On Dreams and Dreaming

Lucid Dreaming

Can you talk about conscious or lucid dreaming — controlling dreams or their outcome? How would one acquire that skill?

Dr. Garfield: Some people actually come across it on their own. I've talked with many people who say, "oh yeah, I used to be scared in my dreams, and I said to myself this is that same old nightmare. I'm tired of this." Sometimes they wake up. Someone told me the other day, "When I saw that dream again, I just woke up."

Well, I don't think that's the best solution, but it does solve the discomfort. If you enter into the dream knowing it's a dream then it becomes more of an adventure. And that can be the best of both worlds because you're having the surprise of what's going to happen, but at the same time you hold on to awareness that it's a dream. If you don't like it, you can change it. And it gives you the consciousness of the unconscious. It's a rare state indeed, but as I said, many people discover this themselves and can use it to turn their dreams into more of an adventure like scenarios and are infinitely more comfortable with that.

It's not as easy for many people who haven't come across this skill on their own. It takes some effort, and concentration and a real willingness to pay attention to your dreams and to look for the moment when you might have realized you were dreaming. There's a lot of distortion in dreaming. I might dream that I was at my mother's house, but it wasn't quite like it. The living room was the same, but there was additional porch, or something was different, and that was a moment that I could have realized I was dreaming.

If people are being trained to recognize what we call pre-lucid moments — clues that could trigger the realization that you are in a dream, and that you are dreaming at this moment. You have got to hone that skill. Stephen LaBerge at Stanford has developed this kind of goggle that dreamers who want to develop this particular skill can wear. The goggles have an infrared light that begins to flash when your eyes go into rapid-eye-movement, so it picks up the movement of your eyes and starts a red light flashing. That red light comes into your dreams. Some people who are training don't always recognize it, and just go right on dreaming. But many of them do learn the clue and realize they're dreaming, and then sometimes carry out different things that they've planned to do. 

You can also do that for yourself if you've gained the ability to lucid dream. And you can carry out predetermined tasks, such as choosing something that you would like to dream about. Many people who become lucid in dreams like to fly deliberately because it is such a wonderful, free experience. Others choose to make love with the partner of their choice. It does open up a great range of possibilities to dream of. You can be aware of the fact that you're dreaming.