Sunday, December 30, 2007

Dream Yoga

by Arthur Gillard

When the state of dreaming has dawned,
Do not lie in ignorance like a corpse.
Enter the natural sphere of unwavering attention.
Recognize your dreams and transform illusion into luminosity.
Do not sleep like an animal.
Do the practice which mixes sleep and reality.
-Dream Yoga and the Practice of the Natural Light, p. 36

Lucid dreaming is a universal human ability with great applicability in spiritual practices. Dream yoga has been practiced in some Tibetan Buddhist lineages for many centuries, and in various forms has been a part of other spiritual traditions as well. As with the western approach to this practice, the two basic approaches to cultivate conscious or lucid dreaming on the dream yoga path are 1) falling asleep consciously; and 2) waking up within the dream state. However, in the Buddhist dream yoga approach, lucid dreaming is always placed securely in the context of a spiritually transformative path; it is not experience per se which is valued, but the depth of consciousness realized by the practitioner.

In the Buddhist view there are three types of dreams:
1) ordinary samsaric dreams – these arise from personal karmic traces;
2) dreams of clarity – these arise from transpersonal karmic traces;
3) clear light dreams – experiences of nonduality.

The first two categories may be lucid or non-lucid; the third type is intrinsically lucid and beyond subject/object duality but is the most difficult to attain, becoming more common as one advances on the spiritual path.

Dream yoga offers many benefits. Chief among these is considered preparation for the dying process and the ability to navigate in the after-death bardo; as the Dalai lama notes, “a person well trained...can recognize a strict order in the four states of falling asleep, and is well prepared to ascertain an analogous order in the dying process.” It is believed that if you are solidly grounded in lucid dreaming, you will be able to exercise control in the bardo realm and use it as an opportunity to choose a favorable rebirth or even attain enlightenment.

Dreams can inspire and motivate you, indicate your degree of progress on the spiritual path, and reveal where you need to do further work. Training in lucid dreaming enables you to take advantage of the freedom from the normal constraints of physical reality and use that freedom in the service of spiritual transformation. The dreamer may seek teaching from enlightened masters and travel to other realms of being - indeed, many of the practices done by Tibetans for centuries have their origin in dreams, such teachings being referred to as “mind treasures” or “dream treasures.”

Intention is of paramount importance – the practitioner formulates and reinforces the intention to wake up in a dream, and as the process unfolds, gradually creates and strengthens a “special dream body” which is formed from the mind and prana (vital energy) within the physical body. The intention is reinforced until it permeates your dreaming mind; one way to do this is to firmly think to yourself, as frequently as possible, “tonight I will realize I am dreaming.” Another technique involves seeing the dreamlike nature of all things while you are awake; eventually this carries over into the dream state, and you will begin to awaken within dreams. As you spend more time dreaming lucidly, the special dream body becomes more stable, growing like a thought form in a self-reinforcing process; and as this unfolds, the practitioner will be increasingly able to separate from the physical and travel elsewhere.

In lineages which teach dream yoga, many specific practices are given to initiates. However, once established in lucid dreaming, a powerful introductory exercise for the solitary practitioner is to visualize Chenrezi (the embodiment of compassion) during dreams and recite the associated mantra OM MANI PADME HUM. Many images of Chenrezi are available on the web – and of course one could also adapt this type of exercise to their own path by visualizing another bodhisattva such as Tara, or any other inspiring spiritual figure, and saying an appropriate mantra or prayer.

Exercise: Falling asleep consciously (from Living, Dreaming, Dying p. 46)

On a night when you are not so tired that you are likely to fall asleep immediately and your belly is not drum tight with food and drink, lie in bed and relax.

Focus on the flow of images and impressions that come to you as you relax with your eyes closed.

You may find yourself looking at a succession of faces that change as soon as they take form. You may see a series of childlike drawings or photographs, falling as fast as autumn leaves in a high wind.

When you see something that catches your fancy – a face, a scene, a picture barely formed – try to hold it in focus. If you can, hold your attention on the image...follow it into a full-fledged dream, while retaining awareness that you are dreaming.


References

1. Namkhai Norbu, Dream Yoga and the Practice of the Natural Light (Ithaca: Snow Lion Publications, 2002)

2. Surya Das, Tibetan Dream Yoga: A Complete System for Becoming Conscious in Your Dreams [cd set](Boulder: Sounds True, 2000)

3. Tenzin Wangyal, Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep (Ithaca: Snow Lion Publications, 1998)

4. Dalai Lama XIV, Sleeping, Dreaming, and Dying: an Exploration of Consciousness with the Dalai Lama (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1997)

5. Sogyal Rinpoche, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying: Revised and Updated (New York: HarperCollins, 2002)

6. Rob Nairn, Living, Dreaming, Dying: Wisdom for Everyday Life from the Tibetan Book of the Dead (Boston: Shambhala Publications, 2004)

7. Malcolm Godwin, The Lucid Dreamer: A Waking Guide for the Traveler Between Worlds (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994)

8. Chang, Garma C.C. The Six Yogas of Naropa (Ithaca: Snow Lion Publications, 1963)

9. Richard Linklater (writer/director) Waking Life (movie, Twentieth Century Fox, 2001)

_____

This article was written and contributed by Arthur Gillard.


see also:
Lucid Dreaming
Lucid Dreaming and Awakening: an Interview with Robert Augustus Masters
Dream Tripping: Dream Drugs as Metaphor

The Integral News and Views blog aims to explore accessible and practical integral perspectives for people who are interested in getting beyond fragmented worldviews, who desire intimacy with all that they are, and who wish to help the world, themselves, and others evolve and thrive in a mutually beneficial and sustainable manner.


Creative Commons License


This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Dream Tripping: Dream Drugs as Metaphor

by Arthur Gillard

If someone takes a psychoactive drug while physically awake, it changes her brain chemistry and so alters her state of consciousness. Taking a drug in a dream is a very different proposition, however - in that realm a drug would actually be a metaphor for an intention to change your consciousness in a particular way, and as such is an interesting and useful technique for those who utilize state changes as part of a spiritual path (or just as a means of exploring the possibilities of their own mind). Ann Faraday discusses this type of “high dreaming” in her book Dream Power:

I had several high dreams during and after the period of my [legal] drug research, and the one I remember most vividly still remains somewhat of a mystery to me. In this dream, I found myself on a desert island with some friends when a storm blew up. As we stood and watched the lightning flash across the sky and the waves beating against the rocks, I thought, "I wish I had some acid now." My wish immediately became reality, and I reached a "high" in the dream. For a timeless moment, I danced, flashed, and roared with the storm and seemed to merge with the "being" at the center of it. On regaining normal consciousness in the dream, I turned to my friends and said, "You need acid to see the devil in the storm," and they nodded their comprehension. I woke up feeling exhilarated and joyful beyond belief, a feeling which remained with me for several days. Here again is evidence that the "high" state can be produced without drugs - in this case it was a mental image of LSD which succeeded in bringing about the ecstatic dream experience.


