Of Lucid Dreams and Astral Projections.

Around April of 1995, I began having experiences that I initially could not stretch my mind to fathom — quite an accomplishment for that period, too, as my life had become replete with other flavors of weirdness. Though I had achieved these experiences through effort and experiment, my intention had been to induce an out-of-body experience (OOBE or OBE) in which I could exit my corporeal form by means of the coexisting subtle body, a nonphysical vehicle through which it was said I could explore the physical universe without ever leaving the comfort of the bedroom. I listened to a tape that claimed to teach me this ability, with one side blatantly offering instructions on how to do so while the other offered those same instructions, only subliminally, over the liminal sound of waves crashing upon a beach.

The result was not what I expected. Rather than waking up outside of my body, I awoke in a seemingly endless series of alternate versions of my bedroom: nested false awakenings, I later learned them to be called. And when I ceased listening to the tape I began having what at least experientially constituted OBEs, only I found myself not disembodied in the familiar, physical landscape but alternate versions of familiar physical environments. It seemed to be a different reality entirely, and I later discovered it fit the descriptions many attributed to what they called the astral plane, which essentially fits the description of what others refer to as a parallel universe.

As I came to understand it shortly after these experiences began, the astral plane was the name some people gave to a supposed parallel universe that both echoes and extends beyond the physical universe with which we are familiar. It contains alternate versions or different renditions of familiar, physical environments as well as realms that are unique to that reality. In this place intention was the vehicle; while you could navigate in the environment much as you do in the corporeal form, you could also focus on an aspect of the environment, or even focus on a distant environment, and you would immediately be catapulted there. The objects on this plane were also described as being self-luminous, requiring no external light source. All of this seemed to describe my experiences, most of all those initial experiences, damn near perfectly.

Later I came to suspect that they might instead be what are known as lucid dreams (and more rarely, waking dreams), which are dreams in which the dreamer becomes awake within the dream environment, though there are at least three reasons why lucid dreams did not seem to be a suitable explanation.

First is the fact that during my “astral projections” experiential time often seemed compressed. In his lectures, Stephen LaBerge speaks of the well-known sleep studies, where the rapid eye movements (REM) of subjects were monitored in their sleep. He cites a case in which one subject was recorded to have very regular left-right eye movements in their sleep, and upon being awakened and asked what they had been dreaming about, they reported that they had been watching a ping-pong ball go back and forth across a table. Evidently, at least in some cases, the REM of a sleeping subject was not random but rather followed the movements being made by the subject within the dream. From this LaBerge got the ingenious idea to have subjects consciously commit a series of agreed-upon eye movements when they successfully entered into a lucid dream state during these studies. As a result of this, lucid dreaming was suddenly scientifically respectable; they could also determine at what stage of sleep lucid dreaming occurs. What this also suggests to me is that dream-time, at least when one is lucid, is perfectly aligned with real-time, which puts the lucid dreaming experience at odds with my “astral projections.” An experience in the other realm can last a seeming hour and I awaken to find perhaps fifteen minutes had passed — which shouldn’t even be long enough for me to fall asleep, let alone achieve my first REM cycle.

Second is the fact that in nearly all the cases I’ve read about the issue with lucid dreaming is staying within the dream, whereas my issue has always been waking myself up and out of it. This was particularly true during my initial experiences, though the issue may have continued unabated and the only difference now is that I have come to enjoy the experience and don’t seek to exit as soon as I can. In those initial experiences, however, I was frantically trying to wake up, but the best I could do was exit the otherworldly landscape and enter my paralyzed, corporeal body or a dark, endless void before falling back into another strange environment.

Both of these qualities don’t necessarily disqualify lucid dreaming as an explanation, though it seems as though other factors may be present. It could mean, for instance, that these experiences of mine may be generated by some dissociative disorder or seizure that left my mind awake as it thrust my body into a state of sleep paralysis and total sensory deprivation, inspiring my mind to compensate for the sensory lack with spontaneous, unconsciously-generated material of its own. Maybe the rapidity of my mental processes during these episodes (which might make more sense if it was indeed a seizure of some sort) squeezes a large amount of dream-time experience into a comparatively small amount of real-time. My inability to wake up from this sort of special-case lucid dream could be due to the fact that the seizure or dissociative episode had yet to run its course.

