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An Exploration of Lucid Dreaming

Erin J. Wamsley
 
I have always been fascinated by dreams; specifically, the phenomenon of lucid dreaming. A "lucid" dream is a special type of dream in which the dreamer is consciously aware of themselves and of the fact that they are dreaming. Since childhood, I have been able to have this extraordinary type of dream, thinking that everyone dreamt in this same manner. I discovered later that only about 20% of the population reports having lucid dreams once a month or more [1]. But why? Why do some people recognize that they are dreaming, while others do not? Is this a skill that can be acquired? In the years after this, I took it upon myself to learn as much as I could on the subject of lucid dreaming.

There are many benefits and useful applications of lucid dreaming. They can be used to focus on finding out who you are and how you work, to help overcome nightmares, and in the treatment of phobias [2]. Dr. Stephen LaBerge states that "it's actually a sign of good mental health to realize that you're dreaming . . . " [2]. I read many works on the subject, became familiar with my sleep cycles, and sought out ways to improve my dreaming skills, even taking a course at the Institute for Attitudinal Studies [3] which involved group dreamwork.

In my self-motivated research during these years, I came across the work of Dr. Stephen LaBerge, Ph.D. His studies on proving the awareness of self in the unconscious state and the possibility of lucidity being a learnable skill caught my attention more than any other material I had read. The techniques he developed, specifically the Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreaming [4], helped me to increase the frequency of my lucid dreams. I also experimented with techniques developed by other scientists and writers, such as Dr. Charles McPhee, Ph.D. [5], Patricia Garfield [6], and Robert Moss [7].

I began to try to record my dreams each night and keep track of my progress in increasing the frequency of my lucidity. About a year ago, I became a member of the Lucidity Institute [8], a business whose mission is to advance research on the nature and potentials of consciousness and to apply the results of this research to the advancement of human health and well-being. Through my efforts, I began having clearer and more frequent lucid dreams, and came to share Dr. LaBerge's belief that lucidity can be learned by those who have not yet experienced it.

While I do not claim to have the resources or ability to scientifically prove this myself, I am taking my interest in lucid dreaming a step forward by involving myself in a project in which I will methodically research and explore lucid dreaming. During my time of research, I read books, searched the Internet, and reviewed information from the Lucidity Institute. Through this research, I learned about techniques for the development of lucid dreaming skills and for the induction of lucid dreaming. These techniques were of varied nature, but many rested upon the principals of autosuggestion, relaxation, memory training, and concentration exercise. I also used nightly lucid dream induction techniques such as the Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreams developed by Dr. Stephen LaBerge and the "two bodies" technique, which makes use of the phenomenon of sleep paralysis. I worked on learning and using these techniques for several weeks.

In this pursuit, experience followed in the footsteps of my research. As I went through books, research reports, and personal accounts on the subject, I learned about the ideas that others had developed concerning the induction of lucid dreams, and what progress had been made thus far in using these ideas in the form of lucid dreaming techniques. I then took the information into my own hands, trying it out and logging my progress from night to night. I recorded each dream I recalled and logged the number of dreams and number (if any) of lucid dreams I had. In this manner, I could show through empirical data that my lucid dreaming increased through my efforts. I kept notes on my experiences with each technique that I tried, judging by this which ones I should include in or adapt for my plan. My undocumented efforts of previous years to record my dreams and improve my lucid dreaming skills were solidified into this definite process during the project, whose end result was the production of a workbook containing techniques and instructions for the induction of lucid dreaming, based on my previous experience, research, and application of this research. My purpose in the creation of this end product is to use what I have learned about inducing lucid dreams to help others toward finding the same joys in dreaming that I have. From this exploration I learned more about the most effective methods for the induction of lucid dreams and received feedback on the effectiveness of these methods, in the form of a questionnaire, from those individuals who do not habitually dream lucidly. Hopefully, my efforts as manifested in this workbook will help peers whom I involve in this project to learn to be aware of themselves in their dreams and reap the benefits associated with this.

While research was an important component, I wanted this to be more than a simple research project; I wanted to actually put my knowledge to use and create something significant, which not only demonstrates what I have learned, but which serves some function to others. This function was to teach others the skill of lucid dreaming, which would help them to discover themselves, overcome nightmares, and experience something new and exciting. Since a main area of interest to me within the subject of lucid dreaming was lucid dreaming as a learnable skill, I concluded that the most effective end product I could create relating to this would be an actual process that would hopefully be able to teach others lucidity. This process took the form of an interactive workbook containing information, ideas, and various techniques with which I had experimented. I distributed a questionnaire with the draft of my plan, in order to judge the effectiveness of my program, both as a whole and in specific parts. This questionnaire asked the user to provide subjective information on how well the plan worked for them, what they did and did not find helpful, and what changes they would like to see made. The questionnaire also contained a likort scale portion, in which each respondent was asked to rate the effectiveness of 10 major components on a scale of 1-10. Based on the results of this questionnaire, I edited my plan, taking in suggestions and removing portions which seem unhelpful to the users.

