Tuesday, 30 July 2019

An Introduction to Lucid Dreaming

Lucid dreaming is a dream in which the dreamer is consciously aware that they are dreaming. In some circumstances the dreamer is able to control various aspects of their dream, such as the dream scene location, dream characters or the dream narrative (action). It is not necessary to be able to control your dream for it to be properly categorised as a lucid dream - conscious awareness you are in a dream is key. Essentially, your sleeping brain 'wakes up' within the dream and you are self-aware - a lucid dream is a hybrid of sleep and wakefulness at the same time.

The phrase 'lucid dream' was first coined by Dutch psychiatrist and writer, Frederick van Eeden (1860 - 1932) in A Study of Dreams (1913), although of course, countless descriptions of lucid dream experiences have been documented prior to van Eeden's article. Van Eeden had been recording his most interesting dreams since 1896, and had an archive of 352 lucid dreams in his collection. From the study of his own dreams, van Eeden was able to identify 7 different types of dream: (1) initial dreams; (2) pathological dreams; (3) ordinary dreams; (4) vivid dreams; (5) demoniacal dreams; (6) dream-sensations: and (7) lucid dreams. 

The phenomena of lucid dreaming was described in Ancient Greek writing; the philosopher Aristotle (384 - 322 BC) remarked that 'often when one is asleep, there is something in consciousness which declares that what then presents itself is but a dream'. Physician Galen of Pergamon (129 - 200 AD) is said to use lucid dreaming as a form of therapy, while Augustine of Hippo (354 - 400 AD) also makes reference to lucid dreaming. In Eastern philosophy, the cultivation of ability to lucid dream was considered central to the Tibetan Buddhist practice of Dream Yoga and the Indian Hindu practice of Yoga Nidra.

In the 17th century lucid dreaming appeared in the psychological self-study of physician and philosopher, Sir Thomas Browne (1605 - 1682),  Religio Medici (1643) where he states '...yet in one dream I can compose a whole Comedy, behold the action, apprehend the jests and laugh myself awake at the conceits thereof'. In his diary entry for 15 August 1665, Samuel Pepys (1633 - 1703) noted 'I had my Lady Castlemayne in my arms and was admitted to use all the dalliance I desired with her, and then dreamt that this could not be awake, but that this was only a dream'.

In 1867, French sinologist Marie-Jean-Leon, Marquis d'Hervey de Saint-Denys (1822 - 1892) anonymously published Dreams and the ways to direct them; practical observations, in which he describes his own experiences of lucid dreams, claiming that it is possible for anyone to learn how to harness the power of lucid dreaming. 

Throughout the 20th and 21st century there have been numerous significant breakthroughs in the study of lucid dreaming, providing solid scientific evidence for the phenomenon and determining a number of therapeutic applications. I will be publishing short biographies of prominent oneironauts (dream explorers), summarising and explaining their specific work in the field of lucid dreaming. Some notable examples of modern dream researchers and writers, psychologists, doctors and neuroscientists who have contributed to our understanding of lucid dreaming include: Celia Green; Stephan LaBerge; Allan HobsonDeirdre Barrett; Keith Hearne; Robert Waggoner; and Paul Tholey.

Paul Tholey formulated a checklist of 7 conditions which must be fulfilled for a dream to be categorised as a lucid dream: (1) awareness of the dream state (orientation); (2) awareness of the capacity to make decisions; (3) awareness of memory functions; (4) awareness of self: (5) awareness of the dream environment; (6) awareness of the meaning of the dream; and (7) awareness of concentration and focus (subjective clarity of state).

In 1987, Stephen LaBerge, a psychophysiologist specialising in the scientific study of lucid dreaming at Stanford University, California, founded The Lucidity Institute. Much of LaBerge's work will be covered in forthcoming lucid dreaming articles. 

Children may intuitively learn to lucid dream - even if they are not aware of the concept of lucid dreaming. There are a number of factors which may influence whether a person is likely to spontaneously (i.e. naturally) lucid dream, such as age and cognitive ability or particular health conditions, medications and lifestyles. We will be exploring some of these factors in due course. 

