How does one become a conscious participant with the dream?
Charles McPhee assists anyone interested in finding out by offering a
step-by-step guide to mastering the techniques of lucid dreaming in his book
_Stop Sleeping Through Your Dreams_. Charles has also offered us a Web site
through which we can discuss the issues of consciousness and dreams with him
directly. He has been visiting with us here for the last few months at Electric
Dreams, answering questions and giving us peeks into his work on lucid dreaming
Previously we began exploring just what we *are* aware of in dreams and lucid
dreams, a good first step in actually becoming lucid. In Earlier issues we
explored the phenomena of dream sleep and consciousness. In ED 3(11) I continued
to unfold the investigation into whether or not we actually possess
consciousness in dream and what this can mean to our lives.
In this issue we will continue to explore more deeply what consciousness is
and what it appears to be, and how conscious techniques like journaling can
bring about more lucidity and dream recall.
From CHAPTER 8: "Techniques for Awakening Consciousness in the
When consciousness draws on us in a dream, it is as if we materialized in the
dreamscape. One moment we didn't exist, the next we do. The transition is
dramatic. The experience is very much like the Star Trek depiction of people who
"beam" through space and who suddenly arrive on new and distant
planets. The difference is that when we gain consciousness in a dream, we emerge
into the sensory environment of the dreamscape. Prior to gaining consciousness,
it is as if we did not exist in the dream at all, at least not in any
present-tense sense of the word. But once we are conscious, suddenly we can see
where we are--we are able to see our seeing, hear our hearing, touch our
touching and feel our feeling. With consciousness we can be where we are.
Consciousness is the doorway through which we enter the dreamscape.
If we wish to awaken our consciousness during dream sleep, we first must
learn to awaken our consciousness while we are awake. Then we can teach
ourselves how to bring consciousness into the dreamscape. The entire process is
at once this simple--and this difficult.
CONSCIOUSNESS IN WAKING EXPERIENCE
Consciousness, as we have explored, is a phenomenon of the mind that most
people associate with being awake. Indeed, most of us assume that when we are
awake, we are conscious. After all, when else could we be? It extends from this
observation that most people also assume that consciousness is a continuous
characteristic of waking experience--that when we fall asleep, we lose
consciousness, but when we awaken from sleep, we regain our consciousness and
are conscious again all day long. This seems obvious, but is it true?
If we keep in mind that consciousness refers specifically to our ability for
reflectivity, then we need to reevaluate our assessment of consciousness in
waking experience. For example, in many ways, thought itself is continuous. When
we are awake, we always seem to be occupied with thinking about something. We
think of one thing, then another; we think back to an experience we had, then
out attention is summoned by a task in front of us, and so on. But these
thoughts do not in themselves constitute consciousness.
Consciousness is our ability to observe our thought--to keep track of it, to
watch its course of associations, and to see all of the ideas that either
complement or compete with the primary thought. When we are conscious during
these meandering of our mind, we are aware of our thought experience as it
occurs. Remember, the "as it occurs" part of this definition is vital;
consciousness is a now experience. It is not looking back on a train of thought
that we had a moment or two ago.
For example, have you ever been driving a car and suddenly realized you can't
recall the past five or ten minutes? It is a peculiar, but common, experience.
What happens to us during these periods? Does our mind go completely blank?
Clearly not, for the car remains on the road and we are still driving. What does
happen is that for an extended period of time, we lose--and this is what causes
the event to be significant to use--our reflective stream of thought. Our mind
was "drifting" and we were being carried in the stream of voluntary
thought. And we still were able to perform some very complex behavior. We
handled a one-and-a-half ton vehicle at speeds of up to sixty miles per hour and
maybe even changed lanes and passed other cars, all without reflecting on our
experience at all. Pretty neat trick!
