Lucid dreamer, Don Middendorf, believes that lucid dreaming helps enhance
lucid living (and vice versa). He explores the dreaming (and waking) worlds
with the goal of becoming more conscious of the reality-creation process.
His goals for his lucid dream excursions are to become more familiar with
his own psyche as well as other states of consciousness and existence - and
perhaps most importantly, to have fun. While not dreaming, he teaches
classes in physics, psychology, and philosophy at a liberal arts college in
the Northwestern part of the U.S.
Robert: Can you recall your first lucid dream experience? Please, tell us
As a child, I would occasionally realize that a fearful dream was "just a
dream" and wake myself up. I can only recall a couple of times when I was
able to tell myself that I was dreaming and continue dreaming. I also
remember a number of dreams in which I would sort of know it was a dream and
that I could fly if I could push off a particular spot in the alley or hold
my legs up as I floated down the long hill that I lived on. I think that I
thought of these dreams more as "that reality in which I can fly" rather
than as recognizing them as lucid dreams. I'm hesitant to say much more
about my childhood memories because I can't be sure my recall is accurate.
(The reconstruction of memories of the past based on current beliefs is a
hot research field right now.)
Robert: When did you first learn about conscious dreaming or lucid dreaming?
What about that lucid dreaming experience (or those early experiences) did
you find interesting?
I first learned about manipulating the dream environment from reading Seth
Speaks in 1974. Immediately after reading that book, I often awoke
remembering that I had been lucid, but with little or no recall of the
actual dream. The first fully lucid dream that I can remember now occurred
about a year later and I became lucid when I found myself floating above my
bed and bumping into the ceiling. I knew my body was asleep and this was a
dream but I wondered if I was also out-of-body so I looked out the window. I
saw a parking lot instead of the field that I knew was there in waking
reality. At the time, I believed that out-of-body experiences would take
place in the waking-world setting, so my dreaming self was puzzled by the
clear feeling of being out-of-body, yet the certain knowledge that this was
For several years afterwards, I was always trying to come up with some model
that included a clear distinction between lucid dreams and out-of-body
experiences. I think the desire to understand the distinction helped me have
many lucid dreams. Whenever I would read another author's ideas on the
subject and start to believe that view, I would have a lucid dream in which
my dreaming self found some reason to reject that model. I think a good
model is a wonderful thing, but a good question leads to more interesting
Robert: At that time, what methods did you use to bring conscious awareness
into the dream state? Has that changed over the years?
During the day, I would use a belief-changing exercise about being able to
become lucid in my dreams or have out-of-body experiences. Then I would use
similar pre-sleep suggestions. I was highly motivated so I did this almost
every night. I still use and believe in suggestions, but I tend to just let
lucidity come when it does. I've noticed that I usually have a couple of
nights of non-lucid or semi-lucid flying dreams before a series of lucid
dreams, so I often just wait until I have flying dreams and then suggest for
lucidity. One other "method" that I use now is to keep a list of "cool"
dreams in the back of my dream notebook. When I want to induce a lucid
dream, I'll re-read a number of previous lucid or nearly-lucid flying dreams
and that seems to spark the awareness of lucidity. At times in the past,
I've also had some success with the approach of asking "Is this a dream?"
frequently throughout the day. Jayne Gackenbach's research suggested that
meditation was highly correlated with lucid dreaming and I've noticed that
this seems to be true for me in those times when I have been able to make it
a regular practice.
Robert: As you had more lucid dreams, were there any lucid dreams that made
a deep impression on you? Tell us about them.
For the last decade or so, I've been fascinated by merging my dream body
with "matter" in the dream. I noticed that several people in your survey
(LDE #27, June 2003) said something similar as well as one of your previous
interviews. My dreaming self seems to be the one driving this experience. In
one lucid dream, I remembered my waking suggestion to talk with my inner
self about a specific problem and my dreaming self gently (but firmly)
over-rode my waking desires to try experiments moving my hand and body
As mentioned by several of those interviewed in previous LDE interviews,
some of the most profound experiences I've had while lucid are when I
remember my desire to talk with my inner self about my purposes in life (or
to "seek the highest"). In one, I became completely sure that everything
and everyone in the dream was me. The feeling was so overwhelming that I was
deeply disappointed when I awoke to the seemingly flat waking reality. In
telling this dream, I want to edit the statement and say I was sure
everything in the dream was related to me in some deep way, but the actual
feeling in the dream wasn't about relations between me and the other things
or people, it was an experience of complete subjectivity - united whole.
There was simply no distinction between "other" and "me" even though there
was a spatial location from which the scene was viewed.
Robert: Interesting! What did you take from this lucid dream experience/s?
What did it come to mean to you?
