A few years ago, while eating a churro and carrying a gigantic inflatable crayon I’d just won at Wac-A-Mole on the Lagoon midway, I bumped into an old friend who had on a shirt with the words “Lucid Dreaming” and some renaissance-looking picture emblazoned on it. I asked him what on earth it meant. He said it had to do with being aware of your dreams while dreaming them. Planning, feeling, tasting and essentially controlling dreams. Something some innately can do to a degree, others can learn, and all can improve upon with practice and exercise.
Wow, I thought, as I reminisced about the all-too-rare Connie Weislogel dream from 7th grade—invariably, every time we’d get ready to hold hands or kiss … RIIING! The alarm would go off—argh! I would try desperately to fall back to sleep and bring it to fruition, but it never happened. Hmm … I wonder what Connie looks like now … “Uh, that’s cool, Steve. Do you lucid dreamers get together and jam to Queensryche (“Silent Lucidity”)?” I said. Ha ha. He gave me an uncertain yet polite chuckle, we exchanged salutations and parted ways. I left thinking this new dream thing would make a good piece for television, which I worked in at the time. I better do it quick before it becomes commonplace, I surmised. Something this cool would of course get media saturation soon. Well, it never happened.
Three years later, I now have the opportunity. Meet Steve Farley, mild-mannered accountant by day; metal-monster-destroying, statue-conversing, martial-arts-fighting, high-flying dream weaver at night. Steve is a pleasant, fair-haired, God-fearing, bespectacled guy in his late 30s, who looks a decade younger and wouldn’t seem out of place in an Eddie Bauer catalog. But by all accounts, Steve has tapped into something that allows him to experience thought-provoking Indiana Jones-type adventures at night, while guys like me have dreams featuring Eleanor Roosevelt in a wet suit juggling flaming heads of cabbage while singing “Whoop! (There It Is!)” at the top of her lungs. Please … don’t ask.
For the record, Steve is not a madman, and lucid dreaming isn’t magic, pseudoscience, or of the occult in any way. It’s not affiliated with new-age religion, nor are chanting, drugs or incense involved. I preface that because some people think it’s weird. “I wish they would have called it conscious dreaming instead of lucid dreaming. Because that’s what it is … the word lucid confuses some people,” says Steve.
People generally don’t get it. A friend of mine who is open-minded responded with, “I don’t know, Dave, this seems pretty out there to me,” when I explained lucid dreaming to him. Steve’s own father, while acknowledging it exists, doesn’t think Steve should tell people about it and believes it’s unproductive. “He says people might think I’m odd and it could hurt my business,” says Steve. Trust me, your W-2s are safe in Steve’s hands. He’s no more odd than any other accountant.
“Sure, people think it’s strange, but when they go to sleep and dream they’re back in high school and buy into that reality, I go to sleep and recognize that I’m not in high school anymore, that I’ve graduated from college, I have a family and I realize that I’m dreaming. That doesn’t seem so strange, does it?” says Steve.
Awareness of lucid dreaming as a concept is nothing new; in fact, it’s been around a long time. Aristotle and St. Augustine spoke of it. Tibetan yogis, Spanish Sufi Iban El-Arabi, Hervey de Saint-Denys, Moers Mossmer, Frederik van Eeden and a bunch of other guys whose names show up in Jeopardy categories all expounded on the nuances of lucid dreaming. And surprise, surprise, even Freud weighed in on this, too.
The modern-day lucid guru in the United States is Dr. Stephen LaBerge, a Stanford professor who also runs the Lucidity Institute in Palo Alto, Calif., the author of Lucid Dreaming and Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming, among other writings. However, mention this lucid dreaming to someone and more often than not, you’ll get a blank stare, or someone will share with you a bizarre dream they had last night and ask if it’s about interpreting dreams. It is not. As Steve says, “I don’t interpret dreams—I enjoy them.”
So how does one become a lucid dreamer? You may have already had some manifestations or brief experiences where you were conscious during your dream. That makes you a good candidate. Two necessary elements to learning are motivation and effort. Occasionally, spontaneous lucid dreams do happen, but they rarely occur without our intending them to, says Steve. “You need to practice and concentrate. One of the reasons it’s not as popular as you might think is because not everyone can do it. Sure, some more than others, but it takes work.”
