My blog, Lucid Dreaming for the Earth, began as a project in which lucid dreamers collectively donate our lucid dreams for bioremediation. This can take many forms--healing the Earth and healing our human bodies, which are reflections of each other. After much experimentation, I have come to broaden my perspective of what Lucid Dreaming for the Earth means.
Here is a conversation between me and dream educator Ryan Hurd that illustrates my evolving understanding of health, wholeness, and lucidity.
1. Erin, tell me about when you started lucid dreaming, and the first impact these dreams had on your life.
As a teenager, I had many experiences we can call "lucid" or "dreaming," including visions, out of body experiences, sleep paralysis, precognitive dreams, lucid dreams, and clairvoyance. When I was 19, these phenomena really escalated. They filled me with terror and wonder, and sent me searching for people who could understand and support my way of being in the world. Because I didn't have a cultural context for visionary experiences, I felt very confused. I had difficulty because my dream life and my waking life seemed like two distinct, irreconcilable worlds. Plus, it seemed that no one around me could relate to my experiences. All my confusion--the megalomania, the masochism, the profound isolation--comes from believing I'm separate from everything else, which is just not how life actually works. (I still feel all these things, from time to time.)
Over the years, I have been blessed to meet many people who are practiced at navigating the lesser-acknowledged facets of reality. Many are elders, medicine people, or those who simply live in their hearts. For lots of human beings walking the earth today, "mystical" experiences are a normal and integrated part of life. In the words of Credo Mutwa, "Nothing is supernatural. Everything is natural."
2. Your background in indigenous ways of knowing helped frame these experiences. Can you speak a little about the process you went through that led you to see dreams as a pathway to ancestral knowledge and as a glimpse of our interconnection to all sentient beings?
Under the tutelage of Frank/Oneida elder, Dr. Apela Colorado, I got to remember that I am descended from a long line of native European and native American ancestors (and beyond). Strong people, beautiful people, gifted people. I always think I come from stars and stones. I identify strongly with the pre-Celtic Neolithic peoples, the de Dannan and the inhabitants of the Boyne River Valley. But when I introduce myself, I say something like, "On my mother's side, I am Celt and Ashkenazi Jew. On my father's side, I am Anglo-Saxon, Ashkenaz, Frank, Gaelig, Germanic, and Cherokee.
Recovering an animistic worldview (i.e., a world in which everything is alive) is very natural for me, and it has required a lot of work. So far, my process of decolonization has included treating dreams and waking life with equal respect and attention, identifying with a land and clan rather than a politic or nation, remembering my cultural stories as a framework for the world (in conjunction with the current Western scientific mythology), delving into my family's genealogy, immersing myself in the observation of nature, respecting and listening to the voices of my ancestors, learning Irish music and dance, celebrating ancestral holidays, using divination, creating ritual with other deeply-rooted tribal peoples, honoring elders, treating everything as alive and endowed with spirit, visiting my ancestral homelands, and recovering my family's tartan and ceremonial attire, and taking up the Bronze Age ceremonial horn, which I am looking to do now.
When [the late] Tlakaelel, Mexica-Toltec wisdomkeeper, elder, and sundance chief came to town, I told him that my people lost our ceremonies, and asked how to recover them. Emanating pure love, Tlakaelel took my hand and explained, "You must must do a lot of research, keep looking with your heart. If you still do not find any ceremony, then you must create it. You must create it from your heart, with respect to the elders." So, I have been following his advice, mostly by reading my ancestors' sagas, folktales, and historical documents, familiarizing myself with our old languages, staying connected to the modern caretakers of my ancestors' stone monuments, looking to my dreams, and living in my heart.
I am learning that while we can recover some indigenous ways of knowing, we are now a global tribe, indigenous to the planet Earth. It is a new time, with new circumstances. We get to create something new. It is good to have strong roots as we do this. When we try to define the word "indigenous," it eludes us. Tlakaelel explained how the Toltecs and the Lakota were the same tribe, before one group migrated South. Does that mean that the Toltec are not an indigenous people? We are all a flow of land and sky. It is fun to study the migration patterns, the oral tradition of human beings, land-given art, science, and customs that inform a culture for a time. Do Europeans originate from the Siberian steppe? All of these terms, while they have value, eventually become arbitrary distinctions. But I still like to know the story.
