When did you first learn about lucid dreaming? What did you think when you heard about it?
Like many people, I was introduced to the concept of lucid dreaming by watching the movie Inception. Once I learned anyone can induce lucid dreams, I was immediately captivated. To literally explore one’s wildest dreams is an incredible opportunity, and the potential of such a state of mind is enormous! I knew I must dedicate the rest of my life to studying this intriguing phenomenon.
What was it about lucid dreaming that seemed so interesting?
Its potential and applicability. Comparatively speaking, there has not been much scientific investigation into lucid dreaming but the research done thus far is exciting! It seems lucid dreaming could possibly help a great many people improve their quality of life in a variety of different ways. I enjoy pushing our knowledge forward with research endeavors, as well as teaching others what science says on the topic and the possibilities that lie ahead.
Did you have immediate success with lucid dreaming, or did it take a while? What happened in your early lucid dreams?
I induced my first lucid dream after about four weeks of dedicated practice. At the time, I was still haphazardly using an assortment of induction techniques so it took a while to learn how to induce lucid dreams frequently and how to prolong them. My early lucid dreams were very short because I would get too excited and wake myself up, so I spent much of this time simply learning how to become a better lucid dreamer (e.g. maintaining lucidity, keeping the dream going, influencing the dream).
What techniques were you using to become lucid? Which did you find most helpful?
I’ve tried a wide array of induction techniques over the years and I continue to experiment with various strategies, but these days I consistently get results from combining the Mnemonic-Induced-Lucid-Dream (MILD) and Wake-Back-To-Bed (WBTB) techniques. This is especially true whenever I use acetylcholine supplements (e.g. galantamine) and/or have a consistent meditation practice. Also, I’ve found it incredibly beneficial to have an emotionally exciting goal for the experience as this helps keep me motivated to complete the practices that I know will result in lucid dreaming.
Did lucid dreaming seem to have rules? Or did it seem random and chaotic?
The existence of rules was one of the initial lessons I learned with lucid dreaming. There are certain guidelines a person should follow if trying to deliberately induce a lucid dream. There are also specific strategies for maintaining and influencing the lucid dream experience in a desired direction. As I mentioned, my first lucid dreams only lasted a few seconds so one of the first rules I learned was staying calm in order to maintain the experience.
As you went along, did you have lucid dreams that surprised you? Or led to unexpected events? Tell us about those.
There have been many lucid dreams that surprised me. One lucid dream like this happened when I sought out advice about which job I should pursue while in school. This was an emotional decision for me because I felt that one job would make my parents proud, while the other job would make my parents feel disappointed but would probably make me happier.
I went into a lucid dream and started looking around for Jesus Christ because my parents are Catholic, so I figured they would be more willing to accept advice I received from such a figure. After several minutes of searching with no sign of Jesus, I decided to simply ask a wise dream character instead. There was a mountain nearby, so I flew to the top of it expecting to find a guru-type person there and that is exactly what happened. I asked him which job I should take and he gave me an unexpected response, “Your parents just want you to be happy.” I did not mention my parents, so I was surprised for a second before I realized this message was exactly what I needed to hear. This phrase led to the insight that I can pursue whichever job I want because my parents are simply trying to protect me, so my anxiety around the decision was greatly eased.
The connection between lucid dreaming and emotional healing is one that intrigues many people. Have you explored this in your lucid dreams?
Yes, chronic depression has been a part of my life for over a decade and it can be hard to deal with at times. During a recent downturn, I decided to see if lucid dreaming could help, using several different approaches. To my surprise, I experienced an improvement in my condition! It was a WILD, so I knew I was dreaming from the beginning:
I’m in a brick alleyway and see a man walk down into a lit cellar. I’m lucid and remember my objective so I start saying the mantra to myself. I decide to explore the cellar while I recite the mantra in my mind and try to think of a better one. The cellar turns into a giant underground city made mostly of metal. I keep walking around and think of a 3-month timeframe for my mantra so I add it in, “I will be depression-free for a month of three.” This feels better so I keep repeating it, but it still doesn’t feel exactly right. However, I keep repeating this to myself and walking around enjoying the sites. I walk around reciting for about 5 minutes but I don’t feel much difference.