Overall goals of this pursuit were to learn about lucid dreaming through research, to learn about lucid dreaming through experience, to use the knowledge I gained about induction techniques to develop my own program for the induction of lucid dreams, to distribute my program for use, to receive feedback concerning its effectiveness, and to use this feedback to create a revised copy. These goals were each met to my satisfaction. I completed extensive research, and learned many things as I was given the opportunity to read multiple works to which I had not previously been exposed. In learning through experience, I kept daily records and notes of my dreams as I tried different techniques, from which I was able to construct actual graphs of my progress. I developed a line graph, "Lucid Nights Per Week", which shows that my frequency of lucid dreams increased during the time that I was using induction techniques (see below). Putting my research and experience to work, I created my own lucid dreaming program, submitted it to peers for feedback, and developed a final copy.

I felt a great sense of accomplishment from the personal feat of completing my program, entitled "Vision: A Guide to Lucid Dreaming". Beyond this, however, the results of the questionnaire have satisfied me that my program has the potential to help people have lucid dreams. I had only a small amount of feedback to work with, but most of this was optimistic concerning the helpfulness of ‘Vision'. I was amazed and pleased by the general interest level of everyone involved. Every day, people would excitedly come up to me and tell me about the dreams that they had been having. In the short time that these people had to work with my plan (about 2 weeks), it was unlikely that they would experience a shift to complete lucidity, but eight out of nine respondents reported that their dream awareness had improved in some form. Learning lucidity is a long process, but as one respondent put it, he had "started on the road to lucid dreams." The specific exercises that were most often cited as ‘most effective' (by a total of four out of the nine respondents) were ‘Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreaming' and the keeping of a dream journal. Four out of nine respondents felt that the dreamsign exercise was not beneficial to them. This is probably due to the fact that from the start, this particular exercise requires a high rate of dream recall and dream awareness. The objective portion of the questionnaire revealed approximately the same evaluations of the effectiveness of specific components; ‘Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreaming' and dream journaling being cited among the most effective, and dreamsign cataloging being cited as the least effective. The ratings from each questionnaire were averaged to create an overall score for each of the 10 major components of ‘Vision'. These ratings (on a scale of 1-10 in descending order of effectiveness; 10 being the least effective, and 1 being the most effective) were as follows:
  • Journal Keeping: 1.7
  • Autosuggestion: 1.8
  • Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreaming: 1.9
  • Concentration Exercise: 2.4
  • Prospective Memory Training: 2.7
  • Interpretation: 3.1
  • ‘Remembering' Techniques: 3.3
  • Lucidity from Sleep Paralysis: 4.0
  • Carrying out Random Acts: 4.7
  • Dreamsigns: 4.7
The subjective comments in and of themselves were also testimony to the success of my plan. Users reflected that "this workbook was extremely successful", "improved my dream recall a lot", and "I remembered dreams better and was lucid [in those dreams]". Other similar comments were found throughout the questionnaires. Common suggestions included a request for an example dream and more dream recall exercises, which, as well as the component ratings, I took into account in the development of the final copy of ‘Vision'.

I do not intend to abandon what I have begun this year in my exploration of lucid dreaming. As a student, I do not have the resources to conduct a valid and conclusive scientific study concerning lucidity, but hopefully I will in the future. I plan to continue studying psychology as I move into higher education over the next years, and hope that I can eventually devote a great deal of time and effort to dream research. After my schooling is complete, I have visions of continuing this interest as a part or whole of my career, perhaps as a research psychologist. Even if plans change, however, knowledge of lucid dreaming is a valuable life skill which I will always use as a tool for learning and will always keep close to me as a cherished treasure.

Bibliography

  1. In Bootzen, R.R., Kihlstrom, J.F. & Schacter, D.L., Sleep and Cognition. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, 1990.
  2. Stephen LaBerge, Ph.D. "Dreams", part 8. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
  3. LaBerge, Stephen & Rheingold, Howard. Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming. Ballantine Books: New York, 1990.
  4. McPhee, Charles. Stop Sleeping Through Your Dreams. Delacorte Press: Philadelphia, 1990.
  5. Garfield, Patricia. Creative Dreaming. Simon & Schuster: New York, 1995.
  6. Moss, Robert. Conscious Dreaming. Crown Trade Paperbacks: New York, 1996.