Photo by Ryan Brohm via Iowa State Daily
Lucid dreamer, Mary Ziemer, serves as Director of the charity HELP Counselling Centre in London. She has an MA in Psychology and Religion and an Advanced diploma in Transpersonal Psychotherapy from the Centre for Counselling and Psychotherapy Education, London, where she is the Manager and Research Officer of the Dream Research Institute. Mary can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How did you become interested in lucid dreaming?
‘Lucid dreaming’ as a concept came to my attention in 2006. Prior to that, I did not realize that the dreams I‘d had since childhood skirted the edges of what I‘d now call ‘lucidity.’ From the onset, lucidity involved a strange kind of black light that frightened me terribly (given my fear of the dark). Besides that, given the emotional turmoil of my everyday life in childhood, I did not trust the overpowering feelings that came with the dreams. Even so, in second-grade, I do recall writing a story about a ‘lucid’ dream in which, after many adventures, a prince and princess fly on a ‘Lunderbird’ to a magical castle in the clouds. The teacher had my mother come to school for a conference because she felt concerned about the ‘precocious nature’ of the story. After that, I kept the dreams to myself.
By my teens (when I no longer feared the dark so much), I associated the strong winds, flight, levitation and whirring sounds that often accompanied approaching lucidity with demonic or evil powers—an idea rooted in the belief that it was okay for biblical characters to have visions etc., but not a girl from Garfield Street. Because of all this, I stopped the lucid dreams. Still, I regarded my non-lucid dreams enough to move from the US to Europe in 1990 based, in great part, on this semi-lucid dream, in which, for the first time, I felt truly safe in the dark:
At the base of the golden, California hills of summer, I wander through crowded carnival grounds, feeling alone. I only want a friend to go walking with me in the hills. The pressure of the crowds pushes me out into the golden foothills where a man approaches me saying, ‘I‘ve heard that you‘ve been looking for a friend.’ His gentleness reassures me. I feel I can trust this stranger who wears a royal blue poet‘s blouse and has wavy shoulder-length blond hair. His fine features and form radiate beauty.
As we walk in the hills, we communicate without words. The sea-washed breeze cools us. He invites me home to meet his family. On the way there, I ask him his name. He answers, ‘Gabriel.’ I turn to him and say, ‘You know, that name means ‘Child of God‘.’ He turns to me with a healing smile and says, ‘I know.’ His elderly parents and three sisters greet me warmly. They feed me freshly baked bread and give me fresh milk. I feel the meal makes me whole and gives me new life. After supper, Gabriel tells me we will take a journey into the night. As a child, I had been terribly afraid of the dark, but now it has become a friend. Gabriel and I get into his invisible ‘car’ and disappear at an incredible speed into a velvety blackness. With this, I awake.
This dream foreshadowed my eventual experience of full lucidity. But only in 2006, when I started a psychotherapy training program in London at the Centre for Counselling and Psychotherapy Education (CCPE), did I begin to understand the emotional issues and misconceptions that had kept me from trusting the lucid dreams. At CCPE, we practiced a dream re-entry technique called the Waking Dream as developed by Dr Nigel Hamilton, CCPE‘s Director, in which we re-experienced the dream more consciously or ‘lucidly’ with a therapeutic guide. This practice quickly transferred over to my dreams as in the following:
The Rainbow Trout
Find myself walking waist deep in a creek at the base of the Eastern Sierras. Sunlight filters down through the leafy covering, glimmering on the water‘s surface and the creek‘s golden sands. A few feet in front of me, I watch as a massive rainbow trout swims to the surface. The trout looks too big to be a creek fish. I decide to catch the fish with my hands the way my father and I used to do, but then I realize that the fish represents the Spirit and stop myself.
I notice that the trout has turned on its side, revealing a rainbow. It looks exhausted. ‘How,’ I wonder, ‘can the Spirit be weary?’ Then I think the fish also represents me and that my Waking Dream teacher would ask me to touch it. Just as my finger comes within a hair‘s breadth away, the trout snaps to life and darts down into the shiny depths.
What do you recall of your first lucid dreams? Anything odd, unusual, or unexpected?
Allowing lucidity to continue beyond the initial rush of energy came as a new experience to me, so I had no idea of what to expect. One of the early lucid dreams from April 2007 conveys this feeling.
Lucid Car Crash
Driving through the California foothills on a summer‘s day, I lose control of the car, or rather, the car takes control and begins to speed off the side of the road. After a number of futile attempts, I no longer try to stop it. I calmly make this decision. The car runs over a row of white and blue windcatchers, hitting the side of a golden hill at high speed. It feels like the car has become a particle of light and that I travel at the speed of light where everything slows down.
As the beam of light shatters, my body and the dreamscape disappear. All becomes an expansive luminous blackness. An incredible pressure and noise centers between my ‘brows.’ I feel acutely aware. All goes very silent and still. I know I have been dreaming and have the sense that I have actually died in the dream. With this awareness, although I‘d like to stay in this space, I wake up.
Since that time, I have applied the car-crash analogy to lucidity and ‘surrendered’ to a ‘force’ larger than my own. To my mind, wind-catchers signified the presence of the Holy Spirit. And, just as the body of the car disappeared along with the dreamscape, giving way to a black light, so my dream body and the dreamscape dissolve in the experience of lucidity that I call ‘Lucid Surrender.’
What did you make of that?
Well, it felt like dying before my waking death. I didn‘t quite know what to make of it when my dream body and the dreamscape disappeared. Over time, I have come to realize that an invisible, subtle body of light with enhanced sensorial and intuitive capacities replaces my ‘ordinary’ dream body and mind. Similarly, the light of the new ‘dreamscape’ shines luminously like a black void.
