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A Digression About Dreams

by Philip H. Farber

Originally published in The Journal of Hypnotism.

When I travel to teach and make public appearances, I find that - regardless of the subject of my presentation -  groups wherever I go want to talk about dreams. People want to know if hypnosis or NLP can be used to increase the possibility of lucid dreaming. They want to know if meditation affects dreaming.

I think this is great because dreaming is the one deep, full-sensory, altered state of consciousness that just about everyone is familiar with. Whether we remember our dreams or not, we all dream, every night. Dream cycles are associated with healing, learning, and with insight into the unconscious mind itself. There are numerous very unusual dream phenomena that have been documented in the laboratory - although never quite explained - including mutual dreams, precognitive dreams, and even telepathic dreams. In the swimming pool of trance depth, dreaming is way out past the deep end, into the ocean itself.

Dreaming is not always limited to sleep. Most of us are familiar with daydreaming, for instance. Some of us are also familiar with the dream-like visions and experiences that happen during meditation. These range from deep-end daydreams that can be included in the class of "breaks in concentration," distractions created by the wandering mind, to the visions and full-sensory experiences that come in the stage of meditation known as pratyahara. As with all breaks in concentration, these can be acknowledged and accepted by the meditator, who then immediately returns to the object of concentration. This is important, even if you think your experience was a "pratyahara insight." It is helpful to treat all such experiences similarly and suspend judgment on their meaning or significance.

So... can hypnosis or NLP improve dreaming? Of course! And so can meditation. On the most basic level, hypnotic suggestion can be used to help remember dreams, add content to dreams, and more. NLP anchoring techniques can be used to initiate lucid dreaming methods at the appropriate times and places.

But let's start with meditation. Many meditators report that a daily meditation improves dream recall and the significance of dreams (that is, how they feel about the dream and what kind of symbolic information appears in the dream). Even more, meditators who arise very early in the morning, meditate for 10 or 15 minutes, then go back to sleep report that dream recall and significance is increased even more dramatically. One such study also included "control" sessions, days when the dreamers would arise, stay awake for the specified time, then go back to sleep without meditating. This revealed that it was the meditation, not simply waking and going back to sleep, that enhanced dreaming.

In terms of using NLP or hypnosis to help lucid dream, the best techniques that I've worked with, for myself and my clients, are usually ones that reinforce existing methods. Lucid dreaming begins when you become aware, while dreaming, that you are, in fact, asleep and dreaming. Once you are aware that it is a dream, you can consciously take the experience in any direction. As an example of how we can work with dream states, consider this basic and effective method for lucid dreaming.  Throughout the day, at least a dozen times during the day, test to find out whether or not you are dreaming. For instance, try to fly... if you are in a lucid dream, flying is easy... or read something, look away, then look back and read it again (in dreams, things rarely read the same way twice)... There are many other such tests. If you get in the habit of doing this frequently, it carries over into your dream states and then, suddenly, the tests are positive and you are lucid dreaming. This is a popular and effective method used by dreamers all over the world. Along with other "pleasant dreaming" practices (for example, sleep late and when you wake in the morning, stay in exactly the same position and drift off again, wake under your own power, with no alarms, etc.), this will eventually induce lucid dreaming in most people, usually within a week or so.

To increase the effectiveness of the technique, one might use an anchoring method such as the NLP "swish" pattern, to make these tests-for-dreaming flow naturally at specific times. In the writings of Carlos Castenada, he describes a method in which the lucid dreaming state is anchored to the sight of his own hand. Any similar cue that will almost certainly be part of a dream state  - your hand, your feet, your name, the scenery of a recurring dream - can be used. So, using a swish, the sight of the back of your own hand becomes attached to the question, "Am I dreaming?" and the appropriate test for state is then made. The anchor carries over into the sleep state and you suddenly realize that you are dreaming!

In my case, I found that I had many dreams in which similar scenery recurred. In the dream, I would be walking or driving along an empty country road that ran gently up or down hill. This is not surprising, since I live in a hilly area with many sparsely-traveled single-lane roads. So I made it a practice, whenever I was out and about during my waking state, to notice whenever I was on a country road and to perform a dream test. I anchored the test to several stretches of road in particular so that whenever I found myself in those places, I would quite naturally test for the dream state. Of course, this very quickly carried over into the dream state and to this day, nearly a decade later, many of my lucid dreams begin with the country road imagery.
Again, meditation can increase the tendency to lucid dream, and the quality of control that the dreamer experiences in the lucid dream state. Meditate on something as you drift off to sleep, with the intent in mind to hold that meditation through until morning. A classic example of this, from tantric yoga, would be to meditate on the throat chakra as you drift off to sleep. After a few nights of practicing this (and  general meditation practice helps to build this ability, apart from lucid dreaming), you find that you actually are holding the concentration through your sleep... and into your dreams, where you have more and more control over the state.

I was recently asked if lucid dreaming "gets in the way of messages that dreams might bring from your unconscious mind." Like any other tool, it depends how you use it. If you use lucid dreaming simply to live out your sexual fantasies over and over again... you may learn some important things about your libido, but since you are staying in the same place repeatedly, you'll likely learn little else.

However, if you use the lucid dreaming state to actively explore your unconscious (I mean, there you are, inside your own mind!), you can often learn even more than in "normal" dreaming states. The terrain in which you find yourself is a symbolic one (that often correspond very closely with the descriptions of the "astral planes" from old books on the occult)... and within the dream state you can use ritual techniques... or simply explore... and discover all kinds of surprising things about your unconscious mind.

One such technique might be the classic "rising on the planes"... in which you simply fly straight up... and keep going, until you suddenly find yourself in different and unique landscapes. Or you can put yourself into a house and go around and look into every room of your mind... Or find wise entities who can tell you things. If the intent is there to get information from your unconscious, you certainly will.

And I'll leave you with this dreamy suggestion:  What happens when you practice self-hypnosis  - in a lucid dream state?

© copyright 2004 Philip H. Farber. All rights reserved.