by Bob Makransky
“Someday there will be a great awakening when we know that this is all a great dream.Yet the stupid believe they are awake, busily and brightly assuming they understand things, calling this man ruler, that one herdsman – how dense! Confucius and you are both dreaming! And when I say you are dreaming, I am dreaming, too. Words like these will be labeled the Supreme Swindle. Yet, after ten thousand generations, a great sage may appear who will know their meaning, and it will still be as though he appeared with astonishing speed...
“Once Zhuang Zhou dreamt he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering around, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn’t know he was Zhuang Zhou. Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Zhuang Zhou. But he didn’t know if he was Zhuang Zhou who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Zhuang Zhou.”
– Zhuang Zhou
“The self dreams the double… Once it has learned to dream the double, the self arrives at this weird crossroad and a moment comes when one realizes that it is the double who dreams the self.”
– Carlos Castaneda, Tales of Power
“Indeed, perhaps what is now the REM state was the original form of waking consciousness in early brain evolution, when emotionality was more important than reason in the competition for resources. This ancient form of waking consciousness may have come to be actively suppressed in order for higher brain evolution to proceed efficiently. This is essentially a new theory of dreaming.”
– Jaak Panksepp, Affective Neuroscience
The basic tenet of magic is, that it’s all just a dream; that waking consciousness is but a more highly evolved and specialized facet of dream consciousness. Dream consciousness came first evolutionarily, and waking consciousness is an outgrowth of dreaming. Although we tend to believe that there is a vast difference between being awake and dreaming, the fact is that this is indeed merely a belief: a belief which enables us to focus our attention on waking – to isolate it and solidify it – to the exclusion of dreaming.
We make a big deal out of the difference between waking and dreaming, but the distinction between the two states isn’t as clear as we usually imagine. When we run past life regressions; or even just listen to music or dance – any time we are so absorbed in any activity that we lose all sense of self perceiving self and are operating on pure “flow” – we are actually closer to being in a dream state than in a waking state.
The less we are consciously controlling what is happening, but rather just letting it happen by itself, the closer we are to dreaming. The act of “going to sleep” is just a thought form we use to convince ourselves that we’re not dreaming half the time anyway. We use the acts of “going to sleep” and “waking up” to separate out the two modes – to make a distinction where in fact little distinction exists.
It’s like two people who have been living together for years finally getting married – it’s a symbolic thing, there’s not much objective difference between the two states. It’s as if we made up some sort of distinction like “write with your right hand on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays” and “write with your left hand on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays”. If we got everyone to do this and make it an automatic habit, then after a few centuries the human race would have invented another distinction in consciousness (indeed, this is in fact what different cultures do). People would find that life on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays was very different from life on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. But it’s all an artificial distinction.
Ancient humans were doing what we would consider dreaming as their everyday state of mind. There wasn’t as sharp a distinction then between being awake and being asleep. Then people slept in snatches, as infants do, and they alternated hunting off and on with dozing. Most of their hunting was done in a state of mind that we would call sleepwalking (a trance state). They weren’t just wandering around aimlessly looking for game to hunt: they could sense what was out there and could project their consciousness forward into their prey telepathically and so anticipate the prey’s movements.
We moderns can still do this now and then, as for example when on the prowl for sex, or when we sense a business opportunity, especially when we feel lucky. But our hunter forebears relied on this intuitive faculty to eat every day. In other words, ancient hunters were more connected to their world, more psychically attuned, than we moderns are.
They were able to pick up information from their environment which eludes us. But on the other hand, ancient humans had less sense of a self at center than we do, just as we moderns have less sense of there being a solid, separated “us” there when we are dreaming compared to when we are awake.
Waking consciousness is something which evolves; which can be seen to evolve even between human generations. That’s why people “back then” seem so naïve to us – they were dreaming more than we moderns do. We’re more awake than our forebears. Consider too how wide-awake First World societies are compared with most Third World societies: First Worlders living in the Third World tend to find the natives to be “irresponsible” and spaced-out, when in fact all they’re doing is dreaming more in their everyday waking lives than hup-hup First Worlders do.
The point is that there isn’t as hard-and-fast a difference between being awake and dreaming as we are accustomed to believing. It is exactly that belief (that what we do when we are awake is more important than what we do when we are dreaming) which maintains the rigidity of wakefulness – the persuasiveness of the lie that what is happening to us when we are awake is “real” – that is to say, that there is some separated “us” to which things are happening – rather than that the whole shebang is just our projection. That “us” is symbolized by the thought forms of a body, and an outside world in which things happen to that body.
When we are dreaming, we have a body also, and a world outside of it. That body and world seem perfectly real while we are dreaming, but when we wake up we realize that it was all just a dream. The interpretation that we have a physical body when we are awake is also merely a belief, exactly like the interpretation that we have a body while we’re dreaming is merely a belief.
