While brainstorming on the importance of lucid dreaming, I reflected on my personal experiences. Unfortunately, unlike a lot of the presenters at this conference, my childhood dreaming endeavors were smothered. Rather than encouraging my interest in dreams, my parents ridiculed them as unimportant. Since they only gave nightmares any importance, these were the dreams that remained in my memory.
The nightmares led to lucid dreaming, as is usually the case. When the nightmare got too real or scary, I would become aware in my dreams and combat the monsters. As a result of these experiences, I questioned scary things such as monsters in horror movies and noises in the dark. If it seemed too real and too scary, I assumed I was dreaming. This unintentional practice led me to become a rather skilled lucid dreamer at a young age. When I would talk about the experiences with my parents, the typical response was “You just imagined that.” I’d talk about it with friends, and the responses were slightly more varied. Most didn’t care, some didn’t believe it, and some were really interested. The last group consisted of friends who were simply sufferers of nightmares. Because the parents of these different groups were taught like mine that dreams were unimportant, they imparted this belief to their children, crushing any chance of personal exploration.
In elementary school, where we should be free to explore ideas and concepts without fear of attack, my stories and craft projects about my dreams were dismissed as not meeting the assignment because I wasn’t using my imagination consciously; the dreams just came to me as they did with everyone and weren’t considered special by my teachers. This notion went contrary to how ancient cultures like the Egyptians who “believed that the gods showed themselves in dreams” (ThinkQuest.com). Rather than like ancient societies where dream sharing was encouraged, dreaming wasn’t considered anything more than superfluous thought spasms while we sleep. This restriction created a self-censor for my friends because if dreams, something we just perceived as normal by nature, were forbidden, what else could we not naturally talk about? Most around this age were reluctant to volunteer answers and be wrong much less share something so personal as parts of their imagination and be discredited. By starting this trend so early, it created a fear of the mind and explorations of consciousness at an early, impressionable age.
Through these early experiences, I have learned that my parents’ generation were taught to ignore and dismiss dreams. The problem with this phenomenon of thought censorship is it creates an avalanche of thought suppression. In Kate Kelland’s article “Drug laws ‘censor science'”, as psychedelic drugs were banned in the 1960s, the prohibitors “have set back research in key areas such as consciousness by decades” (2013). Further in her article, Kelland cites Dr. David Nutt a professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London, who calls the prohibition of psychedelic research the worst crime to science since “the Catholic Church banned the works of Copernicus and Galileo” (2013). By removing an area of research, the precedent was set that consciousness exploration was dangerous, evil, and wrong. In the same article, David Nutt says that “The laws have never been updated despite scientific advances and growing evidence that many of these drugs are relatively safe. And there appears to be no way for the international community to make such changes” (Kelland, 2013). What this message tells the younger generation is that rules are static even if evidence changes. This fallacy creates a future where scientific reasoning and faith are indistinguishable. While an extreme example, organizations like the Multidiscipline Association of Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) shows how damaging this prohibition can actually be. MAPS states that their plan is “a 10 year, $15 million plan to make MDMA into an FDA-approved prescription medicine, and is currently the only organization in the world funding clinical trials of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy” (MAPS). Through research and tests, they have shown the benefits of drugs like MDMA for treating soldiers with PTSD. Despite these breakthroughs, due to legal prohibitions, this research has been forced underground.
Consciousness exploration is something the majority of people don’t even consider. Most look at psychonauts as drug-addled rejects who go on tangents about nonsense. While this image may accurately describe some of the community, most of us simply believe dreams to provide a deeper glimpse into the fantastical feat of existence. By the time most of us are of age to freely practice exploration of the mind and universe, life and the rigors of day-to-day experiences will staunch all of our free time to learn, question, and explore. Instead had we built the tools necessary for consciousness exploration early on, we’d have the skills and experience to utilize every moment to its fullest.
By using sleep, the time when we are recovering from the day, to explore, we are using even more of ourselves without much sacrifice. This limited time frame is the reason lucid dreaming serves as the best tool for the modern psychonaut. This is where children have the advantage. According to research byDr. Tamar Kushnir presented in a white paper by Cornell University, children are able to “learn about people from statistical information and they in turn evaluate evidence in light of their developing social knowledge, in an ongoing, reinforcing cycle“ (Cornell). Children lack the self-consciousness that inhibits true exploration. They are eager to try an experiment, such as performing a Mnemonically-Induced Lucid Dream (MILD) attempt day after day, failing, and trying again.
