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A Journey Through Lucid Dreaming

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A Journey Through Lucid Dreaming.

What, Why and How.

Gabriel Begun Professor James Pasto Boston University WR150 F1 May 4, 2013

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Abstract

The following essay treats the subject of lucid dreaming. Three main themes are discussed. The

first theme treats lucid dreaming in modern science. Throughout history lucid dreams have been

practiced in many cultures. However, it was not until fifty years ago that they became the subject of

scientific interest. Since then, our knowledge and understanding of lucid dreaming has greatly

developed. The second theme considers what uses lucid dreaming can have. Some people choose to

lucid dream in order to further know themselves, while others choose to do so just for the experience.

Studies have shown that lucid dreaming can be used to fight nightmares, conduct healing practices, and

even improve athletes (among others). The third theme consists of a small introduction to learning how

to lucid dream. There exist many books and tutorials that teach lucid dreaming and some of their

similarities are discussed. The essay finishes with a small account of my own experience lucid

dreaming and an afterthought based on a talk given by Charlie Morley.

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Essay

Imagine a world that you could modify by simple will, a world where just thinking about

something would make it a reality. Imagine you are driving to work when you decide that the car you

are driving is boring. Just take a second and with the power of your thoughts you find yourself driving

that red Lamborghini you always wanted. Or what if, instead of driving to work, you could simply fly

there? And why go to work? Why not fly to the Alps or Sydney or Machu Picchu? The state of mind in

which this can be achieved is called lucid dreaming.

Lucid dreaming is defined by Celia Green as “dreaming while knowing that one is dreaming”

(LaBerge 2007, p. 307). In other words, it is a state in which the subject is asleep and aware that the

world he currently perceives is a product of his mind. Lucid dreaming is, as Hobson puts it, a state of

consciousness in which “[the] subjects regain many aspects of waking while continuing to dream”

(Hobson 2009, para. 45). As simple as this idea is, lucid dreaming is a state of mind that is not always

achieved by every individual that goes to bed. Lucid dreaming is a skill that can be learned and, like

many other skills, requires constant practice. As a matter of fact, Tibetan Buddhists have been

practicing lucid dreaming for more than 1,000 years. They use a technique known as Dream Yoga

whose ultimate goal is to take full, conscious control of the dream in order to harness the potential

power of dreaming and “observe the purest form of conscious awareness” (Turner n.d, para. 5). In the

following essay I will explain what modern science has learned about lucid dreaming. I will then

explore different uses lucid dreaming might have, and I will give an introduction on how to learn this

technique.

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What are Lucid Dreams?

In order to understand how a lucid dream is even possible, it is important to understand the

different levels and stages of consciousness. Allan Hobson, a Harvard Medical School professor

explains how the brain cycles through three consciousness stages: waking, NREM and REM. The first

stage (waking consciousness) is defined as “the awareness of the external world, our bodies and our

selves (including the awareness of our awareness) that humans experience when awake” (Hobson

2009). Waking consciousness is very similar to dream consciousness and they can be very difficult to

distinguish from each other. The second and third consciousness stages occur while we are asleep.

These two stages are distinguished by how active the brain is. REM (rapid eye movement) sleep is

characterized by rapid periodic twitching of the eyes, muscle relaxation and increased brain activity. It

has been proven that most dreams occur while in REM sleep (LaBerge 1993). NREM (non-rapid eye

movement) sleep is the period of sleep during which the subject is not in REM. NREM sleep takes up

80% of the sleeping time, and while in it, the brain has low levels of activity (Aserinsky & Kleitman

2003). Hobson also talks about two levels of consciousness, primary and secondary consciousness.

Primary consciousness consists of perception and emotion, while secondary consciousness has the

same characteristics as primary consciousness with the addition of abstract thinking and metacognitive

thinking. Hobson claims that while we dream we tend to be in a primary consciousness state. In

contrast, while waking we are mostly in a secondary conscious state. To Hobson, lucid dreaming is

when the subject achieves a secondary level of consciousness in his dreams (Hobson 2009). That is to

say, the subject is conscious of his consciousness while dreaming.

The topic of lucid dreaming has been studied by many. However, it was not until 1968 that the

first study on lucid dreaming was published. The British psychologist Celia Green published a book

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entitled Lucid Dreaming in which she predicted (but did not prove) the correlation between REM sleep

and lucid dreams. Green also suggested that a two way communication system could be created

between the dreamer and the scientist. Green's idea of a two way communication system was

fundamental in creating a solid foundation for further research (Green 1968). Stephan LaBerge

understood Green's idea and created a system during which the subjects under study would move their

eyes in a specific pattern in order to signal the scientist that a lucid dream state had been entered. This

simple technique has been the basis of many lucid dream studies.

