While I was on the retreat, I had a recurring dream in which Dr. Stephen LaBerge stood in front of a group of students lecturing on the subject of lucidity.
Our folding chairs were arranged in a circle around a big arm chair where Dr. LaBerge sat. He was always wearing an oversized draping blue hawaiin shirt and khaki shorts.
On the wall behind him danced reds orange yellow greens over brain slice EEG MRI diagrams.
On the wall behind us there were windows. Through the windows a lawn studded with odd conifers. Their pine needles were jointed and wisp like, gathering in the grass to form a carpet of fallen foliage. The trees framed a horizon full of roaring cobalt ocean.
Sea and sunshine.
I had this dream every day I was on the retreat, usually twice a day. I was always awake in this dream.
This dream. This is dream. This is a dream.
A grey haired man from Arizona. A Tibetan Buddhist Lama. A woman from Colorado. A dude with curly hair. A hot Australian couple. A fine and funky fellow from Cincinnati.
There were people with me on the retreat. The people dreamed. Sometimes we shared dreams, sometimes we enjoyed them privately.
We awoke each morning at 3:30am after about 4 hours of sleep to do a “wake back to bed practice”. You stay awake for 30 minutes and then go to sleep again, and through this practice, lucidity is much easier to achieve.
Thank you for reading the first section of “The Retreat”. In section two, I will discuss what I learned on the retreat. Learn forward.
I learned a few thinks on the retreat.
I learned how Dr. Stephen LaBerge thinks: quickly, erratically, and with an unapologetic hyperassociative explosiveness. He leaves blanks for the listener to fill in, and if you miss the first one, you might miss the whole train.
The train is bound for a fascinating destination, but it takes plenty of detours on the way. Out the windows you might see weird shit like the 1999 Cronenberg flick eXistenZ.
If you listen to Dr. LaBerge’s unique way of expressing himself long enough your own ponderings start to take on the form of his contagious rambling brilliance.
“So at this point, there’s a dog in the bathroom. And… Hmm…? And the proper way to execute a reality check would be…?” he looks ferociously around the room, eyes widening, hand outstretched, waiting for his response.
Dr. LaBerge shared interesting research with us. Did you know that you can hear sounds from the outside world while in REM? That you can control the motion of your closed eyes and rate of breathing while asleep? That Galantamine taken at four in the mornign nearly doubles chances of lucid dreaming? That the 40Hz Dorsolateral Pre-frontal Cortical Hypothesis of lucid dreaming posited by Voss Et Al in 2009 is most likely bull shit?
I learned about Yoga Nidra. It’s all shivasana.
Yoga Nidra uses body scans, placing attention at each of 61 stops on a rotation that touches every energy corner of the prostrate body. This relaxing ritual invites a practitioner to flirt at the edges of the hypnogogic state.
The hypnogogic state is what happens when you are falling asleep in class and you find yourself momentarily ice skating on Jupiter before jerking your head back up to pretend to learn more math. I used to call these intrusions “study bunnies”, a word that came to me during a study bunny.
Study bunnies can be induced by laying on ones back for long enough, and if you follow them they can lead you lucidly into dreamland. To do so, lay on your back and watch the study bunnies as they hop out. Know that these bunnies are tricky, they will always try to present themselves as what they are not — actualities. Bunnies are non-actualities.
Don’t be fooled by the bunnies. Label them for what they are.
If you lay there for long enough labelling bunnies as non-actualities, eventually a bunny will come along that will be so very convincing as an actuality that you will be able to climb into it as one. The bunny becomes a dream, your new actuality, and the old actuality, reality, fades out of focus.
Now here you are, inside of a dream. And aware of that you followed a bunny down a rabbit hole to get here. It might be a dream where you are still in your bedroom, or classroom, or it might be that you are suddenly flying, walking, running, or gazing out the window of the Trans-Siberian express.
This scene won’t last. These early dreams usually dissolve within a minute or so. The dissolution feels like you are being sucked up into the sky, pulled by a bungee cable, or caught in a hurricane. This inevitable transition sucks you out of your bunny-born nascent dream world into a formless void.
In the swirl of this void it will feel like you are dangerously close to waking up. You may wake up, into your bed, and your bed may or may not be physical. Most likely, if you are able to steady yourself, breathing in and out peacefully, and wait, you’ll soon be rewarded with a new dream.
In this formless space between dreams, there is great potential. In this space, the intention, suggestion, or expectation you give yourself can become the seed of the dream to come. It’s easier to set the stage for your next experience here than when you are already immersed in a particular scene.
You can tie the intended dream scene to the feeling in your body as you are in the void. If you feel like you are moving you can imagine being on a bicycle in a dancing metropolis. If you can feel that you are lying in bed, think of being in bed in a Scottish castle.
