Lucid Dreaming

by Belle Waring on December 20, 2011

Ever since I was very young I have been able to recognize that I was dreaming (not always). The first time was awful and thus memorable: I dreamed that robbers had driven down our driveway and shot my mother and father and brother and me with shotguns. And our dog. I was in terrible pain, full of buckshot and slick with blood, but I realized that I couldn’t die, in my own dream. So I thought I would go scare the robbers, that they would think I was a ghost and maybe I could call 911, maybe my family hadn’t bled out in the yard under the big oak tree. But when I came in they laughed and said some of the worst words I have ever heard, then or since: “this is your dream. We can kill you as many times as we like.

Since then I have developed the ability to wake myself up if the dream is so awful that I can’t bear it. But since I never had anything but nightmares for years and years, with the odd exception, shit has to get pretty rough before I can pull the ripcord and sit up in bed, panting. Oddly for a person my age, I have done Freudian analysis, 3x a week on the couch just like a New Yorker cartoon, for a whole year. The goal was that I stop having nightmares. The therapy was very successful. For a time I had no nightmares at all. Even now they are scattered and few compared to my earlier life. My sister’s experience is the same, and our evening kiss good-night was always followed my the ultimate benediction: “don’t dream!”

I do have certain powers in the dream. Sometimes I can fly, obviously, exercising the muscle you know instinctively how to use. True success in this realm is intoxicating, one of the superior pleasures of life. At other times I am merely leaping, slowly, away from my pursuers, never getting fully off the ground. One thing I can do is, I can always find a weapon. I am trapped in the house, killers outside; once I realize it’s a dream I can say, I’m going into the next room and there is going to be a gun in the desk drawer. There will be a loaded gun in the desk drawer. My sister has the same power. At the very least there will be an axe, a big sharp one.

Here’s the thing, I was talking about dreams with my older daughter, and before I mentioned it, she said “I can always find a weapon.” What? There’s no gene for “can always find a weapon in my dream”?! I never talked to her about it! I must have talked to someone else and she heard it? I…really don’t know about that.

Sometimes I can achieve full control of all aspects of the dream. Flying, yes, I remember fondly standing on a dull, scuffed metal platform floating in an infinitely vast open area between two layers of cloud on an orange gas giant and just…swan-diving off. Free fall for maybe a full minute and then I exercised the muscle that is always there and flew like an arrow between the two marbled cloud layers, the platform receding behind me unneeded; I knew there was another ahead, far, far ahead. I didn’t care how far. Infinitely complex whorls in the orange clouds, true flight, the flat horizon of the massive world. My high school boyfriend woke me up. I could have killed him.

That’s the exception for true lucid dreaming. I think you can imagine what actually happens when you gain total control of the dream; it’s like the holodeck on Star Trek–cleaning that thing would be a bitch. You can have sex with anyone you want! Some people allege you can get beyond this stage and do…I don’t know what, something spiritual, apparently. It’s rare enough that I gain total control that I must say I’m satisfied with the less spiritual angle. In discussions about it my husband always mentions Riker at this point, and the concept of Riker having sex makes my ovaries crawl up inside me to get away. Any other lucid dreamers in the Crookedtariat?



Jawbone 12.20.11 at 9:13 am

It is cool that you are American and your dreams involve guns. I grew up in Warsaw, and my dream are more about clubs and guard-dogs. Sad, I know, but one way Americans are better for sure–more freedoms that way to control personal destiny.


Belle Waring 12.20.11 at 9:16 am

I’ve even dreamed about suitcase nukes! But it wasn’t positive since it ended in the destruction of the world. I got to see it go up in lurid mushroom clouds. I fired guns a lot as a child, target practice on the beer cans on the fence. So it seemed like a good thing to find. In a pinch: a chainsaw.


Guido Nius 12.20.11 at 9:25 am

I think you should go for game design.


Phil 12.20.11 at 9:48 am

Damn, first comment eaten (weird thing, though – I don’t remember ever pressing command -W by accident before). What was I saying…

our evening kiss good-night was always followed my the ultimate benediction: “don’t dream!”

My Dad used to say “goodnight, sweet dreams” until I told him I’d rather have no dreams; from then on it was “goodnight, no dreams”. It must have seemed a bit odd to him, but I’ll never know – one of the many things I never got round to asking him about. It wasn’t about nightmares, though. I was freaked out by the thought that I was going to have all these seemingly-real experiences which I had no way of predicting, and some (most?) of which I wouldn’t even remember – like somebody borrowing my brain overnight, or rather like my brain borrowing itself back from me. (Yes, there’s an XKCD for that.)

I’ve flown, of course; every time it happens I think to myself in-dream, that’s how you do it! of course! I must remember this time!. No lucid dreams, though.

At the risk of giving my own unconscious ideas, your nightmares sound worse than anything I’ve ever experienced – glad to hear the therapy helped. Lately I’ve been getting a weird kind of retrospective nightmare, experiencing scenarios that seem fine in-dream but freak me out when I wake up. A couple of weeks ago I “was” a member of an IRA unit in charge of disposing of the bodies of people who had been ‘disappeared’. I remember the sunlight shining on black plastic wrappings and parcel tape, and grim jokes about “peatbog faeries” (which I guess is some sort of unconscious pun on “bog mummies”, wherever that leads). Then the alarm went and it was hey ho, back to reality.


Khan 12.20.11 at 10:00 am

I rarely have true lucid dreams, but I do have recurring themes that confuse dream with reality. I wake up and think, “Wow, did I really just dream about levitating again?” But, the next night, I dream “Well, of course I can levitate; I only dreamed that I can’t!” Naturally, in the dream, I try to extend this ability into true flight by levitating off a cliff or tall building — which, without fail, ends in a Wile-E-Coyote fall and a startled awakening.


Belle Waring 12.20.11 at 10:26 am

Worst dream ever was being raped up against a wall by a zombie, and I could smell all the formaldehyde and feel the slick surface that the cheap suit they buried him in acquired after a year in the ground. Hands down worst.
Sometimes I have awesome space opera dreams: I dreamed I was in this vast (I mean, moon-sized maybe) ship, in this massive hall, and the huge doors to the left and right led to recreations of the various eras on earth. I went into the pre-Cambrian and just shuddered with disgust: no plants and just a shallow sea full of monsters and spiny abominations. I hate the pre-Cambrian. There were thousands of people on the ship, in hibernation, but the AI had screwed up, it never awakened them. I turned on all the machines and got them all out, pouring into this central area in excitement that they had arrived at their destination. I had a difficult time convincing them things had gone wrong; finally I just took the leaders and a number of people into this huge hall with a giant window at the end, a rectangle with the edges rounded off, all slick white plastic (the whole ship interior was), the height of a 20-story building, and just showed them what was out there: the wrong stars. Nothing familiar. A plume of dust and an embroidery of brilliant stars on blackness: wrong wrong wrong. We all just stood there. The End


rea 12.20.11 at 11:14 am

I have developed the ability to wake myself up if the dream is so awful that I can’t bear it.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on this topic, but my undertanding is that you don’t usually remember dreams unless you wake up during REM sleep. Your seeming ability to interrupt bad dreams by waking up might therefore be misleading–you’re simply remembering the bad dreams because you awakened during them, while forgetting the ones during which you did not awake.


rea 12.20.11 at 11:25 am

Most of my dreams tend to be so incoherent as to be indescribable–very lucid dreams like those described above tend to be a rarity for me, and to be essentially three dreams repeated: (1) the law school exam anxiety dream, (2) the hack-my-father-to death-with -a-carving-knife dream, and (3) the Calvin Coolidge in a warbonnet meets Queen Victoria and King Leopold dream. I can understand the reasons for the first two, but the third leaves me baffled, although the famous photo of Coolidge in a warbonnet evidently made a deep impression on me at some point.


