioning, advice giving, storytelling, hostility, peacemaking, silence, rescuing, monopolization, dependency, and superiority. But virtually any behavior that becomes repetitive over time can serve to veil a person’s authentic feelings and wider potentialities, and thus prevent greater intimacy.

Two Categories of Chronic Adaptive Responses

            In teaching group therapy to counselors in training, I was dissatisfied with the traditional view that “resistive” behaviors arise only in reaction to the group’s transitional stage. Not only did I notice members resorting to such behaviors from the outset, but I also observed the same behaviors occurring beyond the transitional stage, albeit in muted and more functional ways. On the basis of these observations, I concluded that individuals have stable, idiosyncratic responses to perceived interpersonal stress.  The traditional belief that these behaviors are uniquely tied to the group’s transitional stage obscured, in my opinion, the possibility that these behaviors have always been there, and have possibly served positive, adaptive functions in earlier life contexts. Given my observation that the responses were stable and evident throughout the group’s development, I began to examine the sources of these chronic behaviors by interrupting group members who were exhibiting them, and asking them simply to get in touch with the underlying emotions. To facilitate the exploration, I used an “affect bridge” (Christiansen, Barabasz, and Barabasz, 2009) to help members get in touch with the source of the emotions. That is, I asked them to get in touch with the feelings prompting the behavior as a bridge to its original context.
            Reactive Adaptive Response. When group members were given a chance to explore the origins, they typically discovered one of two underlying causes. First, some members traced their repetitive behaviors to past trauma or loss. When this was true, then such behavior represented a strategy for preventing similar painful interpersonal experiences from recurring. For instance, a 50-year old male client, whose alcoholic stepfather would periodically beat his frail mother, developed a tendency to crack jokes in order to defuse the tension at home. While the behavior worked in that particular context to distract his stepfather, it proved disruptive in later relationships––including his involvement in a therapeutic group where he would resort to humor without remaining sensitive to the unique demands of the moment. I began to refer to any interpersonal behavior, which is designed to prevent trauma and loss from recurring, as a “reactive adaptive response” (Sparrow, 2010; Sparrow and Alvarado, 2006). This type of adaptive response has a way of suppressing one’s direct expression of feeling and need in favor of protecting oneself from real or imagined interpersonal threats.
            Compliant Adaptive Response. In other cases, group members revealed that a particular chronic response could be traced to a desire to gain acceptance within one's family and culture.  Instead of preventing something terrible from happening again, this type of behavior was designed to win approval by emulating some introjected ideal.  For instance, a 31-year-old Hispanic male who wanted to gain his father's respect and win approval from others, grew up imitating his father's quiet, strong, and unrevealing personality, thinking that to do otherwise would render him less of a man.  Or a woman, who always offered to help others in the group even when it wasn't needed, was able to trace her reflexive caring responses to her mother, who gave herself tirelessly to her family's needs. To distinguish this type of behavior from the reactive type, I termed it "compliant adaptive response" (Sparrow, 2010; Sparrow and Alvarado, 2006). The consequence of the early parental/cultural programming results in a splitting of the self into acceptable and unacceptable aspects, thereby giving rise to what Jung has called the persona and the shadow split.
            After working with these concepts for several years as a counselor educator, I began to see that reactive and compliant adaptive responses occur in dreams, as well in the waking state, and become especially evident over the course of analyzing multiple dreams from the same client, or sometimes in single dreams with heightened affect. For instance, a 34-year married teacher and mother reported the following brief dream:
I am standing on the street outside a movie theater with my sister and a friend of hers. My sister is dressed in a beautiful blue outfit.  I want to go into the movie with them, but I recall that I have some school work that I need to attend to. My sister and her friend get in line to buy tickets. Meanwhile, I wait for a school bus to pass before crossing the street.
            When the dreamer shared this dream in my group counseling class, we focused principally on her decision not to join her sister and friend, since the dreamer's response is the centerpiece of co-creative dream work. At first, we did not know if the dreamer’s behavior was a chronic response, or a creative departure from her usual habit patterns. When she reflected on her pivotal decision to leave the other women and return to work, she said that when given a choice she almost always chose to work, because she felt that her family expected her to be successful and to do the responsible thing. She said that she had reaped a great deal of praise from having an especially beautiful home and a well-organized classroom, but that she often longed for more relaxation and enjoyment in her life. She said that her mother had been the same way, and was now regarded as a veritable saint by her husband, children, and friends. Her sister, however, had always put fun and self-interest on an equal footing with work. She realized that her sister and the unknown friend represented her repressed and unexplored shadow self, who was willing to put personal enjoyment first. So the dreamer helped us to identify the dream ego’s decision to choose work over play as a compliant adaptive response.
            Another dream of a 27-year-old man shows the impact of an internalized “vow of poverty” that the dreamer had learned from his father.
            I am at my childhood home, and a pickup truck full of gifts––outdoor sports items, in particular––pulls up in the driveway. A man whom I know to be God gets out and walks up to me. He says, "This is all yours." I struggle, feeling unsure of what to say. I then say, "I am not sure I can accept it." He then says, "Will you accept it for me?" I reply, "I don't know." I then sit down on the ground, struggling with the decision, and wake up before I can decide what to do.
            When I asked the dreamer to use the affect bridge to get in touch with the original conviction that he couldn't accept such generosity, he remembered countless times when his father, who grew up during the American Great Depression, would tell him stories of how hardship brought people together. His father was always mistrustful––even subtly contemptuous––of wealthy people, and he missed several opportunities to greatly increase his net worth over the course of his life by reflexively clinging to the “virtue” of self-denial. The dreamer realized that he had unwittingly emulated his father’s ideal of poverty, and had often failed to seize the moment when wondrous opportunities had presented themselves. So, in this case, the dreamer was also exhibiting a chronic, compliant adaptive response.

