Photo by Ryan Brohm via Iowa State Daily
Lucid dreamer and author, Dawn Baumann Brunke, sent me an advance copy of her new book, Dreaming with Polar Bears. Interestingly, the book shares her dreams, lucid dreams and altered state interactions with the polar bear. Have you ever communicated with an animal while lucid dreaming? What could another species teach us through communicating in a lucid dream?
How did you become interested in dreaming and lucid dreaming?
I‘ve always loved dreaming. The nightly ritual of falling asleep, having all kinds of wild adventures, and then waking up with a story to share is both incredibly fun and fascinating to me. And when we begin to connect the dots — noticing how our dreams relate to or interact with our waking life — it‘s even more intriguing.
I recall a childhood dream that awakened me to these deeper connections. I was about 10 years old. I woke up in bed and saw a woman sitting at my desk. She was positioned in an odd way and had a focused expression, as if concentrating. The next day at school we had a substitute teacher. While doing a writing exercise, I glanced her way and recognized that she was sitting at the desk in the same odd way, wearing the same focused expression as the woman I saw the night before in my dream.
I was amazed by how something so mundane — a teacher sitting at a desk in a particular way — could awaken such powerful feelings in me. In that moment I had a knowing — not an intellectual thought, but a deep-down certainty — that our dreams are talking to us, sharing things that might be helpful for our waking self to know.
This was not something I felt I could articulate to my parents or teachers, so it remained a secret, a personal mystery that I often wondered about. That experience was one among many that nudged me to explore further.
What do you recall of your first lucid dream/s?
I don‘t recall a first official lucid dream. I suspect that the way our culture tends to separate ‘dreams‘ from ‘waking world‘ is not as firmly entrenched in children as in adults. Some of my very early dreams seemed quite real and I sensed myself awake; I don‘t think I distinguished that as different from waking life. However, once I bought into the belief that dreams and waking life should be considered separate realities, then the notion of lucid dreaming took on a magical quality. To be awake inside a dream — to know that you are dreaming a dream — is both strange and powerful!
Did anything surprise you about the experience of lucid dreaming? What did you make of that?
As a teenager, I loved the coolness factor of lucid dreaming. I always felt a high degree of mystery there — and yes, there‘s often such a surprise element to waking up inside a dream and realizing, Aha, I‘m dreaming. It‘s like when Toto pulls back the curtain and the Great Oz is revealed. The secret that you are dreaming is now exposed. But it doesn‘t really end there, does it? There‘s now another kind of secret to explore — the challenge and opportunity to interact with the dream as a conscious dreamer. What other curtains will be pulled away? What else will we discover?
Can you recall the first lucid dream in which you apparently communicated with an animal? What happened?
I‘ve had many lucid dreams in which I‘ve communicated with animals. That fits for me, however, because in waking life I sometimes work as an animal communicator— helping humans to understand the thoughts, feelings and perceptions of their animals.
For me, the dream which opens this book is unique — not so much because I communicated with an animal, or even because it a lucid dream, but mostly because it marked the beginnings of a more conscious form of dream-sharing.
This dream happened many years ago. I was sleeping on a ship and suddenly became aware of two screens of consciousness. On one side, I recognize my sleeping body on the ship and realize that I am having a lucid dream. On the other side, is a small, lively dog. I discover that I can slip my consciousness into his thoughts. As I do that, I know all about him. It‘s as if I‘m a guest in his consciousness and he‘s showing me his life — how he‘s very peppy and playful. He lives with a family: a mom, dad, older boy and young girl. His name is Little High Top, an unusual name given to him because when he first came to live with the family they set him inside the boy‘s high-top sneaker and took his photo. This was a joke with the family, and they began calling him Little High Top.
As the dreamer, I‘m fascinated by this dual awareness and how I can easily shift between the two worlds — I know I am dreaming on the ship, but so also do I know of Little High Top by sharing his consciousness. I sense that the dog seems aware of me. He understands that I am a dreaming human sharing the events of his life from within his consciousness. And he seems very welcoming of this type of connection.
Then, in that way of dreams, time speeds up and I watch Little High Top‘s life passing by. He goes to live with an old uncle. This man is an artist who lives in a small house perched on the side of a mountain that overlooks a rocky ocean bay. The uncle paints at a table by a window and Little High Top sits across from him. It‘s clear they have a warm friendship and both are content. A few years later, the old uncle dies, followed by Little High Top. But this isn‘t sad; the dog shares that it was a good life, filled with happiness.
