Taking Control Of Your Dreams

Andrew Sullivan —  Dec 2 2013 @ 7:35am

Dorian Rolston visits a workshop run by Stephen LaBerge, one of the pioneering researchers of lucid dreaming:

The very existence of lucid dreams has been widely debated. According to prevailing theory, areas of the brain that generate self-reflection and govern rational thought throttle down as dreams start up. As our slumber deepens, we lose our short-term memory and self-awareness and, as a consequence, can’t spot the non sequiturs that fill our dreams, or even locate the actual position of our bodies. Only in the cold light of day, when executive functions come back online, do we realize how outlandish our dream plots are.

Lucid dreamers, by contrast, claim to be able to regain a host of daytime cognitive faculties while still dreaming. With enough practice, say proponents, people can redirect their dreams, and by so doing, at least according to LaBerge, transform their real-life narratives as well.

Rolston talks to retreat attendees about their hopes for the transformative power of lucid dreaming:

A 35-year-old software developer from Colorado Springs named Matt Winzenried says he came to [LaBerge’s workshop in] Hawaii to find the meaning of life.

About four years ago, he told me, he fell into a deep funk. He felt stifled by an overbearing boss and lackluster job. One night, while lying in bed, he heard a scuffling noise. As it drew closer, he reached under his bed for a gun but found nothing. Then something clambered up the nightstand, and Winzenried saw a furry blue creature gnashing its teeth. “That’s when I realized I was dreaming,” he says. Unexpectedly, the insight put him at ease. He felt a wave of “total acceptance and tranquility.” Winzenried was able to take control of his dream, grab the monster, and in one deep, long breath, inhale all but the creature’s skin deep into his own lungs. “There was nothing left except cloth,” he says. He awoke feeling “ready to tackle the world.”

Winzenried says that first lucid dream turned his life around. He enrolled in a personal development workshop. He got promoted. He began taking lessons in hockey and art. He started a small business. He joined Toastmasters to confront his debilitating shyness and soon became club president.