“I feel like I’m speeding along in a seated position — it must be that I’m on a train. When I open my eyes — I’m on a train.”
I learned things from Karma Lama. Karma was recognized as a reincarnated spiritual leader at the age of one, and began his training at five. He taught us about mantra yoga.
Om tara e tara e ture e sura
Monks chant together to dissolve the ego. The chant comes from the dantian, a point of the body located four fingers below the navel, inside the belly. It’s an energetic point used heavily in Qi Gong, thought to be the source of all the energy in the body.
“From the dantian looking out to all the energy in the universe,” my Qi Gong teacher would often say.
Chanting from the wind of the dantian, you immerse yourself in the rhythm and vibration of mantra, you become the mantra. Yoga means “coming together”. So in Mantra Yoga, you “lose yourself in the music.”
Karma Lama explains to us that when he chants in the monastery, at some point the music and chanting all suddenly stops. During these moment, which he describes as the “space between the frames of experience” we inhale, exhale, as nobody, in emptiness - experiencing the wisdom of no self.
As soon as the thoughts start again, the chanting begins again, thoughts become mantra. Mantra resonates as yantra, and we sit in our circle:
Om tara e tara e ture e sura
Om tara e tara e ture e sura
I learned that Galantamine works. On the fourth day of the retreat we started a three day long experiment with a substance called Galantamine. Galantamine is relatively innocuous when taken by a waking person. Doses of 24 milligrams are commonly prescribed as a daytime medication for persons with Alzheimers in China.
When combined with the REM dreaming state however, even 8 milligrams of Galantamine have an undeniable and extremely powerful effect. For example, as you fall asleep\ you begin to feel an intense whole-body vibration sensation. Each hypnagogia is crystal clear and presented before you without a disguise. As you get closer to passing the wake/sleep barrier the vibrations become extremely intense.
When you finally click over, you’re full blown in the middle of lucid dream without having even really tried. You just know you are dreaming - there’s been no break in the continuity of the experience from when you laid down in the waking world to here you are in a full blown dream. Side effects may include auditory hallucinations equivalent to a jackhammer on the pre-frontal cortex or standing within the mouth of a digeridoo -but it’s undeniably cool, and only occasionally terrifying.
I was lucid dreaming the old fashioned way — without galantamine — for years, and I still rarely use it, but it’s clear that with galantamine, the chance of getting lucid is nearly absolute. For newcomers to the practice it’s a powerful way to be shown what a REM journey feels like.
We were given either 0, 4 or 8 mg of Galantamine over the course of three nights in a double blind trial. Most of us woke up at 3:30am to take the pills and stay awake for the requisite 30 or so minutes before going back to bed to plunge into a lucid dream.
On his first night of full dose Galantamine, Karma Lama had a dream that I will never forget.
Thank you for reading and learning. In section three, I will report some dreams that dreamers dreamed on the retreat. Dream on.
A Tibetan monk’s lucid dream
I realize I am falling asleep. In the intermediate state I sit up into a meditation position, waiting for the dream to begin. I want to stand up but I can’t.
When the dream begins, I see my master. He has spent his whole life meditating in the himalayas. We do the practice where you merge with the master to receive a teaching. Yoga means “coming together”. This is Guru Yoga.
As we are conversing, he gets closer to me, and the voices become light, and he lights become one. The illusion of duality melts away. Information is light.
The deceiver lets her mask down when the perceiver sets her asks down.
A man from Arizona’s lucid dream
I’m standing in a room and I notice one of those old transistor radios. It’s playing something but I can’t quite make out the words. I pull the radio closer to me, trying to listen.
I can’t understand any of it and realize I must be dreaming. I start waking up. I try rubbing my hands together to stay asleep, but it doesn’t work, and I wake up. I wish I knew what the voice on the radio had been saying.
A hot Australian couple’s lucid dream
I hear an incredibly high pitched sound. Loud and high pitched. It’s almost painful. I’m certain I have taken the full dose of galantamine.
I am outside my yurt, waiting for the pills to kick in and playing my guitar. I notice Hannah is no longer in the bed, it is now Stephen LaBerge. Excitedly I jump across the room and get close to Stephen’s face and say “GOTCHA, IM DREAMING!” Stephen doesn’t respond so I ask him if we would like to have some chocolate birthday cake? His head slowly turns, I wake up.
A dude with curly hair’s first lucid dream
The hypnogogic imagery is so vivid. I can see it growing and building right in front of my face. Before I know it I’m in a dream. It’s my first lucid dream.
I try to conjure up a sexy girl. I yell out her name, but nobody appears.
