Virtual Worlds

Copyright 1991 by Lucidity Association

Part I: The Experience of Lucid Dreaming

1. Introduction Harry Hunt

2. From the Beginning Through Feast or Famine Krisanne Gray

3. Lucid Dreams and Out-of-Body Experiences: A Personal Case Father "X"

4. Reflections on 20 Years of "Conscious" Sleep Experiences Father "X"

5. Problems Related to Experimentation While Dreaming Lucidly George Gillespie

6. Dream Lucidity Induction and ControlAlan Worsley

7. Induction of Ecstatic Lucid DreamsDaryl E. Hewitt

8. Ordinary Dreams, Lucid Dreams, and Mystical ExperienceGeorge Gillespie

9. Conscious Mental Stillness in Dreams... Elinor Gebremedhin

10. Awake in the Dark: Imageless Lucid Dreaming Linda L. Magallón

11. Experimentation With The Vortex Phenomenon in Lucid Dreams Kenneth Moss

12. A Journal of Attempts to Induce and Work with Lucid Dreams: Can You Kill Yourself While Lucid?Bruce G. Marcot

13. Terminology in Lucid Dream Research Charles Tart

14. "Dreams, Illusions, Bubbles, Shadows:" Awareness of "Unreality" While Dreaming Among Chinese College Students Myrna Walters & Robert Knox Dentan

15. Conversation Between Stephen LaBerge and Paul Tholey in July of 1989Stephen LaBerge, Paul Tholey, & Brigitte Holzinger (Ed.)


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Back to Lucidity Letters 10th Anniversary Issue


1. Introduction


Brock University, St. Catherines, Ontario, Canada


It has been argued that what unifies the diversity of areas and methods in psychology is the overlap, constantly shifting, between "subjectively" lived experience and "objectively" measured psychophysiological processes. This formula is especially clear in dream psychology, since whatever we learn of its "process" must ultimately be related back again to these subjective reports from the night. With lucid dreaming the balance shifts even more towards personal experience. For lucid dreams have only emerged as an area of study through the insistent and repeated claims of those who have them. Without the sort of detailed reports that follow we would have been left with a falsely simplified idea of what dreaming is and can be. Whatever else lucidity may be, it is something that develops out of ordinary dreaming over many years and, as these accounts will show, in more than one way. Without gifted experients such as these we would never have realized the extent of which the dreaming process is actually a set of open potentialities.


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2. From the Beginning Through Feast or Famine



Spokane, Washington


Note from Senior Editor, Jayne Gackenbach: Krisanne Gray is a housewife and mother of two who runs a day care center in Spokane, Washington. Her story, as well as the work of Deborah ArmstrongHickey, is of theoretical interest to the field of lucid dreaming, not because of the process she went through in figuring out what is real (this is a familiar one to anyone who has worked on becoming lucid in sleep), but rather because she went through it at such a young age. Due to her youth, other mechanisms came into play which adults don’t normally deal with. Mrs. Gray may be a "consciousness savant" somewhat like a very young child who shows early mathematical aptitude.

Before I comment on the potential theoretical significance of this case let me say that I have spoken to Mrs. Gray at some length and believe that she is in fact honestly communicating her experiences as accurately as she can. As is often the case when I stumble upon an individual who evidences unique sleep consciousness, if they are genuine and uninformed about the area of lucid dreaming, they are amazed to discover that everyone doesn’t dream lucidly all the time. In 13 years of working on lucid dreaming I have only found four individuals (outside of long term meditators) like this. In all cases they were ignorant of lucid dreaming work, amazed that their style wasn’t the norm, and with intensive interviewing I was convinced that they fully understood what I meant and that they were honest, sincere and perhaps humbler than most. In fact, in a recent chance encounter with an Alberta businessman, who is virtually always conscious in sleep and has never meditated, he became quite uncomfortable with my interest in his sleep experiences. I hope yet to be able to convince him to come into the sleep laboratory.

Theoretically, such consciousness savants offer us a clue as to the role dreaming may play in the development of thinking. This was pointed out at the 1988 meeting of the Association for the Study of Dreams by Alan Moffitt of Carleton University. He presented a new theory of the function of dreams which dramatically goes beyond a mere "information processing" perspective. Because REM sleep is the stage of sleep in which dreams almost always occur, Moffitt argued, that "dreaming is the motor for human development." That is, it is the part of our biological system which forces us to move form one level of intellectual capacity to the next. When we work with dreams, then, we are working with the cutting edge of our own intellectual development. Moffitt pointed to lucid REM dreams, rather that ordinary nonlucid REM dreams, as particularly clear examples of the driving mechanisms pushing us from stage to stage in our intellectual development. "Lucidity enables the further development of intentional action within the dream state," explained Moffitt. "In effect, one can develop a new form of competence, a type of skill not available during the waking state With these considerations in mind, Lucidity Letter offers you the story of Krisanne Gray.

Remembering back as young as six or seven months of age, I was afraid to sleep—that was an, as yet, undefined state in the face of which I felt helpless with fear. Although I cannot recall even the smallest detail of those early nightmares, I do remember the fear they instilled in me.

It was in response to those nightmares that I developed the "skill" of lucid dreaming. I found rocking (first on all fours, then from side to side) soon became a means to gain the control I needed. The rhythm helped me to focus thought. Thoughts, I quickly found, had considerable power. Also, I knew that I had to control the fear I felt. This rocking motion helped me to focus on other things. I remember early nightmares were more on a feeling level than a visual one.

At age two I remember the nightmares becoming more visual. I tried to find a way to tell if this state was "real" or not, if this was a dream because I was experiencing feelings of hurt and pain. I remember being very angry when people would say, "Oh, it’s just a dream, it won’t hurt you!" I became more aware that my feelings had a strong influence on my nightmares but not as much of an impact while awake.

I continued to try to define reality. I found that it helped to have a set sleep schedule as it told me that this was either awake time or nightmare time. By the age of four, I felt it was very important to tell myself when I knew I was in a dream. Knowing I had to define "real" more clearly, I found that dreams had no rules and no boundaries while reality had many. Thus I began to define reality more by its limitations. So in order to find out what real was, I had to discover what it was not!

At about five years of age, I developed my first "control"—a term I gave to the cue giving me conscious awareness in a subconscious state. The mechanics were simple. I would define the state I was in. At this point I would use the control of the state to stop an obvious nightmare. Then I shook my head, hard and fast, and I would awaken immediately.

These control methods developed as the ways of testing the state developed. If I could leap tall buildings in a single bound, I was dreaming. Dreams seemed to be easier to define, and my control seemed to work every time. Or did it?

At about age of eight or nine, I had my most challenging nightmares. It seemed that my mind was intent on this lesson of wits. As I learned about various states of mind through my mind’s deceptions, I grew in my control of my conscious and subconscious thoughts.

The following nightmare is a composite of memories that typify my dreams of that period:

I wake up. It’s morning. I can hear my mom calling me from downstairs. I stretch and yawn. I sit up in bed and look outside—a beautiful day, blue skies, and lots of birds singing. I slip my legs over the side of the bed and feel the cold, hardwood floor under my feet. Suddenly, a clawed hand grasps one foot and the other. I fall to my knees on the floor, screaming in terror! I realize this can’t be real! I quickly use my control action and wake instantly in my bed. Still shaking, I slowly peer under my bed. Nothing is there, and I sigh with relief. I hear mom again calling me for school. She knocks on my door and tells me I’m going to be late. I quickly jump out of bed and dress. I run downstairs to find my sister munching down breakfast, and I join her. As I’m pouring my cereal, I see my sister laughing. Her bowl is filled with live snails! She’s crunching down another spoonful. I realize she wouldn’t do this (not live ones anyway!) and know I’m dreaming. I shake my head, longer this time, to awaken. Again, I hear mom calling. Once again I check under the bed. I try to go through a wall but hit it instead. This must be real! Again I dress and run downstairs. I check the cereal situation out carefully. Everything seems normal, so off to school my sister and I go loaded down with books. School seems to reassure me. I couldn’t dream this long! Classes end, and I race home. I am immediately stopped by a locked door. My sister runs past me with her girl friend and lets me know they’ll be at her friend’s house. I pound on the front door, thinking my mom is asleep. The door flies open to reveal the face of an old woman. I ask as I push past her who she is. By now I know something is very wrong. Nothing inside is the same. The TV is gone. There is a big clock in the corner that wasn’t there before. I ask where my mother is. The old woman replies this is her house and has been for the last ten years. I run out of the house and turn to look at it. I realize this is not real, it’s a nightmare! I shake my head, and, again, awaken to my mom calling me.

This time I knew I was awake. You can see why I spent a great deal of time developing this nightmare control. Once I realized that I was the one who wrote, acted, and reacted within this realm, I was able to control the outcome. I soon changed nightmares and then learned to rewrite them.

3. Feast or Famine

As an adult I have been able to channel this ability to deal with personal concerns. At one time I was faced with a serious dilemma—how to lose 25 unwanted pounds on a 5'2" frame, pounds which had been gained when I quit smoking. After careful analysis, I decided my regimen would include a new diet, a new craft to occupy me by day and lucid dreaming at night.

Knowing that my main enemy was those unwanted, howevermuchenjoyed calories, made the answer clear. I had to satisfy my appetite while eliminating the unpleasant side effects: calories, convenience, cost. I knew only one place where this and more was easily obtainable—a place where I could eat an unlimited variety of foods, under any conditions, within any surroundings I chose. This place, found only within my imagination, has only the boundaries I impose. This clearly has its advantages. My theory was based on the idea that if I could satisfy my mind’s appetite, then perhaps my body, too, would be content. So I set up trial dreams.

I can no longer remember most of these specific dreams; however, the technique was always the same. First, I make plain my intention both outwardly and inwardly. I then begin to "program" the night’s dreams. A few times during the evening I imagine a favorite restaurant, a favorite food. I try to focus on only one place or food. Then, just before I fall asleep, I again focus my energy on that idea. I detail my imaginary description, including smell, taste, and texture.

Once the technique of reaching a lucid dream state had been mastered, dream control enabled me to choose a few dinner guests to join me or included the choice of the finest clothes. Then I fell asleep:

I find myself sitting at a huge crudely built wooden table. I am rubbing elbows with a huge hulk of a man to my left, to my right a dainty wisp of a girl dressed like a fairy princess. I step outside myself for a moment and find I am dressed in a beautiful gown of soft iceblue, covered in lace. I am very pleased to find myself so wellheeled. I am completely aware that I am dreaming. This gives me a wonderful feeling of complete control. This alone has a positive effect on my mood both asleep and awake. I look around at the faces of the medieval royalty dining with unrestrained enthusiasm upon what appears to be roast pork and roast turkey. The smells fill my nose with flavors. Formal eating habits aside, I, too, reach across the table to tear a drumstick savagely from what is left of the turkey. So, with all the flavor and texture of food eaten while awake, I indulge myself for what seems like hours. I remember being distracted by the eating habits of my dinner partners. Conversation seemed limited to lipsmacking and contented groans of satisfaction. I felt right at home, as I run a day care facility. I was even beginning to feel too full!

When I awakened, it took me a few minutes to realize I wouldn’t need that bicarbonate after all. I felt very full. In fact, for several hours after my night’s feasting, I felt very content. Also I discovered an additional aid in looking forward to the next night’s meal. I could put off that tempting treat until I could afford the calories, expense, and time.

Understand, however, that it takes many years of practice to reach this lucid dream state on demand. Even though I have practiced for years, I can’t always reach a specific dream place every time. I find that my odds of "waking up" where I want to in a dream are about one in three. However, almost every night I can enter a dream and turn it into a lucid one. So I could change my dream to accomplish the goal.

There is a difficulty in this, however. Dreaming a particular thought is not as difficult as keeping in focus my intended goal. It seems the problems and concerns of waking life have importance while dreaming. There are subtle differences in values and not all concern moral beliefs (to my knowledge). Teaching yourself to focus is the most effective way to gain control. With that control an entire world becomes yours for the taking and helps you to achieve daytime goals as well. This works, and has worked, many times for me. As of now, my "diet" dreams still help me to maintain the weight I chose, just as it helped me lose those unwanted pounds many years ago.

Sleep is a very welcome time of day for me. I can go anywhere, do anything, be anyone I choose. I enjoy lucid dreams almost every night, and still find myself amazed at the possibilities available to.


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3. Lucid Dreams and Out-of-Body Experiences: A Personal Case



A Catholic Monk


Editor’s Note: The following is from the first of Father "X"’s contributions to Lucidity Letter; the account immediately following is his latest.

I have just finished LaBerge’s book, Lucid Dreaming, and was gratified to learn that the lucid dreams of not a few people have similar characteristics to my own. These include:

1. Testing of gravity to reassure oneself that one is really awake in a dream;

2. Varying degrees of lucidity, some so lucid that one fears one will become "stuck";

3. Frequent inability to read any written or printed matter;

4. Need to remain emotionally detached from the dream to prolong it;

5. Experience of lucidity coming over one gradually or suddenly; and

6. Capacity for voluntary action in this dreamworld.

My lucid dreams are tied up with another phenomenon, that of the outofbody experience. . . . The essential difference between [OBE] experiences and my lucid dreams is that I am totally conscious when I enter this other state of consciousness whereas my lucid dreams always begin with a nonlucid dream which then becomes lucid.

How could someone who is totally conscious enter the dream state? All I know is that when the paralysis and vibrations come over me my vision [blurs] . . . but I am still aware of my surroundings. Then I am literally pulled out of my body and off I go.

LaBerge seems to suggest in chapter nine [that] the dreamworld possesses some sort of objective existence. Tholey also suggested that the dreamworld seemed to possess an "inertia" and "lawfulness" all its own. As for myself, after having undergone hundreds of these experiences over a period of twelve years, the only reasonable conclusion I can come to is that the content of most of my experiences come from some source other than my subconscious. . . . [One] characteristic of my experiences which convinces me that this dreamworld has some sort of objective existence is that I have never been able to transform the content of my experiences with my conscious mind. The individuals and environment in this world sometimes change dramatically but the changes do not appear to come from my mind.

I was particularly interested in LaBerge’s description of the experience of the Indian physician and editor, Ram Narayana, as he tried to convince the creatures of his dreamworld that they were his own creation. I too have succumbed to that temptation . . . . I usually ended up with a fight on my hands. . . . One of these experiences . . . started out as a nonlucid dream which quickly became very lucid.

I found myself walking down a very busy, bustling city street in what looked like a large metropolitan city at noon. As usual, with so many of my experiences, at first glance everything looked normal. All sorts of people walking to and fro, seemingly concerned only with their own personal affairs. The clothes and hairstyles and everything else about them looked more or less modern and normal. There was a lot of traffic in the streets and even a policeman directing it.

'Well, for some reason I was feeling very frustrated and angry so I decided to "let it all hang out." I walked out to the middle of the street and started shouting as loud as I could, "All right you people, listen up! This is my dream and I want to know what in the hell is going on around here!"

_Well, if I had dropped a bomb I probably could not have gotten their attention any quicker—all at once everything stopped and I mean everything. Everyone stopped dead in their tracks, turned and stared at me. Then they all began moving towards me in a very threatening way; I really thought that I had done it this time as I could feel the panic and fear sweeping over me. Frantically I began concentrating on my body lying in my bed. . . . Finally, just before they reached me, I found myself back in my bed.

