I rode my bicycle down a rocky dirt path that switched back and forth across the undulating face of a cliff. Blue-green waves with brilliant caps broke far below. Rocks beneath the tires wrenched the handlebars, pulling me from one side of the narrow trail to the other. As I rounded a sharp bend, the rear wheel nearly skid over nothingness before I pulled it back. I’m not good on a bike and I’m afraid of heights but I held myself together and continued.
The next curve proved worse--both tires came to the very edge of the cliff, sending puffs of dirt down the side of the cliff. Yet I continued. On the next, the bike seemed to hang suspended over the abyss like the coyote in the cartoon, not realizing it should fall. Then, miraculously, I was back on the path.
That’s when I decided to put a stop to it. On the next turn, I let momentum carry me out over the water. The bike fell away while the air suspended me like a bird. Then I plunged toward the water. “Great!” I thought. “I’ve been wondering what it would be like to dream underwater.” It proved everything I imagined because it was my imagination. Of course I didn’t need to breath. Brilliantly colored fish came to me so I could pet them. I created a hammerhead shark and clung to its dorsal fin as it cruised through the clear waters.
This is lucid dreaming, defined as dreaming while knowing you’re dreaming.
The dream I described above could have been a nightmare. In real life, I am afraid of heights and the dream began with a wild ride on the edge of a cliff. Because I knew I was dreaming, I didn’t have any fear. The challenge of riding the bike consumed my attention at the beginning of the dream and when that proved more difficult than I cared for, I simply gave up, exchanging the cliff world for the marine world.
Controlling nightmares is one reason people learn to dream lucidly. In a lucid dream it is impossible, or at least irrational, to be frightened since you are aware that nothing is real. I can remember nightmares from when I was a child--in one I was being devoured by ants--but I haven’t had one in many years.
Aside from controlling nightmares, lucid dreams can help people overcome real-life anxieties and phobias. The dream setting often reflects the dreamer’s fears and concerns. I have no doubt my fear of heights would be worse if I did not periodically confront it in dreams.
On the internet I found several references to use of lucid dreams to confront the fear of public speaking. The dreamer practices speaking before an imaginary crowd and then feels more prepared to give the speech in real life. That sounds like a waste of a good dream to me. It would be more interesting if you combined another common tactic for overcoming this fear--imagining your audience naked.
According to the internet, lucid dreaming is a skill one can learn. The key is that when something happens that’s impossible--you fly, you meet someone who’s dead, all your teeth fall out--instead of just accepting, you have to realize that it’s an indication that you’re not in the real world. At this point, you may wake up, especially if you were having a nightmare. The trick is to stay asleep and to realize that everything in the dream is a product of your own mind which means you can control it.
I once tried to convince a character in a dream that we could do anything. To persuade him, I took off flying. The character wouldn’t follow me which goes to show that, even in dreams, you can’t control your own thoughts.
If you are interested in learning more, there are many books available on lucid dreaming, many of which provide techniques for learning to dream lucidly. These include at least two by Dr. Stephen Laberge who has done extensive research on the subject. You can also review the following internet sites: