Is it dangerous to experiment with lucid dreaming?
Is the attempt to have more of these experiences an attempt to tamper with some
basic mechanisms which will break if inspected, tumbling us headlong into a
madness of non-personhood? Or do the attempts simply use a part of the brain
which is normally not used, a benign or even positive thing which can lead to
Its been my experience that its possible to overdo attempts to learn lucid
dreaming. In particular its possible to try too hard to develop techniques like
reality testing or any other auto-suggestive techniques in the hopes of having
more lucid dreams. However, these over-exertions are analogous to an
overstretched muscle which will heal over time, and learning to stretch properly
is as much of the learning process as anything else.
My particular area of study is the transition between waking and sleep. I
believe that to learn more about dreams we must start at the front door and
learn about the transition to sleep.
My experiences thus far supports this notion, in that I have been able to
make observations I could not have made if I had simply become aware while
within the dream state. It's also true that this transition is available for
inspection at least once a day (when we go to bed) and sometimes more depending
on our sleep and work cycles, while the number of times that we actually
"aha" into a dream is quite small for most of us and thus restricts
the amount of research and play that we can do.
The study of the transition to sleep seems like the "hard way"
(because its so damn hard) but I've learned that there are no shortcuts to the
really good things in life. However, I make no claims of exclusivity on anything
and what's right for me may not be right for others.
This angle, the study of the transition, is something I came to after having
given the other techniques my best shot and having burned out on them. I went
through a phase where I used auto-suggestion on a regular basis. I pretty much
pounded on myself with suggestive techniques.
While my enthusiasm for this was quite high at first it eventually wore me
down because there was not a sense that my efforts were resulting in specific
results, just the occasional spot of lucidity. There was no real sense of
overall progress. I found that when I abandoned these efforts I felt really good
about the fact that I had stopped beating myself over the head.
Even along my chosen direction, however, I have over-done it on a regular
basis. My learning in this way seems to have been composed of cycles whose
length varied but tended to last a few months. Each of these learning cycles
seems to have been one where I try to practice attentiveness to the transition
and end up squeezing on it too hard by too much concentration. Inevitably I just
get worn out and this manifests itself with a sense of burden about the whole
process, all the joy sucked out, and the whole effort becomes just shear
The symptoms of overdoing it (for me) can include disorientation at night
when awakening, as in not knowing where I am, and occasional audio or visual
hallucinations, including things flying in room or crawling up out of my sheets.
I'll be honest, sometimes these hallucinations were frightening. However, they
all ended quite quickly and in all cases I was in the in-between state, half
asleep and half awake and in all cases it was clear what had happened as soon as
it was over.
Other symptoms of over-doing it are a feeling of being dragged out or
emotionally empty during the day. What crumbs of actual experience come along
are not worth the "hangovers" from trying too hard.
My recovery from over doing it involves several stages. First I abandon the
whole effort, throw the whole thing out and get lost in the affairs of my daily
life. Sleep and dreaming becomes restorative and regenerative again, not the
source of effort or the place for adventures. This is actually a sweet time, in
the same way that a vacation is sweet after a long time of hard work. I tend to
pamper myself and be really good to myself. A natural balance is restored and
everything seems right with the world.
Over time that phase passes and I find myself still at a distance from the
effort, not ready to start it again but no longer in the bosom of release from
trying too hard.
Eventually, and inevitably, my curiosity begins to swell again. Slowly, over
more time, I start doing the post-mortem on where I went astray. Although it is
a cycle of learning I don't make the same mistakes over and over and I really do
learn from previous cycles.
Over time I can reduce what I learn from over-doing it to "quit trying
so hard" and over time and through cycles the amount that I do try gets
smaller and smaller and I become like a smaller, sharper instrument, moving less
but doing more.
Finally I'm fully recovered and I'm then ready to make another effort, a
little farther along and a little more knowledgeable about the subtleties
involved in the process. I feel fresh again and ready to take on the challenge
again. For me this is not something I could stop anymore than a salmon could
stop swimming upstream. I'm just wired this way.
Although its frustrating to overdo it and go through all that pain this is
all encouraging to me as it indicates a great resilience in our experience and
our capabilities. Its possible to bend yourself but not break. Left alone, the
natural restorative capabilities of sleep re-present themselves and sleep and
dreams once again become safe and comfortable.
So, my experience with danger has been that it is possible to overdo it and
that unpleasant things can happen as a result of this but that things will
steady and right themselves if left alone. The good news is that I do make
progress, I do learn, I do get farther, even though it only seems like a
millimeter at a time.
Where I am now my current cycle is a good one because I've now reduced the
whole of the effort to a simple and easy stillness, literally the same kind I
devote to TV, and mostly just watching, although I try to "stay in"
the transitions to sleep as they occur, tiny shifts which bring with them
changes as dream stuff begins to emerge. This is the most active it gets, and it
is quite subtle. There is more energy in reading a word than there is in some of
these activities. The whole thing is so very, very, subtle.
My latest observation, learned from my experiences in the transition, is that
what we think of as dreams have what could be called "shape" or a sort
of predefined inclination towards certain subject matter.
While it is true that within a lucid dream I've made cars appear or walked
through walls or flew within the context of THAT dream I could not really change
that much without changing the whole nature of the dream, its whole character,
frequently disrupting the whole thing and ending it.
Dreams also seem to have a natural life cycle, a natural time to live before
they want to wind down. I see post after post of people wanting to extend the
length of the experiences, and my own experiences correlate that dreams want to
end and its hard to fight that. Frequently when I'm lucid I can end up feeling
like the dream that I was in was spent and had run its course and was no longer
During the subtleties of transitions dreams present themselves at a pretty
early stage, although they aren't dreams in the way that we think of them. They
are sort of nodules at first, shapes which have a mental feel about them,
occupying a space which is perceived but not seen. In other words, shapes that
are felt but for which there is not a specific visual. Understand that this is
occurring within the larger context of the whole process and that I'm leaving
out other parts of it for purposes of this discussion.
These dream nodules lack story, characters, intent, everything that we
associate with a dream. The only thing they have in common is shape or bound.
They are fleeting at first, emerging for a few seconds and then disappearing
like some fish coming to the surface and then returning underwater. There is no
specific action that can be taken to hold them, they must just be observed. As
time goes on the transition gets deeper and the nodules become more fleshed out.
They occupy more space and become places where action can take place. This
action is more of a rambling sort, and at this point my thoughts are enmeshed
with dream thoughts which are springing forth too. The me-ness of me is still
quite there but more of my mental activity is being given over to the emerging
dream stuff, which now begins to direct where my thought trains go and their
content, and do so into the emerging dream shapes.
As this gets stronger, dream characters can appear and mini story lines
emerge and begin to interact with me. They are still fleeting, though, and
although there are images there is not a visual presentation in the way that we
think of. They are images which have the quality of memories in their intensity.
By this time in the process I'm almost totally gone and am pretty much given
over to the process as it comes forth. I am dreaming. My own level of me-ness is
quite small, and my level of expertise is pretty much at its limits here.
Thus there are sort of two aspects of it, or two ways it is experienced. One
is the place where the scenario plays out and the other is the way that our own
thoughts become imbued with dream stuff as it emerges. Each gets stronger as we
get deeper into sleep and each must be learned. "Learning" for me
really means to be comfortable with increasing intensity of emerging dreams,
both the place where they occur and in the way that my thoughts, memories, and
associations are given over to the dreaming mind with its rules.
Its an effort worthy of a life's study, although its not clear how
"practical" it is outside of my newly learned ability to take killer
naps without actually falling asleep :-)