Finally, I’d like to relate an experience I had earlier this year, which is a good example of the puzzling nature of many of my experiences. It began as a normal dream and quickly turned into a very lucid dream:

I found myself in an urban setting, standing on a city block, observing all sorts of people bustling about. . . . I saw that I was standing in front of a small building which looked like it might be a library or a museum. I decided to try my luck in there, so I walked up to the door, opened it, and entered. I had fairly good control of my body and my vision was very clear. I am always amazed at my sense of touch in these experiences. I can actually feel the objects I am touching. However, It is not a direct sense of touch—rather it feels like I am wearing heavy gloves on my hands.

It seemed to be a library as there were rows of books stacked in shelves along the walls. I immediately noticed two middleaged men sitting on the floor with their backs leaning up against the bookshelves. They did not seem to be reading anything, just staring off into space. There were only about five or six people in the place, and they were all clustered around a desk in the middle of the room where a pretty, blondhaired girl in her early twenties seemed to be checking out books. Since so many of my experiences are very short, some lasting only seconds, I thought that if I was going to get any useful information from this experience, I better start right away before the experience ended. I walked up to her desk, stood directly in front of her, and just blurted out the first thing that came to my mind: "Are you people dead?"

The girl behind the desk looked at me in a sort of wistful way and said, "Yes," and without my saying anything else she added this extraordinary statement, "but I am the only one around here who remembers dying."

Before I could ask her anything else, the other people around the desk began pushing me back and started to act in a very threatening way towards me. Next thing I knew the experience ended and I was back in my bed.


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4. Lucid Dreams and Out-of-Body Experiences: A Personal




A Catholic Monk


Editor’s Note: The following is from the first of Father "X"’s contributions to Lucidity Letter; the account immediately following is his latest.


I have just finished LaBerge’s book, Lucid Dreaming, and was

gratified to learn that the lucid dreams of not a few people have similar characteristics to my own.

These include:


1. Testing of gravity to reassure oneself that one is really awake in a dream;


2. Varying degrees of lucidity, some so lucid that one fears one will become "stuck";


3. Frequent inability to read any written or printed matter;


4. Need to remain emotionally detached from the dream to prolong it;


5. Experience of lucidity coming over one gradually or suddenly; and


6. Capacity for voluntary action in this dream-world.


My lucid dreams are tied up with another phenomenon, that of the out-of-body experience. . . . The essential difference between [OBE] experiences and my lucid dreams is that I am totally conscious when I enter this other state of consciousness whereas my lucid dreams always begin with a nonlucid dream which then becomes lucid.

How could someone who is totally conscious enter the dream state? All I know is that when the paralysis and vibrations come over me my vision [blurs] . . . but I am still aware of my surroundings. Then I am literally pulled out of my body and off I go.

LaBerge seems to suggest in chapter nine [that] the dream-world possesses some sort of objective existence. Tholey also suggested that the dream-world seemed to possess an "inertia" and "lawfulness" all its own. As for myself, after having under-gone hundreds of these experiences over a period of twelve years, the only reason-able conclusion I can come to is that the content of most of my experiences come from some source other than my subconscious. . . . [One] characteristic of my ex-periences which convinces me that this dream-world has some sort of objective existence is that I have never been able to transform the content of my experiences with my conscious mind. The individuals and environment in this world sometimes change dramatically but the changes do not appear to come from my mind.

I was particularly interested in LaBerge’s description of the experience of the Indian physician and editor, Ram Narayana, as he tried to convince the creatures of his dream-world that they were his own creation. I too have succumbed to that temp-tation . . . . I usually ended up with a fight on my hands. . . . One of these experiences . . . started out as a nonlucid dream which quickly became very lucid.

I found myself walking down a very busy, bustling city street in what looked like a large metropolitan city at noon. As usual, with so many of my experiences, at first glance everything looked normal. All sorts of people walking to and fro, seemingly concerned only with their own personal affairs. The clothes and hairstyles and everything else about them looked more or less modern and normal. There was a lot of traffic in the streets and even a policeman directing it.

Well, for some reason I was feeling very frustrated and angry so I decided to "let it all hang out." I walked out to the middle of the street and started shouting as loud as I could, "All right you people, listen up! This is my dream and I want to know what in the hell is going on around here!"

Well, if I had dropped a bomb I probably could not have gotten their attention any quicker—all at once everything stopped and I mean everything. Everyone stopped dead in their tracks, turned and stared at me. Then they all began moving towards me in a very threatening way; I really thought that I had done it this time as I could feel the panic and fear sweeping over me. Frantically I began concentrating on my body lying in my bed. . . . Finally, just before they reached me, I found myself back in my bed.


Finally, I’d like to relate an experience I had earlier this year, which is a good example of the puzzling nature of many of my experiences. It began as a normal dream and quickly turned into a very lucid dream:


I found myself in an urban setting, standing on a city block, observing all sorts of people bustling about. . . . I saw that I was standing in front of a small building which looked like it might be a library or a museum. I decided to try my luck in there, so I walked up to the door, opened it, and entered. I had fairly good control of my body and my vision was very clear. I am always amazed at my sense of touch in these experiences. I can actually feel the objects I am touching. However, It is not a direct sense of touch—rather it feels like I am wearing heavy gloves on my hands.

It seemed to be a library as there were rows of books stacked in shelves along the walls. I immediately noticed two middle-aged men sitting on the floor with their backs leaning up against the bookshelves. They did not seem to be reading anything, just staring off into space. There were only about five or six people in the place, and they were all clustered around a desk in the middle of the room where a pretty, blond-haired girl in her early twenties seemed to be checking out books. Since so many of my experiences are very short, some lasting only seconds, I thought that if I was going to get any useful information from this experience, I better start right away before the experience ended. I walked up to her desk, stood directly in front of her, and just blurted out the first thing that came to my mind: "Are you people dead?" The girl behind the desk looked at me in a sort of wistful way and said, "Yes," and without my saying anything else she added this extraordinary statement, "but I am the only one around here who remembers dying."

Before I could ask her anything else, the other people around the desk began pushing me back and started to act in a very threatening way towards me. Next thing I knew the experience ended and I was back in my bed.


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5. Problems Related to Experimentation
While Dreaming Lucidly


University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia

Lucid dreaming offers a unique opportunity for the study of dreams. The lucid dreamer knows that what is being experienced is a dream, and thus, while dreaming, can investigate dream content and how consciousness works during dreams as well as do exploratory experiments.

For some years I have experimented while dreaming lucidly. While awake, I plan an experiment plus a cue word or phrase that expresses the experiment. For example, in a series of experiments, I had planned to handle an object and note its solidity, then put my hand through that object, and finally to feel it again as solid. I found that once I knew I was dreaming, if I could bring to mind the cue "solidity" or "test solidity," I generally had no problem remembering what to do.

While experimenting in dreams, however, I met with certain problems that arise out of the nature of dreaming. I’ll begin with the more obvious ones.

1. No notetaking. There is the problem of not being able to take notes. Actually I can, but they disappear when I wake up.

2. Interruption.There is both the problem of waking up before finishing an experiment and the fear of waking up that occasionally makes me rush through an experiment. False awakenings (dreaming that I have awakened) and what I think of as the "spliced-film effect," in which suddenly I am dreaming something else, have the same effect as waking up, since I no longer know I am dreaming.

3. Undesirable circumstances. The dreamer cannot select the circumstances in which he or she will experiment. Experiments must be carried out in whatever dream environment is found when the dreamer becomes lucid. For instance, I had planned to do ten jumps in a dream, but when I became lucid, I found myself poised inside a tower with little to stand on. I was afraid of falling and could not proceed with my jumps.

4. Intrusions. The dreamer cannot prevent intrusions into the experiment. Things appear or disappear. Events happen without warning. If a beast takes my hand, I have to deal with him. In one case, I was testing the continuity of consciousness by counting in the dream, intending to count through the act of waking up and slightly beyond. I was counting out loud at a regular speed, deliberating on each number. Someone began pinching me in my seat. This distracted me. I tried to shake him off and couldn’t, so I ignored him. Next, I had bothersome grape seeds in my mouth. I needed to spit them out, yet had to be careful not to lose count nor lose my rhythm.

5. The "reality" of the dream. In spite of knowing I am dreaming, the dream may be so convincing that it disturbs my progress. Once when someone wanted to take a picture of me with my Uncle Tom, I thought it was not right to interrupt the picture-taking to proceed with the experiment.

6. The attraction of the dream. Even when the dream has been unpleasant, or upon waking reflection I see nothing that could have interested me, the dream attracts me so greatly that it takes a certain amount of will power to proceed with my exper-iment. Often I ignore experimenting in order to try to go on with the dream.

7. The presence of only what is being experienced.There is to the dream only what is being experienced. What has just been seen is gone and cannot be seen again. There is nothing out of view, behind me or to the sides. Nevertheless, it seems that there is physical continuity from what was experienced earlier, and it seems the environment extends out of sight. Therefore, I may make wrong assumptions about my experience. When I saw only light, I assumed without warrant that I was sur-rounded by light. When I was trying to carry out a pre-planned dream, for which I needed a plant, I turned and saw a potted plant. I wrongly assumed that it had already been there. But it did not exist until I saw it.

8. The occurrence of what is anticipated. What is anticipated tends to occur, directly or indirectly. Anticipations include desire, intention, fear, the observation of a pos-sibility and expectation of certain responses. If I plan to go upstairs, stairs appear. If I expect to land when I fall, I do (or wake up); if I don’t expect to, I keep falling. If I want to look out of the window, I next find myself outside the window. This effect has serious implications for experiments, for we are likely to see happen what we expect to happen. When I test for solidity, things feel normal when I first feel them, but when I intend my hand to go through them, it does, feeling their texture. How-ever, what is anticipated may be slightly altered, or may not occur. For instance, a salesman that I hoped to take part in a dream turned out to be a saleswoman.

9. Deactivation of the dream environment. To maintain the dream environment I must interact with it. If I stop to compose poetry or to try to remember where I am sleeping, the activity in the dream environment diminishes or stops. If my mind is taken off the environment altogether, the environment is in danger of being lost, causing me to wake up. For example, when I was trying to mentally picture my grandmother’s house while I kept my eyes open, as I can do while awake, I needed to keep running down the dream road to keep my interaction with the dream and not wake up.

10. Limitations of memory. While dreaming, I remember few circumstances of my waking life. What I remember is largely the previous events of the dream, plus a few stray memories. I can bring little to mind, though there is no problem with rote mem-ory. There is no awareness of a continuity of events leading to the present place and moment. Indeed, memories are often false. In the first 277 lucid dreams for which I had planned experiments, in only 122 of them (44%) was I able to bring to mind in whole or in part the experiment that I had planned to do. Sometimes I mistakenly pro-ceeded upon a former experiment. During an experiment I also might forget what I am to be doing or what I am looking for. If I do not wake up soon, I may forget some of what happened. When I was composing poetry, I kept the compositions to only two lines, and even then I often could not retain parts of the lines.

11. Knowledge not based on sense experience. Much of my understanding of the dream is not determined by sense experience. My recognition of places, people and objects does not depend on what I see. I spontaneously assume I am in Hong Kong without any clues in the environment and without any memory of having arrived there. I "recognize" Charlotte, my wife, without looking at her. I can "know" what she said without hearing it said. I can "know" what is happening out of sight. False memories come in the same manner. Such spontaneous, unconsciously-supplied knowledge frequently accompanies dream experiments. For one experiment, I wanted to change whatever dream environment I found myself in to New Market in Calcutta. I eventually realized that the identity of where I was did not depend on what I saw, but on what I "knew" it to be. The necessary change in the dream could not be in an indeterminate visual environment, but in what place I believed it to be. In one lucid dream, I "knew" that I was flying about in my real bedroom, in spite of the fact that there was nothing truly recognizable in the room.

12. Limitations in rationality and judgment. While dreaming, I have no such thing as a scientific attitude, nor even much rationality. I can make no critical judgment about the progress or outcome of my experiments. I am not aware of inconsistencies, changes or implications. The judgments that I do make are more frequently sponta-neous knowledge, not based on my perception of the experiment. When I try an experiment not already planned ahead while awake, I often do such irrational "ex-periments" as trying to make Psalm 140 appear or examining the car my mother just left in, so that I can compare it when I wake up with the one she "really" left in. In another dream in which I wanted to examine objects for authentic duplications of waking reality, I was absurdly trying to decide whether a painting was authentically by Goya.

13. Unpremeditated action and speech. While dreaming I often speak and act spon-taneously. These unpremeditated actions, rather than arising out of what I am doing, intrude into the dream. For example, I had planned to repeat the Lord’s Prayer in a dream. When I remembered to do so, I spontaneously proceeded to sing it to a familiar tune. I eventually realized that that was taking too long, and that I should continue by only repeating it. In other experiments, I attempted to put objects I saw in the dream into alphabetical order. I consistently had the problem that while I repeated the words for what I had seen, trying to remember them, I spontaneously changed some words and added others, usually alliterative by-products of the original words. For instance, in one dream, I saw stairs, a pipe, some paper, and a wheel. But when I made the list and repeated it, I ended up with "air, pipe, paper, steel, wheel." Stairs had been dropped. Air and steel had been added.

14. Relatedness of words to the dream. Words brought to mind tend to be related to the ongoing dream. I found that each time I composed a couple of lines of poetry in a dream, by letting them come to mind, the lines had a relationship to what I had been dreaming. When I tried to remember a forgotten address by simply speaking it, part of the incorrect address that I said was related to my dream location. In a series of dreams I tried to recall where I was sleeping, but when I looked back on the series of tests, I saw that each time, my guess was related to my dream situation. Each time but once my guess was incorrect. The time I was correct I guessed that I was in Landour, but I had been walking along the type of street I would find only while staying in Landour. It only seemed that I had guessed correctly.

15. The experimenter as part of the experiment. If I test my memory or thinking, ob-viously I test myself. But also if I test the dream environment, whatever I experience of myself physically is a part of the environment I am testing. All aspects of what I experience remain dependent on my creation of them. I can never separate myself from anything I investigate. When I intend to be still and watch a dream impartially, I can never feel separated from it. For example, in a solidity experiment, I placed my hand inside my uncle to see the effect it would have if I kept it in him. My arm looked normal up to the point where it entered him. It seemed I was successfully keeping my hand inside him. However, upon waking reflection, I realized that I had not observed my hand staying inside him. I did not recall feeling my hand inside him or feeling his texture or moving my hand inside. I had only seen my arm stop at my uncle’s body.

In spite of the problems, dream experimentation and observation is possible. I remember planned experiments occasionally. When I remember them, I can carry them out. More often than not I remember the dream well upon awaking. And (what can be seen over and over again in the examples I gave) once awake, I can reflect critically on the dream, the experiment, the results and myself as the dreamer. I can compare with earlier experiences and see inconsistencies, changes, implications, false memories, false assumptions, and bad judgments. So it is possible for me to carry out experiments in lucid dream sand learn from them.


