Lucid Dreaming: Dominate your dreams
By Campbell Gee
Dreaming within a dream, as in the film Inception, may still seem fictional –– but the power to control your dreams may have become a reality, and without the risk of being stuck in Limbo. For those who really dare to dream, a technique usually practiced as a form of meditation called lucid dreaming can bend otherwise uncontrollable dreams to our will.
Lucid dreaming has a longer history than you might imagine for something that sounds so new age. The term “Lucidity” was coined by Frederik van Eeden, a Dutch psychiatrist in the late 1800s, and is described as being “when a dreamer either enters dreaming fully aware, or becomes aware within a regular dream,” as defined by the Lucidity Institute on their website at (www.lucidity.com) .
According to the Institute, this unique form of dreaming arises during the rapid eye movement sleep. R.E.M takes place around 90 minutes into the restful state as brain activity is heightened. The eyes move erratically and the body becomes immobile. Before the dream control can occur, the sleeper needs to achieve deep sleep, however R.E.M is preceded by another period known as non-rapid eye movement, which consists of four stages lasting 5-15 minutes. The stages of N.R.E.M begin when one closes one’s eyes, and ends with a relaxed and semi-conscious sleep. This means that you cannot practice lucid dreaming while just on the brink of sleep.
Consciousness within dreams is achieved with patience and persistent practice and can only happen when the dreamer acknowledges that their dream is merely a contoured image of reality. Robert Waggoner, the co-editor of the online magazine, The Lucid Dream Exchange (www.dreaminglucid.com), shares tips for those trying lucidity for the first time. “Start by creating a dream journal, and keep it by your bed,” said Waggoner. “With good dream recall, you take the first step towards becoming a lucid dreamer.” Once at the R.E.M level, lucid dreams are broken up into two types –– dream-induced (when the sleeper realizes they are dreaming in the middle of a normal dream) and wake-induced (in which the dreamer goes straight into lucidity from consciousness). After a dreamer enters the wonderful world of lucidity, the possibilities are endless. “When you realize that you are lucid dreaming, you often have a sense of 'lucid euphoria' knowing that you exist in a dream and can do basically anything. You can fly, walk through walls, or breathe underwater! It's magical,” said Waggoner –– who has had over 1,000 lucid dreams since his junior year in high school, when he learned how to dream consciously. He also explains potential benefits of lucid dreaming, “You can also attempt to heal yourself while lucid and seek out information from the subconscious mind. For those with spiritual ambitions, Naropa the Indian Buddhist master calls lucid dream yoga one of the six paths to enlightenment,”
A few weeks ago I delved into the world of lucid dreaming, in an attempt to be able to control the events and outcomes of dreams I usually witnessed powerlessly. I imagined myself creating a dreamscape to achieve impossible feats such as flying or living out my wildest fantasies, like a date with Joseph Gordon-Levitt. After relentlessly Google-ing tips and tutorials on the subject, I gave lucid dreaming a shot by playing soothing binaural beats (a collection of music and tones used to increase brain activity) before bed. I tried various lucid dreaming techniques including “Nap-Induced Lucidity” from an online tutorial from a website (www.induceluciddream.com). “Nap-Induced Lucidity” is a rigorous approach which involves setting an alarm clock to go off 2-5 hours before normal waking time, then, when startled into a semi-wakeful state, diligently reminding myself to dream lucidly before falling back into a deep R.E.M sleep. Although my ability to vividly recall the details of my unconscious dreams quickly improved, I went weeks without a single breakthrough in my quest for power over my subconscious mind.
After much perseverance, however, one night my luck changed. After slipping into a deep slumber, the dream took place in a familiar setting — my own home. It felt as real as all the other dreams I had experienced, although my brain eventually sensed something odd about the image of the house I had lived in all my life. I approached a white door covered in posters I presumed to be the entrance to my bedroom and turned the knob; the open door revealed what should have been my bed, desk, and pink Ikea chair. To my surprise, I saw the downstairs closet jam-packed with winter coats and emergency supplies, instead of my record player and bulletin board camouflaged with fashion clippings from Vogue. I panicked and tried the door to what I thought was the bathroom, only to find my spacious family den complete with couches and the home theater. Before my dread built to a newfound nightmare, a thought popped up and I pieced together what was really happening. I had finally entered the endless world of dream-induced lucid dream, or DILD.
I gave myself a reality check by carefully studying my hands, as one DILD fact from the The Lucid Dream Exchange, is that during a dream a person may have an odd number of fingers, or be able to drive a finger straight through their opposite hand. To my surprise, as I tried to push my right thumb into my left palm, it went straight through. For the first time I can remember, I found myself in control of the dream environment. Though in a subconscious state of sleep, I set off to see what I could do. First I rescinded the nightmare by rearranging the placement of rooms until they matched up with my reality-based expectations.