In contrast to Charles Tart's article on "high dreams" in Altered States of Consciousness, Faraday suggests that it may be possible to experience such a state in a dream without having experienced it first in waking life. Most of Tart's data comes from subjects who had participated in LSD research and subsequently had similar experiences in dreams. Faraday reports, however, that she experienced her first high dream long before her research with psychedelics. One fascinating aspect of this phenomenon mentioned by Tart is that some of the subjects experienced a continuation of the altered state for a few minutes after they woke up. Terence McKenna, who had extensive experience with psilocybin and DMT, mentioned in an interview that he has experienced "full-blown DMT experiences" after taking the substance in a dream, and that this experience sometimes persisted for a few moments after waking. It would be interesting to speculate on whether taking a drug in a dream is literally altering your brain chemistry, or even if naturally occurring psychedelics in the brain could be involved in the normal dreaming process. After all, it is known that a small amount of a psychedelic taken before going to sleep - an amount too small to produce a noticeable effect if taken while awake - will extend the period of REM dreaming. The Lucidity Institute Lucid Dreaming FAQ states, "Drugs in the LSD family, including psilocybin and tryptamines actually stimulate REM sleep (in doses small enough to allow sleep), leading to longer REM periods." They add, "we do not recommend the use of drugs without proper guidance nor do we urge the breaking of laws," an important qualification with which I fully agree.

Regardless of the possible role of endogenous psychedelics in "normal" brain chemistry and natural altered states such as dreaming, it may be worthwhile to experiment with "dream drugs" as a metaphor for intended alterations of consciousness - that is, to deliberately steer the dreaming mind in a particular direction. Obviously, if one has experienced the effect of a particular drug while awake - be it LSD, alcohol, ecstasy, marijuana or whatever - it would be possible to compare the states produced in the dream and those produced while awake. However, even if one has never experienced a given drug in waking life, knowing what the effects of the drug are said to be may be sufficient to produce a useful altered state in the dream environment. A.S. Kay, in the article "Psychedelics and Lucid Dreaming: Doorways in the Mind," mentions a dreamer's experience of taking MDMA [ecstasy] in a dream, then notes, "The dreamer had...not yet taken MDMA in waking life. Shortly after this dream he did try it and found the experience to be very similar." Kay points out the rich array of possibilities open to someone who chooses this line of experimentation:

A particularly "psychedelic" way of programming your choice is to decide which dream drug to take in a lucid state. If you take dream-MDMA you will have a heart-level bonding experience, which can be used to clear negative patterns with parents, lovers or friends, or to enhance awareness of the perfection of your self, and every other person. If you take dream-LSD you can more easily tune into the unconscious realms and the spiritual channels, etc. You might even try creating your own brand of psychedelic, with attributes of your fancy. If you are really daring, take a totally unknown drug, and let it take you where it will. Everything you learn will mirror your mind! You will reach totally new and uncharted lands, which are yet somehow familiar!

Speculative and science fiction stories also offer good ideas for compounding your dream drug...time warpers would be drugs that dilate or contract time, or allow time travel to past and future lives. Or take a stripper drug that peels away layer after layer of whatever you see/feel to reveal its deeper essence - then dream a mirror and fall into your core! Or design a transference drug that allows you to be fully in another's mind, or in an alien consciousness. Of course there are all manner of telepathy-enhancing drugs you could conjure, as well as dream tripmates to play with. The list is an endless as your fantasy world, and as deep as your calling.


No matter how you feel about using psychedelic or other drugs while physically awake, you may find it worthwhile to experiment with their metaphorical analogs in dreams. In dreamland you don't have to worry about breaking the law, nor about the possible purity or even identity of black market drugs. You need not worry about the safety of your physical body. And in the fluid state of dreams, you may be able to go much deeper into a state than you would during an analogous experience initiated in consensus reality. As John Lilly aptly noted, "In the province of the mind, there are no limits."

Exercise: Taking a dream drug

If you have developed the ability to dream lucidly, choose to take a drug in a lucid dream. A simple way to find such a drug – or anything else you need – in a lucid dream is to reach into your pocket and know that it will be there (trust me, this works). [If you have not yet developed lucid dreaming ability but wish to do so, see the article Lucid Dreaming on this blog.] An alternative approach would be to use dream incubation techniques to create the intention of taking a particular drug in your dreams. The simplest way to accomplish this would be to firmly repeat the intention to yourself just before you go to bed, or as you are falling asleep – e.g. “Tonight I will take LSD.”


References

The first four references are resources which provide a rich source of information on the effects of drugs, which can be used as inspiration for “dream drugs.”

1. Erowid has a vast library of detailed information on every mind-altering drug imaginable, as well as thousands of user reports.

2. Alexander Shulgin & Ann Shulgin, Pihkal: A Chemical Love Story (Berkeley: Transform Press, 1995).

3. Alexander Shulgin & Ann Shulgin, Tihkal: The Continuation (Berkeley: Transform Press, 1997).

4. D.M. Turner, The Essential Psychedelic Guide (San Francisco: Panther Press, 1994) [Now available online.]

5. Ann Faraday, Dream Power (New York: HaperCollins 1980).

6. A.S. Kay, Psychedelics and Lucid Dreaming: Doorways in the Mind, Psychedelic Monographs and Essays, Issue 3: Dec. 1987. [Available online here.]

7. Charles Tart, Altered States of Consciousness (New York: HarperCollins 1990).

8. The Lucidity Institute Lucid Dreaming FAQ is available here.


_____

This article was written and contributed by Arthur Gillard.


see also:
Lucid Dreaming
Lucid Dreaming and Awakening: an Interview with Robert Augustus Masters
Dream Yoga


The Integral News and Views blog aims to explore accessible and practical integral perspectives for people who are interested in getting beyond fragmented worldviews, who desire intimacy with all that they are, and who wish to help the world, themselves, and others evolve and thrive in a mutually beneficial and sustainable manner.


Creative Commons License


This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.


Saturday, December 15, 2007

Lucid Dreaming and Awakening: an Interview with Robert Augustus Masters

Robert Augustus Masters lives and works near Vancouver, British Columbia. He specializes in cutting-edge integral psychotherapy, counseling, spiritual deepening, and awakening work. Robert describes himself as increasingly finding freedom less through transcendence than through intimacy with all that is, a perspective which illuminates his deeply transformative workshops and therapy sessions. Some of his recent books include Darkness Shining Wild: An Odyssey to the Heart of Hell and Beyond: Meditations on Sanity, Suffering, Spirituality, & Liberation; Freedom Doesn't Mind Its Chains: Revisioning Sex, Body, Emotion, & Spirituality; and his latest, Transformation Through Intimacy: The Journey Towards Mature Monogamy.