The child’s mind is more open to new ideas. In her research, Dr. Kushnir noted that during “a series of experiments exploring children’s causal reasoning, [it was] demonstrated that children can revise existing beliefs if they receive good evidence that contradicts their earlier assumptions” (Cornell). Adults will usually change their belief system when confronted with evidence, but there are always incidences of clinging to old, defeated beliefs. Since the child’s mind is just about exploring, and the ego isn’t fully developed, abandoning current beliefs in favor of new ones is of no difficulty.
The openness of children isn’t to say that their lucid dreaming attempts should be solely deep exploration of the subconscious. In fact, I propose the opposite. Children should be encouraged to use lucid dreaming as a tool of exploration and creativity. They should be encouraged to play in the dreamscape without reservation, and eventually, as they grow, these tools could be used for further exploration. If a valuable life truth reveals itself to them, then their open-mindedness will allow easier integration than that of adults.
When I finished college, I had a very vivid lucid dream that ended with an ego death. The dream showed me a truth that I hadn’t understood and couldn’t accept. The truth was revealed in a manner that I couldn’t integrate in my current path of life.
In the dream, I was in a grey plane. In front of me, there is a holographic globe that emits a bright light. I am compelled to touch it, and I plunge my head into the sphere. In seconds, I am overwhelmed with a great sensation, and knowledge is imparted on me. I turned away from the sphere and in front of me stands millions of people. From their hands and feet, strings ascend into the sky, controlled by writhing entities. From my own hands and feet, my strings are cut. I turn back towards the globe and dive in completely. I shatter to white light and feel everything and nothing at once.
After the dream, I withdrew completely becoming a husk of a person for several weeks. Years later, I understand that my ego was so shattered by the truth revealed in this dream that it had to be rebuilt in a more open way. I learned that despite our actions we are all connected deeply, and we all possess the capacity to escape even if it is terrifying. Had I experienced this revelation at a younger age or with stronger tools to cope with, I believe the experience wouldn’t have been as traumatic and devastating.
The dreamscape allows the perfect palette for creation. Children like to experiment with their surroundings constantly, often testing the limits. When an enterprising child dreamer decides to see if he can fly and does, he is shown that the world of dreaming has fewer limits than the world of the waking. When a child dreamer decides to summon their favorite cartoon character, and Dora the Explorer takes her on a journey through the Amazon, she is shown that the limitations are her own. This reinforcement creates excitement in lucid dreaming, which usually yields more lucid dreams. The most important part we can serve, however, is as advisors and cheerleaders for these novice dreamers.
As the young psychonaut reaches the age when things go awry, puberty, they are going to have an extra set of skills that their peers do not have. During these years, we develop a stronger and sometime too dominant ego. For the majority of society, this ego goes unchecked and is even encouraged. For the psychonaut, this ego stands as a barrier between them and true understanding. For the young psychonaut, however, they are humbled and more open to alternative viewpoints. Through constantly questioning and learning about the growing limits of their consciousness, they understand humility of human experience and are unafraid of testing their belief structure.
Exploration of the self at a young age provides a lot of natural benefits. First, the young psychonaut understands how to question his or her own perception. For example, by questioning whether or not they are sleeping, the psychonaut is able to appreciate the world around them and live in the moment. This translates to a more robust life where a young psychonaut can travel to new pastures at a whim and summon untold amounts of creative energy. By being connected with this creative intuition, the psychonaut of tomorrow will be more exploratory and more adventurous.