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6. Dream Lucidity Induction And Control 


St. Thomas Hospital, London, Great Britain

Editor’s Note: Alan Worsley was the first dreamer to use specific Rapid Eye Move-ment (REM) signals in a sleep laboratory to indicate that he knew he had started a lucid dream. These excerpts from a somewhat longer essay tell us about his child-hood development efforts, specific personal experiments, and some conclusions from his experience as an "oneironaut" in lucid dream research laboratories.

My most important qualification for presenting this paper is an extensive direct experience of lucid dreams. I have had hundreds of lucid dreams in which I have done an experiment or made some observation. In sleep-laboratory work I have had 50 signal-verified lucid dreams. A primary concern of mine is with the philosophy and phenomenology of dreaming and altered states of consciousness and with what they can tell us abut normal consciousness.

Lucid Dreaming Personal History: Development Of Elementary Techniques

As far as I remember, I achieved my first lucid dream by a deliberately devel-oped technique, at about age five. I had discovered I could wake myself from fright-ening dreams by shouting, "Mother!" Knowing I had this escape route I became more daring; I deliberately allowed a dream of falling to continue, and nothing bad happened. I became even more confident and, having a lucid dream every few months, I gradually learned to recognize that I was dreaming even when the dream was not frightening and I did not have to remember it was only a dream. I also learned that I could wake if I wanted to. I became fascinated by the idea of being free in my own world. As I grew older I began to call these dreams "conscious" dreams.

At about age 12, I planned my first "conscious-dream" experiment. It was to investigate how much detail it is possible to see in a dream. In the first lucid dream I had after planning the experiment I remembered to do it. I was standing in a door-way, the frame of which was made of wood. I decided to look for the grain in the wood. I discovered I could see the fine details of the grain and concluded that visual acuity was good in dreams. I have since realized that detail in dreams is not so much perceived as created. My conclusion should have been that it is possible for fine detail to be created in dreams.

Every few weeks or months I would have one of these exciting adventures. Recently I have performed more sophisticated experiments. One series of exper-iments explored the properties of television sets in my dreams. I started with simple tasks such as turning a TV set on and off, increasing the sound, changing channels, or adding color. Then I decided it would be interesting if, having selected a partic-ular scene, I could move into it. I managed to do this by expanding the screen until the edges were no longer visible and then walking into the scene. . . .

Suspension Of Disbelief

When one is awake and looking at the physical world, there is no problem in believing it to be real. The problem comes when an apparently physically real world appears in a dream and one wishes to realize that it is not physically real or, having deliberately altered it, knowing it is only a dream, to re-establish the convincing reality of it. In controlling lucid dreams one is trying to do two things at once which seem at odds with each other; to induce imagery and to pretend that one is not re-sponsible for the imagery. The images so created in lucid dreams seem to come with reality built-in.

In lucid dreams, I try to balance the degree of awareness (needed for informed control) that it is "only a dream" with the autonomy and spontaneous unpredictable creativity of dreams. These latter characteristics contribute to the feeling that the reality is authentic. This balancing can be difficult to do when I carry out actions within the dream scene with the full knowledge that I am dreaming and have chosen the whole scene deliberately. I have to suspend disbelief, as when watching a play. It is easy to experience a well-produced play or a film as "real" even though, at any time, one may step back to remind oneself that it is "only a play."

What Causes Dreams?

My impression is that nearly all dreams begin with involuntary imagery after which, if the dream is to continue, it requires attention, and better still, active par-ticipation. Dream imagery, unlike a film, cannot continue to run independently of the brain. In nonlucid dreams the attention and the participation are "involuntary" as I am taken in by the imagery and I do what it seems to demand. In lucid dreaming I can choose to attend to the dream or to some other mental activity such as imagin-ing, calculating, or remembering a dream experiment. In my experience, if attention is focussed on these other activities for more than a few seconds the dream may fade. I may be able to recover the dream state by recalling or imagining the last dream scene or starting a new one, but if the process to which I have been attending is more similar to waking thought than to dreaming I may even wake up. If I lose the dream but do not wake, even though I am still lucid, I tend to become disoriented, perhaps because there is no stable focus or content to be lucid about. In order to carry out an experiment requiring waking-type thought in a lucid dream without losing the dream imagery I sometimes switch attention every two or three seconds between attending to the dream imagery and then to ensuring its maintenance. This seems to allow refreshment of the dream imagery during prolonged non-dream tasks such as communicating with the outside world. . . .

REM Control by Avoiding Eye Movement

As I have grown increasingly sophisticated in managing dream imagery, I have developed the ability to choose whether to regard the imagery as moving in relation to me or myself as moving in relation to it. In the sleep laboratory, not only can I move my eyes at will, as when signalling, but I can keep them still when otherwise they might be moving, as between signals. That I am able to keep them still when required helps to make the signals clear. By this means it may be possible to reduce markedly the very characteristic which gives REM sleep its name, thereby making "phasic" REM less distinguishable from "tonic" REM.

Some eye movements associated with scanning a dream scene can be avoided by very simple techniques. In order to look at a different part of a dream scene, I may be able to move it into view instead of moving the direction of my gaze. For instance, if I wish to look at my hand in a dream and my hand is not already in view, I can fix my gaze on the part of the dream scene at which I am already looking and bring my dream hand into line with it. This is an easy alternative. If the whole scene is a large picture which I am holding in my hand, to look at a different part of the scene I can move the picture instead of moving my eyes, though to forestall the pos-sibility of my eyes making a reflex tracking movement I have to move the picture very quickly. Another way to not move my eyes while dreaming is to stare at a sta-tionary object. If I moved my eyes I would see a different part of the dream scene.

I can scan a dream scene while keeping my eyes still by using a dream mirror. Though a dreamed mirror appears in the dream to be a real object, it is only a virtual or dreamed device. If I look straight into the mirror, not changing the direction of my gaze, I can look at different parts of the dream scene by moving only the mirror.

By using these techniques I alter my expectations. I still expect to see different parts of the dream scene, but I do not expect to have to move my eyes to do so. It would be interesting to discover just how much the REMs of phasic REM can be reduced by these techniques.

Delay In Dream Imagery Generation

In some of my experiments I have investigated the delay which occurs between the moment of willing or expecting a change to occur in dream imagery and the mo-ment of its actually beginning to change. The so-called "light-switch-phenomenon" is perhaps the most familiar illustration of this delay. I have observed many times, as others have, that when it is dark in dreams and I try to switch on a light, the light will not come on, or at least not come on immediately or brightly. The same applies to attempts I have made to lengthen my arm, sink into the ground or to make things appear out of nothing.

In waking life making your arm longer is impossible. Therefore, when I tried it in a lucid dream I had no experience of how it should be done. I tried to stretch it further than I knew it would stretch when awake. After a delay of one or two seconds, my arm started to grow longer and my right hand soon disappeared into the distance. Then I realized I had not been as successful as I had first thought; I could feel another arm at my side. In order to achieve correspondence of visual with tactile and kinesthetic imagery I repeated the arm lengthening procedure while sliding my hand along a rough wall and watching it closely. In this way I generated tactile sensations in my hand while it moved away from me, and thereby I successfully integrated all relevant imagery modes. I am now able to retrieve distant objects using this arm lengthening technique. . . .

Implications of Transferring Lucidity Techniques To Nonlucid Dreams

I have noticed a tendency for techniques first developed in my lucid dreams to become incorporated into my repertoire of dream experiences generally. For instance I first used the arm-lengthening technique in a lucid dream. Later, in what appeared to be a nonlucid dream, I used the arm-lengthening technique as if I knew it would work, even though the presumption in nonlucid dreams is that one is in the real world where miracles are impossible. Does this mean that though I was not "aware" that I was dreaming, I somehow nevertheless knew that contrary to waking experience I would be able to lengthen my arm?

It appears that my nonlucid dreaming self has the ability to exploit techniques that my lucid dreaming self has developed. If "I" have a wonderful time in nonlucid dreams by using techniques developed in lucid dreams, but the lucid "I," the lucid person who would clearly recognize the experience as a dream, am not there, from the point of view of the waking self whose wonderful time was it?

I have come to realize through consideration of my own dream observations that, like other skills—such as driving a car or playing the piano—which are prac-tised diligently with great effort and concentration, "dreaming" is a learnable skill.

|Having learned by many hours of practice to operate reasonably well in a lucid dream I have found that techniques which once required deliberation have become second nature. This includes to some extent the need to remind myself that I am dreaming. Habitual familiarity with the implications of the fact that I am dreaming now enables me to act quickly and incisively whereas before I would dither and get involved in useless side issues. For instance I remember once many years ago trying to go to a different scene in a lucid dream by hitching a lift. Now I can change the scene by simply closing my eyes and imagining the next scene.

In a sense the lucidity, once it has started, has become, paradoxically, more automatic. In lucid dreams I now engage in "dangerous" activities such as flying, hitting walls and passing through them without stopping, knowing I am perfectly safe. I know very well what I am doing without having to think about it.

If one learns to dream so well, so fluently, that one becomes as a fish in water, in control but not having to think about it, is that still lucid dreaming?

In fact, I have begun to think that many people who would not call themselves lucid dreamers have in fact learned to "dream well." They may fly or perform other miraculous feats in their dreams, somehow recognizing that it is safe to do so, though they may never have articulated this recognition. They may in effect be lead-ing secret lives, of which their waking selves are hardly aware if, like most people, they forget their dreams.


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7. Induction of Ecstatic Lucid Dreams 


San Franscisco, California

In recent years there has been a growing interest in lucid dreams of a "transcen-dent" or "mystical" nature, with corresponding efforts to develop language for their description (LaBerge, 1985; Tart, 1984). Without attempting to solve the terminol-ogy problem, as my main focus is on experience, I would like describe some of my lucid dreams, which I will simply refer to as "ecstatic"—in the sense of joyous in-tensification of consciousness being their main feature—and discuss elements which I have found relevant to their induction. I will begin with an example:

May, 1986. I suddenly become lucid in the dream as I am walking in the hallway of my high school. I am very glad to be lucid, and to be virtually as aware as in waking life. As usual, I want to get outside, into the light. Walking down the hallway I come to the exit, but my attempt to open the door is thwarted by the hulk of a wrecked truck. Real-izing it is only a dream, I manage to get through the door enough to grasp the vehicle with both hands and heave it up and to the side almost without effort.

Outside, the air is clean, the sky blue, the scene pastoral and brilliantly green. I run through the grass and leap into the air joyously. Soaring through the treetops, I become entangled in branches, and have to hover while extricating myself. Finally above the limbs, I continue my flight to a few hundred feet high. While flying, I think, ‘I’ve flown so many times before, maybe I’ll try a floating meditation in the sky.’ Having decided on the attempt, I ask for help from the "Higher," saying aloud, "Highest Father-Mother, help me to get the most out of this experience!" I then roll over backwards and cease attempting to control my flight, without fear of falling.

Immediately I begin to float through the sky, upside down with eyes closed, the sun beaming brilliantly down upon me, filling my head with light. I feel like a feather floating lazily through the air. During about five minutes of floating, I gently but firmly push thoughts that arise out of my mind, as in my waking meditation practice. The less distracted I am by thoughts, the more intensely aware and genuinely joyous the ex-perience becomes—what I can only describe as ecstasy. Gradually I become aware of my body in bed, and as I awaken there is a feeling of lightness and well-being which is hard to describe.

I have had lucid dreams for eighteen years, but only learned to induce them at will through my training in the MILD induction technique and association as an oneironaut with Stephen LaBerge’s research. In the five years since then, in my lucid adventures I have done a great deal of exploring, signalling in the laboratory by way of eye movements, carrying out experiments, and especially flying. Having learned to make lucid dreams last for up to an hour, there was plenty of time for these activities. Among other things, I learned to fly very fast and very high, to pass through walls, including steel (and to burn holes through them with lasers from my fingertips!), to study the lucid dream environment in exquisite close-up detail, explore other planets, and especially to alter the dream environment at will, as in making things appear, disappear, and change shape and color.

After five years of memorable experiences I began to be concerned, because much as I love lucid dreams, I was running out of things to do! I might go on for per-haps half an hour, exploring, flying and altering the environment. However, although a lucid dream is always very meaningful for me, I began to long for the greater depth I had long believed possible in a lucid dream. I was becoming a little jaded.

In 1985 I began experimenting with meditation in lucid dreams in an effort to discover this depth. These experiments brought profound results. On a half dozen occasions I succeeded in remembering my intention to sit down in the dynamic atmosphere of the lucid dream, and managed to be undistracted by dream imagery long enough to practice deep, rhythmic breathing. In each case awareness seemed to expand into an egg-shaped sphere which encompassed my dream body, with a corre-sponding dramatic intensification of consciousness. As this happened, colors flowed like pools of neon light in my inner vision, as they sometimes do in meditation and before falling asleep. The state intensified until the dream imagery, through half shut eyes, took on a diaphanous character and finally disappeared. I became a point of consciousness contentedly floating in an intense yellow-orange field of light.

Unfortunately, the state would last for at most a minute, and I would wake up. This may have had to do with the lack of dream imagery to maintain the brain’s mod-el of the dream world. I intend to continue my efforts to meditate in lucid dreams, as others have, but I have since learned another method for achieving a state of very intense consciousness, as distinguished from my "usual" range of lucid awareness.

The previously described lucid dream of floating in sunlight illustrates this method as follows:

1. A preliminary overcoming of obstacles; followed by

2. Intentionally refraining from manipulation of outward dream content;

3. Appeal to the "Higher";

4. Control of thoughts; and

5. Trusting myself to the flow of the lucid dream without fear.

Before I can hope to have an ecstatic lucid dream, I need to maintain lucidity long enough to attain stability and clarity sufficient to remember and carry out my intentions. In my experience, for a dream to become really exquisitely lucid requires about five minutes. A number of mishaps can occur to thwart me in this period—an unrecognized false awakening, a fearful or startling event which causes me to awaken, or losing the lucidity and falling back into dream. Recognition of false awakenings depends largely on sufficient daytime practice of reality checks associated with the MILD technique. My method of remaining lucid is to try to move as slowly and deliberately as possible, then to repeat aloud, "This is a dream," and avoid interac-tions with dream characters for as long as necessary to achieve stable lucidity.

Further, almost invariably I encounter obstacles in my lucid dream. Obstacles have included being entangled in branches, finding myself lucid under water or in-side steel girder cages or rooms with no doors or windows, being held under restraint by dream entities, and so forth. Overcoming such obstacles and the fear which ac-companies them requires deliberate thought, focus of intention and execution of certain acts, such as passing through walls. In the process of overcoming fear and obstacles, my lucidity is intensified, resulting in a greater sense of awe.

Once these obstacles are overcome, I then appeal to the "Higher," followed by an intentional relinquishing of control of dream content. My attempts at making such an appeal were on LaBerge’s suggestion (1985). The importance, I feel, of appeal-ing to my conception of a higher being or a "higher self" for guidance to get the most out of the experience lies in recognizing the limitations of the dreaming self, which after all is only one aspect of the total self. Otherwise the dream self, a reflection of the waking personality, is wont to impose its limited perspective/desires on the lucid dream: flying, exploration, sex, meeting famous people, etc. The relinquishing of control of dream content frees my brain (or unconscious mind, if you will) to devise a broader, different and more inspiring scenario. This paradoxical process of delib-erate effort to relinquish control seems necessary because otherwise the brain’s pro-ductions tend to be more along the random, chaotic lines of nonlucid dreaming. Once I entrust myself to whatever unfolding the lucid dream will then take, by maintaining a "meditative" attitude, keeping my mind free of extraneous thoughts, and maintaining a quiet, receptive state, whatever occurs will be minimally altered or interpreted by my thinking. As experienced lucid dreamers know, lucid dream thoughts easily become manifest in imagery and sensations.

