Photo by Ryan Brohm via Iowa State Daily
Author, magician and lucid dreamer, Daniel Love, looks deeply at lucid dreaming techniques in his new book, Are You Dreaming? Read more about his unique perspective in this interview with Robert Waggoner.
How did you become interested in lucid dreaming?
For me, lucid dreaming has been a lifelong companion. My journey into lucid dreaming started very early, at roughly the age of 5. At this age I was prone to terrible recurrent nightmares and other parasomnia, making sleep somewhat of a fearsome event. As they say, necessity is the mother of invention and so with my childhood mind already predisposed to thoughts about dreams, and needing a means to survive the onslaught, it was only a matter of time until I stumbled upon the ability to lucid dream.
The memories of these early events are somewhat blurry now, being over 30 years ago, but my initial ‘technique’ for inducing lucid dreams was a kind of meditative focus. I would attempt to hold onto awareness and catch the moment I would fall asleep. I now call this method ‘catching the butterfly’ and outline it in my book Are You Dreaming?, however the principle is simple and the basic premise is the key to many WILD induction techniques, essentially finding some form of psychological anchor to maintain awareness as one falls into sleep.
This was especially useful for my particular issues, as many of my nightmares resulted in a brief terrified awakening, after which I‘d fall directly back into another dream. Eventually, I managed to become quite adept at lucid dreaming and as a result was able to find a comfort in the knowledge that these experiences were something I could control. Of course, once lucidity was mastered, this very rapidly cured me of my nightmares; from there on, a lifelong fascination with sleep and dreams was born and I‘ve not looked back since.
What do you recall of your first lucid dream/s? What happened when you became lucidly aware in your childhood nightmares?
2One of my early recurring nightmares revolved around being trapped on a coastline in imminent threat from a giant tidal wave. The landscape of this dream was a perfect replica of the surrounding familiar coastline of my hometown. Of course, at that young age the nightmare was rather simple in plot: escape the giant wave. Now, the beaches of my hometown, whilst quite beautiful, have large imposing cliffs, so the dreamt experience of a tidal wave hurtling toward the beach, created a very claustrophobic and essentially inescapable environment.
For my early non-lucid nightmares, the tension would mount as the wave came ever nearer, until, eventually, the crescendo of fear would wake me; normally just before the wave were to come crashing down. It was this very same recurrent dream in which I first experienced lucidity, though understandably the finer details have faded in time.
From what I remember, I‘d woken from this dream and was fearful of returning to sleep, so I practiced my ‘catching the butterfly’ technique as I lay in bed, waiting to re-enter the dream world. So there I lay, watching my thoughts and awareness flit from one thing to another and waiting to catch the moment thoughts turned to dreams, then, suddenly, in the blink of an eye, I was once again standing upon the beach, albeit this time fully aware of my circumstance; I knew I was dreaming!
It was a strange and exhilarating experience, although at such a young age I was barely equipped to comprehend the deeper philosophical excitement and implications (those came later, in my teenage explorations of lucidity). My instinctive reaction was to face the fear of the wave and to just ‘let it happen’, so calling upon all my courage, I decided rather than wait for the wave to come to me, I would go to it.
I remember the feeling of running towards the sea, with this huge wave, as tall as a skyscraper, rushing as quickly towards me as I towards it. As I reached the wave, I threw myself into it superman style, slipping through the wall of water like a warm knife through butter. It was absolutely exhilarating. Knowing now that the awesome destructive force of the wave was behind me, a new more powerful wave, a wave of relaxation and accomplishment, washed over me.
I now found myself deep within the ocean, calm, relaxed and fully lucid. To my astonishment, I found I could breathe underwater, opening a new world of exploration and fun, the start of a fascinating lucid dream of an underwater world (I‘ll leave those details to the reader‘s imagination, or even better try it yourself!).
From there on, whenever this particular dream recurred, the tidal wave had now become a dream sign, virtually guaranteeing lucidity. What originally had been a dream of fear and escape, had now become not only a doorway to lucidity but also a dream of exploration and freedom.
Perhaps not unsurprisingly, a good deal of my early lucid dreams were of exploring the world beneath the sea, which later influenced my childhood waking life, inspiring me to become an avid and adept swimmer, and later inspiring me to take up diving.
Did anything surprise you about the experience of lucid dreaming? What did you make of that?
