December 4th, 2006

So, I totally struck out in my attempt to get a name for when you hear someone calling you but no one really is. Maybe that’s because it only happens to me. To redeem myself, I’m going to talk today about another thing that happens to me, but which I know is fairly common. That way I’ll seem like a reg’lar human bean.

At Thanksgiving we had some friends over, and the conversation turned to what unusual human ability you’d like to have (you know, like eidetic memory or perfect pitch). Not superpowers. Regular powers that aren’t that common. I talked about Danny, who is the only person I’ve ever met with the ability to know how much time has passed since he last looked at a clock. No, really. It’s kind of sideshow freakish, but also incredibly interesting. We briefly discussed whether perfect pitch is trainable or not.

Then one of the guys present told us he’d like the ability to lucid dream. Both women present were like “Pshaw, you can teach yourself to lucid dream. Anyone can do it.” Then the guy told us he wouldn’t know where to start, because his dream world is completely shut off from his waking world. He’s actually not the first guy I’ve met that has told me this. There’s several people I’ve known (mostly male) who have told me they cannot remember their dreams. At all. Ever. They say they trust that they dream because doctors say we all must or die, but that they themselves have no evidence or memory of ever doing so. Since I’ve got this hyperactive super-realistic dream life, I find that kind of train-wreck-fascinating/horrifying. Really? No connection to your dreams at all? How can that be?

So here’s my quick and dirty guide to lucid dreaming. First, you have to map the geography of your dreams a bit. You have to figure out the general rules of your dreamscape. Fortunately for you, there’s some archetypes, and where there’s not archetypes you’ll recognize patterns of your own. I dream about houses and buildings a lot, for example, often with intricate and detailed architectures. (It’s so prevalent that sometimes I think there’s a me in another universe who is an architect, and all that’s left of her in this universe is those crazy elaborate houses in my dreams.) It helps, starting out, to remember your dreams. The way to remember your dreams is this : tell yourself before you fall asleep that you will remember your dreams. Yeah, that simple. I’m dead serious. Repeat to yourself, say, seven to ten times (or you know, if you have a super secret special number that’s the charm or your lucky number or whatever, that many times), “I will remember my dreams.” I hardly ever do this anymore, what with my dreams busting out all over the place, but in the beginning, it helps. Once this works, you can help the process along a bit by jotting your dreams down when you wake. Second, find the triggers. There are things happening in your dreams that cannot happen in waking life. When you learn to recognize the impossibilities, you can acknowledge them, and say to yourself “Hey, this can’t happen, therefore, I’m dreaming.” For me the written word is a good trigger (and this will be the case for a lot of people, it’s kind of archetypal) because nothing I read remains the same twice in a dream. So if there are signs, or I have a book, or I’ve written something down, or I see a computer screen, that’s a potential opportunity for me to notice I’m dreaming. All I have to do is read a line of text twice and see if it’s the same. Other triggers can be point of view shifts. The dream director loves futzing around with POV. Are you playing two characters in your dream? Did you just replay the scene, watching yourself from the outside? Did you just replay the same scene twice to a different outcome? None of that can happen. You’re dreaming. Anyway, find your triggers, tell yourself you’re dreaming. Ok, so now you know you’re dreaming. Try directing it. Walk away from the action, or manufacture something you’d find handy. Pull a Mary Poppins. Whatever you’d like. See how easy? Lucid dreaming. I actually do very minimal dream direction. I prefer to ride along and see where I’m going. The only time I ever try to direct my dreams is when they are unpleasant. Usually, I just try to wake myself up. My friend, the other lucid dreamer at our Thanksgiving gathering, says she has a mental remote, and she changes the dream channel until she finds one she likes. I actually think that’s a better strategy, and may try that next time, because I’ve not had good results trying to wake myself from a dream.

Which brings me to sleep paralysis. When I’ve had dreams that are terrible enough that I want to wake up from them, I tell myself to wake up, and that all I have to do in order to wake up is open my eyes. But I find I can’t. My eyes are sealed shut or I can’t control them. This feeling is often worse than the original dream was, by the way. There’s no panic quite like knowing you’re asleep but not being able to do anything about it. I believe my inability to wake myself up is due to sleep paralysis. I’m still dreaming, so my muscles are paralyzed and I can’t use them as I normally would. Sometime I tell myself to shake an arm or a leg instead, and wake myself up that way. That rarely works, either. Sometimes my brain tries to fool me into thinking it worked (because I can be tenacious, screaming at myself to “Wake up, wake up wake up!” or “Open your eyes! Open your eyes! Open your eyes!” and I think my subconscious finds it hard to take care of business with all that noise) by starting a dream where I’ve just woken up in my bedroom, but soon I realize (something’s not right) that this is a dream too. Once or twice I’ve “woken myself up” like three times in a row, rising a little closer to waking with each level, before finally truly opening my eyes.

I know this can’t be that extraordinary a phenomenon. After all, it’s got a label. Tell me about your sleep paralysis experiences, won’t you?

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