Andrew Holecek: Dream Yoga, Part 1

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June 20, 2016

Andrew Holecek: Dream Yoga, Part 1

Andrew Holecek June 20, 2016

Andrew Holecek is an author and spiritual teacher whose longtime study of Buddhism blends ancient wisdom with contemporary knowledge and insights. With Sounds True, he has published the book Dream Yoga: Illuminating Your Life Through Lucid Dreaming and the Tibetan Yogas of Sleep. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Andrew and Tami Simon speak on the practice of dream yoga and the foundational practice needed to plumb its depths: lucid dreaming. They discuss how to train to induce lucid dreaming, including daytime practices one can use to awaken in a dream. Finally, Andrew talks about the innate need for healthy sleep and how beginning a new spiritual practice during the nighttime hours is not something to be undertaken lightly.
(67 minutes)

Listen to Dream Yoga, Part 2 »

Andrew Holecek teaches seminars on spirituality, meditation, and dream yoga. He is the author of The Power and the Pain: Transforming Spiritual Hardship into Joy and Preparing to Die: Practical Advice and Spiritual Wisdom from the Tibetan Buddhist Tradition. For more information, visit andrewholecek.com.

Author photo © Cindy Wilson 2013

Listen to Tami Simon's interview with Andrew Holecek: Dream Yoga, Part 1 »

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Founded Sounds True in 1985 as a multimedia publishing house with a mission to disseminate spiritual wisdom. She hosts a popular weekly podcast called Insights at the Edge, where she has interviewed many of today's leading teachers. Tami lives with her wife, Julie M. Kramer, and their two spoodles, Rasberry and Bula, in Boulder, Colorado.

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Andrew Holecek is an author and spiritual teacher whose longtime study of Buddhism blends ancient wisdom with contemporary knowledge and insights. He is renowned for his expertise in lucid dreaming and the Tibetan yogas of sleep and dream. With Sounds True, he has published the books Dream Yoga: Illuminating Your Life Through Lucid Dreaming and the Tibetan Yogas of Sleep and Dreams of Light: The Profound Daytime Practice of Lucid Dreaming. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Andrew and Tami Simon discuss his latest book, including: the traditional three-step approach to the practice of illusory form, seeing the world in a more authentic way and connecting to what’s real, uncovering the roots of human suffering, the intersection of neuroscience and the world’s wisdom traditions, and much more.

What Are Nocturnal Meditations?

Many people know about meditating during the day, but few are aware of the “nocturnal meditations.” They’ve been around for thousands of years, tucked away under the blanket of darkness. Until recently, the nocturnal practices have been secret, deemed too subtle for the West. But with the mindfulness revolution in full swing and meditation now in the public domain, these “dark” practices are finally coming to light in the modern world. What surprises most people is how deep and vast these nocturnal meditations are—and how applicable to daily life.

The practices start with lucid dreaming, which is when you wake up to the fact that you’re dreaming while still remaining in the dream. Once it was scientifically proven in 1975, lucid dreaming has gained traction in the West. Initially, lucid dreaming isn’t much of a meditation. Most people use it to indulge their fantasies—to fulfill their wildest dreams in the privacy of their own mind. At this entry level, lucid dreaming is the ultimate in home entertainment, where you become the writer, producer, director, and main actor in an Academy Award-winning production of your own mind.

But the higher levels of lucid dreaming have extraordinary psychological and even physical benefits. You can transform nightmares, rehearse things, resolve interpersonal issues, even improve athletic performance. Neuroscience has shown that you can use your mind to change your brain (neuroplasticity), and modern dream research continues to show that you can use your dreaming mind to enhance a host of daily psychological and physical activities. Lucid dreaming at this higher level is like going to night school.

With some proficiency in lucid dreaming you can progress into dream yoga, which is when dreams are used for spiritual transformation. While lucid dreaming is largely about self-fulfillment, dream yoga is all about self-transcendence. It’s been around for thousands of years, and the Buddha (the “awakened one”) was really the ultimate lucid dreamer.