Belle Waring 12.20.11 at 11:50 am

rea: I don’t know; it is a very particular sensation and sometimes the dream killers taunt me that I can’t do it. I remember when one of them put this huge glass shard in my forearm, and I was cutting my other hand pulling out this smooth bloody destruction and I felt very smug; he had fucked up and made it too bad; I woke up.


Belle Waring 12.20.11 at 11:51 am

“the Calvin Coolidge in a warbonnet meets Queen Victoria and King Leopold dream.” OK but this is hilarious. Does anything…happen?


Russell Arben Fox 12.20.11 at 12:03 pm

I’m a fairly lucid dreamer, and often a fully aware one as well–it’s not all uncommon for “me” (I suppose it’s me speaking, though in what kind of unconscious capacity I have no idea) to all of a sudden stop the action of my dreams with a voice coming out of nowhere and dryly observing “this is unrealistic; you realize it’s a dream, don’t you?”, immediately after which I wake up. (Usually with a headache, but that’s another issue.) I think I very rarely have dreams of sex or violence, though. I can remember one dream from my childhood, probably over 35 years ago, where I was with my father in one of his feed trucks while he was doing a delivery, and we drove off the road and crashed into a cliff, from which emerged snakes that came through the broken windshield and into the cab. But mostly, the dreams I remember–and can wake myself up from–are dreams of domestic farce, embarrassment, or tragedy: my wife is leaving me, my parents are lost and alone in a snowstorm, I lose all my hair, the house burns down, one of our daughters has promised her teacher than the President of the United States will visit their classroom and we’ll have to pay a fine or go to prison if it turns out she lied, I have to give a presentation at work but the laptop has been eaten by termites, we left the garage door open and someone is stealing all our bikes, I missed an appointment at church, etc., etc. Ever since I was a little kid I’d find myself in the midst of these dreams, getting hysterical, and then the voice would come and I’d wake up. Sometimes, the waking up would be sudden enough that it’ll take myself a little while to convince myself that it wasn’t actually happening, like getting up to check the garage door or something.


rea 12.20.11 at 12:08 pm

Does anything…happen?

They shake hands.


Belle Waring 12.20.11 at 12:15 pm

I have regular dreams too, like it’s the math exam and I haven’t been to any of the classes, that kind of thing, I can’t find some crucial thing, I have to protect kittens or babies and they get smaller and smaller till I lose them in the folds of the sheets.


guthrie 12.20.11 at 12:15 pm

I don’t lucid dream but have been waking up during dreaming since childhood. So far I’ve filled 2 or 3 notepads with notes of some of the dreams, usually the more coherent ones or those that I remember a few hours later.
What amazes me is the quality of creation in my dreams. Clearly Belle has a very good imagination as well, that fills in so many bits of story and a full sensory experience – I understand that many people don’t have a sense of smell or touch or suchlike in their dreams.

One of my personal hates in dreams is vampires, and it has taken a few years for me to be strong enough in the dreams to fight them rather than run away in fear. I am rather jealous of your flying ability though, mine is more restricted, often more like a directed sort of floating with a height limit. Perhaps because beyond a certain distance my dream gets fuzzy, so if I go too high I won’t know where i am. In bad dreams this sense of limitations extends to the area I am in, so that I feel trapped in a small place, a wordlet that has little reality of its own.


Duff Clarity 12.20.11 at 12:47 pm

I’ve had lucid dreams since I was a kid. I had dreams about falling often enough that I began to realize during the dream that there was a good chance it was another dream. During one of them I decided that if it was a dream I could just stick my hand out and catch myself. That worked. The next time I decided to let myself hit the ground.

There was no ground, just falling that eventually turned into weightlessness. After that, whenever I realized I was dreaming I would jump up into the air, dive head first through the floor, and experience the same thing.

Once I realize I’m dreaming, I can set the scene to be anything I want. The only catch is that if I think about waking up, I’ll wake up. I can’t tell myself not to think about waking up because that is thinking about waking up. It’s like not thinking about pink elephants.

A lucid dreamer is the creator of their universe for the precise length of time they can go without thinking about a pink elephant.

When I’m having nightmares and realize I am dreaming, I often decide to just let the nightmare continue. There’s never any physical pain and it’s not real, so why be afraid? If I could feel that way when I was awake, I would be enlightened.


Antonio Conselheiro 12.20.11 at 12:52 pm

My dreams are pretty boring (late for class with no pants on) but I have experienced dreams within dreams, when I knew I was dreaming and woke myself up, but woke up into a different dream and had to wake myself up again. Also a serial dream which I re-entered the second night.


tomslee 12.20.11 at 12:54 pm

I have to protect kittens or babies and they get smaller and smaller till I lose them in the folds of the sheets

Look on the bright side. At least your arms aren’t convulsing, thrashing about to avoid dropping your baby sister/child from the palm of your hand onto the hard stone floor.


Belle Waring 12.20.11 at 1:14 pm

My flight powers are not constantly awesome, they are often directed floating, as you say. I find it weird that anyone would stay in a nightmare. I find there is actual, agonizing pain. Do people really not experience pain in nightmares? tomslee, I have a similar problem, or trying to hold them up when I’m in neck-high surf.


Patrick S. O'Donnell 12.20.11 at 1:35 pm

I’ve long had lucid dreams in which I can stop action that is frightening or disturbing and, at 55 years, have finally taken a deeper interest in the specific content of my dreams. That interest (in conjunction with my pre-existing fondness for Freudian and post-Freudian psychology) has also prompted me to explore the literature in psychology and philosophy (including worldviews like Buddhism, which speak to lucid dreaming) on dreams and toward that end I’ve begun to assemble a reading list on the subject. I welcome suggestions for titles (books only, in English) should anyone care to contribute. When the list is complete, I’ll post it at Ratio Juris and ReligiousLeftLaw.


Matt McIrvin 12.20.11 at 1:36 pm

I’ve had some lucid dreams. Not so many lately as when I was younger. The dream tends to fall apart rapidly once I achieve lucidity; I’ve had a few spectacular flying episodes when this wasn’t the case.

My dreams usually have very little violence in them, but lots of standard embarrassment/frustration episodes; lots of academic anxiety left over from decades ago. I used to have dropping-the-baby dreams but for some reason didn’t have them once I had an actual baby.

I’ve had a fair number of job- and computer-related dreams; one of the most mundane frustration scenarios is being unable to type a password correctly over dozens of iterations.

For a while, I had recurring dreams of trying to debug various objects via a serial cable and gdb/DDD. Once I was debugging my cat, Niobe, trying to correct some obnoxious behavior. Another time, I was debugging my own brain. I’d remember that the human brain was not a von-Neumann-architecture computer and could not be debugged in this way, then I’d decide that my delusion that my brain could be debugged was the bug I was trying to fix and keep on single-stepping in the debugger to try to fix it.


Cosma Shalizi 12.20.11 at 1:48 pm

18: I can’t recall pain in nightmares; just humiliation, anxiety, and, fear.


Cosma Shalizi 12.20.11 at 1:50 pm

Once I was debugging my cat, Niobe, trying to correct some obnoxious behavior.

And then you realized the bug was a cat’s idea of a feature and you woke up?


guthrie 12.20.11 at 1:55 pm

yay, dreams within dreams! I recall one or two from school where I woke up in my dream and was late, and obviously feeling stressed about it, then woke up and found it was my normal getting up time.

I’ve actually found that my incidence rate of unpleasant dreams has decreased since becoming an adult and more self aware. Obviously low self esteem and some bullying when I was a teenager wasn’t a good start, but as an adult the fears just stopped appearing in my dreams, and anyway I woke up from nightmares.

There was one though that wasn’t quite a nightmare but was really weird. I was in the usual sort of old stone building (I am British and visit such places for fun) and noticed a doorway open which hadn’t been before. Beyond it was some futuristic sort of bar with sort of beautiful, special and odd people hanging around at it, and a floating bar. So I go in, being rather curious, and float myself up to the bar. Someone treats me like a regular because I got into the place and can float, then someone says I’m an intruder. The first two people to try to manhandle me are unable to do so, I’m stronger than they are in psychic controlling your reality terms. I back off towards the exit, only for someone to sneak up and stab me with a sword, and I know they can’t really stab me, metnally try to block it, but somehow they do, and I woke up then in frustration.
It felt like I was being kicked out of a special club. Bastards. Or maybe that was a special place in the dreamworld that I wasn’t supposed to be in…

I don’t feel that there is anything special about the content of my dreams though. It is usually obvious when something is stressing me out, and other contents such as dreaming of school are clearly based on older memories from nearly 20 years ago. I find it usually takes a certain amount of time before a location appears in my dreams. For instance I’ve lived for 10 months in London, but cannot recall a dream based there. It took over a year before I started dreaming about my last place of work. What is weird is when I dreamt that I was back there again, knew I wasn’t employed there, but yet had to be there for some reason and avoid being seen by certain managers.

Finally on the lucid dreaming front, there is/ was someone called Celia Green who was some sort of enfant terrible at Cambridge or such back in te 60’s, who became convinced lucid dreams were possibly related to physchic matters, but was infuriated at the impossibility of getting taken seriously or finding research funding. Nevertheless she and a collaborator wrote a book or two. Reading one was how I found out what lucid dreaming was in the first place, even although I don’t take the psychic stuff seriously at all.


straightwood 12.20.11 at 2:19 pm

Add to the great heap of injustice the inexplicable quality variation in dreams. Belle’s lurid lucid dreams have excellent production values and Hollywood-scale imaginative budgets, while many of us make do with short fuzzy, repetitive, compulsive reruns resembling old black-and-white TV commercials. However terrible your dreams, they may well be the envy of those with an impoverished dream life.


Xerographica 12.20.11 at 2:25 pm

When I was kid I remember having a bad nightmare…but during the nightmare I somehow became self-aware enough to ask myself why I would want to subject myself to a nightmare. Since then I haven’t had any nightmares. I guess that the realization/lesson was so powerful that it just stuck.

The realization doesn’t save me from a high anxiety, reoccurring dream where I’m back in the military…quickly trying to pack way too much stuff into one duffle bag…and worrying whether I was going to make my flight.

My lucid dreams are unfortunately infrequent though. When I do become lucid during a dream I have to try and focus on only being a back-seat driver. If I try and exert too much conscious control over the dream then I just wake myself up. In other words…the sex is kind of…well…a bit bizarre…even for me :D


Alex 12.20.11 at 2:34 pm

Belle’s lurid lucid dreams have excellent production values and Hollywood-scale imaginative budgets, while many of us make do with short fuzzy, repetitive, compulsive reruns resembling old black-and-white TV commercials.

? Surely you’re just a punk, Brechtian lo-fi dreamer who rejects all this kitsch illusionism?


Belle Waring 12.20.11 at 2:44 pm

Xerographica–that’s an awesome nightmare victory. You bastard.
I also have dreams within dreams. The funniest is if I have a dream, wake up, describe the whole thing to my mom, we have a laugh about it, then I wake up for real. Or into one more dream! Never more than 3 levels, though. Yeah, my husband sometimes complains about the high budget Bruckheimer-esque space operas and stuff I get; he’s apparently operating with a low indie budget. He doesn’t remember them much, though.


Belle Waring 12.20.11 at 2:47 pm

Xerographica: I hear you on the bizarre sex thing. Total control will wake me up.


Khan 12.20.11 at 2:48 pm

Reading this thread has made me realize: With the exception of an occasional surprise dream-fall, I haven’t had nightmares featuring pain, humiliation, anxiety, or fear since I was a kid. The lack of dream-humiliation is distinctly odd, since when awake I’m very self-conscious and afraid of embarrassing myself.

The closest thing I have to a nightmare is a recurring dream of physical infirmity (requiring all the strength in my arms just to lean against a railing without collapsing, etc), which only happens when I’m depressed or highly stressed. The runner-up is another recurring dream where I’m some kind “double-oh” agent in a Bond-esque film, constantly (e.g.) jumping off bridges just before the explosives go off. I don’t experience much fear, though — mostly exhilaration.


Mr.Violet 12.20.11 at 2:48 pm

It seems you’re having a lot of fun with your dreams!
Having a holodeck and even not having to pay for it sounds fantastic!


Jacob T. Levy 12.20.11 at 2:53 pm

[keanu] Whoa.[/keanu]


Jacob T. Levy 12.20.11 at 2:57 pm

I have an oddity that strikes me as almost the opposite of lucid dreaming. I will often wake up with a “memory” from a dream lodged in my brain like a real memory, some new fact about the world that I will believe to be true until I consciously look at it and say it out loud. And, for good or for bad, it will affect my mood until I do so. I can spend half a day half-consciously mourning someone who is alive and well but who died in my dream.

And I worry that there are pieces I never notice and dislodge. Our brains have to be filled with– hundreds of thousands? millions? more?– of small-fact memories that we don’t think about on a daily basis. I worry that some share of those in my head are dream detritus.


Belle Waring 12.20.11 at 3:18 pm

I often feel affected by a dream all day but it’s usually because I was tortured horribly, so I just feel gross. Fucking dream adversaries, what’s their beef? I have an immune system problem in which it attacks my own body instead of viruses and the like; I think it’s just the war of all against all in there.


Phil 12.20.11 at 3:26 pm

Do people really not experience pain in nightmares?

Never. Fear of pain, but never the sensation itself – I think it would wake me up. On the other hand, I think it works for pleasurable dreams too – I experience excitement and pleasurable anticipation, but never actual pleasure. When I was in my teens and experienced this kind of thing (IYKWIM) more often, I used to resent this bitterly – I would have enjoyed that if I’d woken up a bit earlier!


niamh 12.20.11 at 3:45 pm

See this –
Even better – which is more real, 2006 or 1973? –


Katya 12.20.11 at 3:50 pm

I can replay my scary dreams with a better ending. Example: the bad guys are in the house looking for me, and they find me. I replay it–they are looking for me, but they can’t find me because I have an awesome hiding place, or there are tunnels in the walls, or I get out through a window, or I trick them into thinking I left, or I find a gun and defend myself. Sometimes I replay it several times, trying out different outcomes.