Or did you ever find yourself thinking about something unusual--some event
long in your past--without recalling what prompted your thinking about it? The
peculiar nature of the thought draws our attention to it. At this point we may
be surprised and wonder how we got to thinking about it. If we are able to
remember, we can trace our thoughts back to the original thought. But notice
that, often as not, we are unable to recall what ticked off the association. If
we can step back from ourselves, we can see that our minds were drifting and we
weren't necessarily watching what was going on. We were being carried along in a
stream of voluntary thought. Notice also that characteristic lack of memory for
these types of occurrences. Failure of recall for unobserved experience is
extremely common; as a rule, we possess poor memory for unconsciously
To develop your memory for dreams, learn to write them down. This means
devoting five to ten minutes at the start of your morning to recording your
dreams. Consider this habit a practical aspect of improving your dream life;
however, be forewarned that this practical aspect is often the single most
difficult hurdle to surmount. When you awaken in the morning, you need to be
able to calmly; actively, and receptively peruse your mind for the fragments and
memories that are still lingering with you. The process of dream recall demands
your undivided attention. You need quite; you cannot be distracted--no
television, no radio, no small talk about the day.
Recording dreams is the only way to learn more about your dreams. The process
of writing makes you organize your thoughts, helps you focus on the events in
the dream, and clarifies the sequence of events. As you write, you will recall
more details. Writing improves your recall of dreams, even of dreams you think
you remember fully. Associations pop into your mind as you write, and these
associations are significant clues to the connection of events. They will help
you identify how your mind associates some of the more confusing aspects of the
dream. Writing is also the only way to retain the depth and richness of recall
that you possess when you first awaken. Once you put a dream on paper, you can
later, at your leisure, reflect on its meaning. Also, if you awaken in the
middle of the night and do not write down the dream, it is almost guaranteed
lost. By keeping a dream journal, you will later be able to review dreams that
you otherwise would have forgotten. Without a hard copy, the overwhelming
majority of our dreams are lost forever.
The association with stressful or frightening dreams and lucidity is
longstanding. Many dreamers have taught themselves to be lucid as a direct
result of negative experiences with nightmares. Nightmares, as we all know from
personal experience, range from dreams involving persecution, where we dream we
are being attacked or pursued by some person or thing who wishes to do us harm,
to full-blown horrifying experiences, where we not only see, but feel and hear
terrors we would not wish to view at a horror film. While nightmares most
commonly afflict young children, they are by no means restricted to them.
Frightening or threatening dream experiences are familiar ways in which
lucidity enters the dreamscape. We encounter something frightening or stressful
in a dream, and this shakes us into a suddenly observant frame or mind. With our
attention on the alarming circumstance or event, we correctly perceive that we
must be dreaming. Unfortunately, upon making this recognition, people sometimes
dismiss the validity of the aggression or conflict and seek to escape the
SOPHISTICATED LUCID DREAMERS
When we are conscious in a dream, we are interacting with something quite
spectacular--a full-blown sensory environment created by our unconscious mind.
The dreamscape is richly decorated; it speaks a beautiful language of metaphors
and collages. We should use the opportunity to learn more about our dreams and
about ourselves. Ultimately this orientation to the dreamscape will prove far
more psychically fulfilling.
If we merely perform in "minidramas" of our conscious direction,
then ultimately we come away from the experience without having learned
anything. In the long run, we have acted out a fantasy we already knew we
possessed. This is not to say that there is not worthwhile satisfaction in
acting out one's fantasies, for there genuinely is. But if we take the time to
attentively interact with our unconscious mind--to study it, to increase our
ability to respond to whatever events arise in the dream, to try to learn from
our dreams and understand them--I guarantee we will come away fascinated,
intrigued, challenged, and proud to be in possession of such a wonder. Take time
to explore the dreamscape! The sophisticated lucid dreamer is someone who wants
We have been observing that the lucid experience with dreams can challenge
some familiar habits of self-identification. Once we acquire conscious
experience with the dreamscape, the real mystery is who is responsible for
creating the dream. Join me next month for a deeper look into this mystery.
If you can't wait, you can stop by my Web site for a Full Chapter Summary of
_Stop Sleeping Through Your Dreams_. If you would like more on this, my book is
published by Henry Holt and Company, Inc. Publication Date: December 27th, 1995.
0-8050-2500-6 $22.50, cloth. Contact: Robin Jones, (212) 886-9270
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