Diary from Lucid Dream Camp
When I heard the Lucidity Institute was offering a five-day residential lucid dream training program entitled "Consciousness: Dreaming and Waking", I was intrigued. The program was to be a special fund-raiser supporting scientific research on lucid dreaming, an obviously worthwhile cause. Moreover, the workshop sounded enticing with presentations by Dr. Stephen LaBerge, mandatory naps and evening dream movies. Mandatory naps? I read it twice just to be sure I wasn't dreaming. Then I packed my bags.
Thursday, August 25, 1995En route to the workshop, I warmed up with a couple of reality checks: In a market, a package labeled "Chocolate Dreams" catches my sweet-tooth eye, but a reality test convinces me the calories would be all too real, so I resist the temptation.
A bus driver announces that the fare-collecting machine is broken. Everyone gets a free ride! Passengers are so elated that even strangers begin chatting with each other as if a holiday has just been declared. I suspect that only dream characters would behave in such a fashion, but the dollar in my hand doesn't morph into a hundred, so I conclude this is just waking reality.
That afternoon, nineteen participants, along with three staff members from the Lucidity Institute, arrived at Casa Italiana on the campus of Stanford University. During the school year, the tree-shaded, three-story house serves as a dormitory for students who wish to immerse themselves in Italian studies. Here they can indulge in the country's cuisine, practice the native language and dream Italian dreams. For this occasion, however, Casa Italiana was appropriately renamed "Casa Lucida". Here we would dine on creative concoctions dreamed up by Lucidity Institute staff member Electra Shiner, become more fluent in the language of nocturnal adventures, and (hopefully) dream lucid dreams.
As dreamers began to trickle in, conversations sprouted spontaneously and there was a growing sense of excited anticipation. Far from familiar surroundings, but in the company of admitted oneironauts, I felt immediately at home. Shelli Panspinelli, a kinetic sprite with contagious enthusiasm, greeted everyone with a warm welcome, passed out schedules and camp t-shirts and helped us get settled with our accommodations. A short while later, we assembled for introductions and the opening presentation.
Stephen LaBerge initiated the introductions, inviting us to describe our interests in lucid dreaming and our hopes and intentions in attending the workshop. The eight women and eleven men in attendance, represented a variety of occupations and ages, including a woman in her seventies and a boy of fourteen years. High on everyone's list was a desire for increased lucid dreaming as well as a better understanding of how to navigate within that world.
The first of Stephen's articulate presentations focused on the basics of lucid dreaming, including suggestions for improving dream recall and an explanation of the MILD technique. MILD, an acronym for Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreams, is based on one's ability to carry out pre-set intentions (such as recognizing that one is dreaming), through applied mental effort. Since most of us go through our daily lives functioning on automatic, we're not accustomed to maintaining the level of awareness necessary for lucid dreaming. To help us practice doing so, we would play two games throughout the workshop: I Remember and The Doors of Perception.
In I Remember, whenever we were handed something, we were to say "I remember", or acknowledge the action in some visibly apparent way. If we forgot to do so, we were "rewarded" with a shiny star adhered to our name tag. The idea behind this exercise is that remembering to do something while dreaming requires the same mental performance as in waking. Not only can practice while awake improve this skill, there's also the possibility that the habit will carry over into dreaming. Indeed, one week after the workshop ended, Stephen (who had escaped without acquiring a single star) dreamed he was being handed an item. Asking himself if the game was still being played, he realized the workshop was over, concluded he was dreaming, and stepped into the air....
The Doors of Perception required that we touch each doorframe as we passed through. The concept behind this exercise, is to increase awareness and to begin a new habit which can be carried over into dreams. Each time, each doorway. So simple. Yet within minutes, I discovered what a formidable challenge this can be.
At this point, a provocative question was posed: Could we be dreaming at that very moment? Come to think of it, I had dreamt of being at Dream Camp at least twice before arriving that day. After describing a variety of determining techniques, Stephen stressed the importance of making reality testing habitual and encouraged us to keep a vigilant eye out for dream-like events in waking life which would help prepare us to recognize the anomalies in our dreams.