While we are dreaming our dream bodies operate with all five of the usual physical senses. Therefore, we really don’t have any objective criteria for deciding, at any given moment, whether we are awake or asleep. In precisely the same fashion, our body when we are awake and the world surrounding it are just a dream. There is no objective difference whatsoever. That’s what other people and our society do for us: assure us that we are indeed awake and that what we are experiencing is “real”.
Ancient humans were more magical than we are (in other words, not as separated). They permitted dream material to freely intrude into their awareness, whereas we moderns have mechanisms in place to immediately repress any such incursion into our reality.
When dream stuff intrudes into waking consciousness we get moments of discontinuity. Any sudden start or shock or fright is a rift in our sense of continuity – or better said, a mad grab for our sense of continuity to mask such a rift. We have to say that discontinuity is unreal, and that people who experience discontinuity are crazy, or tired and overworked and in need of rest.
We have to get everyone to validate this pretense – to pretend that they’re not experiencing discontinuity – in order for society to exist. Society and waking consciousness are just two names for the same thing: in dreams, we are basically alone. In point of fact we’re just as alone when we’re awake, but we stupidly believe that we are sweating and puffing and bleeding as part of a team. Thus being awake can be defined as the pretense that we’re not alone (that we are part of a society).
The reason why the dream state is so mutable is that there is little sense of separatedness in it. It is importance – the sense of urgency, of being driven, of being uptight – which stabilizes attention. We are able to focus our attention when we are awake because of our interminable, self-referent inner chatter every second we are awake. Waking consciousness is a clenching up within oneself – a moment-to-moment flinching from death – embodied in a socially-conditioned striving and intranquility within ourselves that keeps us awake.
By contrast, the attention we have in dreams has little importance to it because we don’t think so much; but as a result we can’t control what we will pay attention to (what will happen next) as well in dreaming as we can when we are awake.
What we experience when dreaming is far more immediate, vivid, gripping, and intense than in the ordered waking world. It all happens so fast that we can’t separate ourselves from it as we can and do in waking life. We don’t get weekends off and two weeks paid vacation in the world of dreams, and there’s no TV to watch – no way to make it stop happening or pretend it’s not happening. We must either be on the qui vive every instant; or else stand there in a stupor; but we are inevitably so caught up in the dream, so much a part of it, that although we are experiencing our feelings in symbolic form in dreams, there is little sense of separatedness there. Mind exists, but it’s not developed.
Mind cannot develop until there is a clearly defined sense of separatedness, which gives mind a pause, a moment’s rest or leisure, in which it can reflect on itself. It’s that moment’s rest or lull which gives birth to a sense of time and linear continuity.
The Development of Waking Consciousness
Although waking consciousness originated together with multicellular life on earth, the invention of agriculture was its apotheosis as far as the human species is concerned. As compared with hunting, the invention of agriculture brought order, regularity, sleep 8 hours at night and work 16 hours during the day. Humankind had outgrown dream consciousness; it had found dream consciousness – the consciousness of infants and animals – too unstable, too ephemeral, and therefore too limiting for its free expression. Therefore humans literally constructed, piece by piece, thought form by thought form, over the surface of dream consciousness, the floating edifice of waking mind. Humankind began to think and reason.
Separation of quotidian life into 16 hours of wakefulness and 8 hours of dreaming – forcing our bodies to stay awake for such a long stretch of time – is a stern discipline, a way of clenching up, which helps block the intrusion of dream material (magical events) into wakefulness. Ancient humans mixed the two together in their awareness – waking life was as ineffable as dreaming, and everything was a source of wonder and mystery.
Native cultures, such as the Mayan people of Guatemala, maintain much of this thought form structure to this day. We North American-European-Asian moderns have learned to tone down our sensory impressions, to separate ourselves from our environment by taking everything around us for granted, by not paying attention to anything except our own incessant mental chatter. This makes our lives utterly boring and meaningless, but nonetheless provides us with our ability to focus our attention, to be methodical, concentrated and deliberate. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors were unable to focus that much attention. They had no need to.
Along with heightened focus comes a decreased sense of connectedness; a greater sense of separatedness. And along with the heightened separatedness necessary to focus attention in the waking world comes a heightened sense of isolation and anguish. In other words, suffering is an intrinsic component of waking consciousness. Without suffering, the constant self-pinching, we could not stay awake.
The Fabrication of Reality
When we are awake we say “I am suffering!” That “I” is made out suffering (self-pity in the parlance of shamanism). To gainsay Descartes, “I suffer, therefore I am.” Just as the waking “I” and the “suffering” arise together, so too do they dissolve together. If “I” ever stop suffering, the disconnected “I” dissolves too. The main cause of our self-hatred, the chief reason we are all so neurotic and out of kilter with our world, is simply because we’ve been awake too long.
The point is that waking consciousness is not something which is intrinsically different from dreaming, but rather something which evolved and developed out of it; which became more focused and intense and uptight as it evolved. Waking is merely a way of imposing a semblance of order and control (mind – things making some kind of sense instead of being wholly ineffable) on at least a portion of the dream. However this is a falsehood: NOTHING makes any sense – EVERYTHING is ineffable. In other words, waking consciousness – and the society which supports it – is a complete and total fabrication.
Waking mind is like the insouciance of a drunkard staggering across a battlefield where bullets whiz by all around him but who is somehow protected from it all by his blissful indifference. That is waking mind. It is so totally a fiction (the sense that we are separated from everything around us) that it can only be maintained by the constant validation of other people (our sense of being part of society). Only by all of us reassuring one another that we are separated individuals – by constantly picking at and annoying each other, just as we constantly pick at and annoy ourselves to stay awake – can we jointly uphold the fragile structure of waking consciousness. Our society assures its continuance by setting its individual members upon each other like ravenous dogs.
When society dissolves because of, for example, war or disaster, everything becomes like a dream, since it’s out of control. Waking makes for more control than dreaming, but with a concomitant loss of awareness and joy. Over the next century, as the environment and civilization deteriorate, society will collapse and everything will spin out of control. That is to say, waking consciousness will dissolve back into the dream from which it emerged at the time of the invention of agriculture.
The human race isn’t going to be able to muddle through this one, as it has always done. Nor will there be any miraculous salvation: no one is going to be raptured up into the clouds to sit next to Jesus; and December 22, 2012 isn’t going to be any improvement on December 20th. And certainly the corporations, governments, and materialistic scientists who got us into this mess aren’t going to get us out of it. Each individual human being will then be at a crossroads: either lighten up and enter into lucid dreaming as your everyday mode of awareness; or enter into a nightmare.
In the same way that waking consciousness grew out of dreaming, lucid dreaming – that is to say, dreaming in which the dreamer knows that he or she is dreaming – is an outgrowth of waking consciousness. Lucid dreaming is humankind’s next step in the evolution of consciousness – New, Improved, Lemon-Scented Consciousness. It’s also our only hope for survival as a species.
Lucid dreaming allows us to take a pause for reflection on the dream plane: to make it stop happening for a moment to critically evaluate and redirect the experience, instead of being wholly caught up in it, forced to be constantly shifting and adjusting ourselves to it, as our hunter forebears had to do. Hunters had to more or less go with the flow, and they were better or worse hunters as they were able to be flexible and quick to see and grasp opportunities and avoid pitfalls as they arose. They were nimble, but not very capable of planning, organizing, or thinking things through. If there was an easier way to do something, they probably wouldn’t have been able to figure it out (not enough separatedness).
What happens in lucid dreaming is that we preserve the thought forms of waking consciousness, but without the importance. That is to say, lucid dreaming is waking consciousness without the driving urgency, the constant uptightness, the sense of a separated, suffering succotash of a self. We still have a self, symbolized by a body thought form, while we are lucidly dreaming; but that body is a great deal lighter and less separated than our waking body. It can fly, for one thing.
The point is, as all lucid dreamers soon realize, that the thought forms of waking consciousness can be activated in the dream state once they have been cut loose from their importance. Lucid dreaming is what waking consciousness could be (and will be) like when we get rid of our importance. To do lucid dreaming consistently we will have to come to a general conviction in our daily lives that nothing is all that important.
Every Day Magic and The Role of Lucid Dreaming
It is the purpose of the practice of magic to make everyday life more like dreaming – to release the fixation on a separated, suffering self. This is accomplished by cultivating the practice of lucid dreaming while we are asleep, and by going to trees or nature spirits every day while we are awake. The doorway out of wakefulness into lucid dreaming is what magicians term sensory thought forms, and what cognitive philosophers term qualia: that is to say, shifting attention from thinking to feeling the world around us.
This entails quieting down our minds and listening to sounds, feeling the breeze on our skin, seeing the plants and the clouds. It’s what mystics refer to as “suchness” or “thusness”; but really all it involves is just shutting up the constant stream of mental chatter long enough to see – hear – feel what’s going on in the now moment – i.e., to do what we do when we’re dreaming while we’re awake. The practice of recapitulation, described in my book The Great Wheel, is invaluable in releasing the obsessive fixation of waking consciousness; releasing our obsessive grip on everyday life and the people around us.
The goal for us as individuals is to merge dreaming and waking – to be as light and unencumbered while awake as we are while dreaming; and to be as rational and clear-thinking while dreaming as we are when we are awake. The goal for us humans as a species is to make lucid dreaming our everyday awareness, in the same way that our hunter-gatherer ancestors made waking consciousness their everyday awareness at the time that agriculture was invented. I.e., to become magicians.