LaBerge has been one of the leading

researchers in the topic of lucid dreaming. He has

been a Professor at Stanford University for many

years and was the founder of the Lucidity Institute

in 1987. LaBerge believes in the study of lucid

dreaming because it allows dream scientists to

have more control over their subjects. Some of

LaBerge's first research was concerned with the

way time flows during a dream. It had previously

been speculated that dreams could last less than a

second of real life. LaBerge proved that this

less than a second of real life. LaBerge proved that this Figure 1 shows the results

Figure 1 shows the results of LaBerge's work

taken from his dissertation (LaBerge 1980).

speculation was wrong and that in fact, our perception of time while asleep is very similar to our

perception of time while awake. The experiment was carried out by instructing lucid dreaming subjects

to count to ten in their dreams. The dreamer would have to signal the start and the end of the count with

a specific eye pattern. This way an outside observer would be able to notice when the count started and

when it ended (LaBerge 1993).

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LaBerge also conducted a study that proved that a person could control respiration while lucid

dreaming. LaBerge proved this by asking three subjects to either hold their breath or breathe rapidly

while signaling with eye movements the start and the end of the exercise. The subjects succeeded a

total of nine times, and in each case a judge was successfully able to predict (using a polygraph) which

of the two breath patterns had been executed (LaBerge 2007). Further research by LaBerge proved that

while in a dream, the brain actually signals the body how to move, yet the signal is inhibited before it

reaches its destination. For example, if you dream you are walking, your brain actually attempts to send

signals to your legs to make them move (LaBerge 1993). This inhibition is excluded from vital

functions, such as

heart rate and respiration. This is the reason why subjects were capable of

controlling their breath while asleep (Hobson 2009).

Lastly, lucid dreaming has been associated with some related phenomena. Two of these are

false awakenings and out-of-body experiences. A false awakening occurs when a subject believes to

have awakened from a dream, while in reality he is still asleep. False awakening was related to lucid

dreaming by Harvard psychologist Deirdre Barrett in a study that proved that false awakenings were

more likely to occur during a night in which the subject had had a lucid dream (Barrett 1991). The

exact cause of false awakenings is still debated. Out-of-body experiences (OBE’s) are phenomena in

which the subject appears to perceive his “self” floating away from his body. OBE’s have been related

through history to the existence of a soul or spirit. However, certain modern scientists believe that

OBE’s are in fact hallucinations that can be caused by different phenomena. OBE’s have been related to

lucid dreams because they usually occur while the subject is asleep. However, people experiencing an

OBE experience very different patterns than those experiencing a lucid dream. The exact relation

between OBE's and lucid dreams has not yet been clarified (Hufford 1989).

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What are the uses of Lucid Dreaming?

Having reviewed what lucid dreams are, I would like to discuss the possible uses of this

technique. The simplest use is for personal benefit. Lucid dreaming can be a very interesting experience

in itself; many lucid dreamers enjoy taking full control of their dreams. However, lucid dreaming has

uses other than simple entertainment. Lucid dreaming allows the subject to interact with his

subconscious in a completely new way. If we use normal dreams to try and understand what our

subconscious is trying to say (like Freud or Young did), why not use lucid dreams in a similar way? I

have been unable to find any evidence that lucid dreams have previously been used in a psychological

and analytical way to analyze a subject. However, most people who practice lucid dreaming do so in

order to understand more about themselves and to further explore the limits of their minds. In some

cultures lucid dreaming has also been used as a path to spirituality.

Lucid dreaming can also be used by athletes in order to enhance their training. German sports

psychologist Paul Tholey carried out many studies in which he asked athletes who knew how to lucid

dream to perform their movements in their sleep. Tholey discovered that lucid dreaming could not only

be used to refine the athletes’ movements, but that it could also be used to learn new skills. Tholey also

suggested that practicing lucid dreams can enhance the mind's ability to precisely control the body

(Tholey 1989).

Since lucid dreaming is an act that affects only our mind, it is natural for it to have some mental

uses. Turner explains how lucid dreaming can be used to improve our creativity and problem solving

skills. While we sleep, ideas connect in ways they usually do not. That is why many dreams (most non-

lucid) have been the source of inspiration for some of the great minds of humanity. For example,

“Friedrich Kekule's discovery of the structure of the benzene molecule; Otto Loewi's experiment on

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nerve impulses; and Elias Howe's invention of the sewing machine” (Turner n.d) all were

breakthroughs made during sleep. Even painters, such as Dali and Blake, or musicians, such as

Motzart, Bethoven or Wagner, used their dreams as sources of inspiration. In most of these cases, the

dreamer had no control over their environment and were playing the role of observer. With lucid

dreams one can take control of the dream and focus its content on a particular problem or task.

