Electric Dreams

An Excerpt From The Lucid Dream Exchange
Lucy Gillis, Editor

Lucid Dreaming and Aesthetics

Jorge Conesa-Sevilla

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Conesa-Sevilla, Jorge (2006 May). Lucid Dreaming and Aesthetics.
(An Excerpt From The Lucid Dream Exchange, Lucy Gillis, Editor.) Electric Dreams 13(5).

In LDE 37 Dr. Jorge Conesa-Sevilla discussed his views on the relationship between lucid dreaming and aesthetics and what he calls "ecopsychological unfolding." To see samples of his lucid dream inspired artwork go to:


Lucid Dreaming and Aesthetics
(c) Jorge Conesa-Sevilla

I am honored to be given the opportunity to share ideas in this forum, ideas that for many years have been, exclusively, a private understanding of the interlacing between lucid dreaming material, its artistic reinterpretation in diverse media, and these having a direct impact on what I refer to as ecopsychological unfolding.

Many practitioners of Transpersonal Psychology are keen on the study and understanding of psyche processes that I will attempt to describe in the context of lucid dreaming and its artistic representation. The interested reader can go to writers in this field for further information if you have not already.

For the time being, let the reader interpret ecopsychological unfolding as a more inclusive process of personality individuation (non anthropocentric and embracing of all nature and its processes), or being actively involved in the discovery and integration of as many personality aspects as possible that are said to be the inclusive of a real "me": dark and light, somber and gay, or evil-tending and good-generating. Thus the full integration of SELF, even if it is an impossible task, requires that these dualities be stitched together into a larger and seamless SELF-quilt. Because this task is extremely demanding and difficult, due in part to the extreme dichotomizing tendencies of individual limited awareness, nationalism, and ideology, a lucid dreamer is, on the other hand, in a position of advantage over the regular dreamer. This is the case since dream content and the manipulation of a dreamscape by lucid dreamers allows for a volitional returning to and controllable dialogue with the depth of the psyche. Dreaming itself embraces ambiguity.

The simpler story is, to relate and reiterate in a few lines, that lucid dreaming can be for many a reliable source of perceptual and cognitive data, a source of novel interpersonal exchanges with imaginary or known dream characters, and a controlled exercise of social and personal "deviance." By deviance it is meant that lucid dreaming allows for cognitive and emotional free-play that could challenge comfortable and even orthodox relational cultural patterns. This inner dreamscape "deviance" can be and is expressed via another "deviant" enterprise, artistic expression, creating a powerful hermeneutic circle, maximizing the potential for SELF-growth.

The Surreal

It is more common to hear about lucid dreaming and its potential aesthetic products being defined in terms of "surrealism" than in any other way. In fact many of the personal accounts that describe lucid dreaming begin, elaborate upon, or end by paying notice to its surreal quality. I would argue that although this description aptly surveys the surface presentation, the fragmented nature, and even the overall quality of lucid dreaming experiences, nevertheless, this predominant surreal classification is less important or useful in my art or in my ecopsychological unfolding.

Surrealism is, as philosopher Paul Shepard aptly described (1996), the antithesis of the fully integrated-natural world and of its ecopsychological ideal: a fully embedded humanity, inescapably, in Nature. That is, surrealism is the reification and the ratification of components "in and of themselves" extracted from a larger original and organic context and elevated to a polished and exclusive category (a form of fetish). The rapidly shifting dreamscape itself makes this reification and ratification possible because, oftentimes, even when we are proficient lucid dreamers, the fascination with a particular and singular element of a dream detracts attention from a larger and more dynamic scenery and meaning-content that the proficient dreamer does not pay attention to or cannot keep up with. When lucid dreamers recollect the vividness of a dream, it is often these surreal highlights that are mentioned.

Film has been the artistic medium par excellence that depicts dream life as surreal precisely because of its potential for control of temporal sequencing and image unfolding. Directors can artistically manipulate both temporal sequencing and image unfolding in order to create a close approximation of an original dream experience. I will only cite the work of the famous Czech filmmaker, Jan Svankmajer, who transferred the surreal work of his equally creative wife and artist, Eva Svankmajerová, to film, here, as principal exponents of the surreal artistic approach. (Eva Svankmajerová is well-known for her writing and plastic arts.) But hundreds of other film sequences emphasize the surreal quality of dreams. Even when the focus is not a single object, an entire dream sequence can unfold in exceptionally alluring and brilliant vignettes without an apparent connection between these frames. Surrealism is thus also deviant, intensely so, in my earlier use of that word, since it forces a new interpretation of time and space that can lead to unique and creative insights. Salvador Dalí made an easy juxtaposition of mathematics, time, and his visual rendition of these advances, as he understood them. Dream surrealism has been re-created or re-interpreted in dance, music, poetry, and architecture.