I think such transcendent experiences (whether waking, dreaming, or
meditating) remind us of our basic subjective nature as expressions of All
Robert: As a professor teaching a class on Dreams, Memory and Consciousness,
you must have discussed the paradoxical nature of lucid dreaming, inasmuch
as one develops conscious awareness in the (apparently unconscious) dream
state. What issues did lucid dreaming bring to a classroom study of
Quite a few students who enroll in such a year-long program have already had
some experience with altered states of consciousness. A few have had lucid
dreams and I encourage them to tell the class about their experiences -
primarily to encourage the excitement about the fun activities one can
pursue while lucid. My goal is to have them experience the nature of
consciousness rather than just read the theories we have constructed about
it. I think that lucid dreaming is the safest and most easily accessed
"altered" state. For students studying consciousness, I think the most
important take-home point of their first few lucid dreams is that
consciousness is much more flexible and has greater potential than many of
our current models allow. While suggesting to have lucid dreams, one student
had several out-of-body experiences. When we got to the part of the
consciousness text discussing the strictly biological models of
consciousness, she could state from her own experience that these models
were incorrect or at least quite incomplete.
Robert: Had many of the college students experienced lucid dreams? What
questions did they bring forward about lucid dreaming and the nature of
consciousness? What did consciously being aware in the dream state suggest
I think about 30 out of 75 students had lucid dreams during this past year.
Some had lucid dreams prior to the class, but for many it was their first. I
started talking about lucid dreams early in the year and encouraged students
to tell the class when they had a "cool" dream. It also helped that they
read about the scientific experiments "proving" that lucid dreams do exist
and it really helped having visitors who discussed their own exciting
experiences with lucid dreams. (Thanks to Robert for sharing his enthusiasm
this year!) From my perspective, it changed the nature of the question,
"What is consciousness?" for everyone in the class because even those who
didn't have a lucid dream heard many experiences from their friends. I think
this "loosened" the beliefs of the class as a whole about other "paranormal"
experiences. I used lucid dreams as an example of experiences that were
considered "fringe" or "paranormal" but are now included as part of
"legitimate" science (of course, even non-lucid dreams could fall in this
category). Of course, most of the students had pure-fun type of lucid
dreams such as flying that we just enjoy. I think these kinds of experiences
hint at the possibilities and encourage students to try experimenting with
what may be possible in the dream state - such as problem solving, or
out-of-body experiences or interactions with departed relatives or probable
selves. I can recall several students over the years who had a lucid dream
that helped change their beliefs in the nature of reality, but I think and
hope that I only see the beginning of such a change. It probably takes more
than a year or a summer (and more than a single dream) to do so. I hope the
experience of lucid dreaming helps them to realize that they can use a
subjective approach to studying their own consciousness without relying
exclusively on the studies done by experts. It makes me happy when a student
tells me that he or she no longer feels a need to use drugs to reach altered
states because the lucid dreaming state is better in some way. It also
pleases me when a student expresses a self-discovered conclusion about some
of the nonsense spouted by researchers in consciousness studies who have
clearly denied themselves from having any real experiences with
consciousness from the inside.
Robert: Did your students have any experiences with lucid dreams that
surprised you? Tell us about that?
A number of years ago, the students arranged to have a class meeting in the
dream state without telling me. The organizers told their peers to focus on
a candle before sleep and then come to a dream bonfire on campus bringing a
particular secret object to show any others who managed to show up. Three or
four students were able to induce lucidity that night and remember to go to
the dream bonfire and had many tantalizing near-misses with other students.
For example, Joe saw Mary who was asking about Steve while Mary dreamt of
hanging out with Joe and Steve. (I made that last sentence up just to show
the kinds of interactions they had. I never collect students' dreams.) I was
completely surprised at their success in a single trial at mutual dreaming.
In a similar trial this past year, only one student was fully lucid on the
night, but she actively sought out specific students in the class and one or
two of these other students had non-lucid dreams with her. Over the years,
several students have had transcendent experiences and a few have
life-changing or belief-changing lucid dreams or out-of-body experiences.
Robert: For some of us, lucid dreaming provides experiences that make us
question the nature of reality, and look to theoretical physics for possible
answers. Do you find this in your own lucid dreaming experience? Are there
aspects of lucid dreaming which might touch on principles of consciousness
or theoretical physics?
