For a long time, I have had dreams where I realized that I was dreaming. I didn’t try to invoke this state of mind — it just happened spontaneously. I’ve conducted a very non-scientific survey and found that most people I know have never had this experience.

Recently I borrowed a book from the library, Exploring the World Lucid Dreaming by Stephen LaBerge & Howard Rheingold. This book was written in 1990, but a quick look around the internet shows that the lucid dreaming field has not changed significantly since this book was written. Other than you can now go on LaBerge dreaming workshops in Hawaii which sounds just about as hippy-dippy as you can get.

LaBerge is a pioneer in the field of lucid dreaming, as he not only devised ways to prove he was aware that he was dreaming in a laboratory setting, but also came up with proven methods to induce lucid dreams in just about anyone. Despite the kooky new-agey feel to a lot of his ideas, many are evidence based. I decided to be open-minded at try some of these methods.

LaBerge feels that as long as we are going to sleep for one-third of our lives, we may as well use that time for mind expansion. I only half agree with this premise, mostly because I enjoy sleeping. I think most people do. I know there’s lots of folks who get a warm, happy feeling just thinking about their bed. So I don’t think sleep is a waste of time because it is very pleasant, and probably the only thing I do that is pleasant for a full eight hours straight. However, I am all for exploration on all levels, and already spend a good deal of time exploring my mind. Perhaps a new method would be good.

Now, one problem I have with discussions of lucid dreams is that many folks feel that once you realize you’re dreaming you should do something wild like fly to the stars. Let me tell you, not only do I have no interest in such shenanigans, but they sound pretty juvenile too me. This is probably because the reality-checking part of my brain is overactive. Even in a dream state, I couldn’t fly to stars because I’d be saying “You know, you aren’t really flying to stars. You’re just dreaming that you’re flying to stars. They aren’t really the stars. This isn’t real.” It’s pathetic, really, but that’s how my mind works. So I’m not interested in play time for the brain. I’m interested in further investigations as to what is reality.

In my post “grief, dreams, permanence“, I alluded to the dreams I have where I end up in an argument with others that we are in a dream. I was delighted to read in Exploring the World that this is a common experience. In fact, a lot of the methods I have read about so far are all about reality testing.

One of the first concepts introduced in the book is that what we do while awake, we also do while asleep. Therefore, it’s unlikely we are going to ask ourselves if we are dreaming while we are asleep if we never do while we are awake. We first start with asking ourselves “Am I dreaming?” while we are awake. At first this seemed silly when I tried it (he mentions that it will feel silly), but then I realized that I do have to establish certain criteria to show I am NOT dreaming. Just saying “Because it looks different” or “feels different” is not concrete enough. K says that his dreams are not nearly as detailed as reality, so that dreams and reality clearly look different, but that is not at all the case with me.

LaBerge pointed out there are a few simple things that are always true in dreams. If you look at any text in a dream, look away, and then look at it again, it will not stay the same. It will warp or mutate in some way, or somehow conditions will suddenly change so it is no longer possible to read it. This NEVER happens in reality (other than in a sudden power outage). So, one can starts conducting reading tests in reality. LaBerge suggest carrying a card with you that simply says, “Am I dreaming?” on it. You can pull it out, read it, read it again, and it will always be the same.

I have begun this simple practice, and it’s really pretty interesting. Recently I have been in a variety of situations that were far from my normal experience, for instance, being suddenly backstage at a Lady Gaga performance. That sure seemed like a dream. It was interesting to look around for specific, concrete examples* as to why I wasn’t dreaming.

It’s amazing that something that’s puzzled me for years — the ability to discern dreams from reality — is really easy when reduced to a few simple cues. It’s one of those ideas which was there all along but somehow I couldn’t put my finger on it. Now that I know about it, I feel perplexed (and a little annoyed) as to why I couldn’t have figured this out for myself.

I have continued on to the next set of exercises in the book. One is to read a set of four mundane events that may occur in your day. There is a week’s worth of sets of four. Each day you try keep these in mind and test reality when they occur. They are such things as “Next time the telephone rings” or “Next time I check the time”. The point is to train yourself to keep cues in mind while going through your day, so that you can keep cues in mind while asleep.

Another exercise is to find a pattern of cues in your dreams, the things the only occur in your dreams. Everyone’s dream world is different. I often dream that I am with my family members, whereas in reality I am almost never with them. One cue I have set up is that if I dream about my family, I should test whether I am dreaming. Another pattern is being on public transportation about becoming hopelessly lost, so now when I ride BART or the bus I pay attention to how consistent the experience is in reality so that it will be more obvious when I am dreaming.

Another interesting thing that LaBerge discovered in his research that, contrary to the myth that dreams occur in some sped-up time warp, the events in them occur in real time. It’s just that you jump from scene to scene, as in a movie. This has lead me to another discovery that makes reality different from most dreams: the long spells of the mundane. I am at work for hours on end, doing boring tasks, on and on. That level of continuous non-event does not occur in my dreams. I do occasionally dream that I have gotten up and am getting ready for work with a bunch of mundane details (getting dressed, brushing teeth), but it’s pretty rare.

I’m curious what these reality testing experiences will lead to. I’ll write more if and when I discover anything interesting.

This question — “Am I dreaming?” has led me to develop another question — “Am I acting?” during the day, I spend a lot of time smiling and making nice to those around me. I believe that this is good manners, and how one functions in society. By the amount of rude people I encounter, I realize not everyone adheres to the ideology. I realized, though, I should think about when I am acting nice out of politeness and when I really mean it. I think I can easily get into a gray area where I can’t discern how I actually feel about a person or a situation until after it is over, because I am too busy pouring my energies into being polite. At times it seems I have too much energy being externalized i.e. focusing on others, and not enough energy focused internally. It’s all fine and well to be polite, but not to the point where later I realize that I have suppressed myself to no end — just out of habit.

*Another cue LaBerge mentioned is digital clocks or watches. In a dream, you can never look at them twice without their changing the time non-sequentially. (He points out the analog watches in dreams are a little trickier).


4 Responses to “Am I Dreaming? Am I Acting?”

  1. Am I Dreaming, Part II : the nerge on April 7th, 2011 9:34 am

    […] I’ve continued with my sleep experiments as found in Exploring the World Lucid Dreaming. I’ve come to realize that if I had no hobbies, I might possibly try all the experiments suggested. However, since I have 50,000 hobbies (count ‘em!), I’m going to have to skip ahead in the book. […]

  2. Am I Dreaming, Part III : the nerge on July 24th, 2011 8:38 pm

    […] my first post where I talked about lucid dreaming, I mentioned that there was a strong recommendation by experienced lucid dreamers to try flying in […]

  3. Lucid Dreaming on May 21st, 2015 3:40 am

    Identifying the difference between the waking reality and a dream is what reality checks help an individual achieve.
    But take, for example, the purely secular and scientific
    approaches to lucid dreaming, such as that exemplified by the work of
    the psychophysiologist Stephen La – Berge. 3: Make all neighbors show up on sky bridge
    in Dream Heights.

  4. Lucid Dreaming: Another Approach. And, many thought experiments. | the nerge on October 24th, 2015 10:12 pm

    […] enough, the books also approaches lucid dreaming in a way completely opposite of the book Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming. In that book, the Laberge (the author) recommends questioning yourself throughout the day with the […]

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