Lucid Dream Incubation

Dream incubation goes back thousands of years. The ancient Egyptians practiced it, as did the Chinese, Mesopotamians, Greeks and many wisdom traditions. The literature is full of stories about people receiving messages and teachings in their dreams. Lucid dream incubation is a bit different because with a lucid dream you can engage in conscious dialogue with the messenger.

Tenzin Palmo, a British nun, spent twelve years in solitary retreat in the Himalayas, often snowed in for months in her cave. She said that this was never a problem, because whenever she needed guidance or support she’d ask for it and get it directly from her dreams. When I was in my own three-year retreat I did the same thing. Sometimes I’d find myself sitting at the feet of one of my teachers, fully lucid, and ask him questions just as I did in waking reality. Once again, whether these teachers were somehow infiltrating my mind, or were merely aspects of my own deeper mind appearing in the form of a teacher, didn’t matter. The message is what’s important, not the messenger.

Surrogate Dreaming

You can also incubate dreams for others and become a surrogate dreamer. This is a common practice in shamanic traditions, and frequently employed in Tibetan Buddhism. There are many stories and documentaries about disciples going to such a surrogate dreamer, often a great meditation master like the Dalai Lama, and asking him to help them find the rebirth of their recently deceased guru. The meditation master then “sleeps on it,” and within a few days has a dream about where to find the reincarnated teacher.

I have never actively incubated dreams for others, but I have received such dreams spontaneously. Some of these dreams were lucid, others were not. When I have had the courage to share these dreams with the people for whom they were intended, the information from the dream was always helpful. I felt like a courier of sorts, simply delivering messages to their rightful destination. Anybody who believes in the power of dreams, or anyone with an open mind, can engage in surrogate dreaming.

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Years ago I was living in a meditation center attending a crowded teaching, where there was not enough room for everyone to stay over the night. My room was being used by multiple participates, so the teacher said I should sleep in the gompa, i.e. meditation room, which is usually highly discouraged. The teacher sensing my hesitation said not to worry; I would have auspicious dreams. At such teachings many things are are commonly labeled auspicious, e.g. the weather – as well as seemingly everything else – is very auspicious, so I did not take what he said too seriously, but did sleep in the gompa as instructed.

Near dawn I had a dream where the teacher chided me for not taking meditation more seriously. “Meditation is not something that you do willy-nilly!” Additionally surprising behind him were portraits of meditation masters, not of his Tibetan tradition but rather the Theravada. Later I did attend multiple meditation retreats at Spirit Rock and Insight Meditation Society, part of the Theravada tradition. IMHO such centers excel at teaching Buddhist meditation in multiple-day/week residential retreats based methods developed in Myanmar, a.k.a. Burma, in the last century.

Though I would have preferred not to have gotten chewed out in the dream, it was extremely helpful!

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