Pinch me, I'm dreaming
February 21, 2003 9:42 AM   Subscribe

Next week's 'Ed' is devoted to lucid dreaming - "ED CONTROLS HIS OWN DREAM," blares the show synopsis. While TV and dreaming usually lead to simple silliness, this episode could be a watershed moment in pop-culture awareness of lucid dreaming, which has a fascinating history and continues to be controversial. [much more inside]
posted by soyjoy (42 comments total)
Especially if it leads to other great albums like Selected Ambient Works, that Aphex Twin apparently wrote while lucidly dreaming.
posted by Espoo2 at 9:45 AM on February 21, 2003

hough people have become conscious in their dreams sporadically throughout history, the term "lucid dreaming" was coined by Frederik van Eeden in 1913, around the time when many "occultists" started experimenting with ways to induce such dreams. Shortly after parapsychologist Celia Green published the book Lucid Dreams, Carlos Castaneda revealed that his hard-to-locate mentor Don Juan had schooled him in the practice (and later - much later - wrote a whole book on the topic). Many Castaneda fans tried out this look-at-your-hands method and found it worked, even though, get this, it was scientifically impossible at the time to be both asleep and conscious. This did not change until Stephen Laberge proved lucid dreams' actuality in a series of sleep-lab experiments in 1979-81, and went on to write Lucid Dreaming, the standard-bearer for all lucid-dreaming books. It will be interesting to see how "Ed" presents dream "control" - some, especially Jungians, disparage the concept. But others point out that "control" is a misnomer in dreaming, and ironically, the book entitled Control Your Dreams argues the most intensively for relinquishing control once lucid and moving to a "higher" state of "witnessing."
posted by soyjoy at 9:45 AM on February 21, 2003


posted by soyjoy at 9:46 AM on February 21, 2003

i really wouldn't put any stock in anything aphex twin claims.
posted by xmutex at 9:52 AM on February 21, 2003

I learned to do so from Robert Monroe, although he tended to believe that he was actually leaving his body.
posted by iamck at 9:52 AM on February 21, 2003

I've had one lucid dream in my life. Flashback:

Holy shit! I'm dreaming! I can do whatever I want! Let's try flying!

I try to leap up in the air and float, but nothing happens.

Then I wake up.

I think I must have some deep-rooted self-esteem issues. What a bummer.
posted by gramcracker at 9:53 AM on February 21, 2003

Five posts in, no mention of Queensryche...
posted by jonson at 9:54 AM on February 21, 2003

Wasn't Waking Life the "watershed moment in pop-culture awareness of lucid dreaming"? (Impressive post though, soyjoy.)
posted by rory at 9:57 AM on February 21, 2003

Vitamin B1 and B6 at high dosages (200mg max daily) combined with a normal B complex (B-50 or B-100) gives vivid dreams and you remember more clearly after wakeing up.
posted by stbalbach at 9:57 AM on February 21, 2003

jonson, it's in the FPP.
posted by soyjoy at 9:59 AM on February 21, 2003

Ken Wilber on lucid dreaming and even lucid sleeping.
posted by goethean at 10:06 AM on February 21, 2003

I started being able to lucid dream when I was very young and had decided I really didn't like nightmares. It was very much like having the cheat codes to a first-person shooter. It was useful to be able to give yourself a machine gun and start flying around blowing people away when the situation arose. I stopped doing it for a long time because these days I don't seem to dream anything significant. And when I do dream something weird and scary I kind of like it, so I just let it go on so I can write about in the morning in the dream journal.

This morning however I woke up after dreaming about a very unpleasant work situation (this &#%$! customer just would not go away!). When I woke up I remembered that I used to be able to do something about these things.
posted by wobh at 10:13 AM on February 21, 2003

Flying around and meeting buddhas and whatnot is one of my favorite things to do at night. Flying is the key to lucicity for me. Ordinarily, if I ask myself if I'm dreaming the answer is "Hell, no, this is too real." However, if I try leaping out a window and I don't plummet to the ground, then I can be pretty sure that I'm dreaming. Then the fun begins.
posted by kozad at 10:22 AM on February 21, 2003

I firmly believe that the past 18 months have been a lucid dream from which I choose not to awaken. I cannot begin to describe the weird shit that's been happening.
posted by luser at 10:32 AM on February 21, 2003

kozad, I know you're kidding around, but it's worth pointing out that reality testing is one of the central components of learning lucid dreaming, and jumping out a window is definitely not a recommended method. (Neither is pinching yourself - despite this page's title - it's failed hundreds of times for many different would-be lucid dreamers.)

