Electric Dreams

The Dilemma of
Deep Dreaming

Linda Lane Magallón

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Magallón, Linda Lane (2006 April). The Dilemma of Deep Dreaming. Electric Dreams 13(4).

In the affliction of these terrible dream
That shake us nightly.
(William Shakespeare)

Are dreams healing? Can they be used for healing? These are common ideas. I have another question to add. If dreams are actually linked with healing, well, then, how do you know when you are healed? How can you tell if you are returning to health or have reached that holistic goal?

Here's one answer: your dream life changes. The number of nightmares goes down, as do confusing, frustrating and worrisome dreams. Instead of a boatload of King-Kong-sized monsters, your dreams begin to contain problems to be solved and resolved. They may even give you a respite from problem solving and substitute recreation, instead. Rather than a rusty bucket, you upgrade to a cruise ship. So how can you attain this healing transportation? Well, I'll tell you what I do. I turn in my frequent flyer miles.

The dream that led me to greater understanding of the situation was, indeed, a story of travel. Or, rather, a tale of arrested travel, because I never figured out how to launch the journey. In the dream, I am at a motel with my two children. It's the last day of our stay and I have virtually no money, nor any car, to get us home. It's much too far to walk. Hitching a ride with another departing guest may not be safe. I doubt the motel management will allow us to stay one more night. I awaken very concerned about my kids, with my dilemma unresolved.

Of course, when I fully regained waking consciousness, quite a few solutions presented themselves. The most obvious was that, in waking life, I had a husband who could help us out. I didn't have to go it alone because, in physical reality, caring for the children was a shared endeavor. But that simple fact was not available to me as I slept. It was as if a part of my brain had been sliced off, and was only gradually reconnected as I woke.

I recognized the sensation. It was the same feeling that occurs during episodes of deepest depression. All the resources that I have when I'm in a normative state of awareness disappear. I can't remember them. I can't even remember that they have ever existed. They are just not there. I am cut off from past and future. I exist in a "now," but it's the antithesis of enlightenment. A huge nothingness is squeezing me flat, into a smaller and smaller sense of being. I am forced to rely on the only resource available at that point: me. Or, I should say, what's left of me.

Fortunately, in the waking version of depression, I usually retain a vague, muffled awareness that there is something other than what I am now experiencing. I may not know exactly what it is, but it's there, at the periphery of my perspective. I need to hold onto the frozen present, but be alert to the slightest hint of movement or change. Only when that single point of consciousness begins to expand again, and I begin the slow climb out of my nadir, do I gradually rediscover there is more than one option available to me. I find that have choices. I no longer have to think, act or be a bare flicker of existence. I am growing, my consciousness is growing into a multiplicity of self-awareness. The world unfolds into a grand panorama of possibilities. Life becomes complex, detailed and rich with resources once more.

I had hoped that my breakthrough dream would signal the automatic conversion of my hapless dreaming self into a super dreamer. But such was not to be. Although I had been given a couple of previews of her potential in brilliantly colored dream environments, it was soon back to victimhood and dimly hued nightmare land again. There had been a change, though. In addition to my terrifying Titanic nightmares, I began to remember the less extreme conflicts and anxieties of sleep, such as the motel dream. Since I wasn't sure what I needed to do next, I decided the more information I had, the better. I read everything I could get my hands on and I began recording every dream, no matter what its theme or emotional intensity. I also continued to run my long-term fantasy in the theater of my mind just prior to sleep. There didn't seem to be much else to do.

I soon learned that some people could have certain nighttime events, called out-of-body experiences, on purpose. Because my breakthrough dream had had some OBE characteristics, I attempted to induce this sort of nocturnal experience. In effect, I was utilizing my waking ego to influence the dream state. Spontaneously, as a result of the energy of conscious attention, I started to have lucid dreams. With awareness of the fact that I was dreaming came the chance to resolve some of those nightmares.

Lucidity certainly was a help when I finally managed to have out-of-body experiences. The borderlands between waking and sleep could be very scary, since sleep paralysis and bedroom strangers were common there. Being lucid meant I'd realized I was in an altered state when these events occurred. I remembered to relax rather than tighten up and fight the sensations or churn up so much anxiety that I'd wake out of the very state I was attempting to prolong. Within the virtual reality of the regular lucid dream, lucidity ensured new options in times of trouble. I learned to fly away, literally. I could will the scenario to change or face up to danger, standing my ground. I could transfer screams into dialogue and struggles into hugs. If I was lucid. But what if I weren't?

