LT writes: “I just spent the last half hour talking to my 18 year old son about lucid dreaming. For the past week, he has been consumed about it…reading articles, watching videos of people who are involved in lucid dreaming, etc. . . .
“The goal, he says, in lucid dreaming is to get to a state where you are aware that you are in the dream with the other characters. The other characters acknowledge you and you can lucidly participate in the dream, hence, for example, you can fly! You can see images of the flowers and the trees in the clearest, real, manner and you can remember them. To get to this higher state, you have to go through levels in order to train your brain. So what he is doing right now is setting his alarm at 4:30 and waking himself up and moving his fingertips ever so slightly to stay at an “awake, conscious” level while still being tired enough to remember his dream….
“My son is pretty well formed in our Catholic Faith. He knows that if there’s anything related to ‘spirits’ or ‘hypnotism’ that this is not of God. He is fascinated on how the brain works. He said that the brain has the power to will the self sick or will the self well. I told him to watch out with that thinking because he is putting his will before God’s will. Our will should be 100% dependent on God for everything, and when we try to control our mind and our will on our own, there’s no room for God. His response was hesitant and he didn’t know HOW to respond.
We left it at that. I’m worried that he is so consumed with this. . . . Is there anything in Sacred Scripture or the CCC that relates to this “lucid dreaming??” Help! What to do??
Great question – and you do have cause for concern.
For those who don’t know what lucid dreaming is, this is a kind of dream state in which the person is awake enough to realize they are dreaming.
According to the Lucidity Institute, the term was first coined by Dutch author and psychiatrist Frederik van Eeden who used the word “lucid” in the sense of mental clarity.
“The basic definition of lucid dreaming requires nothing more than becoming aware that you are dreaming. . . .Lucidity usually begins in the midst of a dream when the dreamer realizes that the experience is not occurring in physical reality, but is a dream. Often this realization is triggered by the dreamer noticing some impossible or unlikely occurrence in the dream, such as flying or meeting the deceased.”
Van Eeden’s work, which was documented in a 1913 article, “A Study of Dreams” was based mostly on anecdotal evidence and was not embraced by the scientific community.
Those who promote it claim the lucidity that occurs in this dream-like states has various levels with the lowest being experienced when one is only aware to a certain extent that they are dreaming and not in any danger should they choose to do something extraordinary, such as fly. Higher levels are found in those who are fully aware that they are dreaming and know that there is no danger in whatever they are attempting to do in the dream. People report doing all kinds of things that would be otherwise impossible for them, such as flying, walking through fire, plunging into the depths of the sea and soaring through the universe.
As is the case with your son, neuroscientists who study this phenomena are fascinated by the way the brain functions during dreaming.
This article, appearing on the website of the World of Lucid Dreaming, presents the theories of neuroscientist J Allan Hobson.
“First, we recognize that we’re dreaming, and this stimulates the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, responsible for self-awareness and working memory. This area is usually deactivated during REM sleep – which explains why it is not typical to realize that we’re dreaming or remember all of the detail without serious effort. Once lucidity is triggered, the dreamer treads a fine line between staying asleep, yet remaining conscious enough to remember they’re dreaming…Interestingly, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is uniquely associated with the subjective experience of deciding when and how to act.”
This region of the brain is directly connected to free will, according to Susan Blackmore’s Consciousness: A Very Short Introduction, who thinks this may be “an illusion created by our own complex brain processes.”
“People get attracted to lucid dreaming because they want to be able to do things they could never do in waking reality, for example, taste fire or fly to the sun. More and more experienced lucid dreamers are realizing the benefits of lucid dreaming. You can use it to explore the boundaries of your own agency and the limits of the universe,” says dream expert Beverly D’Urso during an interview with Psychology Today.
As fascinating as it may sound, it’s not hard to see how involvement in this kind of exercise can go off the rails. For instance, D’Urso described a contest that takes place during an annual two-week on-line conference sponsored by the International Association for the Study of Dreams. The contest involves a self-proclaimed psychic who selects an image, then attempts to transfer it to all of the dreamers on one particular night. The next day, dreamers submit a report about what they saw in their dream, which is then compared to the picture.
D’Urso also describes “mutual dreaming” in which two people agree to meet at some faraway place in their dreams. When they arrive at their dream location, a secret is disclosed. The next day, they ask each other about the secret to see if they really did meet somewhere in “subconscious-land”.
It should go without saying that demons are probably very happy to accommodate these semi-dream states by planting suggestions and even luring people into lewd activity during lucid dreaming, such as the time D’Urso had a sexual encounter with a stranger.
The phenomenon has become quite popular in recent years. There are even smartphone apps available now to help people induce these states in themselves. For those who are interested in taking a joy ride every night in their semi-dreams, there is a whole cottage industry of DIY manuals available to assist the potential dream-er.
When it comes to altered states of consciousness, there are always problems.
As Dr. John Ankerberg explains: “Altered states of consciousness may induce mental illness in unstable individuals, or they may naturally progress into mental illness, even among the sound of mind. Because no one can know if this will occur, the risk is similar to that of taking powerful, experimental drugs, or like rushing down to the beach to watch a tidal wave. You may or may not be engulfed, but if you are it will be too late to change your mind.”
An even greater danger is the one that is found on the spiritual level –
As Dr. Ankerberg goes on to say, “altered states can open a person to the supernatural realm and contact with spirits who are really demons. No one can logically deny that a legitimate connection exists between altered states of consciousness and spirit influence or spirit possession.”
In fact, encountering entities is considered to be a common occurrence when in an altered state – entities which are known to be intent on gaining control over an individual’s body or consciousness. There are many cases of attempted or successful possession to be found in the literature on spiritualism, magic, witchcraft and madness, but in the West we often pass off these symptoms of possession as hallucinations….
Such visitations are by no means restricted to those who are mentally unstable or on drugs – they are possible for anyone who has entered this region of consciousness by whatever means….
This is certainly why Scripture contains many warnings against deliberately seeking omens or other sorts of supernatural dreams. A prohibition against “observing” dreams can be found in Leviticus (19:26), Deuteronomy (18:10), and Jeremiah (23:25-29).
IMHO, lucid dreaming is a gateway to a myriad of spiritual dangers that are a steep price to pay for an imaginary joy ride.