Then the power of my lucidity reminded me I could create new rooms. So, I conjured up an image of my “perfect” bedroom –– I’m a teenager, after all –– complete with a walk-in closet, king-sized bed and the humungous print of “Campbell’s Soup Cans” by Andy Warhol that I have always wanted. Sure enough, I re-entered the bedroom door to discover my dream boudoir, but before I could explore this luxurious girl-cave, I awoke and peered at my real-life bedside clock that read 8:20 a.m. Unfortunately pulled from my enthralling dream, I groggily looked at my usual furniture and piles of to-do stuff and thought, “I did it!” I plan to continue to explore my newfound ability to lucid dream, only accessible when I slumber once more.
Dream interpretation: Analyze your dreams
By Isabel Boutiette
Since the times when people of ancient cultures gathered to recite dream myths and tales told in the dark of the night, people have been curious, fearful or even respectful of their nighttime fantasies and illusions. Even a speck of a subconscious thought still present when one awakes stimulates a query questioning the difference between dreams and reality: what significance does the dream world hold?
Dreams have never been simple. Whether thought to be a message from the heavens by ancient populations or means of understanding one’s mental state by modern psychologists, people have always sought to interpret a possible deeper meaning of their nightly dreams. Nowadays many agree that images can hold unique connotations to individuals, and that there can be archetypic images and symbols. In the last century, a few key theories have been devised to address each perspective.
Sigmund Freud, known as the father of psychoanalysis, wrote The Interpretation of Dreams published in 1899, and set the stage for standard dream interpretation. The first thing you need to know is that dreams are the passages into your desires. Freud believed the subconsciousness is fully unlocked when a person is dreaming, and therefore their deepest hopes and wishes are revealed. In Psychology, David G. Myers writes of Freud: “He argued that by fulfilling wishes, a dream provides a psychic safety valve that discharges otherwise unacceptable feelings.” (pg.282)
When interpreting dreams, Freud uses several key concepts in order to find the dream’s meaning; the most famous is symbolism. Freud theorized that a thought, person or landmark is illustrated as a symbol in one’s dream. In a classic example, according to The Romanian Association For Psychoanalysis Promotion (www.freudfile.org), Freud once analyzed his own dream, which he titled “Irma’s injection.” In this dream, Freud diagnoses a patient with an infection, and injects her with a possible infected syringe. It is said that this dream stemmed from his guilt about how he dealt with one of his patients, Emma Eckstein. Eckstein was diagnosed by Freud with nasal reflex neurosis, but her surgery turned out to be a disaster with Eckstein suffering permanent damage, connecting back to Freud’s dream indicating feelings of responsibility.
In my opinion, Freud’s wish-fulfillment theory, at least when suggested literally, doesn’t really stand. Especially since becoming a Cardinal, I’ve experienced more and more dreams having to do with stress, though the plots appear unrelated to my real-life problems. In one anxiety-dream, I am on the set of a television show, and as the director calls out “action,” I realize I not only know none of my lines, but I also don’t know why or how I got there. In another generic nightmare, I will rush to school and skitter into the classroom, simultaneously realizing that I forgot a crucial aspect of my attire in my closet — pants. In both scenarios, I spend the rest of the dream unpleasantly struggling to repair these major glitches.
According to Freud, perhaps I want to look like a fool at school among my peers, or worse, on national television. I would like to think that this is not the case, so maybe a different perspective on dream interpretation is needed to fill in the holes in Freud’s approach.
Jung believes that dreams are a place where the even deeper unconsciousness comes alive, as explained in his work The Psychology of Dreams and on the Significance of Number Dreams. Unlike Freud, Jung doesn’t believe that all dreams are based on desires. Instead, he argues that there are two ways of looking at dream analysis: objective and subjective. Both of these techniques suggest a more metaphorical application of dream imagery to the patients’ life. In the objective approach, every character in a dream represents a person in a dreamer’s real life. When I apply Jung’s theory to my stress dreams, friends laughing at me at school would symbolize just that, and directors yelling at me to get my lines right would represent authority figures — such as adults or teachers — I occasionally feel pressured by in reality.
But in the Jungian subjective approach, every character represents a part of the dreamer. For example, my peers teasing me represents my capacity to laugh at my glitches, and the director shouting at me represents my preference to control my surroundings.
To Freud and Jung, dreams are subconscious processes that unlock your unconscious and every dream has an individual meaning that depicts unique aspects of your own life. Professionals like Jung and Freud may have truly grasped the psychology behind dream interpretation, but you too can become an amateur interpreter of your own dreams if you begin to observe definite connections between the craziness of your nightly dream world within your daily psychological reality.
A version of this article first appeared in the Jan. 27, 2012 print edition of The Lowell.
Illustrations by Vivian Tong