Have you ever had a dream, and in that dream suddenly realized that you were dreaming? If so, maybe that simple realization alone woke you up. Or, maybe you realized that you could do anything you wanted because you were in a dream. Perhaps, you’ve experienced something a little different – that being, you maintained awareness while falling asleep and immediately found yourself in a dream-like state, one in which you could control in any way you like…one in which you could have a valuable question about life answered. Does any of this sound familiar? If so, you are not alone. In fact, you are just like thousands upon thousands of others. Such experiences have been reported for centuries all across the globe.
There is debate over whether lucid dreams (LD) and out-of-body experiences (OBEs), sometimes referred to as lucid projections and several other names, are essentially the same or similar. While much of the Western literature I’ve read makes a distinction between the two, and describes the features marking their differences, it’s easy to understand how some groups and societies do not separate these phenomena. Numerous anthropological reports from all over the world highlight the widely held belief that the psyche moves about, or travels, while the body sleeps. This takes place, they say, whether we remember it or not, and we may be partially, incompletely, or completely aware during the occurrence itself. This notion of one’s psyche leaving the physical body and moving about does not sit well for a lot of secular individuals, as it implies the existence of something spiritual. That very idea may be behind such proposed distinctions. No matter what we believe to be taking place, or where we find ourselves in this debate, people of all ages report unique experiences that scientists are attempting to explain.
Until 2005, I had few unprovoked or incubated anomalous nocturnal experiences. The occurrences I can recall were unwanted and occurred spontaneously during the night hours. In fact, for the first 30-something years of my life, I wasn’t sure what had happened. To this day, I specifically remember two somewhat frightening experiences that I now recognize to have likely been lucid projections or OBEs. Still, some would prefer to categorize them as lucid dreams, and that is just fine too. Both experiences took place at night while lying in unfamiliar beds. The first took place during a family vacation in Bishop, California when I was eight years old. The second anomalous experience I can still recall happened when I was about 20 years old while visiting someone in Bend, Oregon. Not only do children report such experiences, but adults have claimed that experiences like these took place while they were children or during adolescence. Like so many others, I had not had past discussions or debate with others who had these experiences, nor knowledge of scholarly books or articles – basically, I knew little, if anything, on the topic. During those times, I had no clue as to what might have had occurred. A lot has changed from then until now. In my early and mid 30s, after some practical skill development and training, however, I had several provoked/planned OBEs, LDs, and highly vivid dreams and tended to view them as the same phenomenon…like shades of grey.
More recently, with additional first-hand experiences, and increasing education on these topics, I’ve come to understand further the OBE and LD distinction. OBEs are called by various names depending on one’s orientation (soul flight, soul travel, lucid projections, unfolding, astral travel, astral projection, spirit-walking, or dream visions). OBEs, or lucid projections, have been reported to occur at least once in one’s lifetime for about 10%-20% of the population, but is rarely acknowledged or discussed in contemporary Western culture. Lucid dreaming may be the Western term that is more often used, as it seems more comfortable for that culture. OBEs/lucid projections can be spontaneous, forced, or provoked, and it is possible, although rare, that one has the experience while awake (a family member of mine told me about his experience that, to his surprise, spontaneously took place while he sat in his desk at school). Reports also coincide with near-death experiences. Understandably, such variations can be confusing. The two phenomena, the OBE and LD, share some features, but also have distinctions reported in the literature. Some would say, however, that the level of conscious awareness determines how the experience is labeled. For example, if one maintains an aware, alert mind while the body falls to sleep, they might label it as an OBE. But if one’s mind and body falls asleep, then during sleep, the dream state or R.E.M., they become aware, it would wind up being labeled as a LD, more often than not. Generally speaking, this is how we’ve compartmentalized such phenomena in Western culture. This compartmentalization doesn’t really happen in indigenous societies, as it seems unnecessary and irrelevant because after all, if the soul wanders during sleep, the person’s awareness of what’s taking place may be there from the very beginning or their awareness flows in and out during part of the sleep cycle.
In my early 30s, I worked very hard to provoke an OBE or lucid projection, as well as a LD. I practiced a variety of concentration-based meditations for months, usually dedicating over an hour a day to the practices. It paid off with time, effort and practice, and even trail and error. Having had no success at night, even after dozens of attempts, I decided to dedicate one sunny weekend morning to pursue an experience. That morning after waking up, I did a series of exercises in bed – concentration on the heart, vowel mantras, and visualization of a place – all taught to me, at that time, by experienced instructors of GnosticWeb (a group offering free courses on these topics). That morning included a few hours of unsuccessful attempts, probably because I really wasn’t sure what was about to take place and likely gave up too quickly. All of this occurred with some degree of frustration, before I actually succeeded. In fact, I recall telling myself, that I would try ‘one more time’ before ‘giving up’ for the day. So I pushed forward, lying in bed, trying to fall asleep while I kept my mind awake – quite the disciplined act. The initial experience of maintaining this level of awareness was extremely interesting to say the least, especially due to new and unfamiliar sensations. My heartbeat became more intense and this intensity was accompanied by a soft buzzing or vibrating sensation. These sensations seemed to gently propel me forward at one point in the experience. I don’t recall hearing any sounds or voices at that moment, which are, among other sensations, often reported by others, according to research done by the International Academy of Consciousness. Basically, I popped up and walked out of bed with the awareness that something was different. To confirm, I did a reality check (which was something I was taught to do and often done during the day) by pulling one of my fingers. I did this right there in my bedroom, as I was certain that something was quite different and suspected that I had projected. My finger stretched like firm putty and became long, then sprung back as I let it go. Well that confirmed it! Next, I walked out of my bedroom, and then realizing walking wasn’t necessary, I hovered about a foot above the floor, floating down the stairs with the awareness that I had accomplished what I set out to experience. I was really checking out the environment I found myself in. A lot looked the same, but laws of gravity obviously did not apply. What took place from there, I consider personal, and meant just for me, so I will keep the rest of the story to myself for now. Anyway, that is how it began for me.
I’m not sure how many minutes went by, but it felt like quite a while. The experience ended when I became uncertain and a little fearful of what I saw, and my vision turned somewhat cloudy (this might imply loss of awareness, according to the IAC, and there are tips on how to re-establish it). I found myself immediately back in my bed and opened my eyes, feeling awe-struck. I then recorded the experience in the dream journal kept by my bed. From that day forward, my world-view began to shift.
While slowly gaining more experience, including how to dream with greater levels of lucidity, I did not focus on differences between the two phenomena. LDs and lucid projections or OBEs seemed to have more in common than not, and I continue to believe they still do. In the end, it may all come down to varying levels of conscious awareness. Many indigenous cultures do not compartmentalize or make so many concrete categorizations with regard to these phenomena as we do in the West. Still, it helps to be aware of the particular features of these experiences and track them in a journal in order to learn from others, whether it’s shared experiences or research, as well as from ourselves and our own lived experience.
There are researchers in several nations that currently study these unique human experiences in sleep laboratories. For example, the International Academy of Consciousness (IAC) operates a large site in the Alentejo region of Portugal. I had the privilege of visiting the IAC Research Campus a few weeks ago (June 2016) and was given an extensive tour of the facilities, including their impressive laboratories. For more information about what this particular organization has to offer, explore their website at iacworld.org. These days, publications focusing on these extraordinary experiences are on the rise. A simple online search can point to numerous books, websites, and courses. For example, deepluciddreaming.com offers free access to a wonderful book titled Consciousness Beyond the Body, and so much more.