This article is not meant to be a primer, but there are some cues and exercises one can do to get lucid while dreaming: Always get comfortable and relaxed, breathe slowly and deeply. Before bed, firmly resolve to recognize when you’re dreaming. Use the mantra “I’m dreaming” while using counting exercises to fall asleep. The power of suggestion throughout the day and as you prepare to retire is also vital. Keep a journal of all your dreams and record them the minute you wake up, regardless of how insignificant they seem.
“I once told myself to awake after every dream and jot down on paper what I’d dreamt—I woke up 12 times that night, which was a bit much. Writing down your dreams keeps you focused on them. A good trick to wake you up to record them when they’re fresh in your mind, is to drink a lot of water before bedtime,” Steve chuckles.
If you’re serious about LD, type in “lucid dreaming” on a web search engine and surf the abundance of information available there. Or check it out at your local library. The LaBerge books are a must and include cues for “reality tests” that let you know you’re lucid in your dream state. Some of these inexplicable cues include: light switches not working properly; difficulty reading; words you’re familiar with like those on a dollar bill often misspelled or omitted altogether; confusion with math and numbers; and probably the most important cue, flashes of light—lightning, strobes, the glint from a shiny object in the sun, a flash bulb. All are commonalties associated with LD.
Once those occur, put them to the test and do something you can’t normally do, like float or some unworldly feat of strength like lifting up a car. If you can do them, you know you’re in a dream. Steve says it’s good to test these things even when you think you’re awake. There is also a mask you can wear at night called the DreamLight that gives you sensory cues while sleeping. The prototype of this lucid dream induction device was developed by a Salt Lake engineer in the mid ’80s It sends flashing lights over your eyelids when its sensors detect high levels of eye movement signaling to you, “It’s Show Time!” One thing you instantly notice when lucid is how vivid everything is: sights, sounds, odors, tastes and all senses are amplified significantly more than in normal dreams.
Steve became acquainted with lucid dreaming and had his first fully conscious dream about seven years ago. “I was standing on the curb at Olympus Hills Mall with some friends telling them what I’d recently learned, when I said, if this was a lucid dream, I could hop off the curb and start flying. I demonstrated this and started flying—at that point, I realized I was in a lucid dream.” Often, lucid dreamers know when they’re lucid, but occasionally, experiencing acts that are not physically possible like flying or meeting the deceased jolt them into the realization that they are.
Steve was a prime candidate for lucidity when he became peripherally aware of it, though not fully comprehending it in high school. Frightened after reoccurring nightmares starring a gigantic metal man with an ax bent on destroying him, Steve somehow realized that it wasn’t reality and there was no need to worry. In ensuing dreams, he actually enjoyed the scenario and fearlessly played cat and mouse with his foe until he eventually vanquished the gigantic metal man by smashing him against a brick wall. Studies show that lucidity is seven times more likely to make nightmares better than worse.
Though Steve initially feared for his mortality in this nightmare, the belief that if you die in a dream, you die in real life is hooey and not fact-based. Think about it—anyone who dies in that instance would have no way of relating said experience. The Lucidity Institute has studies that show many people have awakened from dreams where they died with no ill effects. It is said that dreams of this nature can actually be insightful experiences about life, rebirth and transcendence.
The Lucidity Institute agrees: “A large part of the extraordinary pleasure of lucid dreaming comes from the exhilarating feeling of utter freedom that accompanies the realization that you are in a dream and there will be no social or physical consequences of your actions.” Which is good, since I usually wake up and feel the need to call a lawyer or plead for someone’s forgiveness until I realize it was just a dream. Whew! Overcoming obstacles in dreams or altering your perception of them in waking life can be a part of LD if that’s your desire.
As for Steve, his lucid dreams center mainly around leisure and adventure, though there are practical applications—in fact, some very profound ones, depending on your quest. Steve says he once used lucid dreaming to help him the day before he had to meet an old acquaintance. “I’d forgotten exactly what the person looked like so I told myself in a dream this person will appear as I walked around a building on a busy street—it happened as planned and my memory of what the person looked like reappeared.”
Steve’s real preference is flying. “Soaring through the air like Superman is a great experience, I love to fly. I’ve flown everywhere—to the moon, the Grand Canyon, lots of sandy beaches, over the sea. I’ve even swooped down to pet the killer whales. Flying is probably the number one thing that lucid dreamers do, and yeah, you know what number two is—sex.”