Dreams have also played a vital role in ancestral knowledge for me. Not only have recently-deceased ancestors given me information about my family in dreams, but my indigenous ancestors heavily emphasized dreaming as a way of knowing. By respecting my dreams, I respect my ancestors. I respect life. One of the greatest gifts I have given myself is the longterm discipline of tracking my dreams, which has taught me so much about the personalized language of my dreaming. After years of studying my dreams against the corresponding events of waking life, I have learned that bird-people bring good tidings, grocery stores symbolize abundance, and rollerskating means freedom. That said, symbols aren't static. They can evolve in meaning over time, and they have many layers.
Often personal symbols can also be cross-cultural symbols. For example, I noticed that when I dreamed of foxes, difficulties could soon arise in life. I thought maybe this was my own personal harbinger of complication, but I learned from two experienced teachers from Asian traditions (one Daoist/Chan and one Tibetan) that foxes carry a "negative portent" in their traditions as well. For me, this is a poignant illustration of our interconnectedness, that dream symbols can come to us, and that we can interpret them.
Accurately dreaming someone else's life circumstances also shows us our interconnectivity. We dream of someone, and the content of the dream turns out to be true, whether literally or symbolically. We don't have to "do" anything about this; we can just hold what we see with respect. If the dreams feel invasive, we can work on improving our boundaries or create a small ritual to protect ourselves from the intruding energy. Sometimes I will have a dream that describes a person's illness to me, or how to treat it. I can use this information if an appropriate context arises, i.e., the person comes to me for advice, or I run into them out of the blue, etc.
Dreams also connect us because we all dream. Humans and animals (and who-knows-what-else) share in dreaming. Even more fundamentally, dreams show us the transient nature of reality. Have you ever tried to examine something closely in a lucid dream? Elements shift and change, and I can never quite pin anything down. This exaggerates a truth of waking life: things seem distinct at first, but on closer inspection, we see that all life is really made up of an endless flow of relationships.
Lucid dreaming shows us how our thoughts and feelings can affect our environment. There really is no separation between us and our surroundings. If I am fearful or angry, my dream will reflect and magnify my own feelings back to me. If I project love, the scene changes in kind. This holds true in waking life as well. I do not mean that joyful dreams are good and scary dreams are bad. Dreaming makes sure that we experience the host of human emotions, especially those that we prefer not to feel while we are awake. Our emotions connect us as human beings. We are all in the same boat, working with similar materials and limitations.
3. In your blog "Lucid Dreaming for the Earth," you have documented your process of engaging lucid dreaming as a way to dream for the earth. How has your view changed as you went deeper into this journey?
As I have gone deeper into the journey, I have learned that lucid dreaming is not necessarily a hallmark of spiritual evolution. Sometimes it can even indicate imbalance. Having a baby provided me with consistent access to lucid dreaming for about two years, simply because I was too exhausted to sleep deeply. Often, my body didn't have enough energy to fall asleep. And if I did happen to fall asleep, I was still awake, i.e., lucid. Since I was spending so much time lucid, I figured, why not experiment with ways of healing? I wanted to recall the curing power of my ancestors, who exacted physical healing from the dream world. This well-documented "shamanic" phenomena happens all over the world.
I decided to start using my lucid dreams to restore the environment because I felt so sad seeing our disregard for the Earth. I wanted to make use of the tremendous power and flexibility we find in lucid dreaming to "heal" people and the world. I had fun experimenting with ways of doing this, and learned a lot in the process. While I see that we have great potential to heal within lucid dreams, now I also recognize that the impulse to fix things isn't always appropriate. Sometimes an over-eager desire to heal can undermine innate perfection or correct timing. Not only that, but when my enthusiasm is out of balance, I'm only dissipating my own reserves. Expending a lot of effort in the dreamworld isn't actually very helpful if I am exhausted in the waking world.
Something else I've learned along the way is the importance of continuity. I am learning that the ways I can help most are often unseen. Continuous presence is farther reaching than alternating bouts of output and recovery. Plus, stable presence encourages naturally-arising opportunities for healing, rather than contrived or forced ones. If I listen for how to create balance, then my responses to life will be helpful for all of us, maybe. In making decisions with everyone in mind, I might have to do something that is personally difficult, requires a lot of effort, or upsets an existing order. As long as I'm letting life cue and contextualize these movements, they'll be appropriate. Most of the time, my actions can be relaxed and invisible. Of course, I don't always succeed (far from it), and that has its place, too. I question "success" and "failure" in general.
Finally, I have learned to check my motives for what I share. If I am sharing something just so I can show off, it's not really serving the community. Right now, I am being more conservative and private with my dreams, which doesn't exactly help my blog thrive, but I'm willing to live with that.
3b. You say the earth does not need saving so much as listening. can you explain what you mean and how lucidity is part of your view?
I recently had the honor of seeing an Ivory-billed woodpecker in my parents' backyard in Florida. This bird is thought by many to be extinct. Ivory-billeds share many physical characteristics with Pileated woodpeckers, but this was no Pileated. I happened to be with dear friend who knows birds very well, including an intimate familiarity with Pileated woodpeckers. At the time, I did not know what kind of bird I was seeing, but I have an excellent memory, and I know what I saw. Its large, white bill and distinct white-black-white underwing design stood out unmistakably. It flew right over our heads in a straight, narrow clearing and landed in a nearby yellow pine.
I could barely sleep that night because I was trying to figure out how to document this beautiful, black-crested female. I brought my camera to the same place the next day, in case it came back. I talked with my friend about the importance this sighting could have for the ecology of Middleburg. In my early 20s, I left Middleburg because the deforestation and culture that lends itself to such practices broke my heart. I wanted to return when I could do something to help. Excitedly, I told my friend, "We've got to tell someone! We have to tell Cornell, we have to let birders know, we have to halt deforestation!"
Then it hit me that my emotional agenda was superseding a natural order. Yes, this was important, and yes, we would tell people. But, the best way I could "help out" in that moment was to slow down, take a deep breath, and appreciate the magic. I question whether anything truly needs helping in an I'm-your-savior kind of way. Actions inspired by deep presence ripple out and invoke the natural renewal of the world at large. (That is not to diminish the power or necessity of firm, unyielding actions to exact justice for land and people.)
The woodpecker arose in a confluence of wonder. We'd gone outside to be with the land because my friend and I were feeling the presence of the native Creek people so strongly. We did not go out there with our cameras to document an Ivory-billed woodpecker. We did not go out to save the world. If we'd done that, the bird wouldn't have come. The Ivory-billed woodpecker came because we were listening, and responding naturally. This is a good way to "save the world," and it requires lucidity. Maybe it also requires privilege, to live within circumstances open enough to enable the luxury of listening.
4. How do you honor your lucid dreaming in waking life? Do you have any practical advice or tips for others who want to open to the world of ancestral/world-honoring lucid dreaming?
The first, most practical way I honor my dreams of any kind is to write them down every morning (and often during the night). I actually just switched to recording them into my phone. Then, I type them up so I can search for themes by keyword more easily. Often, I dream of foods and herbs that are beneficial for me, so I make an effort to eat the foods that show up in a positive context. This reinforces a positive feedback loop. With a simple gesture to anchor the dream in the waking world, I am also letting my dreams recalibrate me toward health. (I can do this with anything that comes to me in a dream. If I want to acknowledge a Raven, for example, I can make it my desktop background.)
One easy way I honor my dreams is to simply say, "thank you for the dreams." I also consult a reference of dream symbols called the Butterfly Book, compiled by a trusted teacher, Liu Ming, for symbols that I want to learn more about. Then, at night before I go to bed, I recall my dreams from the previous night. All this may seem like a lot of work, but it gives me continuity between realms of consciousness. By spending time with my dreams, I can recognize when dream elements show up in waking life, which happens all the time for nearly everyone who pays attention.
To participate with lucid dreaming, I keep a blog with entries that build upon each other to create a narrative of learning. Blogging is a simple way I share. I assume there are people out there who find (or will find) this stuff useful, because I would have. The elders I've worked with have taught me to trust my instinct regarding what to share and when to share it. Lastly, I honor my lucid dreams with sincerity. I just really enjoy learning from them, and I have great respect for the dream world, which is really no different from the waking world.
For people who want to open to the world of ancestral/world-honoring lucid dreaming, I would suggest embarking on the highly personal process of decolonization. A simple prayer to your ancestors, even if you are adopted, even if you don't know who they are, yields potent results. You can make an offering of fruit, spirits, honey, food, or herbs along with the prayer. (Yes, you can do this as a Christian, too. Simply state the prayer in the name of Jesus. Christianity is an integral part to many of our heritages in the Western world.) Then, be prepared to listen in dreams and in waking life. It does not matter if your heritage seems overwhelmingly diverse, as mine did to me. Our lineages will speak to us in a way that we can manage if we request this clearly.