The most successful test seems to be reading, which is something we can do easily in the dayworld, but gets extremely squirrelly in the dreamworld. Specifically, find a short phrase to read on something nearby, look away, and look back at it. In a dream, the text will have subtly (or sometimes not-so-subtly) changed by the time you look back.
posted by soyjoy at 10:41 AM on February 21, 2003

If you feel like you are beginning to wake up, twirl in circles. Works every time.

Soyjoy: the reading thing freaked me out once in a lucid dream -- I turned away from the page, looked back and it was the same. Now I don't trust it. My test now is to put my hand on a mirror. If it goes through -- ....
posted by drinkcoffee at 11:10 AM on February 21, 2003 [1 favorite]

I use to be able to control my dreams all the time, its cool. As for reading in dreams, I find it impossible - nothing is coherent, its just random words. The worst thing to happen in a dream is when I forget to dream I'm wearing my glasses.....ever had a dream thats all fuzzy??
posted by Orange Goblin at 11:12 AM on February 21, 2003

gramcracker: that's my tale exactly. I spent weeks and weeks thinking "am I dreaming?" until one night, the answer was 'yes'. I was so happy. Off I flew ... right into awakeness. Damn.

I mentioned this to my girlfriend the other night, and she was like, 'oh, what? I do that all the time. Is it unusual?'

Pesky showoff.
posted by bonaldi at 11:20 AM on February 21, 2003

There is an old Blue's Clues episode about lucid dreaming (as a way to combat nightmares), so we've got a batch of preschoolers that have been introduced to the concept.
posted by whatnot at 11:37 AM on February 21, 2003

Strangely enough I had a lucid dream earlier today.
posted by riffola at 11:54 AM on February 21, 2003

drinkcoffee, I should have mentioned that the reading test is not 100% foolproof, although you're the first person I know of (out of dozens of instances, including my own) who's had it fail. Whatever you find helpful is going to be best for you, but in general, it's easy for a dream to make your hand not go through a mirror, while it's hard for the dream to maintain the integrity of text-based information. The other cool thing about reading is that since it's part of a dream, the content is sure to be something very interesting in terms of your psyche - and I'd say that's doubly so in the case of a text that manages to stay the same!

bonaldi, yes, flying into wakefulness is a common pitfall. But if as drinkcoffee suggests, you make yourself spin or twirl, you will probably stay asleep. What happens commonly with this is that you get a false awakening - you know, you wake up, you're in bed, but then you realize it's not actually your house or something - and as long as you maintain awareness of what you're doing while you're spinning, you can use the false awakening to jump off into further lucid explorations.
posted by soyjoy at 12:02 PM on February 21, 2003

Almost all my dreams are lucid to a point, and I can especially control them when they seem to be turning in a dark, evil direction. I love my dreams, and find that 5 mg of melatonin before I go to bed gives me wicked REM dreams early in the morning when I'm just starting to wake up.
posted by vito90 at 12:11 PM on February 21, 2003

I found myself doing some lucid dreaming last weekend, struggling to see some numbers clearly. Now I can't decide if they were a) a date, b) a time, or c) something else entirely. Obviously, I can't figure out the meaning (a friend told me to play them in the Lottery), so I'm not sure of the message. YMMV
posted by tommasz at 1:01 PM on February 21, 2003

Actually, soyjoy, I was totally serious (in a lighthearted way) in my earlier post. If I'm not sure whether or not I'm dreaming, I try the flying test.

I also ask myself if I'm dreaming while I am awake, for practice.

Regarding the feeling of flying propelling one into waking, here's one solution that worked for me: next time you get lucid, wake up on purpose. Do this once or twice and it gets easier to keep the lucid dream going for a while.

BTW, I'm not sure if the reading thing would work for me, cuz I don't seem to encounter text in the dream world.
posted by kozad at 1:28 PM on February 21, 2003

Coincidentally, I've been have the same lucid dream just about every night for the past two weeks. I've never tried reading. I'll test the theory. But it's pretty clear to me that it's a dream.
posted by stevefromsparks at 1:58 PM on February 21, 2003

kozad, I would submit that if you jump out a window, you're already pretty darn sure you're dreaming. One of the concepts of reality testing is to get in the habit of doing the test even when you're sure you're not dreaming, because when you are dreaming, you're usually sure you're not, unless and until you confirm that you are.

So if window-jumping works for you, OK, but I wouldn't want to be the one recommending it to first-timers. Lucid dreaming already has enough in common with hallucinogenic drugs as it is.

