Supposedly from Psychology Today, October 1989, pp. 27-32, which was itself an excerpt from then then-unpublished Control Your Dreams, by Jayne Gackenbach and Jane Bosveld. Their book was published in 1989 as ISBN-10: 0060159332 / ISBN-13: 978-0060159337.
XXX X X X XXX XX XX X X XXX XX XX X X X X X X X X X X XX X X X X X X X X XXX XX XX X X X X XX X XX X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X XXX XX XX X X X X X XX XXX O F Y O U R XXXXXXXX XXXXXXXX XXXXXXXXXX XXXXXX XX XX XXXXXXXX XXXXXXXXX XXXXXXXXX XXXXXXXXXX XXXXXXXX XXX XXX XXXXXXXXX XX XXX XX XXX XX XX XX XXXX XXXX XX XX XX XX XXX XX XX XX XXXXXXXXXX XX XX XX XXXXXXXXX XXXXXX XXXXXXXXXX XX XXXX XX XXXXXXX XX XX XXXXXXXX XXXXXX XXXXXXXXXX XX XX XX XXXXXXX XX XX XX XX XX XX XX XX XX XX XX XXX XX XX XX XX XX XX XX XX XXXXXXXXX XX XX XXXXXXXXXX XX XX XX XX XXXXXXXXX XXXXXXXX XX XX XXXXXXXXXX XX XX XX XX XXXXXXXX THE TECHNIQUE OF LUCID DREAMING CAN HELP YOU USE YOUR DREAMS TO EXPLORE YOUR PSYCHE by Jayne Gackenbach and Jane Bosveld
It was late Sunday night and Jill Day was having a nightmare. She had watched a violent movie about a serial murderer and, recognizing that her dreams were often affected by such stories, she knew as she fell asleep that she had probably not seen the last of the killer. Perhaps because of that awareness, when the movie psychopath appeared in her dream and threatened to kill her, Day suddenly recognized he was not real. "I know this is a dream," she yelled at the man. "Now go away. Get out of here!" The image of the man dissolved, as did all other imagery, and she slowly drifted into the obscurity of dreamless sleep.
Banishing evil from a dream...challenging frightening characters...jumping through a window and flying away from a heated argument...such things are possible in the paradoxical and alluring realm of lucid dreaming. Unlike ordinary dreams, which seam real to the sleeper having them, lucid dreams occur when dreamers suddenly become aware that what they are experiencing is unreal, a dream. The intrusion of consciousness changes every aspect of the dreamworld. Lucid dreamers often speak of a hyper-real quality to their dreams, which elicit stronger emotional reactions than their nonlucid relatives. In the lucid state, dreamers can even gain some control over dream content; they may decide to soar over the Great Lakes, for example. Conscious awareness also allows the dreamer to work therapeutically with dream material, in a relatively safe setting in which he can maintain a large measure of control. Finally, lucid dreaming is a skill many can learn. In fact, we estimate, based on our own research and a survey of the available literature, that 58% of all men and women will spontaneously experience a lucid dream at least once in their lives.
Discoverers of the Lucid Dream ∞
The ancient Greeks and Romans visited dream temples, where they searched their dreams for messages from the gods (to dream of having one's throat cut meant good luck), and it seems reasonable to assume some people have always had lucid dreams. But no extensive study of the phenomenon exists in the West before 1867, when the Marquis Hervey de Saint-Denys, a French professor of Chinese literature, published Dreams and How to Guide Them, the first serious work on conscious dream control. Though the Marquis reports dreams in which he was able to "call up the shades of the dead and also transform men and things according to my will," it was not until 1913, in a paper presented to the British Society for Psychical Research, that the Dutch physician Frederik Willems Van Eeden wrote of having a "lucid" dream.
Van Eeden may have coined the term, but it was Hugh Calloway, and English contemporary, who was the first to explore the aesthetic contours of the lucid state in dreams. Written under the name Oliver Fox, Calloway's description of his first lucid dream (at age 16) trembles with the excitement that many have subsequently felt. "Instantly," he wrote, "the vividness of life increased a hundredfold. Never had sea and sky and trees shone with such glamorous beauty; even the commonplace houses seem alive and mystically beautiful. Never had I felt so absolutely well, so clear-brained, so inexpressibly free! The sensation was exquisite beyond words; but it lasted only a few minutes and I awoke.
Lucid dreamers often speak of the thrill of observing their own dreams. Daryl E. Hewitt, a counselor and a veteran lucid dreamer from San Francisco, is typical. He recalls learning "to fly very fast and very high, to pass through walls, including steel (and to burn holes through them with lasers from my fingertips!), explore other planets, and especially to alter the dream environment at will, making things appear, disappear, and change shape and color." It's as if the dreamer were making an interactive movie, creating fantasy and watching it unfold at the same time. The dreams themselves may often be short-lived, but their sheer intensity often indelibly impresses them on the dreamer's memory.