Belle Waring 12.20.11 at 4:07 pm

Phil: Wait, didn’t you enjoy it in the dream? That’s usually my experience, although I tend to wake up…right at the moment, if you will.


guthrie 12.20.11 at 4:35 pm

Katya – that’s virtually a superhuman power!


Sebastian 12.20.11 at 5:04 pm

When I was about 17, and just about to come out of the closet, I had horrible nightmares about Nazi-like thugs chasing me and chasing me and then stomping me to death. And then after I died, the whole thing would begin again and I would realize it was a dream but be unable to wake up. I would also have falling dreams where I’d fall and fall and then die painfully on impact only to start falling again. Normally those would last about 5-6 iterations before I’d wake up with so much adrenaline pumping that I couldn’t go back to sleep for hours. It wasn’t until many years later that I could wake up from a dream like that as soon as I realized it was a dream.

Also, and I understand that this is very weird, I rarely can see anything in my dreams. But it isn’t an absence that is important. I still experience a whole range of things (from good to bad) I just experience them completely non-visually. I’m not even really sure how to describe what it is like. I can experience interacting with people or things, and have that perfect dream knowledge about what is going on, but I don’t ‘see’ anything (or think that not seeing it is weird). My pop-psychology chalks it up to having horrifically bad eyesight as a child–so bad that when I got glasses at five I said “Trees have leaves even across the street”.


G. Mcthornbody 12.20.11 at 5:07 pm

I rarely if ever have lucid dreams, but I’ve had a few. The first and most amazing one was a dream wherein I took a nap. Yes, it sounds stupid. Don’t knock it till you try it though! I felt that I made it last forever and when I woke up I felt amazing for weeks because the feeling was so new. My second favorite dream occurred while I was in college and I dreamed I was writing an essay for my English class. I woke up, wrote it all down, and got an A. I think the paper was on Benito Cereno, but it’s been so long I don’t remember at this point. Easiest homework I ever did!

Sorry to hear about all the bad dreams. I can’t imagine how unsatisfying that must make sleeping. I haven’t had a bad dream in 20 years, even though I watch plenty of things people consider disturbing or scary.


cheem 12.20.11 at 5:18 pm

Many of my dreams have a disturbingly physical component. For example, when I dream I’m falling, I have to wake up or I’ll fall out of bed sometimes I’ll realize that I can fly; sometimes I’ll wake up, be conscious, but unable to stop myself from twitching out of bed anyway. I remember once dreaming that I was going to the bathroom and wetting the bed when I was a child. Haven’t done that since, but it’s a kind of fear that lingers in the back of my head when I think about dreaming.


Jim Buck 12.20.11 at 6:54 pm

I always play the get out of a dream free card when collared by REM-thugs. It takes enormous effort though–like a sardine trying to rise from 40 fathoms. When I do make it back to my inner-city pillow, it’s with ephemeral fronds of the abyss trailing behind me. The glamour quickly wears of though as I settle back to sleep in safe old Sharrow.


John B 12.20.11 at 7:22 pm

Is there a word for dreams that, though not necessarily freakishly horrible themselves, become terrifying when you awaken and slowly realize they are true? For example, I once read an account of 19th century mill workers that described children whose hands moved while they slept with the same motions they needed to operate their machines. I find such dreams worse than baroque nightmares because I never really wake up.


lemmy caution 12.20.11 at 7:23 pm

My dreams suck. No nightmares, but nothing ever goes right. I want to do X and I am somehow improbably stopped from doing X.

Apparently Nietzsche was a lucid dreamer which is why The Birth of Tragedy lists dreams under the Apollonian. This kind of tilting of the “real’ into the Dionysian resulted in Kathryn Bigelow adding a night surfing scene to 1991’s “point break”. Surfing is Dionysian and all, but surfing at night is just stupid.


Pamela 12.20.11 at 7:35 pm

I’ve done a lot of reading about dreams and written them down for years. Along with therapy though mostly through garden variety counselling. Even with all the dreaming I’ve done I’ve only really had one lucid dream about my parents a few months after they both had died. When I was deeply involved with my dreams a few years ago I often wondered why I couldn’t seem to have lucid dreams. I came to the conclusion that as a control freak in waking life the dreams were one of the few places where I had no control. It was a relief actually not to have lucid dreams.


Lee A. Arnold 12.20.11 at 7:40 pm

I have lucid dreams but rarely, although I experienced a long run of them in the late 1970’s when I began practicing meditation. There was a book called Lucid Dreaming which claimed to teach how to make them occur, by concentrating upon it during the daytime and so on, and I think it may have helped. A quick look at Amazon shows such books are still around. There have been a few Eastern mystics who claimed lucid dreams to be part of the path to enlightenment. (They didn’t call them “lucid dreams”, but from the description, it is obvious.) I never got to the stage of directing the dream, though, I just became aware that I was dreaming. It was mostly enjoyable, but not always.

One time for a few years I had the same dream over and over every night, a geodesic architectural structure that I couldn’t get out of (wouldn’t you know — just click my name) and I didn’t want to go to sleep and keep having the same dream. It was a horrible period.

I don’t always remember my dreams. Sometimes I think I do not dream.

I have also had precognitive dreams, almost always of rather insignificant events. Then the real events happen a few days or weeks later, and I will think, oh, I dreamed that three days ago, or oh, I dreamed that about a week and a half ago. It is not the same experience as sudden “deja vu”, which has been given the explanation that you are having a memory before the real observation, because of a momentary glitch in the brain (which itself is a rather “scientistic” explanation, insofar as there is no established evidence). My precognition is usually something like an unusual color pattern in fabric, or a prose passage in a book that I have not read before, and then I remember its occurrence in a dream, and I can say how many nights ago I had the dream. And a weirder thing is: when I tell people about it, it seems to occur less. So now it probably won’t happen for a while! No matter, it is usually insignificant stuff, I think. But it has led me to the conviction that Time partly does not exist. Or rather I should write: time obviously exists, we live and change and die, but we are only PARTLY within time. On this, perhaps, modern physicists may concur.


Substance McGravitas 12.20.11 at 7:57 pm

I’m pretty conscious in my dreams and although I don’t have magical control over the environment, I get to do pretty much what I like. I used to have nightmares fairly regularly, but as I read more about lucid dreaming I started trying to fight back and it worked. As I am Canadian, the successful dream involved turning the tables on the bad guy with an axe resulting in a lotta blood on snow. Yay!

I can still get nightmares depending on my sleep position; that which induces nightmares seems to go with sleeping on my back and probably has something to do with poorer breathing or snoring. So every once in a while when I feel like a nightmare would be an exciting thing I sleep in the position that brings them on and off I go.


Jim Harrison 12.20.11 at 8:09 pm

My dreams often involve jokes, typically very bad jokes. I once had dream in which I flew all the way to a big auditorium in L.A. where I had to give a speech, which began, of course, “I just flew in from San Francisco, and boy are my arms tired.” That one woke me up.