Dream yoga, like lucid dreaming, progresses from beginning to advanced stages. A beginning yogi starts by addressing the question, “What are dreams made of?” They’re made of your mind. So, by working with your dreams at this refined level, you’re working to transform your mind. One early stage of dream yoga involves transforming the objects in your dreams, like changing a dream flower to a dream chair. In so doing, one discovers the malleable nature of mind and the truth of the saying, “Blessed are the flexible, for they are never bent out of shape.” This is the “yoga” or “stretching” part of dream yoga, which develops increased pliability of mind.

One amazing quality of both lucid dreaming and dream yoga is that the benefits of what you do in your dreams don’t stay tucked into the nighttime mind. By changing a flower into a chair in your dreams (not as easy as it sounds!), you realize you can change anger into compassion in your life. In other words, your emotional states are not as solid as you think. They’re essentially as solid as a dream, and therefore as workable.

At higher levels of dream yoga, you use the “example dream” or “double delusion” of the nighttime dream to wake you up from the “real dream” or “primary delusion” of daily life—which is precisely what the Buddha did. You eventually come to the shattering conclusion that this is a dream. When seen properly—when you’re lucid to it—your waking reality is no more concrete than a dream. So a dream yogi lives by the maxim, “This is a dream; I am free; I can change.” It’s a liberating wake-up call, with profound implications for all of life.

For most people, lucid dreaming and dream yoga are enough. But for those wanting to go to “graduate school,” one can advance into sleep yoga (related to yoga nidra in Hinduism). As incredible as it may sound, this is when you learn how to become lucid in deep, dreamless sleep. In Buddhism this is called “luminosity yoga” and adheres to the teaching that fundamentally there is no darkness within—only light unseen. Sleep yoga turns on this nightlight, a luminosity so radiant that it eventually illuminates even the day. Scientists are currently trying to prove this outrageous claim with advanced meditators and dream yogis.

“Lucidity” is a code word for awareness. So, by working with any of these three practices, you’re working to cultivate greater awareness. And what doesn’t benefit with more awareness? All three of these practices engage the principle of bi-directionality, which is all about opening a two-way street between the daytime and nighttime mind. What we do during the day affects how we sleep and dream; and what we do when we sleep and dream affects how we live during the day. By becoming lucid to our dreams and to dreamless sleep, we’re secretly becoming more lucid or aware of our daily lives. So lucid dreaming leads to lucid living.

As fruitful as these three practices are, there is one final step for those wanting to take the deepest dive. With some proficiency in sleep yoga, one can advance into bardo yoga (“gap” yoga), which is when the darkness of sleep is used to prepare for the darkness of death. In Greek mythology, Thanatos (the god of death) and Hypnos (the god of sleep) aren’t just brothers—they’re twins. Death and sleep are intimately related. In Buddhism, death is referred to as “the dream at the end of time.” So bardo yoga, which is a Tibetan contribution, engages the tenet that dreamless means formless, and formless means deathless. Bardo yoga therefore introduces you to your formless/deathless nature—to who you really are. It points out the deepest part of you that doesn’t get old, sick, or die. Bardo yoga is a “dead end” practice that points out eternal life.

We spend a third of our lives in sleep. If you live to be 90, you’ve slept for 30 years. Imagine what you could do if you had even a fraction of that time. We spend 25% of our sleep time in dreams, which adds up to about a month a year. Think of what you could do if you added a month to each year! That’s real “overtime.”

The nocturnal meditations are cutting-edge practices. Neuroscientist Matthew Walker writes, “It is possible that lucid dreamers represent the next iteration in Homo sapiens’ evolution.” How evolutionary does that make lucid sleepers, let alone lucid “die-ers”? Do you want to be the first one on your block to take the lead in evolution? Then open your eyes to the dark, engage the nocturnal meditations, and discover the leading light within.

Andrew Holecek, What are Nocturnal Meditations
Andrew Holecek

Andrew Holecek is the author of Dream Yoga: Illuminating Your Life Through Lucid Dreaming and the Tibetan Yogas of Sleep. He is also the founder of Night Club, an online platform that explores the nocturnal meditations and the science that supports them. Learn more about Night Club!

