At the Asheville IASD conference in 2010, we met and I attended your workshop “The Science of Mirrors” on light and mirrors. Would you mind sharing the essence of that workshop and how it relates to your lucid dream experience?
At the time, I intended to give attendees an experience of the dream-as mirror, in the sense that our imaginations become like a mirror, reflecting aspects of our psyche, mind, soul, Spirit—metaphorically similar to the way the moon reflects the light of the sun. In the Kabbalistic tradition, I‘ve come across the idea that God withdrew the Absolute to reveal the mirror of existence—dreams form part of that revelatory mirror.
Symmetry appears fundamental not only to mirrors but also to our ideas about the Divine and Beauty, which have symmetrical attributes, for example, those of mathematical harmony and balance, qualities seen in sacred sites and heard in music.
If you consider your reflection in a mirror as first an image and then a symmetrical reflection, you will realize that what you see in the mirror is fundamentally reflected light. This 3-fold way of viewing what the mirror reflects—as first an object, then symmetrical qualities, and finally light—can be a way of understanding the light in dreams. The apocryphal Book of Wisdom compares the Spirit of Wisdom to a mirror:
She is the reflection of the eternal light. Untarnished mirror of God‘s active power. Image of [God‘s] goodness.
In this passage, the order of recognition is inverted: wisdom first appears as light, then as an active quality, and finally as an image. I‘d go so far as to say this traces light‘s metaphysical unfolding in dreams.
In psychotherapeutic work, we talk about the ‘mirroring’ a child gets from its mother (or doesn‘t) as the mother reflects feelings, both her own and the infant‘s, back to the baby. Without adequate mirroring, a child may not develop a sense of self, the ability to ‘see’ itself. Mirroring suggests that an individual‘s inner light possesses an engaging, transformative and reflective radiance. Dreams can do the same for us.
In some dreams, light has radiated from behind a mirror, making me wonder about the worlds within. Eventually, I realized mirrors could serve as portals to other dimensions as in this abridged dream from 2008:
Entering the Mirror
I rest on the four-poster bed in the bedroom from my teen/young adult years…. I notice a vase of blue and yellow glass roses on my dresser and go over to look at this new knick-knack. Before seeing my own reflection in the large, antique mirror, I feel struck by the beauty of the mirror itself, the still light and beauty it reflects. With this, lucidity comes, and, bowing my head, I recall the guidance that mirrors can serve as portals to new dimensions.
Suddenly, my being gets pulled through the mirror, moving flat on my ‘back’ as though on a magic carpet through a black light filled with polygonal structures of intense colours….I pop through one and, with surprise, find myself with a dream body in front of a training centre that reminds me of the Baptist church I attended growing up. A handful of women who emote strength and independence, a larger-thanlife quality, come out to greet me. They already seem to know me.
They stroke my face, hands and arms. Their touch feels like the breath of the Holy Spirit, and I think of the poem in which I wrote, ‘The Spirit puts on your hands like gloves,’ and a new line comes: ‘Touch skin.’ When they touch me, I sense they also receive something from me in a wordless, tactile conversation and exchange.
I realize we have all come to this place to learn of God, and a line from Teresa of Avila‘s poetry comes to mind: ‘Teach me God all you know.’ The women leave the centre together to go where they live. I understand my time to go ‘back’ has arrived. In that instance, I feel lifted out of the dreamscape until I tumble out of the mirror and back into the original dream.
In my experience, dreams, like mirrors, actually reflect and/or emanate the light of imagination and Spirit. A beautiful teaching from Ibn Arabi describes the effect this way: ‘I am the mirror of Thy face, through Thine own eyes I look upon Thy countenance.
Because of the dreams, I have collected quite a few mirrors that hang both at home and work. Thanks for asking about the workshop.
Does dreaming exist as a closed state or closed mirror system?
Well, I can say that in dreams mirrors within mirrors appear, and the mirrors have a kind of magical active essence. But this doesn‘t necessarily mean one can‘t get to the bottom of the rabbit hole, so to speak, because I have the sense that in the dreams, as in holy tabernacles, there resides a Holy of Holies, literally and metaphorically. When we reach this point, the dream opens its central teaching to us.