As to encountering text, no, it usually doesn't come up much in the dream world, but it's almost always around in the dayworld - and that's already a clue (unless you spend all day every day plowin' the back 40). If you're in a (real-world) building anywhere, there will be some visible text somewhere. If you're outside, look for road signs. If you're completely away from civilization, check your pockets. Dreams won't usually volunteer text, you gotta look for it.
posted by soyjoy at 2:19 PM on February 21, 2003

I had another lucid dream just the other night and used the 'look at my hands' method to become more aware of it. (I 'remembered' it while I was twirling around in the 'rain', oddly enough.) Trouble was, I got super aware, saw the glowing outlines of many beings standing a little ways away, got freaked out, and deliberately woke myself up. And I keep telling myself next time I'm going to say hello or something. Heh. Usually though, my lucid dreams are me doing stupid experiments like putting my hands through walls repeatedly and going, "Oooooooh!" *grin*
posted by thunder at 3:22 PM on February 21, 2003

My lucid dreaming story:

My friend had been trting to lucid dream for a while. Apparently, he got his method from the Castaneda books, because he had a note on the lamp by his bed that said FIND YOUR HANDS. I made the necessary touching-yourself-at-night jokes and dropped it.

Years later, I was dreaming that I was walking down a street, and realized I was dreaming. I thought "Hey, I'm dreaming! I wonder if I can find my hands!" I held them up and found I could see through them. Apparently, I wasn't quite as lucid as I thought. Then I felt a some sort of shock and woke up.

Never happened again.
posted by dogwelder at 4:54 PM on February 21, 2003

Carlos Castaneda revealed that his hard-to-locate mentor Don Juan had schooled him in the practice (and later - much later - wrote a whole book on the topic). Many Castaneda fans tried out this look-at-your-hands method and found it worked, even though, get this, it was scientifically impossible at the time to be both asleep and conscious.

Could that be because he was, like, a total fraud?

I feel Kablam approaching.
posted by y2karl at 5:14 PM on February 21, 2003

this whole thing reminds me of a dream i had about hitler. . .
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 6:33 PM on February 21, 2003

thankx fr th tip, sj.

I read 24/7 (exagratn) in the real world, as an English teacher/ I am surprised that I don't read in dreams. I'll try, and keep you posted.

Part of the secret about dreamwork is that your desires for growth show up in your dreams. When I was working with a semi-Freudian analyst, I had a dream about discussing the milk in the fridge with my dad...

Man, my shrink creamed in his jeans about that one!
posted by kozad at 8:50 PM on February 21, 2003

I suspect the reading test mostly works because of another quality dreams have. When you sleep the higher language processing parts of your brain shut down so when you are "reading" something or even "listening" to people you aren't "reading" or "hearing" what they are saying but what they mean. It's not words but concepts and meaning that are getting communicated. That's why everything seems so compressed in dreamland and so complicated when you wake up and try to explain it to people (at least for me).

Related to this is the whole "dream interpretation" thing. The mind plays in dreamland. For me lots of weird stuff isn't symbolism as I normally think of it, but analogous to a pun—not two different words which sound the same, but two different things which mean the same.

Anyway, I could go on forever about this. I really should write a new age book with everything I've ever thought about dreams and dreaming. Respectable psychologists would kick my ass but I'd probably make a fortune.

Good night everyone.
posted by wobh at 9:11 PM on February 21, 2003

Could that be because he was, like, a total fraud?

y2karl, since this wasn't really a thread about Castaneda, I tried to keep that whole controversy in a nutshell by calling Don Juan "hard-to-locate" and pointing out the suspicious timing.


since you brought it up, calling Castaneda "a total fraud" misses the point. Yes, I've read DeMille's books (actually just skimmed the second, since so much of it is a rehash of the first) but even if Castaneda made every single thing up, lied th rough his teeth on every page, he convinced thousands of readers that they could do something "impossible" and they did. Up till 1981, patients who reported being aware while dreaming were told - by any psychotherapist who wanted to maintain his credibility - that they were wrong, mistaken, delusional, they had not had this experience, it was impossible. Who's the fraud here?
posted by soyjoy at 9:48 PM on February 21, 2003

I think all my dreams are lucid, if I concentrate on them. I've always had very (extremely) vivid dreams, but whether or not I choose to become an active participant in them has, I think, been an ability I've always had. With the exception of certain dreams (always involving either giant, cat-sized spiders, or airplane crashes) I can also almost always turn a bad dream into a good one just by willing it.

The earliest memory I can recall is one a dream, as a matter of fact. Trip out.

And the one thing I don't like about marijuana: it suppresses your ability to recall your dreams. Though the 'rebound' effect if one quits using for awhile can be *very* intense.

