Writing the Mind is the Master

This talk, my book, and the entire intellectual pursuit which set it all off can be traced back to lucid dreaming. Although we will have time later for defining and thinking about lucid dreaming in greater depth, here I will set forth a definition of it. ‘Lucid dreaming is any dream in which the dreamer is aware of the fact that he or she is dreaming, while he or she is still within the dream’. More simply, lucid dreaming is a form of meditation in which one brings consciousness into the dream. You may be in a dream, one in which you are in a room not much different from this one, and suddenly you realize that you are in fact dreaming. You see, in almost every dream we have, we mistakenly think that we are awake. But the very knowledge that we are dreaming allows us to radically alter the appearance and form of the dreamscape. For example, if this were a lucid dream, and your awareness was present and stable, you would be able to change anything about this room, the people in it, etc. anything at all. You could levitate, create new objects, create new dream characters, change the scene entirely, and, if you really wanted to push the boundaries, you could dissolve the dream into nothingness and abide in this nothingness with no thoughts, no images, no sensation, no sense of self. You could abide in a state of pure awareness unsullied by phenomena of any kind.

One of the peculiar things about lucid dreaming, is that unlike our imagined changes, the changes that are made in a lucid dream, manifest themselves just as our experience is manifesting itself now. What I mean is that when you create an object in a lucid dream, for instance, a freshly baked apple pie, your experience of it may be no different from the last real apple pie you ate. The crust, the flavor, the way you can feel the apple slices as you cut the slice, everything may be just as powerfully experienced. In fact, where reality testing is one means of becoming lucid in a dream, I have oftentimes had to do reality tests to make sure that I am still lucid dreaming and have not actually woken up.

One other thing I would like to mention before we begin is psychedelic drugs. When reading over my presentation I realized that I hadn’t written anything about them, and given the fact that I have a picture of Terence McKenna on the hand bill, I thought that I would at least say a few words. McKenna’s quote, ‘Buddhism without psychedelics is armchair Buddhism’, is first of all hilarious, but secondly I think it is a true statement. Psychedelics as well as meditation are two powerful forms of seeking enlightenment, practices that may negate ideology and open up vast fields of experience previously thought impossible.

I could on and on, but now that we all know a few things about lucid dreaming and have tipped our hats to psychedelics let’s talk about the writing project.

This project has been in the works for many years now. I have been working on one form of it or another, in one capacity or another for nearly 5 years… and that is just the writing portion! To be strict, my primary research into meditation and lucid dreaming goes back at least 10 years. Because the project, which for the longest time I thought of as ‘my book on lucid dreaming’, has spanned so much time it has for me almost become synonymous with my own intellectual development. As the project stands today, there are writing portions that are representative of nearly all my intellectual pursuits and fancies. Nevertheless, the project began with one goal in mind, the single pursuit of writing the best book on lucid dreaming.

I had reached a point with my research in lucid dreaming where I had read all or at least most of the available books on the subject, and had researched lucid dreaming rather intensely on the internet. Some of the books, articles, and especially YouTube videos were revelations for me. In these various media I found confirmation of the peculiar and earth shattering experiences that I had been having, as well as intriguing leads into further explorations. I also began to attempt to understand lucid dreaming through these sources on a theoretical level. I am at this point convinced that lucid dreaming is a form of meditation practicable across cultural boundaries, and that it may reveal the fundamental structure of experience. Nevertheless, it seems that the majority of interpretation of lucid dreaming are rather eclectic or theological, interpretations that did not satisfy me.

It became apparent to me as I neared the end of my survey of lucid dreaming theory that most theoretical interpretations of it fell into two categories: they were either confessional, or they were eastern. In the confessional category were the books written by contemporary westerners. In these books the authors share the experiences and practices that they used to induce lucid dreaming for themselves. These authors all shared a similar secular psychological perspective colored of course by meditative practices. While possessing their own merits, these accounts did not offer careful philosophical treatment of LD. In the eastern accounts, I found an even greater phenomenological treasury of experiences, and even more esoteric and strangely effective practices for lucid dreaming. In these books, some of which were meditation manuals from centuries ago, I found a philosophical treatment of the phenomena. Whether it was Buddhist or Hindu a philosophical perspective accompanied the practices and descriptions, but these philosophical perspectives had limited explanatory power for me, and I am sure that they would be found lacking for many other contemporary people. What is one to do with theological interpretations of lucid dreaming when the doctrines of rebirth, karma, the six realms, the bodhisattva’s vow, etc are unacceptable?