Also, for those of European heritage, we can examine the notion of "whiteness" and remember that we descend from a myriad of diverse tribes and cultural lands. We can look for our traditions, and notice how they are already a part of us--surnames, linguistic remnants, taste in food or clothing, attraction to particular symbols, stories, or lands, etc. We can recognize and be proud of who we are. In this way, we also honor our ancestors and the world. Ancestral remembrance can cause big changes in our lives, including a lot of emotional and situational upheaval, so having a support system (a solid community or a counselor) is imperative. It is best to work in a circle of people with the same intention of remembrance. The circle holds, amplifies, and informs everyone's process.
Lastly, if lucidity isn't happening for us while we're asleep, then let's start doing it while we're awake. Letting things come in their own time still allows for limitless proactive creativity and volition. It's just that if we're relaxed and patient, everything will go more smoothly, and we won't be overextended. These behaviors, while rarely modeled in our society, hold enormous benefit for the world. They also happen to lay a foundation for lucid dreams to occur organically.
5. Can you share one of your lucid dreams that illustrates your process?
Yes, I have a lucid dream that combines many of the elements I've been talking about. In this particular dream, I did not attempt to modify the scene in any way. I simply engaged with the dream figure and circumstances presented to me as I would have in waking life:
I visit the home of a traditional doctor of Germanic descent. He welcomes me into his kitchen as he chops a variety of medicinal roots and herbs. The sights and scents enchant me. His kitchen contains the herbal wonders of his land. He tells me he'd been expecting me, and has me lie down on his table right away. I reveal my reluctance to take up his time, since I am not showing any signs of serious illness. He gives me a look as though I should know better.
His admonishing glance helps me understand that being a doctor is not about merely treating illness once it has manifested in a way that can no longer be ignored. I've always known this in theory, but his authority drives it home. This man is an artist at maintaining balance. I see that being a doctor means cultivating health continuously, not just restoring it. He diagnoses me by examining the skin of my abdomen, and looking for any protrusions, indentations, or temperature changes. I feel very happy to be in the curative presence of a doctor from an ancestral land, whose methodologies feel so folkishly familiar.
As a student of acupuncture and herbalism, I often look to dream imagery to help diagnose and treat physical illness. The old Daoist doctors used their patients' dream content as well as their own to inform diagnosis, as did the Greeks and Tibetans. I imagine that many people around the world used dreaming diagnostically, since this seems to be a technology that human beings share. In this dream, however, I did not need to interpret any diagnostic imagery. The doctor simply told me, "you're exhausted."
He also showed me how to have a healing presence by keeping a common-sense eye on balance. I felt better just by standing near him, and woke up wanting to emulate that. I honored the dream by heeding his advice ("rest"), sharing the dream, and integrating the lessons of the dream to become a more balanced practitioner and human being.
This dream also contains information about how my ancestors may have practiced medicine. So, it exemplifies how we can dream back our fokways. Information comes in bits and pieces. When a group of people shares dreams together over time, we gather a mosaic of traditional imagery that many people consider "lost." Dreaming on places of power is very important because the land can directly transmit our cultural memories back to us through our dreams. We can pair our dream data with existing historical evidence to help bring back our native traditions in a new way.
6. What’s next for you in regards to lucid dreaming as a way of knowing? Where’s your focus now?
In addition to my love of experiencing the wholeness of our continuous and infinite body, I am also interested in exploring states of egolessness and fearlessness in lucid dreams. Recently I had a lucid dream in which I asked to meet a guide. What I found was that my sense of self expanded in an exhilarating sort of love. Maybe now I am starting to experience how we really do live in a non-dual world, where no illusion of "other" is required. I love the illusion of the other, too, though. I also like to practice sitting (nonconceptual) meditation in lucid dreams. I would like to continue with that.
Lately I have also been exploring how humour and vulnerability see me through the unknown worlds of lucid dreaming (and waking, too). This can be challenging for me, as I never know what I'll encounter, and I can default to terror quite easily. The tendency to run away or change the scene can be strong, so I would like to continue working on observing and facing what is in front of me without a desire to run away or change it. In the longterm, my intention is to embody a stable understanding of reality in which I cultivate no preferences. Of course, that is the work of a very long (series of) lifetime(s). There is a natural confidence that arises from an undefended inclusion of all life, and I would like to put this to the test, for all of us.