We were then given detailed instructions regarding those "mandatory" naps. For the past few years, the Lucidity Institute has been conducting research in the lab and through at-home experiments featured in their newsletter NightLight to determine the sleep schedule most conducive for lucid dreaming. So far, their studies have shown that getting up an hour early, staying awake for an hour or more and then returning to sleep is one of the most promising techniques for achieving lucidity. Arrangements were made so that dreamers could be awakened at the optimal times.
The first evening ended with a dream-like bedtime tale entitled "The Story of Mushkil Gusha", followed by a series of short films that were as bizarre as any dreams I've ever conjured on my own. Un Chien Andalou, Rapid Eye Movements and None Shall Sleep (and I'm sure no one did!) left me wondering if I'd already crossed the fine line into dreaming.
FridayI'm consciously aware of the hypnogogic beginning of a dream. The image of a sun-dappled beach takes on vividness, but I rise to full wakefulness before the scene has a chance to develop into a full-blown dream. Still, I'm excited to have been at the doorway of a lucid dream.
In the morning, we gathered to share adventures of the night, celebrating lucid accomplishments, commiserating and rolling our eyes over missed cues, vowing to do more reality checks and to remember to remember. Having acquired my first star early that morning, I was determined not to start a collection. In my room I'd been putting in some extra practice, reaching out my hand, imagining that I was being handed something. Still, when the real action was taking place, how easy it was to become distracted! Obviously, this exercise was about more than developing a habit. It was truly about remaining Aware.
To help us develop the habit of reality checking during the day, Shelli distributed a "Programmable Electronic State Tester" to each dreamer. And, while doing so, handed out a few more stars to those who had already forgotten to remember. The PEST, about the size of a small beeper, uses vibration, beeps or flashes (or combination of these) to remind the wearer to do a state test each time the signal is given. Establishing this habit in waking life carries over into dream life, thereby increasing the chances of becoming lucid.
Stephen then described several techniques which would allow one to enter a dream directly from the waking state without ever losing consciousness. Wake Initiated Lucid Dreams (WILDs) can be the most exciting and bizarre of dream experiences, as the physiological conditions that give rise to them may also produce such sensations as sleep paralysis, vibrations, buzzing sounds or the body dissolving. Although these sensations can initially be startling, familiarity soon leads to recognizing them as a prelude to lucid dreaming. In the afternoon, we focused on various methods of dream control, including techniques for prolonging and re-entering dreams, such as spinning or rubbing one's dream hands as the dream scene fades. Any activity that engages the sense of dreambody within the fading dream can act as a stabilizer. The reason for this is that it contradicts the rising physical sensations of the waking body and pulls the dreamer back into the dream.
Stephen elucidated the difference between control over dream characters or elements verses control over one's own responses within the dream. Citing nightmares as an example, Stephen emphasized the point that our feelings in response to dream events are very real. Even recognizing that we are in an illusory world may not automatically dissolve our fears. And although we may experience dreams in which control over terrifying elements is possible, it is unlikely that such means would be available to us in waking reality. This is why learning to practice Self-control within the dream is far more applicable to our waking lives than any magical manipulations of dream events that we might conjure.
That evening, Stephen's slide show presentation on the history and science of lucid dreaming and the development of the DreamLight offered insight into the on-going research which is helping to map the world of dreaming. The results of experiments comparing waking to dreamed activities, such as respiration, singing, counting and dream sex were particularly interesting. The presentation elicited a lively discussion, after which we settled down for a viewing of Luis Bunuel's surrealistic film That Obscure Object of Desire. Despite being warned there would be something unusual about the film, most of us missed the anomaly. It served as a potent reminder of how easily we accept without question what appears as "reality" -- in movies as well as in our waking lives.
SaturdayStanding with a friend in shallow water, I feel the seductive pull of a wild ocean, each wave rushing in, retreating. Then tumbling, almost weightless, filled with joy and movement, salty taste of seawater on my lips. Though not yet lucid, there is a feeling of being on the very edge of dream awareness, a step further than last night's beginnings.