To my mind, doors, veils, tunnels, mirrors etc. suggest crossings into new dimensions of being and reality. I read in one of Ed Kellogg‘s challenges that he believes dreams allow us to experience the 10+ dimensions postulated by physicists. That would be my feeling too. In the dreams, these dimensions exist experientially and they all share a commonality: the mystery and magic of light.
Just for fun, we might ask, ‘How does it feel for light to be light in a dream?’ Here‘s an excerpt from a dream called ‘New Morning’ in April 2011 that makes you wonder:
… Eventually, I again ‘see’ rows of crystal hexagonal, honeycomb structures forming a vast tunnel that my being descends through at an incredible speed…. Finally, the movement stops and the winds set my new dream body down gently on holy ground, curled up on my side like I sometimes do on the floor at work when very weary. The black covers me like a thick blanket. The position feels one of complete surrender, and I have the impression that the blackness demands and supports this. Part of me thinks, ‘Guess life knows I need this.’
As I rest there, a morning light surrounds me. It looks like pure light but feels full of life‘s forms, containing the sky, trees, birds, the earth and my being. The light has the musicality of water and air. Momentarily, I think I‘ve awakened to a bright spring day or what lucid dreamers call a ‘false awakening.’ But, this feels like a misnomer because I’ve actually awakened to what light actually is, what it contains. I feel like a ripe apple resting on a meadow, a creation of light. After some time, a tremendous roar surrounds me as the black winds carry my being into a non-lucid dream….
This dream depicts what I think the poet Hafiz means when he says: ‘I am just a shadow. I wish I could show you the Infinite Incandescence that has cast my brilliant image!’ Alchemists equated light‘s shadow with God‘s, and I‘d tend to agree. To this, though, I would add that colours form the shadow of light. As Goethe, who wrote his own Colour Theory, has his Faust observe: ‘Life is but light in manyhued reflection.’ So, metaphorically, we might say, ‘Dreams are but light in many-hued reflection.’
Reading your lucid dreams suggests that your spiritual values and aspirations have played a strong role in your life from early childhood. Can you tell us more about this, and how your early religious experiences may have altered your approach towards dreamwork?
As a child, I always felt the world and myself as fundamentally ‘religious’ in the word‘s etymological sense of ‘yoked’ to the Divine. You might as well ask, ‘Could you tell us more about your early experiences of air?’ But you could ask me about my early childhood experiences of light—for one, I remember the light on my blonde mother‘s hair and on her joyful face as she bathed me in the kitchen sink.
My mother took me to a Baptist Church and sent me to a Christian kindergarten where we learned to read in order to memorize scripture—a process I relished. In both schools, I learned a host of sacred hymns and verses that I would repeat when afraid, sad or simply joyful. I repeated Psalms like ‘The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want…’ and felt the words as a continuation of beauty and light. This practice has carried over into the dreams.
I feel tremendously grateful for such grounding in a sacred tradition—though I do regret that I allowed some of the more dogmatic teachings of the church to close my heart to lucidity for so long. I would say that scriptural stories about such characters as Jacob, Joseph, Daniel, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Moses, Mary, and Gabriel awakened my imagination. They also taught me lessons about life and dreams as well as inspiring my life-long study of Comparative Religion. But, even without direct access to the rich archetypal treasures of the different Wisdom Traditions, I believe the world of nature, dreams, the Imagination, Intellect and Spirit can help each one of us to create our own symbol system.
Finding a psychotherapy training that suited me took me a long time. Eventually, I chose the Transpersonal approach. Essentially the approach takes spirituality—one‘s sense of values, purpose, and meaning—into account. Life crises and challenges become opportunities for creative change and growth. In this approach, dreams and the imagination serve as bridges to our inner world, our essential nature, the world of Spirit.
How would you describe yourself in a spiritual religious sense today? Has this affected your lucid dreaming practices and goals? How?
I would hope that the feeling-tone of my ‘spiritual religious sense’ permeates my responses to your questions. When a reporter asked Bob Dylan a similar question, he said he believed in the songs. I would say I believe in the dreams. They are my lexicon and my liturgy. Fundamentally, up to now, my lucid dreaming practice hasn‘t changed much, but instead, with the help of the dreams‘ teachings, my capacity to hold them has expanded.
You frequently speak and write on the idea of “Lucid Surrender.” What do you mean by “surrender” in the context of lucid dreaming?
