Dreaming from Brazil…

Jetlag is not friendly toward many things and dreaming is no exception.  I’ve been curious to see how my dreams would change as I’ve been in Sao Paolo, Brazil.  They have been curiously normal (at least the ones I can remember).  I did have one morning where I woke up at 6 AM local time (12 midnight PST) and decided to not get up.  Instead of doing something productive, I decided to back to sleep and have a lucid dream.

At first I found myself in a warehouse.  There were lots of boxes stacked high.  Before I went to sleep, I had wanted to ask the question for a second time in a lucid dream, Who is the Dreamer?  But, I was not able to recall that dream task.  Instead, I decided to do something people might think a bit unusual for a lucid dream.  I called out, “Show me something scary!”

If you have been reading my blog, you’ll know that I enjoy the experiences that come from giving open ended commands to my subconscious and then waiting to see what happens.  However, why was I not able to remember the dream task I had planted in my mind before I feel asleep?  This is because there are various levels of being lucid in a dream.  I really appreciated Rico’s post.  He blogs with passion for the topic but with precise knowledge of what is happening in the brain during sleep.  I wonder if some parts of the brain are more activated than normal in highly vidid lucid dreams or dreams where there is a lot of control.  For this particular dream, I knew it was a dream and I took control of it.  But why did I decide to say, “Show me something scary?”

After issuing the verbal command, I saw the top boxes start to fall.  Then more boxes.  And more.  Finally, the whole collection of boxes collapsed on me.  Did this feel like a nightmare?  No.  I still knew it was a dream.  But I did experience a small rush of adrenaline.  This might be why my subconscious suggested this experience.  I had been talking to a friend wondering if the brain cannot only simulate the senses (e.g. Wow, this really tastes like peanut butter) but can it also simulate internal states (e.g. like an adrenaline rush)?  I don’t feel that the matter is concluded in my mind with this one experience, but my next experiments will involve asking the mind to reproduce internal states like euphoria, dizziness and adrenaline highs.  If you have suggested states, please let me know!



Guest Post from Rico @ Google

First of all, I’d like to thank JB for the opportunity to post on The Mind Hacked. This particular post has been long overdue. It’s my first, and everyone knows how hard it is to sit down and write that first paragraph – especially on a topic as dense and multifaceted as dreams.  Hopefully I’ll be posting smaller, focused articles on a regular schedule following this more holistic introductory post. But for the most part, you can assume that I’ll be talking about dreams.
Let me start off with a little bit of my background. My name is Rico Rodriguez, and I currently work as a Web Applications Developer at Google. I didn’t go to school for Computer Science, but I do really get a kick out of understanding complex architecture and making things that do cool stuff. My schooling/degree is actually in Neuroscience. Along with making me a Grade-A nerd, this particular path of knowledge has given me a (somewhat) unique, (mostly) scientific take on what might otherwise be considered a spiritual or psychological engagement.
On one hand, I see dreams as bizarre night-hallucinations that occur at the intersection of complete sensory shut-down and random electrochemical signaling from the pons and medulla (lower structures on your brainstem, often referred to as your “reptilian brain.”). On the other, I view them as the only true spiritual experiences I have ever had. In my dreams, I gaze on cosmic shores and drift through impossibly colorful nebulae; I swim with whales through giant, primordial oceans that seem to swallow my consciousness whole and leave me with heart-wrenching emotions that seep into my thoughts next day. Why do these ridiculous hallucinations happen for everyone every night, and what do these sequences of thoughts and images mean? As a self-declared skeptic and rigorous empiricist, I can’t claim any sort of solid evolutionary reason for the existence of dreams. Simply put, modern science has a good handle on the how of dreams (the neurochemical mechanisms, disorders, phasic cycles, etc.), but not the why.
Well, I’m 25 years old, so that means I’ve spent somewhere upwards of 70,000 hours asleep (probably closer to 12,000, knowing my sleep habits ;]) over the course of my life. That’s almost 8 years minimum, completely unconscious. Dead to the outside world. Over a quarter of my total life-span spent in La-La land, and I can’t even know why? It would stand to reason that there’s some sort of evolutionary pressure that has made dreams (and more generally, sleep) a persistent feature of mammalian biology, yet for all that we know about the nuts and bolts of sleep, we are no closer to answering the most important questions about this clearly special state of consciousness.
I don’t have an answer, but based on what I know to be true, I have an idea. Here’s my basic hypothesis, which I’ll be testing in some way or another over the course of the next year while I guest-blog with JB:
Your dreams teach you something about who you are at your core. They show you how you react in certain situations, and what emotions most prominently affect your behavior and decisions. Dream characters can be your neuroses psychologically incarnate, and your reactions to them play out in the sandbox of your subconscious mind like an instructional fable. Lucid dreams, accordingly, are a way of “hacking” the “root access” to your mind (to use an extended Operating System metaphor), in such a way as to enable direct dialogue with one’s subconscious.
So, there it is. We’ll be psychonauts in the truest sense, exploring the mind and becoming cartographers of consciousness.
I’ll see you all on the field of dreams.