Essentially, the development of skill in controlling the content of a lucid dream has made it easier for me to deliberately give up control of content while maintain-ing an intended frame of mind, focusing on clarity of consciousness rather than specific dream content. I am indebted here to the Tibetan exercise termed "transmu-tation of dream content," the altering of dream phenomena by which one strives to understand the nature of mental phenomena in general, and the applying of that understanding in gaining states of increased awareness (Evans-Wentz, 1935).

The following dream in November of 1986 further illustrates the role of these factors. Becoming lucid after recognizing an anomaly in the dream,

. . . immediately I hop into the air to verify by hovering, but the scene changes and I am in a very dark room, feeling vulnerable. I try spinning three or four times to make the scene change again, unsuccessfully. I can sense other entities in the darkness. I calm myself intentionally with deep breaths and assurances to myself that it’s only a dream and to not be afraid. Finally after a few minutes I manage to find a door and go outside. It is light and pretty with trees and flowers, a great relief from the dank darkness. As I walk, I repeat aloud . . ., "This is a dream," until it no longer seems necessary.

I encounter a man I seem to know. He is pleasant and I ask if he wants to fly with me. We lock arms and leap into the air. Almost immediately we encounter vast, thick tree branches and strips of bamboo like a canopy and have to separate to pass through. I continue alone and encounter very fine wires about eight inches apart which block the entire sky. I force my way through and get above them, then fly out over the vast land-scape. I remember that I wanted to meditate and think of going into a floating meditation in the sky. But I continue to marvel at the stability of the perceptions, concentrating on the minute detail of the flowers and moss on the ground as I land. To fly too much would tire me, as I know from past experience.

My friend joins me again and we talk about the world around us. He seems to mar-vel with me, as I say that this seems like a parallel universe or fourth dimension. I then try to meditate, sitting on the grass, but he keeps interrupting me. I remember Stephen’s admonition to me to not always ignore dream characters, and minutes later he seems to dissipate into me. I go on flying and exploring on the ground for awhile, concentrating much of the time on keeping my mind free of thoughts, to simply perceive the dream world around me as deeply as possible. I ask for some help, saying "Highest Father-Mother, help me to get the most from this," and just relax, floating in the sky. Shortly thereafter I experience potent flashes of awareness of extreme clarity— what seem to be glimpses of a higher reality, in some way deeply personal and familiar. One of these flashes is accompanied by an image from afar of an Eastern spiritual master I admire. I feel convinced that these glimpses are indeed flashes of a higher reality, and can honestly say it is one of the most intensely spiritual experiences of my life. Eventually, after about half an hour, I begin to awaken.

Although I did not succeed at spinning in the above dream, many other times success enabled me to maintain lucidity for long periods, sometimes with ecstatic experiences. This dream includes many of the factors described earlier: efforts to maintain lucidity, overcoming fear and obstacles, appealing to the "Higher," relin-quishing control over dream content, and maintaining a receptive attitude.

In conclusion, I want to encourage others to try the approach described. How-ever, it is easy to fall into the assumptions that doing steps A, B and C will cause result D. In my experience of lucid dreaming, there are underlying currents or themes of my spiritual life that have been present for a long time. Sri Ramakrishna once said, "No matter how much you churn water, you won’t get butter." The most impor-tant ingredient may therefore be the synergistic interaction of the method with my long searching for the higher life. My hunch is that the approach will interact in a similar way for others, but it may produce different results in conjunction with the materials, motivations and vision of their own inner life. My intention is to suggest possibilities that a lucid dreamer can experiment with and adapt to his or her own development as a way of deepening the state.

It seems that sufficient motivation is necessary to take such steps in a lucid dream, as well as the help of the deepest parts of one’s psyche in order to make this process fruitful, and that involves looking inside oneself to try to identify one’s own deepest drives or motivations or spiritual yearnings. I am quite excited about the possibilities for this type of lucid dream, and would like to hear of the experiences of others in this regard.


Evans-Wentz, W.Y. (1935). Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines. London: Oxford University Press.

LaBerge, S. (1985). Lucid Dreaming. Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher.

Tart, C.T. (1984). Terminology in lucid dream research. Lucidity Letter,3(1),82.


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8. Ordinary Dreams, Lucid Dreams and Mystical Experience 


University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia

It is difficult to give a definition of mystical experience that would satisfy every scholar. I use the expression mystical experience to mean an apparent experience of some reality greater than oneself that comes by transcending, to some degree, awareness of one’s own physical and mental self and one’s physical surroundings. This reality may be understood as God or some other spiritual being, brahman, Being, the universe, oneness, the void, or nirvana. I would distinguish for my pur-poses here between the phenomenon that is seen as the mystical experience itself and other more incidental phenomena that precede or accompany the mystical experience, such as visions of disks of light, the feeling of levitation, or bliss.

I believe that the phenomena reported in mystical accounts, whether essential to the mystical experience or incidental to it, can often be understood in terms of dreaming, particularly lucid dreaming, in which the dreamer knows he or she is dreaming. Let me be clear that I accept neither ordinary dreaming nor lucid dream-ing to be mystical experience. But there is an observable continuum from ordinary dreaming to phenomena of mysticism. Just as lucid dreaming may develop out of ordinary dreaming, phenomena associated with mystical experience may develop out of lucid dreaming, particularly such phenomena as visions of darkness or light, the elimination of objects of consciousness, or apparent experience of God.

I base my observation on my own experience with frequent lucid dreams over a period of years. My main concern here is to show the progression from ordinary dreaming through lucid dreaming to the phenomena of mysticism, not to examine the phenomena in detail.

Initial Phenomena

When I fall asleep I lose perception of the external world. A combination of visions, locutions and physical sensations serve as alternates to waking perception. I forget almost everything. My rationality is limited. What I know is not based on my perception or memory or rationality. I act and speak spontaneously. My dreams are often unusual, confusing, ambiguous and difficult to remember. Often, a dream leaves me with a feeling of its importance, but I am unable to express what hap-pened. Dreams are often ineffable.

Ordinary dreams are not mystical experience even though they may have some of the characteristics of mystical experience—loss of perception of the external world, visions, locutions, loss of memory and rationality, spontaneous knowledge, and ineffability. I still experience images that originate in and appear in myself. Although I have apparently transcended awareness of my physical surroundings, I have not transcended myself.

At times I become lucid in a dream, that is, I come to know I am dreaming. This often happens in dreams in which I think a little more clearly than usual or in dreams that are brighter or clearer than usual. My memory, if it improves at all, improves only slightly after dream lucidity develops. I am still much closer to ordinary-dream mental capabilities than to waking capabilities. And I am still not aware of my phys-ical surroundings or circumstances. I may continue acting and reacting spontane-ously as in ordinary dreams, or I may purposefully make changes in the dream.

Lucid dreaming is not in itself mystical, even though I can bring about many changes in the dream that make it very different from ordinary dreaming. For in-stance, once I know I am dreaming, I may proceed to fly, I may sing a hymn or pray with no inhibition, or I may hug a threatening beast fearlessly and domesticate it. But I have not yet transcended my mental activity or the images that I produce.

Elimination of Entanglements

However when I know I am dreaming, I can act purposefully to eliminate my mental activity and dream images, the two being closely related. If I can think to do so, I can close my (dreamed) eyes to eliminate visual images. This produces darkness. I still need to eliminate the remaining aural and tactual images, body awareness and the mental activity that produces the images. To do this I must detach myself from the remaining ongoing dream manifestations and concentrate my attention on the darkness which is, so to speak, before my eyes. This is often not easy to do because voices speak to me, dogs bark, hands grab at me and other manifestations disturb me. These disturbances I call "entanglements."

If all goes well, as I concentrate I gradually lose awareness of my dreamed body —the feeling of being supported (on the ground or whatever), the lower part of the body, then the upper part of the body, and last of all the area around the eyes, which is the area most in my awareness. What I lose awareness of no longer exists in the dream. In this way I approach the elimination of all dream imaging.

But as I concentrate, many other things can happen instead of my gradually losing body awareness. Normally while dreaming I feel as attached to the ground or the floor or whatever supports me as I do when awake. But when I start to concen-trate my attention away from my body I lose awareness of my attachment to the ground. Almost invariably I then feel my legs rise up in front of me and I float up involuntarily. I think of that as "losing my anchor." This type of "levitation" often precedes the very realistic sensation of shooting through the air at great speed, which has been called in mystical literature "the flight of the spirit." I have exper-ienced levitation and flight outside of the dream context as well, in a condition that seems to be between the sleeping and waking states. The two are essential elements of what is called out-of-body experience, a phrase I prefer to avoid.

Sometimes when I float or toss about I see lights in patterns, with color and movement. These patterns of light have appeared only after I have set about to disrupt the dreaming process by closing my eyes and concentrating, that is only while I am lucid. At times I have seen a disk of light of no set size, usually appearing in the darkness that I have brought about. I have seen disks of light only in the lucid dream context. Disks of light are occasionally mentioned in mystical literature, but my experience of the disk has not been religious.

If conditions permit me to concentrate for long without entanglements, without floating or any added sense experience, I gradually lose body awareness and ap-proach the total elimination of objects of consciousness. Mental activity ceases. I have reached this point of pure consciousness, but have not held onto it that I know of. Inasmuch as sense awareness and mental activity have ceased, I have trans-cended my physical and mental self. By interpretation after the event this may be considered a mystical state—the experience of brahman, the void, or what one may. But there is no religious feeling and no interpretation at the time. I can eliminate dreaming with particular methods similar to those used in certain meditative tradi-tions, but only if I am lucid—only if I proceed without problems. Let me add that I used these methods without precise knowledge or study of particular procedures.

Fullness of Light

The final phenomenon is the fullness of light. This light has appeared only while I dreamed lucidly, but it has not been brought about by my own action in any obvious way. It has appeared while I was in darkness or in a significant room or while engaged in religious activity. It usually appears like the sun moving down from above my head until all I see is brilliant light. I become aware of the presence of God and feel spontaneous great joy. As long as I direct my attention to the light, I gradually lose awareness of my dreamed body.

To lose dream imagery and awareness of myself in the evident presence of God, is to experience transcendence of myself. This is the experience, whatever the ex-planation. Fullness of light, awareness of God, gradual loss of awareness of myself, joy (often called bliss), and uncontrollable devotion are phenomena mentioned com-monly in mystical literature. These experiences of mine have proceeded only out of the context of lucid dreaming.

My purpose has been to show my progression from ordinary dreaming through lucid dreaming to phenomena found in reports of mystical experience. I have not intended to make a statement on the meaning of these experiences, nor of mystical experience in general.


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9. Conscious Mental Stillness in Dreams . . . 


Berwyn, Pennsylvania

Editor’s Note: This excerpt from a much longer account presents a dream that shows an especially clear progression from nonlucid dreaming to lucid dreaming to another state of consciousness. It is obvious from the language that the dreamer had not previously heard of "pure consciousness." Rather than a reorganization of memory, this dream is an unprecedented experience; its primary "message" to the dreamer, perhaps, is that spontaneous new experiences of other states are possible.

Lucid Dream Within A Dream (8/2/84–2)

Dreamed I was in Center City Philadelphia after midnight, on the northeast corner of 16th Street and the Vine Street Expressway, waiting to catch a bus to go home. I was very tired and struggling with myself to stay awake. I leaned against a telephone pole, drowsily trying to remain upright and conscious while my mind clouded and dipped. Fatigue made every part of my body feel full of sand. Finally I could remain conscious no longer. I sat down on the curb, leaned my head against the pole and went to sleep, hoping I would wake when the bus came.

I immediately started to dream a lucid dream. In this dream’s dream, my conscious-ness cohered into a lucid clarity that was in marked contrast to my mental functioning in the first part of the dream. I looked around alertly, head high, without feeling any sense of tiredness. I was on a railroad station platform with a male companion to my right. We were waiting for a train. "Lucid," I said to myself under my breath. As I continued to look around and take in this dream environment, I saw that it was late at night, and the train was rolling up. The wind blew my hair against my cheek with a distinct physical sensation, and I felt how this dream-hair was black, not my usual light brown. I als felt taller, thinner, and healthier.

This sensing of my characteristics as "different" made me think of that self that was asleep, leaning against the telephone pole . . . and it was THAT sleeping self I mistaken-ly thought of as the self that was dreaming the dream, not the real physical self at home in my bed in Berwyn. In other words, even though I was completely aware that I was dreaming, and thought I was thinking clearly, I wrongly identified the situation of my physical me as being the one sleeping against the telephone pole.

My companion and my lucid dream-self climbed into the train as soon as it came to a halt. We found that it was separated into compartments, like some European trains are, so we went into one of them. My companion was a quiet, good-natured, moderately good-looking, scholarly fellow, who immediately settled down to read a book. I felt a need of sleep, but it was quite different than the desperate way the first "I" needed sleep. The lucid "I" didn’t exactly feel tired, but just felt the need of stopping the movement in my mind for a while. The need presented itself as a kind of knowledge rather than a physical sensation.

I lay down on the seat facing my companion, with a sense of nonworry, because I knew he would wake me when we arrived, or if anything untoward occurred. However, as soon as the train started up, I had difficulties because the rocking movement threat-ened to pitch me off on the floor. As I struggled to stay put, I dipped in and out of sleep. Finally I got up and lay down on the floor, twining my arms around one of my trusted companion’s legs, and using his foot as a pillow. He raised his eyebrows in an expres-sion of mild surprise, so I explained, "The ground is one place you can’t fall down from." He sat very still, perfectly immobile so as not to disturb me, and returned to his reading. I felt secure in my sleeping place, and in the atmosphere of caring that he exuded.

Then I fell into a deep sleep, but it was an odd kind of sleep, because I did not black out into unconsciousness. I remained lucid, still aware I was asleep, but all mental move-ment stopped, all thinking of ideas halted. Maybe instead of having a lucid dream, with ideas, feelings and a plot going on, I was having a lucid sleep. My mind and all the rest of me was simply clear, like a deep transparent lake where all currents have been stilled. This mental immobility felt like it lasted for a relatively long duration . . . fifteen or twenty minutes, or maybe even an hour. I don’t mean that during all this time there was an image of a lake in my mind, but that’s the best likeness I can think of to point to the big transparent stillness that just sat there, with no thoughts going on.

Then I "awoke" from this deep lucid sleep, not into the lucid dream, but into the original nonlucid level of the dream. I felt tremendously refreshed, but alarmed, because I felt it was now 1:00 a.m., and I might have missed the bus. I thought about the "dream" I had just had, and suddenly realized what a dope I was to be standing here and waiting for the bus. I should be taking a train, just like in the dream, because all I had to do was walk a few blocks, six blocks or so, and I would be at the train station (the waking-life distance is about four blocks), and I could go directly home.