Oh my, Robert, it would take several books and maybe several lifetimes to
answer that question fully! I use the models and observations of modern
physics to show students that some of the concepts that they think of as
absolute facts about bedrock reality might be less clear-cut than they
think. I particularly like to bring up the nature of time in relativity and
to discuss the use of multiple universe models in current cosmology and
quantum theory. I also like to shake up the standard view that objects have
observer-independent properties by discussing the predictions and
observations of wave-particle duality. I decided to do graduate work in
physics rather than biology because I wanted to understand the profound
discussion of consciousness in Jane Roberts' books which relied heavily on
physics. However, I cringe when students or people at conferences tell me
that my discussion of some of the theories of modern physics have proved to
them that their unconventional beliefs about the nature of reality are
correct. It's not that I object to their unconventional beliefs, but to
their reliance on the evidence of others - in this case the experiments and
theories of modern physics. Ken Wilber has pointed out that almost all of
the founders of modern physics were mystics, but none wanted their mystical
views based on their physics - partly because they all knew that whatever
models we use in physics will change over the next hundred years. However,
they hoped that their mystical views would remain "true" even if the strange
new views of physical reality evolved into something even stranger in the
future. Despite that caveat, I have to enthusiastically agree with your
suggestion that lucid dreaming will help us understand the nature of reality
- including consciousness and theoretical physics. Advances in theoretical
physics often go hand in hand with advances in mathematics and both are
highly dependent on using the conscious mind to reason and intuit productive
new ideas. That is, we're already using consciousness to explore the nature
of physical reality and the recognition of this is becoming more explicit. I
believe that the next generation of physicists will be trained in both
meditation and lucid dreaming - because it will be more efficient (as well
as more acceptable).
I think the most interesting thing I've ever done in a lucid dream that
helps in understanding the nature of consciousness (or at least of self) was
to ask myself what I thought of my waking life while in the dream state. I
can't say that I had some great insight about my waking life, but there was
quite a feeling of compassion and some humor for the current challenges that
I faced in my waking life from my dreaming self.
I've had a couple of lucid dreams in which I got a little better
understanding of some aspects of relativity or quantum theory, but I haven't
had any deep insights into the nature of physical reality. However, I think
each time we become lucid, we are gaining some experience with using our
consciousness in a more facile way and that's more important than
understanding how it works. I'm still quite interested in how it works, but
for now, I'm satisfied with just increasing, lengthening, and deepening my
experiences with lucidity in both dreaming and waking life.
Robert: Things like multiple false awakenings have always interested me. I
remember one morning in which I had seven successive false awakenings, one
after the other -- bam, bam, bam - by the time, I wakened in "this" reality,
I literally hugged the wall and hoped I didn't suddenly pop into a new copy
of reality. Now, some people have suggested that false awakenings simply
show the "mental model" nature of consciousness, but I've wondered, what
about parallel realities? If physicists need anecdotal evidence of possible
visits to parallel realms, perhaps they should talk to experienced lucid
dreamers. What do you think about false awakenings?
Yes, I think some extremely experienced lucid dreamers could choose to
repeatedly return to particular parallel realities and explore their nature.
I don't have that level of skill, but I think some of those you've
interviewed over the last few years might. On the other hand, I think we all
experience parallel (or not-so-parallel) realities in our dreams whether
lucid or not. I think the role of lucidity is then to bring some degree of
reason into the experience so that we can reflect on the experience as it
occurs while dreaming rather than simply as dream recall later. A friend
told me of a moving (non-lucid) dream in which she dreamed she was the
number 8. I think that's far enough from our waking reality as to be labeled
a non-parallel reality, but still interesting.
I really don't know about false awakenings. On the one hand, my waking self
always feels that I simply missed some subtle (or not-so-subtle) cue that I
wasn't back in this reality. That is, I simply feel like I wasn't fully
lucid in any of the states of dreaming or waking. Once I'm "really" awake,
it feels like I should have known I was still dreaming. On the other hand,
if a series of false awakenings indicates actual awakenings in closely
parallel realities as you suggest, it could be very hard to tell one reality
from the other. For example, if the series of parallel realities in your
false awakenings differ by having speeds of light that are tiny fractions of
a percent different from each other, it might be hard to tell when you had
reached the right home reality. If the false awakenings are actually
parallel realities, a lucid dreamer might be able to consciously be aware of
some sort of internal signal that identifies this reality as home. It will
take some fairly advanced mutual lucid dreamers to figure this one out, I
Robert: Lately I've been working on a piece called, "Why Does an Apple Fall
in a Lucid Dream: The Physics of Lucid Dreaming." So, Don, why does the
apple fall in a lucid dream? The dreamer's expectation? The dreamer's
control? Belief? Intent? The dreamer's will?