While some people may be able to experience spontaneous lucid dreams, it is possible that anyone can learn how to intentionally induce or initiate them, using a variety of different techniques and methods, which will be presented in a forthcoming series of articles and tutorials on this Blog. 

There are many reasons why someone might want to learn how to intentionally induce or initiate a lucid dream. The main reason might be escapism and the pure joy of experiencing the bizarre, extraordinary and limitless phenomena of the dreamscape with a conscious mind. The virtual reality world of dreaming enables us to experience anything our imagination allows - the possibilities are endless. Other benefits include:
  • Personal growth and self-awareness on a subconscious level
  • Achieving the impossible
  • Problem-solving
  • Increasing creativity
  • Confronting fears
  • Improving new skills
Unlike in waking reality, physical experiences from sensory stimuli, received through sight, sound, smell, taste and touch, are synthesised or created by the imagination or from memory. These lucid sensations are much more vivid, intensified and realistic than in normal, non-lucid dreams. The intensity of these lucid dream sensations are so intense and pleasurable, that lucid dreamers often use their lucid dreams to fulfil primal urges, such as engaging in lucid dream sex. One of the only factors which might limit your lucid dreaming experiences are the existence of subconscious boundaries or preconceived limiting beliefs, which may not be especially evident to the conscious mind. These preconceived limiting beliefs can be thought of as psychological roadblocks.

Emotions in lucid dreams can be particularly rich and intense - sometimes more so than in waking reality. Sometimes the emotional experiences within a lucid dream can be so awesome and overwhelming, it leads to prematurely waking. In fact, it is very common for beginner lucid dreamers to become too excited upon initially achieving success in inducing or initiating a lucid dream. Over time, use of techniques and methods which help to stabilise and focus a lucid dream can help overcome this problem.

In a lucid dream, you are often aware only of your immediate vicinity - as if the world beyond that does not exist. The lucid dreamscape is extremely fluid and experienced lucid dreamers are typically able to control their dream environment and 'teleport' to different locations at will. Some lucid dreamers are able to consciously recognise that their physical body is laying in bed asleep, but this can often lead to premature waking.

While we may have access to many more cognitive functions in a lucid dream than what we might in a normal, non-lucid dream, there are still some differences, for example memory processes. Our memory may function very differently in a lucid dream, even when we are consciously aware and able to fact-check and use logic. This is because, despite consciousness within the dream state, many areas of the brain are inactive during sleep, and are tricky to arouse and activate. It may be tough to access our waking memories while in a lucid dream, especially long-term memory and trying to conceive the future. 

Dream control is another cognitive function, because it relies on intention, willpower, imagination and mental focus. Experiencing a lucid dream does not mean that you will automatically have control over your dream, however there are a number of techniques and methods which can be employed in order to clarify, stabilise and intensify the lucid dream experience, which may assist in improving lucid dream control with practice. Manipulating a lucid dream can be an incredibly powerful and rewarding experience - much akin to possessing god-like powers.

Often lacking good dream control in a lucid dream can be very frustrating and disheartening, but it can also be a very valuable and enjoyable experience to allow yourself to relinquish all control and allow the lucid dream to unfold on its own. This is known as a 'passive lucid dream'. Expectations are key to lucid dream control - it is possible to pre-programme your lucid dreams in advance, using dream incubation techniques and methods and dream visualisation. 

Lucid dreaming allows a profound level of introspection and self-awareness. While lucid dreaming is a perfect opportunity to engage in gratifying, hedonistic delights and pleasures, for some, lucid dreaming is used to look into the self and the subconscious. Just like it is is possible to communicate with dream characters, you can actually interact with the fabric of the dream itself, so as to gain deep, fundamental meaning and revelation as to its significance. 

The experience of time in a lucid dream is pretty similar to time in real, waking life. When first beginning to lucid dream, lucidity may last for only a couple of minutes - sometimes a mere matter of seconds, but of course it is possible to use techniques and methods to prolong the lucid dream experience. 

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