A third though entirely subjective and so less convincing reason I felt resistant to the notion that these experiences may merely be lucid dreams were their astounding sense of hyperreality. Though I ultimately came to explain the experience as constituting a “different kind of real,” I originally and perhaps more honestly described it as hyperreal, as more real than the reality I experienced in my mundane, waking existence. Not only was the environment far more vivid than waking experience, but I felt far more awake, alive or aware in these circumstances than I did during so-called waking life. It continues to be difficult to articulate the distinction, but it remains nonetheless. This other world clearly operated in accordance with a distinct set of laws that distinguished it from mundane existence, but the quality of perception and awareness were heightened. This became a dilemma for me. Was I to judge the mundane world as real and the other world as fantasy or dream simply due to the difference in their guiding laws despite the fact that things seemed more real and I felt more aware in the other world? This perspective seemed flawed, which is perhaps why I came to settle on that other world as being merely a different kind of reality than the mundane one.

A former objection of mine that arose when considering whether these were lucid dreams used to be that I was unable to control the environment, merely my position within the dream (much as in waking life). During my first or second experience, during a break period in my fighting and fleeing from the entity that would go on to plague me during these episodes for years, I wondered if I was in a lucid dream and attempted to test the idea by willing something into manifestation. Though with considerable effort I was capable of manifesting a mute, translucent, animated image of a barking dog, it only held as long as my concentration could and I was never able of even getting that far ever again. I have since learned that there are various levels of lucidity and one is not always granted absolute power once one awakens; despite this, I find it suspicious that despite my painful awareness during those initial experiences and my deliberate attempt, this was as far as I was able to get.

Another former objection was that while I am wide awake during these experiences, at least for a time, I wasn’t necessarily certain that I was dreaming, just that I wasn’t awake in the mundane reality, and the act of being awake within a dream while knowing that you are dreaming is, well, the working definition of lucid dreaming. I have since accepted that this just might be a semantic argument, however.

I suppose the real question becomes how one could ever hope to distinguish whether an experience is taking place on the astral plane or in a lucid dream. The only difference in definition seems to be that the astral plane is considered a parallel universe, an objective reality much like our physical world, which is to say a neighboring space composed of a different set of dimensions, and the lucid dream is merely a mind-generated environment. One could add that an additional distinguishing feature is that the astral plane is a single universe accessible to all of us in just the same way the physical universe is, and so it should be possible for two people to independently travel there, share experiences, come back to their physical bodies, document their experiences and then confirm them to one another, thereby providing evidence that such a plane actually exists. This ignores stories where people claim to share the same dream, presumably telepathically, and sometimes in tandem with one or both of them being lucid within the mutual dream in question.

One might also add the argument that the astral plane depends upon dualism in the philosophy of the mind, on the notion that our physical bodies are but one of perhaps numerous transient vessels for our consciousness, and that the living and deceased can mingle on this plane, but this would be ignoring cases of visitation dreams, when the living has a dream of the deceased which provides information that seems to validate it was actually a mutual dream between the living and dead. It would also require ignoring what Dr. Ian Stevenson, in his research into reincarnation, called departure dreams, where the recently deceased visit the living to inform them where they will be incarnating next, and arrival dreams, where the deceased visit the living members of the family into which they will be subsequently incarnating. If the living can share dreams with one another and death is truly not the end of consciousness but merely a period of transition, it is not a leap to assume that the dead and disembodied can dream, and even share dreams as well.

It seems frustratingly unsatisfactory to conclude that there are no potential means of distinguishing between astral projections and lucid dreams, that it is all a matter of interpretation, but this seems to be the case — at least to my eyes, at least so far.

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Lost in Dreams.

On March 16, as I sit down in the front seat of my car to go to work, I receive a flash from what had to have been a dream. I remember driving at night, looking anxiously at the dashboard as its lights went out.

When I awoke the following day, I recalled looking into the backpack I still carry around despite being 36 years of age and out of school, looking to see how many packs of cigarettes I had left. It turned out I had more than I had anticipated, which amounts to perhaps four packs of Marlboro Blacks. What should have been, to me, the clear giveaway: I have never bought a pack of Marlboro Blacks. Nor would I carry around my notebooks and books by hand along with the box of dried mash potato mix I have in my kitchen cabinet, though that crisp and colorful image also came into my head.