If there is one thing that has continued to surprise me, from those earliest days and even until to today, it is the sheer vibrant realism of the dream world. Of course, I can hardly claim any originality in this department, as it seems to be the overwhelming consensus amongst lucid dreamers to be enchanted by the beauty and detail of the dream world.
For me this is wonderful and surprising on so many levels, but perhaps the real beauty of all this, when you give it the consideration it deserves, is how it acts as such a potent and visceral demonstration of the depths of creativity and power of the human mind. Even the simplest of lucid dream gives us a glimpse at the genius of the human mind, it‘s staggering ability to create and recreate worlds.
During our daily waking lives, often we go about with the sensation that we are trapped within our skulls and that the thoughts rattling around our heads are all there is to the human mind. We often forget that the external world we experience around us, all those intricate details that our senses provide, are all as much part of our own mental processes as our inner voice. Our experience of the world, both waking and dreaming, is a process of mental modeling.
Even right now as you read these words, the words you experience are a model, a mental representation of an external event, as is everything else you experience. Your senses report reality but it is your mind that paints the detailed artwork that is your personal private experience. Lucid dreams demonstrate this power in a way that is inarguable, for we know with certainty that the worlds we experience in dreams are not external so it has to be our mind that creates them.
For me, this has helped remind me that this is a process that continues in all human experience, waking or dreaming, that our relationship with reality is a creative interplay and our mind is a wonderful instrument upon which the music of all our experiences is played. So I guess, lucid dreaming has taught me that we are all more than we often give ourselves credit for.
I assume at some point the nightmares vanished. What was it about lucid dreams that caught your interest and attention then? What made you want to have another lucid dream and pursue it further?
Yes, very shortly after the discovery of lucid dreaming (which I was yet to even realize had a name or was an experience others had), the nightmares ended. In those early years it wasn‘t so much of a case in choosing to continue with lucidity, instead it became something of the norm. I‘d grown accustomed to the habit of maintaining a level of awareness during my sleeping hours, so lucidity became a regular staple of my dreaming life, something which I assumed was ‘normal’.
In retrospect I put this down to the flexibility of a child‘s mind, without any preconceptions about what a dream should be: the fact that I had learnt to become aware in them simply felt natural and I assumed everyone did this.
It‘s this simplicity with which I learnt and accepted lucid dreaming as a child that leads me to the conclusion that there should be more focus on teaching the skills of lucid dreaming to children.
Much like learning a language, the earlier you start, the easier and more natural the whole process becomes.
My natural lucidity continued throughout the majority of my childhood. I explored my dream world on a nightly basis, with my lucid dreams generally reflecting my childhood interests. So with a burgeoning interest in the sciences and astronomy, a good deal of my nightly adventures involved the exploration of space, or travelling back in time to visit the dinosaurs, perhaps all rather predictable lucid dream fodder for a young boy.
It wasn‘t until the distractions of puberty kicked in that I needed to give any real focus to inducing the experience. Up until that point, lucid dreaming was something I simply accepted, something that just happened. However, during my early teenage years, the state became somewhat more elusive; no longer did lucid dreams come with ease, instead more and more of my dreams fell victim to the fog of unawareness and so in many ways, I had to start from scratch, re-learning how to enter the state.
I can‘t say with any real confidence what caused this shift but my gut feeling is that the rapid changes in brain development, the growing complexity of life and the influx of hormones, all played their part in creating a barrier to a conscious dream world. Fortunately for me, through a series of unlikely but serendipitous events in my early teens (which are too complicated to explain in detail here), I became aware of the existence of lucid dreaming as a state. In other words, that there was a name for the experience and that others shared it.
This came in the form of several books on the topic that by chance had found their way into my possession. It was all somewhat of a revelation and it fueled my intention to once again master this skill that had come so easily during my childhood. As for the reasons why I wished to continue, well the memory of the freedom and power of lucid dreaming alone was enough of an incentive, however, I was also a rather philosophical teen, and the chance to explore the dream world with a more developed and curious mind was impossible to resist.
Retrospectively, whilst at the time having to re-learn lucid dreaming seemed like a disaster, I am now thankful for the experience, as without it I‘d not be able to relate to those who struggle to experience the state. Indeed, the effortlessness of my childhood lucid dreams was never completely recaptured and today, like most lucid dreamers, the process of inducing them is one that requires focus, planning and skill.