Arthur Gillard: Do you remember your first lucid dream? How old were you?

Robert Augustus Masters: I don't remember what was probably my first lucid dream – in large part because in my early years I had trouble separating waking state and dreaming state phenomena – but I do remember becoming lucid during two types of dreams that started when I was about 5 or 6. In the first, I would find myself at the top of a tree or standing at the edge of a cliff….I'd leap off, feeling ecstatic, totally unafraid of hitting the ground below (which invariably received me the way that a pillow receives a weary head).

The other type of dream in which I'd become lucid was far from pleasant: In it, I'd be in my bed, tucked under the covers, feeling a strange chill in the air (and here I would become lucid), a grey-lit iciness that was very familiar – for I had this dream hundreds of times – and into the room would come my mother, initially looking like herself, but soon mutating into a hideous, malevolent creature bearing down on me, trying to tear the covers from me, at which point I, in heart-thumping terror, would wake up. The fact that I was lucid did not seem to make any difference; I felt consistently powerless. Not until I was 8 or 9 did I free myself from this lucid nightmare: One night, as my monster-mother drew near me, I got up and attacked her; she fought back, but I persisted, and she faded into the background. It was the last time I had the dream.

Arthur: Has the nature of your dreams changed over time?

Robert: My dreams have changed as I have changed, and I have changed as my dreams have changed. My dreaming self and my waking state self have been, and are, inseparable. Looking at, into, and through what's arising with undreaming eyes, whether waking or asleep, continues to be both grace and a discipline; the actual process of selfing (that is, of animating, occupying, and reconstituting “me”) has been and is an object of awareness, however infrequently, both in dreaming and waking states.

During times of intense dream exploration, I have had an abundance of deep and amazing dreams. When I became interested in lucid dreaming as a young adult (23 or so), such dreams arrived quite often; for a while, I'd exploit their possibilities, but eventually I tired of such adventuring, and more often than not simply let them go their own course. Sometimes dreams have arrived that have dramatically altered my life course. For example, when I was 22, unhappily immersed in a doctoral program that didn't really interest me, I had a dream of drowning – a deeply surrendered, blissful drowning – that led me to, in a matter of just a few hours, to leave my doctoral studies for good.

Mirror dreams come to mind… As a child, I had a recurring dream of looking into a mirror and seeing my reflection slide and eddy into freakish contortions. The face I'd see looked terrified, its horror eloquently expressed with bizarre flourishes borrowed from whatever had most recently frightened me, be it an ad for a Frankenstein movie or the witch scene from “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves”. I knew what was going to happen before I stared into the mirror, and yet I always looked. The mirror, usually outlined with a compelling brilliance, dominated whatever room in which I found it. Only in these dreams did I truly face my fear; in the daytime I did whatever I could to avoid it.

I had no such dreams (as far as I can recall) as an adolescent, but had further variations of them arise once I got a bit older. When I was 22, I had the following dream: I'm at a party, moving from room to room, socializing. Someone offers me some LSD; without any hesitation, I take it. Soon the party is blazing with hypervivid colour, crawling with archetypes, seemingly bursting with untranslatable significance. The walls melt and writhe. An acid trip. Finally, I move or am moved toward the bathroom. The ten-foot journey is as hilarious as it's weird; before I complete it, I realize that I am dreaming. My experiencing seems to be concentric rather than sequential. The bathroom. As I close the door, I feel very excited and almost painfully alert. There's a mirror on the wall. I immediately recall my childhood dreams of looking into a mirror. The mirror beckons, widening. Looking into it, I see my wide-eyed reflection. Its features wriggle and shift into a series of faces, some of them incredibly hideous and far from human. But I'm not afraid, for I know that these visions are LSD-induced. I continue looking, as my ancient fears parade by, showing their faces. I relax, settling more and more deeply into my seeing.

Three years later, I had another mirror dream: I'm in a dimly lit house, feeling very uncomfortable. The mood is both sluggish and sinister. I go into my room, and lock the door, then enter its bathroom, and look into the mirror over the sink. My eyes seem to be extraordinarily close together; in fact, there's no gap between them. I realize that I am dreaming. In the mirror there is one large eye, between and slightly above the place where my eyes ordinarily are. Dread and fascination fill me. The eye is a glowing blue, unblinking, unwavering, and of immense though unexplainable significance to me. I feel as though I'm drowning in its gaze, which I very dimly intuit is my gaze. I force myself to look below the eye, at the smooth pink flesh where my everyday eyes ought to be. For a while I see only skin. Then, as if through a poorly focused lens, I see my two eyes. They are firmly and tightly closed. I leave the bathroom. My room is too small. I decide to leave the dream, and it immediately shatters.

It took me a while to understand why my lucidity in the dream had not lightened or freed me. Though I'd become aware of the overall dream, I had been utterly unaware that the self (“me”) of the dream was also part of the dream. My identification with that fearful, isolated “I” kept me feeling afraid and isolated. My lucidity in the dream had been like a vast moat, surrounding but not touching the role I had assumed in the dream. The mirror gave me an opportunity to see what I was doing; the eye in the mirror was an “I” that saw through me. When I finally noticed my two “regular” eyes in the mirror, I saw only skin-deep, not seeing that I was asleep to my situation.

Here's another mirror dream, from when I was 48: Becoming aware that I'm dreaming, I leap up to fly, but fall back, twice. Then I surrender, inwardly asking to be taken where I most need to go. I'm in the air, a few feet above some pavement. Suddenly I'm pulled backward and downward at a tremendous speed, my body almost totally vanishing during my “flight.” I land in an underground, poorly lit room. Its walls are all floor-to-ceiling mirrors, all equally sized and all bizarrely distorting my reflection. Though fairly large, the room feels quite compressed. I'm in the middle, afraid but not panicked.

Slowly, I walk toward one wall, seeing all sorts of mirrored “fragments” of myself. A dark, eerie, heavy feeling saturates the room. Everything is sickeningly greyish. I gaze into my reflection's eyes, seeing less of the hallucinatory than I expected. Then I walk into and through the mirror, finding myself in an even more compressive space. It's extremely uncomfortable; if I wasn't still aware that it was a dream, I would surely escape as quickly as possible.

No exit in sight, though - just claustrophobic greys, amorphous and hideously alive. I keep moving, as if through jelly - fatly quivering, ever denser protoplasm - existing both as a dreambody and a disembodied observer. Finally, I can barely move.

In despair and helplessness, I drop down on my knees, crying and wordlessly praying, aching for release. As the observer, I see my eyes turned up, my hands in prayer position in front of my chest, my face deathly pale. Surrender. Suddenly, I am vaulted into another world, vaguely sensing that I am in a hospital, watching a group of doctors tending a covered-up patient. A series of events transpire [which I cannot recall], ending in joy.

In many lucid dreams, I have moved or have been pulled toward places of luminosity, often dissolving in their radiance. Sometimes, though, I have gone in the “opposite” direction, going deep into the Earth, into mineral and dense dark. In the preceding dream, I'm being pulled below the surface. Let's permit the image of being in the grey, underground room to unfold itself, to “speak”:

When underground, I don't appear to myself as I usually am. When I see myself reflected all around, I don't appear to be myself.

Wherever I look, I see my reflection, so long as I remain in the centre of the room. Though there is a lack of illumination when I am underground looking at myself, there is enough light to see. The ceiling and floor are the same; above and below are the same underground. I am mirrored from all around when I am below the surface.

My surface appearance is broken into many components when I am below the surface. When I remain in the middle, I can see, but am distant from what I see. Wherever I turn, there I am.

When I leave the middle, thereby decentralizing the space, I can more clearly see particular reflections. When I no longer occupy the centre, I can pass through what I am looking at. Stepping through one self-image puts me behind them all, and this happens when I am below the surface, and am willing to “face” myself, however unpleasant that might be. When I remain in the centre, when I am the centre, I am encircled by what I fear.

[Note: I have no explanatory summary for all of the above - its insights are intrinsic to its totality as an image. It speaks not of one meaning for me, but of many, from prenatal to transpersonal, each of which could be mined for more significance.]

Once “I” am through the mirror, things get worse - but did I not ask to be taken where I most needed to go? Only when I am “decentralized,” down on my knees, no longer fighting my helplessness, does “release” occur. I haven't so much given up - submission being but a kind of collapse - as surrendered (surrender being more expansion than collapse), opening to a sacrifice of self that's anathema to the usual me.

Arthur: What do you see as the nature of dreams - are they models of reality constructed by a brain unconstrained by sensory input and interaction with the environment? Are they visits to a subtle energy realm or astral plane? What do you think of the view, held by some spiritual traditions, that the dreaming process is similar to what we experience when we die?

Robert: What a question! To me, dreams are the mind's contents made visible through three-dimensional story-like formats while the body sleeps. Psychoemotional theater fleshed out and broadcast by the mind, constellated around and expressive of certain feelings, urges, intentions, pulls. Self-made, self-starring, self-revealing private motion pictures. The original home movies, usually forgotten before they're really seen.

Like movies, dreams range from the banal to the sublime. Some films can open us to unsuspected or dormant dimensions of ourselves; so too with some dreams. There are movies that can make us look deeply at ourselves while we watch (and also indirectly participate in) them, just as there are dreams that serve the same awakening function. Dreams may just be internal noise (like most of the thoughts we have, or that have us, while “awake”), and they may also be profoundly relevant harbingers of needed changes. Dreams can simply be hangovers from the previous day's activities (both outer and inner), no more meaningful than the random thoughts creating mini-logjams behind your forehead on a busy day, and they can also be doorways into unimaginable vistas of being, portals to and from What-Really-Matters.

Dreams don't so much tell us about ourselves, as they are our selves (our multi-selved selfhood), all dressed-up for the part; various aspects, dimensions, qualities, elements, and action tendencies that constitute us intersect and interact with each other, as if they are in fact discrete entities/things independent of each other. We ordinarily identify with one of these, dreaming that we are indeed that. This is true not only of everyday dreams, but also of most lucid dreams.

Prior to truly awakening, we are simply dreaming (including dreaming that we are not dreaming), whether physically awake or not. This, however, does not mean that dreams are not real; they are just as real as the self-sense about which they are arranged. A dream is a real mirage, just like us. The more real things get, the more dreamlike they seem.

A dream is a story (ranging from simple cartoon to complex myth) that we are telling ourselves, a story through which we are constructed and reconstituted. Becoming aware of the actual story doesn't necessarily end it, but rather simply allows us to participate in it in the best possible way.

Let's now go into more detail regarding body, self-sense, and dreaming. The sense of literally being inside our physicality can be extremely convincing. Not surprisingly, our dreams generally display much of the same sense of “within-ness.” In dreams, our waking-state body is perhaps most commonly represented - besides as itself - through the metaphors of dwelling-places and vehicles, with the dream's “I” (or what we might call the dream-ego) usually appearing more or less as a replica of our waking-state “I,” ordinarily located inside somewhere, whether in a long-ago living room or behind the wheel of a suddenly brakeless car.

In our dreams, our body is a perceptual convention, a bit of theater, as much a prop as anything else in the dreamscape. We could, while dreaming, view our dream-body as a metaphor, a choice, a creation, but instead we usually just identify with it in the very same way that we identify with our physical body in the so-called waking state.

“I,” now taking stage as the dream-ego, is still preoccupied with being at the helm of the body, while at the same time being lost in the dramatics of the dream, taking everything therein as real. While dreaming, we may engage in activities that would be impossible or extremely unlikely in the waking state, yet we - while dreaming - rarely see anything unusual in this. We look, but usually don't look inside our looking.

As in the waking state, all that will usually alert us - or snap us out of our trance - is some sort of crisis, a not-to-be-denied intensity of perceived danger, as perhaps best demonstrated by full-blown nightmares. We may awaken for a few moments within a nightmare, but ordinarily not so as to explore and make good use of it - rather, our common intention then is still to flee, to escape, to get back to sleep or at least into a more comfortable or secure circumstance.

Even in lucid dreaming we still generally take ourselves to be the “I” of the dream, regardless of “our” apparent freedom of choice. Much of the appeal of dream lucidity lies in the possibility of having more power and control in our dreams. Such power or control can be very useful when “fleshing out” the intention to turn around to face a dream adversary or difficult situation we have been fleeing, but not so useful when it merely reinforces the dream-ego.

In fact, the very desire to be lucid during a dream, to be a somebody who can lucid-dream, creates the same difficulties as the desire to be awake during the so-called waking state, to be a somebody who can meditate or be aware.

The “I” who stars in or centres a lucid dream is actually just part of the dream, no more than a convincing personification (and embodiment) of the witnessing or self-reflective dimension of the dream. However, when the dreamer becomes the object of awareness in the midst of his or her dream, then the dream itself, at least in my experience, usually can no longer hold its form, and all its contents dissolve into unmappable, space-transcending Luminosity.

Short of such dissolution, there is usually some sense of embodiment in lucid dreaming (although there sometimes may be a sense of being a self without any body, existing as a point of attention in the dreamscape, a point that may or may not be personified).

For many years, I experimented with intentionality in lucid dreaming: jumping from great heights; flying far and wide; dissolving my body; suffering lethal injuries; traversing space instantaneously; diving deep into solid earth; passing through walls; letting my body be as malleable as plastic; meeting various spiritual teachers; having archetypal encounters; facing adversaries with violence, love, shapeshifting suddenness. Nevertheless, however unusual or thrilling my lucid dream-doings were, they were still mostly centreed by the very same sense of self around which my daily activities were generally organized.

After a while, it became more interesting to leave the dream alone, to simply abide in the midst of it, and see where it took me. Dreaming or waking, lucid or not, ecstatic or depressed, the work was basically the same, to simply be as present as possible, uncommitted to - and unidentified with - the intentions of any particular “I.” And what did this do to my dreambody? Freed it, at least to some extent, from what I “normally” took it to be, thereby permitting it to more fully be a medium for simply maintaining relationship with my environment.

Arthur: Do you see consciousness as continuing in some form in deep, dreamless sleep? Have you ever experienced lucidity in that state, and if so, what was it like?

Robert: Consciousness continues in deep, dreamless sleep, but without any form. No objects, no appearances, no self. In this state, we are almost always unconscious of being conscious. Nevertheless, we can be awake during deep, dreamless sleep, as various sages have taught. I've had direct experience of this, though it was not the “I” of everyday discourse. The phenomenology of this is without sensation, feeling, cognition, or any temporal or spatial sense, bearing no discernible characteristic other than that of unbound, featureless, effortlessly sentient presence. No-thing-ness.

Here is what I have experienced as the state of deep, dreamless sleep spontaneously metamorphosed into the state of dreaming sleep: First, out of nowhere and nothing, there arose colour and movement, without any discernible shape. Then vague forms began appearing, diaphanous and softly swirling, taking on a bit more solidity. When I - in the form of alert, undivided attention - “entered” this nebular fluxing of colour and shape-making, it almost immediately became more densely three-dimensional and vividly real in a conventionally sensory manner, literally taking on substance all around me, including as a dream-body closely resembling my physical body.

Arthur: What role have lucid dreams played in your spiritual life, or your life in general? Have you, for example, had insights or spiritual breakthroughs in dreams? Has a lucid dream ever anticipated developments in your consciousness or understanding which occurred later in your waking life? Have you had shifts in perspective or values as a result of lucid dreaming?

Robert: Lucid dreams have played a big role in my life. Being in them and experimenting in them taught me firsthand that I am more than my body, more than my mind, and more than my sense of self. Facing difficulties and challenges while lucid dreaming has deepened and stabilized my ability to face difficulties and challenges while in the waking state. Deep insights and realizations have often arisen during lucid dreaming. I remember a dream I had when I was 34: I'm lucid and flying to meet a spiritual teacher I love. I am being knowingly propelled by my desire to see him, my movement being so fast that I cannot see any scenery. A few seconds later I find myself sitting in a room in the upper floor of an unknown stone building. I am waiting, but without any tension. There's a window in the room, and the air is very fresh, and the colours remarkably bright. I feel something touching my lower torso, and look down. To my surprise, I see a baby body, no more than a month or two old. I am holding him, cradling him, already in love with him. He meets my eyes, and I leave the dreaming state in ecstasy.

The next morning, I told my partner at that time that I'd met our son; prior to this, we'd had no desire whatsoever to have children, but within days had mutually and easily arrived at the decision to conceive him. A few months later, she was pregnant. Six months into her pregnancy, I had the following lucid dream: I'm in a unknown yet very familiar room. A boy, perhaps six month old, is sitting on the floor gazing at me. As I look into his eyes, I say, “Hi, Dama.” Before this we had not considered any name for our baby-to-be, and nor did we know that that little one would be a boy. Three months later Dama arrived. He did not cry once during his delivery and arrival; a short time later, he was in my arms, gazing at me as he had in my dreams.

Arthur: Could you tell us how you incorporate dreamwork into your therapy sessions or workshops? How does your approach relate to the various schools of therapy (gestalt, Jungian, etc.?) Are there any examples you'd like to share?

Robert: I frequently incorporate dreamwork into my session and groupwork, using a number of approaches. I may use Gestalt, having you act out the relationship between various parts of your dream; I may use psychodrama, having you act out a part of your dream; I may use bodywork, having you deeply experience and openly express different emotions and states that arose in your dream; and I may use all of these, and more, in working with one dream at one time, making room for you to really “get” your dream, and not necessarily in just one way.

An example: A woman in a group for women with cancer describes a dream in which she is being pursued by a very large bear. She is clearly frightened by it, and awakens before it reaches her. I talk with her a bit about her dream – she is nice to the extreme, meek-voiced and energetically small – then ask her to get on all fours and act like she's the bear. She is embarrassed, but goes ahead. Move around, I say, and let some sounds emerge. Again, more discomfort, but she does as I ask. She continues this for a bit, then I ask her, as the bear, to immediately speak to the frightened woman (her) in the dream. Without hesitation, she says, “Don't run away from me, ” and says it with considerable emotion. I ask her to say it again, and she starts to cry. Now, I say, imagine you are that frightened woman, and respond to the bear. She does, and goes back and forth for a while between the two positions. Finally, she doesn't need to move anymore, for both positions are now coexisting easily within her, and she, on her own, is starting to realize what the bear actually is – an expression of her own disowned power, enlarged by her fear of embodying such power. Her voice is fuller now, her presence much stronger. As she reclaims her “bear” energy, she fills out more, laughingly saying that she wants to give all the women in the room big bear hugs.

Another example: A young man (in a group session) is describing a dream in which he is prone, seemingly limbless, struggling to move forward. Limbs do eventually materialize, but only as flimsy, stick-like things viewed as from a distance. His voice is low and monotonous, tinged with a remote sadness. He sits as though defeated. I listen closely, noticing no intention in myself to speak. We gaze at each other in a not-uncomfortable silence. Breathing in, breathing out. There's a subtly increasing warmth in my belly and chest, then a sudden image of a terrified baby.

His eyes are a bit more open now, still distant but seeming to call from somewhere behind the distance. There's increasing movement in me now, amorphous but gathering momentum. I don't feel any desire to talk about the dream nor to “interview” him - something far more compelling is inviting me to act. My breath is a little fuller now, my belly looser; the feeling of presence in the room is getting stronger.

Now the waiting-time is over.

I ask him to lie face-down on the carpet, and to attempt to move forward without using his limbs. He struggles in silence, and cannot move forward. Breathe more deeply, I whisper in his ear, and let your struggling have a sound, a sound that expresses the actual feeling of it. He groans and writhes with great intensity, looking as though he's pinned to the spot. Or stuck. His back appears rigid yet oddly soft, his spine like a suffocating serpent. My own back is subtly writhing, my hands tingling. My intuition to touch him suddenly intensifies, and I begin to massage his back, loosening the muscles on either side of his spine.

