My jaw dropped. At the instant I knew I was dreaming, the room was flooded with light. I saw a vivid reflection of myself in the mirror. When I turned, it turned, then it rotated slowly, as if showing off. A moment later I was outdoors in an inexpressibly beautiful park. A soft breeze rustled the arching treetops above me. There were hillsides of flowers and a deep blue sky. I drank in the dazzling detail — the rough bark of a tree trunk, the gravel path crunching beneath my feet, the iridescent blue songbird splashing in a puddle. No, I decided, this can't be a dream. I have too much presence, too much control. Anyway, how could all this heartbreaking beauty, this incredibly vivid detail, be a product of my slumbering mind?
A Mental Construct
I told LaBerge about the dream the moment we met at his research facility, the Lucidity Institute, in Palo Alto. He wasn't surprised. "Reality is not out there, it's in here," he said, as he gently tapped his head. "Even when you're awake, what you think of as the world is not what you see, it's an inference of what you see, a mental construction built by the brain from the input the senses have provided."
According to LaBerge, the sleeping brain, like the waking brain, tries to construct a model of reality, but with no external sensory input to work with, it draws its building blocks from internal sources: your memories, your hopes, your desires or your fears. "Dreaming shows you the kind of world you'd build if left to your own devices," says LaBerge, and that's why experiences in dreamland can be just as sensually real as the reality built for you by your waking brain.
"Asleep or awake, the vivid reality of experience is in the mind," he says. "Either way, from the brain's point of view, what's happening is really happening."
From personal experience, I have to agree. The most remarkable thing about my own short lucid dream was how firmly, how lucidly, I insisted that I must be awake. Looking back, I wish I'd done something more with the moment. After all, it's as if I'd suddenly been handed my own universe to play with.
But LaBerge's interests in lucid dreaming extend beyond the potential for play. He thinks dream experiences can help us overcome fears, build confidence and, if we open our minds, help us separate illusion from the truly real and transcendent. To further those goals, he established the Lucidity Institute, where tomorrow he will introduce us to a group of accomplished lucid dreamers.