You could also ask why the apple falls in a non-lucid dream. In fact, it may
surprise you to hear that there are still some aspects about the nature of
motion and gravity in waking reality that we (physicists) know that we do
not understand. The current cosmological models require multiple universes
with many different "fundamental constants" such as the speed of light or
the strength of gravity. Only those with nearly identical constants would
resemble our waking reality even a little. So maybe the apple falls in some
dreams because we are in a reality with a similar underlying make up. I
think the dreamer's expectation and belief enter at the level of the choice
for experiencing that particular reality. However, I have never made that
choice at the level of the dreamer, but I believe it's made at the level of
some inner portion of my being which I could call the Dreamer. The Dreamer
may be the part of us that allows the consensual Core Beliefs of a
particular reality (such as whether things fall) to be consistent across all
observers in that reality. This is analogous to Jung's conception of the
self as being part of a grander Self that has connections with a collective
(as well as a personal) unconscious. This may seem fairly speculative, but I
think that the reader's of LDE could do an experiment in which they choose
to experience realities in which the attractive nature of mass is gone and
objects attract on the basis of color. Then, red apples would move toward
other red objects, but not necessarily downward. So, my musings on your
interesting question is that it's all about beliefs, but at a deep level, so
as long as we're not over-riding the agreed-upon setup of that reality, we
don't need intent or control for an apple to fall. In waking reality, there
are good reasons not to violate the laws of the game such as gravity - it's
an ordering principle which makes it easier for our fledgling consciousness
to learn and play here. That's not to say that the anecdotal accounts of
levitation will be always be false - but my guess is that it takes a more
focused will than most of us incarnates have to over-ride the mass beliefs.
If was really adept at consciously creating my dream reality, I could
violate gravity by flying whenever I wanted. I think the same may be true in
physical reality, but I believe that becoming adept at reality creation is
one of the main reasons we're here and if I was so good at it that I could
fly, I probably wouldn't have much of a reason to be here.
Robert: Have you ever thought that the psychological space called "dreaming"
deserves its own "physics"? Obviously, dreaming involves a type of
psychological physics which may not have a direct connection with the
physics of the material world. Yet lucid dreamers experience certain
commonalities in "psychological space" which suggest that the psychological
space of dreaming functions on certain (yet-to-be-enunciated) principles.
What do you think? Is the world ready to consider the physics of
It seems I anticipated this question in my previous answer. I certainly do
think the "space" of dreams (lucid or not) is going to function on some
"yet-to-be-enunciated principles", but I think the physics will have to be
based on consciousness or love as fundamental (rather than energy) and may
resemble psychology or pure mathematics more than it resembles current
physics. Well, I don't know that everyone in the world is ready to consider
what you call the physics of psychological space, but I think some are
considering it now and some have done so in the past. In fact, Carl Jung
attributes his ideas for his theory of personality to his discussions with
his colleague and patient, Wolfgang Pauli, about the new ideas in quantum
theory which Pauli was helping to develop. Jung attributes his views on
introvert/extravert and feeling/sensing as complementary aspects of a
personality to the quantum notion of complementarity and the lack of
observer-independent properties in quantum objects. I've already mentioned
the Seth books twice, but I have to do so again because I think they have
the best description I've seen of the physics of this reality and others
including dreaming realities.
Another part of the answer to whether dreaming deserves its own physics
might be that the scope of "dreaming reality" is far greater than waking
reality. I think of dreaming as one method of entering an infinite number of
other realities - each with their own physics. I doubt we can remember much
of our experiences from any reality that is too far removed from this one.
How would we record or even remember an experience in a reality which
differed from waking reality by even a relatively minor change like having
two time dimensions? (Although it's possible that the simultaneous dreams
discussed by Lucy at the LDE website and in LDE #35 are a reflection of that
kind of reality.) I've had a few dreams which were so ecstatic that even
though I was lucid and felt that they lasted for some "time", when I awoke,
I could only write a few words about it - that failed to capture any of the
essence of the experience.
Robert: Have you had (or heard about) lucid dream experiences that shed
light on the discussion of the nature of consciousness? Tell us about those.
What kind of lucid dream experiments could move forward the understanding of
the nature of consciousness? What would you like to see?
Well, the pages of LDE are full of such experiences. I think some of the
most enlightening were the experiments on mutual lucid dreaming that you
(Robert), Ed Kellogg, and Linda Lane Magallón reported at the Association
for the Study of Dreams conference in Santa Cruz in about 1999 (and I
suggest you give a summary of those experiments at some point in a future
LDE). I think mutual lucid dreaming is our best bet at some understanding of
consciousness that we can begin to call scientific. Of course, I think our
personal lucid dream experiences shed light on the characteristics and the
mobility of consciousness, and some of its potentials such as telepathy and
precognition that are not currently accepted by the majority of
professionals studying consciousness in the west.
The ecstatic "oneness" experiences that I mentioned above, the reflection on
the waking state from the dreaming state that I mentioned, and the certainty
I've had in some out-of-body experiences about the independence of
consciousness from the body (and the existence of life after death) all give
me insights into the nature of consciousness that I have personal experience
Robert: Thanks Don for your observations into lucid dreaming. Any parting
It has been a real joy to watch the evolution of the LDE over the last
decade. I thank you (Robert) and Lucy for putting so much time into this
(and Ruth for starting it). I can't tell you how many flying or lucid or
otherwise "cool" dreams I've had after reading the dreams that people have
shared in the LDE.
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