Dreamwork as Spiritual Practice

Review: “Lucid Waking”

Lucid Waking: Using Dreamwork Principles to Transform Your Everyday Life by Zoé Newman. White Egret Press. Paperback. 260 pages. $17.95.

Lucid WakingHow would our lives be different if we approached waking situations with the same openness we might bring to our dreams?

When we are reflecting on our dreams, we don’t need to apply the same expectations and judgments, take sides, or assign blame—we tend to think more in terms of exploring and experiencing, trying out different points of view, considering possibilities, and finding meaning through metaphor and creativity. These dreamwork skills can be cultivated in waking life, too, so that our relationship to the world around us can become as flexible, playful, unexpected and intuitive as our relationship to the dream world.

In past posts [such as: Haiku Dreams, Green Sloths & Synchronicities, and A Bird-Watching Dream Walk] I have written about the waking/dreaming continuum, and have suggested some ways in which dreamwork approaches could be applied to our waking lives, but Zoé Newman has gone far more deeply into this work in Lucid Waking—a book that offers both the imaginative insights and the practical tools we need to relate more openly (less habitually) with our waking lives. She writes:

“Lucid waking is seeing situations as opportunities for experimenting, for trying out new behaviors, for cultivating undeveloped qualities. It’s being in life in a playful, risk-taking, adventurous, free way… letting the world become a classroom, a laboratory, a creative canvas.”

Reading this book makes it seem perfectly natural to learn from our waking experiences as we learn from our dreams. Using examples from the lives of real people facing real challenges, Newman explores creative ways of coping with unpleasant situations (such as getting a parking ticket), working through interpersonal conflict, and expanding opportunities for spiritual growth. She draws on some essential Buddhist wisdom about relating directly to our experience, which can be useful both in the practice of lucid dreaming and in “lucid waking”:

“Buddhist mindfulness is, in essence, a practice of bringing lucidity to our waking life. Developing mindfulness, as a matter of fact, is very similar to developing dream lucidity.”

In other words, when we become lucid in a dream, we “wake up” within the dream and become aware that we are dreaming, which opens up all kinds of new options for our responses to dream events. When we become mindful (or “lucid”) in waking life, we “wake up” to our immediate experience and become aware that this present moment offers far more possibilities than we had previously conceived. Either way, lucidity means that we are not limited by our habitual expectations and opinions, so we can relate to experiences as they unfold, with open eyes, heart and mind.

When I read Lucid Waking for the first time, I just skimmed the Appendices, but with my second reading I took a closer look and discovered that there are treasures here as well as in the rest of the book. The first Appendix describes how to apply dreamwork skills to waking experiences in a group context. I’ve found that this kind of work develops organically within my dream groups, because people bring waking experiences to share when they don’t remember a recent dream, and we sometimes also share creative projects (collage especially) and then explore these works of art and experience with the same eye to metaphor and projection as we’d use in unfolding a dream. Newman provides some great guidelines for doing this. And the second Appendix is fascinating, too—“Life as a Dream: Perspectives from Buddhism, Mysticism and Physics.” Both are well worth reading.

The whole book is filled with therapeutic tools and spiritual practices that have unlimited applications. It’s a resource that may help those who already value dreams to go further, and may give those who don’t (yet) value dreams a glimpse of how dreamwork can expand our waking lives.

[click on the picture to learn more about Zoe Newman and Lucid Waking]


  1. Tallulah

    I am so glad you are praising this wonderful book! Zoe and I were in close touch at the time she wrote the book and for several years, I have used her underlying insights and helpful exercises in my dream groups with cancer patients. I’m glad you’re pointing out the similarities between her approach and mindfulness.

    • kirstenbackstrom

      Thank you, Tallulah! Your work and Zoe’s seem complementary–and I hope people will read your books and hers together (as I did), since they approach some similar deep work (of healing and spiritual growth) from different angles.

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