I’ve been playing around with conscious and lucid dreaming lately, or the practice of bringing awareness into my dream life. These kinds of night journeys are sometimes referred to as waking up while asleep, and they’ve taught me a lot about my power to choose.

The other night I had a dream that was all about emotionally navigating a particular relationship in my life (I know, I know so original). Anyway, there I was bumbling around this dream world I’d created when suddenly I was aware of the emotions I was feeling and how I was using them to affect my interaction with the other person.

Then I became aware that I could choose the emotion I wanted to feel, and that this choice would change the dynamic between us.

The emotional selection space in the dream was to either let myself feel love and hug the person goodbye or to feel anger and storm out in a huff. I was aware of the ramifications that either option would present, and of the space between them.

After standing in my invented dream doorway for a while considering the two, I chose the toothier because who doesn’t like a good storm every now and again?

When I emerged from the dream I was wide awake and extra eager to write it all down. I recounted details and location, but it took me a full page of scribbling to figure out why my little tantrum itself had me so excited.

The dream had showed me unequivocally that choice, or free will as I think of it, goes far beyond my ability to choose a career, a life partner, or a preferred laundry detergent. I saw so clearly how I had choice over my inner space as much as my outer, and how these choices were just as interesting as anything I could see, hear, taste, touch, or smell.

This may all sound obvious in theory, but the more I sat with the dream the more I realized that I had largely considered free will relative to my outer world. My murky and oft obscured inner space was something I mostly believed just happened to me, and the best I could do was learn to navigate it when it did.

But here was inner choice as clear as anything else. Love or anger. Hugging it out or huffing off. And I saw the inner choice informing the outer so decisively that the inner was the prime mover.

So I’ve started playing with this new knowledge while awake in bite-sized doses. If I’m feeling some stress or anxiety I might remember to take a pause, notice it, and then ask myself what other choice is available here? The answer is sometimes surprising.

Sometimes in the middle of a work deadline I can choose an incredible sense of spaciousness and ease. Sometimes in traffic I notice a generosity in me that belies all sense of righteous pedal stomping. Or in the midst of a bout of self-criticism, a sort of gentleness takes my hand and sits with me until I soften.

We have agency in all of life, don’t we? And that agency, it seems to me, is perfect freedom. We truly get to have the life we want. In black and white, or in full color, it’s our landscape for the choosing.


Some nighttime reads:

Dream Yoga by Andrew Holocek
Lucid Dreaming by Stephen LeBerge