Dream characters have asked me a similar question as in this excerpt from the dream ‘Path of Surrender’ in September 2010:
…after popping out of the original lucid dream, I find myself semi-lucid in another dream, feeling rather desultory as I walk on an empty city street. Shining objects in a shop window catch my eye. I turn and see hundreds of hanging heart crystals of various sizes radiating white light. The beauty brings lucidity. Again, the black winds seize my being.
This time, it feels as if I am swimming horizontally in a stream of black light like a still fish suspended in time and space within a gentle current. My being feels cleansed in this current that suffuses me with both delicate pleasure and purification, reminding me vaguely of what George MacDonald calls a ‘Good Death.’ It feels like taking a bath in God, and God taking a bath in me!
Again I wonder if this happens to each of us every night but usually we just don‘t remember…. Eventually, I find myself semi-lucid in a dream where a matronly woman sits in a firewarmed cottage. I rest on a braided rug curled up at her feet, taking in the lucid experience. She looks puzzled and impatient as she asks me, ‘What kind of lucid dreams are those when you let yourself be taken to God in this way?’ I tell her, ‘Surrender, the Path of Surrender.’
So how does a lucid dreamer surrender? And what do you feel they surrender to – dream randomness, their Self, a Higher Power, God? And towards what end – how can surrender benefit a lucid dreamer?
I feel a bit like you have asked a songwriter how she writes her songs. Like any other art form, I‘ve learned from the dreams. Over the past six years, I have become more comfortable with Lucid Surrender, though I still find such dreams challenging. And, it occurs to me the approach and the dreams may not appeal to everyone. After all, how many of us would truly like to attempt jumping to the earth from the stratosphere, about 128,000 feet (slightly over 39,000 meters), breaking the sound barrier in the process? Felix Baumgartner did this on Oct. 14, 2012. His return to earth took nearly ten minutes. At one point he spun out of control and blacked out momentarily, but landed on earth safely. When I watched a recording of his jump, I thought, ‘Yes! That comes close to how it feels in the dreams!’
So, when I describe a dream as breathtakingly beautiful or powerful, I mean it in ways that feel hard to comprehend in everyday language. The energy of the dreams can feel nuclear, literally. And, in a similar manner to the five years Felix spent doing test jumps and learning to trust his helium-filled balloon, space suit and parachute, I feel as if I have been in training too.
So, perhaps a ‘beginner‘s training’ dream from August 2007, would help to outline the fundamentals of the approach:
At night, I weep and pray about what has arisen in my waking life. In a dream, find myself sitting in a white chair outside a building that looks like CCPE, writing in my pink dream notebook. Another chair sits opposite me, empty. I hear a sound and turn to see Nigel Hamilton, CCPE‘s director, walking towards me. He sits down opposite me and when I look up at him, it feels as if a metal band about four inches wide snaps open across my chest—
Suddenly, I feel my being go out of my body.
My being lifts out of my chest and hovers in the air over my bed. I remember what Nigel had said in the lecture at CCPE that evening, that if you feel up out of your body in a dream you can fly around and see the world, but I have done that in life. I want to learn something here! What I really want is for Nigel to give me spiritual guidance here. I call out his name two or three times.
As I do this, a clear, five-pointed star appears in each of my eyes and expands to fill me with a powerful light. Eventually, I think my eyes must be open because bright, white sun enters the window and fills the room, but then I realize I haven‘t woken up. Then, I do.
To me, this dream encapsulates some requisite qualities of Lucid Surrender that—with practice and much instruction from the dreams—I have developed inwardly:
1) An opening of the ‘heart’ and intuitive mind (in this case, signified in waking life by my tears and prayers and in the dream by the metal band snapping open across my heart).
2) Courage to take a leap into the unknown and mysterious.
3) A deep desire to learn of spiritual truth.
4) The sense that you have a guiding presence, spirit, or quality to call on in the dreams (in this instance embodied in Nigel‘s form, though, over time the guidance becomes more internalized.)
5) A willingness to ‘surrender’ to the irrational and paradoxical aspects of experience and a curiosity about this.
6) An honest acknowledgement of your feelings in the dream.
7) The patience to wait while ‘nothing’ apparently happens.
8) A sensitivity towards light as an active, transformative essence.
9) A capacity to ‘awaken’ to light inwardly with reciprocity rather than awaking as I did in this illustrative dream!
These fundamental attributes appear more fully developed in this dream, five years later: