Lucid dreaming is the state of being conscious that one is dreaming, and being able to manipulate the dream. The possibilities for self-exploration are, of course, limitless, and the benefits can even extend to treatment of PTSD.
When a patient comes in complaining of recurring nightmares, Green actually sees it as a blessing in disguise. Lucid dreamer Jared Zeizel agrees. “It’s weird to say,” the co-author of A Field Guide to Lucid Dreaming confessed, “but I love having nightmares because nothing helps me get lucid faster.” His recurring dreams of zombies in high school provided an ideal entranceway into lucidity. “That was my first reality check,” he explained. “Whenever I’d see a zombie, I’d know that I was dreaming.”
It’s a simple realization with profound consequences. Suddenly, the dreamer becomes nearly omnipotent in an environment that feels as real as anything in waking life. From personal experience, I can only compare it to the Buddhist concept of enlightenment—a single thought that brings immediate liberation from the world. Significantly, the original Sanskrit word for enlightenment is bodhi, which literally means “to awaken.”
Zeizel spent his adolescence pursuing typical lucid dreaming activities like flying, sex, and fighting, but now he dedicates most of his time toward personal growth. “One the most meaningful things I do, is I’ll ask for a negative version of myself to appear. I call him Dark Jared. He’s a very gaunt-looking, shadowy clone,” he said. “I’ll have a telepathic conversation with him. Sometimes it gets scary because I can feel a negative pressure from him trying to influence me. Dark Jared is connected to an anxiety and to bad habits that stem from a part of my subconscious which he represents. I’m able to ask him questions like, ‘Why are doing these bad habits?’ and he can respond. When Dark Jared is there, I embody Light Jared, and I’m able to separate the negative elements of myself from the positive elements. Just the act of seeing that negativity as separate helps. When I wake up, if I feel anxious, I know that I can separate from it.”
While Zeizel’s doppelgänger is an intentional reflection of himself, consciousness researcher Ryan Hurd believes that all elements of the dream are reflections of the dreamer. He spoke about a friend who had regular nightmares of being chased by monsters. At Hurd’s encouragement, the friend asked one of the creatures why it was pursing him. The monster replied, “I’m disappointed.” The man reported feeling a powerful emotional reaction, and upon waking, was able to explore and address the ways in which he had disappointed himself.
Hurd’s own psychic wounds were less metaphorical. “There was a long-term cycle of bullying in my dreams left over from my elementary school days,” he shared. “But, there was one dream where I was being chased by a bully, and I was just so angry. My anger was so intense that it made me lucid. I decided to turn around and face my enemy. We were both about 10 years old. I told him, ‘Listen, all we have to do is accept each other. That’s it. I’m not going anywhere.’ I said this, even though I really wanted to leave. I felt so much hatred coming from him—all these projections about how I was weak and small. But then, he suddenly got this look on his face, and he got it. He realized that he didn’t have to attack me. I felt a strong love for him. When I woke up, I felt ecstatic. And, I don’t have bullying dreams anymore.”