I want to fly so I try jumping off sticking out my arms like super man. I land on my stomach.
A loopy poet’s lucid dreams
Act O - Submission (nightmarish)
I wake up at 3:30am and take the galantamine. Within fifteen minutes I can feel it working a sting in the pit of my gut.
I lay down on my back try to fall asleep and lucid dream but I’m too wired. The gala makes it like that. I can feel the ringing — the buzzing.
As each hypnogogia emerges it is crystal-clear for what it is. The borders of everything are defined, I’m laying awake in bed in a yurt in Hawaii, and simultaneously experiencing little hallucinations. But they don’t lead to dreams.
The closer I get to falling asleep, the more intense the vibrations become. My heart is pounding. I know something is coming. It feels as though an electric force is pulling me up and out of my body.
Then suddenly, I click over to the dream side. I’m in front of my yurt, eyes wide to darkness and surrendered to the overwhelm of the vibrations. There in front of my yurt stands a shade, a terrifying almost faceless figure, greenish against the gloom.
The eyes of this being are fixed on me as I’m helplessly pulled closer. There is a soul behind those dim eyes and it pierces the depths of mine. I wonder if I am experiencing the border of a Guru Yoga experience as Karma described it. I wonder if that chilling figure is me, my shadow. I wonder if this is what it feels like to die. Then as I get closer, trying to examine the face of this alien presence, I ask “Dr. LaBerge?”
And again I’m awake, inside, on the bed of my yurt. Tingles run up and down my spine. The dream lasted at most 30 seconds, some of the most intense moments of my entire life.
I decide to roll onto my side, a feeling of safety, and I have some of the most vivid lucid dreams of my life.
Act I - Experimentation
I find myself wandering around a medieval town. It feels like a place where I have been before. I know that I want to experiment with how vision works in dreams.
As it normally is in the beginning of the dream my motion through the dream world is clumsy. A kind of wobble-walk that takes slower with each step than you’d want. There’s a need to be cautious, not to ask too much of the environment. If I turn around for example, how will my mind know what to fill in there? It could cause the whole dream to collapse.
I examine the borders of my vision. It feels as though in fact, there’s little content in the peripheral. It’s mostly a straight-ahead view. A narrower field than in waking, upon inspection.
I try spinning. Spinning is supposed to stabilize the dream, to ground your motor processes in your dream body and maintain the paralysis. I spin around. It works. By spinning in multiples of 360 degrees I’m able to expect to return to the same visual dream content, but with a refreshed sense of stability.
Act II - Manifestation (sexual content)
In front of a house I realize I want to have sex. I tell myself - maybe there will be a woman inside there.
I go inside call out her name, sure enough, she steps out. She looks… a bit older than I had anticipated, and her face is not particularly stable, but regardless I decide to propose something, “we are going to shoot a porno.”
We go into the other room, and she’s a bit younger now. As we move closer to an embrace, she takes on a new appearance, the most beautiful woman I can possibly imagine. I’m astounded and also sad as I know her face will soon transform again.
There’s a feeling of pleasure, but it’s a bit uncomfortable, accompanied by a ferocious almost itchy vibration in the lower chakras. I try not to focus on the physicality of what is happening and instead on the sensation.
As it intensifies, the scene melts away.
Act III - Elation
In the grey space I feel that I’m speeding along. I think, “I must be on a train.” I am on a train. The walls of the trains are papered in an endless collage of erotic cartoon imagery. I want people to come onto this train. The doors open and people flood in. I see some at the back. A couple at the back of the train catch my eye and I move over to make an advance on them.
As I get closer the woman glares at me “Please stop. We aren’t just your dream characters. We are also lucid dreaming right now.” There’s a sense they might be from Wisconsin. We talk about how they are lucid too and we happen to be in the same dream. I tell them that I’m using galantamine. They explain they are using “Tholine”.
I’m with my mutual dream friends floating on a magic carpet high above a grassy park full of people. The conversation eventually becomes musical, a jam session. I’m singing and playing guitar. The chorus of the song goes:
Here are the bandits
If you feel it put your hands up
The people in the park all start cheering and raising their arms into the air. I’m creating every note in this rock anthem. It’s extremely satisfying. I decide I’m ready to wrap up my dream, and end it on mind melting guitar solo. As I play endless layered archipeggios I feel myself floating up, up and into the sky.
I wake up.
I’m meditating on a beach made of large smooth boulders at the base of a cliff. Waves roll in and the sky is full of fast moving fluff. On the blue horizon above roaring cobalt I see the words: THIS IS A DREAM. Again, painted in bold letters: THIS IS A DREAM.
I say the words out loud “This is a dream. This is a dream.”
This too, is a dream.