Electric Dreams

An Excerpt From The Lucid Dream Exchange
Lucy Gillis, Editor

An Interview with
Don Middendorf

Robert Waggoner

(Electric Dreams)  (Article Index)  (Search for Topic)  (View Article Options)

Waggoner, Robert (2006 November). Dreamspeak: An Interview with Don Middendorf.
(An Excerpt From The Lucid Dream Exchange, Lucy Gillis, Editor.) Electric Dreams 13(11).

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 about that.

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 a dream.

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 experiences.

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 through walls.

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 That Is.

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 consciousness?

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 to them?

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 think.

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 psychological space?

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 with.

Robert: Thanks Don for your observations into lucid dreaming. Any parting thoughts?

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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