Uh, or so I've heard.
posted by WolfDaddy at 10:03 PM on February 21, 2003

I don't usually do lucid dreaming in the controlling-the-dream sense, but I'm often aware that I'm dreaming, and if I'm having a bad dream, I see my dream self pull the ripcord and parachute out of the dream, then I wake up. Or sometimes it's an ejector seat. But if I don't like the dream, I bail.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:46 PM on February 21, 2003

I dreamed I was trying to decide whether to buy the DVD of the old version of "The Lathe of Heaven" or the new version, and when I woke up I discovered that the book was better than both of them! Weird, huh?
posted by wendell at 1:23 AM on February 22, 2003

Damn! - I just lent my books on lucid dreaming to my brother-in-law yesterday. I'll have to read about synchronicity instead.
posted by troutfishing at 8:35 AM on February 22, 2003

I've had wildly vivid dreams rather frequently for as long as I can remember. The kind where you wake up, dig your fingers into the bed to make sure it's real and think "Thank God/God damn, it was only a dream."

But other than one or two near-miss experiences with lucid dreaming in elementary school, I'd never come close.

My question is: What do you get out of lucid dreaming?
posted by chiheisen at 10:52 AM on February 22, 2003

Who's the fraud here?

Castaneda--you don't think he could read? Who said he made it up all on his own?

History of Lucid Dreaming

Next came the man to who we owe the term "lucid dreaming", a dutch psychiatrist and dream researcher by the name of Frederik Willems Van Eeden. He coined the term "lucid dreams" to those dreams where the dreamer knows that they are dreaming. Though he was interested in all aspects of dreaming, he found that these lucid dreams aroused his keenest interest. At first he presented his ideas in a fictional book entitled The Bride of Dreams, because the fictional guise allowed him to freely deal with delicate matters. Then, in 1913, he presented a paper on lucid dreams to the Society for Psychical Research reporting on 352 of his lucid dreams collected between 1898 and 1912.

Next, you'll be telling me oxen and cattle are two different species...
posted by y2karl at 1:10 PM on February 22, 2003

jeez, I quote a book you linked--teach me not to skim. Anyhow, it doesn't contradict my point that if he made it up, it didn't have to be out of whole cloth--he could have plagiarized.

I am frequently aware I am dreaming--but the people in my dreams act like it's no big whoop when I tell them. Dream people are so blase.

From his Dreams And The Underworld, here's James Hillman on dreams--

I have come to believe that the entire procedure of dream interpretation aiming at more consciousness about living is radically wrong. And I mean wrong in all its fullness: harmful, twisted, deceptive, inadequate, mistaken, and exegetically insulting to its material, the dream. When we wrong the dream, we wrong the soul, and if the soul has the intimate connection with death that tradition has always supposed, then mistaken dream interpretation deceives our dying.

As we know, sleep and death are twin brothers; to sleep is to enter death's kingdom, perchance to dream, and to be filled with psyche.

We may also understand our resistance to dreaming as a resistance in our 'natural" nature to Hades. We "can't remember," go vague, forget to jot it down, or scribble it beyond deciphering, and excuse ourselves by pointing to the obvious slipperiness of dreams. Yet if each dream is a step into the underworld, then remembering a dream is a recollection of death and opens a frightening crevice under our feet. The other alternative--loving one's dreams, not being able to wait for the next one, such as we find in enthusiastic puer psychology, shows to what extent this archetype is in love with easeful death and blind to what is below.
posted by y2karl at 3:21 PM on February 22, 2003 [1 favorite]

i just wanted to record this. last night, after having read this thread, i had a dream in which i was explaining to my father how one can lucid dream, and the means by which to check if you are dreaming (look at your watch twice, read something twice, etc.) but i wasn't aware that i was dreaming! odd, no?
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 8:26 PM on February 22, 2003

y2karl, I think you're missing my point: I think it's very likely Castaneda got the idea to talk about lucid dreaming from the 1968 Celia Green book, and I thought I indicated that strong possibility from my first mention. When I say "made it up," I mean all the stuff about Don Juan - which, yes, there are also other suspicious antecedents for. Whatever the "truth" of his story, though, it had profound effects on those of us who tried lucid dreaming because of it.

As to Hillman, he's a great thinker, and I was a great Hillman acolyte until he went all Robert Bly on us in the mid-90s. It's a good quote you've posted, and worth considering. This is what I meant by mentioning that "some, especially Jungians, disparage the concept" of dream control (If I had found that first link of yours, I would have used it instead of the one I have). Hillman's objection springs directly from his Jungianism. But I now find it too narrow-minded: Lucidity can indeed lead to ego-tripping in dreams and the kind of Apollonian model he finds so counterproductive; however, it can also lead to many other ways of working with the dream that I believe are consistent with Hillman's "underworld" mythos. Unfortunately, I haven't ever found anything from him weighing in on the "witnessing" concept described above.

Oh, and WolfDaddy - I've um, heard that same thing, and it's too bad.
posted by soyjoy at 8:00 AM on February 24, 2003

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