What a shocker that revelation is! In case you’re wondering, dreams about Eleanor Roosevelt come in 747,492nd place, a notch below “removing bunions with a can opener in a drunken stupor” dreams. With flying and sex being the most popular activities, I neglected to ask Steve if a simultaneous combination of the two was a popular fantasy. Sorry for the visual.
The Lucidity Institute has even done studies on this favorite lucid pastime with women and men alike. Both genders had very real sexual encounters when they were lucid during REM (rapid eye movement—the state in which dreaming occurs, not the rock band). As their bodies were monitored using specific eye movement signals, all the physiological signs of sexual arousal occurred, including vividly realistic climaxes, minus nocturnal emissions—a sharp contrast to “wet dreams.” Of course, this brings propriety and morality into question. Can one be unfaithful in a controlled dream state? For some, including some of Steve’s acquaintances, it is the ultimate in escapism, with no ramifications or regrets associated, merely harmless fun and fulfillment. For Steve, it is a matter of trust and fidelity—real or imagined. Since he is married, this is a realm he has never delved into, for which he has an appreciative wife.
There are practical uses for LD; it’s not all nighttime entertainment. People can utilize the ability to dream lucidly to improve themselves or even master particular areas of business, athletics, personal life and conquer phobias and so on. That’s stretching a bit, you say—betterment through lucid dreaming? It sounds nuts or too good to be true, but in the book, Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming, there are testimonials aplenty by seemingly sane people. One man who discovered his lucid abilities at an early age utilized them to solve complicated math theorems in high school and continued it through med school to the point where he would occasionally get up at 3 a.m., call the hospital and order special lab tests for problem patients after specific solutions occurred to him in a lucid dream. He now uses it as a doctor. “Each night before retiring, I review my list of surgical cases and I actually practice these cases in my sleep. I have gained a reputation for being a rapid and skilled surgeon with almost no major complications. This surgical “practice” has allowed me from the very beginning to review the anatomy and to refine and polish technique by eliminating unnecessary motions. I am presently able to perform most complex procedures in 35 to 40 percent of the time taken by most of my peers.”
The Lucid Institute says that medical patients have often used soothing and positive imagery to alleviate pain. “The dream world offers the most vivid form of imagery. Thus, some people have used lucid dreams in overcoming phobias, working with grief, decreasing social and sexual anxieties, achieving greater self-confidence and by directing the body image in the dream to facilitate physical healing.”
Some people use LD to overcome bad dreams and control the monsters and phantoms in those nightmares. They’ve found that once confronted, monsters can transform themselves into gentle creatures, friends or ciphers, thus enabling people to overcome and make peace with their fears. In fact, many say that once they realize they aren’t real and can’t do harm, the once-imposing monsters have a tendency to morph into silly-looking, harmless creatures before the dreamer’s eyes—often prompting fits of laughter.
Steve explains that responses of dream characters are not always predictable. “I can go out in the middle of a winter day in my dream and say I want it to be summer. And all of a sudden, the snow will melt away and green grass will pop up and trees burst into bloom before my eyes. That’s predictable, I can do that. Sometimes characters in my dreams say things that are bizarre, that really surprise me. And this all comes from my subconscious. No one’s exactly sure why that is, either. You can always control inanimate objects and what you personally do, though you generally have success with dream characters responding how you want them to, it isn’t always the case … and I love it, I love the unpredictability of it all.”
Lucid dreaming can play tricks on you too, says Steve. “I once woke up from a lucid dream thinking, what a great dream. I walked to the bathroom, saw a cat walk by and then realized it wasn’t my cat and I wasn’t even awake, but still in a dream. Hey, you dream about so many different things, why not dream about waking up? It’s actually fun to have false awakenings.”
Steve has even taken LD to a new level: Dreaming from a conscious state—meaning he wasn’t yet asleep when his dream began. This is called Wake Initiated Dreaming and it has happened to him only four times. “This sounds strange, but I laid there (in bed), completely relaxed, eyes closed, but still awake, waiting for my dream to start. Colors began to go by and then I see an image, I focus in on it, I then begin to feel that paralysis you feel when your brain releases that chemical in your body and it tingles and is relaxed. I know I’m in perfect condition for a dream and I’m still consciously aware. I saw a cup go by, focused in on it and all of a sudden, the whole dream started to form around it, the table, the room, everything completely surrounded me and I was in the dream.”