The purpose of Buddhism – at least insofar as I understand it – is to get a few exceptional people fully enlightened. The purpose of the practice of magic is to get the mass of people somewhat enlightened – i.e. enlightened enough to save the human race and the earth. No major upheaval in present society would necessarily be required to make this shift, unless humankind stupidly proves to be incapable of responding short of a total crisis. There are probable realities which go either way, which we as individuals can choose or decline to participate in, by believing what we choose to believe.
All that’s required to save humanity is for most people (not necessarily all) to lighten up just a little bit. We don’t need everyone to don sackcloth and ashes and take to caves and become enlightened; nor do we need everyone to fall in line and believe as we do. All we need is for most people to become just a tad less greedy, selfish, suspicious, intolerant, closed-hearted and shameless. Just for most people to lighten up a teensy bit is all that’s required for the human race to enter into lucid dreaming together.
In the state of lucid dreaming everyone instantly knows the truth, so pretense is impossible. By contrast, most of what transpires in waking consciousness is a pack of lies: people are talking about one thing, but what is really going on under the surface is something altogether different. It isn’t like that in lucid dreaming – what we see is what we get. There’s no room for phoniness because those importance coverings don’t exist in lucid dreaming – that agreement is more important than truth.
Yes, Virginia, Truth does indeed exist. All that’s necessary to find it is to cut through all the yada-yada nonsense of our decadent, degenerate society and listen to what our hearts are telling us. We magicians do this by going to trees and nature spirits for validation rather than to our fellow humans.
To enter into lucid dreaming from a position which starts from being awake is the same thing as astral projection. Talented dreamers have a facility for astral projection, and this can be the quickest way for them to go. But it would take most people too long to learn astral projection; it’s easier for them to come at it through lucid dreaming. This is a better path for people who think too much, since it minimizes thinking. We have to start from being asleep, and then beckon our separatedness thought form to come to us without its covering of importance. If the covering of importance comes too, then we wake up. That’s why so many of us find it difficult to maintain ourselves in a state of lucid dreaming without waking up: one must be calm in a lucid dream, otherwise one tends to beckon importance.
Lucid dreaming is not something essentially different from waking consciousness, only we get to it from a position of being asleep. When we start out from a position of being awake, we call it “everyday life”. What do you suppose the horseless carriage is? Or the radio, TV, airplane, space rocket, computer? They are all wild, crazy dreams. A hundred years ago that’s exactly what we would have considered them. And that’s all they are – dreams. Humankind just incorporated that dream material into waking consciousness.
That’s the sort of thing waking consciousness is good for: to originate dream material of that sort. That kind of business requires slow, patient development over generations; and the dream plane is too unstable and mutable to do that kind of stuff on. The dream plane is too here and now. Since dream consciousness is more timeless than waking consciousness, it doesn’t allow for the detachment that a sense of past (history) and future (planning) can give.
We need a greater sense of separatedness to be able to do things that slowly. That’s why it is so difficult to do things like dial a phone number or read a sentence in a normal dream – these activities require a greater degree of separatedness than normal dreaming affords, to be able to bring that kind of minute detail into focus.
That’s the genius of waking consciousness: we lose scope and agility, but in return we get focus and a methodical way of getting at things. Waking consciousness is much more clearly focused and delimited than dreaming, even if we all become extremely myopic and uptight in the process.
The practice of magic is about turning our everyday waking lives into lucid dreaming, cultivating a somewhat “altered state of mind” as our everyday mindset. As we do this much of our sense of separatedness dissolves and we feel more inner peace and oneness with our world. Spirits start talking to us, as they did to our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Our everyday life becomes more like dreaming – i.e., more magical.
This is the road that each of us must travel as individuals; and which the human race as a whole will have to follow if it is to survive and prosper. It is the road of entering into a state of lucid dreaming from a position which starts from being awake (instead of asleep, as usual). This means understanding that waking consciousness is lucid dreaming; and the only reason we can’t see that is because we must keep up the pretense that what we’re doing is “real” and important. Therefore we can’t see that it’s all just a dream.
At this writing there don’t seem to be too many lucid dreamers out there; but there are lots of people merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily dancing a jig on their descent into the coming nightmare. It’s time now for everyone to wake up.
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Bob Makransky is a systems analyst, software designer, and professional astrologer. For the past 48 years he has lived on a farm in highland Guatemala where he studied Mayan shamanism and astrology with his teacher don Abel Yat, until don Abel’s death in 2009.
This feature has been extracted from Magical Living by Bob Makransky, winner of the Reader Views Reviewer’s Choice Award; the Sacramento Publishers’ Association Awards for Best Nonfiction and Best Spiritual book; and Mind-Body-Spirit Finalist in the National Indie Excellence Awards and the USA Book News Best Books Awards.
Magical Living, paperback –178 pages – £13.00