What Lucid Dreams Can Tell Us ∞
Freud called dreams the royal road to the unconscious, and today virtually all forms of psychotherapy use the patient's remembered dreams in the therapeutic struggle for insight and self-awareness. But only through lucid dreaming can you yourself "will" a confrontation with difficult emotional issues and try to resolve them. For the first time, this makes possible what psychologist Joseph Dane of the University of Virginia calls "intra-personal psychotherapy," in which you enlist both "waking and dreaming consciousness" to work on your own psychological fears and dilemmas firsthand -- in your own mind. Potentially, this could be a therapeutic breakthrough.
Using dream analysis to identify the source of your problems is usually not simple, though, and you may quite innocently mislead yourself. If, for example, you confront your brother in a dream and for the first time confess you have always feared him, you may feel some relief. But you may also be missing some more profound issue. Perhaps it is not your brother you're afraid of, but an aspect of yourself that your brother represents. In many instances you may be entirely shut off from your deeper feelings, and a professional therapist may be required to guide you in the direction of emotional truth.
Also, paradoxically, the pleasure of lucid dreams, together with the power of the conscious mind to control them, may lead the dreamers into the habit of turning nasty dreams into sweet ones. As psychologist Gayle Delaney points out, the very appearance of consciousness contaminates the dream with the attitudes and coping strategies that are employed by the dreamers while awake.
"The single most destructive advice is to encourage people to manipulate their dreams to have happy endings," Delaney says. "I encourage people to use lucidity to explore the dream rather than to control it." In this regard, she believes it is often better for people to start up terrified from a nightmare than to awaken calm from a lucid dream that they have sugarcoated. The nightmare forces the dreamer to recognize that he or she is conflicted or in trouble.
Like Delaney, Erik Craig, a Massachusetts-based existential psychologist, worries that lucidity may serve as "a narcissistic flight from one's fuller, though perhaps less appealing, possibilities." Craig recalls a high-school student who dreamed that her father was a ship's captain oblivious to a raging storm that threatened to sink his vessel. At this point, the woman turned lucid: She realizes that she could stop the storm and did so. This made her feel great, but by altering the dream, Craig believes, the woman was avoiding her distress over her father's alcoholism. Lucidity, says Craig, allowed her to "bolster her defenses against the awareness of these painful but important truths."
The Power of Dream Dialogue ∞
That lucid dreamers often employ the same defensive actions during a dream as they do while awake is one reason most clinicians argue that it's important to engage dream characters in conversation. By posing questions to the characters or to other aspects of the dream, you may be able to get in touch with and work through sensitive emotional issues. And if the dialogue is productive, you may see the dream character change shape, become less fearsome, get smaller, disappear, or merge with your "self" in the dream.
The importance of dream dialogue is emphasized by West German psychologists Paul Tholey, of the University of Frankfurt, and Norbert Sattler, who together train students and patients to lucid-dream. They have found that most people can learn to lucid-dream, and once having done so they can learn to deal effectively with unconscious conflicts. Tholey, who has been studying lucid dreaming since 1959, first began investigating the therapeutic potential of what he called Klartraume (clear dreams) when he encountered both helpful and menacing figures in his own lucid dreams. For example, Tholey recalls that, after his father's death, he often dreamed about him as a threatening, insulting figure. "When I became lucid, I would beat him in anger. He was then sometimes transformed into a more primitive creature, like an animal or a mummy. Whenever I won, I was overcome by a feeling of triumph. Nevertheless, my father continued to appear as a threatening figure in subsequent dreams.
"Then I had the following decisive dream. I became lucid while being chased by a tiger and wanted to flee. I then pulled myself together, stood my ground, and asked, 'Who are you?' The tiger was taken aback, but was transformed into my father and answered, 'I am your father and will now tell you what you are to do!'
"In contrast to my earlier dreams, I did not attempt to beat him, but tried to get involved in a dialogue with him. I told him that he could not order me around. I rejected his threats and insults. On the other hand, I had to admit that some of my father's criticism was justified, and I decided to change my behavior accordingly. At that moment, my father became friendly, and we shook hands. I asked him if he could help me, and he encouraged me to go my own way alone. My father then seemed to slip into my own body, and I remained alone in the dream."
This dream, Tholey reports, had a "liberating and encouraging" effect on his dreams and his life. "My father never again appeared as a threatening dream figure," he says. What's more, "In the waking state, my unreasonable fear and inhibitions in my dealings with persons of authority disappeared."
