~From: slab@matia.stanford.edu (Stephen LaBerge)
~Newsgroups: alt.dreams.lucid
~Subject: Dream Spinning
~Date: 23 Feb 1994 08:34:09 GMT
~Organization: Psychology Dept, Stanford Univ.
Excerpt from Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming, by S. LaBerge & H. Rheingold.

CHAPTER 6

PRINCIPLES AND PRACTICE OF LUCID DREAMING

Reprinted with permission of the author. ;)

6.1 To Dream Or Not To Dream: How To Stay Asleep Or Wake Up At Will

So far you have learned how to increase your dream recall and various techniques for inducing lucid dreams. Perhaps you have succeeded in having a few lucid dreams, or perhaps you know how to induce them more-or-less at will. Now that you are learning to realize when you are dreaming, what can you do with this knowledge? As discussed previously, one of the most fascinating potentials offered by lucid dreaming is the ability to voluntary control dreaming. It may be possible to dream anything you choose, as the Tibetan dream yogis believe. But before you can try it, you need to be able to remain asleep and retain lucidity!

Novice lucid dreamers often wake up the moment they become lucid. They can recognize lucidity clues, apply state tests, and conclude that they are dreaming, but are frustrated because they wake up or fall into nonlucid sleep soon after achieving lucidity. However, this obstacle is only temporary. With experience, you can develop the capacity to stay in the dream longer. As you will see in a moment, there are also specific techniques that appear to help prevent premature awakening. If you continue to apply will and attention to your practice you should be able to refine your lucid dreaming skills.

Preventing Premature Awakening

Informally experimenting in their beds at home, lucid dreamers have discovered various ways of remaining in the dream state when threatened by early awakening. All the techniques involve some form of dream action which is carried out as soon as the visual part of the dream begins to fade.

Linda Magallon, editor and publisher of the Dream Network Bulletin, and an intrepid explorer of lucid dreams, has described how she prevents herself from waking up by concentrating on the senses other than vision, such as hearing and touch. She reports that all of the following activities have successfully prevented awakenings from visually faded dreams: listening to voices, music, or her breathing; beginning or continuing a conversation; rubbing or opening her (dream) eyes; touching her dream hands and face; touching objects such as a pair of glasses, a hair brush, or the edge of mirror; being touched; and flying.

These activities all have something in common with the Spinning Technique described below. They are based on the idea of loading the perceptual system so it cannot change its focus from the dream world to the waking world. As long as you are actively and perceptually engaged with the dream world, you are less likely to make the transition to the waking state.

Magallon may be a dreamer with an unusually active REM system; it may be that she has little trouble staying asleep once she is in REM. However, many others are light sleepers who find it difficult to remain in lucid dreams for long periods of time. These people need more powerful techniques to help them stay in their lucid dreams.

Harold von Moers-Messmer, a German physician, was one of the handful of researchers who personally investigated lucid dreaming in the first half of the 20th century. He was the first to propose the technique of looking at the ground in order to stabilize the dream.

The idea of focusing on something in the dream in order to prevent awakening has independently occurred to several other lucid dreamers. One of these is G. Scott Sparrow, a clinical psychologist and author of the classic personal account, Lucid Dreaming: Dawning of the Clear Light. Sparrow discusses Carlos Castaneda's famous technique of looking at his hands while dreaming to induce and stabilize lucid dreams. Sparrow argues that the dreamer's body provides one of the most unchanging elements in the dream, which can help to stabilize the dreamer's otherwise feeble identity in the face of a rapidly changing dream. However, as he points out, the body isn't the only relatively stable reference point in the dream: another is the ground beneath the dreamer's feet. Sparrow uses this idea in this example of one of his own lucid dreams:

...I walk on down the street. It is night; and as I look up at the sky I am astounded by the clarity of the stars. They seem so close. At this point I become lucid. The dream 'shakes' momentarily. Immediately I look down at the ground and concentrate on solidifying the image and remaining in the dreamscape. Then I realize that if I turn my attention to the pole star above my head, the dream image will further stabilize itself. I do this; until gradually the clarity of the stars returns in its fullness.