Andrew Holecek: Dream Yoga, Part 2

Andrew Holecek is an author and spiritual teacher whose work blends a background in ancient Tibetan Buddhism with the leading edge of contemporary Western thought. With Sounds True, he has released the book Dream Yoga: Illuminating Your Life Through Lucid Dreaming and the Tibetan Yogas of Sleep. In the fascinating second part of his interview on Insights at the Edge, Andrew speaks with Tami Simon about pressing beyond lucid dreaming and into the actual nighttime practice of dream yoga. They talk about illusory form yoga and invoking specific imagery within dreams to cultivate positive qualities. Finally, Andrew describes the ability to actually meditate within dreams—as well as the doorways to personal inquiry this practice can unlock. (78 minutes)

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Reflecting on the discovery of this “flower” in the shadows, I’m reminded of, and heartened by, the fertility of dark times. Many people are feeling a collective spiritual darkness now, exhausted and frustrated, maybe also angry and scared. Having compassion for ourselves and others is especially important in times of literal and metaphorical darkness. How can we do this if we already feel overloaded?

Nature is our ultimate model and guide—in the light, in the dark, and in the most surprising and gorgeous ways. Cue the weird, glorious cabbage flower which came to life in the dark. What was being shown there?

There is the clear compost metaphor. Compost is the stuff we reject, the moldy, wilted, too hard, too soft, nasty bits that don’t make it to the table. It’s also the leftovers from delicious things we appreciate and enjoy, silky mango skins, green tea leaves, dark coffee grounds.

It all transforms into a rich sloop that eventually nourishes future plants. Our personal work includes processing our own “dark” sides, the parts we’d like to hide or discard. Self-compassion (and compassion for others) holds both the rejected and respected parts of who we are. Like composting, it isn’t always pretty, but it’s potent. Research shows self-compassion helps us stay present and kindhearted without sinking into absorptive empathy, which can lead to overload and burnout. This meditation is part of the toolkit in the audio course Shining Bright Without Burning Out.

The cycles of the natural world, into which we are interwoven, take time. It’s hard to be patient, to let everything, both scorned and enjoyed, stew in our symbolic personal compost piles. The speed with which that brew changes from nasty to nourishing varies widely with the internal and external conditions. Sometimes all those different elements take a long time to dissolve and break down. Sometimes it turns around faster than we think possible, like time-lapse photography of a log rotting on the forest floor with new green shoots springing to life overnight. Compassion is the magic ingredient that turns our personal “compost” into personal evolution.

The dark supports transformation. Times of literal darkness are needed for regeneration. Roots, seeds, and bulbs prepare. People and animals sleep. Times of symbolic darkness are also helpful. In darkness, transformative processes happen without spectators, often below the level of our conscious awareness. These are periods of catharsis, healing after trauma, cocooning in preparation for the next version of ourselves and our world.

We sometimes feel hopeless and helpless in the dark. Our society avoids sinking into it. Instead, we gravitate towards purveyors of easy “love and light!” spirituality, shying away from the deep, gooey work that happens to the larval versions of ourselves (and those around us) when we’re in the darkness of the cocoon. Self-compassion is most needed when we’re a mess.

The dark is a vital part of the wheel of our days, our years, our lifetimes. We need it to survive and be healthy in the long term. So, let’s embrace it, explore it, and be gentle with ourselves as we confront our fear of it. From this darkness we are nourished to bloom into the light.

@ 2021 Mara Bishop MA

Preorder Shining Bright Without Burning Out now! 

Mara Bishop has over 25 years of experience helping people find spiritual health and well-being. Her Personal Evolution Counseling™ method blends shamanism, psychology, intuition, energy healing, and nature-based practices. She lives in Durham, NC with a beloved family of people, animals, and plants.

More information about Mara is at www.WholeSpirit.com

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In this podcast, Tami Simon converses with Deb Dana to offer listeners a practical understanding of Polyvagal Theory and how we can begin to decode the language of our body for better health and better relationships. Tami and Deb also discuss the dorsal, sympathetic, and ventral states of our nervous system; the gifts of becoming “anchored in ventral”; neuroception, your nervous system’s way of taking in information to assess your safety; curiosity and the capacity for self-reflection; the importance of self-care; co-regulation as a biological imperative; why self-regulation is especially critical for therapists and other helping professionals; music and nature as healing resources; the practice of self-compassion as a means of “getting our anchor back”; and more.

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