Tomé Mor­rissy-Swan

Many of his­tory’s great­est thinkers claimed to be able to con­sciously con­trol their dreams. But is it re­ally pos­si­ble? By

Irish Independent - Health & Living - - ADVICE -

HAVE you ever wished you could fly, or time travel, or live like a king for a day? For a se­lect few peo­ple, those dreams are a re­al­ity — in their dreams, at least. Lu­cid dream­ers are able to con­sciously ma­nip­u­late their dreams, turn­ing their night­time hours into an imag­i­na­tive play­ground with­out bound­aries.

It’s an idea that has long fas­ci­nated mankind. While the term lu­cid dream­ing wasn’t coined un­til the early 1900s, the same the­ory is in­cluded in Bud­dhist teach­ings, and in 350BC, Aris­to­tle wrote: “When one is asleep, there is some­thing in con­scious­ness which tells us that what presents it­self is but a dream.”

How­ever, sci­ence only sub­stan­ti­ated lu­cid dream­ing in 1975, when psy­chol­o­gist Dr Keith Hearne trained his ex­per­i­men­tal sub­jects to use ocu­lar sig­nalling to in­di­cate they were in a lu­cid dream state. The sub­jects sig­nalled their con­scious­ness dur­ing the dream by mov­ing their eyes left to right eight times.

By us­ing lu­cid dreams to work through chal­leng­ing sit­u­a­tions in your wak­ing life, you nat­u­rally be­gin to re­alise you also have the power to cre­ate the day-to-day re­al­ity you want to live in.

The im­me­di­ate ap­peal of lu­cid dream­ing is ob­vi­ous: it of­fers the su­per­hu­man abil­ity to con­trol the world you ‘live’ in, if only for a few sec­onds or min­utes. The dreams can be used for plea­sur­able ex­pe­ri­ences, or to re­solve wak­ing-life ten­sions and stress. Or you could play out chal­leng­ing sit­u­a­tions be­fore they hap­pen — a par­tic­u­larly dif­fi­cult exam or pre­sen­ta­tion, per­haps.

“Part of the ex­cite­ment of lu­cid dream­ing is the re­al­i­sa­tion that you have the power to do any­thing you wish in the world in your dream,” says Ian Wal­lace, a psy­chol­o­gist, dream ex­pert, and au­thor of The Com­plete A to Z Dic­tio­nary of Dreams. “By us­ing lu­cid dreams to work through chal­leng­ing sit­u­a­tions in your wak­ing life, you nat­u­rally be­gin to re­alise you also have the power to cre­ate the day-to-day re­al­ity you want to live in.”

His­tor­i­cally, artists, sci­en­tists and in­ven­tors are said to have used them to seek inspiration. “Some of those tales may be apoc­ryphal,” Wal­lace ex­plains. “But it is highly likely cre­ators and in­no­va­tors use lu­cid dream ex­pe­ri­ences to ex­plore cre­ative op­tions that may not be ob­vi­ous from a rou­tinely an­a­lyt­i­cal and ob­jec­tive per­spec­tive.”

Ein­stein, in par­tic­u­lar, is thought to have used them to help for­mu­late his theories. “One of the main qual­i­ties as­so­ci­ated with cre­ators, in­ven­tors and artists is their ca­pac­ity for deep play, where they can be­come so ab­sorbed in their par­tic­u­lar area of in­ter­est that they en­ter into a flow state, un­con­sciously shut­ting out any other in­flu­ences that are of no rel­e­vance.”

Lu­cid dream­ing takes this a step fur­ther by cre­at­ing an “or­ganic vir­tual re­al­ity ex­pe­ri­ence” where dif­fer­ent sce­nar­ios can be played out and ex­per­i­mented with.

Lu­cid dream­ing hap­pens dur­ing the rapid eye move­ment (REM) pe­ri­ods of sleep, which can take place four times a night. “It’s most likely to oc­cur dur­ing the hyp­n­a­gogic and hypnopom­pic states be­tween wak­ing and sleep­ing,” says Wal­lace. “With prac­tice, they can be gen­er­ated in any part of REM state sleep.” Al­though lu­cid dream­ers re­main asleep, they have “a sig­nif­i­cant level of self-aware­ness, self-re­flec­tion, in­ten­tion, mo­ti­va­tion and ac­cess to mem­ory.”

The dif­fer­ence be­tween lu­cid and nor­mal dreams, in terms of con­scious­ness, is rel­a­tively straight­for­ward. Re­searchers com­par­ing brain ac­tiv­ity in both have dis­cov­ered that in reg­u­lar dream­ing there is a ba­sic level of con­scious­ness. We can per­ceive and ex­pe­ri­ence emo­tions, for ex­am­ple, but we aren’t aware we’re ac­tu­ally dream­ing.

