What Happens After We Die?

A few weeks ago, I went with a friend to pick up a Buddhist nun at the airport so we could take her to make a short visit at a Buddhist monastery before we put her on a train to continue her travels.

I’ve been to Buddhist monasteries before, but those visits had been in the context of a retreat. This was a different type of visit and I figured that there had to be something interesting about the experience that I could bring back to my blog.

Surprisingly, other than a few minor details—for example, when it reaches a certain temperature, even monastics will complain about the cold—the visit itself was mostly unprofound.


One thing did come up, though.

Before we reached the airport my friend asked me what I thought of the concept of rebirth.¹

I said, “Well, I could give you the typical answer that all dharma teachers give when faced with such metaphysical questions.”

He said, “What’s that?”

I said, “’What does that have to do with your life, right now?’ or ‘how does that affect the present moment?’ Along with a mysterious smile.” My boyfriend and I call answers like this as doing the “Zen shuffle.”

He said, “Let’s ask [our nun] when we see her and see if she answers the same way.”

So, we did, and we explained to her our reason for asking. She responded with, “Wow, now I’m nervous.”

Then she proceeded to talk about rebirth in a concrete and informed way that I’ve never heard from any other monastic. When she was done, I told her that it was the best answer that I’d heard so far, and then she accused me of being a suck-up (another detail—monastics have a sense of humor).

Her answer was this:

She knows that it is popular these days for Buddhists, especially Western Buddhists, to try to explain away rebirth by claiming that the Buddha only mentions it because it was his cultural inheritance at the time (growing up in ancient India). However, from her perspective, rebirth can’t be separated from Buddhism because the whole point of practice is to escape from the Samsara (which is the cycle of continuous rebirth).

However, this is not the final word on the dharma. No one has the final word on the dharma and that’s because Buddhism is an incredibly diverse and ever-evolving religion.

Some of the various traditions are so different from one another that they are barely recognizable as the same religion. For example, some traditions believe in multiple Gods and some believe in none.

For me, I’m pretty happy to hear someone practices meditation, at all, let alone a specific kind. If they identify themselves as Buddhist, that’s even better. I’m definitely not going to nit-pick about their specific beliefs.

Ever since we had that brief conversation I knew that I wanted to blog about it, but I’ve also been spending a lot of time figuring out my reason for wanting to blog about it.

I’ve realized that it was very refreshing to me that she gave full disclosure. In my experience, many Buddhist practice teachers are afraid to have any conviction about metaphysical claims. Perhaps it’s the cultural climate and perhaps they don’t want to influence the beliefs of others.

However, even if some interpret Buddhism as a religion that doesn’t focus too much on metaphysics, that doesn’t mean that the question, “What happens after we die?” is not an important question to others.

I’ve seen this question asked several times in the context of dharma talks and seen several people get disappointing answers—the Zen shuffle.

This one was very simple: Samsara is real.

I’m putting this out there for anyone who wants a straight answer.

How important is it to you to have metaphysical beliefs? Do you think they’re important or merely a distraction from your present life?

¹This is a concept that is similar to reincarnation, but the definition of “rebirth” depends on your religion.  Several religions contain a similar concept with varying ideas of what exactly goes on between lives.

How To Benefit Even More From Your Dreams By Lucid Dreaming

Keeping with the dreaming theme, this week I’m going to talk about lucid dreaming. Lucid dreams are dreams in which the dreamer is aware that she is dreaming.¹

Although, lucid dreaming has been around for centuries, conventional science did not accept lucid dreaming as a real phenomenon until the late 1970’s/early 1980s.

This is when Keith Hearne, in 1978, and Stephen LaBerge, in 1981, independently tested lucid dreamers by measuring eye movements during the REM stage of sleep.

The theory was that REM movements corresponded with vision in dreams—when a dreamer looks left in his dreams, his physical eyes will look left as well.

Their theory was correct. They conducted these experiments and found that lucid dreamers could use REM to communicate messages to the researchers while they were sleeping. The lucid dreamers correctly answered “yes” and “no” questions using REM, and gave other indications of their conscious awareness while in a dream state.²

As bizarre as that sounds, lucid dreaming comes in various forms and is a fairly accessible experience. Some people are more naturally inclined to lucid dream than others. I started lucid dreaming when I was around the age of six. It was such a common experience for me that I didn’t realize until I was much older that not everyone has lucid dreams.

The reason lucid dreams are desirable is obvious: you get to do whatever you want in your dreams.

When I was really young, my biggest lucid dream activity was flying. When I got a little older, I switched to having telekinesis (I won’t go into the reasons for that here).

These days, I tend to hang out with people that I miss and I can’t physically visit. During some of the really cold and dark stretches of this past winter, I spent some of my lucid dreams at the beach.

How to Have a Lucid Dream

According to the book Lucid Dreaming: The Paradox of Consciousness During Sleep, research on lucid dreaming indicates that most people can increase their lucid dream frequency considerably.³

It’s not unusual for some people to start having lucid dreams as soon as they learn that there is such a thing is possible.4

Step 1

If you don’t have good recollection of your non-lucid dreams, then work on that.

Step 2

While you’re working on that or if you already have good recollection of your dreams, you can also employ one or many other techniques for having what is called a “pre-lucid” dream.
A dream is considered pre-lucid as soon as you ask yourself whether or not you are dreaming. If you answer, “yes,” then your dream becomes lucid. If you answer “no” then your dream falls back into an ordinary dream.

There are a few techniques that might help you have pre-lucid dreams that I gleaned from Lucid Dreaming that I’ll mention here:

The first is to condition yourself to ask yourself whether or not you’re dreaming in your waking life.

You can do this by either habitually asking yourself whether you’re dreaming at random intervals throughout the day or by using a trigger. If you’re using a trigger, ask yourself whether or not you’re dreaming every time a regular event happens in your waking life. For example, every time you walk by a designated object in your house.

The other is to fall asleep while thinking about lucid dreaming. This can be done by reading about lucid dreaming just before bed, pondering it, or repeating a mantra about it, such as, “I am dreaming,” as you are falling asleep.

Finally, some people achieve lucid dreams by completely skipping the pre-lucid state and going straight to lucid. They do this by meditating while they fall asleep. Those who are already very skilled in mind control (such as monks and yogis) do this by concentrating on their own conscious awareness as their bodies’ falls asleep. When they do this, they can witness their own sleep cycle. This seems like the hard way to go about it, but feel free to give it a try.

Step 3

Once you are having a pre-lucid dream, then the next step is to get yourself to answer, “yes” when you ask yourself whether or not you’re dreaming.

For this, here is a list of suggested tests that you can use to try to determine whether or not you are in a dream.

You can:

  • Try to push through a wall (walls are less solid in dreams).
  • Pinch yourself—yes, this is really a test, and your skin will respond differently to the pinch.
  • Try to read something—text doesn’t like to stand still in dreams or will be fuzzy.
  • Try to pick up something heavy or do any other similar task where there is a very specific expected physical result. If you don’t get the expected result (like you can easily pick up a car without strain) that’s an indication that you’re dreaming.

Once you get past this step, you’re now a lucid dreamer. Continue practicing lucid dreaming and you will improve! I’ll look forward to hearing about your awesome dreams!

To learn more about maintaining a lucid dream once it becomes lucid, you may want to check out this website on lucid dreaming.

¹ Green, C. & McCreery, C. (1994). Lucid dreaming: The paradox of consciousness during sleep. London: Routledge., p. 1.
² ibid., p. 7.
³ ibid., p. 115.
4 ibid., p. 114.

How to Start Benefitting From Your Dreams

The usefulness of some things are seasonal (snowboard) or have a time limit (bananas), but I’ve discovered that my dreams have shown to have consistent usefulness.  When I say dreams, I don’t mean things that I hope will happen in the future.  By dreams, I mean those mini-movies that we all experience during our sleeping hours.

For example, I had a dream where a friend came to me and requested Reiki healing in very specific spots.  I gave her the requested Reiki in my dream.  I emailed her the next day to tell her about it.  She then confirmed that she needed healing in those same specific spots on her body and had actually woken up the next morning feeling much better than she had been feeling in a while.

I had another dream that startled me so much that I sat straight up in bed because I was experiencing the emotions of a close family member.  This experience allowed me to be much more empathetic and supportive while he went through a major transition in his life.

A couple of nights ago, I dreamt that a friend was experiencing trauma in her life only to find out the next day that one of her family members was very close to death.  If I had acted on that dream, I could have offered support much earlier and without specifically being asked.

My dreams have also helped me relieve many shadows, as well.  I had an intense reoccurring dream for decades until I finally figured out what it meant.  Figuring out the meaning of that dream allowed me to release a lot of fear and guilt that I was subconsciously carrying through my life.  Once I did that, I never had the dream again.

Even if we don’t have psychic dreams or groundbreaking dreams, I believe that we can all get some benefit from remembering and interpreting our dreams.  Once you develop a strong relationship with your dreams, you will be surprised at what they reveal.


How to Start Benefiting From Your Dreams

  1. Start remembering your dreamsThis is easier for some people than it is for others.  Repeat to yourself your intention to remember your dreams just before you go to sleep.  Try to make it your last thought. If that doesn’t work, the other way to remember a dream is to wake up while you’re having a dream.  Dreams usually occur about 90 minutes into the sleep cycle—throughout the REM stage of sleep.  During your first cycle, your REM period will last about ten minutes long, and after each cycle, it can grow up to an hour long.If you want to wake up in the middle of a dream, then set an alarm sometime during one of the times that you will likely to be experiencing REM.  There are apps out there that will help you track your sleep cycle, too.  If you want to do it the old-fashioned way, it’s a lot easier to practice during a nap or a morning when you are sleeping in.  When we sleep at times that our body expects to be awake, our sleep is a little lighter and the line between being asleep and being awake is a little thinner.
  2. Write them downThis is pretty obvious: Write everything down as quickly as possible.  For me, I’ve found that if I spend too much time writing out the early details of the dream, I might forget the final details before I’ve gotten a chance to write them down.  So now, before I start writing, I review the dream in its entirety in my head.  When I do this, I note details throughout the dream that I know will lead to the recollection of further details.  I also type a lot faster than I write longhand, so it makes a lot more sense for me to take the time to open up my computer than just keep an open notebook on my bed stand.
  3. Revisit them about a week laterTo get the best perspective on your dreams, it helps to get distance from them.  Have you ever read something that you wrote a week ago, a month ago, a year ago or a decade ago?  If so, you understand.
  4. Figure out what certain people and situations symbolize for youThe only way to do this is to start figuring out what things mean.  Once you’ve figured out one symbol, you can always use that to interpret future dreams.  For example, for me, the presence of deep water symbolizes my subconscious.  If it’s dark and murky, then I know that there are things lurking in there that I can’t see.
  5. Be patientI add this step to every how-to because it’s so very important to learn that if we want to see real results that we must be patient with ourselves.

Once you get good at this, you will enjoy the benefits of knowing what your mind doesn’t tell us when you are in a conscious state.  Don’t you want to know what it’s up to?

Have you had any weird or memorable dreams that you just can’t forget?  Tell me about them!