When I was little I often had dreams I could control. The one I remember best is being chased by a monster. I taunted him, telling him I didn’t care if he caught me because I would just wake myself up. I remember yelling at him, “Hey! This is just a dream!” I have since learned these are lucid dreams. I don’t think I have had one since I was six. I had one last night.
I lived with my imaginary family in South Africa. My father was in trouble for embezzlement. It was a hot night and I was listening to music when I heard the glass door break downstairs. I immediately knew what was going to happen. I either lived the dream twice in a row or I created it as I went. It was so real but at the same time it was nothing like real life: I knew the ending. My father ran up the stairs with a handful of knives he had taken from a drawer in the kitchen. He handed them to my mother, younger brother and I. We followed him upstairs. He closed the curtains and we snuck out of the balcony on to the roof of our RV. My dad helped us down through the skylight. My mom was trying to keep things light; my brother was crying. I kept low in the RV as my father backed out of the driveway. I clutched the knives in my hands. Things started to get darker though the day was bright as we approached a toll booth. Under her breath, as though confused but enlightened, my mother asked to no one in particular: “I wonder if they’re going to make a phone call.” There were a few expensive cars parked off to the side. There was a crowd at the toll booth but we were summoned ahead. Young workers eyed each other as my father pulled the RV in to a stop. Though my mother and I both seemed to know what was about to happen, neither of us made a move to stop it. I decided to open my eyes to wake up from the nightmare because I didn’t want to have to experience being murdered.
(photo from themarkeworld.com)
I read a Wikipedia entry about lucid dreaming and fell in love with this phrase: “Once this area (the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex) is activated and the recognition of dreaming occurs, the dreamer must be cautious to let the dream continue but be conscious enough to remember that it is a dream.” It invokes such danger, like lucid dreaming is a predicament one got oneself into. The other scary thing this article says about lucid dreaming is that it may work the opposite way. Instead of realizing that a dream is a dream, one might be led to believe that a dream is real life. It was my first thought this morning when I woke myself up out of my South African nightmare: what if I am still there? What if I am in a double dream?
I love being able to control a dream, because dreams then become like an easier real life. I can wake up when needed, but before that I can experience anything imaginable, without the danger of making wrong decisions. It’s a freedom, but one that can’t be appreciated without the consciousness that comes from lucid dreaming. If we aren’t aware we’re dreaming, we usually forget our dreams. And we can’t wake up before the going gets tough.
It’s a parallel, really, to consciousness. What are we doing here if we’re not aware we’re here? At every moment of the day where you’re not aware of your own consciousness you are in what might as well be a dream state. You are not in control. It is only when we make the choice to stay or to leave that we become lucid – that we stop dreaming and start living. I wonder if there is a correlation between meditation (or self-awareness of other sorts) and lucid dreaming. This Wikipedia site about lucid dreaming also says that “it has been suggested that sufferers of nightmares could benefit from the ability to be aware they are indeed dreaming.” I don’t know if lucidity is something we can cultivate in dreams, but it is certainly something we can work to improve on in our daily lives. If were think we’re living in a nightmare, we have the ability to take control and yell at monsters: “Hey! This is only life!”