“I’m not saying that love always takes you to heaven. Your life can become a nightmare. But that said, it is worth taking the risk.” – Paulo Coelho
(editors note: Guest post by my friend Travis from Sleep Yogi)
What is Lucid Dreaming?
Lucid dreaming is becoming aware that you are dreaming while you are in the dream. This means that you know that your body is safe in bed sleeping, and that you can’t be physically harmed, and can defy many of the laws of physics that we have on Earth(i.e. you can fly). This is an extremely fun way to experience your dreams and it can guide you to insight into your beliefs and emotional blockages.
Dream recall is essential to lucid dreaming, and it’s essential to discovering the cues that show we could be in a dream or a nightmare. I’ve had many nightmares where I am late for an appointment, and lost. I keep getting turned around, talking to the same people, and I feel anxious, stressed and out of control. What are common themes that you find in your nightmares?
Reoccurring theme in Nightmares? Test Reality.
If you have similar nightmares to me, then you could use situations in your everyday life that are similar to test whether you are dreaming or not. If in my waking life I am going to work and I left a few minutes late from my house and I’m worried about whether I will make it on time or not, I can test to see if I’m dreaming. I could also just visualize this event happening, feel the emotions associated with it and test to see if I’m dreaming. Here are two simple options.
1. Re-Read text or a digital watch.
If I was going by a stop sign, I would look at “STOP”, look away and tell my mind “change” and look back and see if the word changed. In a dream the word will often times be upside down, a different language, or be in a different order like “SOTP” or “SPOT”. On a watch “8:40am” may change to “15&#:34” or some other strange set of characters. You have to open your mind to the possibility that you could be in a dream right now, and that the word or numbers could change in a strange way.
2. Push your finger through glass or a mirror.
I use this often as a way to test whether I’m dreaming or not. When I first learned how to lucid dream, I discovered that I had many dreams where I would be in a public restroom. Now every time I’m in a public restroom before I wash my hands I’ll push my finger through the mirror. If my finger goes into the mirror then I know I’m dreaming. Again, keep the perspective as if it was possible that your hand really could sink into the mirror as if it was sand or jello.
If you have a nightmare that you are being chased, or there’s a mass murderer killing people all around you, it would be impractical(and undesirable!) to find similar situations in your everyday waking life where you will test reality. In this instance, just close your eyes, visualize the situations from your nightmare. Feel the emotions that you felt during the dream, and then open your eyes and do one of the tests above.
Confront your fears, don’t run away
Once you realize that you’re dreaming, and are not in danger of being physically harmed, turn to face what is scaring you. In a lucid dream it can seem easy to just fly away from your predator, but that won’t lead to lasting change. You won’t grow if you choose to run away from your inner fears and discomforts, you need to face them and learn from them. If you are running, stop and turn around. Who is chasing you? Who is that dark figure in the shadows? Turn on the light, or command for them to show themselves. If there isn’t a specific character that is chasing you, command to the dream world: “Show me who is in charge of this nightmare” and see who shows up in response.
Many times, when you discover who was chasing you, they don’t appear scary anymore. They may look like a frightened child, or even friendly. They may be someone that you know from waking life, or they might be an archetypal figure like the wise old man, or any number of things. They could still be a monster or a menacing character, but they will lose their power once you know that they can’t hurt you.
Questions to ask your nightmare characters:
- Why are you here?
- What is your purpose?
- How can I help you?
- What do you want?
The answers I’ve received from asking these questions:
- I’m here to help you to become stronger.
- I want to be loved.
- I’m scared that you’ll fail.
- I want you to do your best.
In the end your own interpretation of what happens in your dream is what is most relevant and important. I’ve had some lucid dreams where the direct answer did not feel meaningful to me. One time it was my counselor who I found, and he said “what is most important in life is to make lots and lots of money”. I knew that this was superficial, but when I interpreted it I understood that I was a student and going through a time of big changes in my life, and perhaps this fear was that I wasn’t going to make enough money in my career change that I was making(from film editor to massage therapist).
Ending the Nightmare
When you have your answer from the question, approach the character, and thank them for their response. Receive them with open arms, and give them a hug. Accept the fear and understand that the nightmare is showing you a part of yourself that wants to be heard.
What if I can’t lucid dream?
Ivan has written a beginner’s guide to lucid dreaming, and it is a great introduction to the basic techniques of remembering your dreams, and becoming more aware during your dreams.
If you are unable to become lucid in your nightmare, you can visualize the nightmare while you are awake. Visualize and write down how you become lucid in the dream, confront the nightmare and ask these questions to the nightmare character. Write down the interaction, listening to your subconscious and allow the answers to flow through your fingers onto the paper. It’ll be a little more difficult to let in the answers flow than if you are talking with a dream character, but it can give you just as profound insight.
I hope this article will help you find meaning in your nightmares and to dream in peace.
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Travis Usinger at SleepYogi.com helps people to fall asleep without habit-forming drugs by using guided meditations, healthy habits and mindful movement exercises for consistent, restorative night’s rest.