An Introduction to Lucid Dreaming
James Harvey Stout examines the nature of lucid dreams.
What is a lucid dream? If we have a non-lucid dream, we are not aware of the dream until after we awaken; then it is merely a memory. During a lucid dream, we know that we are dreaming while it is occurring. While the body sleeps, we feel "awake" in a world which has the qualities of a regular dream, and we are able to think clearly, act willfully, and change the course of the dream around us.
What are the characteristics of a lucid dream?
1. Our alertness. At our best, our mental skills are comparable to (or better than) those of wakefulness in such areas as concentration, reasoning, memory, and control of our actions.
2. Our senses. The senses are functioning during a lucid dream. While our physical body is asleep, we experience the dream in a dream-body which usually resembles our physical form (as in a non-lucid dream). This dream-body has senses which are similar to those of the physical body, so we can see, hear, taste, smell, and feel. In a lucid dream, these senses seem absolutely authentic; for example, if we touch someone, the person's skin feels warm and soft. Sometimes this "virtual reality" is more real than "real life" (and certainly more real than non-lucid dreams); the colors have a greater vividness and the sensations a deeper intensity -- from the sound of celestial music to the explosiveness of a lucid-dream orgasm.
3. Our emotions. A lucid dream brims with emotion and feeling. When we first become aware that we are dreaming, we feel exhilaration: "This is a dream!" During the dream, we might feel any emotion, including ecstasy (perhaps during a visit to a heavenly dreamscape) -- or fear (although nightmare creatures can be confronted and even befriended, in contrast to our helplessness during non-lucidity). Lucid dreams give us a chance to know freedom; we can fly, walk through walls, live out any fantasy, and even change ourselves into another person. And when we awaken from a lucid dream, we are not tired from the adventures; our body feels as rested as it would feel from regular sleep, and our mind feels stimulated and refreshed (if we took the responsibility of creating a pleasant experience while lucid).
4. Our control. We can control a lucid dream. We can create any scenario, assume any identity, and invoke characters to play any role. The range of possibilities is almost incomprehensible. Among the limitless selections (which would be experienced with utter realism): We can visit a dreamscape which resembles the Mardi Gras, or the moon, or the Egyptian pyramids, or the crucifixion, or our childhood home. We can meet characters who speak and interact in a lifelike manner -- and we can create vivid images of specific people such as our first girlfriend or boyfriend, or a movie star, or Carl Jung, or Cleopatra. Our own identity can be that of our wakeful self, or a person of the opposite sex, or an animal, or a centaur. We can swim with dolphins (and "breathe" the dream-water), or jam with Jimi Hendrix, or star in a scene from our favorite movie, or fly to another planet, or enact any social or sexual fantasy with any partner. There are no restrictions on the time, place, or activities; anything which we can imagine can be accomplished with the same visual detail, emotions, and tactile sensations which we would expect from wakeful life.
Lucid dreams really exist
In laboratory tests at Stanford University and other sites, lucid dreamers proved the existence of this phenomenon by signalling to the researchers. The subjects did this by moving their eyes in a prearranged pattern while asleep. During the sleep state (which was confirmed during these tests by an EEG machine), most of the body is unable to move, but the eyes move freely; hence the state which is commonly associated with dreams is called "REM" (characterized by Rapid Eye Movements). When the sleeping lucid dreamers moved the eyes of their dream-body in a particular pattern -- up and down, and side to side -- their physical eyes moved correspondingly; this activity could be seen and recorded by the researchers. Even without these scientific confirmations, lucid dreamers know that their experience is genuine; our body is asleep but our mind is awake.
We can benefit from our lucid dreams
Dreams provide us with a vast arena for self-improvement, adventure, creativity, problem-solving, pleasure, psychological growth -- and increased understanding of the unconscious mind and our underlying spiritual realities. The delight which is experienced during lucidity often carries over into wakefulness; the elation lingers, and we feel better also because lucidity allowed us to resolve emotional conflicts (by directly communicating with the unconscious mind).
Lucid dreams are not a recent "discovery"
We can assume that people have always had them. They were mentioned by Plato -- and by Aristotle, who said, "... often when one is asleep there is something in consciousness which declares that what presents itself is but a dream." Lucid dreaming has been the foundation of Tibetan dream yoga for more than 1,000 years. Freud wrote about lucid dreams in the second edition of his classic, The Interpretation of Dreams. The term "lucid dream" was devised in 1913 by a Dutch psychiatrist, Frederick Willems van Eeden; it has also been called a dream of knowledge (by Oliver Fox), a half-dream (by P.D. Ouspensky), dreaming true, a dream of experience, a clear dream, a conscious dream, a borderland dream, a power dream, and an awake dream. As a science, lucid dreaming is relatively new to the laboratory; it is in a phase (and probably always will be) where a discovery of information and techniques is as likely to come from an amateur like you as from a professional researcher. Lucid dreams have been mentioned throughout history.
1. The philosophers. References have been made by the philosophers Aristotle, Plato, Arthur Schopenhauer, and Ren`e Descarte. Friedrich Nietsche wrote that he had "... sometimes called out cheeringly and not without success amid the dangers and terrors of dream life: 'It is a dream! I will dream on!'"
2. The saints. Lucid dreams have also been mentioned by Christian saints. St. Thomas Aquinas described lucid dreams: "... sometimes while asleep a man may judge that what he sees is a dream ..." In the fifth century, St. Augustine wrote a letter concerning the lucid dreams of a doctor in Carthage.
3. Other religions. Lucid dreaming has been part of the training in certain religious groups. A twelfth-century Sufi, Ibn El-Arabi, instructed his students to control their mental activity during dreams. Tibetan Buddhism has a well-developed offshoot, "dream yoga," which has been teaching lucid dreaming during the past 1,000 years.
4. Edgar Cayce. He was asked to analyze lucid dreams in at least two instances. (Refer to #195-51 and #294-51 in his records.)
5. Sigmund Freud. Freud also knew about the existence of lucid dreams. In the second edition of The Interpretation of Dreams, he wrote, "... there are people who are quite clearly aware during the night that they are asleep and dreaming and who thus seem to possess the faculty of consciously directing their dreams." When confronted with a lucid dream of his own, the sexual content disturbed him (predictably), and he concluded, "I won't go on with this dream any further and exhaust myself with an emission." Freud was aware of the work of Hervey de Saint-Denys, who wrote a book about lucid dreaming in the 19th century; Freud said, "It seems as though in [the lucid dreamer's] case the wish to sleep [has] given way to another ... wish, namely to observe his dreams and enjoy them."
This article was taken from the book Dreams with James Harvey Stout.