I am in an airport. I am unsure of where I’m trying to go. Or did I just come back from somewhere? I finally figure it out. I’m going to a conference. But where is my gate? I search all over. I finally find it, I think. But, wait a minute. I’m in Switzerland. How did I end up here? I’m in the wrong country. I’m supposed to be in America. Oh, forget it. I’ve missed my flight and now I’m not going to make it to the conference on time. Now let’s see if I can just find my way to a flight home.
Many times I have dreamt of trying to use some sort of transportation, but can’t find my way. Some years ago, I started to notice more and more dreams expressing confusion and frustration. What did these recurring dreams mean? I finally realized they meant nothing. The confusion was not a meaningful unconscious message; it was the product of my mind trying to grapple with the inconsistencies of the dream world. My mind was acting as it does during normal waking consciousness, even though I did not know I was dreaming. My dreams showed me that there is no clear distinction between waking consciousness and a pure dream state. Consciousness often functions while we dream. But dream consciousness is a spectrum that ranges from the entirely inactive, to active and unaware of dreaming, to full waking consciousness with awareness of being in a dream. Each part of the spectrum offers us distinct gifts. But we must recognize where our dream consciousness is on the spectrum if we are to accept those gifts and use them.
Non-lucid dreams are what we normally think of as dreams. These are dreams in which our conscious mind is not active. The current of the dream carries us along with the story. We do not question the inherent inconsistencies of the dream world. I watch a legendary jazz musician perform. I’ve never heard such ecstatic music. First he is playing a piano with a small informal group. Then, when I watch him from another angle, I see that he is playing with a small orchestra. I look closer at him and see that he is now playing a bass guitar. My consciousness did not interrogate or try to interfere with the impossible changes in setting and instrument. I accepted it all as a coherent story. It was only upon awakening that I recognized the impossibility of the dream.
In sub-lucid dreams, like the one I opened this article with, our consciousness is more or less active, but unaware of the fact that it is dreaming. These dreams are characterized by a sense of confusion or frustration. The confusion results from our conscious mind recognizing that something isn’t right and then trying to make sense of it. Dream worlds are, in some ways, like theatre sets. You might have something that looks like a phone on the stage, but it doesn’t actually work. Imagine being on a stage, but not realizing it. You try to use the prop phone. You would be confused or frustrated when you found that it didn’t work, that it didn’t have all the parts it should, that it fell apart when you touched it, or that the voice on the other end was garbled and unintelligible. That is, in many cases, the dream world. When our consciousness intrudes, we try to make the things in our dreams do things they’re not built for. They’re just props.
Consciousness exists on a spectrum even within just the sub-lucid part of the spectrum. We might experience slight confusion, but let it go and let the current of the dream carry us downstream. Or we might be so actively conscious that the oddities of the dream are intolerable and demand explanation. Such cases can lead to breakthroughs into the next level of consciousness.
Just as with sub-lucid dreams, our consciousness operates in lucid dreams. The difference between the two is that, in a lucid dream, our consciousness is aware of the fact that we’re dreaming. Such awareness often comes after struggling with confusion in a sub-lucid dream and realizing that we must be dreaming. Such awareness opens up many possibilities, including the capacity to deliberately direct our dreams. In some fully-conscious lucid dreams, we can instantaneously change the setting of the dream or cause characters to appear or disappear. We can play out fantasies, fears, or other productive stories.
However, just as with sub-lucid dreams, consciousness exists on a spectrum within lucid dreams. Consequently, the extent of control over the dreams varies. I have experienced lucid dreams in which, although I was aware that I was dreaming, I had no control over the dream. I was carried along by the current just as if I was not conscious at all. That is the other extreme of lucid dreaming.
To take full advantage of our dreams, we must recognize that different parts of the spectrum of consciousness impart distinctive characteristics to our dreams. Non-lucid dreams are generally the products of our unconscious minds and our daily experiences. Our consciousness does not interfere with such dreams. Consequently, we can analyze and interpret non-lucid dreams to reveal the contents of our unconscious minds. Sub-lucid dreams, on the other hand are distorted by our expectations and our self-direction. While some aspects of our dreams, such as the setting or basic theme might still have interpretive value, we must be careful about interpreting them. Our confusion or the malfunctioning of devices is not of interpretable value. They are not the products of our unconscious mind; they are the product of our attempt to make sense of the dream world. On the other hand, we can cultivate sub-lucidity to bring about lucid dreaming. So it is useful to recognize sub-lucid consciousness when it occurs so that we can recognize signs that we are in fact dreaming. Such recognition is the opening of lucidity. Of course lucid dreams, because we direct ourselves consciously, are of no more use for dream interpretation than are the events of our daily lives. Take that to mean what you will. But lucid dreams have their own value. We can use them to, for example, confront fears or just to experience bliss.
The parts of the spectrum we tend to experience are not random. When I first started working with my dreams, I noticed no indication of consciousness and did not recall any lucid dreams. The more I worked with my dreams, the more I became aware of consciousness. Part of this was probably just that I was more aware of it when consciousness was operating. But it also appears that I started experiencing the sub-lucid part of the spectrum more frequently. I also began having an occasional lucid dream. With further work, sub-lucidity and even lucidity became common.
Dream consciousness exists on a spectrum. Before we begin to work with our dreams, we may experience little of that spectrum. With more work we come to experience the full spectrum. To take advantage of the full spectrum, we must recognize where we are in it during each dream.