I will not argue here that a focus on the surreal quality of dreams is not important for other forms of artistic expression or even that it cannot contribute to ecopsychological unfolding in its own right. But I am saying that, at least in my case, the more humble aspects of lucid dreaming end up being the more important and pertinent messages that invite further discovery.

More Humble Aspects of Lucid Dreaming

The more "humble" aspects of a lucid dream that I am referring to are content as opposed to surface driven. Their lackluster "humility" lies in their often hidden and harder-to-arrive-at semiotic aspects, as Freud and Jung discovered. Instead of the surreally enhanced sensorial qualities that are often present in lucid dreaming, these more fundamental elements are of great significance to me. It is their potential semiosis that makes them more important. One word (its meaning), a face (as a mask suggesting my behavior or an ideal), the angle of an object (indicating direction), a text read (in a larger context), music heard (not only notes but what the song means to me or how it makes me feel), and a complete dream story that holds together logically and provides discernable meaning to the individual dreamers--this is the stuff of which my dreams are made.

Particularly since 1994, my lucid dreaming has had a dominant shamanic import, to use that term both generally and technically. Of course this import has coincided with an equal interest during waking reality in attempting to understand global patterns of the human condition in mythical terms. For a given question in waking reality, for example, a dream being was encountered who wore a particular mask. This mask was later carved to achieve maximum approximation to the dreamt object. The dream being was also pantomiming or acting out various dances and manners of walking or flying or swimming. These dream manifestations and their messages were the answers I sought. By carving them afterwards I had the extended opportunity not only to reminisce about the dream and its message, but also to refine and elaborate further this message for maximum clarity and understanding.

See www.ecopsychology.org/journal/ezine/gatherings.html

Often, the depth of meaning inherent in these more lackluster aspects of a lucid dream, echo a genuine interest in and detailed inspection of my natural surroundings. In fact the more slowly and deliberately I walk in my woods, the more detail I see in natural objects that catch my eye-spirit, the more vivid and the greater detail the dream object provides. This is walking meditation at its best with the expected and often reported effect of enhanced lucid dreaming. Thus, control of dream lucidity means more than a technical procedure that can quickly be learned from a CD. It is instead a prescribed and intense attentional state or movement, even a way of life, and perfecting it is the aesthetics of which I am most desirous.

Lucid Dreaming, Artistic Expression and Ecopsychological Unfolding

The complete dynamics that I have been trying to describe makes for a circular, self-feeding and grander aesthetics where no longer is there a distinction between the lucid dream, the dreamer, natural embeddedness, or the artistic product. All are complementary manifestations of a grander semiosis.

The concept of art as being separate and thus decontextualized from this circular relationship, itself a form of surrealism, or even as a necessary but incomplete inspection of nature when an original code is lost, is a western invention. This is aesthetics interpreted from a "deficit" model. Interestingly, many so-called primitive languages do not have a concept for art for they experience and express their existential and natural relationship as a grand process or even a cosmology, a process rather than an object.

Perhaps an imminent discovery, my view of the interplay between lucid dreaming and its artistic representation is, to my surprise and delight, more "primitive" than western. In this sense, I no longer follow or am interested in a western production vector that places an interesting lucid dream on a position "a" followed by production of art piece "b," however hypnotic, well crafted, and commercially viable this art piece may turn out to be.

Instead, the artist, the process of making art, and the art product itself are all fully integrated components of lucid dreamscapes and of the original life-nature-matrix that generates all dreaming. Paul Shepard (1967/1991) describes this existential and ideal cohesion: "The inner world is coextensive with the outer, the natural habitat a middle ground, lacing into each other like fingers of clasped hands."


  • Paul Shepard (1967/1991). Man in the Landscape: A Historic View of the Aesthetics of Nature. Athens, Georgia: The University of Georgia Press.
  • Paul Shepard (1997). The Others: How Animals Made Us Human. Covelo, California: Island Press/Shearwater Books.
Jorge Conesa-Sevilla PhD, has a triple degree in Biology, Philosophy and Psychology from Humbolt State University in Arcata, California. He is the author of "Wrestling With Ghosts: A Personal and Scientific Account of Sleep Paralysis". He currently lives with his wife in Switzerland, and works at the Sleep Laboratory at the University Hospital in Bern. Jorge teaches Ecology, Art & Psychology of Aesthetics classes and workshops and offers a wide range of ecological services in Italy, Switzerland, and Spain through his organization Le Feuillou Rediscovered.


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