Sometimes doing this can cause our dreams to show us or guide us to a different solution we had not

yet thought of.

Lucid dreaming has also been known to have some healing applications. E.W. Kellogg explains

how he used lucid dreaming to help cure a punctured tonsil. In his lucid dream, Kellogg visualized

himself curing his wound by looking in a mirror and using his willpower to mend it. Kellogg then

explains how, the day after the dream, 95% of the pain had practically disappeared (Kellogg 1989,

Waggoner 2003). Although Kellogg was successful in healing himself, Waggoner explains that not all

injuries can be cured with lucid dreaming (Waggoner 2003). Healing with lucid dreams consists of both

visualizing the healing process and attempting to discover the source of the injury. Techniques of

healing through visualization and energies have been practiced for thousands of years. Extending the

visualization into the dreaming experience allows the subject to not only imagine himself healed, but to

actually feel himself healed, which can sometimes produce better results (LaBerge 1989),

As children, we often woke up in the middle of the night after having a terrible nightmare. As

we grew older those nightmares started to go away. However, for many adults, having nightmares is a

problem they continuously face. Freud and Jung agreed that adults who experience regular nightmares

often do so because they are re-experiencing some situation from the past (Coalson 1995). Lucid

dreaming has been used as a technique to help those who suffer from nightmares. In 2006 a study was

made in which subjects with nightmares were taught how to lucid dream. The study showed that after

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learning how to identify that they were in a dream, the number of nightmares most subjects had

decreased (Spoormaker & van den Bout J 2006).

Lastly, lucid dreaming has proven to be of interest for scientists who study dreams. As

previously mentioned, LaBerge believes that teaching subjects how to lucid dream allows researchers

to have more control over their experiments. In traditional dream research, the subjects are asked to

report their dreams and the scientists then try to choose the dreams that serve their studies. With lucid

dreaming, scientisst can help focus their subjects on specific tasks, giving them more control over the

experiment (LaBerge 1993).

How can I learn to Lucid Dream?

Having explained what lucid dreaming is and why people might be interested in learning it,

I am going to present some information on how to lucid dream. Everyone can learn how to lucid dream

because everyone has dreams. In fact, 5 out of 10 people report to have had at least one lucid dream in

their life (Turner n.d, para. 7). There are many tutorials and handbooks written on how to lucid dream

and, although they all differ in some way or another, almost all of them cover the same principles. The

first step in learning how to lucid dream is to learn how to remember your dreams. Remembering your

dreams is a key step in lucid dreaming because, without dream recollection, you might have a lucid

dream and not remember having done so. One way to remember your dreams is to keep a dream

journal. Keep your journal by your bed (I keep mine under my pillow) and write in it as soon as you

wake up. When you open your eyes in the morning, try not to move or start thinking about what you

are going to do that day. Lie still in bed and try to remember what your dream was. Try to picture

where you were, with whom, what you were doing, and even how you felt. Once you feel you

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remember enough of your dream, start writing it down. At first, you may not remember every dream,

but with practice you can remember four or more dreams per night. You might remember details of

your dreams hours after you have awakened; make sure to write down those details as well.

As you recall more and more dreams you will begin to notice how most of your dreams have

elements from your day. If you watch a movie that makes an intense impact on you, you are likely to

see some elements of that movie in your dreams. It is very hard to predict which elements will appear

in your dream and which will not. Nonetheless, sometimes we want to influence what we are going to

dream about. Influencing your dreams is known as dream incubation. The technique of dream

incubation consists of concentrating on a particular idea before going to bed. It is even recommended

that you put an object that symbolizes that idea next to your bed and think about it as you fall asleep.

The ideas that you try to incubate can be as simple as wanting to spend your dream in your home town

or meeting your childhood hero. Concentrate on that idea and you will likely have a dream about it.

When you wake up in the morning remember to write down what you remember in your journal.

Once you have practiced these two steps (remembering your dreams and influencing their

content), you should start learning how to distinguish dreams from waking reality. When we are in a

dream many odd things can happen (for example, a flying hippopotamus could be telling us how he

fought in the Crusades), yet most of those odd things will not seem so odd to us in the moment. It is

only when we wake up that we realize how absurd our dream was (the hippopotamus would have to be

hundreds of years old!). So the question is, how do you distinguish dreams from reality? There are

many “tricks” you can do in order to realize you are asleep. However, in order to attempt those tricks

you have to create a habit of doing reality checks. Reality checks consist of taking a moment to

question if you are awake or asleep. Most of the time, when conducting a reality check, you are going

to conclude that you are awake. However, with enough practice and persistence you will find yourself

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doing reality checks even when you are asleep.