I thought, ‘I must have been really tired to just stop here and start waiting for this bus, when I would have had to change busses, and besides, Philadelphia busses are not reliable anyway.’ I wondered if one of the busses had already passed me by. I decided to "take my dream’s advice" (as I put it to myself), and go immediately to the train station. I woke just as I started to walk down the street.

When I woke from this dream, which included an experience I had never had nor even heard of before, I did not feel so much ecstatic or excited as enormously NORMAL and very healthy (which was unusual, since I was leading a frantic life mothering five children and working in the computer industry at the same time). The picture of my exhaustion at the beginning of the dream was a good representation of the way I felt most of the time when I went to bed, and sometimes when I got up, too. The distinct sense of deep refreshment from what I then labeled "mind-stillness" was carried into the waking-life day. My notes from that time show that I felt great for a number of days, not just one. I conjectured at the time that if I knew how to do this at will, I would need very little sleep to operate at optimum levels. I thought I might even live longer as well as feel great.

This seems just the opposite of conventional wisdom, which has it that you need to black out into a deep unconscious sleep to be reallyrefreshed.


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10. Awake in the Dark: Imageless Lucid Dreaming 


San Jose, California

Most dream research, interpretation methodology and reports of dreaming phenomena presuppose that a dream consists of visual impressions. Even the term LUCIDITY evokes the vividness and clarity of dream imagery. Yet, imageless lucid-ity can and does occur at all levels of dreaming.

As the dreamer drifts into dreaming through lucid hypnagogia, watching the imagery flicker and metamorphose, she or he may encounter a "blank" period just before the dream scene appears. In this state, there is no sensation but rather the gen-eral impression that the dream is "taking a breath" before forming a landscape in the dreamer’s mind.

The Initial Awakening State

This is the lucid equivalent of the false awakening state, reported by such nota-bles as Dr. van Eeden and Oliver Fox. The dreamer may become aware of auditory stimuli unrelated to waking sounds. If tactile sensation is retained, the dreamer can eventually experience a sense of duality or bilocation as he or she moves into deeper dreaming. None of this need be accompanied by images.

An excerpt from my own dream journal provides an example of this state, ex-perienced as an imageless dream:

[When the hypnagogic images fade,] I become aware of a continuous conversation, which I assume means I have reached a telepathic level. I concentrate to determine the quality of this level in order to conjure it up in the waking state. It seems quite removed from full waking sensations, and is characterized by a low buzzing. The conversation sounds like a male news reporter announcing for a radio station, so I listen carefully for the call letters, expecting they’ll start with a "K." Instead, I hear "HBO."

I now become aware of a conversation of my two children, who seem to be lying next to me. I can even feel my arms around one of them. Vic is talking about my feet. I sense that both are younger than they are in waking life, about toddler and elementary age. I am concurrently aware that in fact they are much older and the only person in bed with me is my husband, Manny. However, I keep my emotions neutral in order to exper-ience the simultaneous awareness.

Then my lucidity leaves as I begin to hear people talking down the hall: I presume they are Victor and my mother. It seems my mother comes into the room and starts to tell Manny about a girl friend who is returning to school. "She’s going back to take Ameri-can History," she says. My response is to wish that she would shut up. I groggily think how rude it is to talk so loud when someone is trying to sleep, but I don’t want to rouse myself completely out of the dream state in order to tell her so. I finally become lucid once again, realizing the illogic of my mother’s presence in the house.

After a pause, a bright scene springs up. . . .

The initial awakening state can be a launching platform for either lucid dreams or out-of-body experiences. Steve M. reported a series of dreams in which he felt himself to be rising in the air above his bed. He experienced no images because he kept his dream eyes closed. It took several such experiences before he gathered the courage to "open his eyes" and look down at the bed beneath him. Unfortunately, the first attempt resulted in the opening of his physical eyes, too! Subsequent exper-iences have remedied the situation.

Monroe (1977) reported encountering entities, being touched or having a feel-ing of suspense or pressure while in darkness. One of Celia Green’s (1968) OBE subjects described "walking around the bedroom" without seeing anything.

Conversing in the Dark

This dream is all audio and contains no visual images. The dreamer dialogues with persons whom are recognized but unseen throughout the course of the dream. Rina D.’s dream is an example:

. . . I’m talking to JG, as if on a phone, and at first he seems not to know who I am, speaking of some upsetting things that have been going on in his life. When I thank him for the First Day Covers he has arranged to have sent to my stamp-collecting husband in the days of important (Space Shuttle) launches, he realizes who’s talking to him. We discuss Challenger and its destruction. . . .

She reported another audio dream the same night:

. . . a voice [said], "Hello." I recognized it immediately [as] that of a close friend with whom I had been speaking the day before but had had to cut short his long distance call because of an interruption. When I heard the voice I was quite excited, hoping to lucidly continue the conversation, but I apparently broke the connection and woke up. . . .

Exploring the Imageless Dream

Some lucid dark periods are involuntary. Night falls, the dreamer loses his or her focus or is spontaneously projected backwards or forwards into dark spaces.

But dream lucidity enables willful entry into darkness. De Saint-Denys (1982) reported multiple occasions in which he closed his eyes in order to change the course of a lucid dream. Quick movement such as flying or utilizing Stephen LaBerge’s spinning technique can cause temporary loss of scenery. I’ve walked through walls and passed through holes in walls in order to get "outside" of my dreamscape. By far the easiest method for me is one I told to Robert W.:

Paul H. and I are in a fairly murky room. I realize that I am dreaming and decide to pick up a glass bottle or vase to smash against the room’s fireplace mantle in order to see how it will break in the dream state. Then I decide, "Why make a mess?" so I put it aside. I remember Linda Magallón’s wave technique in which she waves away a dream scene, and I decide to try it. I wave my hand and everything vanished. Complete, total fog—except for my friend’s voice. This amazed me. I looked into the nothingness and decided to wake up.

It is possible to retain the dream even when the images fade, however, by con-centrating on alternate senses. These options have all proved successful for me:

1. Auditory Stimuli:

°Listening to voices or music

°Concentrating on my breathing

°Beginningor continuing a conversation

2. Tactile Stimuli: °Rubbing or opening my eyes

°Touching my body: hands and face

°Touching objects: glasses, hair brush, edge of mirror


°Flying; feeling stretched out in the air

I also take advantage of the darkness to change location: moving forward or back; calling out a destination or person’s name. I might try to encourage the re-emergence of the scenery by projecting an "imaginary" image and see if it takes or by ordering "please increase the light."

But one of the most satisfying solutions is to simply relax and wait for another scene to spring up. The dark can be quite warm and friendly. Beyond the imagery and sensations related to and dependent upon physical orientation is an arena in which no symbols are encountered, visual or otherwise. The "predream state" or the "undifferentiated area" is that part of the dream universe in which all awareness of the self as body or special entity leaves. It is also characterized by peace, silence, and absence of visual stimuli.

Returning Through Hypnopompia

At times a dreamer will be in contact with his own mental processes, in which ideas stream together or concepts are moved around like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle or experienced in total. Images, if they do form, take on the appearance of sentences or geometric forms. A nondreaming sleeper might awaken from this state with a phrase or sentence or answer to a problem fresh in his mind.

To become aware of such processes can involve a shift toward the waking state. "Clicking" into the hypnopompic allows the opportunity to consciously translate some of the nonvisual impressions into images or verbal thought.

The hypnopompic, like the hypnagogic state, is also an excellent receptor of vo-cal conversations, music and other aural stimuli and does not require visual imagery.

Imageless dreams seem to be related to the characteristics inherent in the partic-ular dream state of the volition and expectations of the dreamer. Further exploration will help determine the differences.


Green, C. (1968). Lucid dreams. Oxford, England: The Institute of Psychophysical Research.

Green, C. (1968). Out-of-body experiences. Oxford, England: The Institute of Psychophys-ical Research.

LaBerge, S. (1985). Lucid dreaming. Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher.

Monroe, R. (1977). Journeys out of the body. Garden City, New York: Doubleday.

Roberts, J. (1986). Seth, dreams and projections of consciousness. Walpole, New Hampshire: Stillpoint Publishing.

Saint-Denys, Hervey de (1982). Dreams and how to guide them. London: Duckworth.


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11. Experimentation With the Vortex Phenomenon
in Lucid Dreams


Wayne State University, Ohio

The "vortex phenomenon" is an experience in which there is the sensation of whirling through a vortex. . . . The commonly reported "tunnel experience" I feel is a subsection of the fully developed vortex. This phenomenon and various equiva-lents have been reported as an associated finding in a variety of situations such as near-death experiences, out-of-body experiences, artistic works, mystical exper-iences, drug-induced hallucinations (Siegal, 1977), epileptic and schizophrenic twilight states (Mayer-Gross, 1969), hostage hallucinations, hypnagogic and hypno-pompic hallucinations, and dreams. It is usually transitional in nature and some-times associated with feelings of bliss, creativity and the sense of a new beginning or of a major advancement. Early in my lucid dreaming research, this phenomenon occurred sporadically; following my increased interest, it occurred approximately five to ten times a month.

In most circumstances, the vortex was imposed with no significant control. The purpose of the author’s experimentation was to discover techniques that would eventually permit direct induction and control of the phenomenon in lucid dreams. . . . The qualities of awareness and volition found in lucid dreams [allow] radical changes of the visual field, resulting in the predominance of the vortex sequence. These are overall strategies from the view of the dreamer within the lucid dream.

The first induction strategy, which I have termed "field acceleration," is based on the movement implied in my definition of the vortex phenomenon. This strategy is illustrated in the following lucid dream account.

In this lucid dream, I was walking along a trail and decided to form a vortex. I then began running fast and attained an incredible speed, at which time the scenery was streaked out. The light trailers coalesced, forming a vortex and my momentum continued as I whirled through the vortex (Moss, 1985).

Elements of the visual field were streaked into forming a vortex. This change may be accomplished either by apparent movement of the dreamer or the visual field. The initial result may be similar to photographs obtained with prolonged exposure when "zooming" with a telephoto lens (Bohen & Millard, 1984). Although the initiating movement may be linear, a rotational component is necessary for a fully developed vortex. Visual field arcing, pulsation and scintillation also facilitate the sensation of movement and dreamer participation. This generation of movement extends beyond induction and is an important factor in the regulation and outcome of the vortex.

The second induction strategy is very similar to the first, but lacks the speed effect. In this strategy, which could be termed "field accent," certain visual elements are enlarged and brought closer to the dreamer. This method is exemplified in the following lucid dream.

In this lucid dream, I was viewing from some distance a vivid cloud formation out of a window. I decided to enlarge the scene until I was viewing at close range. A large screen developed a three-dimensionality. I found myself in a cloud field. As the field be-gan to rotate, a vortex was formed and I felt myself to be in synchrony with the clouds.

As a result of the interactive viewing, an element is transformed from some-thing that is distant into something interacting with the dreamer. The close-up per-spective may enhance certain patterns that are more accessible to the vortex thresh-old. Close-range screen viewing is commonly reported in experiences in which the vortices occur. This process usually lacks the speed effect as found in field accel-eration, although the enlargement may create the illusion of movement, which would eventually take over the dream sequence.

The last induction strategy I have termed "field involution" and is described in the following dream.

In this lucid dream, I closed my eyes, which resulted in a visual field of strobo-scopic multi-colored floaters. I then induced a vortex by contracting the visual field and myself down to a singularity. I then seemed to regain dimensionality and underwent a frenzied altered state.

In this strategy the visual field is contracted inward and the resulting involution-al action forms a vortex. This process is also suggested in the definition of the vortex phenomenon. The initial phase may resemble the perspective obtained with a wide-angle lens. The form that the vortex takes is quite variable and, as already noted, numerous visual elements can be [incorporated]. These include tunnels, funnels, spirals, cones, star fields, kaleidoscopic fields, geometric patterns, lattices, cob-webs, spectral arrays, entoptic patterns and light rays.

Volitional factors are important in the regulation of the vortex experience, espe-cially the intention not to be distracted and to be deliberate in the maintenance of the vortex. Prior or concurrent onset of lucidity facilitated the induction and regulation of the vortex phenomenon in my dreams. Lucidity allowed a large degree of voli-tional control [and] preservation of the innate nature of the dream. Also important were flow momentum factors such as ongoing visual field movement and strobo-scopic effects.

Vortex experimentation resulted in a transitional break with the baseline dream flow. A common outcome was the alteration and/or accentuation of feelings and emotions.

The visual experience induced a change in the dreamer’s visual reference per-spective and lighting field. The resulting activity of the visual pattern may be a factor in producing vibrational of synæsthetic resonance I often experienced. These sensations were especially pronounced if synchronized with stroboscopic elements of the vortex or various tinnitus-like sounds.

The vortex terminated when the dreamer was startled into an abrupt awakening (real or false) or was distracted and veered from the vortex course. On other occa-sions the vortex would head to an alternate landscape or would eventually dissolve. Sometimes it would be interfered with by another dream sequence flow.

The regulatory factors identified were found to be important in vortex develop-ment. They may represent elements that allow a more controlled vortex experimen-tation.


Bohen, E. & Millard, H. (1984) Zooming. Modern Photography, 48(4), 76+.

Mayer-Gross, W., Slater, E., & Roth, M. (1969). Clinical psychiatry.

Baltimore: Williams and Wilkins.

Moss, K. (1985). 1980–1985 dream research journal. Unpublished manuscript.

Siegal, R. (1977). Hallucinations. Scientific American, 237(4), 132–140.


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12. A Journal of Attempts to Induce and Work with Lucid Dreams: Can You Kill Yourself While Lucid? 


Portland, Oregon

Editor’s Note: This somewhat abbreviated version has fewer examples of Exper-iment 1 than the original.

The following is a narrative of my attempts to create lucid dreams and my ex-periments with the lucid dream state. I cite the journal notes I kept during that time period. The technique I used to induce lucid dreams was to "find my hand" (à la the technique described in Carlos Castaneda’s books). This entailed concentrating on my hand to remind myself that I was dreaming. If the image wavered or faded, I would avert my vision for a moment then concentrate on my hand again, to renew the focus.

Initially, it took a great effort to create the lucid dream state. At the beginning, before falling asleep I would concentrate on wanting to find my hand in a dream. . . . I then began a series of within-dream experiments to investigate the mental and phys-ical properties of the lucid dream state. These investigations involved exercising con-trol over the dream events; conducting intellectual exercises, such as recalling long series of numbers; attempting to purposefully harm myself; and creating an aware-ness of my physical (sleeping) body. Specifically, I established four experiments as a sort of stepwise increase in power or control in the dream-conscious state:

1. Find my hands and maintain their image;

2. "Stop the world," à la Carlos Castaneda;

3. Close my eyes in a lucid dream; and

4. Commit suicide in a lucid dream.

Find My Hands and Maintain Their Image

Over a period of time I was able to exercise great control over entering the lucid dream state and controlling the dream. The following journal entries depict this effort . . .:

Incredible dream of great awareness and control. Dreamed I was in a house or man-sion somewhere and suddenly realized I was dreaming. It was a sudden cognitive aware-ness of being simultaneously conscious and dreaming. I now think back and realize that in this dream I was consciously thinking in words; I cannot recall whether I think in words this way in other, normal dreams. It seemed quite unique.

