Photo by Ryan Brohm via Iowa State Daily
Psychotherapist, lecturer and Sufi teacher, Nigel Hamilton, has a deep interest in using dreams and lucid dreaming for personal transformation. His recently published, ‘Awakening Through Dreams: The Journey Through the Inner Landscape,’ offers a unique guide to the process of spiritual unfolding.
As I recall, you have a background in science and worked as a research physicist at MIT. This doesn’t seem the normal path to a deep interest in dreams. How did your interest in dreams develop?
My academic training took place in South Africa where I studied Engineering, Physics and Applied Mathematics. After graduating, I emigrated to the United Kingdom and worked in Marine Radar Research as well as Energy Studies. Finally I ended up at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology working in Energy Research.
My current interest in dreams took off whilst on a solo spiritual retreat, in the Sufi tradition, in 1988. Ten years prior to this I had a profoundly enlightening spiritual experience, which caused me to give up my scientific career and to take up Transpersonal Psychotherapy studies and practice.
During the 1988 retreat, I realised the dreams were clearly depicting the different levels of consciousness I was accessing, day by day. Ten years earlier in 1978, I had experienced a profound spontaneous spiritual awakening, but it left me as quickly as it came, without any understanding of the process involved. By 1988, I was beginning not only to re-experience what had happened, but I was being shown clearly the first few steps on the way.
The same phenomenon recurred and also progressed during subsequent annual retreats, during which I gained further insights into this process. I then began to research this phenomenon in the dreams of people on retreat (these retreatants were guided by people unfamiliar with dreams, yet the dreams still reflected a progression through different levels of consciousness as the retreats progressed).
I expanded my research by working with on-going dream groups. Each person‘s psycho-spiritual progress was monitored by tracking and exploring their dreams through the physical body and focusing on certain key dream images, locating and focusing on them in the body as the dream progressed.
Basically, we were working with the subtle energy body, and how it impacted the mind. The results were remarkable, with each person undergoing a radical psycho-spiritual transformation process during the two year programme. Participants began to record lucid dreams. Their dreams changed from being more psychological at first, but later showing a deeper and more obviously spiritual content.
The guidance in the dreams became more and more transparent. Several participants experienced the ability to access the same levels of consciousness as those on a spiritual retreat. In each case, the same underlying structure of the transformation process was present. This led to my formalising the term ‘Waking Dream Process‘, by working with the body, mind, emotions and spirit of the dream.
When did you first become lucid, and how did you explain it to yourself?
In my first lucid dream following my experience of spiritual awakening, as a young man, a beautiful white horse approached me in an open landscape. It placed its head right in front of mine – our noses touched and I said to the horse (at this point I became lucid) ‘I know you, you‘re Pegasus’. On waking I realised the dream was important, but I didn‘t know why. I was familiar with lucid dreams through literature.
Sure enough, this dream foretold the beginnings of my spiritual quest, but many years intervened before I began to regularly experience the conscious flying in my dreams that Pegasus seemed to promise earlier. I remember one lucid dream in which I began accelerating towards the sun at what seemed like the speed of light. Alarmed at the obvious end result I concentrated extremely hard on stopping, and woke up!
What do you recall of your first lucid dream/s? What technique prompted you to become lucid?
Early on, two significant lucid dreams made me reflect seriously about the nature of the relationship between the light of our soul and the light that occurs in our dreams. In one lucid dream I entered a cavern, like a kind of ‘blue grotto‘ with five other people, including a female friend. As I touched the cavern walls I knew this was a space in my mind. The lady was dressed in the same blue colour as the cavern. I realised as I looked at her that ‘I‘ was my soul and that she was a reflection of me, a kind of anima figure. As I tried to say this to her she vanished and I woke up i.e. the mental thought removed me from an awareness of my soul nature.
In the second lucid dream I was in a city landscape. A friendly looking lady, who had appeared in an Arabic costume in a dream a year earlier, beckoned me to follow her as we toured the ups and downs of the city. I looked up at the sky and saw it covered by a thick layer of what looked like a polluted cloud. It was close to twilight. As we proceeded I asked her ‘why is it so much darker here, it never really seems to become light?’ She replied: ‘This is the shadow of the world’. I understood this to be the shadow of the mind.
These two lucid dreams gave me the insight that our dreams are a reflection of an interworld that lies between the realms of spirit (the archetypal lights of the soul) and matter (the impressions from the physical world) i.e. dreams are a mixture of the spiritual and physical worlds. In the beginning of our awakening process, the world dominates in our dreams but as we progress, our spirit comes through more clearly in the imagery and the worldly influence recedes.
I have never used a mental technique to become lucid. I do however meditate, which helps to promote lucidity.
Did anything surprise you about the experience of lucid dreaming? What did you make of that?
Even though I knew about lucid dreaming, I was surprised at the newly found sense of freedom in being able to disregard the usual scientific laws (if I chose). It was an experience of a more vivid, heightened, energetic sense of awareness. As I progressed however, I became more and more aware of the similarities between my dreams and my meditative visions. In some lucid dreams, the felt sense was very subtle, as in the higher states of meditation.
This led me to realise that it was somewhat misleading to think that dreams/lucid dreams are a separate or different experience compared to the spiritual awakening process, or even a profound state achieved in meditation. It seemed that the state of our consciousness in the interworld determined the nature of our experience – thus out of body experiences, lucid dreaming, waking visions whilst in an altered state, meditative experiences etc. could be profound or mundane, depending on our conscious awareness at the time i.e. one could have similar insights and revelations through an out of the body experience, a lucid dream, a waking vision or in meditation
In your excellent book, Awakening Through Dreams, you suggest that attending to dreams can naturally lead to a Psycho-spiritual Transformation Process. Moreover, the process or progression often seems reminiscent of personal alchemy. Briefly, tell us about that.
In personal alchemy, you are attempting to purify yourself of the impressions of the physical world, i.e. the concrete mental constructs that you have internalised. In other words, you are transforming your conscious attachment to the concrete dense world of matter, to a more subtle conscious state, free of such impressions. Part of the process involves turning within (away from the world) and entering a subtler dreamlike state.
If you pursue this inner journey further, you eventually break free of the concrete mind to experience an even more subtle archetypal mind, which is independent of your personal thoughts. During such a process, the dreams (and lucid dreams) become clearer and begin to show brilliant light and purer colours in them.
Eventually one transforms this ‘higher mind‘ to enter an even subtler inner world, where beautiful porous landscapes appear filled with light. The dreams reflect this and often upon waking, continue as a waking vision. The challenge then is to pursue the process further until such time that the beauty of the very subtle inner world becomes a natural part of your personality. It is truly the ‘art of personality‘ to be able to acknowledge and reconcile the great difficulties and challenges of life in this world with the inspiration, truth and beauty of that inner world.