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The art of staying awake while you’re asleep

Date Released: Thu, 31 March 2011 08:31 +0200

Charlie Morley, a lecturer in dramaturgy at St Mary’s College in London, presented two talks at Rhodes last week on lucid dreaming – a state which has recently been proven to stimulate creative thought processes.

In the first talk at the Psychology Department, which explored Lucid Dreaming and Nightmares, Morley explained that, in contrast to a particularly vivid dream, “a lucid dream is where the dreamer is actively aware of the fact that they are dreaming, while they are dreaming”.

Energetic and engaging, Morley often brought humour into his presentation. “We spend a third of our lives sleeping. That amounts to an average of thirty years given to non-awareness, black-out. The most important thing we can do is wake up; and I don’t mean just in the morning.”

As a practicing Buddhist, Morley taught himself lucid dreaming in his teens and, with the support and encouragement of well-known meditation teacher and writer Rob Nairn, he has been travelling all over the world presenting talks and workshops on the practice. Nairn and Morley are currently collaborating on a book on the links between lucid dreaming, healing and death.

Up until the 1980s, psychologists believed that lucid dreaming was a “paradoxical impossibility.” It was mistaken for micro-awakenings (where the dreamer briefly wakes up during the dream cycle) and was therefore classified under parapsychology. Today, through the groundbreaking research of Stephen LaBerg and Keith Herne first conducted at Stanford University, lucid dreaming can now be prescribed to treat nightmares and aid healing.

A fascinating fact is that, according to brain function, there is no difference between doing something while you are dreaming and while you are awake. In this sense, “lucid dreaming isn’t like imagining you’re doing it, it’s like doing it”.

Morley spoke about how lucid dreaming is the ideal way to attain what Carl Gustav Jung called shadow integration. The shadow self is considered to be the part of one’s psyche that you are trying to suppress or ignore. Nightmares are therefore a direct way for the shadow self to express itself on a subconscious level.

“On a primal level, nightmares exercise our fight or flight mechanisms, the brain checking in on our survival system.” He suggested that if you are having a nightmare, don’t wake up, because it is your shadow self striving for acknowledgement. “So if you keep trying to suppress it, your shadow says: see you tomorrow night,” he joked.

During lucid dreaming the dreamer can directly integrate the shadow aspects because all psychological processes are personified and presented to you in your own language, without needing to analyse the dream symbols afterwards. Once the shadow becomes integrated, individuation or psychological completeness can be attained.

During the Drama Department talk, Morley shed some light on how practicing lucid dreaming can stimulate creative thought processes. This is especially the case during the hypnagogic state- which is just as you are about to fall asleep and images are flashing through your mind. Here the logical mind is still partially active, so it is an ideal time to solve problems in unexpected ways. “It is then that you can incubate a question you may have and creative solutions can be found. The creative ideas you get in this state are unparalleled,” he said.

Morley is also the founder of Throwdown, an organisation that teaches young offenders scriptwriting, street poetry, break dancing and rap.

By Anna-Karien Otto