The Field Guide to Lucid Dreaming
A Book Review about an unusual form of dreaming by Dr. Lloyd Sederer
Posted Sep 21, 2014
The Field Guide to Lucid Dreaming
By Dylan Tuccillo, Jared Zeizel and Thomas Peisel
A Book Review by Dr. Lloyd Sederer
Here is your invitation to enter the rapture of lucid dreams, so say these authors and guides to expanding our nocturnal experience and adventure.
Do you know what a lucid dream is? It is not just another vivid dream in which intense images and feelings dominate your sleep and leave you feeling like you spent part of the night at the cinema. This guide defines a lucid dream as “…one in which you become aware you are dreaming (p6).” The lucid dreamer has “…a sudden self-reflective epiphany of, ‘Wait a second…I’m dreaming!’”
In a lucid dream, you are frequently in a strange or distant location. Images are typically bizarre. Many times you are moving about with great speed as you fly or find yourself traveling headlong in a train, car, or other form of conventional transportation. But the hallmark of a lucid dream is knowing you are dreaming. That, our guides tell us, is the ticket to the vast fortunes of lucid dreaming. They include improved physical and mental health, facing and overcoming your inner demons, problem solving, self-awareness, and creativity, not to mention fun-filled fantasy nights. Taken at face value, the book suggests Freud had it right when he said that dreams are the royal road to the unconscious.
The authors also maintain that anyone can become a lucid dreamer, and reap its benefits. A select few arrive at it naturally. Much of the book is devoted to instructing everyone else on how to master the capability and technique, and using it for personal benefit. The path is not as simple as flipping on your TV remote at 2 o’clock in the morning. But our guides, like wilderness explorers, are upbeat, encouraging, and sold on the value of taking the journey. Their writing is clear, personal, and full of examples and how-to advice.
In the section called “Packing Your Bags,” for example, we learn about the stages of sleep and how to keep a dream journal. Unless you record your dreams, they vanish faster than the last rays of sunshine at the day’s end. I spent six years keeping a dream journal (when I was in classical psychoanalysis as a young psychiatrist) and have regularly recorded my dreams since then. I can assure you it is work to keep one: it means learning to recognize when you are coming out of a dream, rousing yourself despite your languor to put pen to paper with a legible scribble, then going back to sleep primed for the next cycle. Lucid dreaming takes much more than that.
The authors offer a prep for becoming “lucid,” which starts during the daytime with repetitive exercises to train your mind to distinguish dreaming from reality. A key next step is creating “intention” before conking out at night. If you want it, really want it, it will come. They describe a “Dream-Initiated Lucid Dream” (a DILD), in which you springboard to lucid by honing in on specific signs you’ve developed to recognize that you’re dreaming. If that is not enough, you can set your alarm to just before when you would enter the last two stages of REM (dream) sleep late at night, wake up and follow a suggested 20-minute routine, then go back to sleep knowing the time is ripe! Staying in the lucid dream, not letting it vanish, is another skill you too can master, with the training offered in this book.
The book also offers chapter after chapter on how lucid dreaming can be creative, artistic, relational (“interact with the natives you will find” or reconnect with people in your life), endowing of “superpowers” (Marvel Comics beware), healing, making you “whole”, and defusing trauma and nightmares. You can take your work to higher levels. You can realize the Coke commercial of universal connectedness (“I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing”). You can train to become lucid during the day, while awake, like shamans and yogis, though hopefully not while driving or performing surgery.
As a lucid dreamer for decades—I did not invite the capability, it just happened—I was curious about this book. While reading it I had a lucid dream in which I revisited an old traumatic situation from work, triggered by an event that took me back over 15 years ago. I knew I was dreaming. I used intention in the dream to try to direct the outcome to be more sanguine to my mental health than it had been. I was able to stay in the dream for an extended period of time and call upon reason, persuasion, and relationships to try to undo the past. But the outcome was no different. Sometimes, circumstances are just lousy and they can haunt you for a long time.
Moreover, when I awoke from this dream I was reminded about how exhausting both vivid and lucid dreaming can be. My dreams are alive most every night, and have been since I was in my 20s; as I have grown older my dreams are even more vivid, though fortunately lucid dreams seem to occur with no greater frequency. I usually awake in the morning needing to recover – as if a nap would come in handy.
So, after reading “The Field Guide to Lucid Dreaming” I thought two things: First, maybe the book should come with a package insert, a ‘black box’ warning, which identifies the risks of intensifying your dream life, as well as the time and effort needed to do so. The authors are enchanted with its benefits, but say not a word about the downside of ramping up your dream life. And second, the authors might consider another book about how to undo (or at least diminish) vivid and lucid dreaming for those who, without intention or having trained and crossed into the zone, might want to get a good night’s sleep.
Dr. Sederer’s book for families who have a member with a mental illness is The Family Guide to Mental Health Care (Foreword by Glenn Close).
The opinions expressed here are solely mine as a psychiatrist and public health advocate. I receive no support from any pharmaceutical or device company.
Copyright Dr. Lloyd Sederer