That Dweam Within A Dweam!
May 13, 2011 1:46 PM   Subscribe

I want to learn how better to control my dreams while in them.

I've always had rather lucid dreams. When I was a kid, I'd dream I lived that next day of school, then wake up feeling disoriented and as if I was the cruelly played victim of deja vu.

Now, being 23, this sort of dreaming still happens, perhaps every two weeks. It's weird when it's a normal dream, but even weirder when, after waking up, I find myself reflexively looking for non-existent wolf statues, having the nagging feeling that I should put the cool blue eagle in my birdwatching book, or feeling nervous about walking past a certain dark doorway. These back-of-my-mind urges to react to what I dreamt about as if they were real can unconciously last up to 3 to 4 days.

I don't believe in fairies, btw, or God or ghosts, though I do enjoy reading a lot of fiction and science fiction, and have a very active imagination.

Usually my dreams are pretty cool or nice-but-forgotten quickly, but maybe 2 to 3 a week are nightmares. I'm not overly stress or worried - these nightmares will just be about something random in relation to a book or movie. Examples such as being chased by vampires OR being a vampire and staked (by unicorns for some reason), falling and then waking up violently when my whole body feels like it "moved" (I've read about why that happens), being trapped in a Stephen King-type mist, etc.

I'd like to learn how to be more aware of the fact that I'm dreaming, learn how to control the dream or wake myself up on purpose. I mean, if I want to stay in the dream/ mare, I should at least be able to grab a sword if I want to, right?

There have been times when my dreams on their own or combined with wearier-then-usual sleep causes me to wake up and not perform as well at work, think morning was evening and vice versa ( I use a military time clock), or, rarely, lie in the dark sure that I wouldn't be able to move safely for some reason or another.

I don't suffer from that thing where people think a succubus or some such is sitting on their chest, nor do I think I have what people call "night terrors", nor do I sleep walk (though my boyfriend says I seem to make little sounds and/ or distressed sounds he seems to be able to interpret and respond to).

I've also been recommended things like calea zacatechichi, which is something you can take in a tea or pill form to have super lucid dreams.

Does anyone have experience with any of this? The herbs? The dreaming? Tips? Books? I can see a situation or two when this sort of dreaming could be detrimental, even somehow dangerous, so any help would be appreciated.
posted by DisreputableDog to Science & Nature (12 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Examples such as being chased by vampires

Heh. This is the exact nightmare that plagued me as a teenager, and inspired me to learn how to control my dreaming. The thing that worked for me was to lie in bed going over, in some detail, everything I remembered from the dream. I would then think of all the ways I knew to defeat vampires or escape from them. One night, while I had the nightmare, I just sort of realized that I was slightly more in control than usual, and I started directing events in the dream. In the end I foiled the vampires by running into the bathroom and sort of wedging myself behind the toilet, which I kept flushing. Vampires cannot cross running water, you see. Don't judge me.

In any case, that one night basically eliminated the nightmare, which I had been having on an at least weekly basis. It still crops up from time to time, but now I can defeat the vampires easily everytime. It even works occasionally on completely unrelated nightmares -- I just get that same feeling of control and I manage to defuse the scary situation. It's harder to do with an unfamiliar nightmare, but still possible.
posted by Rock Steady at 1:58 PM on May 13, 2011 [4 favorites]

No experience, but there's a site for that.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 2:06 PM on May 13, 2011

From my own experience, I've learned to recognize that I'm dreaming when I find that I'm having trouble reading. (Can't focus, can't make out words, etc.) That's when I realize, "oh, I'm asleep" and try to fly.

I'm no expert on lucid dreaming, but I think if you can understand your dream triggers (like, "chased by vampires" = "dreaming"), then you can learn to take control of your dream experiences.
posted by SPrintF at 2:25 PM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have a hunch, an observation that is not in anyway empirically verified, that dreaming is best left to itself. It is one of those 'god (little g) grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change, the courage............etc and wisdom.....) In working with patients over the years I have come to think that disturbing dreams are a healthy/adaptive signal that problems and fears are being effectively managed/dealt with and all is generally well. I am not talking about highly repetitive severely disturbing dreams, etc. Just those run of the mill " what was that all about, wow was that bizarre, I have a dream hangover" type of dreams. It usually takes me 2-4 hours (occasionally longer) to shake off the hangover from particularly lucid and/or disturbing dream. FWIW
posted by rmhsinc at 2:28 PM on May 13, 2011

there's a lot to be said about meditation and lucid dreaming. I know for myself, in times where I meditate more regularly, I more often am aware of dreaming, while dreaming - and have been able to "direct" some dreams.
posted by mrmarley at 3:06 PM on May 13, 2011

That's when I realize, "oh, I'm asleep" and try to fly.