He then went into a series of dreams that lasted over an hour. Dreams, lucid or otherwise, may seem endless, but in reality, are rather short in length, usually under five minutes long. “I’ll dream for three or four minutes and then blackness, I see the dream start to end, blackness comes along the edges—did you ever see Somewhere In Time? He sees the penny and all of a sudden, it gets black, kind of like that. I then wait for the next one to start.” Steve says that Dr. LaBerge employs a method of extending dreams by rubbing your dream hands together near the dream’s end while focusing your attention on the dream. Steve uses a technique where he flies down to a stream, drinks from it and feels the cool water on his hands and lips and that prolongs his dream. “The neat thing is, you wake up from LD and you’re full of energy, never worn out or tired, even after flying or physical activity.”
How real are these dreams and can they manipulate your psyche? Steve once dreamt that he had flown to an apartment and when he entered the building, he found a huge buffet of èclairs, cakes and donuts. He proceeded to eat everything in sight and when he woke up, was too full to eat breakfast. One woman wrote to Dr. LeBarge relating that lucid dreaming helped her with weight loss. She would dream of being in a grocery store or bakery, pigging out, and wake up with a feeling of being satisfied. “These dreams would satisfy my craving to gorge myself … if, during the day, I got the urge to eat something I shouldn’t, I just thought, ‘I’ll eat it tonight in my dream.’ And I did.”
Still others have used it to improve on techniques in sports, dancing and myriad other things. Though concentrating and living these things in dreams doesn’t always translate to real-life accomplishment, there is a satisfaction that the unattainable while awake can be attainable while dreaming lucid.
I asked Steve if lucid dreaming takes the place of, or if it was a letdown, having normal dreams. “Oh no, I love those and I would never give those up. It’s a reality that you don’t create—you don’t know what’s going to happen, it’s sporadic. Most of my dreams are unconscious,” he says. Even at his peak, when he was spending a lot of time studying and practicing lucid dreaming, he never had more than about three dreams or so a week. “Lately because of tax season and I’ve been busy, I haven’t put any effort into it and haven’t had a lucid dream in a couple of months and that’s OK. I still love it and I know I can do it when I want—it’s something that’s always there.”
Steve’s dreams are almost solely recreational. “I suppose I could dream for a higher purpose, but I just like to enjoy myself. I’m an accountant crunching numbers during the day; I want to have fun at night. I enjoy flying over beautiful landscapes, oceans, smelling the flowers, enjoying the beauty … practicing karate, singing opera at a concert hall, walking through windows, walls … all that stuff.
“I once was in a museum where they had Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’ displayed. I walked over and began talking to it. It turned its head and responded to me. Soon, myself, the statue and a nearby custodian sweeping up, chuckled at the absurdity of it all. It’s a rush.”
Steve says people have had spiritual dreams, even epiphanies, when lucid, but he normally doesn’t and when he does he usually doesn’t share them or think they’re necessarily revelatory. Believe me, his details of one dream where Satan and his minions were destroyed by a garbage truck were sketchy at best. “Hey, I wake up from being lucid and can’t believe what my mind created. And that’s just it, it’s all in your mind from what you’ve taken in your life through pictures, movies, reading … we can take all the scenery in our lives and create our own unique scenery. I’ve been to places I’ve never been before and they exist. Why they look like they do, I’m not sure, but that’s what my subconscious created.”
It’s important to remember, dreams don’t take the place of real life and real emotions. I asked Steve if it was possible to go back and right wrongs or apologize to someone while in a lucid dream? His answer was prophetic: “Sure, you could re-enact a bad situation and perhaps fix it, but why not go to that person and take care of it when you’re awake? That’d be the better way.” Indeed it would be.
If you’re interested in lucid dreaming, here’s a few ways you can find out more: The Lucidity Institute website: www.lucidity.com, an anonymous site at ftp.lucidity.com, and E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Lucidity Institute: 2555 Park Blvd., #2, Palo Alto, CA 94306 Tel: 1-800-GO LUCID