I decide to stop walking to focus the healing intention. I put my hands over my head and close my eyes for a second. I recite the new mantra out loud and feel a rush of energy in my head, like a strong wind from behind. I open my eyes and say it again and another wave of energy rushes into my head, building up. I say it again and another stronger rush of energy hits. I say it two more times and two more waves of energy hit me in the head, each one progressively stronger. By this time, I’m beaming with energy and feel 10x lighter and happier. I put my hands down and stop reciting. I’m so full of energy that I have to move so I start running around…
The dream ended shortly afterward and I woke up feeling ecstatic as the joy from the dream transferred into my waking life. I must admit I did not expect this lucid dream would help at all, so I was quite elated with the results. It did not completely eliminate the chronic depression, but it provided significant relief for several weeks which is much more than any other treatments I’ve tried.
Some lucid dreamers have used lucid dreaming to end recurring nightmares, resolve phobias and deal with anxiety. Have you ever used lucid dreaming to deal with a psychological concern? What happened?
Numerous lucid dreams have helped me with psychological concerns, such as the examples I gave with the mountain guru and chronic depression. Another example would be when I was seeking advice on how to handle a relationship that was causing a great deal of anxiety in my life, so I went into a lucid dream and spoke with her. Here’s what happened:
I say to her, “I have to tell you something.” She stares at me. I tell her, “I can’t talk to you anymore,” and she replies, “I know.” I ask, “How can I get you to stop communicating with me?” She says, “Tell me the truth.” I respond, “You have caused me so much pain and suffering, interfering with my work and school, that I can’t take the risk anymore.” She replies, “Thank you,” and the dream ends.
This relationship was so tumultuous that I did not expect her responses to be so calm and direct, even while dreaming. It was a pleasant surprise and a welcomed change of pace from our interactions in the waking world. I did the same thing after I woke up: I told her the truth of how I felt. After that message, she stopped communicating with me and my anxiety quickly resolved, too.
In these kind of dreams, do you feel like you speak to the person (in the dream state) or to your 'projection' of the person? And does it matter, when you get insight into a toxic relationship?
It depends on the dream. Sometimes I feel as though I’m speaking to the person in a dream state, but most times I feel like it is just my projection of that person. Personally, I don’t think we have enough science yet to say if dream characters are ‘real’ people/entities or not, but Occam’s Razor would certainly suggest the latter. In the end, though, I find what matters most is the insight received and the rest is somewhat superfluous.
In business they talk about the 'value proposition' of a company or what it brings to the customer that others do not. What do you think is the 'value proposition' of lucid dreaming when it comes to psychological healing?
Lucid dreaming is in a unique position to assist psychological healing because people can communicate more directly with their subconscious mind. I’ve done this on numerous occasions and many times I will get a non-sensical answer, but there are also many times where I am given the exact message I need to hear at that moment. Some of the best life advice I’ve ever received has been from people in lucid dreams, so I look forward to seeing more research in this specific area.
In some areas of healing, it seems hard to tell if you work with a biological issue or a psychological issue biologically expressed. Chronic pain seems one of these areas. Are you investigating this? How did you come to consider this topic?
As part of my doctoral dissertation, I’m currently researching lucid dreaming for chronic pain relief so I have thought about this topic quite a bit. I chose chronic pain because it is a common health issue with millions of people suffering and recent changes in legislature (in the United States) has left many people with an inability to attain relief through prescription medication. These people need help and lucid dreaming might be able to provide some assistance.
Scientifically speaking, chronic pain provides an opportunity to test if lucid dreaming is a viable supplementary health treatment because the condition lasts a minimum of several months so any noticeable improvement after a lucid dream could likely be attributed to something from the lucid dream rather than happenstance. Chronic pain contains both psychological and biological components so it can be hard to parse out which parts are potentially influenced by lucid dreaming, particularly without sophisticated equipment. In the end, though, what matters most is quality of life. I imagine many people struggling with chronic pain will only care if lucid dreaming can improve their condition and probably care less about how it all works. Scientists can figure out the other details in time.
If I can be so bold, what kind of lucid dreams have resulted? Anything which might anecdotally support (or scientifically support) using lucid dreams for relief from chronic pain?
I’m interviewing people who have already had the experience of relieving (or attempting to relieve) chronic pain with lucid dreaming so I’m basically compiling anecdotal reports and digging deeper into the experiences. Some degree of chronic pain relief was experienced by almost all of the individuals interviewed thus far, and with very little risk of negative side effects, so the results are encouraging. The range is quite wide with some people experiencing more relief than others and some people experiencing longer-lasting relief than others. It seems like chronic pain relief through lucid dreaming is plausible, but we need more research to determine if other people with chronic pain will experience similar results.
Elliott, thanks for joining me in this interview! Let people know how they can get in touch with you.
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