Photo by Ryan Brohm via Iowa State Daily
Buddhist teacher, lucid dreamer, and author of the soon-to-be released book ‘Dreams of Awakening’, Charlie Morley seeks to awaken all sentient beings.
How did you become interested in lucid dreaming? When did you first hear about it?
It was a couple of months before my 12th birthday. It was a Sunday afternoon and I was bored, as all 11 year olds are on Sunday afternoons when it’s raining and there’s nothing to do. So I started sifting through the Sunday papers looking for the mail order gadgets leaflet which I used to love. As I was flicking through them I saw a full page advert for something called a NovaDreamer (the famous lucid dream induction device). I was like, ‘Mum! I do this sometimes! When you know your dreaming! I do what this mask does! Mum, I know what I want for my birthday!’
My Mum says it started earlier, but from my memory the journey began on that Sunday afternoon. I never did get that NovaDreamer for my birthday but the seed had been planted nonetheless and began to sprout a few years later when I got into lucid dreaming properly.
What do you recall of your first lucid dream/s? Anything odd, unusual, or unexpected?
Wow, I can’t actually remember my first ever lucid dream but I do remember my first few intentional ones. I remember what shocked me was just how realistic it all was and how natural it all felt. It was as if this was how every dream could be and that it was non-lucid dreaming that was weird, not lucid dreaming.
What did you make of that?
The realism of it all? I thought it was awesome, like being in a computer game!
What about lucid dreaming caught your interest and attention? What made you want to have another lucid dream and pursue it further?
As a teenager, it was the free accessibility of lucid dreaming that was one of its real selling points for me. There was no equipment to be bought, no initiation to be done, no club to join. The only commodities required were sleep and determination. Also it was great place to have lots of sex, and for a teenager that was a pretty strong motivation to explore it further!
When you become lucid, does it result from a particular induction or incubation technique? Or have you simply trained yourself to notice the unusual when dreaming?
Nowadays it’s much more about confidence than anything else. If I am confident and energised then sometimes I just know that I am getting lucid that night, but I do still have to practice the techniques of course. I am not a natural lucid dreamer actually. That’s probably why I’m pretty good at teaching it, because I know what it feels like to be out of practice, to have droughts and most importantly to be able to train hard and get back on track.
When I got into Buddhism properly in my late teens I started doing some of the Tibetan dream yoga techniques as well as all the Western ‘LaBergian’ techniques that I had been working with up to that point. I also started doing quite a bit of meditation and practising meditators often have a much higher rate of lucid dreams than non-meditators. This is because mindful awareness during the day directly translates into mindful awareness during dreams. In fact one of the original lucid dream induction techniques is mindfulness meditation.
For many of us at the beginning, lucid dreaming seems like a wonderful entry into a virtual reality, where you can play around and indulge any fantasy. Does that describe your early experience, or did you immediately see the deeper potential of lucid dreaming?
Robert, the only potential I saw in lucid dreaming when I first started was the potential of getting my rocks off! When I first taught myself to lucid dream at the age of 16, I used it for nothing more than sex, drugs, and rock and roll. I wasted the first two years of my lucid dreaming practice almost exclusively on having sex in lucid dreams!
In fact it acted as a great motivational tool for me to get lucid as much as possible, but alas, it became a slippery slope down which I fell many times. And although I laugh about it now it was quite damaging actually because as in waking life, we are creating and strengthening neural pathways while we are lucid dreaming, which means that if we engage in actions while lucid, we are creating neurological pathways associated with that action, which can then become activated in the waking state. Hence the slippery slope because it set me up to have a really strong habit towards sex, which at 16 that can be a very tricky thing!
So what happened to give you insight into lucid dreaming’s larger and more profound potential?
When I was 17 I had an accidental LSD overdose, which was terrifying and led to months of recurring post-traumatic stress nightmares. At the time I was reading lucid dreaming books and I remembered the section on using lucidity to heal nightmares, but whenever I got lucid within these recurrent nightmares I was so consumed by fear and dread that I would usually just end up yelling, ‘Wake up! I want to wake up!’
Unfortunately, as you know, this just happens to be the most effective way of ensuring that a nightmare recurs, because in no way does it resolve or heal the psychological trauma fuelling it. At the time, however, I was simply too distressed to face my demons fearlessly. But one night I finally decided I’d had enough. I set a strong threefold motivation: to intentionally engage the nightmare, to become lucid within it, and to face the source of the trauma.
That night the nightmare came and the little baldheaded dwarf who had somehow come to represent the trauma appeared as usual, signifying imminent insanity. But this time I recognized that I was dreaming, and as he approached me, I finally turned to face him. Rather than run away, I yelled at him: ‘Enough! I’ve had enough! OK, I get it! I see now! But please just leave me alone!’
Suddenly the dwarf’s face changed and then the entire dreamscape changed into a 17 year old’s vision of paradise – in this case a beach full of bikini-clad girls and people skateboarding and drinking cocktails in the sun! Crazy stuff eh? That was the last time I ever had that nightmare. Four months of post-traumatic stress cured by one lucid dream. It was then that I realized the huge potential of lucid dreaming.