Thursday, October 8, 2009

Lucid Dreaming: The Most Fully-Conscious Adventure You Can Have Inside Your Own Head Without Being Schizophrenic

Wow. I haven't thought about this topic in a long time. Ten or twelve years ago though I was really serious about it. I kept a dream journal, tracked recurring symbolism and cultivated a habit of checking my waking / dreaming state. To what end?

Becoming lucid in a dream. Becoming aware of the dream state while in the dream, generally with the aim of taking conscious control of the dream world. I'd done it before, I thought. I remembered dreams where I said to myself, "I'm dreaming." But until I actually went lucid for the first time I had no way of knowing that my previous "lucid" periods weren't real. Prior to that, my exclamations of lucidity were just lines in the script of my dream. I may have said the words, but they weren't true.

But when it happened for real, it was mind-blowing.

Training yourself to lucid dream is simple in practice, but takes a strong commitment. To start, you keep a dream journal. This helps your remember your dreams and familiarize you with your unique dreaming vocabulary. And the more you write your dreams down, the more dreams you remember. It's like exercising a muscle...or biting your lip. The more you bite it, the more you bite it.

As you keep up with your dream journal you need to start developing a habit of testing reality. What I did, and I got this from a book I read, was to, whenever I thought about it, and as often as I could, look at my watch and try to get the second hand to run backwards. I mean really try. Truly believe that it might actually happen if you work at it hard enough. If the watch refuses to cooperate, which it usually does you think or say to yourself, "I'm awake." Sounds a little ridiculous, right? But here's the rub. You train yourself to perform these reality checks habitually because eventually waking habit will make its way into your dreams. One day you'll perform a reality check and, against all expectations the second hand will run backwards. And then you'll know.

That's exactly what happened for me. After months of diligent reality checking I one day found myself in an office building. I don't remember any more what I was doing there but I knew I'd been there many times before. As I was walking down a hallway of cubicles I thought to conduct a reality check. As always I earnestly tried to more my second hand backwards. I was flabbergasted when, after a few seconds, it did! And then it dawned on me, for real this time. "I'm dreaming!" "None of this is real." As much as I'd believed, as we all do, in the authenticity of our dream worlds I suddenly knew without a shadow of doubt that it was all an illusion.

It was the closest thing I think I've come to an epiphany. The entire world around me at that moment; the people, the cubicles, my memories of the office building. None of it was real. The best way to imagine what it was like if you've never experienced it is to imagine what it would feel like if, sitting (or standing) where you are right now, with your waking world all around you and your life's worth of memories, you suddenly discovered without reservation that it was all just a product of your own mind. That none of it existed apart from you. That every item you've ever come into contact with, every conversation you've had, every friend you've ever made was just a fragment of your own consciousness.

I was ecstatic! After months of trying and being disappointed I'd truly done it. I remember I ran down the hallway toward a rear window and leaped out, without any fear. I knew I was in complete control of the universe at that moment, and I flew. It was really amazing.

I went lucid a number of times after that, but was never able to stay in the dream for very long. It's a common stumbling block, I learned. When your conscious mind invades your dreaming mind your brain seems to have difficult time resolving the two and you often wake up. That's the next step in training. Learning, over time, to maintain conscious control of your dream and stay asleep. I didn't have it in me, I guess. I enjoyed it when it happened, but I made little progress. Eventually I fell out of the habit and haven't picked it up since.

I think one day I'll get back into it. Taking conscious control of your dream can be a powerful tool. Plus it's just fun. Again, imagine suddenly realizing, right now, where you are, that the entire universe is yours to do with as you see fit. You can do literally anything your heart desires. It's a pretty potent experience. Here's something I always wanted to try. I found this exercise in a lucid dreaming book a few years book. Once lucid, you allow the dream to unfold as it normally would, without interfering and then, at pivotal points, freeze the action, approach the characters (who are ultimately just manifestations of you) and ask them to tell you, in their words, what they represent. I would make, I'd think, for some pretty interesting conversations.

I'd be curious to know if any of you have had any similar experiences. Let me know in a comment or an email or something.

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