All the riches of the waking state were not available to my darkly dreaming self. Even if I deliberately sent the gift of lucidity her way, it would not penetrate the shallows. The very nature of lucidity requires it to swim close to the surface of waking consciousness, like a snorkeler still breathing in the salty air. Any attempt to dive deeply is swallowed up by the current of non-lucidity. No waking breath can survive in those depths; the pressure is just too great. Think of the task of collecting the fish that live in the Marianas Trench: bring them to the surface and they collapse, like fragile dreamlets do when you try to reel them into the waking state.

Granted, my worries were relatively minor in the motel dream, but the troubled feeling was strong enough to last long after I rose from bed. Thinking of logical solutions to my dream problem helped dissipate that sensation, but it was soon replaced by sadness and frustration. Frustration that my dreaming self was so out of reach of my waking ego assistance. Sadness that she had to endure the anxiety that I knew I had sent her way. Not only did I have to live out family concerns during the day, so did she, and with much less assistance at hand.

I believe and experience that effective healing is a cooperative effort of both inner and outer self. To leave one or the other out of this reciprocal arrangement defeats the healing intent. When I eventually learned dreamwork and interpretation techniques, I found I could relieve fearful feelings and resolve burdensome dilemmas... after I woke up, that is. In the meantime, my dreaming self had to live a life that I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. Not only did she have to battle the current of minor anxiety dreams, she would be overwhelmed by the tide of Titanic nightmares. Sure, I could drown my waking anxieties in a flurry of after-dreamwork methods that purported to provide increased understanding of my situation. But in the bottom of the subconscious sea, they were still alive and engulfing the life of my dreaming self. My dreaming self was being forced to serve me at her expense. It didn't seem fair; it sure wasn't healthy. For either of us.

So, if I couldn't construct a diving bell of lucidity to penetrate the depths, what could I do? Helpful others were nonexistent. Dream characters were likely to be either a burden preventing successful resolution or the actual source of the problem. The bottom line was that my nonlucid dreaming self, like my depressed self, was being forced to rely only on what was available in her present moment. Herself. And that wasn't enough. At the depths of dream, there is gut instinct and little more.

In the deepest dreams, my dreaming self was very impotent, with no choice but to take whatever was dished out. The perfect passive victim suffocating from lack of air. Exactly the model that served me so poorly in waking life, and fared worse when I slept.

When she did become reanimated, the flight-or-fight instinct would kick in, the urge to basic survival. My dreaming self almost never chose the "fight" option: for her it was flight all the way. Not a very prudent choice, since whatever was pursuing kept up the chase and even caught her at times. But sometimes, something befitting dream reality happened. In the course of a nightmare, "flight" became flying through the dreamscape. An inept form of flying, though. Too slow, too low to the ground to avoid grasping hands.

But this was first clue to the fact that, while dream reality had grave handicaps, it also had some great advantages. One of them was the capacity of my dreaming self to overcome the gravity of the situation in a way far more literal, for her, than was possible to me in waking life. Linda's waking resources may have been light-years away, but my dreaming self had a potential super power close at hand. It was a quality native to her in-dream existence. Eventually it became clear to me: waking solutions work best for waking purposes, but resolutions in dream reality require taking advantage of the unique properties of that state. My dreaming self needed to access activities that were natural to her, in her state of being, whether I, as waking ego, could realize them or not.

The problem was how she could connect with the knowledge that she had super talents. Forgetfulness is a hallmark of deep dreaming. There didn't seem to be any gut instinct to get her out of this dilemma. But there was something that could act in an instinctual manner. Habit. My dreaming self was in the habit of thinking and acting like a waking self might do, should I ever be faced with terrors and worries while under the influence of a drugged sense of self-awareness. Her knee-jerk reactions were not nearly enough. In the deepest nightmare, my dreaming self had fantasy-sized problems but only a small percentage of waking-sized resolutions at her disposal. The wrong tools for the job.

The solution was to substitute one habit for another that would better serve her, no matter how mundane or monstrous her troubles might be. And my waking ego could help. If I could figure out a way to accustom my dreaming self to successful flying, into thinking of herself as a super hero, she would have a fighting chance to resolve most of the problems in her life. While I still slept. A win-win situation.

How could I help her secure a new sense of self? The solutions began to emerge as I realized the impact of my long-term fantasy on my dreams.

(Dream Flights)