By the time I return home, it’s already dark out. I flip on the lights as I enter my suite of rooms—a generous name for what is in every respect an attic, and a rather rough one at that. But someone is here to greet me, and as usual, she’s very happy to see me: Emmie, the little black cat.
I walk over to the desk, set my mug of freshly-brewed Sumatra coffee down and turn on the computer. Emmie jumps up onto the windowsill, above a row of books, and instantly becomes indistinguishable from the dark window behind her—all but the yellow eyes. The books are mostly philosophy texts I was using for reference last semester, but also a couple volumes of poetry, a couple Buddhist texts, and some miscellaneous notebooks. Someone’s homemade desk organizer, picked up at a garage sale, doubles as a bookend—although it’s a little odd to call it an organizer when all it seems to be doing is reorienting the clutter vertically. In front are a stack of notebooks, an hourglass, an incense burner, a jade bracelet, a bottle of ink, a light bulb full of paper clips, all presided over by a lamp colored an ugly eraser-pink. I generally prefer to keep things neat, but right now it’s just a couple skulls short of a still-life.
Directly to my left are the shelves. Several months ago, I cleared them off so that a wall could be built behind them, but as usual, construction has been delayed indefinitely. Since then, they’ve become the spot for everything that doesn’t have a better place to be. Library books, green coffee beans, some newly-sprouted cat grass, a 10-pound box of dates. Beside the shelves, Christoph, my air purifier, is humming away.
The computer is fully awake now. I open Word. But before I can begin, I hear the garage door opening—manually, of course, since the garage door opener is another of those indefinitely delayed projects. Before long, I hear voices, one of them very loud and very peevish. I reach over and change Christoph to his ‘turbo’ setting. Whoosh! No more voices. What I could really use is a more figurative way of clearing the air around here—but right now, this is the best I can do.
Could it be that all this is a dream? It doesn’t feel the way a dream does—an imprecise way of putting it, but the feeling itself is distinct once you’ve experienced it enough times. Everything around me is normal, everything is in order—or, rather, in its usual disorder. It’s all very detailed—but so is a dream, when you pay close enough attention to it. In the time I’ve lived in this house, I’ve only actually had one dream that was set in it—so it’s not likely. But that one dream was a lucid dream—so definitely worth a check.
My computer’s clock states that it’s 8:47. I look away, look back— still 8:47. Emmie’s eyes are still looking down at me from the darkness, the steam is still rising from the dark coffee. Okay, then. Time to write.
Daniel Love’s book, Are You Dreaming, is a guidebook for learning how to lucid dream—that is, how to recognize that one is dreaming while the dream is still going on. It was published in 2013, and so it wasn’t around during the time when I was learning how to induce a lucid dream myself. I say this because, having not actually used the book for its intended purpose, I’ll be focusing on parts of it other than the ones that people are going to be reading it for. This is neither a review nor a critique—okay, it sort of will be a critique— but I’ll mostly be considering a few of the interesting questions it raises but does not dwell on.
First, though, I should at least say a word about the book in its intended capacity. Are You Dreaming? presents a number of techniques for inducing lucid dreams, all with in-depth explanations, and with a strong focus on the rationale behind them. I think this is a good thing –it gives a beginner choice, but it also leaves them with less of an opportunity to sabotage their efforts by jumping from technique to technique without addressing the reasons they’re experiencing a lack of success. A beginning lucid dreamer could perhaps wish for more, but the fault is with the lack of research in the field rather than with Daniel Love’s generous selection.
I do think he could have placed more emphasis on motivation, which is the sine qua non of attaining lucidity rather than one factor among many, as the book seems to imply. You have to be motivated to keep a dream journal. You have to be motivated to spend time awake that you would rather be sleeping, and, depending on the methods you use, to sleep during hours that you’d normally be awake. For a while, you essentially have to plan both your day and night around attaining lucidity.
Yes,there’s always the odd person who, the night after learning that lucid dreaming is possible, immediately recognizes that they’re dreaming and blasts off into the ether. But they’re the exception, and they wouldn’t have much use for a guidebook, anyway. For the rest of us, it requires not only heaps of motivation, but no serious competing motivations from other areas of life. I don’t think it was a coincidence that the time in my life when my own breakthrough in lucid dreaming happened was one of the most boring ones.
So yes, the book is practical, it does what it claims to do, and in some areas, it goes above and beyond. But I was mainly interested in where it could have gone farther.
Is that what it’s like for you?
We dream our own dreams, not other people’s. Even if dreams are not the purely subjective events that most Westerners, including Daniel Love, believe them to be, they are certainly no more accessible to others than the private experiences of our waking lives.
This is why it is never safe to generalize from our own dream experience, lucid or otherwise. The features that characterize our own lucid dreams may simply be absent from those of other people’s. At this stage, we don’t even have statistics to tell us which one, if any, is the outlier.
In one of the lucid-induction techniques Love describes—the anchoring technique—he describes how, when listening to music as you fall asleep, the music seems to become more distant as the dream begins. This isn’t a technique I’ve ever intentionally experimented with, but I have practiced it accidentally a couple times. On one of those occasions, I fell back asleep while listening to a recording of The Well-Tempered Clavier in bed. Rather than fading away, the music completely pervaded the dream—which was indeed a lucid one— and I could hear it loudly and clearly the entire time. If someone had had me hooked up to a machine, I’m sure I could have signaled whether I was listening to a prelude or a fugue.
Before reading Are You Dreaming?, I had no idea people practiced this intentionally – at least, outside of shamanic contexts. If, after this experience, I had tried it intentionally, I would have fully expected to still be able to hear whatever I fell asleep listening to in the dream that followed. Maybe if I had tried again, it would have been a different experience—but maybe not if I had brought that expectation along. Who knows?
Another instance of this happens in an aside on the behavior of dream characters. Daniel Love writes that dream characters often discourage the dreamer from realizing that he is dreaming. Since my own lucid dreams are often completely devoid of characters, I haven’t had many opportunities to observe this. But on the occasions when I have asked a character if I was dreaming, they’ve always confirmed it for me. Not once have I had one try to convince me that I wasn’t.
And then there are ‘dream guides.’ I don’t have any personal experience with them, but I’ve read a number of accounts of lucid dreamers calling up a character specifically to help them become lucid or to change the dream in certain ways, sometimes with stunning success. And then there are people who have had dream characters cooperate with them, as mine have, or even had characters spontaneously clue the dreamer into the fact that they’re dreaming.
And, of course, the big, unanswerable question here is “why?” Why do such enormous individual differences among dreamers exist? Why is each individual’s experience so consistent over time? It’s as if you’re reading travel guides for a hundred different cities rather than one big city called ‘dreaming’. “Oh, the service here is terrible.” “No, the locals here are famous for their hospitality.” “What, you didn’t sign up for the tour when you arrived?” “What tour?”
This is one reason why I’m interested in Daniel Love’s newest project, The Lucid Dreamer’s Guide to the Cosmos. Each book of the series will consider lucid dreams in relation to various areas of science and culture, and I’m hoping it will provide an impetus towards answering questions like these, and put an end to futile arguments over what’s typical for lucid dreams and what isn’t.
Not only do we not have statistics on almost any aspect of lucid dreaming you can name, but we don’t even have case studies. As far as I know, nobody has even made any serious efforts to collect and organize anecdotes. If enough lucid dreamers come together, perhaps we can come to learn more about these differences and why they exist—and once we know, we can put the knowledge to use.
To be continued…