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Sunday, April 21, 2024

Column: Lucid dreams

It’s always interested me to deduce things about people based on their inadvertent tendencies: Freudian slips, unconscious facial expressions, words whose meaning contradicts the tone that speaks them.

That being said, dreams fascinate me because they are unconscious. Rather than proclaiming themselves explicitly, the messages of dreams are often embedded in symbolic imagery.

For instance, I often dream that I’m back in the house I grew up in. Though I have not lived in this two-story tudor for over two years, in my recurring dream I’m lounging around in there like it’s no big deal. At times the new residents will casually cross paths with me in the kitchen or the bedroom, acting as if my presence is perfectly normal.

At face value, the message of this dream is simple: my old home will forever be a part of me. But dig a little deeper and a psychoanalyst might say that at this point in my life, the dream suggests I’m having trouble letting something go.

Many psychologists will say that if you’re having a recurring dream, it’s most likely a result of your denial and repression. Something is demanding attention in your life and you’re either repeatedly ignoring it or dealing with it in an ineffective way. In my dream the house could probably be a symbol for many things that I have unknowingly held on to over the years.

In another dream, I’m laying down on a platter in the center of my dining room table, slathered in a thin layer of olive oil and garnished with rosemary. A family of ducks sits around the table, clutching knives and forks in their outstretched wings as they prepare to devour me.

This recurring dream is most likely to occur during midterms when copious cups of coffee have been consumed throughout the day and the nerves are running haywire. Its likely message? “Girl, you’re anxious. Calm the hell down.”

In any case, our unconscious plants images that, when deciphered, can shine wisdom on our waking lives. When you’re overwhelmed, it’s usually from an accumulation of causes that can be hard to disentangle and pinpoint when your mind isn’t at its most lucid and well-functioning. Dreams serve to do some of this work for us, which is oftentimes why anxious people are told to “just sleep on it” when faced with a conundrum.

To emphasize the importance of dreams, a Stanford study tracked 24 subjects via EEG mapping while they slumbered. Researchers found that the effects of dream events are far more potent and influential on an individual than are simple daydreams or waking imagery, having close to the same effect as real life events. So basically, if you want to be more productive in a task, dreaming about how to carry it out would be more efficient than simply thinking about how you’re going to carry it out.

It may seem impossible to “dream on command,” but there is actually a branch of dreaming referred to as lucid dreaming where you can control the happenings of your slumber show. Although it sounds like a novel concept, countless studies have been done on lucid dreaming, while multiple books have explored its potentialities.

Usually, a lucid dream – or “dream yoga,” as referred to by the Tibetan monks – starts as a normal dream. You wander about, unaware that you’re dreaming, until you notice some impossible or unlikely event, like a winged hippo or a talking jellybean. At this point, realization of pseudo-reality hits, and the normal dream becomes lucid.

There are countless benefits to learning the art of lucid dreaming. Within the context of college life, lucid dreams may provide the training-ground for rehearsing job interviews, social interactions, future dates and future sporting events. Experienced lucid dreamers can effectively improve upon many skills by way of practicing them in the safe, controlled, imaginative environment of the dream. Long-term benefits to lucid dreaming include decreased fear of death and the unknown, greater intelligence and memory recall, and enhanced imagination.

In short, lucid dreaming can not only be an exhilarating experience, but an extremely productive use of time, allowing you to practice for other areas of your life literally as you lie completely still in your bed. It takes practice, but you can become an experienced lucid dreamer using a number of techniques, one of them being to keep a dream diary in which you write down every single detail that you can recall about your dream as soon as you wake up. In addition, minimizing screen time before you go to bed has been found to increase the likelihood of having a lucid dream.

A pivotal period for dating, career decisions and self-creation, college may be one of the most opportune times and places to hone your lucid dreaming skills. Happy dreaming to all of you!

You can reach ELENI STEPHANIDES at estephanides@ucdavis.edu with your psych-related problems, but she might just tell you to sleep on it.

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