Photo by Ryan Brohm via Iowa State Daily
Author, professor and therapist, G. Scott Sparrow, has been writing about lucid dreams since 1975, and more recently in 2009 in his book, Healing the Fisher King: A Fly Fisher’s Grail Quest. Check out this illuminating interview with an experienced lucid dreamer.
As I recall, you wrote a book on lucid dreaming before the scientific evidence appeared around 1980. Tell us a bit about the book’s title, Lucid Dreaming: Dawning of the Clear Light (Virginia Beach, VA.; A.R.E. Press, 1976) and why you decided to write it?
My initial lucid dream in 1970 was an ecstatic experience of the Light. It was the first time I‘d experienced this radiance, and it awakened in me a deep desire to know what it was, and how I could experience it again. I didn‘t even know what to call it. In my search for understanding the experience, I discovered three sources that provided an initial foundation for my work with lucid dreaming: Charles Tart‘s book Altered States of Consciousness, in which he briefly mentioned the work of Fredrick Van Eeden; Celia Green‘s book Lucid Dreams in which she introduces Van Eeden‘s early work more extensively; and the books, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, and Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines, both translated by Evans-Wentz. The latter work described lucid dreaming as one of six yogas on the accelerated path to enlightenment, and mentions the ‘dawning of the clear light’ as the culmination of the lucid dream, and the after-death experience, as well.
I didn‘t set out to write a book about lucid dreaming at first. But in 1974, I decided to do my master‘s thesis at The University of West Georgia (previously West Georgia College) on lucid dreaming. That resultant thesis – a purely theoretical work based on my own experiences – was titled, Lucid Dreaming as an Evolutionary Process. Since I had immersed myself in Jungian studies, I saw a parallel between the emergence of self-consciousness in the primitive psyche and the development of lucidity in the dream state.
Jung and his students (Erich Neumann, in particular) declared the arousal of the ego to be the greatest achievement in the history of humanity, but that it had considerable downside risks, specifically the intensification of a sense of separateness, fear, and threat. (Later, Ken Wilber took up this line of thinking in his early works, The Atman Project and Up from Eden). I compared the arousal of lucidity in the dream state with the development of ego awareness in the waking state, and delineated the benefits and risks of lucidity.
Later, when I went to work at Edgar Cayce‘s Association for Research and Enlightenment (ARE) in Virginia Beach, the editor asked me to expand my thesis into a small book, which became Lucid Dreaming: Dawning of the Clear Light. Significantly, it was the first book ARE had ever published that was not about Edgar Cayce‘s work per se. On the heels of my book‘s success (8 printings over 17 years), I was able to persuade the publishing committee to publish Ken Kelzer‘s book, The Sun and The Shadow, as well. So ARE became part of the ‘cradle’ for early lucid dream works.
When did you first become lucid, and how did you explain it to yourself? What do you recall of your first lucid dream/s?
It happened when I was 19 on January 7, 1970. I remember the date because it‘s when the Magi presumably arrived at the manger. It is as follows:
‘It seems that I have come home from school. I become aware that I‘m dreaming as I stand outside a small building which has large black double-doors on its eastern side. I approach them to enter. As soon as I open them, a brilliant white light hits me in the face. Immediately I am filled with intense feelings of love.
‘I say several times, ‘This can‘t be a dream!‘ The interior resembles a small chapel or meeting room. It has large windows overlooking barren land like the Great Plains. I think to myself that this is somehow real in a three-dimensional sense. Everything is amazingly clear and the colors brilliant.
‘No one is with me, yet I feel that someone needs to be there to explain the sense of purpose that seems to permeate the atmosphere.
‘At one point I walk holding a crystal rod (or wand) upon which a spinning crystal circlet is poised. The light passes through it and is beautiful.’
What technique prompted you to become lucid?