Lucid Dreamers Exhibit Chronic Responses

            Reactive and compliant adaptive responses can be observed in lucid dreams, as well as in non-lucid dreams. While lucidity may seem to free the dream ego from reflexive responses, even lucid dreamers may be governed by unexamined reactions. Take, for instance, the case of a young female client, who would become lucid in her dreams almost every night. I was impressed by the frequency of her lucid dreams, but then I observed over the course of our work that she would almost always fly away from any stressful event. While she thought nothing of her reflexive response at first, she began to realize that flight was her primary strategy to prevent the kind of wounding experiences she had incurred at the hands of her parents. Flight had become her reactive adaptive response to waking and dream situations, alike.
            A therapist using co-creative dream analysis will help a client become aware of crucial junctures in which the dream ego’s response, however reasonable it might have seemed at the time, may have thwarted the intergrative process. Perls, whose approach to dream work foreshadowed co-creative dream theory, was well aware of the dreamer’s proclivity toward disavowal of responsibility when he said, "You prevent yourself from achieving what you want to achieve. But you don’t experience this as your doing it. You experience this as some other power that is preventing you" (1973, p. 178). For instance, a highly intelligent client of mine, whose anxiety had held her back from getting a college education, often dreamt of various true-to-life scenarios in which she had to bear the brunt of an authority figure’s anger because she was in a position of relative powerlessness due to her lack of education. As a substitute teacher, she would often dream that the teacher or principal would berate her, even though she knew she was not at fault. Not surprisingly, she would remain silent in such dreams thinking that there was no way she could risk provoking their anger. Over the course of several months, we identified this passive response as a reactive adaptive response. It had become her way to fending off the expected attacks of relatively powerful people. By identifying the dream ego’s chronic response, and eliciting the dreamer’s determination to respond differently in dreams and waking life, the dream work anticipated, if not also facilitated a significant breakthrough in a subsequent dream. In it, she was in church leading a congregation in song:
I am getting ready to lead the congregation in singing a new song when I realize that I don’t have the sheet music for the hymn. I rush to the back of the church and rummage through a sheaf of music, hoping to find the correct song before the pastor calls for it. Suddenly, I look to the front of the church and see that C.––the previous song leader––had returned and taken over my position at the microphone. Without hesitation, I hurry to the front of the church, and say, “This is my job now! You need to sit down!” I become aware that I have asserted myself in front of the entire congregation, and I’m aware of how they are seeing me in a different light than before.
This dream is good example of how a chronic adaptive response can change abruptly in the context of a dream, and usher the dreamer into a new view of herself. Such pivotal moments can become the proof positive that a client is making significant progress in overcoming lifelong habit patterns.