On waking from this dream, I was impressed with all the details that were specific to this dog. I was also excited about the idea of sharing consciousness within a dream. I had a strong feeling that this was not simply a dog representation (or a representation of a part of myself) but a sentient being visiting and connecting with my dreamworld. Was this possible? How? And why was it happening? This dream challenged and inspired me to think about dreams in a new way.
Was anything going on in your life, or did you have any specific interests, that would call forth such a lucid dream at that time?
I‘ve always had a good connection with dogs, so the fact that the animal who showed up was a dog made some sense. At the time, I was working on a book called Shapeshifting with Our Animal Companions.
This book was largely about experiencing the world through an animal‘s perspective. The dream symbology of the two screens of awareness, as well as the ability to move between them (from viewing my dreaming self to sharing Little High Top‘s world) was similar to my experience of shapeshifting — or, as I often thought about it, the ability to shift the shape of one‘s consciousness and thus perceive in a very different way — in this case, through a dog‘s life and perspective.
In your book, Dreaming with Polar Bears, you mention that you had another lucid dream, which had a connection with your past lucid dream of Little High Top, yet presaged your book. Tell us about that.
Yes, this was another significant dream for me as it held the invitation which led me to write this book. Although I dreamed it about a year later, it connected to the Little High Top dream in a remarkable way.
In the dream, I‘m on an airplane flying from Juneau to Anchorage. It‘s an early morning flight, so it‘s still dark outside. I‘m sitting in the window seat and an older, distinguished looking gentleman sits in the aisle seat. We strike up a conversation. He tells me he is a Professor of Dreamology and that he has come to Alaska to teach a special type of dreaming. He speaks in a humble way, yet I sense he is wise and knows some secrets.
During a lull in our conversation I look out the window. The sky is just getting light and the clouds are a beautiful golden-pink color. I imagine what it would be like to float into those clouds or even to become a cloud. And then I think: How strange is it that two such different worlds — one of magical pink early morning clouds and one of a darkened airplane with so many sleepy passengers — can exist side by side, separated only by a thin pane of glass? This thought causes me to remember my dream about Little High Top and the two screens of awareness.
I become lucid and am excited to recount the dream of Little High Top within this dream — and to a Professor of Dreamology no less! I explain how I was aware of two screens of consciousness, how I learned all about a little dog by entering its awareness, and how the dog seemed to be aware of me. When I‘m finished, the professor looks me in the eyes and asks, ‘Is Little High Top real?’ I get nervous and lose my lucid edge. ‘It was just a dream,’ I say, but he continues to question me in a good-natured way. I still feel nervous but a little excited too as I realize that maybe there‘s something important here.
The professor then pulls a briefcase from under the seat in front of him and takes out a packet of photos. He hands me one. It‘s a picture of a little dog who looks like the dog in my dream. He tells me to turn it over. On the back of the photo are the words, Little High Top.
I am shocked and my thoughts begin to race — Who is this man? Is he really a professor — of Dreamology? How did he just happen to be sitting next to me and how does he have a picture of a dog I once dreamed? But the professor acts as if all is perfectly explainable. He tells me his brother was the old uncle in my dream, and that Little High Top lived with his niece‘s family. I once more become lucid — but only for a moment — and have the feeling that everything this man is telling me is true. But what does it mean?
Then, in that fast-forward way of dreams, we have landed. As we stand, the professor offers me an elegant ivory-colored card. I understand that this is an invitation which I am free to accept or not. As I open it, he leans close and whispers the words written on the card: Dreaming with Polar Bears.
Amazing. Then what happened?
I woke up and thought — Wow!!! I was quite amazed. Actually, I felt many things: excitement, hesitation, curiosity, doubt…
I took the invitation seriously and gave it a lot of thought. I had many questions. What does it mean to dream with polar bears? That‘s something very different than dreaming about polar bears (or any other animal). What would happen if I agreed to this? What was being asked of me?
But in the end, I realized it was simple. The invitation was clear: Dreaming with Polar Bears. The question was: Did I want to accept or not? I said yes.