Who is the dreamer?

A good friend and fellow Lucid Dreamer, Rico, told me a very unusual question to ask in the dream is “Who is the dreamer?”  I was able to have 2 lucid dreams the night before last and in one of them I asked this question.

What happened next was quite unexpected.  The setting was a room where there were clothes hanging.  It was too big for a closet, but it might even have been a retail shop of some sort.  I was not paying much detail to my surroundings.  I became lucid and then remembered my task (sometimes difficult to do in a lucid dream).  I asked outloud “Who is the dreamer?”

From a rack of clothes, a wet suit unhook itself from the hanger and started forming into a body.  Actually, it is already in the form of the body so I should say air filled it up (but no person was present).  So what I ended up seeing was an empty wetsuit that was inexplicably standing in front of me.

I own a wetsuit.  I like to go surfing, but probably make it out 1 or 2x a year.  I have a surfboard I pass by in my backyard near the garbage area almost daily.  What is this supposed to mean?  One other interesting piece of context is that when I moved out to California when I was 18, I envisioned I would be surfing and sky-diving.  I was inspired by Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves in Point Break.  One answer to the question, who is the dreamer, could be the 18 year old that envisioned surfing and sky-diving and thrill seeking to be what life is about.   It will be interesting to analyze future dreams with this lens of what part of me is actual creating dream content.  Though, my friend has asked me to ask the same question again and see what happens the second time.  It is possible that each dream is created from a different part (or linear age) of self.  In which, this question could be relevant to each and every dream you want to perform self-analysis on.

Speaking of my friend, I am nudging him along with a guest blog post.  Stay tuned and hopefully we will see something from another Lucid Dreamer who has been on fire lately with some compelling LDs.

PS Notes on how I became lucid below…..
1.  Went to bed 30 min earlier than normal (9 PM)
2.  Woke up, but didn’t move or open eyes probably around 4 AM (guessing)
3.  Intentionally tried to have a lucid dream by imagining myself falling downward.
4.  Actually felt myself falling down, which means I was in that grey zone of waking/sleeping      (which would have been ruined if I had so much as opened my eyes)
5.  Once I fell for 3 to 5 seconds, dream imagery appeared.  This is a class Wake-Induced-Lucid Dream.  After the first lucid dream ended, I followed the same procedure to have another one, which ended up being even longer.



Not Always What You Expect

Some people critic lucid dreaming because they say it takes away from the subconscious’ ability to communicate to us through its natural, spontaneous language of symbolism.  Those critics have not had much experience lucid dreaming.  Even though in a lucid dream the dreamer and can influence the dream, 90% of the content is still populated from the subconscious.  In this respect, lucid dreaming is very much like it is portrayed in the movie, Inception.

Let me give an example that is relevant to my previous post.  A couple nights ago I became lucid and remembered my next dream task was to try the verbal command – “Show me unconditional love.”  I was in a field, similar to one I remember growing up nearby.  After I issued the command, I saw a swirl of black smoke in the sky.  It started spiraling toward me.  My first thought was that it looked very much like the smoke monster in the TV series, Lost.  Expectation does lead to action in dreams, so the swirling smoke did come right at me as if it were the smoke monster and then it swallowed me up.  In then sucked me into the sky like a powerful hurricane might do.  I was scared, but I was unharmed.

Why did my subconscious choose this imagery and experience for the command “show me unconditional love?”  When I shared it with one fellow dreamer, she mentioned that unconditional love can be scary.  When I think about it, unconditional love is something so few people experience on any regular basis.  Our society is built on conditions – pay this, get that.  Help me, I’ll help you.  Be pretty enough, successful enough, kind enough, helpful enough, funny enough and people will like you.  Perhaps she is right – unconditional love is so unusual, that it is scary.

As I write this blog I am reminded of a song we sing at our church sometimes.  There is a line that says, “your love is a hurricane and I am a tree / bending beneath the weight of his wind and mercy.”  I found this version of the song on YouTube and hadn’t heard the backstory of the song before.  Now that I know the backstory, I have a whole other layer to think about my dream and my conception of unconditional love.  I plan to go back and watch some of the Lost episodes to understand more about the smoke monster as well.  In short, I could spend weeks analyzing the aspects of this lucid dream I did not control.

The next topic I will focus on is leveraging the dream state to dialogue with the subconscious.  If you haven’t read my original post, I would encourage you to start there.  This aspect of lucid dreaming is perhaps the one I am most excited about and is the least known and practiced in the lucid dreaming world.