Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Cheapest of Thrills

My class at the Zen Center is rolling along pleasantly. It will be over in December. I’m enjoying getting to know the members of my peer group better, and one day I had lunch with a couple of the other students before an afternoon session of the class.

I’ve taken to having dinner at Ananda Fuara before evening sessions of the class or meetings with my peer group, and that is a nice thing to do.

I have a new hospice visitee (I guess I'll call her B.), a 91-year-old who is very bright and positive and is interested in lots of things, and asks me a lot of questions. She confided that a lot of people are there in hospice because they’re going to die, but she personally is not going to, at least not in the foreseeable future, so she needs to figure out where she’s going to live next. She observed that her dying housemates don’t seem to do much. I said that people who are dying might be rather weary; they might want to rest.

She has tons of friends and a devoted family, and I can see why. She is a pleasure to be around.

I finally found out who my new boss will be—and then two days later, that person got laid off, so now I don’t know again, but my boss’s boss and my boss’s boss’s boss came to town and took us to lunch at Lark Creek, which was a treat. I had a Portobello mushroom sandwich on “griddled” bread and fresh-squeezed lemonade. Our boss’s boss said her boss told her, “This group is functioning very well—don’t mess it up!”

I repeated that to an officemate who said, “You mean, that’s what they said to your face,” and then he laughed uproariously.

Well, James Howard Kunstler says our way of life is going to change radically—he thinks we’ve passed the peak of oil production already.

He writes in the latest issue of The Sun: “If you’re a mortgage broker or work in the financial industry, you might consider whether there’s something else you’d rather do with your life. You won’t make as much money doing it, but maybe it will be rewarding in other ways. You might buy ten acres of land and start growing table greens, become a paramedic, or find some other focus for your energy that would make you useful to your fellow human beings during the coming crisis.”

I was reading that on the steps of the Zen Center one evening earlier this week after dinner at Ananda Fuara, and reflecting that I had heard something very similar at a conference on 9/11. I attended that conference with Sir Dave, Mr. 9/11 himself, and just as I was thinking about that, Sir Dave hove into view. I hadn’t seen him in a while. He is recently and majorly bereaved. That does not make anything easier.

My lucid dreaming practice seems to be interfering with sleep less and less, thank goodness. In fact, it hardly does at all now.

Here’s my latest lucid dream, a mere week and a half after the last one: I was either seeing hypnagogic imagery, or dreaming that I was; probably the latter. I recalled that one way of inducing a lucid dream is to follow hypnagogic imagery into sleep, and then to “step into” the dream, so I stepped into a cool evening with a deep blue sky and tried three methods of increasing the vividness of a dream: I said “Increase lucidity,” I tried to focus on a detail—my hands—and I rubbed my hands together. None worked, and the visuals completely disappeared.

But I was still lucid, so I decided to try to fly, something I have never, ever done in a dream, to my knowledge. The closest I’ve come is bounding down stairs in long leaps I wouldn’t be able to do in waking life without breaking my leg, or both legs.

I halfheartedly made as if to spring into the air, but I didn’t want to attempt something that wouldn’t work, because I didn’t want to conclude that it’s difficult for me to fly—I was thinking all of this in the dream—so instead I gently pushed off as if I were pushing off from the side of a swimming pool, and I floated along a foot or so above the grass, more like a fish in the water than a bird in the air. Maybe I was more swimming than flying, but whatever it was, I was liberated from the constraints of gravity.

Then, still without being able to see a thing, I arched my back and had the impression I was going far up, maybe as far as the cosmos, but I couldn’t be sure, because I couldn’t see. And then I woke up.

This is really a fun and interesting thing, and it’s having a good effect on my waking life. I just feel freer and more open—when I walk down the street of my own free will, going here or going there as the spirit takes me, I think what it would be like to do that in a lucid dream: it would be thrilling, and so I’m a little thrilled now just walking down the street.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Not Intrinsically Funny

Two weeks after the aforementioned lucid dream, I had another.

I was dreaming I was in my old house in Ann Arbor, in the master bedroom, looking out the window onto a snowy night. I dream about my old house very frequently, but this time I was making mental notes, just as when I’m awake: “I’m drawing the blinds, because I just prefer to have them closed. I’m here in Ann Arbor,” and as soon as I heard myself announce I was in Ann Arbor, I knew I was dreaming!