The most despotic of the dreams was one in which everybody I me asked me the same question, “Why did the invisible man stop using condoms?” People would stop me on the street, phone me on my cell, send me e-mails, all with the same question. This went on for what seemed like hours until I finally turned the question around and asked a rather stupid looking teenaged boy, “OK, why did the invisible man stop using condoms?” “He wanted to become apparent.”


rea 12.20.11 at 9:04 pm

I dreamed I was writing an essay for my English class. I woke up, wrote it all down, and got an A.

Good thing you weren’t interrupted by a Person from Porlock . . .


The Colonel 12.20.11 at 9:08 pm

I never had a lucid dream until I tried to have one. Some of you might find it interesting that you can in fact learn to lucid dream. I don’t remember the title of the book, but I remember that it is by a guy name Stephen LaBerge. He teaches you first how to have lucid dreams and then teaches you how to control them better. It takes a little bit of work and time but the pay off is great!

I don’t lucid dream much now but a couple years back I was really into it and I had a lot of fun. I’ve flown around with my friends through clouds and through the stars. I’ve watched castles build themselves out of ocean waves then solidify into a shiny granite like material. I’ve enjoyed the…company… of woman that I will never actually have the pleasure to even meet. I’ve had conversations with Henry David Thoreau, Hemingway, James Joyce, Joanna Newsom, Michael Jackson and God. You really can to learn to control these dreams better and pretty much induce them any night you want. I’m not trying to advertise for LaBerge or anything I’m sure you can find guides on the internet.

Some interesting facts I learned that you may or may not know: You dream every night as you are in REM sleep. REM stands for rapid eye movement and is called so because the movement of your eyes while you are sleeping (duh), but more interestingly those motions your eyes are making are the same movement your eyes are making in your dream! Your natural physiology is such that you will forget dreams very soon after you wake up, but you can train your mind to stop doing this by writing down your dreams as soon as you wake up (this is actually the first step to controlling lucid dreams: dream recall).

Anyway I thought some of you would enjoy that information. Lucid dreaming really is a lot of fun and can actually help with your life in general in all sorts of ways, psychologically, emotionally and it can even help your performance in certain tasks like sports or music (a lot of professional athletes and classical musicians use lucid dreaming to perfect their trade. If the mind repeatedly performs some action perfectly the mind will be more likely to perform the actions correctly in real life.) You guys should look into controlling your dreams! It’s fun!


CJColucci 12.20.11 at 9:30 pm

Belle @37: Same thing happens to me with any sexually arousing dream. There’s probably a boring physiological explanation for why I wake up just as it’s getting good.

More Freudian, perhaps, I frequently have dreams in which I have a pistol and am facing down some threat. I pull the trigger, and keep pulling the trigger, and the gun won’t fire. I would ordinarily suspect that the dream has some connection with my inability to sire children, but I had this same dream before I knew about that.


Phil 12.20.11 at 10:06 pm

didn’t you enjoy it in the dream?

Not sure how I can answer that without getting unpleasantly specific, but I’ll try. I’m talking male anatomy here, & two quite different physical functions happening in the same area. Basically I woke up, after a dream of excitement & pleasurable anticipation but no physical pleasure, under the impression that, um, function A was taking place – and by the time I realised what was going on I’d missed out on experiencing, er, function B.

every once in a while when I feel like a nightmare would be an exciting thing

Say what? The mundane stress dreams I still get are bad enough; the nightmares I don’t get any more… well, I’m profoundly glad I don’t get them any more.

My very worst nightmares, incidentally, were entirely intellectual: I used to call them “number nightmares”. They took place on some plane where numbers were real and tangible – not tangible like big three-dimensional 7s and 6s, the numbers were real. I had to carry out some task that I gradually realised was impossible – not just tediously difficult and scarily easy to get wrong, like dividing a fourteen-digit number into 93 using only mental arithmetic, but impossible, like dividing a fourteen-digit number into 93 with no remainder, using only mental arithmetic. Once that realisation had hit, I would bounce back and forth with increasing panic between the awareness that it was impossible and the conviction that it must be possible, since after all I had to do it. Then I’d wake up feeling both scared and mentally exhausted. Brr-rrr. All these haunted-house scenarios have got nothing on a number nightmare. (ObFantasy: Voyage of the Dawn Treader, “the Dark Island”. There are the gongs beginning. I knew they would.)


mds 12.20.11 at 11:01 pm

I had to carry out some task that I gradually realised was impossible – not just tediously difficult and scarily easy to get wrong, like dividing a fourteen-digit number into 93 using only mental arithmetic, but impossible, like dividing a fourteen-digit number into 93 with no remainder, using only mental arithmetic. Once that realisation had hit, I would bounce back and forth with increasing panic between the awareness that it was impossible and the conviction that it must be possible, since after all I had to do it.

Oh my goodness, you too? In my own experience with this, it gets worse, I often wake up with the impossible problem still grinding away, and my half-awake mind is still trying to solve it. If I go back to sleep soon after, I’m right back at it. I was never sure if this was a flashback to graduate school, a commentary on the provision of computer services to users with impossible demands, or just my free-floating anxiety at work. At least it never occurs in the actual Realm of Numbers.

Anyway, I’ve just checked the BBC headline feed again, and if anyone has any advice on how to either take charge of or wake up from this current nightmare, I’d be grateful. If I remembered upon waking, of course.


maidhc 12.21.11 at 1:08 am

I once tried asking all the characters in my dream “What is your function?” and collecting their answers in a notebook. I was only when I woke up that I realized the flaw in my plan.


maidhc 12.21.11 at 1:52 am

Phil@4 The Peatbog Faeries are a folk band from Scotland.


shah8 12.21.11 at 2:55 am

Man, weird shit. I have some mild anxiety dreams about wishing I did better in school, but my dreams tend to be dreamscapes, and I’m doing some sandlot improv in it. Then it tends to have a rather complex narrative. Recalling my dreams tend to be fun and highly philosophical. If I had the sort of nightmares B.W. gets, I would try to never sleep. My fighting dreams, I’m always confident, and I always win, and again, remembering this stuff tends to be fun.

Sometimes even when one’s life sucks, it just always can be worse…


admadm 12.21.11 at 3:42 am

Court reporters all have the same/similar dreams:

You’ve forgotten your stenograph machine (a court reporter’s “typewriter”) and are trying to take down testimony in pen shorthand (which you don’t know) or long hand on… toilet paper, napkins, business cards, whatever, but you’re running out of space.

I once had the court reporter’s dream of writing testimony in the sand, but, a la The Picasso Summer, the tide was coming in.



Dr. Hilarius 12.21.11 at 5:02 am

Belle, you might be interested in several novels, usually pigeon-holed as science fiction, by a Palestinian-American writer, Jamil Nasir. “The Houses of Time” is all about lucid dreaming with a blurring of waking and dreaming. An earlier book, “Tower of Dreams” includes dreaming but to a lesser extent. “Houses of Time” is disturbing in a Philip K. Dick kind of way (Nasir has been a runner up for the PK Dick award).

Even though the academic life is now 25 years in my past I still have dreams about research failures, missed deadlines and disastrous lectures. Nothing like anxiety both waking and sleeping.


Don SinFalta 12.21.11 at 6:07 am

I don’t remember dreams often anymore, but I used to have quite a few lucid dreams. For me, flying required concentrated willpower, as long as I was focused, things were fine, but otherwise… One recurring one was Zeno’s Paradox. I would find myself racing to a finish line against some not quite visible opponent. The finish line was always just beyond my outstretched fingers, yet I was always getting closer to it. Likewise my adversary. This could go on for quite some amount of dream perception time until at last I would awake in frustration, never quite having reached the goal.


