Saturday, August 27, 2011

Dream Doctoring and Lucid Dreaming as Imbalance

Lucid dreaming is not necessarily an exalted state to be coveted as a badge of spiritual evolution. Sometimes it can even be a pathology. For a period of about two years, I had consistent access to waking consciousness in the dream realm. However, this was partly due to a state of sheer exhaustion and inability to rest during the sleep state.

Since I was there, I did some experiments to help me remember how to use dreaming as a means of doctoring. By dream doctoring, I mean healing oneself or others from within the dream realm, as well as using information that dreams give us to help diagnose and treat imbalances. I have a lot of confidence in the process of remembering this innate human technology. I am also very grateful to my ancestors and teachers, who humbly and patiently offer their experiences as time savers for ensuing generations.

Next weekend, I am taking the opportunity to study with a Tibetan doctor who uses dreaming as an integral part of his practice. Dr. Nida Chenagtsang already knows the ropes of dream diagnosis and dreaming as a means of self-healing. I am really looking forward to his systematized approach. (The Tibetan people are so good at this; they look deeply into the nature of Reality, and they organize it for all of us!)

Lately I have come to realize that doctoring is a highly personal vocation. Of course, we draw upon our land and lineage strongly, by virtue of the gift of the human body that our ancestors have given us. But because my people's highly diverse, land-based systems of healing are considered "lost" to us in the waking world, my memory of them is transposed upon another culture's medicine. In my case, I owe a great debt to Chinese Medicine. It provides the infinite breadth and depth of any long-term, nature-based modality.

I do not mean to advocate cultural appropriation. On the contrary, my efforts seem to please my ancestors. They know that I am doing my best with the tools I have, and that there is a lot of freedom for personal and ancestral expression therein. It is as though I have a very strong memory of playing the lute, but only a sitar is available to me. By playing the sitar, I can go through similar motions to appease my muscle memory. I will still have some aptitude, and it will still sound beautiful, even though it is a different instrument.

This is what it is like to be a woman of indigenous European descent, living an ocean and an era away from my people's ancient stories and stones. But our tribal ways live on; we simply look for new avenues to satisfy the old ways. It is also important to bear in mind that our benevolent ancestors simply want our freedom. Remembering does not have to be a struggle. I do not feel "beholden" to my people. I'm on this path because it is fun and because it is my destiny.

We can also dream back our tribal ceremonies and healing traditions. Two days ago, I had a powerful dream of visiting a traditional doctor of Germanic descent. He welcomed me into his kitchen as he chopped a variety of medicinal roots and herbs. He told me he'd been expecting me, and had me lie down on his table. I told him I felt reluctant to take up his time, since I was not exhibiting any symptoms of serious illness. He gave me a look as though I should know better.

That helped me understand that being a doctor is not about merely treating illness once it has manifested in a way that can no longer be ignored. I'd always known this in theory, but his authority really drove it home. This man was an artist at maintaining balance. For me, this is what it means to be a doctor. He diagnosed me by examining the skin of my abdomen, and looking for any protrusions, indentations, or temperature changes. His insight and humor astonished me, and he offered his main prognosis through a very clever metaphor, which I am still pondering. I saw how his practice drew upon his culture and bioregion, and how his own highly-refined personal style made him so effective. Indeed, his presence alone was a curative.

Among his diagnoses were "exhaustion." Hearing this helped me understand how important it is to continue to rest, eat well, and slow down, despite the fact that very few people I know model this. (In my experience, people can perceive a natural pace as lazy or self-indulgent.) This everyday maintenance of good health has contributed to a welcomed decrease in lucid dreaming. Now when lucid dreams arise, I don't pay as much attention to them. It is a time of recuperation. And anyway, I won't be much use as a doctor unless I'm healthy.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. After posting this, I read Robert Bosnak's super cool abstract for this year's PsiberDreaming Conference. Here is an excerpt:

    Western medicine was first codified by Hippocrates, a member of the Asklepiad family. This family of healers traced their ancestry 18 generations back to the legendary divine healer Asklepios whose central practice was to heal by way of dreaming. Of the many forms of Western medicine practiced in Antiquity, healing revelation through dreaming was the only medicine ubiquitous in the entire Greek world and Roman empire for over 1,000 years. [...] It is logical that in the post-rational era dreams reemerge as a critically important source of information and a dramatic purveyor of healing intelligence for people suffering physical illness and for those who wish to prevent it.

  3. hey Erin,

    thanks for this piece. such an important perspective on lucid dreaming. there is an indeed a secret assumed hierachy of dreamers that lucid dreamers put themselves on the top of. but lucidity can be an unwanted symptom, as you can attest. I too struggled with unwanted lucid dreams in the past. awareness must be balanced, and the dream does not necessarily need edgy wide eyed self-awareness to do its work! thanks for this timely reminder.

  4. I'm frequently exhausted. Lucidity is a symptom that I want :)

    It seems to me it would be more difficult to do dream healing / improvement work without being lucid.

  5. Ha, true enough! Lucidity arises naturally when we're restored by deep sleep (also also practice being lucid in the waking world). Any "healing" we go for in the dreamworld when we're exhausted won't work half as well as rested, robust efforts in the waking one. :-) Try it out. And maybe there's nothing to improve upon anyway!