Yes, me too, exactly this. Or else "oh, I'm asleep" and try to make out with a random dream-character. Er. Other times I have realized that my dream is either boring or scary, and said to myself "I'm dreaming! Let's do something different!"

Sometimes I have nice ones that I wake up grateful for. I have had several about my dead grandmother where in the dream I say to myself "oh, this isn't real, because she is dead, so I should try and talk to her for as long as possible before she disappears." In the latest one I tried to summon someone else into the dream who had never had the chance to meet her while she was alive. Back in college, I had one during my homesick semester abroad where I wandered around the campus greeting all of my friends and telling them "I'm dreaming, I'm still in Ecuador, but I am visiting you all in my dream because I miss you." I felt so much better when I woke up.

I don't have any advice re: herbs or anything, but it's probably the sort of situation where writing down dreams and trying to remember them will make them richer, and possibly lead to more consciousness of dreaming in the future. I haven't noticed a correlation between meditating and lucid dreaming, but I am not very religious (ha, you can say that again) about meditating. I guess my only advice would be to concentrate on it as you fall asleep, and if you happen to realize you're dreaming, be very slow and gentle to start, and don't try to make major changes. That usually just wakes me up and then the dream is lost.
posted by little cow make small moo at 3:11 PM on May 13, 2011

Some anecdata for you: when I was in high school, I trained myself to lucid dream more often by asking myself constantly throughout the day, "am I dreaming?" Before answering this question to myself, I would examine my environment carefully before saying no. After a few days of this training, the habit carried over into my dreams. The answer was then "um... yes, I guess I am!" Once I realized it was a dream, I was more or less in control.

This lasted for several weeks, until I realized that lucid dreaming sleep is not equivalent to real sleep. I basically turned into an exhausted zombie. Fortunately, after a few days of not keeping up with the question training, I went back to having normal, restful sleep.
posted by DeusExMegana at 3:21 PM on May 13, 2011

I highly, highly recommend a couple of herbs for tea: damania and mugwort.
a tea with either (or both combined) with milk in the hour before bed has given me very vivid, very intricate and edifying dreams with hardly any exception.

They're really inexpensive and available at any herb shop; there are online shops as well, of course.
posted by herbplarfegan at 4:16 PM on May 13, 2011

...I also combine some other herbs that are good for anxiety-- Kava Kava, Blue Vervain, Motherwort, & Valarian. Not all combined, but I started by trying each one at a time and slowly worked combinations in.

I also recommend the movie 'Waking Life' if you haven't seen it.
posted by herbplarfegan at 4:20 PM on May 13, 2011

I read a book about this when I was a teenager and I tried to do this as well. Basically concentrate before going to sleep, maybe trying to 'pre-program' your dreams. This may or may not work. But like an above poster said, you can sometimes tell by the weird events that you're dreaming and then you can sort of muster some consciousness to say 'no, i don't want to be strangled' (er, one of mine) and have the scenerio shift. I have also definitely tried to force myself to wake up within a nightmare and that can get weird because it is hard to 'break through' to being back awake. Anyway, just experiment, it's pretty interesting. These days I am too tired and get up too early to bother but at the time I was really fascinated by the whole thing! (or basically (I just noticed) little cow make small moo said the main part in a better way just above!)
posted by bquarters at 7:24 PM on May 13, 2011

Make an effort to remember past dreams while you're dreaming: use experience gained from past dreams to guide your decisions, seek out past characters in times of need, take cover in places you've already visited (and deemed safe)...

Realise that you're dreaming: whenever you hesitate or feel frustrated, try to remind yourself that this is your dream and thus you get to make up the rules. It's very liberating once you get used to doing this.

Oh, and keep a dream diary if you can be bothered at all.
posted by fix at 8:43 PM on May 13, 2011

What you've described verges on dream lucidity, but isn't quite there. It won't take much to get you there. There are some good suggestions above - in particular, DeusExMegana's.

The way I learned was pretty intuitive. I was a teenager, and had been experiencing a variety of dream-related phenomena, such as falling dreams and dreams-within-dreams - as well as sleep-related phenomena, such as extreme difficulty awakening and sleep paralysis (experienced as, the mind awakes, but the body stays asleep). I also had disturbing experiences that were lumpy blends of waking, sleeping, and dreaming. Nothing dangerous - my body always stayed put (as far as I know!) - just hard to shake off the lingering effects for a while.

