An American Mystagogue

Forget lucid dreaming; Are you lucid waking?



Hand with Reflecting Sphere 


M.C. Escher 

“How very paltry and limited the normal human intellect is, and how little lucidity there is in the human consciousness, may be judged from the fact that, despite the ephemeral brevity of human life, the uncertainty of our existence and the countless enigmas which press upon us from all sides, everyone does not continually and ceaselessly philosophize, but that only the rarest of exceptions do.” 

― Arthur Schopenhauer


The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines lucidity as the following-

:  clearness of thought or style
:  a presumed capacity to perceive the truth directly and instantaneously :  clairvoyance
The word ‘lucid’ has its etymological root in the Latin word lucidus which means “light/bright/clear”. Clear-mindedness is generally hallmarked as ‘lucidity’, but what exactly is a clear mind? Lucidity is an ambiguous concept, it is something that everyone has experienced but very few could distill the concept from the sensorium and noise of everyday life. We are not trained to study the individual faculties and expressions of the mind, and as such society tends to use vague words that everyone sort-of understands or gets ‘the gist of’. Like imagination, volition, and sincerity, these subtle mental forces are not easily distinguished from the claptrap of the present, and takes special attention to get to the point where one can “point” at a mental process and go “AHA! I see you now, lucidity!”. Humans are decent at spotting the ‘results’ of certain mental faculties, but spotting them as they happen is another thing entirely. Smelling piss isn’t catching someone with their pants down, if you don’t mind my metaphor.More likely than not you’re first or most common encounter with the term lucid/lucidity is due to ‘lucid dreaming’. Is it related to what I am going to write about? Yes and no. This is not a post about lucid dreaming, but it is my personal experiences with lucid dreaming that prompted the interest. You see, back a few years ago in The Infinity Network’s irc chat a bunch of us were discussing lucid dreams and shared dream phenomena. There were experiments done and some amount of practice but for the most part I missed out on the culmination of the experiments as it was about that time I packed my rucksack and started footing it across the continental United States.
However, on my journeys I was afforded vast amounts of free time; one of the perks of being a transient. There were many days in which I would sit in a nondescript campsite off the side of the road or in some sort of forest and practice trying to lucid dream, as well as meditate. I figured that it would help to build up my resolve and stamina to practice clearing and manipulating my mind in the open environment, at the mercy of the weather, seasons and mosquitoes. It was in Chattanooga, Tennessee while sleeping in a grove of trees located in the industrial district that I had my first successful lucid dream, a W.I.L.D or Wake Initiated Lucid Dream.
(Chattanooga at night)
I had never been much of a dreamer. Growing up as a kid, if I could remember my dreams, they tended to be a level of strange and surreal that shocked my peers and that has only grown weirder with age. I loved my dreams, but could only very rarely remember them (the only exception to this would end up being that when I traveled, I dreamed and recalled quite a lot), and I had never had a lucid dream (that I could remember) on my own, as some people do. So when I successfully W.I.L.D’ed it was quite a milestone for me.

I won’t bore you by going in depth about the subject of lucid dreaming, there is more than enough information about it on the internet and I wouldn’t be able to cover it as thoroughly as I might like; suffice to say the experience was life changing. I had been laying in my tent on a sunny late summer day, eyes closed and repeating a self-made mantra and visualizing a chasophere. I was not sleepy one bit, I had decided I wanted a lazy day (was exhausted from walking around with all of my possessions on my back) and my friend whom I was traveling with had gone off on a mini-adventure. Tiggle, my dog, was curled up around my feet and without any amount of tiredness left in me after a long nights sleep and a morning nap, I managed to slip directly into a lucid dream state after what was probably a couple of hours of complete stillness. I ignored the aches, pains, and itches that my body flung at me to test whether or not I was truly ‘asleep’, and suddenly where there was only blackness there began to be hypnagogic imagery dancing on my eyelids. Soon after that, I began to see my arms in front of me and just as vivid as real life, out of the darkness came a ‘scene’ in which I was sitting in a cafe with a random guy I had met at a festival months beforehand and wasn’t particularly friends with. I could ‘feel’ my body laying down in the position I had been in, in the tent. When I tried to move my arm, just like I do in waking life and with a sense of that arm being in that tent by my side, my new virtual reality arm moved around instead. I mucked around for a little bit and ended up getting so excited by the lucid dream that I woke up.

This would be the first and last time I lucid dreamed for quite awhile. But I had proven to myself that not only could it be done in general, but that myself could accomplish a lucid dream. When I returned to my home state and settled back into the domesticated life (to whatever extent that I have) I started having an interest in lucid dreaming once again, due to seeing the topic brought up in a variety of online groups and forums. I tried to replicate my lucid dreaming experience in this housed life. Things did not go according to plan. I found it not only immensely more difficult to lucid dream for me in civilized living conditions but it was also much harder to recall my dreams. The beds were too soft. I slept too soundly. I didn’t have to wake up with the sun and go to sleep with the sunset. I could indulge in late nights thanks to electrical lighting, so on and so forth. When I had been traveling, sleeping out in the wilderness and off the road kept my mind alert, kept it vigilant and focused. It was at that point I realized I didn’t understand lucidity. That moment of having a W.I.L.D had shown me that I hadn’t really had a grasp on what it was exactly, I couldn’t point to it in myself and go “Aha! Lucidity!” except for after the fact.

But now I had a piece of evidence, a phenomenological snapshot of what lucidity was. Those moments leading up to and after the W.I.L.D experience were not the normal states of mind I was absorbed with day to day. They felt ‘focused’ like a magnifying lens angling into a hot dot of sunlight on a dead leaf. It took finding that focus to realize that day-to-day and even in the life of a transient (where I was certainly more vigilant than in a house) I was not generally speaking ‘lucid’ during the day, either. Since I had completed a sort of ‘pass/ fail’ test of lucidity, that slippery mental concept, with the W.I.L.D. I could finally see what lucidity was not. And I was that not lucid far more than lucid, even while awake. I had the illusion of lucidity while awake, which was promptly shattered.

I realized that part of the reason I had such a high failure ratio for my lucid dreaming attempts was because I was not a very lucid individual at that period of time. I had gone from living outside to cushy indoor beds and sinks and stoves. It was intoxicating in its luxury compared to sleeping on the ground and cooking with stick fires and scavenging food. The softness of the situation had made it even easier to forget myself, and lose lucidity. I realized that meditation would be instrumental in the honing of this ‘lucid focus’, and began working backwards from lucid dreaming into such meditations. I had never been into meditation very heavily, and was quite the amateur at this time. I had a hunch that the lucid feeling I had experienced right before my W.I.L.D, which felt very much like an altered state of consciousness, might be brought about by zazen meditation. After much practice, I found I was correct. The mental state I was getting into after much practice of zazen was indeed the ‘focused lucidity’ preempting the virtual reality experience.

But the identification and distillation of what ‘lucidity’ was hooked me like an earworm. I was caught in a net of mystical/philosophical questioning. I had found not only lucidity, but also automaticity. Without lucidity, our actions are reactive and automatonesque. Defining lucidity had forced me to define the lack of lucidity.  I now believe the mind has a way of tricking a person via autobiographical memory to give the appearance of semi-consistent ‘lucidity’ where there is mostly an ocean of automaticity.

And even more concerned I became with the idea that to be lucid in a dream, while perhaps more fantastic seeming than being lucid while awake (lucidity which is a fundamental aspect of volition, or will) was a shadow, a mere hint of the possibilities that a lucid waking individual possesses around them. I believe to be awake and lucid bears even more power in the waking reality than lucid dreaming bears power in dreams. Life is not an “on-the-rail’ shooter , or at least it doesn’t have to be. If you walk through life non-lucid, you are so much dust on the wind, a biological tumbleweed.

Play it like a sandbox. Stay lucid.

~ Seth Moris



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