One of the ways you can realize whether or not you are in a dream is by looking at a watch,

then looking away and then looking back again. If you are in a dream, your mind must create

something for you to look at every moment. Luckily, more often than not, the mind sets a new time on

our watch every time we look at it. If you try to read a street sign or a billboard, it will read differently

every time you look at it. Sometimes simply asking yourself if you are in a dream is enough for you to

realize that you are in one. If you find yourself flying by yourself over the sea, chances are that when

you consider whether or not you are dreaming, you are going to realize that you are. A different way of

realizing if you are in a dream is by attempting to remember, with great detail, how you got to where

you currently are. Most times we are thrown into the middle of the plot of a dream and we can never

remember how it is that we got there. Similarly, you could try doing something absurd that you would

not be able to do when awake, such as using telekinetics to bend a spoon.

If you ever find yourself conducting a reality check and realizing you are asleep, it is important

to remain calm. It is likely that the first time you realize you are in a dream the pure shock of that

realization will wake you up. If this happens to you, simply stay in bed and try to fall back asleep with

the thought of returning to your lucid dream. Most times you will be able to return to it.

Stephan LaBerge talks about two different ways of entering a lucid dream. The first is called

Dream-Initiated Lucid Dreams (DILD) and consists of realizing you are in a dream while being in one.

The second is called Wake-Initiated Lucid Dream (WILD) and consists of waking up from a dream and

slowly returning to a dream state while maintaining most of your consciousness. LaBerge also explains

that DILDs are more common than WILDs and that both can be an equally effective way of achieving

lucidity (LaBerge 2007).

The Lucidity Institute (which was founded by LaBerge) has, for many years, been trying to

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develop different ways to help people learn how to lucid dream. In their research they have discovered

that certain stimuli can sometimes help the dreamer realize he is asleep. Based on that hypothesis, they

created a device called NovaDreamer which looks like a sophisticated eye mask. The NovaDreamer

works by flashing lights at the individual whenever he is in REM state. The user can sometimes see the

flashes and uses this as an indication that he might be asleep. He then can conduct a reality check and

enter a lucid dream state.

My own experience with Lucid Dreaming

Over the past few months I have been following a guide to learn how to lucid dream. The book

is entitled Lucid Dreams in 30 days. The Creative Sleep Program by Harary and Weintraub. The guide

consists of day by day experiences that can help you learn how to lucid dream. I must admit that I have

been taking my time with the guide because I have discovered that one of the most important aspects in

learning how to lucid dream is persistence. As a student I do not live a life with a routine. Sometimes I

sleep alone and sometimes I sleep with my girlfriend. Other nights I stay up late doing work or I wake

up early in the morning to finish studying for an exam. If I were to truly dedicate myself to learning

how to lucid dream I would need to have a less chaotic sleep schedule (and life style). However, I have

been capable of achieving lucid dreams. I have also had great success remembering my dreams and I

have done various experiments with dream incubation. If anyone seriously wants to learn how to lucid

dream, I would without a doubt recommend this guide.

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A small afterthought

In 2011 TEDxSanDiego, Charlie Morley gave a very inspiring talk on lucid dreams. Morley

tells the story of how he became a lucid dream teacher because of a request made by a Buddhist monk.

He then explains how most of the lucid dreams he has are nightmares. To Morley, all nightmares are

manifestations of Jung's shadow. According to Jungian psychology, the shadow represents all elements

of our psyche that have been rejected or repressed by our selves. The theory also claims that until we

learn to accept out shadow we will never be complete. After explaining this, Morley talks about one of

his own nightmares. In this nightmare Morley is facing a huge demon. Possessed with fear, Morley

realizes that this demon is nothing but a representation of his shadow and decides to embrace it instead

of fighting it. As he embraces the demon, it begins to shrink and shrink until it slowly becomes a copy

of himself. When Morley woke up he realized that embracing this demon, this shadow of his persona,

was a symbolic act of accepting a part of who he is that he had not accepted before.

Near the end of the talk, Morley talks about our social collective unconscious. He claims that

we, as a society, have collective aspects that we refuse to accept. In other words, he talks about a

collective shadow. This shadow represents all elements of our humanity that are “too dark and too

nightmarish to face”. Morley claims that until we learn to accept this shadow we can never be whole.

Morley finished his talk explaining how lucid dreaming can be used as a tool to uncover part of our

collective shadow and hence learn to accept a part of who we are.

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