Con­versely, sci­en­tists have found that the ar­eas of the brain re­spon­si­ble for higher cog­ni­tive con­trol, aware­ness, and emo­tional pro­cess­ing re­main ac­tive dur­ing lu­cid dreams. The right dor­so­lat­eral pre­frontal cor­tex, for ex­am­ple, which is in­volved in self-as­sess­ment, de­ci­sion-mak­ing and mem­ory, is fully run­ning dur­ing the process.

Po­ten­tially every­one will ex­pe­ri­ence a lu­cid dream dur­ing their life, pos­si­bly with­out fully un­der­stand­ing they’re in a lu­cid dream state, and you don’t need an IQ of 160 to have one. Around 20pc of adults lu­cid dream reg­u­larly, with up to half of us ex­pe­ri­enc­ing one in our life­time. Dur­ing pu­berty, spon­ta­neous lu­cid dream­ing is com­mon, due to neu­ro­bi­o­log­i­cal changes.

How to train your­self to dream lu­cidly

For most peo­ple, it can take a long time to learn to dream lu­cidly. For oth­ers, it comes quickly or nat­u­rally. With a lit­tle time, prac­tice and ded­i­ca­tion, the ex­perts reckon any­one can do it.

To Wal­lace, the first step is to recog­nise you are dream­ing. Take no­tice of any­thing that is un­usual or out of con­text in the dream. “As you di­rect your at­ten­tion to what ap­pears strange in your dream, the aware­ness that you are dream­ing will nat­u­rally be­gin to emerge for you.”

You could keep a dream jour­nal de­tail­ing the weird things you ex­pe­ri­ence, so when you re­turn to that dream state, it makes it eas­ier to be con­scious of them.

Keep­ing a reg­u­lar sleep­ing sched­ule is also rec­om­mended. If you sleep and wake at the same time each day, your brain will set­tle into a rou­tine and a cy­cle of sleep, mak­ing it more likely to en­ter dream stages dur­ing the night.

Another com­monly-used tech­nique for be­gin­ners, ac­cord­ing to lu­cid­ity.com, is re­al­ity test­ing. To do this, you should as­sign sev­eral mo­ments per day to prac­tice. For the first step, keep some text or a dig­i­tal watch with you. Read the words or num­bers, look away, and look back, and see if the letters or num­bers change. In dreams, the text will usu­ally change when it is re-read. If there’s no change, you prob­a­bly aren’t dream­ing.

Next, imag­ine your sur­round­ings: if you’re pretty sure you’re awake, tell your­self “I may not be dream­ing now, but if I were, what would it be like?” Imag­ine ev­ery­thing you see, hear, smell and feel is a dream. Keep that feel­ing and move to the fi­nal step, which is to de­cide some­thing youwant­todoiny­our next lu­cid dream. Keep imag­in­ing you are dream­ing and vi­su­alise your­self en­joy­ing the ac­tiv­ity. Hope­fully, you’ll then be able to dream it.

If the re­al­ity test­ing doesn’t work, you could sim­ply try nap­ping. An ex­per­i­ment in the 1970s found that lu­cid­ity came eas­i­est dur­ing af­ter­noon naps; a light sleep with pe­ri­ods of wake­ful­ness is be­lieved to be the best in­cu­ba­tor of lu­cid dreams. One study has shown that your 15to 20 times more likely to lu­cid dream dur­ing nap­ping than not. If you don’t man­age to, at least you’ve had a good kip.

This can be done in the morn­ing, too, which Wal­lace be­lieves is the best time. You could try set­ting your alarm an hour early and ly­ing in a half-asleep state. “As you wake, you have the op­por­tu­nity to hover in that area be­tween sleep­ing and wak­ing,” Wal­lace ex­plains. “You can be­come aware that you are dream­ing as you wake and make the de­ci­sion to re­main in that state. To be­gin with, you will prob­a­bly just con­tinue to wake up but with prac­tice you can main­tain the lu­cid state for longer.”

Wal­lace sug­gests avoid­ing ar­ti­fi­cial meth­ods, such as us­ing tech­nol­ogy, to aid lu­cid dream­ing. “LED masks, for ex­am­ple, can be hit and miss and may in­duce un­de­sired re­sults. Tak­ing any form of lu­cid dream­ing sup­ple­ments can also cause un­pleas­ant ex­pe­ri­ences,” he

says.

“One of the fun­da­men­tal val­ues of lu­cid dream­ing is that the dreamer is au­tonomously gen­er­at­ing their own dream ex­pe­ri­ence, rather than re­ly­ing on ex­ter­nal aids. The more au­ton­o­mous the dreamer is, the more con­nected they will be with their in­ten­tion­al­ity and their power to make choices.”

De­cide what you want to do in your next lu­cid dream

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