Then by chance I came across a paperback book with a blue cover called "Lucid Dreaming". I read the 1st chapter, and the whole thing just clicked with me. I thought to myself, "I can make this happen," and didn't read another page. I just went to bed that night and repeated to myself, over and over, "I am going to wake up in my dream. I am going to wake up in my dream." I conceptualized it as "smuggling" a bubble of consciousness into the sea of dreams. Several times before I fell fully asleep, I became suddenly aware that I had stopped repeating my mantra (for whatever it's worth, I had never heard of a mantra). The realization jolted me back toward consciousness, whereupon I repeated the process. Eventually, I fell asleep. And the next time I realized I had stopped repeating it and got jolted toward consciousness, I awoke in a dream!

Of course, it felt so completely real that I wasn't completely sure - so I proved it to myself by flying. I guess I believed more than I didn't believe. Still, it felt so overwhelmingly real that I was a little afraid of hurting myself. But I soon confronted that fear by testing the idea that, if it really were a dream, I should be able to pass right through the walls of the building I was flying by. However, just to play it safe, I went into a tailspin as I angled toward the wall so I'd hit feet-first, just in case it really was possible to hurt myself. The result? I remember spiraling through the air above a group of college kids, oblivious, playing poker, then out the other side of the building. And then more stuff happened.

Let me please offer this extended Janus-style disclaimer/endorsement about lucid dreaming:

rmhsinc's point that it's likely counterproductive to meddle much with dreams holds some water with me in a few different contexts, not least of which being the likelihood of experiencing the physical and mental exhaustion that DeusExMagana described above, if it's done with much regularity. But also, since lucid dreams actually feel preternaturally real, I think there's a very real risk that some people might develop a strong, psychological attraction toward blurring the distinction between the two in an attempt to shunt more depth of emotion and sense of great portent and meaning into their daily lives.

I say this because I have done all of the above. I mean, on one level I knew that I was deluding myself. But that level was the precise one I was actively working to supersede. I was effectively playing an elaborate game of Reversi with my own consciousness. Rather than accepting the normative, "least energy" paradigm, I was instead attempting to subsume the basic concept of objective reality within the viscerally emergent concept that what feels most real, is most real. Never mind the multiple fallacies involved in that notion; I rationalized that the dissonance I experienced in the effort was because I was habituated to an illusory view, and deconditioning would take effort and time. I was too clever by half.

(But the reciprocal of half is 2. Therefore, by succeeding, I would become 4 times too clever! By the way, I might as well tell you at this point that you're all living in my dream right now. I can tell you this without concerns because I know there's no chance that you'll believe me.)

Having said all that, there are many potential benefits to the practice. Lucid dreaming provides you with opportunities to work with some of the raw stuff of your own mental processes, utterly unencumbered or distracted by external considerations. In doing so, you can gain some really interesting insight into how the darned thing works.

I was able to glean some very useful things from my experimentation. For example, over time as I engaged in lucid dreaming, I became more proficient at controlling my focus and actions (as well as influencing elements of the dreams themselves, though with less reliable results) - and one specific mechanism that made this possible was the recognition and releasing of my own preconceived notions. This principle translated quite nicely into waking life, too. One of the most valuable things I gained, then, which has helped illuminate my path ever since, is a keen and deeply internalized understanding that preconceived ideas not only modify one's perception, but can quite literally circumscribe what it is possible for one to experience. Not to mention enough experience in doing so that, if I'm being properly mindful, I can almost feel when I'm still harboring ideas that are blocking me from the fullness of an experience.

So it turned out, intriguingly enough, that my rationalizations about habituation to illusions and the benefits of deconditioning were actually spot on - I just tried to carry the lesson into the objective world, which didn't yield as readily as dream elements.

Anyway, there were other really interesting aspects to explore about lucid dreaming and its implications about consciousness, but though I ventured further into them, I didn't really go as far as it is possible to do. Over time I stopped my active exploration, and the involuntary dream and sleep experiences ebbed as well. But I know I can evoke the condition if I feel impelled to do so, and every once in a while.....

Anyway, as far as gaining control of your dreams, I think it's mainly about learning what you are and what you aren't. Lucid dreaming is perhaps the most ideal possible context in which to learn this, because, in a sense, it's all "you" - but you nevertheless have a very clear sense of yourself as a distinct entity in a broader environment. In this context, with a little introspection, it becomes very clear that at the core of what you mean by you is an embodiment of will. Once you know what that means, ultimately you won't even need a tool to deal with another apparition of will.

I don't want to over-specify on the gaining control front, because the more compelling the ideas were, the more you'd be constrained to an architecture I gave you, and it's so much more rewarding to become the architect of your own mind - not to mention, easier to remain fluid and resilient when you are. The more you become the one responsible for organizing your own mind, the easier it is to change it when you want to. The ultimate life hacker!
posted by perspicio at 9:15 PM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

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