When’s the last time you woke up on the wrong side of the bed?
It happens to all of us. Our day is dragging, and we can’t pinpoint any specific reason why, aside from having woken up feeling down.
Now think: When’s the last time you woke up from a nightmare? It’s even harder to wake up on the right side of the bed if you were, mere seconds ago, being chased through your elementary school by an angry purple bear.
Most people remember a dream every now and then, but the fact is we all dream four to six times every night. We spend the equivalent of one month out of every year dreaming. Yet, for the most part, we are in the dark about these nighttime experiences.
Getting in touch with our dream lives can be immensely beneficial.
Studies suggest we experience twice as many negative emotions as positive ones in our dreams, and these negative emotions we experience have real effects on our physiology. If you’ve ever woken from a nightmare shaking or short of breath, you know this already. We wake up each day already suffering from the sadness, anxiety or embarrassment endured during the night.
Continually putting our dreams on the back burner can prevent us from effectively dealing with inner conflicts. Whatever emotions or thoughts we are repressing will resurface again and again, both in dreams and waking life, until they finally get the conscious attention they need to heal.
By integrating our dream life and waking life together, we can learn to grow from our dream experiences instead of unknowingly suffering the consequences of our forgotten dreams.
Remembering our dreams is the first key step toward integrating these two sets of life experiences, and improving dream recall is a learnable skill. If you want to start remembering more dreams, one of the best ways to do so is by keeping a dream journal. Because most dreams are forgotten within minutes after waking, if you want to remember them it is imperative to write them down immediately.
Recalling at least one dream per night sets the stage for another technique that can more fully integrate your dream and waking lives: lucid dreaming.
The most basic definition of a lucid dream is an experience in which you realize you are dreaming without waking up. About 55 percent of the population has experienced a lucid dream at least once. But again, just like improving your dream-recall frequency, inducing lucid dreams is a learnable skill with a variety of different techniques.
By learning to lucid dream, you can resolve inner conflicts on the spot. Instead of running from or being victimized by your dream antagonists, you can ask them point-blank, “How can I help you?”
Treating nightmare figures humanely is an act of self-compassion, because in a lucid dream you realize everything around you is a projection of your own subconscious.
Even if your dreams aren’t particularly negative, developing a lucid dreaming practice can be immensely rewarding. Some lucid dreamers find their dreams to be a rich source of inspiration for creative problem-solving, and others use lucid dreams to practice skills or presentations.
With the ability to defy the laws of time and space, not to mention the zero-level risk, lucid dreams provide an excellent practice ground for waking life.
Some lucid dreamers have had phenomenal transcendental experiences by using their dreams to ponder existential puzzles. For instance, if you find a wise dream character, you could ask them to direct you and answer your questions.
When navigating a lucid dream, there is just one basic rule of thumb: Whatever you believe or expect to happen, will happen.
If you try to soar into the heavens but secretly doubt you can fly, you will not be able to lift off the ground. Conversely, if you want to summon Michael Jackson, all you have to do is convince yourself he’s in the next room over.
Lucid dreams provide a dynamic platform where you directly experience your assumptions about the world playing out right in front of you. When you can recognize how such assumptions shape your experience, you can learn to manipulate them. Your dream control skills will improve as you develop a greater sense of agency over your belief templates.
This, I contend, is the most major benefit of lucid dreaming. The point isn’t to sleep your life away, but rather to learn just how much your underlying beliefs and expectations affect your reality.
Live lucidly, and you’ll realize you can manipulate your daytime experiences just as much as your dreams.
Karen Konkoly, ’17, is a columnist for The Brown and White. She can be reached at [email protected].