This time I remembered a particular thing I wanted to do in a lucid dream and commanded such-and-such person to appear. Nothing happened. I considered that maybe my tone had been arrogant, so I tried the wording from my prior lucid dream: “I would like so-and-so to walk through that door,” and instantly that occurred. I was saying to myself, “I’m dreaming, I’m dreaming, I’m dreaming,” in hopes of remaining lucid, but soon thereafter, I woke up.

However, I was extremely pleased that I remembered a specific thing I wanted to do (“Are you trying to say this happened in my ex-master bedroom?” my mother inquired), and that it was so easy to make that scenario begin. Next time I will try to remember to do one or both of the best-known prolongers of lucidity, which are to rub your dream hands together, or to stick your arms out and spin in a circle.

I’m reading Patricia Garfield’s groundbreaking book Creative Dreaming: Plan and Control Your Dreams to Develop Creativity, Overcome Fears, Solve Problems, and Create a Better Self, wherein she mentions a four-point scale of lucidity.

To paraphrase, the first level is having something weird happen in a dream but not realizing it until you wake up.
The second level is noticing in your dream that something odd is happening, but rationalizing it away or taking it in stride. Third is noticing the weird thing and really being aware of its oddness. The final level is realizing that the weird thing would be impossible in waking life and that you are dreaming.

Garfield says that if you have level two or three experiences, those are certainly “cooperative” dreams, and bode well for true lucid dreaming. I do have those, as well as dreams about lucid dreaming; for instance, about reviewing a checklist that pertains to lucid dreaming, or knowing that an eminent lucid dreamer is going to be giving a talk.

Garfield says those are good signs, and notes that people with a good sense of balance tend to have more lucid dreams, as do women and meditators. I decided that, far from being a dolt who just can’t learn this, I’m an absolute natural, and the very night after the lucid dream just described, I had a dream where I saw, in an improbable place—18th St. and Guerrero—a beautiful expanse of green mountains with a river winding through them.

“That is lovely,” I thought. “Perhaps I should take a photograph and see if the photo still shows the same thing after I wake up.” I don’t count that as a lucid dream, but there was some dim awareness that I was asleep.

I was sitting in my cube at work one day noting away—I see this, I see that—and I suddenly realized what my unconscious wants: It wants me to see what it sees.

I’m making a practice, too, of noticing as many people on the street as possible, and that is great. For one thing, I get a good look at a lot of interesting-looking people. I also sometimes see the same person again later, which is thrilling.

The other day I saw a large fellow shambling along drinking out of a plastic soda cup. He was going east, a block north of Market. A very short while later, I saw him three blocks south of that spot and two blocks to the west, still slumping along to the east. It was a mystery as to how he’d gotten there so fast, especially given that he wasn’t heading in that direction when I first saw him, but it was undoubtedly him, and I would not have noticed that before. My unconscious loved that (I think), and for once, I was there to appreciate it, too.

Today I was walking near 18th and Guerrero and made a point of going to the location in my dream, just in case there should happen to be green mountains there now, and indeed there were not, but I did see someone I like quite a bit, whom I haven’t seen in months, so that dream had its usefulness, as I fully expect many dreams in the future will.

I’ve been searching for a good decaffeinated green tea, and mentioned that to my mother, who asked why I didn’t just drink herbal tea.

“I want the antioxidants in the green tea,” I told her.

“Oh, poop poop poop,” she said, and added, “You’re making me laugh, but it’s not intrinsically funny.” Hearing the scratching of pen and paper on my end, she said, “Don’t put that—say, does your blog need an editor? I don’t know anything about editing, but I could learn.”

Saturday, October 10, 2009


I did it!

I had a lucid dream last night, absolutely unmistakably, and it lasted long enough for me to try my hand at dream control, with thrilling results.

I was dreaming that I was in a cluttered room in a house unfamiliar to me, but spied my own stuffed bear, Iyengar, on a chair. That struck me as odd, and I wondered if I could be dreaming. I concluded there was no way, but just to go through the motions, I looked at a newspaper lying on the floor and saw it was addressed to me. I looked away and looked back, in the classic state test, and this time it was addressed to “Pearly Gates.”

I could scarcely believe it, as things seemed so real and so vivid, but I WAS DREAMING AND I KNEW IT!

I started jumping up and down and was able to jump higher than in waking life. I touched the ceiling, and then I thought about leaping out the window and flying, but decided to save that for when I’m a more advanced lucid dreamer, just in case.