During the morning's dream sharing, we had an extraordinary opportunity to witness an episode of "lucid living" as Shelli related a disturbing dream from the night before. In her nightmare, a dream character appearing as Stephen had announced, in front of all the workshop participants, that she would not be receiving a diploma from Lucid Dream Camp. He had proclaimed that she didn't have what it takes to be a lucid dreamer!
It was apparent that this dream had been extremely disturbing to Shelli, and I suspect we all could relate at some level to her question of confidence. Yet it appeared that Shelli was reacting to the dream as if it were true. I felt torn between compassion and the realization that, in actuality, there was no basis to support the scenario that haunted her. Fighting back tears, Shelli's tone had bordered on confrontational. How could "Stephen" have done this to her! The room filled with quiet tension as we awaited his response.
Without patronizing or slipping into the emotional drama of the situation, Stephen asked Shelli to tell the dream once again, but to stop at whatever points might be considered as Dreamsigns. Stephen's gentle calmness offered an impressive demonstration of how the same skills that allow us to become lucid in our dreams can also serve us well during challenging moments in waking life.
Still shaken by the vivid experience, Shelli retold her dream. With Stephen's careful guidance, she quickly came to recognize two essential anomalies: one, that the behavior of the character who appeared as Stephen in the dream did not match that of the waking world Stephen; and two, that she'd recently had a series of lucid dreams. With this reflection, she was able to realize the absurdity of the scenario and to respond intentionally to the deeper issues which it brought up for her.
The mood lightened as discussion then turned to the variety of exciting adventures lucid dreaming can provide. In comparing goals for our next lucid dreams, flying (sans aircraft, of course) appeared to be the favored activity, but personal lists were extended to include new ideas such as hot tubs, massage and frolicking with dolphins. Novice lucid dreamers can attest to the frustration of waking unintentionally at the onset of lucidity. Having a pre-set goal, especially one which requires focused interaction between the dreambody and the scene or other characters, can have a stabilizing effect.
That afternoon, we took a look at the nature of Perception and the essential difference between waking and dreaming consciousness. As Stephen explained it, while awake, our brains rely primarily on sensory input and, to a somewhat lesser degree, past experience and motivation to form a model of our world. Because of biological evolution, this waking perception is very tightly constrained by the physical world. While dreaming, our brains become activated in order to keep the system running more easily (so we don't have to jump-start our brains every morning).
Some members of the group strongly objected to Stephen's suggestion that biological survival needs were the original source of dreaming in the human species. In fact, one member of the group, Ivan, made it his role to respond to almost everything Stephen said with "I disagree!" making for much spirited discussion. In any case, some found it unacceptable that such a cherished and beautiful aspect of ourselves was relegated to the position of a "mere" biological survival mechanism. Attempting to bridge the gap between the "hard, cold" reality of biological survival, verses the "soft, warm" reality of dream consciousness, one of our more philosophically inclined members suggested the following analogy: computers were originally developed by the defense department for military purposes but we can, if we choose, use them to create beautiful works of art.
Moving on to explain more about the difference between waking and dreaming consciousness, Stephen pointed out that, while sleeping we continue to model the world in the same way as when we are awake, with a major difference that, while sleeping, our physical bodies are virtually paralyzed to keep us from acting out our dreams. But while asleep, with no sensory input to contradict the model built by our dreaming minds, the dream world we envision is motivated solely by our past experience, desires and fears. Understanding this fact helps explain some of the bizarreness of dreams. We often get what we expect in dreams (gravity, for example) because that is our experience of the world, a recurrent part of our daily experience.
To help clarify these concepts and to demonstrate the fact that we're more likely to perceive the familiar than the unfamiliar, we engaged in a few auditory and visual exercises. The auditory exercise (a pre-recorded tape) surprised everyone by demonstrating that our perceptions of supposedly "objective" reality are actually highly subject to distortion from various internal factors such as expectations, attitudes and prejudices. After that shock to our egos, a series of optical, Escher-like illusions challenged us to shift visual focus in order to observe other possible interpretations.
During the afternoon break, a small band of NovaDreamer enthusiasts gathered beneath the trees in front of Casa Lucida to share their experiences of working with the induction device. Developed by Dr. LaBerge, the NovaDreamer uses infrared sensors, positioned above the dreamer's eyes in a comfortable sleep mask to detect the rapid eye movements that indicate dreaming. The device's microprocessor then delivers a cue in the form of pre-set patterns of light and sound. The cue (selected by the dreamer from a variety of possible combinations), enters the dream to encourage lucidity. Having worked with the NovaDreamer for a few years, I'm always fascinated to hear how other dreamers have incorporated the cue into their dreams. Meteor showers, fireflies or the twinkle of an eye are all suspect to those of us who work with this clever induction device. As we discussed adventures and cue setting preferences, a brilliant light suddenly caused me to squint. It was just the kind of light that might be a cue in disguise! In this case, however, a quick reality check determined it to be only the sun reflecting off the window of a passing car.
Later that evening we examined the bizarre sensations of Sleep Paralysis and Out of Body Experiences which fall within the spectrum of lucid dreaming adventures. Well prepared for anything the coming night would now offer, we ended with the compelling film Jacob's Ladder, which vividly portrays nightmares, daymares, and the thinning line between.
Sunday...in a small, cluttered shop, I discover a bowl of chocolate bears. Not the customary teddybear shapes, but presumably fashioned from some realistic, antique mold. I'm simply gazing at them when suddenly it dawns on me that this is a dream! (Chocolate dreams?) I'm so thrilled, I delightedly indulge in two of them without an ounce of caloric concern...
Amusing tales of missed cues and near lucidity highlighted the morning's dream sharing. One dreamer considered spinning when her dream began to fade, but was hindered by the huge skirt of her wedding gown. In my own dreams, I'd carried a pillow through a populated area until it grew bigger than the bed for which it was intended.
It was interesting to note how animated people became when they spoke of reaching lucidity in their dreams. One woman recounted a touching lucid dream cued by her deceased father, while another dreamer inspired us all with the two WILDs he'd experienced during his morning nap.
For the next session, Stephen suggested we select a nightmare to work with or at least a dream that hadn't ended to our liking. We sat awhile in silence, each privately reviewing our chosen dream. Then Stephen encouraged us to imagine becoming lucid in the dream and to invent an alternative ending. After some of the participants shared the new versions of their dreams, one of the women posed the very disturbing question: what if your dream monster isn't some bizarre-looking alien creature, but is actually based on a person from waking life?
What Stephen offered in response was somehow hauntingly familiar, as if it echoed my own inner voice. But hearing it anew and in this setting, I heard it differently. What struck me most was the idea that, over time, an image could take on something of its own life, but that such an image holds only the power with which we imbue it. I realized it would be tremendously beneficial if I could shift from my familiar emotional reaction of fear to curiosity and therefore have the courage to investigate whatever might exist beneath the image. I vowed to do so in my next dream encounter. [A few weeks after the workshop, I did indeed tear away the mask of my dream monster only to find it ripping like soft, moist clay and revealing nothing but a vast, dark void beneath.]
That afternoon, we took a stroll across the quiet Stanford campus (reminding each other to touch all the doorways we encountered) to tour the laboratory where the research for which the program was raising funds is done.
We shared a comfortable camaraderie as we gathered for the last supper of Lucid Dream Camp. Rachel had prepared yet another delicious and colorful feast. This one even included a side order reality check of attractively presented dog biscuits! Mealtimes were always boisterous and casual, a chance to carry on discussions inspired by the thought-provoking sessions, and, of course, an opportunity to give or get a star or two. One of the women, who had run out of room on her nametag, displayed a lovely constellation on her forehead.
In our final evening session, we turned our attention to the topic of transpersonal experiences. Stephen reminded us that the self perceived in most of our dreams is only part of the whole Self. One way to approach the mystical type of dream journey is to ask for the wiser or deeper self to be revealed, and to be open to whatever comes of this request. This can lead to profound and deeply moving experiences.