Soon he is crying very hard, his sounds both adult and baby-like. I have him reach out in front of himself, but he still cannot move forward. Then I ask the group, all of whom are very moved, to make a kind of tunnel over him, everyone on hands and knees, alternatingly positioned (shoulders next to neighbor's hips), pressing down on him, but not so heavily that movement is impossible. Everyone knows what to do; there's an unspoken link between all of us, centreed by an obvious caring for him.

He starts to panic. I have him exaggerate his sounds for ten or fifteen seconds, then tell him to move forward, using his legs, his arms, everything he's got. For a minute or so, he struggles, moving ahead very slightly, wailing like a newborn, and then suddenly he explodes with strength, lifting up the bodies curled over him, screaming very loudly. Adrenaline races through me, not in fear, but in readiness.

I make a triangle-shaped opening with my hands and press it against the top of his head, encouraging him to keep coming. He pushes mightily, still screaming, moving forward, pushing and surging, his movements serpentine, his body feeling to me more like cascading rapids than solid flesh. Another minute or so, and through he bursts, spilling into my arms. I hold him close, while he cries uncontrollably. At this moment, I am both mother and father. And the newborn I am holding is not only him, but all of us, including me. My interpretations of what has happened pale beside the raw presence of his pain, his need, his sheer bareness of feeling, and - when he at last opens his eyes - his love.

He didn't move; he was movement. Birthing-movement, ancient and yet so nakedly now, messily precise, eventually unclouded by amniotic or psychosocial shrouding, eloquently transparent to Being. Nothing special in all this - just a few trembling petals of the everfresh, hyperbole-demolishing Wonder of being here.

Arthur: In many of your books you mention dreams in the context of the spiritual path of awakening. What do you see as the connection between our experience of dreaming and lucid dreaming, and our experience of life while physically awake? Or our experience of death, for that matter?

Robert: Our dream-life reflects our physical waking life, and our physical waking life reflects our dream-life; the two realities may seem very different, but in fact they are remarkably similar, and share considerable overlap. The mind I have while dreaming is basically the same mind I have while physically awake. The bodies in the two states may seem to be very different, but at the level of body-image – where we spend a lot of our mental time – they are very similar. The “I” at the centre of our dreams is pretty much the same “I” that's at the centre of our physical waking experience. Dreaming is what the mind tends to do when it's disembodied – daydreams while “awake” and sleep-dreams while, well, asleep.

At death and after death, no longer anchored to the body at all, the mind – and this is just my intuition – doesn't do much else other than dream, and it's not the kind of dreaming we can pinch ourselves out of, for there's no body to which to return; what's called for is real lucidity, the capacity to recognize that what's happening is dreaming, on whatever scale. The content doesn't really matter; a dream is a dream. Given that what happens after death is what is happening right now, we might as well stop flirting with awakening practices, and really get into them, regardless of the state we're in, doing whatever work is necessary so that such practices can take deep root in us. Lucid dreaming, lucid waking, lucid living, lucid being…

Arthur: In Darkness Shining Wild you describe the following dream as taking place shortly after the 5-Meo-DMT experience in which you almost died:

“I spent most of that first post-5-Meo night sitting up in bed (Nancy slept on and off beside me), helplessly absorbed in extremely gripping, three-dimensional replays of the horror I had experienced, now and then trying to comfort myself with the thought that this wouldn't, couldn't, last for more than a few nights. The waves of remembrance did not come gently. I was throbbing, shaking, struggling to find some semblance of calm in the psychospiritual riptides that were tossing me about like a piece of shore-bereft driftwood. A hellride minus an offramp.

"Hour after hour I endured, feeling as though I would never return from the madness that was infiltrating me. Finally, just before dawn, I fell asleep and very soon found myself in a lucid dream.

"I had often had such dreams, frequently using them as portals for all kinds of adventure and experimentation. As such, they were normally quite pleasing to be in; I would know that the body I “had” in the dream was not my actual physical body, and so could then freely engage in activities that would mean disaster or even Death in the “waking” state. If I was afraid in a regular dream and then became lucid during it, I could usually face the fear, interacting with it's dream-form until some kind of resolution or integration occurred.

"But not now. Yes, I knew I was dreaming, but I could not work with the fear therein. The dream was saturated with an enormous, otherworldly terror which was coupled with savagely hallucinatory disorientation. In the midst of this I stood, my dreambody but a ghostly sieve for its surroundings. I knew that if I left the dream, I would still be in the very same state.

"At last, I let myself go fully into the dream, despite my conviction that I very likely would not return. Now I was completely inside it, utterly lost, immersed in an edgeless domain of look-alike, spike-headed waveforms, each one sentient and subtly scaly, moving protoplasmically in endless procession in all directions. Just like my 5-Meo setting, but without the speed.

"Suddenly, I was overcome by a completely unexpected, rapidly expanding compassion. All fear vanished. A few moments later, I somehow cut - or intended - a kind of porthole in the bizarre universe that enclosed me, as cleanly round as the shrinking aperture of my consciousness at the onset of my 5-Meo journey.

"Through this opening the countless alien forms spontaneously came streaming, immediately metamorphosing into flowers, birds, trees, humans: Earthly life in all its wonder and heartbreaking fecundity. Then the dream faded, and I lay radiantly awake, deeply moved, feeling as though the hardest part was now over.

"It had, however, just begun.”

- Robert Augustus Masters, Darkness Shining Wild, pp.22-24

When I first read this dream, I felt puzzled as to why this didn't resolve the crisis for you. Upon further consideration, it seemed that in a way it reflected in miniature form your course through the dark night described in that book. Would you agree with that? How do you see this dream as fitting into your Darkness Shining Wild experience, and did dreams play any role in your healing process?

Robert: I would agree. This dream also foreshadowed my eventual emergence from my crisis roughly nine months later (on my birthday). I had many lucid dreams during those nine months, and none of them liberated me from my crisis. Did this mean that they were not helpful? No. They helped me to stay wakeful during that hellish time. In one, for example, my compassion for my agony (in the form of a man going insane) arose, supporting and paralleling my fledgling compassion for my agony during waking times. In hindsight, I recognize that it would not have served me to have had an exit from my suffering before my nine months were up; I needed to stay with it until I was no longer capable of resurrecting who I'd been before my 5-MeO-DMT hellride.

Arthur: You have some familiarity with entheogens/psychedelics and much experience with the naturally occurring “altered” states of dreaming and lucid dreaming, as well as vast experience with states of consciousness reached through meditative and other spiritual practice. How would you compare lucid dreaming with entheogens and meditative experiences as tools for exploring consciousness or to promote growth or awakening?

Robert: Where entheogens tend to dynamite the gates, lucid dreaming and meditative practice help open them, the key being in our hands. Once we're through the gates, we're usually presented with an abundance of experiential possibilities, ranging from the merely sensory to the ineffably revelatory. With entheogens, we're mostly just awe-filled spectators, however intimately connected we are to what's going on, at an impossibly rich banquet of sights, sounds, feelings, and perspectives; with lucid dreaming, we're much more likely to be participants in what is unfolding, seeing it alter in accord with what we are doing; with meditative practice, especially deep, stable meditative practice, we are neither spectators of nor participants in what is happening, but rather clearings of consciousness at once apart from and profoundly intimate with what is occurring. Such meditative practice may also occur, albeit rarely, during lucid dreaming (you might, for example, try closing your dream eyes during a lucid dream and letting yourself rest in Being) and entheogenic intoxication. There's no substitute for meditative practice and meditativeness, which can be accessed during any state or experiential possibility, even if we dream otherwise. Entheogens may catalyze some degree of awakening, and lucid dreaming may give it a stage, but meditativeness gives it the ground it needs to truly take root.

Arthur: In a Q&A thread on the Integral Naked forum, you mention an upcoming book on “dreams, dreaming and the dreamer.” Could you elaborate a bit on what subject areas you'll cover? Are you planning to include exercises for the reader?

Robert: That book is some years away, and so I haven't made any plans regarding its subjects areas, other than the very general topics of dreams, dreaming, and the dreamer.

Arthur: Thank you for a fascinating interview, Robert. Do you have any parting words of advice for those pursuing lucid dreaming in the context of personal or spiritual growth?

Robert
: Experiment. Take risks while you are lucid. Pay attention to the role or roles you are playing in the dream; notice what hooks or attracts you, but don't forget to examine the you who is feeling hooked or attracted. Remain aware of the dreamer as much as you can, whatever state you are in. Experiment some more. Move from lucid dreaming to lucid being, letting awakening's alchemy get so far under your skin that you have no choice but to fully participate in it.

_____


This interview was originally published in the Lucid Dream Exchange.

Robert Augustus Masters' website includes essays, poetry, a free online newsletter and descriptions of his workshops, therapy and apprenticeship programs. Of particular interest is his essay An Integral Approach to Healing.

The Real Coaching Radio Network interviewed Robert on Authentic Femininity, which is available for free download here (Dec. 14, 2007 show); the interview discusses his latest book Transformation Through Intimacy: The Journey Toward Mature Monogamy. Robert also did a dialog on Radical Intimacy and the Search for a More Integral Wholeness, which you can listen to by joining Integral Naked for a free one-month trial membership.

- Contributed by Arthur Gillard.


see also:
Lucid Dreaming
Dream Tripping: Dream Drugs as Metaphor
Dream Yoga

The Integral News and Views blog aims to explore accessible and practical integral perspectives for people who are interested in getting beyond fragmented worldviews, who desire intimacy with all that they are, and who wish to help the world, themselves, and others evolve and thrive in a mutually beneficial and sustainable manner.

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Friday, December 7, 2007

Lucid Dreaming

by Arthur Gillard

Lucid dreaming may be simply defined as dreaming with awareness that you are dreaming. It may occur spontaneously or as a result of the dreamer noticing incongruities or impossibilities in the dream. Although it has been noted in the West at least as far back as Aristotle, awareness of the phenomenon of lucid dreaming did not enter the public consciousness on any large scale until relatively recently, notably following the publication in 1985 of Stephen LaBerge's groundbreaking book Lucid Dreaming: The Power of Being Awake and Aware in Your Dreams. In the East there is a rich tradition of lucid dreaming in certain meditation traditions, but here we will focus on the Western approach – although it is worth noting that studies have shown the incidence of spontaneous lucid dreams tends to increase in long-term meditators.

The degree of lucidity one may experience varies widely, from low-level or tacit lucidity – enough to use magical powers, for example – all the way to high-level lucidity in which you realize everything you are experiencing is occurring in your mind while your physical body is safe in bed. Generally your ability to control the dream increases with the degree of lucidity, but it is up to you to choose how much control to exert – including choosing to simply witness the dream as it unfolds.

The experience of lucid dreaming is limited only by your imagination, and can be used in a variety of ways, including fantasy/adventure, overcoming nightmares, rehearsal of skills, problem solving or creativity, healing, experiencing psychedelic or transcendent states, shadow work, and insight into the illusory nature of reality.

Lucid dreaming is an easily learnable skill, given motivation and effort. The most fundamental element is good dream recall, which improves readily if one sets the intention to recall dreams when going to bed, and gets into the habit of writing down whatever can be recalled upon waking up. Many exercises have been developed to cultivate the skill of lucid dreaming, but one of the best for beginners is State Testing.

CRITICAL STATE TESTING TECHNIQUE

1. Make a habit of seriously asking yourself several times during the day, “Am I dreaming or awake, right now?” Particularly do this if you notice anything out of the ordinary.

2. Test your state. There are several ways to do this, but one of the easiest is to read some text, look away, then read it again – in dreams writing will almost always change in some way. Or jump up and try to prolong the time you stay airborne. Another very reliable technique is to look twice at a digital time display, which never behave correctly in dreams.

3. If your state test reveals that you are awake, then imagine what you would do in the same situation if it turned out to be a dream: this will help motivate you and also help set intentions to carry out while lucid dreaming.

A final tip: for beginners, it may be difficult to stay in the dream state for long once you've become lucid. However, should you feel yourself beginning to wake up, spin rapidly while focusing your attention on your dreambody; almost invariably this will stabilize the dream.

References

1. Lucid Dreaming FAQ: http://www.lucidity.com/LucidDreamingFAQ2.html

2. Stephen LaBerge, Ph.D. & Howard Rheingold, Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming (New York: Ballantine Books, 1990)

3. Patricia Garfield, Ph.D., Pathway to Ecstasy: The Way of the Dream Mandala (New York: Prentice Hall Press, 1979)

4. Malcolm Godwin, The Lucid Dreamer: A Waking Guide for the Traveler Between Worlds (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994)

5. Celia Green and Charles McCreery, Lucid Dreaming: The Paradox of Consciousness During Sleep (New York: Routledge, 1994)

6. Kenneth Kelzer, The Sun and the Shadow: My Experiment with Lucid Dreaming (Virginia: A.R.E. Press, 1987)

7. Stephen LaBerge, Lucid Dreaming: The Power of Being Awake and Aware in Your Dreams (New York: Ballantine Books, 1985)

8. Robert L. Van de Castle, Ph.D., Our Dreaming Mind (New York: Ballantine Books, 1994)

9. Rick Veitch, Rabid Eye: The Dream Art of Rick Veitch, Vermont: King Hell Press, 1995)

10. Charles T. Tart, Waking Up: Overcoming the Obstacles to Human Potential (Boston: Shambhala Publications, 1986) [The focus of this book is neither dreaming nor lucid dreaming, but many students of lucid dreaming have found it invaluable.]

