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February 01, 2009

What Does “Control” Really Mean in a Lucid Dream?

Posted in: dreaming,Musings

I was reading a post by Ben over at Dreaming Life about Robert Waggoner’s new book: “Lucid Dreaming: Gateway to the Inner Self,” and I was particularly struck by the idea about the true nature of control in a lucid dream. To quote:

No sailor controls the sea. Only a foolish sailor would say such a thing. Similarly, no lucid dreamer controls the dream. Like a sailor on the sea, we lucid dreamers direct our perceptual awareness within the larger state of dreaming.

Waggoner elaborates on his view in the interview, so I won’t go too much detail here. Instead, I’d like to go into depth on the idea of control based on my experiences. In order to help define control in general terms, let’s look at control in normal and lucid dreams.

Normal Dream Control
In a “normal” dream, one is unaware of the dream. Something in the dream happens, and you react. Sometimes you appear to have an agenda with things to do. This sort of dreaming is very reactionary, at least in my experience. It seems that I’ll have some goal at one point, and the changing surroundings in the dream distract me along my path to that goal. There is no direct “I’d like this to happen because I can make it happen,” it’s more along the lines of trying to effect the change through action. I’ve had many dreams when this has failed often to rather humorous consequences upon waking. For instance, I often experience weakness when trying to fight or punch things/people. I trained in martial arts for a few years, so this is particularly frustrating to me in dreams. I continue to attempt the same attack over and over again. This is a perfect example of how little control one can have in a normal dream. If one’s normal waking day method of doing things (physically altering them) fails, one is rather powerless. I would characterize “normal” dream control as direct and physical .

In between nights of writing this post, I had a dream in which I didn’t exist. I was simply watching some plot play out. This made me think more about how I was defining control. I would define no control as when you lack any sort of power to interact, as an observer. It was a very interesting idea to me, even though I’ve had similar dreams in the past, it came at a very opportune time to give me perspective.

Lucid Dream Control
A lucid dream is a different game entirely. Gone are the limitations of only physical control, and opened are the mental, desire based, and supernatural controls. When one wants something accomplished, one can physically try to do it, or more likely, simply make it happen with some supernatural power or simply by wishing it into existence. This is the more typical type of control I would imagine when I think of lucid dreaming and interacting with the dream. This control is less based in physical action and more in terms of simply “making it happen.”

I wonder if having a lucid dream would make the observer style of dream any different. Perhaps your “thoughts” would be clearer, but then again I don’t remember thinking either.

Dream Control as an Administrator

All of these Ideas I’ve presented so far agree with Waggoner’s assertion about control in dreams. The dreamer controls certain parts about the dream, but never the entirety of the dream. If the sheer amount of things going into the dream are considered, this must be accepted. Even when you create the landscape and the very surroundings and people in the dream, you’re only creating a higher level of the dream. You might create a tree, but did you decide how many leaves it has, how tall it is, how thick the trunk is? Perhaps if you make a rolling meadow. Did you decide how the grass looks on an individual level? Obviously you didn’t go through thousands of blades of grass. The brain seems to take general commands and fill in the details. I can also think of a few times when I meant to create one thing and got another, so perhaps the detail control is imprecise, or just likes toying with the dreamer . It’s almost as though you’re a boss handing instructions to an employee, who does what you ask, as they understand it. This might explain how you get a tree with all of the details without having to ask for them. The big question then, is who is carrying out these instructions?

So I pose a question to my readers: Who do you think carries out these instructions, or more generally, how do you think control in a dream is accomplished and how should it be defined?


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