If there is one ultimate tool that will help you understand yourself and your own fears at a deeper level, it’s lucid dreams. How to deal with fear? How to deal with yourself? This is my take on fear…
The last couple of months I had to take a break from lucid dreaming. Not because it requires too much effort. Not because I had too much work. Not because it bored me. None of that. The reason was simple: fear.
One night, I woke up breathing heavily, feeling as if I was about to die. My thoughts were racing. Anxiety. Paranoia. Chaos. Fear. I was thrown from a literally indescribable lucid dream to waking life because of a random phone call and something about the rapid transition between the two states triggered a massive panic attack. Immediately, the logical part of my mind took over, assessed the situation and managed to calm me down.
The months preceding this night I had increasingly weirder dreams and waking life experiences. I honestly feared I had gone too far with exploring the nature of reality, dreams and the unconscious. I felt like a young conquistador who underestimated his journey from the physical to the non-physical and ventured too far into the terra incognita of the mind. Too far to make it back sane. That night solidified my decision to take a break from lucid dreaming to ground myself in what we would call the “real world”.
I was Cipher. I chose the red pill too soon in my development. “Buckle up your seatbelt, Dorothy, ’cause Kansas is going bye bye.” The veil was lifted and the illusions of the Ego revealed. I saw the inherent uncertainty of the human condition at a deeper level and I did NOT like it. I knew what was happening intellectually; I was very familiar with the idea of “Ego death” and like most students, I have some experience with several entheogens, but knowing and remembering the concept is different from experiencing it.
Who knows what values I would have betrayed to go back to “blissful” ignorance if I hadn’t decided to take a break from it all? Or maybe this is just a normal phase in the “Awakening” of an individual (I dislike using that word, but what I mean with “Awakening” in this sense, is becoming Self-aware and mindful at a much deeper level). After all, Robert Waggoner wrote about a similar account in his book “Lucid Dreaming: Gateway to the Inner Self”, except his was triggered by a row of false awakenings:
After seven [false awakenings], I told myself that whatever reality I might encounter in the hallway, I would accept – that’s how shaken I was – any reality was fine, as long as it stayed put. As I’ve said before, venturing into lucid dreaming takes a certain amount of fearlessness. Encountering the lucid dream reality in all of its complexity and creative splendor can seem almost overwhelming at times.
Maybe that’s what happened to me. Maybe like some inner Icarus of the dream world, I had ventured too close to the enormity of the unconscious, only to realize my humanness and fall back. Or maybe my waking ego preferred to be seen as the one in control and felt uncomfortable with the mind-blowing creativity of the unconscious. Whatever the case, something happened, something changed, and I needed a break from lucid dreaming.
- Robert Waggoner
He also mentions in his book how important it is to “ground yourself” with reality when such experiences become too intense. I couldn’t agree more. If this is you, take a break for a while. Spend some time with your family, your friends, pick up old or new hobbies, sleep like a “normal person” for a while… ;)
However, just like Robert did, I will venture onwards. This is my comeback.
We must go deeper.
Surrender to the fear
Beginning lucid dreamers often have doubts about trying the wake-initiated lucid dream (WILD) technique. Part of the transition from awake to asleep but conscious, often involves being in sleep paralysis. This means you can’t move and you start hallucinating. Being in such a vulnerable position can easily trigger a reaction of fear. This emotion can overwhelm you and bring about intrusive, fearful thoughts, which in turn trigger the mind to manifest all kinds of scary hallucinations. If this happens, it can snowball into even more fear and more scary stuff until the dreamer wakes up.
So let’s look at what’s happening here:
uncertainty & vulnerability -> fear -> fearful thoughts -> hallucinations -> more fear -> …
How can we break this downward spiral from happening? We obviously can’t eliminate the uncertainty. That’s an inherent part of dreams, as well as of life itself. We can’t stop fear from arising, but its hold on the mind will weaken with experience. We can’t stop a stream of thought either, since the mind cannot think in negation. What we can do is to try to redirect the thoughts towards pleasant subjects. However, this will require increasingly more concentration, focus and strain as thoughts become more intrusive. It’s easy to stop a little streamlet, but you can’t simply stop the Niagara Falls.