The Same Response Can be Either Type

            I have found that the same behavior can be reactive or compliant, or a combination of both. For instance, a 35-year old group member would reflexively offer verbal reassurance to anyone who was in distress. When another group member finally blew up at her for trying to rescue her when she didn’t need it nor want it, the helper tearfully admitted that her mother was dying of diabetes, and that she felt powerless to help her. Thus, what appeared on the surface to be a compliant adaptive response––rescuing––was actually a reactive adaptive response. That is, by trying to helping others, she hoped to mitigate the impact of her helplessness in the face of her mother’s decline. Such examples should caution a therapist, once again, not to make assumptions about the origins or the function of chronic waking and dream responses.
             A single dramatic dream will often signify the resolution of a lifelong chronic response. For example, I worked with 26-year-old woman, who had been abused as a young child by her mother, who would sometimes nearly suffocate her with a pillow in anger. Her mother had also done everything to prevent my client’s father from visiting her, and her father, in turn, had effectively deserted her by giving up trying to have a relationship with her. My client grew up expressing a firm resolve never to have children out of a fear of becoming like her mother, and would also abruptly cut off relationships with men for fear of betrayal. After two abortions, she turned to cocaine and alcohol abuse, and then entered therapy. At the end of two years of sobriety and three years of individual and group therapy, she had the following dream in which her chronic reactive adaptive responses gave way to a facilitative, integrative response. Her dream is as follows:
I am on the shoreline outside the restaurant where I work as a waitress. I see a large wave coming into the inlet from the ocean, which turns toward me. Out of the wave emerges the back of a whale. It turns and heads directly toward me, until its large head comes onto the sand, and stops a foot in front of me. It turns its head, and looks at me with a single large eye. I hold its gaze, and then it slowly backs into the water again, disappearing. I look down and I’m surprised to see a baby whale at my feet. I know that I am supposed to care for it, so I bend down and pick it up.
            Once this client’s reactive responses had been identified and traced to earlier abuse from her mother and desertion from her father, it was easy for her to recognize these behaviors operating in her contemporary waking and dream relationships. Such a framework provided the basis for her striving to do differently, which ultimately enabled her to enact new adaptive responses in her dream with the whale––that is, standing her ground in the face of the overwhelming motherly presence, and accepting the responsibility for parenting its offspring. She terminated counseling shortly after having this dream, got engaged a few months later, and eventually married and gave birth to her first child. Indeed, whenever a dreamer identifies and overcomes such lifelong tendencies, it becomes immediately evident in such dreams as the whale dream. While powerful imagery may indicate a momentous shift, co-creative dream analysis places the greater emphasis on the dreamer’s life-altering responses.
            Obviously, a great of time and struggle can ensue between identifying maladaptive responses and overcoming them. Fortunately, a variety of methods can be employed to accelerate the client's facilitative responses in both dreams and waking relationships. I have written (Sparrow, 2013; Sparrow, Thurston, & Carlson, 2013) about a methodology that I employ called "dream reliving," in which the dreamer relives in fantasy the dream as if he or she were lucid, and can exercise new responses to the situations that have arisen in distressing dreams. This practice can serve to attenuate the anxiety associated with past distressing dreams, as well to prepare for future ones.

Putting the Theory into Practice

            I have described elsewhere (Sparrow, 2013) a systematic, five-step approach to dream analysis––the FiveStar Method––that makes the dreamer’s responses to the dream content the centerpiece in a comprehensive approach to dream work. While one can adopt the FiveStar Method, one can also use dreamer response analysis as a standalone intervention, or as a step in any other systematic dream work methodology. Regardless, in order to remain true to the co-creative paradigm, one should also incorporate imagery change analysis (Sparrow, 2013) with dreamer response analysis, in order to explore the way that the dream ego and the dream imagery unfold dynamically in real time. This interventional framework––which is an elaboration of Steps 3-5 of the FiveStar Method (Sparrow, 2013; Sparrow & Thurston, 2010)–– can be used as a standalone intervention, or incorporated into existing systems. The steps are as follows:
Identify Responses––Locate the pivotal moments in the dream where the dreamer responded––emotionally, cognitively, and/or behaviorally––to the dream imagery.
Evaluate Impact––Engage the dreamer in considering how the dream ego’s responses impacted the dream imagery and the course of the dream, and vice versa.
Determine Effectiveness––Engage the dreamer in ascertaining whether the dream ego’s responses facilitated or thwarted the process of integration.
Explore Origins––If a response thwarted the process of integration, explore the origins of the response, by using an “affect bridge” (Christiansen et. al, 2009) to earlier experiences in the waking life.
Assess Type––Discuss whether the response is a reactive adaptive response or a compliant adaptive response, or both; and then assess what undesirable experience the response is designed to avoid, or what implicit ideal it serves.
Discuss Alternatives––Discuss alternative responses based on the dreamer’s ideals and preferences, and ask the dreamer to imagine how the new responses will affect the dream imagery during similar dream encounters in the future.
Relive the Dream––Engage the dreamer in reliving the dream in fantasy, in which he or she imagines enacting new responses to a similar dream scenario. Discuss the imagined new dream outcome.
Apply Dream Work––Consider parallel waking scenarios, and discuss whether the same new responses might be useful in those contexts, or whether they need to be modified to conform to waking rules and contexts.


            In summary, the co-creative paradigm shifts dream work to include an analysis of the dream ego’s responses; the impact of dream ego’s responses on the dream imagery; and the integrative process that is served or thwarted by these exchanges. Over time, dream analysis may reveal repetitive patterns of responding, the origins of which may be traced to two types of prior experiences: 1) exposure to trauma and loss, giving rise to chronic reactive responses, and 2) internalization of parental and cultural ideals, prompting chronic compliant responses. While this conceptual framework initially grew out of working with therapeutic groups, it becomes useful in analyzing chronic relational patterns in dreams, as well.  Taken together, dreamer response analysis (DRI) and imagery change analysis (ICA) can assist non-lucid and lucid dreamers, alike, who may wish to examine their characteristic style of responding in dreams in light of past, unexamined influences. Ultimately, troubleshooting and modifying chronic dreamer responses may accelerate the process of integration that is evident in dreams.

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