I thought about my long list, in waking life, of people I’d like to enjoy “quality time” with, should I achieve lucidity, but none in particular came to mind, and anyway, I couldn’t figure out how exactly I would get from this room to romance with Viggo, so I did an experiment instead:

I looked at the door and announced that I would like a dream companion to come through it, which happened immediately. I said that I would like us to engage in such-and-such activity, which also happened immediately. I said that I would like this activity to conclude in the customary pleasant manner, and it did!

I’m absolutely delighted. This tells me that the advice just to notice things as often as possible was good—and where had I heard that before? Oh, right, during 18 years’ worth of meditation teachers, dharma talks, intensive retreats, visits to the Zen Center, and books on Buddhism.

But probably the nearly two and a half months of dedicated lucid dreaming effort also helped. Knowing exactly what to do to confirm lucidity and some ways to alter the course of a dream came from reading so much about it.

One way to change the course of a dream is to imagine changing the channel on a giant TV to the desired show and then stepping through the screen. I think I actually considered doing that in this dream, but, maybe because I have watched virtually no TV for decades, it seemed simpler and easier just to invite what I wanted to come through the door. There’s nearly always a door or a window in any room. Or should be if you look again.

I also note that this happened just a couple of days after I consciously decided to be in cahoots with my own unconscious and began thanking it for helping me. Thank you very much for this lucid dream, unconscious! My goodness, the places we will go!

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Inching Toward Lucidity, I Hope

I was getting discouraged about my lucid dreaming project and was actually on the verge of giving up, because some lucid dreaming induction techniques were keeping me awake for hours and I was missing too much sleep, but then I found the Dream Views website, with forums full of useful tips.

I decided to try some of the ideas I read about there, and to keep at it, but in a much more relaxed way.

I haven’t had a lucid dream that I know of since a very brief one late August, but it continues to be foremost in my mind. My process has continued to evolve toward the easier and simpler, because obviously the strenuous and difficult isn’t doing the trick.

I’m several books into this and am now reading Teach Yourself to Dream: A Practical Guide to Unleashing the Power of the Subconscious Mind, by David Fontana. He includes only a few pages on lucid dream induction, but they have been helpful. He writes that the unconscious is willful and learns in fits and starts, but that, like the conscious mind, it likes to be appreciated, so he advises thanking your own unconscious for any improvement in your dream life, so I’ve been doing that, and I think we’re on cozier terms already.

It even sent me a little joke last night: a dream about riding the FATE train in Minneapolis. When I happened to speak to someone in Minneapolis today, I asked the name of the train system. It’s not FATE.

Somewhere I read that lucid dreaming is a mental discipline, so the best way to be able to notice things while asleep is to be able to notice them when you’re awake, and the best way to remember your intention while asleep is to remember your intention while awake.

So, for instance, I had started wearing my watch for the sole purpose of using the on-the-hour chime to remind me to do a state test (“Am I dreaming right now?”) but after I read that, I took it off: Either I’m motivated enough to remember to do frequent state tests or not, and if not, no amount of electronic beeping is going to help.

I read a long and detailed tutorial on lucid dream induction at the Dream Views website which concluded several pages of advice by saying that there is also an easier way: simply to be aware all the time.

Not that that’s exactly easy, but the idea that awareness when awake may translate to awareness when asleep certainly makes sense, so I have crossed a few more things off my personal list of instructions and now it pretty much boils down to consciously noting actions and sensory impressions during the day—sitting in my chair, seeing a picture with such-and-such colors and shapes, hearing the Blue Angels, dern them—and doing state tests as often as I can remember to: “Am I dreaming? Does anything seem illogical or out of place? Can I remember what happened right before this?”

Now that I have analyzed many recorded dreams, I see that one notable feature is the way they lurch from scene to scene, so if I ever remember to ask myself in a dream if I can remember what just happened, I might find I can’t.

When I go to sleep, I express a few intentions: “I will awaken from my dreams and remember them. When I am dreaming, I will observe my surroundings carefully. I will realize I am dreaming.”

Here’s something good: it turns out I am acquainted with a master lucid dreamer!

Sitting right next to me at work is a fellow who has as many as four or five lucid dreams per night, which is extremely rare. Apparently he almost never has a night without one. 
It’s effortless for him—he says it’s perfectly obvious to him when he’s dreaming. He kept asking me, “When you realize you’re dreaming, do you do such-and-such?” I kept having to tell him, “I don't realize I’m dreaming.”