After realizing I was dreaming, I found my hands. I stared at them for a short while, and they blurred/faded slightly, so I averted my vision to a hallway or room I was in, then looked at them again. I became fascinated with my conscious directive of seeing my hands. The very lines in my palms were quite distinct, and I found I could stare at them increasingly longer without losing the image.

Then, to consciously test my power, I willed my sister Vivian to appear. She did, but then turned into my girlfriend Rosemary. I was fully conscious and aware that all the forms I was seeing, all of my sensations were subconscious and a dream. I was quite delighted with being able to control this "power" of awareness and being able to make things happen outside of myself, retaining an aloof, cognitive alertness.

Then I left Rosemary and went into another room (which resembled the bathroom of the present apartment). Someone slowly followed me in (either Vivian or Rosemary), but I was staring at both my hands, held a bit below eye level, trying to concentrate on them. I recall I thought (not spoke) "No, they (meaning whoever followed me in) are not really there. This is just a dream, a dream. They’re not there, not in a form that I’m con-sciously familiar with." I was trying to shut out this external dream-world form, concen-trating on my form only. I found that instead of averting my vision when occasionally necessary to maintain a clear image of my hands, if I moved my hands continually (I tried interlocking my fingers in various fashions . . . and even counted my fingers), or if I held them at eye level, fingers spread, and turned slowly in circles to see the background scene move in the space between the fingers and hands, I could maintain the image.


7 May 1976 (Friday). After a lapse of almost a month since my last dream-conscious experience, I dreamed again of finding my (left) hand.

The dream-conscious state came to me as I was walking in my dream. I suddenly realized I could do what I please in the dream form, and began flying. I recalled my month-long lapse, and happily found my left hand, before awakening at 1:30 am.

"Stop the World"

The second objective for controlling my dreams was to "stop the world" (a Carlos Castaneda term), meaning maintain a conscious awareness of dreaming, while dreaming, and to consciously refute the seemingly substantial "form" of things around me in the dream. This objective included attempting to meditate in a dream, which I was never able to execute. Events from the 30 January dream (above) illus-trate an attempt to refute the dream image. Following is another example in which I was unsuccessful in refuting the dream image:

23 March 1976 (Tuesday). Recall a dream in which I was battling with my motorcycle helmet face shield, which had grown in size 50% and had come alive. As I held it at arm’s length, I noticed my left hand, and instantly this brought on the dream-conscious state. I was trying to refute the form of the dream (the shield was trying to choke me), by reiterating that it is "just a dream." I awoke soon after.

Close My Eyes

The third objective was to close my eyes in a dream. I have never recalled doing this before; I wanted to explore what would happen.

27 February 1976 (Friday). Found my right hand, and had the experience of being si-multaneously awake and asleep. I remembered the experiment of closing my eyes while dreaming, and carried it out. I was staring at a landscape, brightly lit, and then closed my eyes in my dream. The landscape turned to blackness; I was looking at nothing, yet I was still consciously thinking in the dream. In a short time I lost my conscious power and lapsed into a long, normal dream, and awoke after that.

Commit Suicide

The final, and most precarious experiment, was to commit suicide in a dream. I had already had two dreams several years earlier in which I had died. In one, I fell of a cliff, actually hit bottom, felt bones break, skin tear, my body bounce, rocks cut, etc., and I blacked out thinking, ‘I’m dying, this is it, I’m dying. . . .’ The other dream was one of being shot by a shotgun—with the same feelings and same thoughts. But to consciously direct my demise in a dream world would yield . . . what? I must find out. The following dream sequences illustrate my experiences with this objective. The discussion in the 6 March entry is particularly significant, in that I began to be-come aware of bodily sensations while dreaming.

13 February 1976 (Friday). . . . I then left the room and tried to recall what I had earlier thought about if I should ever have a dream such as this one. Anyhow, in my present dream I left the bathroom and could only recall my idea of suicide (for some reason I forgot about the other experiment objectives). In the dream, I recalled another dream I had had several months earlier where I was also consciously aware of it being a dream; in that other dream, I was overlooking a spiral staircase descending into dizzying depths and darkness, and felt a surge of vertigo, and thought or said "Oh no, I’m not going down there!" In the present dream, recalling the setting of that earlier dream, I consciously re-created the scene of looking down the center of the spiral staircase. I was able to control my setting. My plan was to jump over and kill myself. But, upon leaning over the edge, I began to think, ‘Wait a moment. I know this is only a dream, and I can’t really get hurt, but how do I know for sure that this won’t affect me some other way? After all, it’s said that one may suffer a heart attack if the strain of a dream is too great.’ (Apparently, in this dream, I forgot my other earlier dreams of dying, that I can indeed survive such a shock.) I hesitated jumping, and felt unsure or unconfident. I decided not to try it.

I awoke sometime soon afterwards, but details between aren’t clear.

6 March 1976 (Saturday morning—6:30 to 11:00 am). Found my hand several times between which I surfaced to a semi-wakefulness state, twice. Details are now vague.

This morning, I had awakened from 5:00-6:30 am to drive toward the beach to view a comet visible in the eastern, dawning sky. It was quite cold out, so I had worn gloves while driving the VW bus. i had returned home and went back to sleep by 6:30 am. One of the ensuing dreams was of driving in the van. I looked at my right hand, gloved, and brought upon the conscious/unconscious state. Someone had been in the van with me in this dream, talking incessantly, but as soon as I established my conscious internal thought I began to tune them out. I suddenly recalled my experiment objective of dream-suicide, and saw the perfect opportunity. However, I first "checked" with myself to make certain I was dreaming (more on this later), and then purposely, consciously veered off the road toward some trees. The van came to an abrupt halt before touching the trees, however, not as part of my conscious directive, but of the subconscious, as if strong brakes had been applied. The scene then faded and blurred.

I found my hand perhaps twice again in different settings, but details are unclear.

In retrospect, I am curious about why I could not succeed in striking the trees. Why was I not able to consciously direct this action, and why did my subconscious succeed [in preventing me]? This has not been the first case thus far of failing in a dream once a conscious directive had guided my actions. It makes me wonder what would happen if my goal was indeed realized. Would I be witness to a final fusion of conscious with subconscious? Or would I witness a forced repression of subcon-scious directives? If it is the former, can I expect conscious, cognitive "understand-ings" to apply to unconscious reactions? And if it is the latter, might this infringe upon my present mental stability? I am seeking not dominance of conscious over subconscious, but fusion. I have no way of telling if I am working in that direction.

Secondly, in retrospect, tying in with this "fusion" idea, I am curious as to how in this dream, as in past dreams, I had "checked" with myself to make sure I was dreaming. How is this done? I believe that while external sensory impressions from my true physical body are usually cut off during sleeping, and the only "sensory" impressions come from within the dream, I am nonetheless using some physical or neural awareness to ascertain the state of my sleeping body. It is as if I had momen-tarily put a "hold" on my dream-impressions and established a reassurance that my physical form was indeed lying down in bed, safe, asleep, dreaming. Then I felt safe in carrying out "dangerous" actions in my dream. So, for an instant, I had tied into my physical body consciously, while being unconscious and enveloped in my dream-impressions. What I ultimately seek is to refine this condition. I want to be able to be fully aware of my physical body, even move it, while in a dream-conscious condition. Again, I can only guess that I am working toward a healthy fusion of conscious with subconscious states, not a dangerous and unhealthy dominance of conscious over subconscious. What I ultimately seek, then, is a capacity, an awareness of dream impressions and physical impressions to be realized simultaneously.

Over time, I became increasingly aware of perceiving actual bodily sensations while in the lucid dream state, as the following entry illustrates:

22 March 1976 (Monday). After awakening several times during the night, I had a short dream of seeing my right hand, while someone was persistently talking to me. Soon afterwards I drifted from the dream state into a semi-wakefulness state, not physically alert, but consciously alert. In this state, I witnessed a dream image merge with my con-scious thoughts. I’m now not certain what transpired, but it felt as though I consciously willed the dream image to come; in the half-wakeful state either immediately succeeding or during this recalling of the dream image, I became physically aware of myself lying in bed, dreaming, and at the same time seeing the dream image. The state transpired too quickly to be certain of the chronology of it all.

Also, in the dream of finding my hand, I consciously carried out a further exper-iment I had devised to test my physical feelings in the dream-conscious state: I simply, consciously breathed in the dream. But between the time I found my hand and breathed (seconds), my lips and face felt as if they had gone numb. I forcefully opened my mouth and inhaled sharply, and felt (in the dream) air rush into my lungs. (Whether I also physically inhaled at the same time while lying in bed asleep, I cannot say. If I had, then the sensations I "felt" in the dream of inhaling were those actually physically induced.) Looking back on this dream, I believe that the feeling of numbness of my face may have been actually the feeling of trying to become consciously aware of my physical face while asleep.

At the same time, I was exploring the limits with which I could exercise con-scious, cognitive effort in a dream. To further test the extent, characteristics, and essence of the dream-conscious state, I devised another experiment. Thus far, I had been able to carry out all four experiments I had devised: find my hands, refute dream-forms (block out dream stimuli), close my eyes, and attempt my own demise. Now, to test the extent of conscious in a dream, I memorized the value of pi to 16 decimal places. I wished to try to and reiterate that figure in a dream, to test the re-lationship between long-term memory and the dream state, via concentrated recall effort.

2 April 1976 (Friday). Dreamed I was walking and found my right hand. More often now, the dream-conscious state precedes my lifting my hand to my eyes, as it did in this dream. I recalled my experiment objective of reciting pi in a dream to test the extent of conscious recall, and did so. I recited it mentally; I did not speak in the dream, but consciously thought the numbers. However, as I reached the seventh decimal place, and was forced to exert greater effort to recall the numbers, I failed and rounded the numbers off the seventh place, and stopped there. An instant later, in the dream, I was aware of what I did, but before having time to try again, I awoke.

Eventually, I abandoned the entire series of experiments, ironically because of the success I was having with the last of the experiments. That is, in the lucid dream state, I was able to become acutely aware of my body sleeping in bed. I was asleep, dreaming, but conscious that I was dreaming, and conscious of my actual body in bed, which I could willfully move about. I abandoned the experiments because I be-gan to become confused as to when I was normally asleep, asleep in this lucid dream state, or awake. At one point, I was able to lay in bed, asleep in a lucid dream, with my eyes open and with full consciousness of moving my arms, legs, and face. It was only a step from there to sleep-walking in an aware, lucid dream state. What would distinguish these various states of mind if I was conscious, aware, and able to move? The various realities were beginning to eclipse one another.

6 March 1976. It was over the next few months that I succeeded in inducing a dream-conscious state in which I was simultaneously aware of my physical body. I found this state both fascinating and frightening, as I was beginning to become confused as to various states of mind (sleep, awake, dream-conscious). I dropped the experimentation shortly thereafter.

I found the lucid dream state difficult to abandon. For weeks after I chose to drop the experiments I still found my hand in dreams and entered the lucid state, and often found it most difficult to wake myself. Eventually, the dreams faded and I began to have normal dreams on a regular basis. But to this day, I still have lucid dreams perhaps once a month.


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13. Terminology in Lucid Dream Research


University of California at Davis

George Gillespie, writing in the November 1983 issue of the Lucidity Letter, describes his "lucid dreaming" as including the knowledge that he is dreaming while he is dreaming, but without his consciousness being more like his ordinary waking state than like his ordinary dreaming state (Gillespie, 1983). He asks the question whether his dreaming is lucid by my definition of lucid dreaming: "Lucid dreams are those in which the dreamer is aware that he is dreaming, clearly recalls his wak-ing life, and considers himself to be in full command of his intellectual and motiva-tional abilities" (Gillespie, 1983). This definition is attributed by Gillespie to me, with his referenced source being an article of Tholey’s (1983). I cannot find any statement of mine exactly like this in the referenced article (Tart, 1979), so it is not a direct quote, but it is generally representative of my thinking.

By this definition Gillespie’s dreams are not lucid. In my "From Spontaneous Event to Lucidity" review (Tart, 1979) I put great emphasis on the fact that knowing that you are dreaming while you are dreaming is a necessary, but not a sufficient criterion for labeling a dream "lucid." The full definition of a lucid dream given in that review article (p. 255) is,

Lucid dreaming is an altered d-SoC (discrete state of consciousness) characterized by the lucid dreamer experiencing himself as located in a world or environment that he intellectually knows is "unreal" (or certainly not ordinary physical reality) while simul-taneously experiencing the overall quality of his consciousness as having clarity, the lu-cidity of his ordinary waking d-SoC.

This is not to say that Gillespie’s dreams are not of interest: far from it. Since Frederick van Eeden (in Tart, 1969) coined the term "lucid dreaming," however, and since he characterized his dream consciousness as more like waking than dreaming, I think we owe it to van Eeden to reserve the term "lucid dream" for this sort of event, not for any dream in which there is only knowledge that one is dream-ing. I shall propose the new term, "dreaming-awareness dreams" to describe ordi-nary dreams that include some concurrent awareness that one is dreaming, but where this awareness is not accompanied by a shift in consciousness to the altered state of lucid dreaming.

The importance of making this distinction will depend on whether lucid dreams and dreaming awareness dreams ultimately turn out to be part of a continuum of dreaming consciousness or whether lucid dreams (and perhaps dreaming-awareness dreams) are qualitatively different from each other and/or from ordinary dreams. It is vitally important to distinguish them in studies which attempt to correlate various psychological and personal qualities with the occurrence or qualities of lucid dreaming.

For example, Gillespie refers to a study of "lucid dreaming" by Gackenbach in which the questionnaire used defined lucid dreaming simply as "awareness of dream-ing while in the dream state." Given our discussion, this may actually be a study of a mixture, in unknown proportions, of people who have had genuine lucid dreams and people who have never had lucid dreams, but have had dream-awareness dreams. By mixing apples and oranges, possible correlations of either type of dream with psychological factors may have been confused and diluted beyond the point of detectability.

Now my definition of lucid dreaming above, based on van Eeden and my own researches, is a first attempt to clarify an experience that is rather exotic by our cul-tural norms. That is why I defined the overall quality of lucid dream consciousness as being like ordinary consciousness. This is a good definition given what we know now. If we have the kind of progress in understanding consciousness that I hope we will have, I believe that this definition will be seen as rather crude within the decade.

I doubt very much that lucid dreams are exactly like ordinary consciousness in their quality of consciousness. Ordinary consciousness varies in its qualities from moment to moment, especially if you have short samples of it. It is useful to say I am in my "ordinary" state of consciousness now, just as I was an hour ago, but I am sure a two minute sample of my consciousness an hour ago would be different in impor-tant ways from a two minute sample of my consciousness taken right now. Lucid dreaming also varies in its qualities from moment to moment. We do not know enough in detail about either state to do more than give overall characterizations at present.

But, we can be reasonably clear in our initial definitions in our writings and in presenting questions to subjects, and thus eliminate some unnecessary confusion. This is a plea to writers and researchers then: use "lucid dreaming" the way van Eeden used it, and use some distinct term(s) for other, interesting dreams that do not meet that definition of lucidity. Otherwise we will waste a lot of time trying to re-concile results from different studies that were all supposedly about "lucid dreams," but which were actually about different things.