Antti Nannimus 12.21.11 at 6:24 am


Paging Dr. Jung. Paging Dr. Freud. We have an emergency here! Can you distinguished professors finally quit fighting with each other for a minute and help us solve this?

Okay, Belle, now once again, as usual, you have opened up some really deep shit on CT. As you surely know, dream states and dream interpretations have long been a great mystery for all people through recorded history. Karl Jung said that many of these dream “archetypes” you describe are universal for us all, and I have no reason to doubt him. Except I doubt him because I don’t experience a lot of those archetypal dream images myself. However I have also experienced many common dream images he didn’t describe, and it seems you have experienced some of those as well.

And I’ve often wondered if these dream states might not also reflect our continuing presence in alternate dimensions of the universe and reality [woo woo] that are sometimes suggested by certain contemporary understandings of physics, cosmology, and even certain metaphysics.

As well, I and many others have often experienced what you characterize as “lucid dreams”, and, for me at least, many of them have seemed intensely “real”. Sometimes even more real than “reality”. However, I’ve also often regularly experienced much more trivial, casual dreams, which I could easily attribute to certain fundamental biological impulses, fears, and traumatic experiences. For example, I’ve often dreamed of needing to go take a pee, and in fact, that has usually been true at the same time. I’ve got other similar examples too though, but most probably too lurid to mention.

I believe the greatest mystery in the universe is our human consciousness, and perhaps even human sub-consciousness, and these dream states are a part of those. Do animals also have these experiences? I think some of them do. In fact, I’ve seen sleeping dogs reacting in hilarious physical ways while they were obviously dealing with their own dreams.

So where does this take us? Am I dreaming I’m writing a comment in CT, or am I dreaming that I’m dreaming it? Of am I actually doing it?

Who really gives a shit? I need to go take a pee. I only hope I don’t pee myself in the process. I have a vague recollection I used to do that when I was an infant.

Happy dreams!


Belle Waring 12.21.11 at 6:40 am

Looking over the thread: “So every once in a while when I feel like a nightmare would be an exciting thing I sleep in the position that brings them on and off I go.” I just…no. Everyone else has had their eyes cut out and been slashed to death, and you’re all wet with the blood of your sister, and you’re hiding in the chicken coop but it’s not a good hiding spot but there was nowhere else and you can hear him coming in and see just the booted feet and the dripping straight razor? Thank you but NO. Those things you’re having aren’t “nightmares” but some other interior spectacle more similar to the Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairies. (Yes I can find a weapon. No, they aren’t always effective and, this is important kids, I can’t always find another stash of ammo. Practical American minds and such. Those magazines aren’t infinite like in the movies.) OTOH: “As I am Canadian, the successful dream involved turning the tables on the bad guy with an axe resulting in a lotta blood on snow. Yay!” This makes me happy. Hail Canada! Blood on snow is very satisfactory.

Phil: did you also hate obtuse angles? Those are very Lovecraftian dreams to have really, nightmares in number space. I used to have them be that a given thing both had and didn’t have a property, or that 3 was equal to 4, or some other such world-destroying awfulness. I don’t generally have synaesthetic feelings about numbers, except that 7 is spiky and unfriendly while 4 is a jolly fellow, and such like, but in my dreams they sometimes had lots more physical properties which didn’t vary across dreams. I haven’t had any like that in a long time, since I stopped studying math as a teen.


Meredith 12.21.11 at 6:58 am

My lucid dreams never involve doing violence, or even being done violence — that’s totally foreign to me — except by waves. Ocean waves that are at first friendly and then start to overwhelm, and I escape only by waking up. But I’ve seldom had a wave-dream like that since I was very young. Instead, my lucid dreams have for many years been of exploration, as I wander and wander through a vivid architectural space (usually a house with many hallways, staircases, rooms) and find either a hidden set of rooms I hadn’t realized were in this (my?) house (with a sense of oh! all problems solved! there is this space within!) or a ledge or precipice, and I’m suddenly being pursued by some hostile forces (I’m sure they weren’t a factor at the beginning of my journey) and and then I jump/fall/fly (but this isn’t a flying/hovering dream — I love those, but they’re different) — I jump/fall, into clouds or something safe and welcoming (not the fall-to-crash-but-you-wake-up-first — I’ve known those dreams too, of course, but they’re very different). Interesting, in the dream of the leap/fly/fall sort I most remember, I’m holding hands with my husband and a close woman friend as we leap and then fall together, into the clouds’ embracing adventure. About which adventure I know nothing because I’m lying there awake. Or that’s the point. Good morning!


Belle Waring 12.21.11 at 7:17 am

Meredith: that’s what lot’s of my non-lucid dreaming is about! My grandmother’s house, we haven’t sold it, and there’s this whole other part, full of things! Closets of vintage clothes that fit me perfectly; amazing furniture; yes, all the problems are solved! My analyst generally took this as signs of progress (well, from the nightmares, obviously); the house is you, the contents of your mind. You have more strengths than you knew, more powers, more resources. Even when I find a ghost in such a place he is friendly, known. Problems from the past that have been dealt with and have no more emotional charge. Enjoy! God, I just found this PINK chinchilla jacket from the 50s that fits me perfectly, I’m just going to look around in here for a while.


Meredith 12.21.11 at 7:32 am

To change direction, perhaps. What about dreams as visitations (the longer, and perhaps wiser, way of thinking significant dreaming)? When my mother had just died, she visited my dreams very vividly, as a silent but friendly and knowing presence (appearing, for instance, to oversee the unloading of the dishwasher as various of us still alive were gathered round this emblem of family nourishment and immanent endeavor). My waking self recognized that this was not my grey and wizened 80-odd-year mother but the brown-haired, fulsome woman in her young 30’s I had known as a little girl…. My older sister visited me as a waking vision (another kind of dreaming), as I made the bed I’d grown up sleeping in on the morning of her funeral.


Meredith 12.21.11 at 7:49 am

We posted at the same time…. Just today, trying to organize bedrooms and life for impending visits (not visitations, I hope) of children and their so’s, I caught sight of two jackets/coats, one my grandmother’s (a wonderful red velvet thing, for which no one currently has any use) and the other rust, suede jacket that I did lots of babysitting to earn to buy in the mid-60’s (and it has more personal history). Such things clutter my life — or sustain it. I’m not sure which.


Belle Waring 12.21.11 at 7:56 am

This was what I thought of as a further post…seeing dead people in our dreams. To my mind this is one of the best things about dreams; you get to see and really touch, hug, and smell the people whom you love. It’s rare when it happens, but I find it the best thing ever. My grandmother smells of powder and hairspray, so delicate to hug and in reality she was bed-bound. But in dreamspace she’s vigorous, can run, jump, everything. It’s wonderful.


Matt McIrvin 12.21.11 at 5:12 pm

Also, and I understand that this is very weird, I rarely can see anything in my dreams. But it isn’t an absence that is important. I still experience a whole range of things (from good to bad) I just experience them completely non-visually.

That sometimes happens to me, too, and my vision’s never been all that bad.