As a guest of honor, Dr. Fariba Bogzaran had joined us for the final evening's discussion. At Stephen's request, she agreed to tell us about her research on seeking the Divine through lucid dreaming. As she began to speak in her soft, melodic voice, I sensed something very odd was happening. I couldn't understand a single word she was saying (and I was sitting right next to her)! Across the room, heads tilted and several faces took on quizzical expressions. The room grew very quiet with the concentrated effort of trying to make sense of this situation. It suddenly dawned on us that Fariba was tweaking our sense of reality by speaking in Farsi! Ivan, in good humored self-parody, broke the general silence with -- "I disagree!" and everyone burst into laughter.
Fariba began again (in English) to describe how people's dream experiences of seeking the Divine were affected by their expectations and their methods of approach. Her study showed that those who envisioned the Divine in the form of a personified deity usually encountered a representation that matched their pre-conceived images. Others, who conceived a Divinity of a less personal nature, tended to dream accordingly. While those who actively "sought the highest" often found the god they expected, dreamers who adopted a more passive approach, "surrendering to Divine Will", had more unexpected results.
I feel very fortunate to have been a participant in Fariba's study. The dream I experienced years ago as a result of seeking the Divine still moves me deeply. Having become lucid, I had decided to fly up into the starry night to catch a glimpse of the moon. When I found myself floating in the midst of a vast, limitless darkness that was at the same time brilliant with countless stars, I became ecstatic. I hovered there hearing the "aliveness" of that place with my whole being. Then I began to move even further out into space until stars, planets and entire solar systems, spinning harmoniously, faded into the distance. Again I paused to appreciate the sense of eternal energy everywhere. It seemed a perfect setting to ask the question: May I know the meaning of the Universe? The answer came in a wholly unexpected form. Something began to emerge from the distant darkness. It looked like some kind of living molecular model or mathematical equation -- an extremely complex, three-dimensional network of fine lines and symbols glowing in neon orange. It continued to unfold itself, multiplying, constantly changing, filling up the Universe with increasingly complex structures and interrelationships until it literally went beyond me.
I awoke with wonder, excitement and delight, and a renewed and deep respect for the awe and splendor of the Universe. It was as if I had glimpsed the invisible relationships connecting all things -- the micro molecular level superimposed over the infinity of the Universe. This dream has led me to believe that in some way, I, too, am a unique and essential part of whatever is going on here -- the Divine is within as well as without.
Throughout the evening's presentation, the faint sound of Rachel's ethereal, dream-like singing drifted in from the kitchen -- a most fitting accompaniment to the evening's topic. Appropriately, the last night's featured film was Peter Weir's classic The Last Wave. On the surface, it appears to be about a lawyer who, while defending a group of aborigines, finds himself slipping into Dreamtime. Although I'd rented this movie several years ago, I had missed much of the symbolic undertones, which Stephen later pointed out for us. Still, it may take another viewing to appreciate it in its depth.
MondayAfter sharing our morning's dreams and personal reflections on the program, Stephen helped manifest a new ending to Shelli's earlier nightmare by presenting her with her very own Lucid Dreamer Diploma!
We said good-bye to new friends, promising to meet again, perhaps next summer or else in dreamland. With the workshop coming to a close, I felt time had flown. Devoting those few days to the focused intention of lucid dreaming had a revitalizing effect.
Stephen's thorough presentations and the stimulating, supportive atmosphere of Lucid Dream Camp had provided a perfect setting for refining skills and techniques and for further intensifying my insatiable desire for lucid dreaming.
There's a certain feeling that comes with waking from an especially wonderful dream. And the more profound that dream has been, the more I long to linger there, to embrace that feeling, to hold the fading images until they become forever etched in my memory. These were my thoughts as I reluctantly boarded the airplane which would transport me from the moving experience of the workshop back to the familiar routine of life at home.
I dawdled, letting other passengers go ahead, knowing that once I was back in Portland, the last few days would inevitably fade -- like a dream. After a final reality check, I handed over my ticket, and in passing, gave the doorway a light, nostalgic tap, and flew off into the sky.
About the Author
Keelin is a long-time friend and member of the Lucidity Institute. It doesn't take a precognitive dreamer to guess where she'll be next Summer... Lucid Dreaming Camp!
Last modified April 16, 2000.