I found myself in a position where I believed that I had progressed quite far in the practice of lucid dreaming itself, and could either confirm or deny experiences reported in books or videos. I also found myself in a position where I felt that I could deliver a better, more comprehensive look at lucid dreaming philosophically, and better tease out the meaning of lucid dreaming than others had before me. The occasion for the actual writing project came with an essay assignment that I received in one of my classes at the time. The prompt asked: what is mystical/ mysticism? Naturally I used the topic of lucid dreaming to answer the prompt, and wrote what was maybe a five to ten page essay.

Since that fateful essay assignment gallons of ink have been spilt and reams upon reams of paper scribbled upon, the keyboard of my computer run ragged, and my eyesight severely damaged. I’ve written, re written, un written, began again, re began, and un began, manuscript after manuscript. At one point I even had a 120 page manuscript with chapters, diagrams, and the works. I decided that it was written in the wrong voice with the wrong fundamental assumptions, so I started over.

The current manuscript that I have has luckily survived as a working project for at least four years now, although in  its current shape it is nearly unrecognizable from its beginnings. In the early attempts to write about lucid dreaming I wrote in a way that one would expect a college student to write. I made citations, stuck to the texts, spoke through the words of other, more qualified persons. But as I wrote, I kept feeling that I was lacking philosophical depth, and that in some instances I was reinventing a philosophical wheel that had been in place for centuries or more. This spurred me to read some of the classics of western philosophy. This was a huge mistake. But in all seriousness, it was also a good idea. It was a mistake because it pushed back the completion of my project by years, but it was a good idea because it gave me many examples of what to do, and perhaps more examples of what not to do in a philosophy book.

By the time I reached my current manuscript outline I was committed to three different writing styles, complete with different voices, methods of argument, and general structures. My current manuscript bears the mark of this commitment in its three-part division. The first part is a series of essays. The second a series of aphorisms, and the third is a systematic philosophical argument, or we may say phenomenology. As my project continued over the years, ideas that were previously dear to me but which I could not relate to lucid dreaming were gradually taken up in the larger work as well as a multitude of other ideas that I discovered along the way.

My encounter with western philosophy was essentially an encounter with the three horsemen of metaphysical apocalypse, those who did more to banish metaphysical thought and write materialism indelibly into the dialogue of modern philosophy than any others, these of course were Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud. Another onslaught of materialists were waiting in the wings, the Frankfurt school of critical theory being notable combatants. To finish my name dropping Kant, and Heidegger had their roles as well. All along I was constantly thinking, “yes, yes indeed, but what about meditation and lucid dreaming?” I was all along placing meditation in the midst of the most stringent materialists and seeing if it could hold its ground. The result?

I now see no contradiction between Meditation and materialist philosophy –     .



My title, The Mind is the Master, I came up with only a few days ago. The entire time before this, the project had been titled A Philosophy of the Future. I chose this latter title because my favorite book, Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche, has the subtitle prelude to a philosophy of the future, and every time I read the title of my book I thought of myself as being hearkened in the past by Nietzsche, and Nietzsche’s philosophy as being but a prelude to mine. This of course would have been ludicrous to Nietzsche and extremely offensive, but in the vainglorious spirit of the good European I’ve been having my private amusements at his expense.

Aside from this joke of mine I do see an element of truth in the idea of Nietzsche’s philosophy being a prelude to mine. In Nietzsche’s philosophy one may find a deconstruction of the notion of truth and the extreme relativization of social and cultural norms. Where Nietzsche wanders into classicism, the philosophy of power, and the worshipful praise of high modern music, I believe he should have taken things further. In Nietzsche there is a very strong counter-cultural current, after all the term free-spirit comes to us from his books, and it is in this direction that perhaps my philosophy is indeed a realization and conclusion of his deconstruction. One thing Nietzsche never adequately left behind was the influence of the concept and the relativity of experience itself. The world may be rent asunder through meditation, every item of knowledge, spatial, temporal, linguistic, or otherwise, may be consumed in the fire of awareness, a task Nietzsche at best only alluded to.

My new title The Mind is the Master, I took from a quote that had been serving as the epitaph to my phenomenology. The quote is on the pamphlet, and it is attributed to Bodhidharma, the Buddhist patriarch, who is said to have brought Chan Buddhism to China in the 5th or 6th centuries. “It has been said: Fools who seek enlightenment look abroad for exotic masters, the wise know the mind is the master”. The legends of Bodhidharma’s life are numerous and incredible; for instance he was famous for meditating in front of a blank wall for years and plucking out his eyelashes so that he wouldn’t fall asleep.

My work is actually three books, and I have written a preface that serves to introduce all three of them together. You may think of each book as being a volume perhaps. So, one title, The Mind is the Master, followed by a Preface, then a volume of essays, a volume of aphorisms, and a volume of phenomenology.

