Until recently, I was not an enthusiast for the term “lucid dreaming”, because it came to be associated with silly notions of “controlling” or “manipulating” dreams. Through dreaming, we have access to a source that is infinitely wiser and deeper than the everyday ego, and we want to be available to that source. I am in favor of learning to choose where we go and what we do in dreams, as in waking life, but that requires discernment, not the fantasy of control.
Another problem I have with the term “lucid dreaming” is that it is most often associated with techniques for waking yourself up to the fact that you are dreaming while you are asleep. However, the easiest way to become a lucid or conscious dreamer is to start out lucid and stay that way: in other words, to enter conscious dreaming from a waking or semi-wakeful state.
So I used the term “conscious dreaming”, as in the title of the first of my books on my shamanic approach to dreaming. My preferred name for what I teach and practice is Active Dreaming. As the phrase suggests, we can be active in embarking on conscious adventures in dreaming, and we want to be active in bringing the energy and insight of our dreams into waking life.
But the discussion of lucid dreaming has matured, partly thanks to an excellent book by Robert Waggoner and to the work of Ryan Hurd, so I am less averse to using the term than I used to be. Since I am often asked whether Active Dreaming is a mode of lucid dreaming, I am going to borrow a phrase employed by one of my friends in the lucid dreaming fraternity who refers to my “shamanic lucid dream adventures.” I am using the adjective “shamanic” here to describe a method for shifting consciousness to enter nonordinary reality for purposes that include the care and recovery of soul.
How do you become a shamanic lucid dreamer? You start out conscious and you stay that way. To accomplish this, you only need three things: a clear intention, an image that can serve as a portal, and a means of focusing the mind and fueling the journey.
All these things can become available naturally, in the twilight zone of consciousness that researchers call hypnagogia. You are between sleep and waking. Images rise and fall in your mindnd any one of those images can become the gateway for a conscious dream adventure.
An equally simple and natural way to become a shamanic lucid dreamer is to use a remembered dream as the portal for a journey. In your night dream, you went to a place, which may resemble a site in ordinary reality or may be a locale in a separate reality where the physics are utterly different. Either way, because you were in a certain place, you may be able to find your way back there, just as you could return to a house you once visited in regular life.
Why would you want to do this? Maybe you’ve been running away from something in your dream world that scares you – from the Bear, or the Tiger, or an unknown intruder or pursuer. If you can find the courage to go back inside one of those nightmares and face what frightened you on its own ground, you may find power and healing waiting for you on the other side of the terror.
You may want to go back inside a dream because you were with your dream lover in a tropical paradise but were interrupted by the alarm clock. You may want to talk to someone who appeared to you in a dream. You may need to clarify whether that auto accident could take place in the future, as either a literal and symbolic event, and what you need to do with that information (once you have it clear) in order to avoid an unwanted development. You may simply want to know more about a dream. The best way to understand a dream is to recover more of the experience of the dream. A dream experience, fully remembered, is its own interpretation.
Through the technique of dream reentry, you can pursue any of these agendas, or simply enjoy the fun and adventure of using a personal dream image as a portal to the multiverse.
The best time to attempt dream reentry may be when the dream is fresh and you are still closely connected to it, lingering in bed after waking. But if the dream has energy for you, you can go back inside any time, even decades after the original dream.
Shamanic drumming – a steady beat on a simple frame drum, typically in the range of three to four beats per second, but sometimes faster – will help you to shift consciousness and travel into the dreamspace. The steady beat helps to override mental clutter and focus energy and intention on the journey. The rhythms of the drum correspond to brain wave frequencies in the theta band, associated with the hypnagogic zone and its dreamlike imagery. If you want a physiological explanation of why shamanic drumming is such a powerful tool for shifting awareness, you could say that the “sonic driving” of the drum herds our brain waves into the theta band, opening us to its characteristic flow of imagery. I have made my own drumming CD for shamanic lucid dreamers.
The drumming will also help you to synchronize and focus shared adventures in dream travel. You can invite one of more partners to journey with you through the portal you have chosen and act as companions and trackers who can support you and bring you extra information. In my workshops, we frequently have 30 or more active dreamers traveling together on group adventures of this kind. Often we keep group logs, and you can read samplings from these in my book Dreamgates and in the epilogue to Dreamways of the Iroquois, where I describe how I led a group of frequent flyers on a group journey to meet the shaman-priests of the Kogi, on their sacred mountain, at the invitation of a Kogi elder. Through such experiments, we assemble truly scientific data on the reality of the dreamworlds, and what is possible within them.
Shamanic lucid dreaming is an adventure in navigating the deeper reality that we can share with a partner, with a group, or a whole community. A caution: the side-effects may include transformation.