I had a little trouble sleeping the week before last. Off and on throughout my years on the planet I’ve faced the same. We all do. You wake up, use the facilities or grab a cup of water, let the dog out or something, then come back to bed ready for another 3 hours of sleep. Only you don’t sleep. You think, instead.
Over the years I’ve tried many things to stave off this condition. Meditation. Counting stars (sheep are boring). A mid-morning shot of Nyquil. I don’t recommend that last one, but somebody had to try, right? Some methods work, some methods don’t. Mostly, they don’t.
This particular night I remembered something I had done years ago, and it worked. I’ll see if I can describe it, before I tell you what happened next.
When we are thinking, in the dead of the night, we are thinking what I call third-person thoughts. We’re thinking about our life. As if we’re seeing it from the outside. We’re seeing the bills we have to pay, compared to the money in our account. We’re thinking about the bad exchange with a co-worker, or the boss. We are excited for some coming event that, no matter what we do, we cannot rush to arrive. Whatever it is, we’re thinking about it as if we’re seeing it from the outside. Third-person thoughts.
Some years before, I had some success with first-person thinking. Instead of thinking about paying my bills, I put myself – in my mind’s eye – at my desk and imagined actually paying the bills. Or even just walking through the hallway towards the office, taking in every sight and sound, on the way to paying the bills. If I imagined something interesting in the hall, like a painting I hadn’t looked at in years (that did or did not exist in reality), I would stop and examine it closely. First-person thinking. I would put myself into an environment, often the very environment I was anticipating or dreading, and I would slowly doze off to sleep. Instead of worrying about an event, and that event keeping me awake, I would enter into it and the process would settle my mind so that I could sleep.
So, I tried it again about ten days ago.
What happened next surprised the heck out of me.
I had been dreaming, before being rushed awake into a world of over-thinking, that I was still in Las Vegas with my wife. We were lying in bed, in a fantastic hotel room, talking about what a great room, and trip, it was. It was tranquil. Certain events in the environment were bizarre and wonderful, the likes of which only occur in dreams. I wanted to go back. So, to help myself sleep, I imagined I was still there and allowed myself to get up and explore the room.
I fell back asleep.
I returned to the room.
A couple of hours later I awoke again, having explored this dream world for a while. I was amazed that I was able to subtly push myself into the same dream I had abandoned hours before. Could I do it again? I did. But this time, I knew I was back in the dream, and I could control the environment inside that room. I was lucid dreaming.
Lucid dreaming, as described by Wikipedia, is “a dream during which the dreamer is aware of dreaming.” Furthermore, while “lucid dreaming, the dreamer [might] exert some degree of control over the dream characters, narrative, and environment.”
When I woke next, at exactly 5 am, I was incredibly refreshed and understandably amazed.
The next night I fell asleep immediately. I generally do, now. My insomnia, such as it is, has shifted from the first moment of attempted sleep to the wee hours of the morning in recent years. I fall asleep. I wake up some time between 2 and 4 am, I fight the world inside my mind to return to sleep. As it happened, this was exactly the pattern the night after my lucid dream.
It was about 4 in the morning, and my mind was racing. I remembered what had occurred the night before and I knew I wanted another hour of sleep. So I tried again, with the intention to enter a short, lucid dream for about an hour and wake up, refreshed. I made up a story in my mind and placed myself as the central character in that story and began. I started in that hotel room from the night before and exited into the hallway outside to explore. Again, I made myself see everything in first person so that I was there. I dozed off. I was in the dream. Instantly, I knew I was in the dream. I could control the dream.
I woke up. It was almost exactly 5 o’clock. I felt powerful (though, this time, still sleepy).
That’s when I looked up and researched the term lucid dreaming. Two nights in a row, this could not be a coincidence.
In the next early morning, it happened again. I fell asleep, I woke sometime around 2:30, I couldn’t get back to sleep, I tried again. It worked.
The last one involved a series of events that I alternately went through, woke from, returned to, woke from again, and returned to once more. I was serial dreaming now. It was … bizarre. But I knew, when I was inside the dream, that it was a dream. When I was awake, sometimes, I thought I was still in the dream. It was the most indescribably surreal emotion. A laid back form of intense, I’d say. An urgent rest.
I haven’t been able to repeat those three nights since. My mind has been too cluttered in the wee hours of the morning to get into first-person again. Maybe because of the accident, there is too much racing around in my mind. I’ve only tried a couple of times, but I’ve quickly abandoned the attempt when the world rushes in. I’ve given up too easily.
I will try again, I’m certain. To know your dreams, to control your dreams … it is not like anything else I’ve ever experienced. It makes sense that we can; our dreams are simply thoughts in our head, stories created by us. Subconscious plots. That we can make ourselves the starring role in these plots, and control the narrative within, seems natural. Sublime. Perhaps the only reason that we don’t is that we do not try.
Like I said, I’ll try. If you want to try, use the technique that I described. Shift your perspective. Don’t think about your life, think through it. Take that thing that is keeping you awake and put yourself into it. Pleasant or unpleasant, be there with it. Allow events to unfold, solutions to form, ideas to play out. Explore the environment around it, fully in the moment and fully in first person. As you fade away, leaving swirling thoughts of the mad, mad world behind, you might find yourself inside a dream. If you do, seize it. It is yours.
Everything that happens inside your head belongs to you.
If you experience this phenomenon, or have before, please share it with me below. I’d love to hear about your time of lucid dreaming.