Lucid Dreaming as Therapy ∞
Tholey has found that the lucid dream has several therapeutic advantages. First, lucidity seems to create an environment in which the dream ego is less afraid of threatening figures or situations and is more willing to confront them. Second, the ability to manipulate dream content allows the dream ego to "get in touch with places, times, situations or persons" that are important to the dreamer and that he or she desires to investigate. In addition, when conversing with other dream figures, the dreamer's ego is often capable of recognizing the complex dynamics that may occur within these interactions.
It is not lucid dreaming per se that allows self-healing and growth, Tholey contends, but the resolute and mature action of the dream ego. When this is absent, the lucid dream will have little therapeutic value. Some dreamers become overly aggressive with hostile dream characters and kill them; others become totally submissive and allow themselves to be killed. These are unlikely to be constructive responses, says Tholey.
Battling and defeating hostile dream characters and situations are common response in lucid nightmares. Elaine Smith of Matewan, WV, used physical violence to handle the following nightmare: "I was in a building with a group of people. The building was surrounded by a group of zombies. I had a gun that misfired every time a tried to shoot a creature. They managed to break in and we were quickly surrounded. I knew that our escape depended on my gun working. Suddenly, I realized that I was dreaming and that I could force the gun to work by willing it to do so. The gun began firing and we escaped."
Guns, however, are not required for a successful escape from dream peril. Patricia Garfield], author of several popular books on dreaming, explains that "by yielding, by providing no solid resistance, the intended victim can render an attacker helpless. He fails to get at a person who is so supple, so light, so quick, so like water, that there is nothing to receive the brutal action. Exhausted the attacker quits."
Beyond that, psychotherapist Scott Sparrow points out that although one can easily escape from or destroy a dream figure, the skill should not be thought of as an end in itself. "Such actions," he says, "often fit into a developmental continuum as intermediate accomplishments. As the therapist, I encourage the dreamer not to get stuck in such intermediate stages, and ton continue working toward dialogue, reconciliation, and integration."
What is the most enlightening way to respond to a fearful dream figure? Tholey suggests the following:
Do not attempt to flee. Rather, openly, confront the dream figure and ask in a friendly way, "Who are you?" or "Who am I?"
If it is possible to address the dream figure, try to achieve reconciliation through dialogue. If agreement is impossible, try to frame the conflict as an open dispute. Refuse insults or threats, but recognize justifiable charges made against you.
Do not surrender to an attack by a dream figure. Show your readiness to defend yourself by taking a defensive position and by staring the dream figure in the eyes. If a fight is unavoidable, attempt to defeat the dream enemy, but do not try to kill. If victorious, offer reconciliation.
If reconciliation is not possible, separate the figure physically and/or in thought and word.
After reconciliation, ask the dream figure if he can help you. Then mention specific problems in your waking or dream life with which you need help.
However beneficial holding a dialogue with a dream character may be, Tholey believes a still more effective technique is for the lucid dreamer's "ego" to enter the body of another dream character. He illustrates this with a teenager who was having trouble with a potential boyfriend. She said, "I asked myself . . . why didn't he return my feelings and wanted to get an answer to this question in the dream. It was then that I became aware of my spirit, that is, that part of me I think of as my 'self,' detaching itself from my body and floating across to his body and entering into it . . . . As time went on, however, I got used to being in his body . . . . I saw how he perceived me . . . the conflict he was in. After all, he had, I suppose, become aware of my feelings for him and was very fond of me, but he did not want to go out with me as such . . . . I understood why he had been so reserved with me, and I realized that he would never return my feelings."
Tholey often describes dream figures as having independent consciousnesses, with individual personality traits and behavior patterns. But he does not mean to imply that they are somehow autonomous beings. Rather, they are conflicting ideas and emotions from the dreamer.
For this reason, Tholey says, lucid dreamers should never resort to aggression, though self-defense may be necessary. Every effort should be made to discuss disputes openly. "The appearance of a hostile dream figure may reflect, in symbolic form, a psychological conflict," he explains. "The threatening figure is often the personification of an 'off-split,' a repressed, or isolated, subsystem of the personality." Conversation may begin a process of integration. By contrast, battle with a dream character may only serve to bury the problem it represents deeper within the unconscious.
Unconscious Dream Healing ∞
Behavioral psychology holds that it's possible to change an individual's behavior by rewarding, or reinforcing, the desired actions and punishing, or negatively reinforcing, undesirable actions. Understanding the reasons underlying one's actions, behaviorists contend, is not necessary to change. Although most psychologists now view a purely behaviorist perspective with some skepticism, it can play a role in lucid-dream therapy. Psychologist Peter Fellows, for one, never teaches dream interpretation at all as part of lucid dream therapy.