In the preface I attempt to introduce all the theoretical strands that will be taken up in the following books, and I provide some ideas on how they are all related to each other. I begin with the most ardently materialist theses: that humanity is species and that humanity is situated within history. I then go on to elaborate mankind’s essence as a natural, historical being. This essence is both representation and labor. Man represents the world for himself and he works upon the world to change it through labor. Using this as a foundation, I then go on to consider humanity’s current position both as a natural species and as historical beings. I inquire into what humanity’s role in the natural world is, and where the species is within history. These are no rosy inquiries, for I find that humanity’s relationship to nature is rapacious, and that we are collectively alienated from our own representations and our own labor power. I set the ultimate practical aim of philosophy as the development of a new mode of economic production, one that will be created through applying the logic of environmentalism.

In Book I, the book of essays, I hope to treat many ideas that have been dear to me for some time, but aren’t appropriate for phenomenological writing. I title the book Psychedelic Society, a name which I borrow from a talk given by the late Terence McKenna. This talk was given in 1987 and is available on the internet. In it Terence presents a counter-culture inspired utopian vision of a society inspired by psychedelic drug use. There are many problems with Terence’s talk, but the most important point for me and the essays is his counter-cultural and phenomenological stance vis-a-vis socialization. He argues that culture obscures ‘the mystery’; it dominates the individual, and is patently false. The Psychedelic Society would be a society in which people lived in the light of the mystery of being, a society in which cultural forms were seen as fluid constructs, a sort of utopia. The majority of the essays are my attempt to set up the encounter between this vision and the book Society of the Spectacle written by Guy Debord in 1967. Debord writes that in modern societies electronic images have come to separate the masses from directly lived experience, and exert a totally hegemonic role in controlling the consciousness of the people. In the society of the spectacle, the reality of inequality in society and the exploitation of workers in the workplace by capitalists is obscured by a beguiling host of inanities. In the encounter of these two theorists I argue in the final essay that we actually do live in a psychedelic society, but this is a dystopian version of McKenna’s vision. The mind manifested is the mind of the establishment, the life lived is a life where the mystery is barred.

Book II is a collection of aphorisms on all of the topics already mentioned and many more. The aphoristic style is the best style for recording reflections, ideas, and moments of inspiration. One simply writes the idea or vision as succinctly and directly as possible. One may abandon oneself to the idea completely, and need not worry about adding qualifications, explanations, or taking the idea through all of its implications. Further aphorisms will supply these nuances, and the reader will walk away with not so much as a formulaic philosophy, but an idea of how the author handles ideas.

Book III is finally where I deal with the problem that started it all, the problem of philosophically treating lucid dreaming. During my research I decided that the best form of philosophy to use in treating lucid dreaming was phenomenology. Phenomenology is the study of experience as it arises. While there are many problems with the tradition itself, most notably a lack of reliable method in acquiring primary experience for analysis, I retool the discipline to suit my needs. I divide this book into three sections, an introduction, a descriptive phenomenology, and an analytic phenomenology. In the introduction I define lucid dreaming and argue that phenomenology is the philosophical discipline best suited to treat lucid dreaming and meditation. I also critique the tradition of phenomenology in this section and describe meditation as the practice that must be used to gather the primary experience for phenomenology. In the following section, the descriptive phenomenology, I give detailed descriptions of each state of consciousness, waking, dreaming, deep sleep, and hypnogogia. I also describe how meditation and lucid dreaming change the appearance of these states. In the last section, the analytic phenomenology, I attempt to elaborate the meaning of lucid dreaming and meditation. I attempt to use their disruption of the appearance of everyday perception as a means to identify the structure of experience in general. Along the way, a large number of philosophical ideas that are typically taken for granted are thrown out, some of them the traditional foundations of phenomenology.

In the tradition of phenomenology it is held that consciousness cannot exist without an object, that consciousness is intentional, and that some sort of ego, transcendental or otherwise, is always ordering experience. We don’t have time to go into all of these, but I will say that in light of certain meditative practices, notably formless meditation and the lucid experience of deep sleep, these thesis are refuted. Thusly some of the most important phenomenological conclusions my work comes to are

1) there are phenomena without representation, which is to say there is experience without appearance.

2) Consciousness is not dependent upon an object

3) Consciousness is not dependent upon intentionality

4) The self is not the fundamental source of identity

And some theses that refute notions found elsewhere in traditional western philosophy:

1) The dream is not a translation of thought, it is a translation of the entire understanding

And 2) The persistence of consciousness into deep sleep is possible. Maintaining consciousness throughout the whole sleep cycle is possible

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