The "lucidity" of lucid dreaming is
usually intended to refer to the comparatively greater mental ability of the
lucid dreamer over the ordinary dreamer or at least to the fact that in a lucid
dream, the dreamer is lucid enough to know that he or she is dreaming (Gackenbach
& Bosveld, 1989; Green, 1968; LaBerge, 1985). According to Webster's Ninth
New Collegiate Dictionary, "lucid" also means "suffused with
light." As it happens, some lucid dreamers find that experiences of light
are also an occasional characteristic of their lucid dreams.
Lucid dream imagery is occasionally experienced as very bright (Gackenbach
& Bosveld, 1989; Gillespie, 1987; Green, 1968). At times, light appears as
part of a lucid dream scene, such as by appearing to come through a window, or
by forming stars or a sun (Garfield, 1979; Gillespie, 1987; Kelzer, 1987;
Sparrow, 1976). Light that plays a normal part in the scene remains integrated
with the rest of dream imagery creating a simulation of waking perceptual
experience. Normal light imagery moves across the visual field in coordination
with dreamed head movement.
In lucid dreams, there is another class of light phenomena that does not
behave like ordinary perceptual experiences of light or like ordinary dream
imagery. I call these phenomena "stable intense lights" (Gillespie,
1989, 1992) and have experienced them during lucid dreaming at least 35 times
and possibly 41 times. I have not found elsewhere reports of such lights. There
is no clear immediate cause of these lights, although often they appear within
darkness after I lucidly close my (dreamed) eyes.
Stable intense lights have been of five types: (a) a limited area of light of
no identifiable form surrounded by normal dream imagery or by darkness; (b) a
perfect disk of light surrounded by darkness; (c) an intense light on the
periphery of vision with or without an accompanying visual scene; (d) a sunlike
light; or (e) a visual field full of intense vibrant light normally including a
sunlike light. This last one accompanies an intense religious feeling. The area
of light and disk of light have the same surface appearance with their uniform
whiteness and may be compared to the intense brightness of a high-wattage
frosted white light bulb lit up in the dark. Peripheral light, the sunlike
light, and the fullness of light have the vibrant intensity of the perceptual
sun. I will give two examples:
I dreamed (May 9, 1982) that I was walking at night with my wife, Charlotte.
I explained to her that every night I leave the world and go to a different
place. I became aware of an intense light that seemed to be in the left corner
of my left eye. I knew I was dreaming and remembered that seeing such a light
does not necessarily mean that I am waking up-as I used to believe. I said to
Charlotte, to the effect, "This is a dream and I have to experiment. Excuse
me a minute." Then I kissed her on the cheek and walked off to the right,
to avoid the light. As I walked on, however, the light remained as though in the
corner of my left eye. I could not turn away from it. As I walked, I could still
see the darkened scene in the rest of the visual field. This was the peripheral
form of light.
In another dream (May 19, 1983), I was in a tailoring shop looking up at the
walls and the high ceiling. I went into the air to look more closely. Then I
realized from my being in the air that I was dreaming. I began spinning around
and then noticed that there was a sun above. Soon there was a cluster of six or
seven very bright sunlike lights. As I spun around in the air, all I saw were
the suns with a confusion of rays and light filling the visual field. It was as
though I floated in light. The suns remained in a fixed spatial relationship
with each other in spite of my spinning and in a fixed location in front of my
eyes. They did not change or move as I studied them.
No matter what my movement may be within the dream, a stable intense light
remains in a fixed, scannable location before me. I cannot put it out of sight.
On two occasions, such a light remained visible after I awakened and I could
continue to scan it. I found that the movement of my eyes upon awakening was in
continuity with my eye movement while dreaming and that the image of light
remained in a fixed location within the range of what I call the visual surface.
The limits of the visual surface are determined by how far I can move my eyes
without moving my head. As I dream, then, the light remains in a fixed position
within the range of my eye movement. The light's location within the visual
field is changed by my scanning eye movement, but not by my dreamed head or body
movement. In the dreams in which I recorded stable intense lights, I always
noted that I had to move my eyes to look toward them, not my head. The lights
are thus in a fixed spatial relationship with my eyes and thus with my sleeping
body, and not with anything in the dream.
