By Maria Carla Cernuto © 2014
When I was a teenager, I would carry around a dream totem in my pocket.
This odd item took many shapes over the years – an old 9mm bullet, a 25 cent plastic monkey, a pocket compass. What the item was didn’t matter as much as the function this object served. Every time I would see my totem (or feel it in my pocket), I would stop and ask myself, “Am I dreaming?” I wasn’t just an angsty teen with too much time on my hands, I was training myself to become a lucid dreamer.
The idea was simple: If I made it a habit to ask myself this odd question throughout my day, that same habit would carry over into my dreams.
Soon, I would find myself in a dream asking, “Am I dreaming?” and this time I would answer, “YES!”
Dreams have always fascinated me just like they have for many of us.
Even in my earliest memories, back to when I was sleeping in a race car shaped bed, I remember knowing that dreams were more than just dreams. The first time I was lucid in a dream I was soaring above the clouds with a whole group of Canadian geese. It was one of the most exhilarating experiences I’ve had. Here I was a young kid, and I’m completely awake inside my dream flying miles above the Earth at breakneck speeds alongside a flock of geese. Wow! Oh, I can remember it like it was yesterday – the wind rushing against my face, the heat of the sun warming my back. I knew I was dreaming, therefore I knew that I could do absolutely anything. I was lucid dreaming.
It wasn’t until I was a teenager looking at my compass totem that I began having these experiences again.
This time around I wanted more than just the thrill of flying or the occasional battle against Freddy Kruger – I had some serious questions! (Yeah, right. What do you think a hormonal teen is doing with unlimited possibilities of a lucid dream?)
But really, I was curious about understanding the dream world and how things worked. I remember thinking, “If I could figure things out here (in the dream world), I could understand the dynamics underlying our waking lives…” Little did I know this inquiry would take me deep into the rabbit hole in understanding the nature of consciousness and the nature of reality. Who are we really? How does this reality work?
I never understood the idea that only our waking experiences were real, and that our dreams were fake or our “imagination.” When I was lucid in my dreams, I could see, smell, taste, touch, and hear, just like I could in my waking hours. Yes, the dream world was real. Yes, it was my imagination (or at least responsive to my imagination). But wouldn’t that make our waking experience the same – real, but also responsive to our imagination?
I felt like a scientist. My dreams became my own personal laboratory.
A place where I would test out my understanding and skills. At this point I was getting better at staying lucid for long periods of time. I could hold onto my awareness with little effort (in the early stages I would only be able to stay lucid for minutes at most).
I tested out how to move things with my mind, walk through walls, how to create or change the dream environment with only my intention, how to travel within this space at the speed of thought, or speak to the “locals” who frequented my dreams. I met some of the most incredible teachers in my lucid dreams who explained to me what this inner universe was all about. Being “awake” in my dream taught me that nothing was separate from me. Whatever appeared externally– that scary monster, the benevolent king, the beautiful sunset bringing tears to my eyes – was just a reflection. The dream world was alive and responsive and because it was intimately connected to me, I could change it.
For me, I can no longer separate dreaming from waking (a mild case of schizophrenia I’m assuming).
Both are just different states of the same present moment. But dreaming teaches us a bigger story about ourselves and reminds us that we are the creators, or the dreamers of our lives whether it’s day or night. It can empower us to know that just like in our dreams, we have infinite possibilities available to us and that if we want to change the dream, we must change ourselves (our thoughts, emotions, beliefs, expectations).
It might be difficult to conjure up a black Ferrari with just your thoughts, but that is EXACTLY where it begins (personally, I’m gonna kick it old school with my red race car). Nowadays, I no longer keep a totem in my pocket, but I think if I did I would answer that golden question a little differently now. “Am I dreaming?”
“Why yes, yes, I am.”