6.2 Dream Spinning

Some years ago I had the good fortune to discover a highly effective technique to prevent awakenings and produce new lucid dream scenes. I started by reasoning that since dream actions have corresponding physical effects, relaxing my dream body might inhibit awakening by lowering muscle tension in my physical body. The next time I was dreaming lucidly, I tested the idea. As the dream began to fade, I relaxed completely, dropping to the dream floor. However, contrary to my intention, I seemed to awaken. But, a few minutes later I discovered I had actually only dreamed of awakening. I repeated the experiment many times and the effect was consistent -- I would remain in the dream state by dreaming of waking up. However, my experiences suggested that the essential element was not the attempted relaxation but the sensation of movement. In subsequent lucid dreams, I tested a variety of dream movements and found both falling backward and spinning in the dream to be especially effective in producing lucid dreams of awakening. Here is a method for spinning to remain in the dream state:

The Spinning Technique

  1. Notice when the dream begins to fade When a dream ends, the visual sense fades first. Other senses may persist longer, with touch being among the last to go. The first sign that a lucid dream is about to end is usually a loss of color and realism in your visual imagery. The dream may lose visual detail and begin to take on a cartoon-like or washed-out appearance. You may find the light growing very dim, or your vision becoming progressively weaker.
  2. Spin as soon as the dream begins to fade As soon as the visual imagery of your lucid dream begins to fade, quickly, before the feel of your dream body evaporates, stretch out your arms and spin like a top (with your dream body, of course). It doesn't matter whether you pirouette, or spin like a top, dervish, child, or bottle, as long as you vividly feel your dream body in motion. This is not the same as imagining you are spinning; for the technique to work, you must feel the vivid sensation of spinning.
  3. While spinning, remind yourself that the next thing you See will probably be a dream Continue to spin, constantly reminding yourself that the next thing you see, touch or hear will very probably be a dream.
  4. Test your state wherever you seem to arrive Continue spinning until you find yourself in a stable world. You will either still be dreaming or have awakened. Therefore, carefully and critically test which state you are in (see Chapter 3).

Commentary

If I think I have awakened, I always check the time on the digital clock beside my bed. This usually provides a foolproof reality test.

Frequently, the spinning procedure generates a new dream scene, which may represent the bedroom you are sleeping in, or some more unusual place. Sometimes the just-faded dream scene is regenerated in all its vivid glory.

By repeatedly reminding yourself that you're dreaming during the spinning transition, you can continue to be lucid in the new dream scene. Without this special effort of attention, you will usually mistake the new dream for an actual awakening -- in spite of many manifest absurdities of dream content!

A typical false awakening would occur if, while spinning, you felt your hands hit the bed and you thought: "Well, I must be awake, since my hand just hit the bed. I guess spinning didn't work this time." What you should think, of course, is "Since the spinning hand that hit the bed is a dream hand, it must have hit a dream bed. Therefore, I'm still dreaming!" Don't fail to critically check your state after using the Spinning Technique.

Effectiveness Of Spinning

This method is extremely effective for many dreamers, including myself. Out of the one hundred lucid dreams in the last six months of the record in my doctoral dissertation, I used this technique in forty percent of my lucid dreams. New dream scenes resulted in eighty-five percent of these cases. Lucid consciousness persisted in ninety-seven percent of the new dreams. When spinning led to another dream, the new dream scene almost always closely resembled my bedroom.

The experiences of other lucid dreamers who have employed this method have been very similar to mine, but suggest that the post-spin lucid dream need not be a bedroom scene. One of these lucid dreamers, for instance, found herself arriving at a dream scene other than her bedroom in five out of the eleven times she used the spinning technique.

These results suggest that spinning could be used to produce transitions to any dream scene the lucid dreamer expects. (See Exercise: Spinning a new dream scene, later in this chapter) In my own case, it appears that my almost exclusive production of bedroom dreams may be an accident of the circumstances in which I discovered the technique. I have tried, with very little success, to produce transitions to other dream scenes with this method. Although I definitely intended to arrive elsewhere than my dream bedroom, I cannot say that I fully expected to. I believe I will someday be able to unlearn this accidental association (if that is what it is). Meanwhile, I'm impressed by the power of expectation to determine what happens in my lucid dreams.

How Does Spinning Work?

Why should dream spinning decrease the likelihood of awakening? Several factors are probably involved. One of these may be neurophysiological. Information about head and body movement, monitored by the vestibular system of the inner ear (which helps you to keep your balance), is closely integrated with visual information by the brain to produce an optimally stable picture of the world. Because of this integration of information, the world doesn't appear to move whenever you move your head, even though the image of the world on your retina moves.

Since the sensations of movement during dream spinning are as vivid as those during actual physical movements, it is likely that the same brain systems are activated to a similar degree in both cases. An intriguing possibility is that the spinning technique, by stimulating the system of the brain that integrates vestibular activity detected in the middle ear, facilitates the activity of the nearby components of the REM-sleep system. Neuroscientists have obtained indirect evidence of the involvement of the vestibular system in the production of the rapid-eye-movement bursts in REM sleep.

Another possible reason why spinning may help postpone awakening comes from the fact that when you imagine perceiving something with one sense, your sensitivity to external stimulation of that sense decreases. Thus, if the brain is fully engaged in producing the vivid, internally generated sensory experience of spinning, it will be more difficult for it to construct a contradictory sensation based on external sensory input.



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