The lights are thus not integrated with other dreamed experience-neither with
other visual imagery, if there is some, nor with kinesthetic experience. They do
not play a part in the dream and often make no sense in the dream. The area of
light often seems like a gap in the visual environment. Sometimes I understand
the disk to be a moon, but it is often too large or too small to be a moon, and
it always appears in front of me rather than up in the air. The sunlike light
also is often the wrong size to play the part of a sun.
Furthermore, unlike the usual perceptlike dream imagery, stable intense
lights often appear outside the limits of the perceptual visual field. A stable
intense light can appear where in everyday experience the structure of the face
would block light from coming into the eyes. This is why peripheral light often
seems to be in the far corner of my left eye rather than to my left. It is just
a bit too far to the left to represent light that can normally reach my eye. A
sunlike light has appeared to be above my eye rather than above my head, because
it was slightly too high in the visual field to appear to be perceptually
And finally, the same type of stable intense light often appears in different
dreams at the same scannable location within the visual surface. Peripheral
light usually appears to the extreme left, as though in the left corner of my
left eye. A stable sun has a tendency to appear very high slightly to the right.
Areas of light tend to appear on the left side of the visual surface, but not
near the periphery. In other words, certain areas of the scannable visual
surface seem to be prone to certain kinds of light manifestations, regardless of
what dream the light interrupts or appears in.
Because these lights do not simulate perceptual experience and do not play a
part in the dream, I consider them to be other than dream imagery. Since they
are not dream imagery and I am still asleep, they are, in a sense,
"dreamless" imagery. In Tibetan Buddhism, the subjective experiences
of dreamless sleep are described in terms of light and darkness (rather than,
say, in terms of body imagery) and are said to be achieved through meditation
during lucid dreaming (Chang, 1963; Gyatso, 1982). The Tibetans, however, say
nothing, at least that I have found, about the lights having a fixed scannable
position within the range of one's eye movement.
The fact that stable intense lights are unrelated to the dream imagery out of
which they rise is consonant with the lucid dreamer's (at least in my case)
gradual detachment from dream imagery. Normally, upon becoming lucid, I gain a
sudden detached attitude toward the images and events that till then called for
my attention. My lucid dreams also tend to become less busy, less complicated,
and less demanding than my ordinary dreams, particularly when I become less
active. When I stop to think or plan what to do, action within the visual scene
also stops. I often end up in the air, and when I do, there is usually no longer
any tactile or visual imagery. And imagery once gone does not tend to return. If
I then direct my attention to the empty visual field, I will also begin to lose
awareness of body imagery, and on two occasions I have lost all body experience.
Not all of my lucid dreams become progressively free of imagery, but many do.
And not all that do include stable intense lights. But when there are stable
intense lights, their appearance always fits into the gradual decrease in dream
imagery that has come about either spontaneously or through my action in the
My own observations of stable intense lights could use confirmation through
precise observations by other lucid dreamers. Others may have observed what I
call stable intense lights, but it is impossible to tell from any accounts that
I have read whether any lights have in fact had a fixed location within the
range of the movement of the eyes.
Chang, G. C. C. (Ed. and Trans.). (1963). Teachings of Tibetan yoga. Secaucus,
NJ: Citadel Press.
Gackenbach, J., & Bosveld, J. (1989). Control your dreams. New York:
Harper & Row.
Garfield, P. (1979). Pathway to ecstasy: The way of the dream mandala. New
York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
Gillespie, G. (1987). Dream light: Categories of visual experience during
lucid dreaming. Lucidity Letter, 6(1), 73-79.
Gillespie, G. (1989). Lights and lattices and where they are seen. Perceptual
and Motor Skills, 68, 487-504.
Gillespie, G. (1992). Light in lucid dreams: A review. Dreaming, 2, 167-179.
Green, C. E. (1968). Lucid dreams. Oxford, U. K.: Institute of Psychophysical
Gyatso, G. K. (1982). Clear light of bliss: Mahamudra in Vajrayana Buddhism.
Kelzer, K. (1987). The sun and the shadow: My experiment with lucid dreaming.
Virginia Beach, VA: A. R. E.
LaBerge, S. (1985). Lucid dreaming. Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher.
Sparrow, G. S. (1976). Lucid dreaming: Dawning of the clear light. Virginia
Beach, VA: A. R. E.
George Gillespie, M.A., B.D., was for twenty years a missionary in India. He
has been a graduate student in Sanskrit and a member of the Lucidity Association
Steering Committee. He writes on the phenomenology of hypnopompic, dream,
mystical and perceptual visual experience.