In reviewing my dream journals, I came across an entry from my college years in which I recorded a dream that lasted “a very long time, days at least.” I do not remember the dream today. But it is clear that time can become relative in dreams. The following dream seemed to have a life of its own.
As the dream began, I was in college again. That was not an uncommon theme for me. The dream was intense in the sense that the details were full and the experience seemed very real. In other words, there was no initial way to distinguish this dream from waking life. But I did not know I was dreaming. I was a resident assistant in the dormitory, and had a single room. I attended classes, none of them difficult. I established a full day’s routine, which included eating and going to bed at night. While my life was pretty good, I was dreaming out of my current mind, and some of the things I was asked to do irritated me. For example, I was asked to write a report for a class that seemed like nothing more than unnecessary busy work. And I didn’t really like the dorm manager, who was the supervisor to my post as resident assistant. He treated me like I was a kid, when in fact I was much older in mind that he was.
Despite its intensity, what truly distinguished this dream was the fact that I became lucid. In other words, at one point in the dream I became aware that I was dreaming. As real as the dream had seemed up to that point, it took on an additional reality due to my awareness. At first, it seemed miraculous. I was aware that the dream had already been in progress for an undetermined amount of time, at least several complete days and possibly months. Now, each moment could be consciously measured, just like when I was awake. I realized I had been given a gift of time, that I could live a life in my dream and my sleeping body would only age one night.
To take advantage of my situation I began to observe my routine more fully so that I could find opportunities to make my life more fulfilling. Every day, throughout the day, I would remind myself that I was lucid within a dream, and that it was my responsibility to take advantage of the situation. But after several weeks of this, it became obvious to me that I hadn’t formed any strong relationships. My interactions with people in the dream, while often pleasant, were superficial. In my spare time, I began searching for people I had actually known while I had been in college. In this way I had hoped to improve the quality of my life. But I could find no one I had known. My next strategy was to try and develop new relationships. I was patient with the process, but I wasn’t connecting with anyone on a sufficiently deep level. I came to the conclusion that these dream people didn’t have the capacity to experience life as fully as a real person. My next strategy was to have a superficial relationship with a pretty college girl. But I soon discovered they were just that – girls, not mature women. I didn’t find that attractive. My last strategy was to go back into karate. After all, my body was healthy and pain free. If I couldn’t find the old karate club with its familiar membership intact, I could begin practicing on my own. But I had the thought, “I’ve already done that,” and dropped it.
This process of discovery took months, during which time I remained intensely lucid, continued attending classes, and continued to discharge my responsibilities (few that they were) as resident assistant. I had exhausted my strategies for improving the quality of my life, and I knew it. At that point I became almost hyper-lucid. I realized that I had an ability to extend this lucid dream as long as I wanted. Forever seemed possible. But I had to examine the consequences. On the plus side, my life was pain and strain free. And I had (what felt like) complete freedom in the exploration of my apparently limited universe. The only negative consequence I could come up with was that I was wasting time, that there was no real quality of life available for me in that experience even though I had the capacity to extend it indefinitely.
As I continued to reflect on my situation over the next few days, I determined that this lack of quality in my dream-life was a rather significant drawback. I realized that my quality relationships and interests existed in my ticking life, the one with actual time, and that the lucid dream I was currently extending was out of sync with my life. That was why I couldn’t find real quality in it. I realized that I could continue dreaming, or wake up. Since there seemed no point to continue dreaming, I decided to wake up.
Even as I was still dreaming, I realized there would be a transition between such an intense dream and my waking life. So, a bit like jumping into cold water, I said to myself, “one, two, three, wake up.” On suggestion, I opened my eyes and the dream ended. But I felt most disoriented as my “new” reality sank in. It took me several long moments to gather, and even then there was a kind of alien quality to my experience. I finally sat up in my bed. “I’m glad to be home,” I said out loud.
The moment of recognition, of corralling all the details of my life with an effort of will, was powerful. It was clear that my waking life had more memories, more quality than the dream-life I had left behind. But, my dream-life had also been rich with the details of existence. I felt a little grief as I said goodbye to that world.
And yet I felt renewed by my dream experience. I was fully capable of accepting the experience just as it was, a life created outside of time without depth or meaning. But ever the dream analyst, I also looked at the dream metaphorically. Waking up was the central metaphor. The dream was providing me with a visceral opportunity to feel what it was like to wake up to my life just as it was – filled with relationship, challenge, and tomorrow.
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