So is there nothing else we can do? There is and there isn’t, because it can’t exactly be labeled as a “doing”. Let’s ask ourselves what might seem like a bizarre question: why is “fear” a problem? Even more bizarre: why is “pain” a problem? There is nothing inherently “wrong” with these sensations. They are simply messages from the mind; a warning system that helps us survive and with most people, this system just happens to be calibrated a little too sensitive (which is better than not sensitive enough). Fear is a problem because we MAKE it a problem.
This is even reflected in the way we use language. You might say “I am afraid”. No you’re not. You FEEL afraid. Big difference. To be clear, I’m not advocating for using language differently (although that might help; as you might know if you’re familiar with NLP), but the point is that we identify with objects. We don’t know who we are. We get tricked by Mr. Gold. This is what makes us focus on fear and therefore prolong it.
So the solution to this mess is actually really, really simple, yet it’s the most difficult thing to do, because it’s not a “doing” per se: let the fear happen. Notice it, be aware of it and don’t make it a problem. If possible, try to see it as excitement instead. The physiological reactions are similar anyway. Surrender to the fear, because resistance is futile. It’s no coincidence my last blogpost was about letting go.
Don’t believe a word I write though, find out for yourself!
So now that we got the mind figured out (on an intellectual level), it doesn’t have to hold us back any longer. Is there something you want to do, but the only thing that’s holding you back and generating false excuses is fear? Well give in to the fear, but just do it anyway! Fear will keep you focused, so embrace it.
Of course this is all easier written than done. But as you learn the basics of lucid dreaming (and as you overcome any initial fear you might have), you’ll gain an incredibly helpful tool: the means to simulate almost any real life scenario possible.
For example, last month I went on a US West Coast road trip with some friends and I decided to go skydiving. That’s been an item on my bucket list for a long while now. I’ve never really had a strong fear of heights, but I’ve never really been terribly excited about them either… So before the actual jump I initiated a lucid dream using the MILD technique. As I got lucid, I found myself in my old studio apartment on the 4th floor and I remembered my intention to practice the jump. Without hesitation I ran towards the window, jumped through and imagined I was jumping from really high up. After dreaming the free fall for a couple of seconds, I woke up. The feeling was amazing. I was even more excited about the actual jump than before.
Looking back, the dream free fall was actually very similar to the real one, but different still. What’s important is that in this particular example, I managed to use the lucid dream simulation to transmute that fear and doubt into more excitement instead. Imagine the possibilities!
What’s preventing you? Fear or laziness?
There are two kinds of sufferers in this world: those who suffer from a lack of life and those who suffer from an overabundance of life. I’ve always found myself in the second category. When you come to think of it, almost all human behavior and activity is not essentially any different from animal behavior. The most advanced technologies and craftsmanship bring us, at best, up to the super-chimpanzee level. Actually, the gap between, say, Plato or Nietzsche and the average human is greater than the gap between that chimpanzee and the average human. The realm of the real spirit, the true artist, the saint, the philosopher, is rarely achieved.
Why so few? Why is world history and evolution not stories of progress but rather this endless and futile addition of zeroes. No greater values have developed. Hell, the Greeks 3,000 years ago were just as advanced as we are. So what are these barriers that keep people from reaching anywhere near their real potential? The answer to that can be found in another question, and that’s this: Which is the most universal human characteristic – fear or laziness?
- From the movie you should watch (again), “Waking Life”
It’s a tricky question, but my personal answer is simple: neither. It’s ignorance that triggers both fear and laziness. Not knowing how to figure out the mind leads to not understanding the mind, which makes one habitually turn fear into a gigantic problem. Laziness is the default state if there is a lack of direction and purpose. This lack is simply caused by ignorance of the Self. Before knowing what you really want to do, you need to know who you are. Before knowing who you are, you need to know how you’re going to find out.