I had just begun meditating daily, but my first experience seemed wholly unprecedented’a ‘gift,’ if you will. But afterward, lucid dreams seemed increasingly to be a result of meditating for about 2 hours a day, and often in the middle of the night with my college roommate, Mark Thurston. Since that time, I have recommended the practice of meditation in the middle of the night as an effective lucid dream induction strategy.
I know that LaBerge, in particular, has questioned this assertion, given that there is no empirical evidence that meditation is any better than merely awakening and returning to sleep. But I am not so much an empiricist as a mystic. Also, I think that meditation prepares the dream ego to be especially resilient and acceptant of whatever arises, which is an added benefit to the ‘mere’ achievement of lucidity.
As you began to experience more lucid dreams, what did you find interesting or surprising? What did you make of that?
My early experiences were almost always characterized by the appearance of an orb of light in the sky. Sometimes it was the moon, sometimes the sun, and on many occasions, I would see the moon beside the sun, or two moons side by side. The ‘impossibility’ of this phenomenon became, in itself, an anomalous event which prompted me to ask, ‘How can this be true?’ Of course, the answer was, ‘It can‘t be,’ and then I would become lucid.
Although on the one hand you seemed enthralled by light, you mention at least one lucid dream experience where the experience of light called forth a sense of fear. Tell us about that lucid dream, and how you understood it then and perhaps now?
Yes, that experiences was as follows:
‘I am outdoors and see a light in the sky. I am told that I must turn my head away if the light is to descend upon me. I am aware that I am dreaming. I bow my head. The ground around me becomes illuminated by the brilliant orb. I begin to be afraid as it nears me. I look up, and it withdraws into the sky. The process is repeated, but I fail to overcome my fear. I awaken.’
I had many experiences during that time – in my 20s – in which the light appeared, and descended, but I was unable to surrender to it entirely. Looking back, I believe it was difficult for me to let go because I was pursuing the Goal at an early age, and there was so much that I hadn‘t resolved in my life, yet, such as unresolved losses related to early childhood. These obstacles are not only emotional, but somehow physical, as well; I can assure that I felt pain whenever the light surged, as if it was unable to pass through barriers in the physical body.
I have often said that when one encounters the embodiment of the divine – whether it appears in human form, or as an orb of light – any fears or conflicts related to parents or other figures of authority prevent a complete surrender to the Light. After all, the Light (or what it represents) demands everything, and if you have leftover fears related to oppressive forces in your life, then you‘re going to remember those felt-malignant authorities. C.S. Lewis once said something like, ‘Most of us are like good men who, after paying our taxes, hope that there‘s something left for us. With Christ, it‘s simpler than that: He wants everything.’
Lewis captures the essence of the mystic‘s dilemma, that it, how can one die fully to the divine, to the Light, when there‘s no guarantee that we won‘t be annihilated? It‘s not easy for a young ego to die. Ken Wilber has said that the purpose of the ego is to become strong enough to die – an interesting paradox that is somehow true. I wasn‘t strong enough to die in my 20s, because in many ways, I had not lived enough, or become strong enough to surrender fully. Along these lines, Walter Starcke, who was a modern mystic, once said, you‘ve to have an ego before you can let it go.
But you also had powerful experiences of accepting the light, right? What happened and how did you understand those experiences?
I believe that my intense practice of meditation effectively offset some of the unfinished business from my childhood that had not been sufficiently resolved yet, and allowed me to experience, however briefly, the ‘imprisoned splendor.’ Still, I could not hold onto it because I was still deeply divided. Unless the shadow ego split has been resolved, the experience of Light is fleeting. More recently, the experience of Light has been gentle and deeply fulfilling, not painful at all. I guess I‘ve become more whole along the way.
During this time, you note in your personal journal “Something aches within me for change, for transformation. If I only knew what to give up, what to do?…. The world of Light recedes in the light of my indifference.” I think many people on the spiritual path can relate to that at certain times. However, in your case, that night you have an interesting dream of a black panther.