Gillespie, G. (1983). Memory and reason in lucid dreams: A personal observation. Lucidity Letter, 2(1), 8–9.

Tart, C. (1979). From spontaneous event to lucidity: A review of attempts to consciously control nocturnal dreaming. In B. Wolman, M. Ullman, & W. Webb (Eds.), Handbook of dreams: Research, theories and applications. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, pp. 226–268.

Tholey, P. (1983). Relation between dream content and eye movements tested by lucid dreams. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 56, 875–878.

van Eeden, F. (1969). A study of dreams. In C. Tart (Ed.), Altered states of consciousness. New York: Wiley, pp. 145– 157.


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14. " Dreams, Illusions, Bubbles, Shadows": Awareness of"Unreality" While Dreaming Among Chinese College Students 


Branch School of Beijing Foreign Languages Institute, Beijing, China;

State University of New York at Amherst

Editor’s Note: In this somewhat abbreviated version of the original paper, we focus on three dreams from mainland China which are even closer to the minimalist def-inition of dream lucidity (awareness of dreaming while dreaming) than those pub-lished in Walters’ and Dentan’s (1985) article, "Are Lucid Dreams Universal? Two Unequivocal Cases. . . ." In the 1985 article, the authors point out that "the fore-going data are consonant with the speculation that lucid dreaming is a ‘universal,’ found in all societies regardless of whether it is valued in a society." Although the authors call the dreams presented here "quasi lucid" (and Charles Tart might call them "dreaming-awareness" dreams), the authors’ quasi lucid definition is the same as the minimalist definition of lucidity used for most laboratory or survey work. The first dream, especially, fits minimalist standards because of the phrase, "I knew I was having a dream."

The recent literature on lucid dreaming (e.g., Purcell et al., 1985) includes some discussion of how to categorize "quasi lucid" states of consciousness, in which dreamers are aware of dreaming but do not control the content of their dreams. Without venturing into the theoretical questions involved, we offer some Chinese data which fall into this category and which suggest a plausible interpretation of such states of consciousness. These data may prove useful to researchers for two reasons. First, nonWestern data of this sort are difficult to locate in the ethnographic literature (cf. Walters & Dentan, 1985), a situation which, among other things, ex-acerbates the difficulty of disentangling biological determinants of dreaming from cultural ones. Second, the process which we propose to interpret the sort of "quasi lucidity" in these Chinese dreams may be more generally relevant.

The accounts below are from a corpus (n = 67) of dream narratives collected from Chinese college students in Beijing in April and May, 1985. This population seemed homogeneous in terms of age (mostly early 20s), past experience (mostly growing up in the Beijing area) and academic achievement (high). Almost all, in-cluding the narrators of the following accounts, are Han. The Han are the dominant ethnic group in China (93.3%) and indeed the largest ethnic group in the world (936,700,000 people). Most Han traditionally regard dreams as insubstantial and illusory. "Mèng huàn pào ying," goes one four-character aphorism (chéng yu), "Dreams, illusions, bubbles, shadows."6

Although we asked our students to interpret their dreams for us if they felt they could, few could explain their own dreams. Those who tried mostly referred to a two-line aphorism, "Rì you suo si, Yè you suo mèng," "Day is the locus of yearning, Night is the locus of dreaming," i.e., one dreams at night about things on one’s mind during the day (cf. Wu Zuguang, 1985, p. 65). A few students offered the interpreta-tive principle that dreams predict the opposite of what is actually to happen (cf. Yi & Xu, 1984, p. 60).

We were surprised at how interested many of the students were in reporting their dreams. Programmatic Marxist-Leninist materialism has reinforced traditional dismissive attitudes about dreams to the extent that there seems to be little cultural pressure to have dreams of any kind. Thus there is no social reward for having the sort of dreams described below.

The first two of the three accounts below are word-for-word as written by two twenty-year-old students in the English department of a small Beijing teachers’ col-lege in May, 1985. The first narrative is by a man (#TC 21 in our files) from the city. The crossed-out words (e.g., [high]) are as they appear in his original manuscript.

. . . When I was a middle-school (high school) boy, I often had a peculiar dream. I flied in mid-air, with all my classmates and people I ken knew standing on the group, looking up to me. I flied on and on, high getting higher and higher. However, Moreover, whenever I had such a circumstance, I knew I was having a dream. I didn’t know what it meant to me, at that time, but I think I know the answer now. At that time, I was a top student in a key school (elite school; see Wu Ming, 1985), and I was very, very proud, too proud, perhaps, to find a friend. Being told by teachers and parents that being proud was a bad thing, I tried to hide this feeling deep in my heart. Then, when night came, this idea came out and became a dream like that. I haven’t had this dream for four or five years. . . .

The second teachers’ college narrative (#TC 26) is by a woman who had been quarrelling with her father, who wanted her to read serious economic journals in-stead of the murder mysteries and science fiction which she preferred.

Yesterday, I had a horrible dream, which I think you may be interested in. Here it is.

In the evening, I went out of the school with a stool in my hand. I seemed to have decided to go to my uncle’s home, which is not very far from our school by bus. How-ever, I hadn’t brought any money with me, so I decided to walk there. On my way, I met one of my classmates, who gave me a film ticket and asked me to go to the movie with her. I didn’t refuse. We went into a cinema which had a lot of columns in it, and settled down in our seats. The movie started. The first scene was a beautiful lady holding a bloody woman’s head in her hands. There was a voice explaining that the head had been found on a country road in the suburb. I was so frightened by the scene that I began to cry. My classmate comforted me. The movie went on without showing a title. On the screen, I could see a beautiful seashore with many cheerful people on it. Many of them were wearing swimming suits. Suddenly, I heard a boy crying, "Oh! God! Look! What are these?" I saw on the screen people begin to gather around him, and not far from the place the boy stood, there were two female arms lying on the sand. . . .

The third narrative (D8) is by a 23-year-old single male architecture student taking an English course preparatory to going abroad for postgraduate study.

People were playing in the skating ring joyously. Miracle appeared suddenly. Some-one were riding bicycles on the surface of melted ice water and didn’t sink! They were moving forward in an incredibly fast speed. One by one, the bicycle driving seemed to be ridiculous. Under the cliff there was the ice surface and on the top of the cliff there was a closet. I was changing my clothes with a man I know well but did know his name in the closet. With a great sound, a bomb exploded in the middle of the cliff. I was just about to look what was happening, another explosion frightened me. I was trying to make myself to believe I was dreaming. It was so horrible. Wake up! It didn’t work. A bomb exploded inside the closet. Fortunately enough, the bomb was one for teaching, and was not very destructive. No one was hurt. Several bombs just travelled in a curved trace to reach us and explode while we were withdrawing. My acquaintance had been wounded. Someone were shouting cheerfully that they had done an excellent experi-ment. You must be terrified, mightn’t you?" one of my former classmates asked me. I didn’t know where he came from. "No." I replied, "But my elder brother did." The dream was copied in Dec. 13, 1982. I am sorry to have chosen such a damned unlucky date to dream it.

Summary and Conclusions

In the foregoing dream narratives the dreamer experiences events in the dream as different from mundane reality. The first dreamer "knew" he "was having a dream" when, in his early teens, he repeatedly dreamed of flying. Similarly, the obsessive dis-memberments in his classmate’s dream are part of a "movie"; the Chinese phrase for "movie," diàn ying ("electric shadows"), echoes the phrase "dreams, illusions, bub-bles, shadows." In both cases, the illusory nature of the dream seems manifest in the dream itself. Finally, the architect consciously tries in his dream to convince himself that he is dreaming, in order to wake himself up.

We suggest tentatively that, in these cases, the semiconsciousness of the quasi lucidity of the dreamer serves to open psychological distance between the dreamer and the dream content. In all three cases the dream seems to refer to feelings with which the dreamer is uncomfortable. American readers should remember that Chi-nese students are exposed to much less graphic violence than American mass media routinely purvey. Against this background, the notion that the sort of quasi lucidity under discussion is a kind of ego defense mechanism against unpleasant feelings seems plausible. Rather than being a way of dealing with problems, in other words, such quasi lucidity may serve to push them away ("dissociate" them), perhaps as a prelude to waking into a state of consciousness in which they are minimized or denied. This suggestion is consistent with clinical evidence (Delaney, personal com-munication, 1983).


Purcell, S., Mullington, J., Pigeau, R., Hoffman, R., & Moffitt, A. (1985). Dream psychology: Operating in the dark. ASD Newsletter, 1(4), 1–4.

Walls, J. (1985). Dream content, experience and attitudes toward dreams in Chinese and American university students. ASD Newsletter, 1(4), 8–9.

Walters, M. & Dentan, R.K. (1985). Are lucid dreams universal? Two unequivocal cases of lucid dreaming among Han Chinese university students in Beijing, 1985. Lucidity Letter, 4(1).

Wu Zuguang (1985; originally 1937). Sleep and dreams (Shùi yu mèng). Chinese Literature, (Summer), 64–67.

Yi Qiong and Xu Junhui (1984). Elephant Trunk Hill: Tales from scenic Guiling. M.A. Bender and K. Shi (Trs.), Beijing: Foreign Language Press.


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15. Conversation Between Stephen LaBerge and Paul Tholey in July of 1989


Stanford University, California; Johann Wolfgang Goethe Universität, Germany;

University of Vienna, Austria

Editor’s Note: This interview took place at the 1989 Association for the Study of Dreams (ASD) conference in London. LaBerge and Tholey were already familiar with each other’s work, but met for the first time in person at this conference. Their conversations focused on the concept of the consciousness of dream characters and Tholey’s "mirror technique" for inducing OBEs. We enter as they are discussing what a polygraph record would show if dream figures other than the dream ego were capable of signalling:

LaBerge: So you would like to extend all the studies we have done so far on the dream-ego—making eye-movements while singing, counting and doing other activ-ities. For example, if I were dreaming, I could ask the other characters here to sing, hold their breath, whatever . . . and we would see what happens to my physiology when the dream characters signal or hold their breath or sing. My guess is that only one system at a time can have access to the motor output.

Perspectives of the Dream Figures

Tholey: One of my hypotheses is that sometimes one cannot remember a dream because the dream figure conscious of the dream state, is not identical with the dream-ego. The central dream character does not necessarily have to be lucid, but he or she cannot be totally unconscious! [Editor’s Note: For a detailed discussion on consciousness in dream characters, see Tholey, 1989.]

LaBerge: Unconscious of what?

Tholey: The dream-ego, which is identical with the waking ego, doesn’t exist in that situation at all.

LaBerge: Let’s assume that Paul is asleep in bed right now. A dream is occurring. We know that normally you would see a picture, but we don’t know yet if other dream characters, such as me, actually see something or if we merely look to you as if we were seeing. That’s the question we want to answer. Do dream characters see the world?

Tholey: The experiments have shown that the other dream character, who sits facing me at the other side of the table, can paint or draw a picture of me. But, after all, this is a metaphysical question which also inspires psychophysiological experiments.

LaBerge: I think that experiments are necessary, but I think you can explain the same facts by the assumption that there are unconscious processors.

Tholey: Yes, but you can also experience phenomenologically two egos, two sides with two different viewing perspectives.

LaBerge: That interests me very much, because I have never experienced having two separate selves. I have had more than one dream body—here is me and there is another Stephen—but "I" was only at one place at a time.

Tholey: That’s the novel thing. The other experience has often been observed as well. We have had two bodies quite often, two ego-bodies.

LaBerge: Oh, ego-bodies! Bodies are different. The interesting and novel thing is the two selves, the two perspectives. How easy is it for you to produce that?

Tholey: Usually that’s only possible in an out-of-body-experience situation. And then it works in only a third of all cases. It happens when in the dream I cut the dream-self character. If I don’t cut exactly in the middle, I only get one I. I cut the ego-core vertically and horizontally above the abdominal section. The ego-core is the origin of sight (Sicht), the origin of the will, of directing attention of thoughts and of speech. The ego-core can leave the body and can exist as only a point. Although it doesn’t have a mouth, it can still speak.

LaBerge: Yes, but can it move its eyes?

Tholey: No.

LaBerge: That could present a problem. In order to study this, one would want to be able to mark when it happens.

Tholey: So when I leave the body, let’s say in the sleep laboratory, the EEG is nearly normal and the EMG is totally relaxed. I am not paralyzed, though.

LaBerge: So, what stage of sleep are you in?

Tholey: It’s a very extraordinary sleep state. The researchers in the sleep lab couldn’t recognize it!

LaBerge: They would probably call it a "sleep disorder" then!

Tholey: I remember once when I slept in the lab, I was in a lucid state two times for five hours during that night. I was able to direct all the dreams!

LaBerge: I am still interested in the stage of sleep you were in. When you say, "I was lucid the whole night," do you mean that you have some way of knowing that you were lucid for every minute of the night or that it would happen again and again throughout the night?

Tholey: The physiological data and the phenomenological data prove it. I also signaled in between. There is another important thing that happened. I had the experience that, all of a sudden, I was awake and in a totally different situation and then, all of a sudden, in the dream situation again. I restabilized the dream mainly with eye movements and movements of the body.

LaBerge: Does that mean, that you had one eye movement every 30 seconds throughout these five hours?

Tholey: No, during these five hours I wasn’t restabilizing the dream consciously. I know other people in Frankfurt who are also capable of doing that, but only phe-nomenologically.

LaBerge: There is a question about this claim—when you say, "I know I was con-scious during the whole period of time." The problem is that we are not conscious of the fact that we are not conscious. So we can have blank moments and not know it. And that is where the signalling could answer the question, but not necessarily for your experience!

Tholey: No, this was not an unconscious state! I have signalled and the people in the sleep lab have told me that I was so totally relaxed that I couldn’t signal with the fingers. I would have probably been able to signal only with the eyes.

Holzinger: I would like to know more about the state which you called "sleep disorder" before.

Tholey: I apparently have mixed up all known sleep stages. Therefore, they say, I’m not the ordinary Middle European and I am a champion dreamer. They had no idea what was going on.

LaBerge: As I was understanding it, it was not a normal sleep stage, but what was it close to?

Tholey: I am sure that before I learned lucid dreaming, I had the same sleep stages as everybody else. It was not a pure REM stage. They haven’t shown the records to me because they want to publish it themselves. They viewed me as only a subject. I was angry about that and therefore we decided to set up our own sleep lab.

LaBerge: Well, I see nothing wrong with publishing it together, that makes sense, but I am surprised that they wouldn’t let you have a copy or see the information.

Tholey: A student showed me some data briefly, but I wasn’t allowed to go through all the data. The professor hasn’t shown the data to me at all. There is hardly any communication in Germany between the sleep researchers and dream researchers, not to mention the lucid dream researchers.

LaBerge: Well, just because you can’t say what exact stage of sleep it’s in, doesn’t mean that you couldn’t, for example, record the EEG on a computer and study the amount of different waves in your records and characterize it. If you have a new way organizing your sleep, that would be interesting to study in itself.

Mirror Technique for OBE Induction

LaBerge: Let’s turn to a different topic. I would like to know more about your "mir-ror technique" for inducing out-of-body type lucid dreams.