Another recurring thing that happened to me more when I was younger, and, I suppose, more emotionally invested in my epistemic worldview, is that I would discover I had the ability to levitate about three feet off the ground, and instead of being fun it caused me intense worry that scientific rationalism was incorrect and magic was loose in the world. “I can often do this in dreams,” I’d think, “but this is the first time it ever happened in real life. There has to be a rational explanation, but what could it be?!” And people who believed in psychic powers would see me levitating and point out that they’d told me so, which just made me madder.

Isaac Asimov once wrote a story with similar elements, about how you’d convince scientists to investigate this sort of thing if it really happened to you, but I don’t think I had read it yet.


Jeffrey Davis 12.21.11 at 9:39 pm

Since childhood, I’ve had memories that were, in reality, just clearly remembered dreams. I was 10 the first time it happened. I had lost the tickets to the Cleveland Browns game which my father had entrusted me with. I spent several days combing the house for the tickets before I realized that I must have dreamed the incident. 40 years passed before I realized that I had dreamed the search for the tickets as well.

There are more, but they’re as dull as the original. A close friend of ours is a shrink, and says he finds this blurring of realities “interesting” but he’s just being kind. The only possible exception involves the large cache of stories my mom told me that she didn’t share with any of my many siblings. The stories were almost all scandalous, and either obviously false or involved information she couldn’t have had access to. Which one of us had the over-active imagination? No way to tell.


Meredith 12.21.11 at 10:24 pm

Jeffrey Davis, I also have some very vivid memories from childhood that it turned out I must have dreamed. Mostly involving people (relatives, family friends) whom I’d never met but whom adults around me talked about a lot. I suppose this is quite common (“Did I dream it, or did..?”). Your shrink friend may truly be interested, since this phenomenon would seem to confirm (or somehow be of relevance to) recent research suggesting that dreaming plays a vital role in memory-formation. Which is one of the reasons lucid dreaming, and the different ways we do it and the different things we lucid-dream about, is so interesting.


Jeffrey Davis 12.22.11 at 2:06 am

re: 69

I’m a miserable insomniac who needs the medicines available these days to help bring on sleep. During my worst period of sleeplessness, pre-medicine, several years ago, I discovered that my most lucid dreams were of tossing and turning and trying to sleep. By my estimate, I was getting around an hour of sleep per night but by outside observation — my wife — I was getting around 4 hours: my dreams of being awake and unable to sleep were absolutely realistic.

(All I want for Christmas is for Lunesta to go out of patent.)


Mike 12.22.11 at 4:27 am

I lucid dream pretty frequently. I used to have nightmares. Psycho-killers… I would always eventually fly away. I still do have dreams that you could consider nightmares as far as the content…but now I find them exciting. At some point I always become aware that I am in a dream. I fly away. Or I alter physics and fight them in an epic Matrix-like battle (except…they can never defy physics like I can). Or I get bored and change my dream. Or I try to figure out all the layers of reality going on. I will grab my pursuers and run through walls. Once I tried to grab some guy kidnapping my friends and ran him through a wall *as I was changing my environment.* I only partially pulled that off. Recently, I took my dream, squished it into a point, and exploded it outward again like the Big Bang. :)


Meredith 12.22.11 at 5:09 am

Jeffrey, is that a kind of inverse lucidity? Dreaming that you’re awake and that you’re trying to go to sleep, when you are actually asleep (in some fashion)? (Different, I think, from dreaming that you’ve gotten up to go to the bathroom when you haven’t. That’s some kind of wish-fulfillment dream. What you describe is the opposite of wish-fulfillment.)
What you describe corresponds to the occasional times (I’m a night owl, not an insomniac, fortunately) I’ve tossed and turned virtually “all night,” only to go through the next day feeling much less tired than I should if I’d really been awake nearly all night. Thanks for the explanation! Perhaps this phenomenon also explains the snorer who, when asked to turn over or whatever, insists he couldn’t have been snoring because he was wide awake.
I wonder if this kind of sleeping and dreaming is a completely different phenomenon or a close cousin to lucid dreaming.


Marting Bento 12.22.11 at 9:30 am

If I suspect I’m dreaming, I try to levitate or fly. If I can, I am. I’ve never suspected I was dreaming when I was not, but have tried to convince myself to stick to the safer levitation test. I’ too, find that my flying powers are sometimes limited and sometimes not. Somehow it seems to take more strength to fly higher or longer.

I find that I can make wholesale changes to the dream, but they will still surprise me. It’s like the monkey’s paw without the sinister aspect: I get what I wanted in unexpected ways. Most interesting to me was when I decided since this was my dream that no one was going to speak; everyone was going to sing. I was expecting single voices, since that’s how people usually talk, but everyone began chorusing at me, and when I spoke it too was in multi-part harmony. A little shocking but delightful.

Another example: I had a dream that I was wandering around North Beach in San Francisco and noticed that the buildings were unfinished: front, but no sides, fake windows, that sort of thing, like a stage set. This got me lucid (there’s a little more to it, but it’s beside my main point). A gang of neo-Nazi skinheads (plus one skinny Filipino guy. Go figure.) started lumbering towards me with clear bad intent. Since it was my dream, I decided to refuse to accept the threat. I looked straight at the leader and said “You know, I really prefer the Mission to North Beach these days”. Instantly, the dream changed, and I was sitting across a table in a cafe having a conversation with this guy, who also became a normal person. Have you tried anything like this on your nightmares, Belle? Just a thought. That ax murderer is late for his job interview. No, no, the onion is down there. Cut the onion, stupid. I very rarely have nightmares, though, so maybe this problem is easier for me.


Martin Bento 12.22.11 at 9:47 am

I also switch viewpoints sometimes. Dream-within-dreams for me often take the form of discovering/deciding that what I am dreaming is actually a play or movie I am in, or, conversely I will dream about putting on a play or making a movie, and then the dream will become the play or movie. Once I had a dream that I decided was a play, and I broke character to speak to the director. Then, I changed viewpoint and was the person directing this play.

Does anyone else have persistent imaginary places? I will dream about places I have lived, perhaps about returning to them, but in my dreams these places will be much different from how they were or plausibly might be now. Different geography, ambiance, density, perhaps even technology, fanciful, unrealistic elements. But if I return to the same place in a dream 3 years later, the new dream will elaborate on the previous one. I don’t re-imagine the place from scratch, nor return to my actual memories of it. There are specific buildings and fixtures and lakes I have dreamed of for years that I know I have never encountered. Sometimes, I know where they are on imaginary maps.


Henri Vieuxtemps 12.22.11 at 10:08 am

How do you remember them so well? Me, I wake up, I remember it well, and then in a couple of hours it inevitably fades away and disappears.

Once (years ago, when I had good dreams) I had an unusually good one; a lot of friends in it, a good story. As soon as I woke up, I decided: this one I must remember, it’s too funny to lose, makes a great story to tell. I immediately replayed it in my head a few times, and it seemed like I had it. And yet, after a few hours most of it was gone. Weird.


Martin Bento 12.22.11 at 12:25 pm

I used to work at remembering dreams. Kept a journal. Gave myself a suggestion to remember them before I went to sleep. So I remembered a lot of them. Now I don’t remember them so much. When I visit an imaginary place I’ve dreamed of before, I seem to remember some of the previous dream in the dream itself, so it is easy to think of it as a sequel.


