Sleepwalking in the Material World

An exploration of lucid dreaming, consciousness and attachment to the ego.

Children entertain strange obsessions. I’ve had my fair share of these obsessions; for a good portion of my teenage years I cared about very little besides Mongolian history and the French revolution — I wanted to know everything about the world around me. As a student in international relations, I am still walking in this journey. This journey, the one you embark on in your teenage years, is one in which you also start to shape your personality. You acquire a certain set of skills and knowledge that you believe will be useful in this world. You start dressing a certain way. You start to identify with your thoughts, your interests, your skills. You start becoming one with your ego.

Yet before I took this journey into my ego, I embarked on a much different journey, one that was focused inwards. One of my earliest obsessions, as far as I can remember, is attempting to capture the moment in which I fell asleep. Obviously, I thought, there must be a ‘transition’ — a passage into sleep — in which I drift from a conscious waking into unconscious sleep. I was unknowingly entering a state called the ‘hypnagogic state’. It’s that moment when you are falling asleep, and suddenly your entire body jerks and you wake up in shock. Yet I was never successful in capturing this moment — instead, one night, I stumbled upon a phenomenon far more bizarre. While having tea with a reasonably well-dressed elephant, I became conscious of my separation from reality — thus began my journey into lucid dreaming.

First coined by Dutch author and psychiatrist Friederik Van Eeden, lucid dreaming is a dream state in which the dreamer becomes aware of the dream itself. The dreamworld becomes a mental playground in which the dreamer can control the narrative, create, explore and engage in the most surreal of activities.

Let me paint a word-picture of how these dreams play out. You’re living your normal life, nothing seems out of place. You’re lazying around in your bed, you reach for the phone to ask your friend if he’s up for a movie night, but your phone does not work. You can’t seem to understand why, and you get frustrated. Regardless of what you try to do, technology never seems to work. Maybe your room is a little too bright or dark, you try to adjust the lighting and once again, it refuses to work. You look into the mirror and your reflection is a stranger. Suddenly, you remember that you kissed your girlfriend goodnight and went to sleep just a few hours ago.

You have become aware of the dream.

At this point, one of three things will happen:
You become spooked and you wake up;
you become too excited and wake yourself up;
or you breathe, remain calm and explore.

As humans, we seek adventure and we seek newness. Lucid dreaming allows you to explore the inner corners of your subconscious mind. It allows you to create art with unimaginable, incomprehensible tools, in which the canvas has no limitations in its dimensions.

Sometimes, your inner demons and monsters pay you a visit. They can often take the form of grotesque beings. You may come across familiar faces that somehow does not seem quite right; perhaps a lack of one eye or an expressionless face that makes your skin crawl with unease. I believe that these demons are merely the embodiments of our inner fears and insecurities. A conversation with the demons can be healing, if you understand it as merely a conversation with your own psyche. I believe that everything you see, create and experience in these states of consciousness are all within you.

Descartes might entertain the idea that the subjective experience itself means that it — exists.

So now you might ask,what does this pseudoscientific, new-age, hippie propaganda have to do with attachment? I believe that attachment creates an imbalance between the conscious and the unconscious mind. Attachment to both the conscious and the unconscious prevents one from experiencing both in their most vivid nature.

Take jealousy: I remember some of my first experiences with jealousy sparked when I helped my mother buy gifts for other children. I absolutely hated it, I hated that my own mother would buy a pretty toy wrapped in a bow, for another child. Naturally, I forced my mother to buy me a gift too. The first signs of attachment to the material world begins here.

As one grows up, the material that satisfies them changes: toys to experiences, skills to even friends. Yet the attachment remains the same.

Let’s look at a trickier form of  attachment; the attachment to memories and feelings. Most of my teenage years were spent trying to collect good memories. I traveled, I kept myself busy, I kept myself learned. Yet I was constantly chasing the feeling of ‘goodness’. In early teen years, I found this joy  in going on walks with friends, or going to the movies. Later in college, substances and partying made their debut in my life. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely loved these moments. However, I was biased towards the simply ‘goodness’ and ‘joy’, while completely disregarding the profound importance of sorrow, pain and sadness.

When I have fun, I am constantly reminded that this moment will pass; all good things pass. My life will return to a state of ‘baseline normal’.  It got to the point where I was unable to truly experience the best moments because the fear of ‘baseline normality’ held me back. Last year I had the pleasure to embark on the best of adventures with my best friend. Soon we fell in love, experiencing what I could only describe as a state of euphoria, happiness and peace that emanated from every facet of my being.

Until the long forgotten demons knocked down the doors without knocking.

Insecurity, possessiveness and fear started creeping back into my life. Despite being aware of it, despite trying to run away, despite taking every step to make sure these demons held no power over me, I felt helpless. I always considered myself to be a mentally stable and healthy person; yet these thoughts influenced my psyche — pushing me into an abyss of misery and terror. Imagine that, I was feeling the best I ever felt and after just one ordinary night; it all flipped upside down. If only I had known that the childhood demons were sleeping all along: they never left.

I wanted to meet these demons. I couldn’t run away from them, so the only option available was to confront them head on. Not  in a hypothetical or flowery-language-kinda way. I mean I genuinely wanted to see these demons in their gross flaky skin. So I tried lucid dreaming again. It was not as easy as it used to be; sometimes the dreams slowly turn into nightmares. I was never lucid in these nightmares; it all felt too real. It is a terrifying moment being stuck in a loop of nightmares; I’ve woken up gasping for air with gratitude that I escaped. With time, it became easier. I started to explore parts of my mind that I was once so familiar with. It felt almost as if I was able to explore a world that I created as a child. Slowly you face the demons—and you let go. You are no longer attached. You let go of the obsessive need to hold onto the good memories.

Scientific skeptical inquiry and the scientific methods I learned in university are the tools that I will use to guide my way throughout all noise, bullshit and fear-mongering in the world; for this I am forever grateful. It is of utmost importance that one is careful when exploring the depths of one’s psyche; our longing for meaning and mystery is easy to exploit. One only needs to look at the vast sea of self-help gurus, ‘mystics’ and cult-leaders to understand that a journey into the psyche is a journey one must be cautious of.

Yet only now have I started to look within; only now am I even beginning to understand the divinity of life itself. The impact of my life onto others, onto the animals and onto the very planet. Only now am I truly understanding the immense virtue of living a kind non-destructive life, realising the meaning of pure wealth in the kaleidoscopic life that surrounds us and coexists with us in the natural environment.

This is just the beginning. Consciousness is in every conceivable form —  extraordinarily bizarre . It is the one and only aspect of the human experience that one can be sure of; yet it is the one and only ‘thing’ that literally no one seems to have an idea of.

Did the sages, mystics and poets understand? The shamans? Did they ever work out the mystery of consciousness? Or did they only just discover other levels to the human experience, levels beyond the waking-dreaming state. Perhaps one day I will understand; or better yet, experience. But it doesn’t matter — not really. What matters is an honest, kind, mindful and loving existence in this reality. And for the time I am alive and conscious in this material world, I no longer want to sleep walk – I want to wake up to the bizarreness, beauty and intricacy of life itself.