Also, although the void has a ‘black’ and ’empty’ appearance, my experience tells me that an invisible, living light fills the void. (Interestingly, light without an object to reflect off of also looks ‘black’ in waking physical reality.) I describe this invisible light as ‘living’ because the light possesses a range of emotional tonalities. Out of this ‘void,’ the black light takes manifold forms (as it does in waking life): mineral, vegetable, animal, human, mental, angelic, Divine. Sometimes, when my being gets taken into new dimensions of light, then a new, visible dream body of light takes shape.
Three years later, I had a more direct apprehension of this light as in the following lucid dream excerpt:
….After a long distance in the black, I ‘see’ before me three long, very fine, beams of golden, laser light radiating out from a vanishing point far off in the infinite blackness. The golden beams cross through four fine arching beams of gold. At the points where the straight and curved beams meet, flashes of shimmering, diaphanous mist rise up. ‘What is this?’ I wonder. The answer nearly takes my breath away: ‘This is the structure of light and I am travelling on light!’….The beauty and truth of this vision fill me with a deep devotional humility. In this state, I feel carried to the vanishing point. And then the thought comes: ‘If I am travelling on light, then I must also be light!’….
What was it about lucid dreaming that caught your interest and attention? What made you want to have another lucid dream and pursue it further?
Not sure I‘d say I pursued the dreams as much as I longed for the Spirit and the dreams followed. I paid attention because I felt the dreams alive with Spirit, signposted with the words: ‘More to learn in this direction.’ Also, I have a special interest in the appearance of light and colour in dreams because I associate both with the presence of Spirit as in this dream from 2008, ‘The Market Opens’:
I stand at the check out counter in a family market set in Lone Pine, California, at the base of Mt. Whitney. An elderly female cashier smiles at me as she tallies up the fresh bread and red wine I‘d like to buy. When I notice the love in her eyes, I become aware the scene has become illuminated from within, bringing semi-lucidity. The woman turns left to look where a young man unpacks rainbow and golden trout for display. Watching the young man, I see a piercing white circle of light dance around him and the fish. The light follows my eye movement, not his, so I deduce it comes from me. With this, full lucidity comes and I recognize the market as an image of my ego, mind, or even body. I feel jubilant as I bow my head and wait. The walls of the shop fall away and open into stars. I hear a familiar rush of powerful wind and feel my being lifted onto the black light….
When you become lucid, does it result from a particular induction or incubation technique? Or have you simply trained yourself to notice the unusual when dreaming?
Practising the Waking Dream Technique certainly helped. Also, in my waking life, I had long cultivated an attentive eye for what I think of as ‘signs of the spirit’— hidden beauties, kindnesses, delightful incongruities and humour. Often in dreams, I recognize these ‘signs’ and insights as the light of the Spirit, sparking lucidity.
When I pray before falling asleep, I usually become lucid and sometimes enter lucidity through the prayers. By prayer, I mean a kind of song of the heart akin to the idea of ‘Centering Prayer’ as taught by Father Keating—taking a sacred hymn or name and repeating it in tandem with the breath, syllable by syllable. Sufis say that when you find the breath, you find God. This feels true. The names and songs I call on in prayer and that arise in the dreams come from the Judeo-Christian tradition.
In one of Teresa of Avila‘s poems, she describes how she ‘found completeness when each breath silently repeated the name of her Lord.’ This name, her conception of God, took her to a place where ‘only light existed.’ There she asks the Lord if his Holy name serves as ‘the only key to this place.’ The answer comes that ‘every prophet‘s name is a key as is every heart full of forgiveness and love.’ I believe the same applies in my own experience.
This dream, ‘Two Unicorns,’ from January 2009 serves as an example:
Awakened at 4:00 and pray. Start the repetition of the Holy Names with the breath. At some point, feel a deepening shift in my mind. Suddenly, find myself in the backyard of a friend from my teens. The scene seems banal. I walk towards the edge of the swimming pool and climb up on the back of a creature that I sense but do not see. As I sit there, a dark-haired man enters through the gate, backing a white horse into the space parallel to me. When the horse draws up next to me, I see it is a unicorn! With amazement, I think, ‘But unicorns don‘t exist, or do they?’ And then I lean forward and see a massive white horse‘s head with a single horn and realize I‘m sitting on a unicorn!
With this, lucidity comes. I say, ‘Okay God, here I am.’ Suddenly, whoosh, my being travels along on my ‘back’ through a black tunnel alive with the ecstatic pleasure of the winds. After a long time, I begin to ‘see’ bright, pulsing lights ahead. They radiate out like enormous white orchid petals in a swirl of bloom. ‘This time,’ I think, ‘I won‘t be afraid.’
Getting taken through the white, living light takes a long time. Eventually, my being enters an immense, black-grey cloud or maelstrom that moves so fast I experience its light in slow motion, without any violence, just a tremendous pressure that makes it hard to find my breath. The cloud has a beautiful texture with flecks of light in it. In response to the cloud‘s presence, I can only repeat ‘Oh Holy One, Oh Holy One!’ Then my being moves into a small incredibly black silent space.
The tremendous pressure of the maelstrom feels relieved. I begin to relax into the holiness of this space. Still repeating, ‘Oh Holy One, Oh Holy One.’ But, after a time, I begin to wonder if I can get back when I choose and in that very instance, wham, I feel taken back horizontally through the maelstrom, light and tunnel at an amazing speed. Find myself back in the original dream, flat on my back on a green yoga mat next to the pool. As I rest in Sivasana, the thought comes that I need to rest after such an experience, so I do so in the dream until I wake up.