_____

This article was written and contributed by Arthur Gillard.

see also:
Lucid Dreaming and Awakening: an Interview with Robert Augustus Masters
Dream Tripping: Dream Drugs as Metaphor
Dream Yoga

see also:
The Integral News and Views blog aims to explore accessible and practical integral perspectives for people who are interested in getting beyond fragmented worldviews, who desire intimacy with all that they are, and who wish to help the world, themselves, and others evolve and thrive in a mutually beneficial and sustainable manner.


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This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.


Sunday, December 2, 2007

More Than Entertainment: The Fountain

I don’t think I’ve ever disagreed so strongly with so many movie critics over a film. Their distaste for and dismissal of Darren Aronofsky’s latest work, The Fountain, was not all that surprising, given that it’s a film that cannot be truly appreciated, let alone fully resonated with, unless one has already spent some quality time in spiritual bootcamp investigating – and not just intellectually – core issues like the nature of identity, love, being, and death, not to mention the means through which these can best be explored.

My guess is that if most of the critics who trashed The Fountain were to be presented, in all sincerity and minimal superficiality, with the question: “Who are you?” (a warmup for “What are you?”), their answer would probably be to supply their name and perhaps occupation. If pressed further, the result would likely be not more in-depth or mind-transcending responses, but rather only a turning away from or ridiculing of the question, as if it were just some sort of sophomoric navel-gazing exercise. Yet the very immaturity that they might attribute to such an enterprise simply exposes their immaturity and adult-erated take on topics that really matter.

Those who have not significantly explored their own depths – psychological, spiritual, emotional, and otherwise – are probably going to toss The Fountain into the same bin as What The Bleep Do We Know, What Dreams May Come, and other such movies (whether they liked them or not), confusing the regressively unitive and otherwise prerational elements of such films with the transrational (and transegoic) elements of The Fountain.

There is an ecstatic dimension – sometimes shatteringly, heartbreakingly beautiful – that shows up throughout The Fountain which is very different than conventional spiritual upliftment. My heart felt ripped open and raw watching it, as deep grief and an equally deep joy coursed through me, as if in fully embodied recognition of what we truly are. Instead of just providing some fascinating information (data-fodder, mystical and otherwise, for the mind) or a tasty bit of spiritualized entertainment, The Fountain provides us with a potentially transformative opportunity, through our unguarded participation in its multidimensional poetics, as well as its often epiphanous intimacy with the inherent paradoxes of Life.

Like good poetry, The Fountain doesn’t explain, but reveals. It raises profound questions, and offers something more real than answers. This may be an irritant to film critics who are busy doing time in their headquarters, but is a sublime balm, Life-affirming and succulently transcendent, to those who have begun to awaken to their true nature.

In The Fountain an edge is played that most other “spiritual” films don’t go near or even acknowledge, an edge that doesn’t console or provide spiritual robes for the conventional self, but that instead shakes it to the core before blasting it far beyond what can be imagined. This edge, lined with reality-unlocking implications, is touched, at least in its darker dimensions, by a few other films, such as Mulholland Drive, but The Fountain dares to bring deep relational love into it, without slipping into romanticism, spiritual and otherwise. The agony of love when death comes nearer than is wanted is honored as much as the bliss of love when everything lines up, even as a deeper love, a death-transcending love, is allowed to arise slowly but surely from the debris of all this, in eloquently nuanced detail and flow.

Film critics who viewed most of the offerings of so-called spiritual cinema would probably be turned off by the terminally sweet tone, simplistic patter, shadow bypassing, and one-dimensional acting that pervades many of these. But to toss such lightweight, spiritually sentimental films into the same bin as The Fountain simply indicates an inability to distinguish pop spirituality from a deeper spirituality.

And what is that deeper spirituality? First of all, it cannot be known through merely rational means, however much the rational mind presumes to know it. Film critics who are identified with or holed up in their thinking minds, unquestioningly believing themselves to be who they think they are and confusing cleverness with intelligence, can only see prerational spirituality (that is, intellectually childish, superstitious, overly ritualistic spirituality), and so lump all spirituality into the same prerational basket, much as Freud famously did with religion, labeling it with facile ease as “New Age” or as some kind of metaphysical mush or babble.

The love in The Fountain is an ever-intensifying mix of everyday love, big love, and supreme love, unburdened by the solemnly clich├ęd pronouncements (i.e., “we’re all one” or “we’re all connected”) and sugary excesses that often pollute spiritual cinema. The agony and the ecstasy are both very much present – and heart-rippingly easy to feel –along with a sense of tacit revelation that I found incredibly moving.

And threading through all of it is the presence of death, on many levels. Death that is fought, death that is the opposite of Life, death that is the enemy, death that is a disease, death that is but a doorway, death that serves and deepens Life, death that makes possible a deeper Life, death that enriches love and Love. There is so, so much that the protagonist (masterfully played by Hugh Jackman) is dying to see, and through him, through his struggle, his trio of apparent lifetimes, we become more intimate with what we are dying to see. And dying to be.

The Fountain invites us to die into a deeper Life – not through some kind of teaching or transmission of information, but through wholeheartedly participating in the journey of the protagonist and his wife (beautifully played by Rachel Weisz). We are then less spectators watching a movie, and more initiates in a temple of revelation. And why not? Why can’t cinema serve our awakening?

To really get into this, we have to get naked, showing up in (and as) undressed Being, allowing ourselves a second innocence, an awakened innocence that strips us of our knowledge and automated certainties and deposits us in the Open Secret of the hyperbole-transcending Mystery of our existence. If our mouth drops open, so be it; if our buttoned-up case of mistaken identity starts to give up the ghost, so be it; if we’re brought to our knees, and prayer becomes not something we do but are, so be it.

Yes, The Fountain is just a movie, but it is also that rarest of creatures, a movie that has the power to transport us not just into the mystical but through the mystical, taking us into what we never really left, but only dreamt we did. Use it as a catalyst for touching what matters most of all; I can assure you that it is clean, free of harmful additives, non-addictive, and worth revisiting.

- Contributed by Robert Augustus Masters (originally posted on his blog: December 2006)

The Integral News and Views blog aims to explore accessible and practical integral perspectives for people who are interested in getting beyond fragmented worldviews, who desire intimacy with all that they are, and who wish to help the world, themselves, and others evolve and thrive in a mutually beneficial and sustainable manner.

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This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.