Following the Flower Power Generation, psychonauts of today are more prevalent and in the open. People who question the world around them are opening the eyes of others. In the last decade or so, films on consciousness and questioning of the self have boomed. Two films in this vein, The Matrix and Inception, caused a miniature revolution in the thoughtscape. The Matrix pushed for questioning of reality itself. As Morpheus urged Neo to make the choice between remaining asleep or waking up to reality as he knew it, he was talking to the audience. The audience could join Neo and question the world around them. While more mundane than a world of simulated reality, the real world, when viewed through the eyes of the awakened can be a very shocking place. Inception took this notion a bit further and created a world where dreams were used as a means of committing corporate espionage. While appearing as the main point of the story, the game of intrigue is actually the backdrop to a story about questioning reality, losing yourself to obsessions, and losing the passion for creation. As Cobb descended into the world of crime, he lost the fact he could create the world however he wanted without restrictions.
While films like Insidious and Inception portrayed dreaming in a dramatized version, they did pave the way for new advancements. When Inception was released in July 2010, lucid dreaming search terms increased from 14% in June to 30% in July (Google Trends, July 2013). By having increased interest in lucid dreaming, the communities saw new ideas flourish. More people were able to learn how to lucid dream and expand their conscious, even unintentionally. This all came to a head when Bitbanger Labs raised over 1600% of their goal on Kickstarter for the Remee Lucid Dream Induction device. With items like this being shown to gain public acceptance, we are in an era where the average psychonaut has a wealth of external tools and information.
While consciousness exploration avenues are still limitedthe novice psychonaut, there is clearly a silver lining. Conferences like this one and groups like IASD proves that the total suppression of childhood enthusiasm for dreaming and consciousness exploration hasn’t succeeded. As enthusiasts in consciousness exploration, we hold the tools to further push the next generation to look at the mind and consciousness as something positive and amazing rather than something that should be feared.
The first step towards rebuilding these burnt bridges is engaging children in your life about topics involving consciousness. Ask the children in your life about their dreams. One idea I did with my brother-in-law was to give him a dream journal and encourage him to share the dreams he records. By creating this importance of recording and sharing their dreams, it creates the foundation for practicing dream recall and eventually pushing their own conscious boundaries through exploring the lucid dreamscape.
Another important step is to share your dreams with the children in your life. By sharing your dreams, you are showing them dreams are always important as is questioning what is the nature of consciousness. Since children always look to role models, taking the mantle as a consciousness role model could be the very first step towards building a life-long quest to exploring reality. By not simply taking everything at face value, these individuals will enjoy a more robust life where they can appreciate the small things thanks to a better understanding of who and what they are.
Another step towards rebuilding that consciousness bridge is sharing your dreams with other adults. Everyone has a dream they love to share. When you ask a friend about their dreams, they will recall that dream, and by encouraging that sharing and pressing for more details, you are cueing them to embrace dreams as something fascinating and important.
The final, and in my opinion, the most important thing to do is question yourself. Why do you lucid dream? What is consciousness? What is reality? By answering these questions and creating your own life mantra, you become the vehicle for the message of exploring consciousness that was lost through the years. By being able to summarize these answers to your friends, you become a person that makes something esoteric become something that they feel comfortable and confident in sharing.
Exploring consciousness and learning about the world around us is extremely important to appreciating life. As life coasts too fast to see the scenery, we need the tools to be able to appreciate the moment and slow down everything. By encouraging children to build these skills and practicing these skills with them, we can create a generation where this becomes the default rather than some outlandish claim.
Learning About How Young Children Learn. (n.d.). Cornell Department of Human Development. Retrieved July 24, 2013, from www.human.cornell.edu/hd/outreach-extension/upload/Learning-about-how-children-learn-Kushnir.pdf
Kelland, K. (n.d.). Restrictive drug laws censor science, researchers say – Yahoo! News. Yahoo! News – Latest News & Headlines. Retrieved July 24, 2013, from http://news.yahoo.com/restrictive-drug-laws-censor-science-researchers-041853065.html
MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy. (n.d.). MAPS: Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. Retrieved July 24, 2013, from http://www.maps.org/research/mdma/
McNamara, P. (n.d.). Lucid Dreaming and Lucid Nightmares | Psychology Today. Psychology Today: Health, Help, Happiness + Find a Therapist. Retrieved July 24, 2013, from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/dream-catcher/201207/lucid-dreaming-and-lucid-nightmares
Trends. (n.d.). Google Trends. Google. Retrieved July 24, 2013, from http://www.google.com/trends/explore?q=Lucid+Dreaming#q=Lucid%20Dreaming&cmpt=q