Watch and read the full transcript of Tim Post’s TEDx Talk: Lucid Dreaming at TEDxTwenteU conference.
Right click to download the MP3 audio:
Tim Post – Lucid dreaming instructor
Thank you. When I was seven years old, I had this recurring nightmare. I dreamt about this huge and boundless space. There were no trees, no buildings, even no other people in the dream; there was just me. And I was locked up in a tiny iron cage by the old, and awful, and scary-looking Snow White witch not from the fairytale with the poisonous apple.
Now, in that dream I felt truly terrified. So, as soon as I woke up from the nightmare in the middle of the night, I ran to my mom. I was crying. I woke her up, and I told her about my nightmare. And she would always reassure me of the simple fact it was just a dream, that the old witch was just part of my dreaming mind, that there was no real physical danger, that these were just dreams.
And so feeling a bit more reassured and safe, I’d return to sleep, but at one particular night, at the exact same nightmare, in that following sleep period, so, suddenly, I found myself again in that iron cage, holding on to the iron bars, and looking to the old witch, while remembering what my mother said to me just a few hours ago, “Tim, this is just a dream.”
Now, interestingly, that realization did not wake me up, so I knew that I was dreaming while still being in the dream. And I can still vividly recall how I looked around in the dream, had a sense of my own dream body, which felt incredibly real, although I knew that my real physical body was actually lying in bed asleep in some other place called waking life. It was a stunning, very profound experience, and at the same time, I didn’t feel scared by the old witch, because I knew she was just part of my dreaming mind. So, I really felt empowered and free.
Now, as a seven-year-old kid, I had no idea that these kinds of dreams in which you know that you are dreaming are scientifically referred to as lucid dreams, and that these lucid dreams seem to almost exclusively occur in a sleep stage that we call REM sleep, rapid eye movement sleep. And that’s a stage in which we experience our most vivid, most immersive dreams. And so these are not your typical one-dimensional, daydream-like experiences in which you’re just visualizing something, and you still have a sense of your own physical body, and you’re just imagining stuff.
Now, in these REM sleep dreams — that will be true for our lucid dreams as well — we are provided with this fully immersive, three-dimensional, multi-sensory hallucinatory experience. So, it feels like almost being absorbed into your imagination. You own this dream body that you can use and move around with, not just to look at your dream surroundings, but, for example, to touch the dream ground, its texture, its hardness. That’s how real our dreams are each and every night in REM sleep. It’s incredible. You could listen to dream music, or someone’s voice in a dream. You could even smell or taste dream food. Wow!
Now, at the same time, the lucid dream provides for limitless flexibility, as our dreaming mind is continuously listening to and giving shape to our thoughts and intentions while we are dreaming. And so, once you turn lucid in a dream, you could consciously and reflectively refocus your thoughts and intentions in order to reshape the entire dream, and dream about anything that you could imagine while you are dreaming. So, you could allow an entire dream city to appear, or your favorite sports car, or you could give yourself any kind of superhero power that you can imagine, like flying or walking through walls, or you could just consciously decide to explore the dream while knowing that it is a dream, just go to the left, or go to the right, or just leave the dream as it is.
Lastly, that the lucid dream is a learnable skill. So about 20% of the general population of us has at least one spontaneous lucid dream each month, but now through scientific study, there are various cognitive techniques that anyone can learn to apply in order to have these lucid dreams deliberately.
And so, now, today, there are thousands and thousands of lucid dreamers all over the world, who are practicing lucid dreaming to have these extraordinary dream experiences that are impossible or very unlikely according to our ordinary waking life social and physical standards. So, for example, they are an exciting flying dream in which you are a superhero and fly above the clouds, or this exhilarating adventure in which they are the main character in their own blockbuster dream movie, or romantic dream. Of course, there are many other lucid dreams that you can think of, because anything is possible in a lucid dream, right? Kind of incredible.
Now if you take a closer look at these three lucid dream features, and you would kind of add them up, you might come to see that a lucid dream provides for this fully immersive, virtual simulator. Now that functional description is not far from what scientists believe to be the function of our ordinary REM dreams, although, more precisely, the function of threat simulation and its related memory consolidation. So, for example, in the old days, when we would encounter this dangerous bear in waking life, and we would be frightened and hopefully be able to survive, then that following night, our dreaming mind would pick up on those waking life threats, simulate those in our dreams in order for our dreaming mind to reinforce on the neural circuits that are involved with the schemas, the expectations, and the scripts that we need to effectively survive the next waking life threat. The following day, when we would encounter a slightly different bear in a slightly different circumstance.
In modern days, most people don’t dream about dangerous bear encounters anymore. We would dream about an angry boss encounter, or a family member, or a friend, or whatever that we need to cope with in order to socially survive. And through that same process, our dreaming mind picks up on those social threats and simulates those in our dreams in order to reinforce those related to schemas, and scripts, and so on.
Now, imagine turning lucid in those dreams, and to consciously and reflectively enhance that function of psychological development, and use the flexibility of the lucid dream to experiment with improved behavior to learn from in the lucid dream, so that then, the next day, when you would wake up, you could implement those learning experiences and improve your waking life circumstances from what you have learned and experimented within a lucid dream to improve your psychological well-being.