Tholey: The first use of mirror technique is described in an article I wrote—the very first one. There are also some pictures. The pictures aren’t very precise.

LaBerge: I think I understand the idea. When you look in the mirror and see the back of your head, it is easier to transfer your awareness into the mirror, as if you were there.

Tholey: It is better to lie down. You look into the mirror. You are not supposed to see anything except the reflection in the mirror.

LaBerge: Is this supposed to help enter a lucid dream state?

Tholey: At the beginning it is sort of an in-between state; the lights are down. You should be able to see your reflection in the mirror; it’s the same setup as in the work of Klaus Stich (1983; 1989). Later I close my eyes and imagine my head and the sen-sation of rubbing the back of my head. These sensations are projected into the mirror.

LaBerge: That much is described clearly in the article by Nossack (1989). So I un-derstand that. Are you lying down when you are doing this, so you have the mirror above your bed? Do you rub the back of your head looking in the mirror and pro-jecting the sensation as if it were there? And you do that for how long?

Tholey: At the very beginning it takes very long, at least half an hour. I want to add, that that article is all wrong—that’s journalism!

LaBerge: You mean the picture is upside down?

Tholey: That’s right! There is also another practice. You look at a point in the far distance, then put your two thumbs up in front of you and move them towards you until they merge and you perceive only one thumb.

LaBerge: What’s the purpose of this?

Tholey: With this practice I can stabilize the dream. I can keep my eyes from mov-ing. I look into the space around me and not at a figure in order not to wake up. I can see everything—though slightly blurred—the periphery, front and back.

LaBerge: By doing this in the dream?

Tholey: By using this way of looking in the dream. I am doing it right now. Can you see it? [Editor’s Note: Tholey looks cross-eyed.

LaBerge: So you are saying that you learned to do that in the waking state.

Tholey: Yes, and I can do the same with closed eyes.

LaBerge: You practice in the waking state so you can do it in the dream?

Tholey: Yes. It is also useful while doing sports. The other day I was snowboarding. I jumped and watched what happened with and under my feet and, at the same time, saw the environment and landscape around me. I saw the whole space, not as dis-tinctly as if I had focused on something, but at the same time I was aware of the entire space. Perception is transferred into intuitive thinking and I am not afraid any-more. The same is true in the dream experience. It can also be done in activities like touching a table. I can concentrate my attention on the sensations in my finger tips, but then I don’t feel the table.

LaBerge: Which is normally exactly the opposite.

Tholey: If I look like this, I’m not afraid, the fear is not in me, but I can see the danger outside of me.

LaBerge: OK. Back to the mirror technique. So you lie in bed looking at the mirror above the bed until you feel yourself as if in the mirror, and then you shut your eyes.

Tholey: Yes, I shut my eyes and imagine my head in the mirror. The more I do this, the more my imagination becomes like perception. It becomes more and more real.

LaBerge: But if you have already seen yourself as in the image, it should be rela-tively easy for that image to be seen as real.

Tholey: Yes, that is why I do it. This technique has its origin in magic. This is a further development. This technique is described very well by Klaus Stich (1983; 1989).

LaBerge: Would this be a good technique to do in the morning or during an afternoon nap?

Tholey: Usually we did it during the afternoon nap or in the morning. But not at night. This technique will be described more precisely in one of the following issues of Bewusst Sein. [Editor’s Note: A journal published by the recently founded Inter-national Association for Consciousness Research and its Applications (CORA), the European counterpart of Lucidity Association; see the December, 1989 issue of Lucidity Letter for more details. The remainder of the conversation took place the next day.]

Effects of Destroying the Ego Core

LaBerge: I am familiar with your basic procedure—the idea of integration through facing threatening figures and resolving conflicts. Up to this point you have dis-cussed splitting the dream body in pieces and abstracting the dream-ego point, and then you alluded to something, yesterday, about destroying the self, the ego point, the ego core. I would like to understand better exactly how this process is accom-plished and how you understand the theoretical basis for it.

Tholey: This can be a very unpleasant or a very pleasant state. It can be very pleasant, when the "I" becomes one with the cosmos. Then there is one world, a cos-mos, a phenomenal world, and the self belongs to that. By then, the I can’t be dis-tinguished as a piece apart. Now our cosmos is one piece, identical with the self (I).

LaBerge: So what about the theory and practice?

Tholey: It can be done, for example, by immersing the ego-core or the dream-body in fire, the dream fire. This is nothing new. Some time ago I thought it was new, but something like this has been practiced by shamans, yet for us it was a new thing. This can be very unpleasant because it leads to a total dissolving of the I. On the one hand, the ego becomes inflated and, on the other hand, it disappears.

LaBerge: Yes, like in Tibetan dream yoga. Take the dream-body into the fire and the dream-body disappears. But there is still the ego-core.

Tholey: Sometimes it happens that you actually lose the ego-core completely. There is no point of view anymore from which to look or think. There is only seeing left; thinking without any difference between the object and the subject—no difference whatsoever between the object and the subject.

LaBerge: This sounds like a dream that I described in my book, a dream in which I decided that I wanted to experience the highest potential in me. I flew up into the clouds, without any other intention than that. My dream-body disappeared and yet I still existed, in a sense. I could sing, for example, although I had no mouth. Yet I had the sense of a unity with the space. There wasn’t an I there, yet there was still some-thing I would call a perspective.

Tholey: In the state I am talking about, the perspective is gone. There is the state with one perspective and there is the state with two perspectives. This is hard to imagine in the waking state. There also is the state of seeing without a subject, without the ego-core and without seeing. There isn’t anybody who sings anymore, but something like a singing entity.

LaBerge: Yes, that was exactly the experience! Because, when I woke up and thought about what the words were I had been singing: "I praise Thee, oh Lord," I thought—but there was no I—there was no Thee—Thee praised Thee, perhaps. So I think I know the state you are talking about. The way I got to that, you see, wasn’t by any action of the dream-body. It was instead deeper than the intellectual intention to transcend.

Tholey: There is no action by itself, so that there is nobody who acts, it is much rather acting. There is no way to express that in Western languages because there is always a subject and predicate—it is much rather a Doing, an Acting, like singing or whatever—no subject, no object.

LaBerge: That is the same state I am talking about, the space was an infinite empti-ness, filled with potential. But, in any case, I am interested in the method. I’ve wondered and thought about the possible consequences of cutting the body in var-ious fragments. Given both the fact that there are studies demonstrating that people with psychosomatic conditions, who have experienced trauma in their dreams, will have psychosomatic problems—and given our own studies on these relationships, I’m uncertain about the wisdom of this and I’d like to see what you think about it. There is an article by Harold Levitan in which he describes case-studies, for exam-ple, of someone being stabbed in the stomach in a dream who later developed an ulcer. Now, the question is, of course, could this be some sort of prodromic syn-drome or could it be that the trauma in the dream could have had a physiological effect—just as we have found in our research: a strong relationship?

Tholey: We have a group of ten or twelve lucid dreamers in Frankfurt that meets every two weeks or so and do experiments just like this. These experiments lead very often to negative effects, like aggressions towards dream figures, cutting the body and fear. We know this fact very well. First of all, all the experiments we do are dangerous. We know about the danger. We are pioneers and we know that this is dangerous. Secondly, we believe that there is nothing more psychosomatic than dream experiments, not even imagination. We also believe that these experiments might lead to psychosomatic disorders. Therefore we have not yet published the experiments about burning in fire.

LaBerge: It seems there are probably some people that the technique is good for. Others I don’t know. In fact, for NightLight we are interested in techniques that we can offer to a broad audience.

Tholey: These are the techniques we are trying to check now, but there are many more techniques. We check and publish despite the knowledge that dangers will emerge. We have to know it first, though. If we don’t publish, somebody else will, like occultists and charlatans. Therefore it seems to me to be very important to take these border areas into account as well, because they aim for the essence, the inner part of the psyche. If it weren’t for that, they wouldn’t be dangerous.

LaBerge: Yes, and people fall into them anyway.

Mental Capabilities and Consciousness of Dream Characters

LaBerge: Another topic I wanted to ask you about is in this paper (Tholey, 1989). As I interpret it, you are describing the consciousness and abilities of dream char-acters observed during lucid dreaming. I find it a fascinating series of experiments and a very interesting set of questions about what mental capacities the other dream characters have.

Tholey: The dream figures are able to do more, if they are dreamt by experienced lucid dreamers and if some dream figures have already been investigated. But there are also some dream figures that are not capable of doing anything.

LaBerge: I would agree with that from my experience. Indeed, how dream charac-ters act depends largely on my expectations.

Tholey: That’s wrong! I have had arguments with a colleague about that also. My hypothesis was that dream characters are quite skillful. The doctoral students who had been working on this topic all thought that they weren’t. They were extremely surprised. It can happen that the dream character sits and writes. Yet when I dis-cussed this phenomenon with Krist (1981) and the others they all said that this was impossible. I could name hundreds of cases of unexpected occurrences.

LaBerge: Certainly, but I said largely. What I mean is that it is possible that if I find you as a dream character in my dream and I expect you to be sympathetic, you’ll be sympathetic and if I expect you to be hostile, you’ll be hostile. How dream charac-ters act, not what they can do, is the result of one’s expectations.

Tholey: There are examples that dream figures say something that the dream ego cannot understand. I am thinking of the 3ZWG-example.

Holzinger: This example was described in Tholey, (1989). The dream-ego sits fac-ing a dream figure that is writing something on a paper. Reading it, the dream-ego recognized 3ZWG. In the waking state, the dreamer remembered that he had argued with his fiancee about renting a 3-room apartment (in German this would be called a 3 Zimmer WohnunG, therefore 3ZWG in a newspaper ad). So do you really claim that dream characters have something like a consciousness of their own?

LaBerge: That’s what the major claim of the paper is.

Tholey: I don’t want to approach this question from the standpoint of occultism or spiritism. My explanation is very much like split-brain theory.

LaBerge: Yes, but we have no evidence that split-brain patients have a conscious-ness on both sides of the brain. They only report one consciousness. We don’t know if there is a second consciousness. All we can see are motor responses that might indicate consciousness, but automatic systems are capable of motor responses, too.

Tholey: You will never be able to really prove that, because this is, as I have already mentioned, a metaphysical problem. But now there are our very precise and prac-tical experiments that lead to the questions: do dream characters have their own perspectives, can they look from there; do they have their own access to memory, perception, thinking, productive thinking? Can they rhyme better than I can do it?

LaBerge: Sure, all of that, but none of that requires consciousness!

Tholey: But nothing that happens here proves that Stephen has a consciousness or that Brigitte has a consciousness. Any proof would be metaphysical. You can act exactly the same way as the dream figures, you have your own perspectives, you have your own memory, and your own thinking. Why should I claim that dream figures don’t have a consciousness and, at the same time, claim, that you have one?

LaBerge: Yes, but the answer is: I have a brain, you have a brain, we each have a brain! But dream figures have no brains, except one, the one of the dreamer!

Tholey: When I am in a lucid dream I can have all these talks that I have right now.

LaBerge: Sure, but this does not prove anything about consciousness. My conclu-sion from the information presented here is that dream characters can do wondrous things, but they cannot do cognitive tasks that specifically require consciousness.

Tholey: Phenomenologically it can happen that you look from two perspectives, from under the table and above the table. You cannot imagine that.

LaBerge: Let’s step back. How do you do mental arithmetic? How do you compute 5 times 5? The answer simply appears. It’s not conscious, it’s automatic. But when you have to do arithmetic that involves carrying a number, you store that number in consciousness. Consciousness can be viewed as a global work space (Baars, 1988). It is different from the automatic processors. There is only one area of conscious-ness, at least in ordinary experience.

Holzinger: It seems to me that there is a misunderstanding between the two of you about the definition of consciousness.

Tholey: I have given different definitions of consciousness in a German essay with the title "Consciousness"—"Bewusst sein." I differentiated at first between a phe-nomenological and an epistemological definition and then I differentiated further, so that all together I arrived at twelve different definitions of consciousness!

LaBerge: OK. But we must be using it in a different sense.

Tholey: So, I mean, a machine is able to do arithmetic, a child is not able to do arith-metic. Still I would say, that the child has consciousness, the machine hasn’t.

LaBerge: That’s exactly my point. These examples do not prove consciousness! The fact that the mental arithmetic abilities of dream figures are limited suggests to me that other characters don’t have that global space in which we can hold a result while we continue the automatic processes of the computation.

Tholey: Yes, but the figures did complicated rhymes!6

LaBerge: Yes, but this also could be automatic. Rhymes spring to mind; we don’t know how to do it. It just happens!

Tholey: The figures have to store something in that work space also in order to form longer poems and rhymes. Those poems are sometimes as long as ten lines.

LaBerge: Think of Coleridge and the poem "Kubla Khan." It all just came to him. There is no reason to think that language processes have to be consciously directed. People talk all the time without thinking! See, consciousness and conscious pro-cesses can do some things that unconscious ones cannot. Consciousness is not as efficient. It is slow, but it is flexible. And it allows such calculations as 12 times 17. To do this, you have to store an intermediate result while you do another operation. And we do simple mental arithmetic automatically, as if we had a look-up table. The answer of 5 times 5 is right there. You don’t think about how to do it. You don’t do anything other than set the problem and the answer appears. But there are limits to the number of numbers you can hold in your mind. You can hold about seven, plus or minus two. There are numerical experiments indicating and demonstrating the limitations of conscious processing and the relative lack of limitations of uncon-scious processors.

Tholey: That’s a question of different definitions of consciousness, but if we would start with that it would take a lecture.

LaBerge: Let’s make a rhyme now and notice how it happens! We start with Goethe’s last words: "Licht, mehr Licht" and then rhyme . . . "Nichts als nichts!" Not exactly grammatical, but an idea. How did it happen? It just appeared.

Tholey: I know that. I also know that Stephen knows Goethe fairly well.

LaBerge: OK. So how can we conclude that dream characters have consciousness?

Tholey: I have never claimed that! I only claimed that you will never be able to prove it, as you will never be able to prove that another person in waking life has consciousness!

LaBerge: My impression was that you had concluded that dream characters have independent consciousness.

Tholey: I have to clarify that misunderstanding now. I have never claimed that dream figures have consciousness. But the idea of whether they have consciousness or not has led us to some interesting experiments. I could tell them to sing or to count and we could see if there are changes in the EEG recordings under these conditions. But even this would never prove that they have consciousness.


Baars, B.J. (1988). A cognitive theory of consciousness. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Krist, H. (1981). Empirische Studien über Klarträume. Unpublished diploma thesis. Univer-sität Frankfurt am Main.

Nossack, B. (1989). Klarträume-wirklicher als die Wirklichkeit. Das neue Zeitalter, 40(4), 4–8.

Stich, K. (1983). Empirische Untersuchungen uber den Zusammmenhang zwischen Klar-traumtechniken und magischen Techniken. Unpublished diploma thesis. Universität Frankfurt am Main.

Stich, K. (1989). Hat die Wissenschaft noch von der Magie zu lernen? Bewusst Sein, 1(1), 67–80.

Tholey, P. (1989). Consciousness and abilities of dream characters during lucid dreaming. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 68, 567– 578.


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