The night after we had our first chat about this, I dreamed I was in a cab that turned onto a sidewalk where pedestrians stared at us curiously. My companion and I looked at each other in a knowing way and asked simultaneously, with good humor, “Is this a dream?” I still didn’t realize I was dreaming, but the idea that one could discover herself to be dreaming is evidently creeping into my dreams.

In another dream, I noticed something definitely amiss, and inquired of another dream character (one of my sisters), who explained, “Oh, that’s just such-and-such,” which I took at face value.

Two minutes later in the same dream I told her, “You know, if I hadn't been so credulous a couple of minutes ago, I would have realized I was dreaming.”

Thursday, October 01, 2009

DIY Hospice

One morning a couple of weeks after concluding my new neighbor’s bathroom fan was not a problem, while I was meditating, my living room became increasingly permeated with the heinous odor of flowery shampoo. I got angrier and angrier as the moments passed. I was thinking, as no doubt did the Buddha on the very night of his enlightenment, “I hope the timer goes off soon so I can give this person a piece of my mind!"

(When I was in music school, one of my classmates was an extremely funny fellow named Jason, who sat behind several of us trumpet players one day at a recital and remarked cheerfully that he could smell our
heinous odors. Such a good phrase.)

When my little clock beeped, I strode into the bathroom calling, “You with the fan!” However, since she did have the fan on and also her blow dryer, she couldn’t hear me, which was just as well. I composed another letter, fairly brief, letting her know I don’t like the humid air blowing into my place, nor the long dark hairs (yuck), nor the sound, nor the ghastly stench, sometimes of perfume and sometimes of charred dead animals (cooking smells).

But, again, I delayed delivery of this letter and composed a list of all my options, ranging from the far-fetched to the near-fetched:

—Live with it.
—Burn her building entirely down to the ground; mine would probably go up, too, but you have break a few eggs to make an omelet.
—Contact an attorney immediately.
—Write a nasty letter.
—Write a friendly note in longhand on a card with art on the front.
—Close my window.
—Keep my bathroom door mostly closed.

After deliberating, I decided to choose from among the final three options. Closing my window—go figure—works perfectly, but why should I have to blah blah blah? But it also seems that just keeping my bathroom door almost all the way closed when I’m not in there does the trick, too; at least, I haven’t smelled her shampoo since I started doing that.

I have decided that cooking a big pot of pre-soaked grains is not a good plan, after all; I don’t think they’re any more digestible than anything else, it’s a certain amount of work, and I end up eating them cold most days, unless I want to reheat them, in which case why don’t I just cook rolled oats from scratch each morning and have oatmeal with fresh fruit, walnuts, and a dollop of agave nectar? That is my new plan.

I also am not ready to turn my back on bread, but I am going to hold off on the stand mixer for the time being. I made another couple of loaves recently and experimented with a different kneading technique, which still caused shoulder pain, but not as much. Next I want to make olive bread

I have a new hospice visitee, but I’m not scheduled to meet her until tomorrow. In the meantime, I received an email from a Buddhist list saying that a woman whose husband is dying of brain cancer wanted someone to come and meditate with them. It’s quite a lousy situation: They have a small baby, and when I called, I could hear the baby wailing in the background, which made me want to rush over and do anything I could for them. I arranged to visit the following weekend.

Their place is at the top of a hill, so I studied my bicycle map, made a plan, and now know of one route never to take again. I don’t want to dis the San Francisco bicycle map or anything, but the fact that Carolina St. dead ends, temporarily, at 18th St. would have been handy information. It also seemed to be about 90 degrees, so I was utterly drenched in sweat when I got there.

I found the husband looking very ill indeed, skeletal, and more or less unconscious—his wife said he had not eaten in three weeks, and that he had been sick for two years. I sat with him for an hour sending him and his wife and child kind wishes, out loud, but quietly.

His wife said she could use some help bathing him, but since I’m not allowed to do that in my official volunteering capacity, I told her with regret that it was outside my scope. I felt bad about it, but I am not trained in lifting or bathing patients, and it could have been dangerous to him, me, or his wife to undertake it. (In fact, the organization I volunteer with said later that it was very good that I didn't do that, and that after a certain point, a patient simply shouldn't be moved.)

The husband is officially a hospice patient, but no one was coming over to assist with anything meaningful. It almost sounds like his health care organization said, “Here’s a hospital bed and ten pounds of morphine. Good luck!”

It was a terribly sad thing, and I felt gloomy for days afterwards. It was also a good lesson in why it's probably better to volunteer via an organization; then the boundaries are very clear and if any questions or problems arise, you have someone to turn to.