"Time in a lucid dream is a precious commodity and I do not like to waste it," Fellows says. "If, as I am dreaming, I become lucid at a point where someone is sitting on my head, I do not begin to question him on the symbolic meaning of the experience. I act, and quickly.
"When symbolic dreams work for us, a waking-life conflict is acted out in symbolic guise and resolved. Somehow, that resolution is translated back into real like with real effect. What lucidity enables us to do is to resolve the dream conflict and to reap the benefits in self-confidence that come from doing so consciously.
"Interpreting the dream, knowing what area of one's like the dream conflict is related to, is fine, but when the work is actually done, the result will be experienced whether or not the interpretation was correct," he says.
Tholey, too, has found that a patient can reap the benefits of a dreamed action without understanding why. For example, a 28-year-old student came to therapy complaining of nightmares. She showed signs of anxiety and depression, a result perhaps of her failing marriage and her difficult relationship with her dying father. In the course of several therapy sessions, Tholey discussed ways of dealing with the frightening characters that haunted her nightmares, and soon after the woman had a lucid dream.
She was in her childhood home, awaiting the arrival of a group of people who intended to harm her. She remembered that this setting often occurred in her dreams, a thought the gave rise to lucidity. "Despite the fact that she was struck with fear and wanted to flee," explains Tholey, "she overcame this fear and courageously stood her ground." Then people in long robes approached. As she looked at the first figure to come close -- a gigantic man with a cold, blue face and glowing eyes -- she followed Tholey's instructions and asked him, "What are you doing here? What do you want from me?"
The man looked at her sadly and helplessly as he said, "Why, you called us. You need us for your anxiety." At this, the man shrank to normal size. His face turned flesh colored and his eyes ceased to glow. Since then, the woman has had no more nightmares and has felt less anxious in her waking life. Nonetheless, she remained unable to make conscious sense of the dream.
Tholey has several theories about how apparently meaningless dreams may help us to heal. The courage needed to confront a hostile dream figure may bolster the dreamer's ego in a way that affects his or her waking life. Or it may be that confronting our fears desensitizes us: Talking about nightmares in waking therapy sometimes helps to quell the unconscious fears that give rise to them.
This desensitization may be particularly useful in treating phobias. One lucid dreamer learned to temper his fear of heights in this way. When he first began flying in his lucid dreams, the man explains, he ascended too quickly and woke up badly frightened. So he began to experiment with varying the altitude of his dream flights, learning gradually to control how high he flew. "Now," he says, "When I'm awake and climbing or standing at a serious height, I don't feel nearly as frightened as before."
Sattler, Tholey's collaborator, also believes that intellectual insight is not essential to positive therapeutic outcomes. In his view, lucid dreamers are working on formative experiences, long buried in the unconscious. The dreamer then acts out his conflicts and attempted resolutions of them in an alternative reality (the dream). As Sattler says, "You have to get in contact with all this old stuff. It's the one way out...to live through something." When you wake up from the dream, you may then experience behavioral changes without understanding why.
The Best Way to Use Lucidity ∞
Obviously, lady dreaming is not a panacea for life's problems, nor a replacement for traditional psychotherapies. Indeed, working with lucidity may be the most beneficial when use in moderation and in conjunction with other therapy. One reason for this is that no one's control of dream content is perfect. As Jungian analyst James Albert Hall has observed, "The waking ego is like a gatekeeper who can permit or deny entrance into the boundaries which he guards, but who is powerless to command the appearance or disappearance of a particular entrant (content), however much he might desire it.
Joseph Dane believes the issue is not whether to control the content of a dream, but rather learning how to control one's response to dream events as they appear and enhancing cooperation between waking and dreaming consciousness.
Despite the present limitations of lucid dreaming as a therapeutic technique, it can nevertheless be a valuable tool for individuals seeking self-understanding. The essential question to ask, as Craig has stated, is, "How may we best acquire and use the knowledge of this human territory in a way that respects and conserves its essential structure and nature?...There are very, very few opportunities to have life completely thrown at us, to have life explode around us, and for us to be tossed in the middle of it." Lucid dreaming is such an experience, and if we learn to use it well, we do not yet know how far along the path to self-enlightenment it will carry us.
Excerpted from the book Control Your Dreams by Jayne Gackenbach and Jane Bosveld. To be published by Harper & Row Publishers, Inc. [ 1 ] ISBN-10: 0060159332
ISBN-13: 978-0060159337 Copyright 1989 by Jane Gackenback and Jane Bosveld. Psychologist Jayne Gackenbach, a leading researcher in lucid dreaming, teaches social psychology at Athabasca University in Alberta, Canada. Jane Bosveld is a contributing editor to Psychology Today.
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