This is how my dream recall has gone as of late. Tiny glimpses. Often memories crop up when I awaken and I can write them down type them out before they fade, but just as often it is something in the midst of the day that triggers a creeping memory of a dream. Typically its just a fragment divorced from whatever narrative it was originally a part of. When these memories last for even the shortest duration, though, I still find evidence of my omnipresent mindlessness. All were moments in which there was clear suggestion that it was a dream and yet I passively accepted it, unquestionably accepted the circumstances I was in despite their clear absurdity, mindlessly allowing myself to be seized and absorbed by my own illusions. I was still just sleeping through my dreams. Sleeping a third of my life away, so they say — though perhaps not so much given the consistent periods of insomnia.

There have been a few “dream teases,” as I prefer to call them. A lot like the Ohio weather: promises of waking life and warm weather destroyed by perpetual and unreasonable periods of frosty, frigid deathlike sleep.

In early April, I found that my car’s brake line was leaking, and given that I had no money until my paycheck at the end of the week, I turned to Elizabeth and Jacky, two friends of mine at work, for rides until I could get the damn thing fixed. They were generous enough to help me, but this required getting up early on some days because their shifts did not always synchronize with my own. One one particular afternoon, April 7th, I got permission from Jacky to hide in her car until my shift started, as I had hours to kill with empty pockets in a town I loathe. In there, I wrote on my iPhone, read a little, and eventually found that I was so sleep deprived that taking a nap was even possible. At some point during my nap I half-awoke to the sound of my boss’s voice nearby the car, hiding the bowl full of weed beside me under my arm, and eventually hiding it in the crack between the passenger seat and the door. Only when I fully awoke later did I realize that the boss was not here today and there was no way I would be smoking pot in Jacky’s car. However dazed I was during the experience, what I had had was a false awakening.

It had been some time since that had happened to me. However much it was frustrating that I only realized its nature in retrospect, I found the false awakening hopeful. For the last few weeks I had been focusing on reading and watching more videos online regarding lucid dreaming; perhaps this served as a sign that I might be waking up from the zombie slumber that has overtaken my dream life and often seems to invade enough of my waking hours as well.

This zombie state is what I felt was perhaps referenced my dream on April 13th. While talking with someone I turned to find what looked like Hal from the movie 2001, though in this case his robotic eye lens was on the face of R2D2 like some cyclops droid.

“Nice mobile unit,” I said to Hal, turning back to my conversation.

The robot theme is building in what little I have been remembering the last few months of my dreams, perhaps in reference to my typical autopilot somnambulism, the lifeless, zombie daze I operate in during my daily life — and Colin Wilson’s idea of “the robot function,” which I find myself identifying with.

Between the 22nd and the 23rd I received two more dream flashes. In one, I was walking with a group of people along a sidewalk when I passed by TR, who was going the other way. He turned around to say hello, and I looked him in the face and returned the greeting. We shook hands and then parted ways. This was a guy I knew from high school and we had engaged in many circular religious debates. In another flash, there is a girl almost on top of me, as if she might be waking me up, and I think it is Sadie, a friend, lesbian and former workmate of mine, though she soon made it abundantly clear she was Sadie’s twin sister, Sally — a mistake that I have made more than once when actually bumping into them in public.

I made a similar mistake on the 24th, as I sat on the front lawn of my parent’s property during the warm, sunny day, sitting on the lush grass beneath the shade of trees. I was calmly looking at the house and noticing the tree right beside it, sitting to the right from my perspective. Long, narrow, it rose over the rooftop, perhaps over all the trees in thick forest surrounding the property — and high into the bright, blue sky. Shaking my head, I thought to myself that if this were a dream and I were lucid, I would want to fly and perch atop that area. It would be the perfect place to rest and observe, a natural throne from which I could, from a great height, observe things from over a great distance.

The lucid dreaming material I had been watching and listening to lately had suggested having a good idea of what you wanted to do once you became lucid in a dream. I knew I wanted to fly in outer space; I had decided that long ago. Now I was engaging in that line of thought a bit more, which I admit is good. What bothers me is this: not once, as I sat there thinking all of that over, did I consider that I was actually in a dream at that very moment.

I was lacking awareness. Mindfulness. Lucidity. All I had to do was to realize that I was dreaming while I was thinking about lucid dreaming. I just had to suspect it, seriously consider it for a moment and perform a reality check as all the countless things I had read and watched had suggested. I had all the material I needed, I only had to put it to use. Once awake within what I knew to be a dream I could engage in flight fueled by the belief that I could and perch up there in the sky as I had wished.

Needless to say, awakening to remember that dream scene was more than mildly frustrating.