Henri Vieuxtemps 12.22.11 at 1:18 pm

With a journal, writing it down, I get the impression that after a while it becomes just a written story; you lose the texture of it, the emotions, the feeling of something that you experienced. Iow, you still forget it, even though it’s written down. But maybe it’s just me.


Meredith 12.22.11 at 4:33 pm

Martin, yes — wonderful point. Places you return to in dreams, sometimes places that in the dream narrative are, say, from the house you grew up in, even if they don’t look at all like that house in waking life. And the sense of sequel — and being aware that, hey, I’ve dreamed this place before, and this dream is continuing on previous dreams. Who am I this ghost visiting and speculating on my own dreaming? I don’t usually remember these dreams for very long once I’m awake unless I share them with somebody. But I know they’re important somehow.


Antti Nannimus 12.23.11 at 2:08 am


Dreams and “nightmares” are probably separate and distinct stuff in our brains with different causation and effect, although they are also obviously very much related. I have had, to my great relief, very few awful nightmares during my long life (maybe a couple times per year). I think I can trace most of those few nightmares back to an abusive, alcoholic parent.

However, much more often I have had interesting, funny, entertaining, and entirely pleasurable dreams, so that I have even regretted and resisted awakening many minutes after the alarm was calling, knowing those wonderful dreams would have to come to an end when I moved out of that mystical cerebral mist. In many of those dreams I’ve heard beautiful music (complete orchestral performances, and also long-playing radio stations (no commercials!)). I’ve seen (and “been with”) many beautiful women, flown and raced across astonishing landscapes, and laughed hilariously at brilliant jokes and the wry humor revealed to me for my own enjoyment. I’ve solved some “real life” engineering and even some personal problems too. All in glorious technicolor and hi-fidelity stereophonic sound!

Even more, I’ve had strange, confusing, surreal, impossible-to-fathom dreams. And yes, I’ve also had some of those awful, terrifying, violent, nightmares. But those, I think, are the price of admission to these alternate realities we can come to love.

It’s a mystery why almost all of these dreams are so quickly forgotten, almost as if they were forbidden memories. I’ve never forgotten the experience of them though, and I expect to somehow be eventually united with them all. And then they will all be sorted out, and everything will finally become clear. Or at least, they won’t matter any more.

Life without our dreams would be a much grayer, more empty, and very dull, place.

Have a nice day!


Tess 12.23.11 at 2:31 am

My niece experiences excruciating pain when she dreams of physical harm. My daughter became afraid to fall asleep because of the sleep paralysis that she would slip into. Sleep studies show that they are both narcoleptic, falling immediately into REM sleep. My father, sister and I have all experienced the horrible sleep paralysis and hypnogogic states that you cannot force yourself to wake from. Are these experiences also present for those able to dream lucidly?


Hoffnarr 12.24.11 at 6:21 am

Tess said, “My father, sister and I have all experienced the horrible sleep paralysis and hypnogogic states that you cannot force yourself to wake from.”

Yes, I know exactly what you are talking about. I only rarely have anything like not but back in high school I would have these dreams about an evil demon trying to possess me. At some point I would realize I was dreaming but I had nothing like the control so many people have described upthread. I would struggle mightily to wake up but sleep paralysis makes it extremely difficult, leaving me there to face the Devil or whatever it was. Eventually I would be able to move my arm a little and wake up. I was raised Catholic and still believed in god back then, so what was happening seemed to be utterly realistic.

Those dreams scared the living shit out of me.


spyder 12.25.11 at 11:38 am

I started humming the Everly Brothers about half way down the comment thread. Not sure if it was conscious day dreaming or streaming unconscious. I don’t think it matters. Nice post.


Barry Freed 12.25.11 at 9:59 pm

I retired to the basement couch after some Christmas holiday cheer for a short nap in which I had a horrible dream that there was a post on CT announcing the death of Chris Bertram, I don’t remember manyof the details except that he died in Brazil for some reason and the body of the post contained some crack about noted CT (and elsewhere) commenter ajay in it. I knew I was dreaming because of this post and I’d also been reading the thread just before nodding off. Weird and unsettling (Chris, I hope you’re OK. Also, don’t go to Brazil).


dazein 12.25.11 at 11:51 pm

I was very into lucid dreaming when younger, and my experiences echo those of many here. I don’t have them anymore, but its mostly a function of not spending time and effort writing down my dreams. When I was a child, I do remember having many dreams of being chased or over powered and finding a gun, but without question (like CJColucci) the gun wouldn’t fire. Never, once. The flying though, tops; and strangely like a muscle you keep forgetting you could flex.

I almost never have scary dreams, although earlier this month I had a zombie apocalypse dream, and it was the most fun ever. It was like a giant hide and seek game, with society collapsing, situational coalitions, and WORKING GUNS! I now understand why people get into zombies and zombie movies; its a really fun fantasy scenario once you get your head into it. Plus, killing zombies is really satisfying.

And now like Lee Arnold, I have the exact same innocuous precognitive dreams. Only now they loop in on themselves recursively: IN the dream, I remember that I had dreamt, because in the real life moment I recall that I had dreamt this moment. (Confusing to write out)… But it not only calls into question time, but free will, or something. When I tell my clin psych friends, they test me for schizophrenia symptoms.


Salient 12.26.11 at 1:48 am

Fascinating post, amazing thread (completely disquieting, too).

I had this really bizarre and otherworldly, erratically recurring lucid dream as a child, in which I was part of a crowd bearing witness to a horrible execution-and-torture squad, who displayed the dying and dead as some kind of vague gruesome warning against doing whatever it was the criminals had done (thievery, mostly? except for the about-to-be-processed criminal, whose crime didn’t make any coherent sense to me?). Fully aware it was all a dream, I didn’t have much agency; it was somehow vividly apparent that any attempt to exit the crowd of spectators or converse extensively with them would result in me getting mob-trampled (while there were plenty of times I did this in order to escape having to witness the whole mess, it really does hurt to get trampled and battered to dream-death — along those lines, thank goodness my dream specters never figured out they could kill me as many times as they liked…).

Not having been ‘raised in the faith’ at that age, it was heart-stoppingly alarming to discover the series of events in my dream was moment for moment, item for item, the ‘passion of the Christ’ story, allowing for suitable if rather unimaginative present-day substitutions — the road was dashed-yellow-medianed cement; the crosses looked an awful lot like the poles that hold up electrical or telephone lines; the water the lady gave to the present criminal was poured from the gallon water jugs that my parents kept water in way back when they had to keep water in jugs, etc.

The next (and last) time the dream recurred, there were no people or bodies. Just the road, and the row of crosses. I sat for a while on a rock, waiting for something to happen. Nothing did. So I started walking. At peace, in calm solitude, I walked for a very long period of time. Miles, probably, hours, surely, many hours. There was no tiring, there was no change in sunlight to mark progress by, and there was no hurry. I didn’t think much; there wasn’t much to think. There were footsteps, which sounded like steps in the sand even on the concrete, and a heartbeat, and the endless repetition of the telephone poles, off into the horizon. There was a completely smooth transition from walking in sleep to waking at rest.

Not something I reflect on much, probably not all that interesting, but it’s always the first thing my mind returns to whenever someone tells me I’m an unusually patient person. It’s just more footsteps, you know?

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