Honoring every experience as an opportunity for learning and growth.
When my professor told us at the beginning of Winter quarter that we would be studying dreams, I wasn’t sure what to think. We focused on the book “Our Dreaming Mind” by Robert Van de Castle, one of the world’s leading experts in dream research. One of his chapters was devoted to lucid dreaming, and I was immediately enchanted with the concept. As it turns out, we got to study the topic a great deal more in depth during Spring quarter, and my mind has been opened in ways I never thought possible.
To give you a little history, lucid dreaming is the ability to be conscious while dreaming. This means that you are asleep, and dreaming, and yet you know that you’re dreaming and can consciously direct your interactions with the dream environment. While the concept has been found referenced as far back as Aristotle, there have been numerous different records of the practice across history. Tibetan Buddhists, for example, have been practicing the cultivation of lucid dreaming in what they call “Dream Yoga”. In their tradition, if a soul has undergone sufficient reincarnation, they will be able to master maintaining conscious awareness within the dream state as preparation for the moment of their death. In this space between this life and the next, their lucidity (which they believe matches the conscious awareness required in lucid dreams) will allow them to avoid a new incarnation cycle and instead move on to merge with the cosmic consciousness. In Western culture, it was Marquis d’Hervey de Saint Denys, a professor Chinese literature in France, who first worked with lucid dreams in a systematic fashion. He published over 20 years of research on lucid dreams in the book “Les Reves et les Moyens de les Dirigier” (Dreams and the Means of Directing Them) in 1867, recently translated into English for the first time in 1982.
From there, Dutch psychiatrist Frederik Willems van Eeden coined the term ‘Lucid Dream” in his 1912 address to the Society for Psychical Research. There are also records of letters between van Eeden and Freud on the topic of lucid dreams. Nearly 50 years later, Paul Tholey, a German psychologist, was among the first in the West to attempt to develop a system of therapy involving lucid dreaming, including the development of a number of induction techniques still referenced today. While there have been a handful of others who have contributed to the scientific understanding of lucid dreams in Western culture, the three most influential are Keith Hearne, Stephen LaBerge, and Harry Hunt.
Hearne and LaBerge were the two scientists credited with providing the first scientific proof that lucid dreams exist. In 1978 Hearne performed the first measurement of deliberate eye movement during a REM dream in his lab in the UK. This means that the dreamer was able to move their eyes left to right (LR) in the predetermined pattern while their brains (via EEG) showed they were in REM sleep. Unknown to Hearne, LaBerge was performing a similar study here in the United states in 1980, and Hunt in Canada in 1978. For the first time in Western science, we had empirical proof that lucid dreaming was real.
Since then, lucid dreaming has gained not only popularity among the general population, but in scientific circles as well. There is now an International Association for the Study of Dreams, founded in 1983 and recognized by the American Psychological Association. They have their own scientific journal, Dreaming, which is an interdisciplinary, peer reviewed journal dedicated to the biological, psychological, clinical, sociological, anthropological, and philosophical study of dreams. There are sleep research laboratories in major universities across the country, including Stanford (where LaBerge currently teaches), as well as whole private institutions devoted to sleep and dreams. While lucid dreaming remains only a part of the larger field of dream research, it is currently an area that shows a great deal of promise.
So now that we’ve established that Lucid Dreaming is not some Pop-Psych phenomenon, or some New Age hogwash, what can you really DO with it? Can anyone lucid dream, or is it something you are born with?
Within the scientific literature, LeBerge and others have been able to demonstrate that lucid dreaming is a skill that can be learned. However, there are a few unique challenges to lucid dream induction that can create frustration among aspiring oneironauts (dream explorers). For those who are serious about lucid dreaming, the one book you absolutely must get is “Lucid Dreaming: Gateway to the Inner Self” by Robert Waggoner. Waggoner is an international authority on lucid dreams, and is highly respected by others in his field. He has been invited to speak at several IASD conferences, as well as traveling nationally and internationally to discuss his work. You can also check out his website, http://www.lucidadvice.com/, or the site of his quarterly publication http://www.dreaminglucid.com/.
So what can you really do in a lucid dream? The answer is: virtually anything your mind can imagine. While it is a common misconception that a lucid dreamer creates a lucid dream, they can develop a very high level of influence over dream elements. The source of the dreamscape itself is something Waggoner talks about at length in his book. Basic control consists of moving oneself through space without physical effort (flying, floating, teleporting, etc), maintaining lucidity without getting distracted by dream elements, and modulating one’s emotions to prevent you from awakening. More advanced dreamers can make dream elements appear/disappear (people, objects, etc), change aspects of the dreamscape, hold conversations with dream figures, and yes even have (very realistic) sex with any person you can imagine.
The most advanced dreamers will move past the entertainment value of the dream and use the opportunity to explore oneself, as the dream represents the creation of our unconscious. Dreams have much to tell us, and lucid dreams are an opportunity to directly interact with the messenger! Imagine seeing a symbol in your dream and wondering what it meant. In your dream, you can ask a dream figure for clarification. You can explore your implicit (unconscious) beliefs and even change them if you don’t like what you find. You can work through emotional/psychological issues, face fears, practice skills, all within a realm that is safe and secure. This is the true power of lucid dreams, and the reason it is so highly anticipated. The therapeutic potential for this skill is only beginning to be explored, but holds incredible promise. It has already been used successfully in clinical trials to address chronic nightmares, but many in the field believe there is so much more that can be done with it.
I’ll undoubtedly post about lucid dreaming more, but I figured this was a lengthy enough introduction. I look forward to hearing about your experiences!